Saturday, April 30, 2011

Successful and Significant

When attending any conference we hear many thoughts, some good, some great and some that we wouldn't give a second thought. Last week I was at a conference and though it is an oversimplification, that was exactly my experience. Of the many thoughts shared with us, one distinctly caught my attention and will continue to serve as my primary take-away from the two days we spent together. Though it wasn't an original thought (most of the best ideas are not), when giving consideration to the audience it especially resonated with me. One of our Admirals simply challenged a group of Commanding Officers by congratulating us on our success and challenging us to be significant.

The difference between being successful and significant is not subtle. These officers were successful in that we have achieved rank and were specifically chosen to be Commanding Officers, the greatest honor in our Navy. The point was that the bar for success is relative and isn't always high, while the measure for significance is not on a sliding scale. A very junior Sailor may not yet be deemed a success by traditional measure, but can quickly become the most significant contributor to the team. Conversely, a senior officer may be considered successful by his collar device and positional authority, yet be an insignificant member of the team.

Sad truth is that our respective Command Tour will be deemed successful as long as we are not fired. We will enjoy a nice ceremony that will acknowledge the transfer of authority, accountability and responsibility to our relief and we will have a medal pinned to our chest, as others congratulate us "on a successful command tour." To the Admiral's point, I don't care to be successful, as success by this standard has largely become mediocrity powered by sometimes questionable motivation. Instead, I continue to be a proud member of a team focused on being significant. A team who measures significance by creating unique value for the customers, by building meaningful relationships within and beyond OUR command, by having no choice but to repeatedly say "You're welcome" to the many individuals who appreciate our extra efforts, and by ensuring everything in our wake is better than it was before we involved ourselves.

The truth is people who are focused on success are often times doing things for themselves, while people who make being significant the objective are focused on bettering the lives of others. Big houses, fancy cars, a corner office and shiny new collar devices are things that are important to people who are driven by success. Incoming thank you notes, preserved integrity, strong personal relationships, and knowing one has done his absolute best is what sustains those of us focused on being significant.

Successful people love the status quo; Significant people can't alter the order of things fast enough.

I hadn't previously given much thought to these two words that too many of us use as synonyms, but can now confidently state...

Success without significance is hollow, significance without regard to success is admirable, and success through the pursuit of making significant contributions is the only success worth having.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Experimenting Without Positional Authority

One of the fallacies that too many people believe is that one must have positional authority to lead. I have heard it too often when speaking to protégés, "What do I need to do to set myself up for a leadership opportunity?" When asking that question, nearly all are quick to admit that they are asking about being a Department Head, Executive Officer, Officer in Charge or Commanding Officer. The answer to the question is "We are all in a leadership position and have the opportunity to lead." Let's not wait for a positional platform on which to stand in order to lead, let's create a platform by leading. While thoroughly enjoying the traditional "100 Day Honeymoon Period" at my current position and enjoying a meaningful conversation with each member of the NIOC Pensacola Family, it became quite evident to me that we were a "Team of Leaders" who clearly had potential and the responsibility to evolve into a "Team who Leads."

During those individual conversations with each Sailor, it was obvious that those of us working in this specialty area of Computer Network Operations (CNO) were not especially aware of how fellow CNO Professionals were executing their tasks, what additional opportunities were available to us over the course of a career and how each "Cylinder of Excellence" was training the portion of the CNO Workforce under their charge. We had no charter, we had no positional authority, all we had was a desire; a desire to learn from others and share what we have learned. The resulting experiment was the Cryptologic Technician Networks (CTN) Collaboration Conference as developed, led and executed by NIOC Pensacola's First Class Petty Officer Association (FCPOA).

When we sent the message inviting our peers to come to Pensacola with the goal of enhancing awareness, strengthening a common culture, and facilitating best practice convergence across the CTN Rating, the response was less than overwhelming. Some wondered who we thought we were, others saw it as odd that we target First Class Petty Officers instead of more senior leadership and some just questioned the entire concept. Unfortunately, I had predicted that this would be the initial response, so we purposely did not share our plan before sending out formal invitations. The thought being that by not announcing the party, no one could cancel it; but, if we asked for permission, there was a good chance others might ask us to get back in our box. Over time, through deliberate engagement by our Chief Petty Officers, we were able to ally with fellow collaborators, grow public support and make enough of the skeptics curious enough to show up. By the end of the conference we had met our intent. To deem anything a success, one must have measures, so the metrics on which we focused were the number of CTNs who left with a full appreciation for...

