Thursday, March 31, 2011

Little League Baseball - The Second Time Around

Over the last month, I have been reintroduced to Little League Baseball. My observations of the very same situations from the perspective of a parent, as opposed to that of a child, are so very different! I have no reason to believe (and recent conversations with my father confirm) that things were any different in the world of little league baseball when I was a child, but I have been disturbed by some of the things I have seen of late. When I reflect upon my time as a player, I remember 1) wanting to win, 2) wanting to personally succeed (i.e. no fielding errors and a hit at every at bat), and 3) wanting to learn the game. As a parent, my desire for my son is that he enjoy the very same (though, with much less emphasis on number one).

As I observe from the role of active parent (i.e. utility coach/dugout babysitter), I see something very different. I see "Grown Men" using kids as pawns to bully the other team by proxy, attempt to prove their perceived self worth, and relive any past glory (or compensate for a lack thereof) by "out coaching" their peers. Fortunately, my son plays for coaches who emphasize teaching fundamentals over winning (likely the reason they have yet to win a game); however, that doesn't make me blind to what is happening in the other dugouts.

Last Saturday I watched the end of the game before ours began. One particular coach was cautiously directing the efforts of his base runners. That is to say they were not turning ground balls hit to the pitcher into homeruns by forcing errant throw after errant throw. Instead, they were running bases as if it was really a baseball game and not an effort to create failure for as many field players as possible. [Side note: There is a big difference between experiencing failure (teaching) and creating failure (demeaning).] After the game, I made it a point to tell the coach how much I appreciated his coaching philosophy, unknowingly initiating the following conversation:

Him: "Thanks. We were losing, so I wanted to make sure we didn't give them any free outs. If the situation was different, I would have been much more aggressive."
Me: "That seems to be the general approach of every coach in this league."
Him: "If you don't just keep running the bases, you'll lose every game."
Me: "That's the problem. Coaches are too focused on winning and have no regard for teaching."
Him: Puzzled look; Walked away (end of brief conversation)

As an involved parent, I feel it is my responsibility to expose my son to as many things as possible so that he can then choose to pursue whichever activities truly interest him. My personal experience gives me reason to believe he can learn just as much (if not more) on the athletic field as he can in the classroom. (Plus, I have found the lessons learned on the field are usually far more relevant to "real life.") I have no aspiration for him to be a professional athlete or attend college on an athletic scholarship, nor do I care if he makes a single "All-Star Team." Success on the athletic field (I believe) is: having fun while learning how to be part of a team; working hard to achieve the goals we set; building meaningful friendships; understanding that we learn as much (arguably more) from failing as we do from succeeding; becoming self-confident; and understanding what it means to be gracious, regardless of the outcome.

I will spend as many weekends at the - insert sports venue - as my son chooses, so I can do my best to help him focus on the true spirit of youth sports. I just hope he remains as oblivious to what too many coaches are doing as I evidently was when I was his age. As I migrate to official coach once these 7/8 year old kids reach the point when they are ready to truly play baseball, I will do my part to undo much of the "coaching" done at this level, focus on fundamentals and help these children to enjoy true success through sports instead of giving them a false sense of accomplishment based purely on the failures of others. Until then, I will continue to advocate on behalf of the players, while helping the coaches to understand their actions are undermining the true teaching objectives, and short term "successes" (i.e. stacking their roster and exploiting the physical limitations of 45-70 pound 7/8 year olds, so they win by 15+ runs) are not preparing any of the kids for longterm success. I hope more of our coaches realize this is another case where the means is the end.

I do wonder how these coaches perform in the workplace, how they lead their subordinates, how they cultivate teamwork, and how they define their own personal/professional success. Truth is we are not building baseball players on the diamond, we are helping to shape tomorrow's leaders...where success is measured very differently than some coaches are helping these young men to believe.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Implementation: We're Getting Better

Though spending a few days in Orlando (to include "The Happiest Place on Earth") celebrating my son's birthday was clearly the highlight of the week, the most surprising was the two hours I spent on Monday before the drive attending Navy Tier 2 Training regarding Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) Repeal Implementation. I say surprising because after over two decades of enduring General Military Training (GMT) I have become numb to most messages and the vehicles used to communicate what has become "Check in the Box" training. However, I was impressed by the DADT training because unlike just about every GMT we are forced to sit through each month, it was deliberately developed and tailored to a specific audience. In fact, at the end of the session, I was left not wondering why we (DOD) were repealing DADT, but what took us so long? Primary take-aways include:

- Standards of Conduct: Navy standards of conduct are sexual orientation neutral. All members are responsible for upholding and maintaining the high standards of conduct of the Navy 24/7.

- Privacy and Cohabitation: Berthing and billeting assignments or the designation of bathroom facilities based on sexual orientation are prohibited.

- Moral and Religious Concerns: No one is required to change their personal views and religious beliefs; they must, however, continue to respect and serve with others who hold different values and beliefs.

- Benefits: Service members not in a Federally-recognized marriage will be treated as "single" for the purposes of benefits eligibility.

