Saturday, October 20, 2012

One Last Post

As I work to refine my participation in the blogosphere, this will be my last posting in this particular forum.  I have shifted gears and will instead focus on more fully developing "Connecting the Dots" at a new URL: www.seanheritage.com.  All past posts have been duplicated within the new blog and all future posts will be located within the same.  I will be leaving this blog up for the foreseeable future to receive links that many of you were generous enough to point this way, but will not be adding any new posts. I continue to be grateful for the conversations this blog continues to generate and for your participation.  The primary reason for establishing a visible web presence is to encourage discussion with the hope of learning from, with, and through interested participants.  A special thanks to those who choose to both participate and reciprocate.

I hope you choose to follow me over to the new Connecting the Dots.  This migration just seems like the next logical step as I continually seek clarity through action. I look forward to sharing the journey with you, as we connect the dots together...


Fondly,

- Sean

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Daily Readboard

It's been almost eight years since I got serious about making personal improvement a deliberate part of my life. Prior to that turning point, anything I may have been getting better at (less physical fitness) was not especially intentional. I had been listening to the great Jim Rohn and was struck by his quote...

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” 

I was happy with the majority of the people with whom I was spending most of my time, but I committed to not letting my assigned work center or my neighborhood overly influence the make-up of those five people. Instead, I began filling my head with the books of great leaders, my ears with PODcasts from entrepreneurs, and my eyes with TED Talks from creative thought leaders. Recently, I was asked to recommend good books for leaders to read. I offer my top picks here. I will soon do the same for PODcasts and TED Talks.

When I was a junior officer, well before there was a computer on every desk, I remember the importance of "The Read Board". It still exists in varied forms across the Fleet, but for the non-initiated, in its most basic form it was a clipboard with messages that had come in from higher headquarters, as well as both operational and intelligence commands that met certain criteria. The clipboard was passed around the organization and initialed by the desired audience. It was a way to ensure leaders were synchronized and benefitted from a shared situational awareness. Over the years, my personal readboard has changed. The below is a list of the content I read each and every morning to both ensure I am deliberate about raising my personal average and planting the right seeds so that they grow during my commute to work and throughout the day.  I read plenty more than this, but these leaders can be counted on to transmit daily...

I Like the Cut of His Jib! - Mike Lambert has been a personal mentor of mine for a few years. His blog speaks of leadership, navy current events, professional development for military professionals. I just wish he allowed e-mail subscriptions since I tend to consume most blogs via e-mail. In the interim, Google Reader will have to do...

Seth's Blog - Seth Godin is considered a marketing guru and has grown into a premier author, speaker, and overall influencer. A must read each and every day.

Simon Sinek - Simon's book "Start With Why" caught my attention three years ago and I have been benefitting from his daily wisdom ever since. He provides a thought provoking original quote most days. Click on the "Notes to Inspire" link at the top right of his webpage to subscribe.

Michael Hyatt - This is a relatively new addition to my read board and he also does a great PODcast. He talks and speaks about leadership, writing, and living with intention. Great stuff!

Hugh MacLeod - Those who know me or read this blog with any regularity know how fond I am of Hugh's art. He also blogs and has two great books that I not only enjoyed, but have also purchased for others as gifts periodically. His daily cartoon is a staple.

Facebook News Feed - Yes, I check Facebook regularly and I read with interest the updates shared by my Facebook friends. It gives me an opportunity to have a running start at a conversation the next time we speak, it allows me to celebrate successes from afar, and it allow me to reach out a hand when needed. Many still see Facebook as a time sink, but I see it as time well wasted (Click here for more on that). If the people I value care enough to share, I surely care enough to read...

Information Dissemination - This forum is nothing short of phenomenal for anyone interested in staying abreast of and thinking critically about the current and future state of the U.S. Navy.  It truly is "The intersection of Maritime Strategy and Strategic Communication".  In my opinion it is the model for how each of our strategic leaders should communicate with those of us under their charge.

