Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Experimenting Without Positional Authority

One of the fallacies that too many people believe is that one must have positional authority to lead. I have heard it too often when speaking to protégés, "What do I need to do to set myself up for a leadership opportunity?" When asking that question, nearly all are quick to admit that they are asking about being a Department Head, Executive Officer, Officer in Charge or Commanding Officer. The answer to the question is "We are all in a leadership position and have the opportunity to lead." Let's not wait for a positional platform on which to stand in order to lead, let's create a platform by leading. While thoroughly enjoying the traditional "100 Day Honeymoon Period" at my current position and enjoying a meaningful conversation with each member of the NIOC Pensacola Family, it became quite evident to me that we were a "Team of Leaders" who clearly had potential and the responsibility to evolve into a "Team who Leads."

During those individual conversations with each Sailor, it was obvious that those of us working in this specialty area of Computer Network Operations (CNO) were not especially aware of how fellow CNO Professionals were executing their tasks, what additional opportunities were available to us over the course of a career and how each "Cylinder of Excellence" was training the portion of the CNO Workforce under their charge. We had no charter, we had no positional authority, all we had was a desire; a desire to learn from others and share what we have learned. The resulting experiment was the Cryptologic Technician Networks (CTN) Collaboration Conference as developed, led and executed by NIOC Pensacola's First Class Petty Officer Association (FCPOA).

When we sent the message inviting our peers to come to Pensacola with the goal of enhancing awareness, strengthening a common culture, and facilitating best practice convergence across the CTN Rating, the response was less than overwhelming. Some wondered who we thought we were, others saw it as odd that we target First Class Petty Officers instead of more senior leadership and some just questioned the entire concept. Unfortunately, I had predicted that this would be the initial response, so we purposely did not share our plan before sending out formal invitations. The thought being that by not announcing the party, no one could cancel it; but, if we asked for permission, there was a good chance others might ask us to get back in our box. Over time, through deliberate engagement by our Chief Petty Officers, we were able to ally with fellow collaborators, grow public support and make enough of the skeptics curious enough to show up. By the end of the conference we had met our intent. To deem anything a success, one must have measures, so the metrics on which we focused were the number of CTNs who left with a full appreciation for...

1) The depth of contributions being made by CTNs across the Navy
2) The vast array of training resources available to the CTN Rating
3) The creative means by which CTNs are growing expertise across the force
4) The personal relationships that resulted in meaningful collaboration across commands

By continually looking for opportunities to lead and demonstrating our commitment to the philosophy of "if not us, who?", we remind ourselves and show others that we need not have positional authority before we lead, help others (as well as ourselves) to grow and create true value. I look forward to the day when the personal initiative demonstrated by our FCPOA is not met with raised eyebrows and comments that clearly question their motives. Instead, those who choose not to lead beyond their position description (only to admire the problem) will be the ones whose inaction will be questioned by our peers and seniors.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your post. I, too, accept it as an axiom that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.