Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mine, Mine, Mine

At work, my computer, sits on my desk, next to my phone in my Office. When I am not there, no one sits in my office, no one dials out on my phone, no one sits at my desk, and no one uses my computer. It's not because I am territorial, it's just the way things are. For some reason, it's not only OK that these resources sit there doing nothing, it is expected.

At the command in which I work, we are responsible for running the very same Command Programs (Mentorship, Physical Readiness, Safety, etc) as the hundreds of other Navy Commands. In the execution of these programs, work is repeatedly duplicated within each franchise.

In my storage shed, I have numerous tools and countless home improvement supplies that I have no plans to use anytime in the near future (I really enjoy condo living). But, they sit in boxes collecting dust, anxiously awaiting an opportunity to build/fix something (should that day come).

Each day, I walk by the bike rack in our parking garage only to see the same 100+ rarely used bikes that were once "Must Have" purchases, as they continue to grow rust.

In the virtual world, we talk of "The Cloud", networked peripherals, shared software licensing, and the like. Why is it that we feel compelled to make sole proprietorship our model of choice in the physical world, yet are so quick to share resources in the virtual world?

Do we really need our own power saw if I use it 30 minutes a year? Do we really need our own swimming pool when there is a community pool down the road? Does everyone on the block really need their own lawn mower? Why does each Navy command run identical programs in isolation without sharing best practices and pooling resources?

In the physical world, we are clearly addicted to maximizing individual capacity, personal ownership and material accumulation. I can't help but think about how different this world would be if we went out of our way to create interdependencies vice duplication...

...where we actually look forward to leaning on our neighbors
...where we increase collective capacity by decreasing duplication
...where we decrease waste by sharing material goods

As football season nears, I can't help but see parallels. A quarterback needs to throw well, but a left tackle need not spend any time increasing his passing accuracy. A wide receiver needs to catch well and run fast, while a placekicker doesn't need to do either. Coaches don't spend time growing the same skills in all four players, they deliberately grow specialized expertise to enhance complimentary skill sets for the collective good. In essence, they acknowledge the game's interdependencies and tailor individual capabilities to maximize overall productivity.

True neighbors need not fill their sheds in duplicative fashion and commands truly interested in working together need not grow the same capability through exacting investment of time, training, and personnel. If we were more interested in increasing collective capacity vice duplicating redundant capacity within our personal silo, imagine how much better we would be.

Many of us who experienced a childhood without computers in our house blame the same for creating what many perceive to be a disconnected generation (i.e. virtual interaction vice physical presence). Before we argue that opinion next time, maybe we should take an inventory of our tool shed, look at our collection of material goods we rarely use, and consider the Shipmate working at another command doing the very job we are (yet never call to exchange ideas). We may just realize that we are in fact the ones promoting a disconnected model.

Personally, I believe that the "disconnected" youth of today, will make connecting our physical world the priority we clearly have not. Why not give them a running start?

By the way, if you need a power saw, a drill or many of the other tools I have "just in case", please let me know, I am more than happy to share.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Willy Wonka's Mentorship Factory

It happened again. This time it was my birthday outing to see the live musical Willy Wonka. I've seen the movie many times, and yes the Gene Wilder version still scares me. I've always enjoyed the story, but just as my most recent experience watching my son's play, The Pied Piper (Please Say "Rats!"), the story changed dramatically, or was it me who changed? This time, Willy Wonka was not about the exploration of a magical candy factory and the unfortunate "accidents" that sealed the fate of four obnoxious children. Instead, it was a story of mentorship and succession planning.

The story I saw last Sunday was about one leader's quest to mentor young men and women who he believed were worthy of his time. It was about one man's desire to nurture young adults of character to replace him at the helm. In my mind, it was no longer a chocolate factory, but a mentorship factory.

Unfortunately, each protégé found a way to sabotage the relationship Mr. Wonka was attempting to create before it even began to take shape...

- Augustus refused to follow simple rules and fell into the chocolate lake

- Violet ignored cautionary advice and swelled up like a blueberry after chewing the 3-course dinner gum

- Veruca showed poor judgement by trying to grab a squirrel and is thrown into the garbage chute

- Mike tried to use the Wonkavision machine and ended up shrunken to about 6 inches high

In a game of attrition, Charlie Bucket becomes the protégé of choice after demonstrating a willingness to be accountable for his actions, acknowledging his mistake, and demonstrating integrity and character (either that twist was unique to the version I saw last weekend or I never noticed it before).