HBR Management Tip of The Day - Over time, I have grown tired of many of the messages Harvard Business Review tends to offer.  That said, their Management Tip of the Day connects with me quite often.

Just Add Light And Stir - Sandra Dodd is a parenting evangelist.  She is an avid proponent of "Unschooling".  And though the term turns me off, her message inspires me to be an active parent, a deliberate partner in my son's life experiences, and a skeptic of the traditional approach to both parenting and educating our children.  I've taken more than a few of her parenting philosophies with me to the workplace.  After all, parenting is leadership.

What is on your daily read board?  Please share it with me and others so that we can bring up our average.  If you don't have a daily read board, consider starting with some of the above and raise your average.  Those with whom I serve should know that I will arrive at work each morning having consumed the above wisdom, and then some.  For those of you willing to go one step further, why not consider contributing to someone else's readboard by sharing your own content.  I'd love to add you to my professional reading list.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Intoxication is Contagious

Last week I received a note from a junior officer asking me to explain the significance of the piece of art included on my business card.

To me art is just about anything that changes our emotion. This particular piece of art arrived at my home unannounced from a mentor a few months into my command tour. We had been sharing many conversations over the years and most of them centered around personal improvement and fully immersing ourselves in the leadership profession. I won't say that I was in a rut, but I will freely admit that I wasn't enjoying as much success in my quest for continual improvement as I had grown accustomed. Despite a lack of visible progress on a few of the opportunities I was attempting to create for the command, he noticed my commitment was not wavering and my resolve was strengthening. He observed that I continued  to look behind every corner to push the envelope, question the status quo, and understand the WHY behind just about everything. At that point he diagnosed me as "Intoxicated by Possibility" and presented me with a nice graphic to adorn a wall of my choice.  I proudly hung that inspiring piece of art outside my office and glanced at it each time I approached my desk. As a fan of Notre Dame Football, it came to be my own personal "Play Like a Champion Today" sign that they touch each time they exit their locker room.  Just as those five words have come to define the culture of the Fighting Irish, these three words and the associated "scribble" (as my son calls it) remind me to stay curious, get outside of my comfort zone, and find new ways to create new and unique value for and with those with whom I serve.

That same graphic had struck a chord with many of the Sailors and a few of the Civilians I am fortunate enough to call Shipmates. Their interest in the graphic made me want to return the favor that my mentor provided me.  I had the graphic put on the back of my business card and presented one to each member of the team upon their departure (and one to those I left behind when I left the command).  I also gave them to each new Information Warfare Officer who went through school during my tenure in Pensacola. It's not so much the personal contact information I provided them (though I certainly hope they choose to use that) as it is a chance to enjoy a constant reminder of the condition that I want to do my part to spread.

Last week, I was driving from Norfolk to Maryland and I listened to "One Click", which is the Jeff Bezos story to date. Amazon continues to change the lives of so many because he cares enough to continually explore the art of the possible.  Shortly after the launch of the iPod 5, I felt compelled and went to the Apple store to hold one. The legacy Steve Jobs left because he was intoxicated continues to strengthen. I am no Jeff Bezos, nor am I Steve Jobs. But I am "Intoxicated By Possibility" and I am appreciative of my mentor for providing me with both the diagnosis and the reminder of my condition. I share the art in hopes of intoxicating others.

I appreciated the question asked by an interested Shipmate and the opportunity to share the WHY behind "the scribble". How intoxicated are you? What are you doing to show the world the art of the possible? How are you infecting others?

Note: For more information on the artist behind the message and to purchase one for yourself, check out Gaping Void, home of Hugh MacLeod. If you'd like a business card version of the graphic, just send me a note.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Try, and Mean It!

I have had the pleasure of spending lots of time with my wife and son during this transition period.  We've played, we've worked, we've explored, we've traveled, we've tried new things, and yes we've made mistakes.  I don't know that my son has had more reason than normal to use them or if I have just been more aware (or present), but I've noticed two phrases he seems to use quite often...

