Monday, February 28, 2011

A Second Grader's Vantage Point

Though I spend a good portion of my days with a second grader, I don't find myself in a room full of them very often. Over the last two weeks, I have had two opportunities to do just that. Earlier today, I was one of a handful of chaperones for a field trip to see the play "Beauty and the Beast," while last week I got to play the role of "Slide Guy" for my son's first ever presentation. Each opportunity was both rewarding and exciting. I find that any time spent with tomorrow's leaders, regardless of the venue, fills me with the very same feelings. Rewarding because I lead myself to believe I am in some way contributing to their development and exciting because their enthusiasm is contagious.

My son enjoys public speaking as much as I did in my younger days (which is not much). In fact, a good friend of mine would say that as a child I "wouldn't say %^&* if I had a mouthful." Though I no longer avoid opportunities to publicly speak, I don't go out of my way to create too many of them. On this day, the topic was US Presidents (It was President's Week, after all) and my son's presentation was "Garfield: The President Not The Cat." It was short (by design) and just like I did at that age, he read the entire thing with little eye contact. Unlike the dark ages in which I grew up, he had Power Point Slides with pictures to complement his words, giving his peers more reason to be genuinely interested in the information he was sharing. The grand finale was a trivia contest he and my wife created and it was a big hit! When he opened the floor to questions, nearly every hand went into the air. Not only did these children listen intently, but they wanted to know even more. How old was he when he died? Why did you choose this particular President? Where did you say he was shot? Why did someone want to shoot him? What does a cat have to do with any of this? Granted, had the presenter been a little louder the audience would have had their questions pre-empted with the answers, but that is not the point. As I responded to the request "Next slide, please", I couldn't help but see my many presentations to a very different audience from a slightly different angle...

- Second graders want their peers to succeed on the stage; I've known seniors who saw public demoralization of briefers as a way of elevating themselves
- Second graders are genuinely interested, listen intently and ask questions; My recent briefings resulted in zero questions which is less a measure of briefing thoroughness, and more a reflection of audience interest
- Second graders see a presentation as the beginning of a conversation and an opportunity to share of themselves; Too many of us turn the forum into a receive only broadcast where we feign interest, or as an opportunity to demonstrate to the briefer how little they truly know through our critical commentary

Though there are many things our second graders have yet to learn, these are some things I hope they don't forget. So, the next time we are on the podium or listening intently to someone else who is sharing their ideas/knowledge, let's see if we can't bring back some of our inherent or unlearned behavior. May we choose to truly listen and ask questions. In doing so, we can help the presenter to realize we are there because we want to learn from them and that their ideas/knowledge are in fact important to us. Lets not blindly agree, but engage in constructive debate. Let's have a conversation and leave all attendees more aware as a result of our deliberate participation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Loving What You Do

Most of us go to work at least five days a week with varied levels of interest and each of us for different reasons. Some people work to live, while others live to work. Some people work for love of money or power, while others go simply to make a difference. No matter what we state as our motivation, our actions are likely more representative of why we make that commute. I personally believe Seth Godin said it best in my most current favorite book Linchpin, "We are surrounded by Bureaucrats, Note Takers, Literalists, Manual Readers, TGIF Laborers, Map Followers, and Fearful Employees." His point is that too many of us go to work ready to play the role of compliant, replaceable cogs instead of original thinkers who truly care about making a difference and finding better ways of things done.

Some might say that the Navy demands compliant people whose sole job is to do what we are told, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Please don't get me wrong, there is a time and a place to assume that role and I have on many occasions. As time goes on, I find it more difficult to play such a role, as I believe when doing so I am shirking my responsibility. At the same time, I continually encourage those with whom I serve to transform from compliant cog to passionate, creative problem solver at their earliest opportunity (if they haven't already). I know far too many people who hate what they do, go through the motions while at work and define success as being compensated as much as possible for doing as little as possible. At the same time, there are plenty of people who work their tails off strictly in pursuit of monetary gain, an award or the next promotion. The WHY we work is revealed in how we approach it. Why do you make that commute to your current job?