Few of us are as eccentric as Mr. Wonka, but many of us share his desire to help others achieve their potential, to create mentor/protégé relationships, and to help ensure our organization is postured for success after we leave (Succession Planning). The challenge appears to be in identifying potential protégés who want the same. We need not wait for a golden ticket from a mentor to see them as such, and if we do receive such an overt invitation, we should be as deliberate about our response as Charlie Bucket and make the most of the opportunity. I can attest to the fact that I have reached out to people like Augustus, Violet, Veruca, and Mike only to be disappointed by their reciprocate actions. Yes, as leaders, we have a responsibility and should have the desire to help all under our charge. But, for me, the only people in whom I repeatedly invest are the Charlie Buckets of the world. The individuals who want to personally grow, who give as much they receive, and who make others want to block on their behalf (Where are Your Blockers?).

So, if you are reading this, please consider this an invitation of mentorship, a golden ticket, if you will. Reach out to your mentor of choice and commit to the role of protégé. If you already enjoy the benefit of a special mentor or better yet, a Personal Board of Directors, consider letting him/her/them know how appreciative you are for the time invested in you.

Remember, if you veer off course, watch out for the Oompa Loompas!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Biographies - WHO not WHAT

For those of us serving in or directly affiliated with the military, the summer months are filled with retirement and change of command ceremonies. At each we receive a nice program that includes the schedule of events, some background on the traditions we will witness during the ceremony and biographies of a few key individuals who will be speaking during the ceremony. Reading program after program, I got to thinking about the standard Navy biography.

I have always believed the purpose of personal biographies is to give the reader a better sense of the person about whom they are reading. There are many ways to write and meet that objective and most military men and women focus on answering these questions...

- Where did I grow up?
- What is my educational background?
- Where have I been stationed (and what deployment or operation occurred)?
- What awards have I received?
- What is my family make-up (i.e. name of spouse and number of children, if any)?

As we read the bio and listen to the individual speak, does any of the above provide us with any true insight into who the person is that we are listening to? I believe that what we do while in uniform is very different than who we are as people. Yes, certain assumptions can be made, but why force an audience to assume. Little of what we share in a standard bio even begins to speak to who we are. Because I have such a problem talking and not acting, I recently changed my official bio and the following is what is currently posted on our command web page:

"Commander Sean Robert Heritage, a native of Pleasanton, California, entered the United States Navy as a member of the United States Naval Academy's Class of 1992 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. A true family man, he considers himself a father, husband and son first and a Sailor second. Though he is extremely proud of the experiences, challenges, and opportunities the Navy continues to provide him and his family, he is more pleased with how he continues to evolve as a result. Those who know Commander Heritage can attest to his personal commitment to the following beliefs:

- Fear of failure is the most debilitating fear of all
- Competence is valued far more than collar device
- There is no more dangerous personality flaw than arrogance
- Over-communicating the WHY behind our actions is a necessity
- Remaining focused on helping those around oneself rise to the top is the only way to be a true leader
- In order to inspire, one must be inspired
- Being successful does not mean we are significant
- Efficiency and effectiveness don't always converge
- Erring on the side of action is admirable
- Constructively critical feedback from a 360 degree array is desired, required, and the only way to improve

Commander Heritage has served afloat, ashore, on staffs and as an Executive Officer prior to his current role as Commanding Officer of NIOC Pensacola. He has also earned Masters of Science degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the Naval War College in the fields of Information Technology Management and National Security Studies, respectively. The Sailors with whom he has served over the course of his career have accomplished much and their contributions have given Joint and Navy Commanders reason to award him with various personal decorations, which he proudly considers team awards."

Some may snicker, some may dismiss the logic altogether. Truth is, I am far more interested in who people are than I am in what they have done and what medals they wear on their chest. I am also far more interested in speaking to people who value WHO more than WHAT. If we are going to share of ourselves, why not truly share of ourselves? Why go through the motions of blindly following the standard template.

What does your bio say about who you are?

(Note: The same can be said about resumes and I will overhaul mine soon)