Friday, May 20, 2011

Chasing Collar Devices

Promotion board result season is upon us, and yet again, the questions fill the air as members of our team attempt to do their own analysis of the results. Despite the numerous flaws in such analysis, individuals will use their "findings" as reason to either validate or alter their desired career path. I mention flaws in the analysis because none of us have the decision inputs that the promotion board did. Yes, I will acknowledge that many times the information we have may be more relevant, as generally speaking many reporting seniors do a poor job of truly documenting performance, holding juniors formally accountable (conduct), and accounting for the personality traits that, if incentivized, would truly build a prolific team (Multipliers vs Diminishers). Our approach to Fitness Reports doesn't do us any favors (ranking based on relative seniority amongst peers, trying to be "The Good Guy" for everyone, deferring the reality check to the promotion board, etc), but that is not the point of this post. My confusion lies in what really amounts to an annual quest to identify the jobs we should ourselves take as we refine our path to obtaining the collar devices for which we so desperately yearn. Yes, there are plenty who continue to value perceived success (rank) over measurable significance (making a meaningful contribution) and that in itself remains our biggest challenge.

Over the last two weeks, I have heard the following statements:

- Training is broken but I would never take orders to the schoolhouse because people do not promote well there
- I'd love to be an OIC, but promotion rates tell me we don't value that job
- Not all COs made Captain, so we must not really value command
- Those who repeatedly do "Cyber Jobs" are clearly accepting risk when it comes to promotion

A valued colleague recently assessed that...

...people continually ask what it is we value as a community. Unfortunately, when they do so, it is not because they want to know how they might accumulate meaningful experiences so they are able to grow into one of our MVPs (while helping to mentor others along a similar path), they merely want to know what jobs they need to take in order to get promoted.

I look forward to being a part of a community filled with passionate multipliers who without hesitation choose to conclude:

- Training is broken! I want to be a part of the solution and am seeking orders to the schoolhouse. At the same time, I am building a team of interested contributors with whom to do it.
- That billet (pick one) has been neglected for years, I am going to turn that platform (and every job is a platform) into something significant and a billet for which my potential reliefs will be standing in line
- It's not the billet that dictates the promotability of the incumbent, but the contributions of the incumbent while in the billet (and, more accurately, over their preceding tours)

I would also go as far as to state that the individual "accepting risk" is the one "checking boxes" as a means of chasing collar devices only to not see his name on the promotion list. The individual following her passion, leveraging her strengths and seeking the greatest opportunity to contribute in meaningful ways is doing anything but "accepting risk" and will enjoy a meaningful journey, while building a lasting legacy regardless of what a promotion board decides.

As my mentors have taught me, it's not what we get as a result of our journey, but who we become in the process. We are so focused on building Admirals, we fail to invest in the development of the kind of Lieutenant Commanders we need. We seem to be so interested in posturing ourselves for success, a newly established peer award resulted in 13 nomination packages from a field of more than 1,000 peers who had the opportunity to celebrate the contributions of a valued Shipmate. It is this culture that gave me reason to think long and hard about retiring at the end of this tour. More than that, it is this culture that is reason I am more committed to this team than ever.

To the masses who continue to do what we do because we believe in it, because we love our Shipmates, and because we share a vision for how things could be, we salute you (note: If this is you, please e-mail me so we can create a meaningful side project to champion together). To those of you motivated primarily by collar device, please consider joining us in making our legacy one of quantifiable significance vice questionable success...until then, please stop wasting your time over-thinking the promotion results.


  1. This article nicely articulates what many are thinking about. Well done.

  2. Ditto,
    Once one overlooks the aspect of selfless service the chase it after the wrong things.....

  3. I periodically come back to this passage to refresh it's points in my mind. Lately, I have thought more about how all of the things said in the article above relate to the progressively greater level of responsibilities we are expected to assume as officers. Each tour a more challenging experience, either by virtue of a lack of familiarity with the field, or by assuming a new level of responsibility/leadership. I am still having a hard time articulating my thoughts... I guess one thought that keeps creeping into my head is no matter how hard you work for your Sailors there is probably an invisible ceiling for your paygrade where your influence and ability to affect Sailors trails off. What does that mean to the people who are here because they enjoy the people, the work, and their service to others, but maybe don't desire (or feel they have the leadership skills to deftly navigate) command?

    Random musings. Thanks again for your thrice monthly inspiring words.

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