Monday, May 30, 2011

Celebrating Life...Dealing with Loss

A week ago Friday, I had the pleasure of participating in my first American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Like so many other great things associated with where I work, this idea was not mine. A core of Sailors have turned our command's participation in this event into a newly formed tradition and their excitement made me want to be a part of it. My father is a cancer survivor and both of his parents lost battles with the illness years ago, so like just about everyone at this venue, cancer has touched my life. I was told that in previous years enthusiasm waned in the middle of the night, so I chose not to be there for the opening ceremonies and instead arrived rested for the 0130 - 0500 hours. Clearly, we miscalculated as plenty of energy remained in the air. This was definitely a celebration of life, where survivors were there to enjoy more than a few victory laps and give hope to those still fighting, while pictures, candles, and stories, ensured those who lost their fight with the illness were present in spirit.

I had the pleasure of walking laps with numerous Shipmates (some walked more than 25 miles; my distance was much shorter), though I am convinced most were sleepwalking by the time I arrived. I had an especially enjoyable conversation with the mother of one of our Sailors who had beaten cancer a few years back. She and her husband made the trip from Virginia and arrived just in time to see the opening ceremonies. In fact, it was her son who partnered with a couple of others to create this opportunity for the command. She was so thrilled by her son's involvement in this event and the fact that there were so many Sailors participating. We spoke of her battle, but we mainly spoke of what this event means to her and others who have been directly impacted by cancer. It was her opportunity to reflect on the many people with whom she spent time (who have since passed away) in various waiting rooms as they battled the illness together - an annual reunion, if you will. It was this conversation that brought me back in time to just three days prior. Specifically, the moment when our Executive Officer called to inform me that one of our Sailors had taken his own life. I suddenly was sitting with a group of people celebrating life and cherishing every moment, yet thinking of a young man who felt things were so bad he had no reason to live.

I drove home that morning thinking more and more about my conflicting feelings. I am not a grief counselor and, fortunately, I have not personally had to deal with much loss in my life to date, so I am as little help to myself, as I am to others, when navigating the stages of grief. During that drive home, I became angry. I was angry because I was reminded about the impact the loss of a loved one has on those left behind. I was angry because I saw how much our Sailors valued life and cared about people whom they never even met. I was angry because we are left grieving in our own way because one of our own saw no way out despite being surrounded by so much friendship.

The last two weeks have been trying. We have individually, and in small groups, reflected on how we might have prevented one of our own from taking his life. We looked internally to take personal responsibility and most have since concluded that we were not at fault and did everything in our power to take care of a Shipmate. It is my hope that the memorial our First Class Petty Officer Association organized for Wednesday will help the rest of the team get to that point. I also hope it helps me to get past my anger and embrace my sadness. For this Friday, I, along with the deceased Sailor's best friend at the command, will be attending the funeral. It is there where we will witness first hand the void this young man's decision has created for his parents and extended family. I have always thought that suicide is the most selfish thing a person can do. It pushes the pain to those who care most about the individual and leaves us to pick up the pieces. As I reflect upon the cancer survivors at the relay, proudly wearing their purple and celebrating each day as a gift, as well as the memories of so many who would love to have had just one more day on earth, I cannot fathom why another would just throw away the most precious gift. We will all experience death in time. My hope is that none of us choose to leave this planet by our own hands. Our day will come soon enough, so let's continue to enjoy life for as long as we are able, and on this Memorial Day, let's give thanks to those who gave all so we could do just that...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chasing Collar Devices

Promotion board result season is upon us, and yet again, the questions fill the air as members of our team attempt to do their own analysis of the results. Despite the numerous flaws in such analysis, individuals will use their "findings" as reason to either validate or alter their desired career path. I mention flaws in the analysis because none of us have the decision inputs that the promotion board did. Yes, I will acknowledge that many times the information we have may be more relevant, as generally speaking many reporting seniors do a poor job of truly documenting performance, holding juniors formally accountable (conduct), and accounting for the personality traits that, if incentivized, would truly build a prolific team (Multipliers vs Diminishers). Our approach to Fitness Reports doesn't do us any favors (ranking based on relative seniority amongst peers, trying to be "The Good Guy" for everyone, deferring the reality check to the promotion board, etc), but that is not the point of this post. My confusion lies in what really amounts to an annual quest to identify the jobs we should ourselves take as we refine our path to obtaining the collar devices for which we so desperately yearn. Yes, there are plenty who continue to value perceived success (rank) over measurable significance (making a meaningful contribution) and that in itself remains our biggest challenge.

Over the last two weeks, I have heard the following statements:

- Training is broken but I would never take orders to the schoolhouse because people do not promote well there
- I'd love to be an OIC, but promotion rates tell me we don't value that job
- Not all COs made Captain, so we must not really value command
- Those who repeatedly do "Cyber Jobs" are clearly accepting risk when it comes to promotion

A valued colleague recently assessed that...

...people continually ask what it is we value as a community. Unfortunately, when they do so, it is not because they want to know how they might accumulate meaningful experiences so they are able to grow into one of our MVPs (while helping to mentor others along a similar path), they merely want to know what jobs they need to take in order to get promoted.