- Equal Opportunity: Sexual orientation is not specified as a class eligible for the MEO complaint resolution process. Sexual orientation is treated under the same general principles of MEO policy that apply to all Service members. Sexual orientation may not, in and of itself, be a factor in accession, promotion, or other personnel decision-making. Gay and lesbian Service members, like all Service members, are evaluated only on terms of merit, fitness, and capability.

The message was simple and extremely well-framed. I did find it interesting that so many of my peers and seniors were focusing their attention on privacy and cohabitation, as well as standards of conduct. I guess I have a higher opinion of the team with whom I serve (yes, working primarily with CTs and ISs does spoil a Sailor), as I could not be any less concerned about those aspects. Not surprisingly, we were told that those with the millennial mindset were primarily interested in the benefits related discussion. As far as the communication vehicle goes, it was a grouping of Powerpoint slides with a recorded voiceover that was opened and closed by a video of our CNO himself. The last step in the delivery is for Command Triads to collectively deliver the training face to face (no NKO). An easy task and welcomed opportunity for NIOC Pensacola.

Ironically, when we (SEL, XO and I) returned from the training session, we were met with an e-mail from the Type Commander staff asking us to identify a member of our team from hispanic descent who might be worthy of consideration for an engineering achievement award...a completely opposing message to the the Equal Opportunity communique we had heard and applauded just an hour earlier. We say it's about diversity of thought, our actions demonstrate something very different. Seems to me, we are getting DADT repeal implementation right, yet use diversity programs as a divisive tool. DADT repeal will succeed because our objective is to make the differences a non-issue, where diversity programs continue to present unintended consequences because we choose to make our differences THE issue.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Heirarchy of Needs

In the wake of a recent post about Loving What You Do, I have enjoyed a few off-line discussions on the topic. What I found interesting about those who chose to engage me in conversation on this particular subject was that each of them did, in fact, love what they do. At the same time, we were all quick to acknowledge that too many people we know aren't passionate about their work, they merely see it as a means to pay for their consumption habits. Of this group, some continue to endure their current place of employment because they aren't capable of more, though most don't seem to think enough of themeselves to change their situation. One particular colleague was thoughtful enough to bring up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a model that has made great sense to me since it was introduced back in grade school. After refreshing myself with the specifics of each stage of growth in humans, it became clear to me that many of us never even consider self-actualization and for that reason rationalize contentment in living near the base of the pyramid.

Over the course of my life I have been motivated by each and every level of this hierarchy. Although, I must admit that my parents did a great job of ensuring I had no reason to give the base of the pyramid any meaningful consideration, and by joining the Navy right out of high school, the same remained true. Therefore, the base of my pyramid by all measures was "Love/Belonging." In my younger days as an adult, I'd be lying if I did not admit that "Love and Belonging" was a (if not the) driving motivation for my approach to both my personal and professional life. Fortunately, I was born to parents who truly made parenting a priority; enjoy friends, though small in number, large in heart; marry a true partner; and remain a part of an organization that conditions us to continually improve both ourselves and those around us. Clearly, my needs for love and belonging were more than met at a relatively early age and continue to be more than satisfied today.

Esteem was a level with which I struggled at times. Just as there is a huge difference between self-doubt and self-confidence, there is an important distinction between self-confidence and arrogance. Those who lack self-confidence don't believe they can, while their arrogant cousins feel the need to continually convince and remind everyone (including themselves) they can. Because I see arrogance as such a character flaw, I may be guilty of being overly self-deprecating in an effort to ensure others do not perceive me in such a way. Regardless, those who demonstrate a lack of self-esteem (either through self-doubt or arrogance) will continue to deny themselves of true happiness, as they remain stuck attempting to meet their needs for love and belonging.

Once any of us get to the point where we get a taste of self-actualization, we will find that it is addicting. Professionally speaking, I can remember the general timeframe (Fall of 2000) when I got a meaningful taste. Since that point, I have been looking for ways to both satisfy that addiction and introduce as many as I can to my drug of choice. In fact, a mentor of mine recently diagnosed me as being "Intoxicated by Possibility," a mindset I hope to maintain. I realize that not everyone is at the transition point between esteem and self-actualization, making it necessary to coach them through the pre-requisite levels of the hierarchy before enjoying the real fun.

We as both parents and leaders have a responsibility to nurture those around us from the base of the triangle to the apex, as we focus on our respective needs with the intent of placing all less self-actualization on auto-pilot. Many of us have been given a running start based on pure chance (good parents), while others have not. Some spend a lifetime stuck focused on addressing their physical needs and many others, though capable, will never make self-actualization a priority. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have tasted some self-actualization, let's give as many people as possible a taste of what it feels like to help others to reach their full potential just as we strive to reach ours. (I know that is why I get up in the morning.) For those who haven't reached that point, please consider making a change that will allow you to progress towards the apex with the help of like-minded people.

Focusing on our own personal/professional development is not selfish, it's a realization that life is too short not to be doing something that truly matters.