Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Biographies - WHO not WHAT

For those of us serving in or directly affiliated with the military, the summer months are filled with retirement and change of command ceremonies. At each we receive a nice program that includes the schedule of events, some background on the traditions we will witness during the ceremony and biographies of a few key individuals who will be speaking during the ceremony. Reading program after program, I got to thinking about the standard Navy biography.

I have always believed the purpose of personal biographies is to give the reader a better sense of the person about whom they are reading. There are many ways to write and meet that objective and most military men and women focus on answering these questions...

- Where did I grow up?
- What is my educational background?
- Where have I been stationed (and what deployment or operation occurred)?
- What awards have I received?
- What is my family make-up (i.e. name of spouse and number of children, if any)?

As we read the bio and listen to the individual speak, does any of the above provide us with any true insight into who the person is that we are listening to? I believe that what we do while in uniform is very different than who we are as people. Yes, certain assumptions can be made, but why force an audience to assume. Little of what we share in a standard bio even begins to speak to who we are. Because I have such a problem talking and not acting, I recently changed my official bio and the following is what is currently posted on our command web page:

"Commander Sean Robert Heritage, a native of Pleasanton, California, entered the United States Navy as a member of the United States Naval Academy's Class of 1992 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. A true family man, he considers himself a father, husband and son first and a Sailor second. Though he is extremely proud of the experiences, challenges, and opportunities the Navy continues to provide him and his family, he is more pleased with how he continues to evolve as a result. Those who know Commander Heritage can attest to his personal commitment to the following beliefs:

- Fear of failure is the most debilitating fear of all
- Competence is valued far more than collar device
- There is no more dangerous personality flaw than arrogance
- Over-communicating the WHY behind our actions is a necessity
- Remaining focused on helping those around oneself rise to the top is the only way to be a true leader
- In order to inspire, one must be inspired
- Being successful does not mean we are significant
- Efficiency and effectiveness don't always converge
- Erring on the side of action is admirable
- Constructively critical feedback from a 360 degree array is desired, required, and the only way to improve

Commander Heritage has served afloat, ashore, on staffs and as an Executive Officer prior to his current role as Commanding Officer of NIOC Pensacola. He has also earned Masters of Science degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the Naval War College in the fields of Information Technology Management and National Security Studies, respectively. The Sailors with whom he has served over the course of his career have accomplished much and their contributions have given Joint and Navy Commanders reason to award him with various personal decorations, which he proudly considers team awards."

Some may snicker, some may dismiss the logic altogether. Truth is, I am far more interested in who people are than I am in what they have done and what medals they wear on their chest. I am also far more interested in speaking to people who value WHO more than WHAT. If we are going to share of ourselves, why not truly share of ourselves? Why go through the motions of blindly following the standard template.

What does your bio say about who you are?

(Note: The same can be said about resumes and I will overhaul mine soon)


  1. Commander, Thank you for the post, it comes at a perfect time as I consider some options in my life as a leader and a follower. Your thoughtful, fearless approach reminds me of another of our USN leader-communicators, ADM Stavridis. BZ! Daren Lewis

  2. Agreed, with a couple caveats. 1) What we have done contributes significantly to who we are since our experiences help to shape us. 2) The "system", as it is, rarely cares who we are. It's set up to run, I think, on what we are, i.e. the parts rather than the sum of the parts.

    So, the solution then is simple; change the system. Looking forward to being part of that tribe with you.

  3. Daren - Thank you for reading and I am glad you found value in the post. Hard to believe I remind anyone of ADM Stavridis, so thanks!! He is truly an inspiration!!

    Kevin - I do believe that our past experiences do shape us, but can any accurate assumptions be made based on the fact that I grew up in the Oakland suburbs or that I operated in the WESTPAC or was part of Operation ALLIED FORCE, or that I wear a couple of (pick an award)? Might be conversation starters at best. I look forward to the reaction when people see this version of my bio in a ceremonial program. Your comment on the system is interesting. The fact that we believe that shows how flawed we really are. I value you more because of who you are than what you have done. Yes, they are intertwined, but the firings of COs is a result of finding out who people are after we've selected them based on what they've done. And as far as the Tribe goes, OUR tribe already exists. Looking forward to your bio at your Change of Charge.

  4. There are all kinds of things you need to include as part of your dance biography and this guide gives you a foolproof way to succeed at getting your point across.