- "I'll Try"
- "I didn't mean to"

"I'll try" seems to be the standard response when I kindly ask him to do something.  And "I didn't mean to" is the default when he isn't pleased with his execution of a given task.  It might go something like this...

Me: "Barrett, would you please pour me a glass of water"
Him: "I'll try" followed by a spill and an "Oops, I didn't mean to."

Whenever I hear him respond with "I'll try", I do my best to refrain from channeling Yoda by saying, "Do or do not, there is no try."  In fact, for a while I was unable to help myself and we had fun playing the roles of Luke Skywalker and Yoda.  I say for a while because I began to see a flaw in Yoda's logic.  While I was using the phrase with the intention of helping him to build confidence and learn that trying (starting) isn't nearly as important as doing (finishing), I was taken by the words in parenthesis.  Many of us are taught that it is not the trying, but the doing; not the starting, but the finishing; and not the execution, but the result.  Over time, many of us develop a fear of trying, an unwillingness to start something, and a deference once it is time to execute.  What happens all too often is that by encouraging the "Do" and falling short, we inadvertently create a reluctance to "Try".  Over time, there is no "Try" and without a "Try", there is no "Do"; without "Do", there is no value creation.  Doing isn't always about the result, but the starting, the action, and the effort.

I submit that our little green friend would be even wiser by stating "Do or do not, but try you must."

When I hear that "Oops, I did NOT mean to" from across the room, my son knows exactly what will follow.  My standard response, "Did you mean NOT to?"  The point being that there are many things in life that we did not mean to have happen, but there is always something more we could have done to increase the odds of the desired outcome.  For something as simple as pouring a glass of water we might ask did we use both hands?  Did we move the glass close enough to the pitcher?  Did we pour slow enough?  Were we truly focused on the task?  And I am sure we all could come up with a few more.

We all should embrace the TRY and if our DO falls short, we ought be comfortable writing it off as a learning experience that we are unwilling to repeat.  At the same time, we all should think more about what we truly mean to do before our result gives us reason to to respond "Oops, I did NOT mean to..."

TRY, and MEAN IT!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lidless Leadership

Though I don't always agree with John Maxwell (example), I remain a big fan of his teachings. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is my favorite of his books and though I believe in each of the laws contained therein, the one that captured much of my attention over the last few months has been "The Law of The Lid". The basic premise of this law is that one's leadership ability serves as the ceiling for the organization that he or she is attempting to lead. In essence, the team will never be more effective than a leader allows them to be. We may be better because of our leader and we may be great despite our leader, but the leader represents the lid of any organization.

With that understanding, it becomes rather clear that a leader's job is to help the team to realize their potential. Potential is realized only when the team has clear expectations, understands the objectives, is empowered to act decisively, and has leadership that is committed to both giving the team the tools needed to do their jobs and helping to remove identified obstacles preventing progress. Having recently been part of a leadership triad committed to creating a lidless command, it is rather frustrating to see others who don't share that commitment. I see evidence of these leaders amongst some of my juniors, peers, and seniors. I informally help to coach juniors, work to influence peers, and offer insights to seniors, with varying levels of success.

It wasn't until the last 90 days in my tenure as a Commanding Officer that we were able to see any real evidence that the staff to which we reported ("Corporate" for my civilian friends) began to truly understand that they were in fact serving as the lid to our organization.  It wasn't the Division Officer, it wasn't the Department Head and it certainly wasn't the Command Triad preventing the team from realizing our potential, it was a few key personalities a thousand miles away who chose not to make the time to remove barriers on our behalf.  Fortunately for all, they shifted gears and made time at the 11th hour to raise the lid on our behalf.

I have worked for all kinds of people over the course of my career. I continue to enjoy working with those who are committed to lidless leadership, and I despise those who appear to take great pride in telling juniors to get in line, ask permission, and be overly aware of our respective rank insignia. Maybe taking pride is over the top, so I'll assume they are merely emulating the very role that they experienced when they were the junior.