I look forward to being a part of a community filled with passionate multipliers who without hesitation choose to conclude:

- Training is broken! I want to be a part of the solution and am seeking orders to the schoolhouse. At the same time, I am building a team of interested contributors with whom to do it.
- That billet (pick one) has been neglected for years, I am going to turn that platform (and every job is a platform) into something significant and a billet for which my potential reliefs will be standing in line
- It's not the billet that dictates the promotability of the incumbent, but the contributions of the incumbent while in the billet (and, more accurately, over their preceding tours)

I would also go as far as to state that the individual "accepting risk" is the one "checking boxes" as a means of chasing collar devices only to not see his name on the promotion list. The individual following her passion, leveraging her strengths and seeking the greatest opportunity to contribute in meaningful ways is doing anything but "accepting risk" and will enjoy a meaningful journey, while building a lasting legacy regardless of what a promotion board decides.

As my mentors have taught me, it's not what we get as a result of our journey, but who we become in the process. We are so focused on building Admirals, we fail to invest in the development of the kind of Lieutenant Commanders we need. We seem to be so interested in posturing ourselves for success, a newly established peer award resulted in 13 nomination packages from a field of more than 1,000 peers who had the opportunity to celebrate the contributions of a valued Shipmate. It is this culture that gave me reason to think long and hard about retiring at the end of this tour. More than that, it is this culture that is reason I am more committed to this team than ever.

To the masses who continue to do what we do because we believe in it, because we love our Shipmates, and because we share a vision for how things could be, we salute you (note: If this is you, please e-mail me so we can create a meaningful side project to champion together). To those of you motivated primarily by collar device, please consider joining us in making our legacy one of quantifiable significance vice questionable success...until then, please stop wasting your time over-thinking the promotion results.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Experiencing, Sharing, Multiplying...

Those who know me are well aware of the fact that I work both directly and indirectly with incredibly smart, creative people. In fact, I often celebrate the fact that I am rarely (if ever) the smartest person in any given room. It is that acknowledgement that all but ensures I leave a meeting, conversation, or briefing smarter, or at the very least more informed, than when I arrived. The same is true of any room with access to the internet. I am a student of ideas and very much enjoy the insights on many different aspects of life others choose to share. I learn so much by reading blogs, links shared by friends and repeated use of search engines. In an effort to reciprocate, I choose to share some of the things I experience, observe and learn in my life via this blog and a few other collaborative forums). I do so in part because I know how difficult it is for many (including myself) to publicly share. Believe me, I question myself with each and every post, yet I hit "PUBLISH POST" three times a month in hopes that others will choose to respond by sharing their ideas and making the collective smarter. In essence, I share ideas not because I think my ideas are any better than anyone else's, but because I know how important it is to share and appreciate when others do the same. It should come as no surprise that my parents raised me to be a proud proponent of "The Golden Rule" and a believer in "The Law of Reciprocity"...there is great power in those two guiding principles.

On occasion, colleagues have thanked me for, built upon or delved into deeper discussion of a post, while at the same time admitting they don't feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with a wide audience. These individuals have intellect far deeper than I, ideas far more creative than I, and communication skills far more eloquent than I. Though some even make it a point to write down many of their thoughts, they do so with the belief that their ideas are not for public consumption and that there is no audience for their ideas. There was a time when I felt the same way, but things changed (at least in my mind). I didn't share because I thought doing so would give others reason to perceive me as self-absorbed or even arrogant (two of the largest character flaws in my opinion). Then I found myself complaining that others in my professional life were not communicating, were not making it a point to share their unique insights and some even relished in the misconception that withholding information increased their importance. In essence, I saw that I was beginning to view people who were not contributing to the conversation in the same way I thought I might be viewed if I chose to publicly share. Tipping point reached.

Since then, any time made to share thoughts with any audience who is interested in listening (and yes, even a few who aren't) has been time well spent. I am reminded of a book I recently read, Multipliers - How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. Since sharing this book with my colleagues at NIOC Pensacola (and beyond), I have exchanged both letters and e-mails with the author, Liz Wiseman (interesting how one's network changes and grows when we share of ourself), and she has even sent me books to help spread the message. The premise of her book is captured in the title and between the covers, she does a great job of contrasting "Multipliers" and "Diminishers". As unfortunate as it is, I have run into just as many (if not more) "Diminishers" in my life as I have "Multipliers". To use her vocabulary, "Multipliers" are...

- Talent Magnets: Get access to the best talent because people flock to work for them knowing they will be fully utilized and developed to be ready for the next stage
- Liberators: Create an environment that requires people's best thinking and work, resulting in bold thinking and best effort
- Challengers: Define opportunities that challenge people to go beyond what they know how to do
- Debate Makers: Engage people in debating the issues up front, leading to sound decisions that people understand and can execute efficiently
- Investors: Give other people the investment and ownership they need to produce results independent of the leader

I did not know it at the time I created this forum, but Liz has helped me to know I continue to share for three reasons:

1) I want to be a true "Multiplier"
2) I feel a responsibility to help create a Multiplying Culture
3) I REALLY don't like "Diminishers"

Though there are people in my life who I consider "Multipliers" despite their unwillingness to publicly share of themself, I don't know of any "Diminishers" who make the time to share. For my fellow "Multipliers" out there who have yet to reach your personal tipping point that will result in a desire to both share great ideas and encourage others to do the same, consider...

Not all good ideas are shared, not all shared ideas are good, but what good is an idea if it is not shared?

Note: If you are interested in a copy of "Multipliers" or would like me to send one to a colleague on your behalf, please be one of the first five to send me a note at seanheritage@gmail.com