Last week, a Sailor made a statement to me in passing that meant so very much. At the end of his check-out interview, he told me that it was obvious that I loved my job and the people with whom I work. Though it rolled off his tongue so simply, it has echoed in my mind for a few days now. Some of my colleagues wonder why I maintain this blog and why I spend a portion of my evenings working on various work-related side projects (i.e. Information Dominance Corps Facebook forum as one example). The reason is the very one highlighted by the Sailor last week...I love what I do and the people with whom I serve. There is something especially gratifying when the people you value most understand and appreciate the motivation behind your actions. Truth is, there is no better compliment than being told that it is obvious that your love is revealed in your actions.

How many of us have been told or have made the time to tell another that it is obvious you love...

...being married to your spouse
...being the parent to your child
...making other people smile
...being part of a team
...your favorite hobby
...being a friend
...your profession
...life

This world is full of people who go through the motions, let's continue to ensure we are not one of them and acknowledge others whose actions make it obvious they love what they do. Thank you to the Sailor who commented on the alignment between my WHY and my actions. You have inspired me to make the time to give others the pleasure of knowing their passion is both obvious and appreciated.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Football Fans and Product Loyalty

The Super Bowl will soon be over and with it the beginning of far more productive weekends for me. Admittedly, I spend more time watching football than I should. I consider myself a college football fan and fantasy football has given me reason to pay at least some attention to the games played on Sundays, so a portion of my weekends in the fall and winter are spent on the couch. Because I am a fan of the game, I have no desire to declare myself a fan of a specific team. I respect the fact that many of my friends blindly follow a single team year in and year out, but I will never understand it. I especially don't understand those who use the pronoun "We" when speaking of the team they support. And I have already shared my opinion on the practice of wearing another man's jersey!

As a fan of the game, I pay sole attention to the product on the field without regard to the city or institution it claims to represent (i.e. a college football team rarely reflects the student body of said university and the nomads who play professionally ensure team rosters look different each year). I am more prone to watch a game that includes a quality product than one that represents a specific city or university. And by quality I mean style, skill level and the perceived character of the individual players/coaches who comprise the team. Though I am a graduate of the Naval Academy, I don't particularly enjoy watching the product they put on the field (few things are as boring as an option offense). I support the team because I respect what the institution stands for, the perceived character of the young men who wear the Blue and Gold (though that has been called into question of late), and the demands of the student-athletes taking the field (service academies are arguably the last bastion of true college athletics at the Division I level...graduation rate and personal conduct as metrics). Last year, I particularly enjoyed watching Boise State, Oregon and Stanford on Saturdays for the very reasons outlined above. On Sundays, there are few things as impressive as watching the Patriots (a true team approach), Colts (Peyton Manning prepares for Sundays the same way a Doctor prepares for surgery, a soldier gets ready for battle or an architect draws up blueprints), and the Packers (beautifully orchestrated offense). Next year, I will likely migrate toward completely different products.

I guess I lack product loyalty, but I believe loyalty is something that is continually earned and should never be assumed. If the quality of service or food at my favorite restaurant declines, I will stop going; When my PCs continued to increase my frustration level, I migrated to a Mac; And when a football team is either not fun to watch, apathetic towards competing or includes individuals of questionable character, I'll throw my support elsewhere. I am interested in today's Super Bowl because organizations who truly care about their products (to include image and branding) will be on the field. It's no surprise these two teams have such large and loyal fan bases and though I don't consider myself a fan of either, I respect the phenomenon that is "The Cheesehead" and "The Terrible Towel." As a fan of the game, I congratulate both the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers for repeatedly demonstrating how the game should be played both on and off the field (with the exception of #7 of the Steelers, which is the primary reason I will wear Green and Gold today). Though I will watch with interest (not a given on each Super Bowl Sunday), I wonder about those Packer/Steeler fans who will have their mood significantly altered (positively or otherwise) because of the outcome for which they had no affect. And I feel sorry for anyone who will utter the words "We did it!" if they are not directly affiliated with the winning team's football operations. We are no more a part of our favorite team than we are of a company that manufactures other products we consume in our daily life.

As the 2011 season nears, I'll look forward to supporting whomever fields a team filled with quality people (character) and adopts an exciting style of play. I am not loyal to organizations, I am loyal to values and to those who are committed to personal and professional excellence. Come to think of it, that's the very reason I remain loyal to my friends, family, the Navy and my valued Shipmates...quality people, who play with passion, care about the value we deliver and are committed to realizing our potential (personally and professionally).