We wonder why so many of our more talented juniors leave the Navy? We wonder why so many of those who choose to assimilate are promoted? We wonder why we make so little progress despite our long hours and the solutions we share? I am convinced that leadership lids are a significant contributor; I know that is why I submitted my resignation 14 years ago (before recommitting to being part of the solution).

Working with and for "Lids" is commonplace. I've worked with and for many "Lids" and each time I recommit to not be "That Guy" (while helping them to see the errs of their ways, which isn't always well received). In fact the biggest reason I have chosen to continue to serve is to do my part to help raise the lid. In a recent post, I made reference to the definition of culture and our "Lids" continually contradict the very culture many are aspiring to cultivate. It seems as though each time we see visible evidence of a collective ownership model, our "Lids" demonstrate that we might not be committed to blocking for each other, we aren't embracing our role as enablers, and we aren't pridefully celebrating the successes across our extended team.  We need to break the cycle and ensure we are each committed to lidlessly leading the team(s) under our charge.  We need to understand that we only succeed when WE succeed.

The ironic aspect of this whole observation is that the leader of the lid organization in this example is the most empowering, action oriented leader with whom I have served. He epitomizes lidless leadership. In fact, I continue to do my best to demonstrate my commitment to many of the philosophies he imparted on me when I served directly with him on a previous staff. Rest assured, that staff was not a lid. It is said that the team is a reflection of their leader. Personally, I have never witnessed a bigger contradiction to that theory than I have over the last year. If the theory was true without exception, we would have accomplished so much more, much more quickly.  This experience has proven to me that the lid of any given organization need not be the leader of the organization.  Action Officers, mid-level management, and even the help desk can serve as lids.

I ask that we all consider the lids that are holding us back and demand that they do better. If after some reflection we see that we might in fact be operating as a lid, let's change.  We talk of servant leadership, but until we all embrace the fact that true leaders are primarily focused on serving others and we demonstrate a shared commitment to mission accomplishment (not just managing our in-box), we will never realize our collective potential.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Settlers and Shapers

As we spend our days carving out a living, most of us do so by switching between chasing our pension and pursuing our passion. I don't know that I have been "chasing" either over the last few years, but I do know that I have been fortunate enough to simultaneously spend time doing both. For me, it has not been a question of one or the other. For the last several years I have been truly excited about going to "work" each day and having recently passed the twenty year milestone, making a military pension is a reality.  Not having to choose between passion and pension is a wonderful place to be, but I must admit that it is not a place I have always been. I know far too many people who settle for a job or a career that allows them to pursue their passions on the side ("Settlers"), while a smaller number pursue their passions in hopes of turning their dreams into a career ("Shapers"). I feel sorry for the former and have a great deal of respect for the latter. That said, I have spent more of my professional life than I care to admit as a Settler. I will also acknowledge that once I cracked the code and realized that Shapers not only exist, but also thrive in today's military, everything changed.

As a junior officer, I settled for the jobs the detailer gave me. I settled for the tasks my seniors handed me. I settled for the way things have always been done. In time, the right mentors, books, and personal experimentation helped me to shift gears and adopt a Shaper's approach to life. Yes, I acknowledged the position description that my predecessors handed me and, yes, I cautiously contributed to progress during the honeymoon phase of each assignment. But once I understood the sea state to the point I felt confident  navigating the waters and grew bored merely maintaining the course and speed to which my predecessor had acclimated the team, I eagerly shifted from Settler to Shaper. Other than my first two tours, I have refrained from merely executing my assigned job and I can tell you that I never will return to the ways of a Settler. I've learned just how much more fun it is to rewrite a job as I go, and how much more rewarding any job can be when we focus on HOW we choose to execute as much as THAT we achieve the results we desire. Because I work in team environments, I have found that settling for what the position description demands does nothing more than ensure the team falls short. An effective team is made up of individuals who work together to complement each other, to anticipate needs, and to create both opportunities and unique value. A team of individuals settling themselves into their position descriptions is rarely effective and even if it is, the team will never realize its true potential.

