Wednesday, January 26, 2011

True Vacation Requires Delegation

I write this as we fly from Sacramento back to Pensacola after a wonderful time spent with Family and Friends. It was a special adventure for many reasons and the greatest was that it was a true vacation, far more than "Taking Leave" or "Visiting Family".

One of my many flaws is that I tend to approach vacation as the latter two, and though the differences are subtle, they are important. This time, we became tourists and recharged batteries, neither of which are givens when we take leave. This trip to California was different for one reason, DELEGATION. We were able to truly delegate our parenting responsibilities to my parents (their initiative) and I was able to completely let go of my responsibilities at work.

Not living anywhere near family, we rarely have the luxury of leaving our son in the very capable hands of trusted individuals for more than a couple of hours. Such a situation denies family the opportunity to grow meaningful relationships with their grandson/nephew, as well as my wife and I the chance to take advantage of some truly unique opportunities. I am grateful that my parents gave us the time to explore and that they created the opportunity to spend three uninterrupted days alone with their grandson.

Before we left Pensacola, I made it clear to all at work that the pace of progress will not slow just because the Commanding Officer is gone. I have always believed that if we are truly committed to moving things forward, we cannot concern ourselves with who musters on any given day. In the athletic arena a true team with depth at each position can continue to execute the game plan regardless of injury. Some teams are so dependent on a few key players that if anything happens to one of them, the game significantly changes and their chance of winning dramatically diminishes. One of the most comforting things about this vacation was knowing the NIOC Pensacola Team is a team with great depth and extreme competence. Throughout 10 days of vacation, I did not receive a single e-mail or phone call from The Team, nor did I feel compelled to check in on them. It was not due to a lack of interest on my part, but a result of identification based trust (i.e. each party is able to act as an agent for the other) in a 360 degree array. They knew they had my confidence, while I knew they wanted me to enjoy my vacation.

As I prepare to go to work in the morning, I do so fully knowing The Team will inform me of the great progress made while I was gone and share how they chose to handle any unusual situations. Likewise, there will be nothing urgent awaiting my decision, as they are both fully empowered and familiar with our shared philosophy to act on my behalf.

I could not be blessed with a better Family in the traditional (blood/marriage) and figurative (NIOC-P) sense. Thanks to both families for ensuring we were able to turn our leave into a wonderful vacation.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Please Don't Focus on the Retention Rate

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of re-enlisting another valued member of our team. In this case, the venue was just as unique as the Sailor...we were on the roof of our building. As unique as the venue was, this Sailor's willingness to repeatedly ask "Why?" and live his life as if he is asking the world "Why Not?" ensured none of us were surprised in the least to find ourselves on the roof celebrating the still young career of this fine Sailor. Though the location was not a surprise, his decision to re-enlist was. Up until a month ago, we were sure this valued member of our team was going to take his talents elsewhere and for all of the right reasons.

During the ceremony I publicly admitted the pleasant surprise that many of us felt when he decided to pledge six more years of his life to our Navy. I also made it a point to remind the audience that as pleased as we are when a Sailor decides to re-enlist, 100% retention is not our goal and we should not make it a point to persuade anyone to "Stay Navy". As I canvassed the rooftop, I saw more than a few furled brows as the Sailors wondered if this was yet another case of the CO mis-transmitting his intended message. To address the confused look of many, I repeated myself. In doing so, I amplified that our goal continues to be one of giving every member of our team reason to want to stay. It's a subtle but important distinction...

Life is far too short to not spend it doing the things we love with people we enjoy. Though a decision to stay Navy is not necessarily the desired outcome in al cases, we tend to celebrate the retention rate as an important measure of command climate and the leadership team. By giving Sailors rewarding work, required training, and an enjoyable work environment, we will give all reason to want to stay. They may choose to leave, but we give them reason to consider staying. There has been much talk of retention of late (especially in our Officer Corps) and in my opinion, the conversation is misdirected. We want people to stay because they love and see value in what they do, not because they feel they have little to offer the private sector. We want people to leave because they are following their true passion or because they aren't meeting our high standards, not because they are frustrated with the Navy or, worse yet, our command.

