Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quitters and Winners

"Winners never quit and quitters never win." -Coach Lombardi

Coach Lombardi's quote about quitters is one that has stuck with me since my childhood. My parents made it clear to us that the merits of seeing things through to the end was considered a family virtue. To this day, the thought of "quitting" anything to which I have committed gives me pause. As a father, I've made it a point to steer my son toward this philosophy. At the same time, I must admit that though my default is to see things through, three of the best decisions I have made in my life involved quitting.

As a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, I was a proud member of the soccer team. In fact, as a plebe (freshman in civilian speak), I was a starting forward on the last Navy team to win the league and qualify for the NCAA Tournament (I hope another team can make that claim soon). Devoting the time and energy to be a contributing member of that team came with a cost...my academic performance. Faced with the reality that I may not be fully prepared for success both on the pitch and in the classroom, I quit the soccer team and made my grades priority one...they improved dramatically.

Upon graduation from college, I was commissioned as an Ensign with orders to attend flight school where I would realize my Top Gun induced dream of becoming a Naval Aviator. I waited and waited, and waited some more, as the Navy continued to postpone my school dates. As weeks turned into months, with nothing to do but play all day, I began to question my dreams. I researched other options in the Navy that were potentially available to me and opportunity found me in the form of the Cryptologic Community. The opportunity costs of waiting for flight school were too great, so I quit before I even started to pursue new dreams.

Soon after I reached my initial service obligation in the Navy, I decided there were more appealing opportunities in the private sector and tendered my resignation to my Commanding Officer. After a month of letting the process work its course, I received a phone call from the detailer asking me if I would reconsider my decision in favor of an opportunity he knew would interest me. After short deliberation with my wife, I was convinced that the opportunity I truly valued would be realized if I withdrew my resignation. Notice I am still proudly wearing the uniform.

All too often we see quitting as failing and a demonstration of weakness, but in reality there are many scenarios where choosing to stay the course in favor of quitting is the failure. Too many of us try especially hard to force a return on investment (ROI) as a way of justifying the time and effort we had previously committed. Certainly, these sunk costs are considerations, but should not serve as decision drivers. Over time, I have quit things because of the greater opportunities I perceived with a change in course. Likewise, I have stayed the course because I saw greater opportunity on the current path.

Life is about creating opportunity, not justifying our wake. As leaders, we have a responsibility to steer toward opportunity and, as parents, we must guide our children in charting their own course. Steering by our wake merely leads us down a path that strives to justify the decisions we made yesterday and distracts us from our mandate of creating opportunities to realize the best tomorrow possible.

As I look around , I can't help but think more people should embrace the idea that winners do quit and quitters do win! What should you quit?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Team AND Family

Often times, I refer to my family as "Team Heritage" and the team with whom I work as "The NIOC Pensacola Family." Recently, I spent some time with one of my best friends who happens to be a CEO of a multi-national company. As we spoke of leadership, he told me that last year he made it a point to clarify to his colleagues that they were a team, not a family and that they should not confuse the two. Clearly, we used the words differently. As I often do, I spent some time reflecting upon my use of the terms. Was I using the terms incorrectly? What is the real difference between a team and a family?

Let's start first with the definitions:

Team: A number of people organized to function cooperatively as a group

Family: A group whose members are related in origin, characteristics or occupation; a group of people who are closely related by birth, marriage, or adoption; a group of people living together and functioning as a single household, usually consisting of parents and their children

I've participated on many teams in a traditional sense...soccer, football, baseball, etc and I would agree that each experience fell into the definition of "Team". The various families with whom I am related to varying degrees (i.e. by marriage, by blood, by circumstance) clearly fall into at least one of the definitions of family provided above. But can a team be a family and can a family be a team?

As I observe other families and even parts of my own, I say with great confidence that a family does not necessarily "function cooperatively as a group." So, though I strongly believe my immediate family is a team, I do recognize that a family may or may not be a team. As I consider the current team with whom I serve at NIOC Pensacola, I will acknowledge that we are not related by birth, marriage (though a couple are), or adoption; we do not live together (unlike deployed units), nor do we function as a single household; however, we are related by characteristics and occupation. Is that enough to call us a family?

Personally, I believe the strongest compliment one could pay to a family is to identify them as a team, a group that cooperatively functions together. Likewise, the nicest thing one could say about a team is that they take care of each other as if they were family...or is it?

I've read many a list and offer the following list of attributes describing a "healthy" family:

- Commitment to each other
- Spends Time together
- Open, frequent communication
- Turns inward in time of crisis
- Encourages each other
- Trust

Given those attributes, this period of reflection strengthens my belief that a team can be a family. More than that, the best teams strive to be a family. So, "Team Heritage" and the "NIOC Pensacola Family" will remain part of my vernacular and serve as compliments to the people I care most about in my life. In fact, recent events give me additional reason to say that parts of my work team may in fact interact as imperfectly as many a family does. Following certain stereotypes, we are not immune to experiencing the self-serving sister, the cousin who insists on creating conflict, the arrogant uncle who sincerely believes he is far better than he is, and the brother who is content doing just enough to not get kicked out of Mom and Dad's basement. That said, we are a family and a family of which I am proud to be a part.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, your families, and your teams!

Note: Any perceived similarities between the stereotypes mentioned and people in my life is purely coincidental and a reflection of how readers perceive themselves or those around them...not how I do.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Everything is a Choice

We hear it repeatedly and see it daily across our respective Facebook news feeds, too many people mentioning all of the things that they "Have to do." Very little about what it is we want to do, or need to do, but a heck of a lot about what we have to do. My son is catching on to the flaws in such poor word choice, but I believe it is far more than words, it is how people truly feel. He is now quick to remind me that nobody has to do anything...clearly he listens to our conversations. My wife and I have been long time believers that everything in life is a choice and that there are no "Have Tos". Some choices we are conditioned to make without any deliberate thought, while others are calculated. Some choices we make because we truly know what we want, some choices we make because we aren't big fans of the potential repercussions of our desired course of action. For example,

We don't have to work where we do, we choose to
We don't have to send our kids to school, we choose to
We don't have to eat what is put in front of us, we choose to
We don't have to attend a given social function, we choose to
We don't have to eat well and work out regularly, we choose to
We don't have to do what others ask/tell us to do, we choose to
We don't have to endure a long commute to work, we choose to
We don't have to meet the deadline we are given, we choose to
We don't have to serve our country in far off lands, we choose to

A life of "Have Tos" is no fun, while a life of "Choose Tos" is not only fulfilling, but reflective of our authentic selves, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. I would offer that if any of us feel as though our life is tilting toward "Have Tos", we are too lazy to change things, denying our ability to control a given aspect of our life, or more comfortable having others dictate how we should live our lives.

I can assure you that everything I do is a choice, some more deliberate than others, but a choice nonetheless. Likewise, I freely admit that I sometimes make bad decisions or use flawed logic in my calculus. Life is too short to allow it to be filled with "Have Tos". Next time you think about making a statement that begins with "I have to..." replace it with "I choose to...". I'm willing to bet you'll feel differently about the action you are about to take. If not, I ask that you choose not to do it or give the decision criteria you are using some additional thought.

Everything in life is a choice; it's our responsibility to both see it as such and take ownership of the results. If we don't, we are merely living someone else's life.

Note: Prior to posting this, I searched my blog for the number of posts that included the word "choose"...32 to date and this is my favorite.