Having just turned over a job about which I have never been more passionate, I am comfortable admitting that I am not excited about my next one. I will read the position description and I will listen to the expectations of my seniors, but that will merely influence the prologue of the script that I will write.  I will then turn to my peers and my juniors and we will truly begin to put pen to paper and action behind words. Just as I have done with the last several jobs I have had, the job I will turn over to my relief will look nothing like the one I inherit.  And that's the reason this adventure continues to be so much fun. If it weren't fun, I'd be gone.

For me, the key to living a professional life where pension and passion are aligned begins with truly understanding my passion and embracing a Shaper's philosophy.  As for my passion...I love people, I love building teams, I love helping others to realize their potential, and I love contributing in ways that others are not. I just happen to be doing all of that as a member of the world's finest Navy. Once I exhaust opportunities to do those very things in uniform, I'll merely do the same wearing different clothes.

Life is far too short to be Settlers; let's be Shapers, let's not worry about filling the shoes of our predecessors, let's rewrite the scripts we inherit...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Change of Command Remarks

It may not have come out exactly as written, but here were my intended remarks for OUR Change of Command Ceremony conducted at the National Naval Aviation Museum.  On 16 August 2012, Commander Pat Count became the 11th Commanding Officer of the team that is currently known as Navy Information Operations Command Pensacola. We were honored by having Vice Admiral Mike Rogers as our guest speaker and presiding officer, not to mention the friends and family who traveled significant distances to share in the celebration of an incredible team.

Over the last week, those of you who are part of the command know that I have been having some challenges with allergies of late. For some reason, my eyes keep leaking. Turns out the allergies are a result of the XO not spending as much time with me in favor of getting CDR Count up to speed on command issues. Fortunately, Senior Chief Betts, our Senior Enlisted Leader and the Chiefs knew the remedy and they gave me a new little buddy. (Pull out the very cool customized bobble head they had created in my image and place on podium).

It's no secret that I have not been looking forward to this day. I have found comfort in the words of the great Dr. Suess, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Though I have not been looking forward to this day, I have been looking forward to what I wanted to be able to say about our NIOC Pensacola Team on this date. I wanted to talk of the many operational contributions we have made, I wanted to boast about who we have become in the process, and I wanted to demonstrate how the team has helped me to personally grow in the 25 months and 16 days since I was the luckiest man on this very stage. Today, CDR Count holds that title as he prepares to take command.

I find the Enlisted Association’s approach to this ceremony so appropriate. Today really is just as much a graduation ceremony as it is a change of command. Today I graduate, tomorrow PO Barry graduates and on Monday PO Pate graduates. Just as over 150 Sailors and Civilians have graduated from the NIOC Pensacola Center of Deliberate Action, Thought Leadership and Entrepreneurial Experimentation over the last 25 months, I graduate today, and each of you fortunate enough to currently be assigned to the NIOC Pensacola Team will someday graduate.

When I began reflecting on the time we shared at NIOC Pensacola, I am taken back to the day I was told that I had in fact screened for command. I remember going home and talking to Marianne and Barrett about where we might go and we decided that we wanted to go to Pensacola or one other command. When I told then Captain Metts (Detailer and Mentor) of the final two, he replied, “Sean, you are definitely a NIOC Pensacola guy.” Me being me immediately started to over analyze what the heck he might mean by such a matter of fact statement. I have often acknowledged that no one really knows what NIOC Pensacola does until they come to visit, and not having had the benefit of a visit, I had my own perceptions, as did many others. More than a few of us saw NIOC Pensacola as a place to fade away toward retirement, a place that was “chasing mission” in an effort to keep from being closed, a command that had no real focus, and a city that enjoyed some of the nicest beaches. So, what was he saying about me? Was he encouraging me to marginalize myself, was he telling me that I had no real focus, was he pushing me toward irrelevance, or did he just want me to enjoy some quality beach time?