Each day, we pridefully raise our "Golden Anchor" pennant. The pennant tells the world that we met retention excellence criteria over the last year. In the binary world in which many of us live, some assume it to be an important metric of how well or poorly the command is functioning. Flying the pennant doesn't provide insight into:

- The Sailor of the Year you lost only to retain as a civilian for an extended career
- The Sailor you asked to leave (directly or otherwise) because he is not meeting the high standards
- The Sailor you helped to leave so she could pursue her true passions or tend to an ill family member

Truth is a specified retention rate is a misguided goal. A command flying the "Golden Anchor" may not be as good as we assume; a command not flying one may have the best command climate ever witnessed while making extraordinary contributions to our Navy. I sincerely hope that each member of our team is given every reason to want to "Stay Navy" and that all know their chain of command is committed to helping them to achieve their career goals whether or not they include the Navy. It's not about a pennant and our goal is not 100% retention. Our goal is to help each other grow both personally and professionally, while maximizing job satisfaction, as we continue to contribute to our National defense. Whether or not we hoist a "Golden Anchor" come next year, we will continue to take great pride in our team, as we acknowledge the decisions our Shipmates are making are the right ones for both them and the Navy, just as the one our "On the Roof Gang" witnessed earlier this month.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Respect and Gratitude

Undoubtedly, the best part of my job is interacting, sharing ideas and learning with fellow members of the NIOC Pensacola Team. One of many mechanisms to ensure we get the opportunity to exchange ideas, perceptions and experiences is by requiring everyone who joins or leaves our team to individually converse with each member of the Command Triad (CO/XO/SEL). A few weeks back I had a particularly enjoyable conversation with a young man who was both appreciative of his time at NIOC Pensacola and excited about the opportunity that heading to his first ship presented. We spoke of many things, yet there were two on which we focused more than the others...respect and gratitude. Neither of these topics are new, but their mere mention gave me reason to be more attentive to their occurrence in everyday life.

Respect

Keep in mind that as a Seaman this Sailor was one of the most junior on our team. When he spoke of respect his point was that respect from junior to senior was demonstrated without exception, however the "Golden Rule" was not always reciprocated. His comments made me hyperaware, as I firmly believe it is more accurate to acknowledge seniors work for juniors (i.e. giving them the tools they need to do their job in the form of guidance, training, mentorship, hardware/software, etc) than it is to blindly believe juniors are in place to serve their seniors. Since our conversation, and to his point, I continue to witness some of the same. Recently, I have had a senior pointedly remind me that I was his junior and my job was to do as directed, I have witnessed supervisors (elsewhere of course) be less than responsive to the needs/requests/recommendations of their juniors and I continually see parents yell, physically discipline and demand certain behavior from their kids. Being a senior, a leader or a parent requires that we set the tone for the relationship, and that tone is set by way of respectful and patient communication. I am continually surprised by people who feel they need to dictate WHAT and HOW specific action is to be taken. Few make the time to discuss the WHY that underpins a potential need to alter behavior or take certain action.

- As children, we continually ask WHY and in some cases such curiosity is fed while in others we are taught to outgrow it

- At work, we should not blindly execute without making a deliberate effort to understand WHY and help those around us to do the same

- As parents, we either make the time to re-enforce a passion for lifelong learning or we instill a "Shut up and color, you're not old enough to think for yourself" mentality

I must admit that I get a bit disappointed when my son doesn't care enough to ask me WHY (rarely happens, thank goodness), my Shipmates aren't given the opportunity to understand WHY and my seniors don't feel compelled to explain WHY. There is no greater demonstration of respect than to make the time to help someone else understand WHY, and no greater demonstration of passion than to demand that our seniors help us to understand WHY. As the young man reminded me during his check-out, I hope we demonstrate respect to ourselves, our Shipmates, our children and our profession by both questioning and explaining WHY.

Gratitude

The reminder of the importance of gratitude didn't hit me until a week later. We talked of mentors and the importance of mentorship and I asked him if he felt as if he had any true mentors in his life. He lit up and without hesitation identified a specific PO1 with whom I am fortunate enough to continue to serve (and who we will re-enlist in a couple of weeks). He smiled as he shared stories of this leader "showing him the ropes", demonstrating "tough love" and creating ways to make him better. After a memorable conversation, I asked him if he ever told this PO1 of the impact he had on him. He thought about it and admitted that he had not. A week later I ran into this young man's mentor and shared how highly the Seaman thought of him. The resulting grin was as big as I have ever seen (and this guy smiles a lot). He shook his head in wonderment as he had no idea of the impact he had on the Seaman.

Have you expressed gratitude to your valued mentors of late? I have previously written about the importance of understanding what it means to be a protégé and how important it is to create blockers over the course of a career. As part of my year-end ritual, I reached out to my most prized mentors to not only learn from them, but to express my gratitude. I did so not because I thought it mattered to them, but because it mattered to me.

Life lessons are continually learned and validated by those with whom we serve and live. The challenge is paying attention and taking note.

Thanks, Seaman! As you well know, and for the benefit of others, at NIOC Pensacola we acknowledge the fact that "We will each leave our legacy with the command and our Shipmates; The command and our Shipmates will leave a legacy with us." You have given me reason to pay a bit more attention to respect and gratitude in both my personal and professional life. I share your wisdom in hopes that others will do the same.