1) The depth of contributions being made by CTNs across the Navy
2) The vast array of training resources available to the CTN Rating
3) The creative means by which CTNs are growing expertise across the force
4) The personal relationships that resulted in meaningful collaboration across commands

By continually looking for opportunities to lead and demonstrating our commitment to the philosophy of "if not us, who?", we remind ourselves and show others that we need not have positional authority before we lead, help others (as well as ourselves) to grow and create true value. I look forward to the day when the personal initiative demonstrated by our FCPOA is not met with raised eyebrows and comments that clearly question their motives. Instead, those who choose not to lead beyond their position description (only to admire the problem) will be the ones whose inaction will be questioned by our peers and seniors.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Experimenting with 360 Degree Feedback

Life is an adventure and WE have every opportunity to both succeed and fail as WE try new things, experiment with new ideas and create opportunities to both improve ourselves and those around us. Life is easier if WE stay inside our comfort zone, do the things WE are told and stick to the manual, but what fun is that? I must admit, I did not adopt that philosophy early enough in life, but it is one that has provided me with great joy since doing so. Recently, WE have begun to truly embrace the experimentation approach to leadership at work, as WE strive to write our manual instead of blindly adhering to the one that has been passed down to US from those who WE relieved (though in most cases it serves as a solid starting point). Within the NIOC Pensacola Laboratory, the three experiments WE have enjoyed of late include 360 degree performance counseling, leading without positional authority and doing our part to begin creating a culture of collective ownership across the community. This post is about the first of these three.

Last summer, I had the privilege of spending half of a day at Google (click here for related post), where the objective was to expose us to a culture very different than what WE enjoy in the military. It opened my eyes to what WE could be and, in my opinion, more of what WE should be. Over the last month WE turned Chief Petty Officer and Chief Warrant Officer Mid-term counseling into phase two of OUR 360 degree feedback initiative. Because every action should be purposeful, this is the WHY behind OUR action:

- Mid-term counseling has turned into a paper drill in many places (no meaningful conversation to accompany the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, consider yourself counseled" approach)
- Too many people are more concerned about pleasing their seniors than working with their peers and leading their juniors
- The most constructive feedback comes from our subordinates and our peers
- Counseling is about making each other better and therefore must be meaningful

Our approach was to specifically choose peers and subordinates who would take this especially seriously and provide constructive feedback about their chain of command. The result did not disappoint. WE had Seamen clearly articulating what they admired about their Division and Department Chiefs, as well as offering them ideas of what they could be doing better. WE had Chiefs who were truly interested in making the Chief's Mess even stronger, as well as celebrating specific attributes of theirs peers indirectly advocating on behalf of their peers to their shared reporting seniors. Unfortunately, WE also saw that not all seniors are paying enough attention to their juniors to meaningfully assess their strengths and areas for improvement. One of the coolest things about this evolution was the willingness of nearly every participant to put his or her name on the counseling sheet. Though some desired to remain anonymous (in the end WE ensured all remained anonymous for Phase II), most took ownership as a way of stating "I am proud of my input, I appreciated the opportunity, I have a strong desire to make all with whom I serve better and I would like it if others would do the same for me."

WE have yet to decide where to go with Phase III of this experiment, and have charged the Chiefs and Chief Warrant Officer (the recipients this time around), with making recommendations for the next steps. WE will ensure our PO1s get the benefit of 360 degree feedback during their next mid-term counseling, as we work to further our quest to create a culture that is even more focused on continual improvement across the 360 degree array. As WE state in OUR Command Philosophy, one of OUR four Command Values is...

"CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT: Not a single thing we do as a team is perfect and not a single trait of any individual is without room for improvement. Each of us will leave this command having improved it in some way and each of us will depart a better Sailor, person, follower and leader.
We will each leave our legacy with the command and our Shipmates; The command and our Shipmates will leave a legacy with us"

OUR values will continue to be more than words on paper and WE will continue to experiment with each and every one of them as WE write OUR own manual and share it with others who are interested in learning WITH us. At the same time, WE continue to choose to either validate or change the status quo by asking “WHY?” at every turn.