At that point in time, I decided that I was in fact a "NIOC Pensacola Guy", but I was going to partner with my new Shipmates to define what that meant and share it with the masses. I was committed to ensuring the perceptions I had prior to arrival were not the perceptions across the community upon my departure. In the minds of all, NIOC Pensacola was not only going to be a great place to be, but a great place to be from. Being a NIOC Pensacola Alum was going to mean something and serve as a source of pride for all who were a part of that team from July 1st, 2010 forward.

So, what does it mean to be part of the NIOC Pensacola Team? We can't begin to explore that without acknowledging our command values...Teamwork, Effective Communication, Continual Improvement, and Entrepreneurship. We must also acknowledge our command goals for 2012:

1) Establish NIOC Pensacola as the Computer Network Operations Intersection
2) Visibly Commit to Making Professional Development a Shared Priority
3) Realize a culture of cooperative leadership and collective ownership
4) Develop a truly operationally minded workforce

From my vantage point, through deliberate action we have made our command values far more than words posted on our quarterdeck and made a great deal of progress toward each of our stated goals. Yes, we failed on more than a few occasions, but if we didn't fail, we would be falling well short of our mandate.

So, what makes NIOC Pensacola a great place to be? Is it our proximity to beaches? Is it the relatively low cost of living? Is it the distance from Fort Meade, MD? Is it the delegation vice integration model we enjoy with the National Security Agency? I believe the answer to each is a resounding yes, but that don’t get to the heart of the issue. NIOC Pensacola is a great place because we believe in questioning the status quo, we believe in collaboration, we believe in experimentation, and we believe in making things up as we go. We have a commitment to being not only a team of leaders, but a team that leads. It’s easy to say these things and many others do. What separates us is that we do far more than talk about doing. We do. We do because it’s our job. We do because we care too much not to. We do because doing is a lot more fun than merely talking about doing. We have clearly adopted a philosophy of, if not us, who? Yes, we’ve ruffled some feathers, stepped on toes, and bruised egos. But, that is the price of progress.

In our line of work, we are hungry for metrics and we want to know that we are in fact making tangible contributions to the larger effort. For me, the most significant metric was the interest other commands and a growing customer base continues to take in us. In fact one of our driving themes that continues to pay great dividends has been that of creating intersections and removing barriers, both internally and externally. It is our belief that the best ideas happen at the intersection of diverse thought and complimentary expertise. We have done our best to synchronize across peergroups, collapse the chain of command, and embrace the idea of cross-organizational interdependencies. Too many organizations and in our case Navy commands take great pride in being self-sufficient. Others are OK with focusing on their span of control and see nothing wrong with being a “cylinder of excellence”. We choose to focus on growing our sphere of influence, while allowing others to influence us. We choose to look external and work with others to realize a model of collective ownership and cooperative leadership. It is this philosophy that has allowed us to become Fleet Cyber Command’s intersection. An intersection of computer network operations expertise, an intersection where best practices converge, and an intersection of thought leadership. I am pleased to acknowledge that we are no longer that one-off command that lives on the fringes because of geography. We are the intersection in spite of geography. Just as The Medici Family’s investment in art, science, literature, politics and other fields made Florence the center of Renaissance thinking, the emphasis we continue to place on our tradecraft and culture have placed us at the center of many significant initiatives.

As my tour here has come to an end, I have been spending more time thinking about what it means to be a NIOC Pensacola Alum. I’ve been purposefully reaching out to the larger NIOC Pensacola Alumni Association and seeking to get updates on their adventure. They share stories of collaborating with the peers they left behind in Pensacola to help us grow and strengthen relationships across the Tenth Fleet Task Organization. They are leveraging the technical expertise developed as part of our team to not only contribute operationally, but to grow those around them. They are exporting our shared bias for action, our commitment to exploring the art of the possible, and our cooperative approach to leading across the Cryptologic Community and Information Dominance Corps.

On July 1st 2010, I committed to doing my part to make sure two statements were 100% true:

- NIOC Pensacola is a great place to be
- NIOC Pensacola is a great place to be from

I stand before you now firmly believing both to be true statements. Not because of me and not because of any one member of our team. These statements are true because of US, the NIOC Pensacola Team.

Over the last few days I have been congratulated by many Shipmates for what they perceive to have been a successful command tour. Such an assumption is based merely on the fact that we are having a ceremony and I am wearing this medal. In my opinion, both were a given. Yes, many Commanding Officers have been relieved for cause and others have assumed command without a ceremony. But ceremonies like today are the rule and they very well may signify the end of a successful tour, but success is subjective. The Sailors and Civilians of NIOC Pensacola are successful by any metric, but we are not satisfied with being successful. We strive to be significant. To me this tour was all about being an active and significant participant in the lives of as many Shipmates as possible. This tour was about helping those truly interested in living a significant life work toward that objective. This tour was about making NIOC Pensacola a significant command in the eyes of all. I believe we, the NIOC Pensacola Team, are in fact far more than successful, we are significant.

Command Members please rise. NIOC Pensacola and NSGA Pensacola Alums, please stand.

Though I will no longer be your Commanding Officer, I will be your Shipmate, I will be your fan, and I will be your partner in my “do-loop of choice” (inspire, be inspired). Thank you for your inspiration, your hard work, and your commitment to being significant. Significant in the lives of those with whom we serve, significant members of the community, and significant contributors to our nation’s security. I may no longer lead the NIOC Pensacola Team, but I am forever committed to leading WITH my NIOC Pensacola Alums. Thank you for making me and us better.

NIOC Pensacola, a great place to be, a great place to be from.

I will now read my orders...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sharing the OODA Loop

Anyone who has served in the military understands "The OODA Loop", and a growing percentage of business leaders in corporate America have studied or even used the same. For those who have not, it's a four stage decision cycle that results in ACTION:

1) Observe
2) Orient
3) Decide
4) Act

In the Cryptologic Community, we have something very similar tailored to our culture:

1) Exploit
2) Analyze
3) Inform
4) Act

In the information age, we continually develop tools that allow us to decrease the time it takes to complete "The OODA Loop". I say complete fully knowing the cycle is never complete, as it is used to continueously inform new decisions, resulting in additional actions. Though the tools are here to enhance the "OO", no tool will absolve us of the human element required to embrace the "DA".

We talk of "The OODA Loop", but many of us are stuck in the "The OO Dead End". We are more than comfortable observing and orienting, but more than a few seem to be very uncomfortable deciding and good portion of those willing to decide either lack the ability or maybe even fortitude to act. The sole purpose of the OODA Loop is to inform action. "OO" without "DA" is merely problem admiration.

The team with whom I currently serve and the colleagues with whom I informally team on side progjects are committed to executing the entire loop. In fact, we take great pride in doing other people's work. Right or wrong, we embrace the implied task of sharing the OODA loop with as many decision makers and actors as possible. We are so committed to helping others to decide and act that we often execute the "OO" on their behalf in hopes of giving them no reason not to execute the "DA". We keep our head on a swivel, continually observing our surroundings and looking for challenges worthy of our time. We orient ourselves, as a means of focusing our efforts and prioritizing identified opportunities. We do our part to figure out who has the authority to decide. And we do our best to hold all publicly accountable to following the decision with action.

Every member on every team is afforded the opportunity to decide and act to varying degrees (might be assuming too much here). We all have a responsibility to ensure the "OO" is appropriately considered, but we have a mandate to execute the "DA". As we demonstrate our commitment to collective ownership, let's decide, let's act, let's share the OODA Loop!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Culture: Defined

I recently attended Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) training and can confidently state that much like the training received for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, it was both extremely well thought out and presented. There were many great take-aways from the session related to the primary topic, but Admiral Quinn left me with a nugget that I did not anticipate.  While communicating with the great humility that allows him to connect with so many, he made a comment regarding culture that really struck a chord with me. He defined culture as "the collective action of leadership." An extremely simple definition, and as I thought more and more about it, probably the best definition I have heard.

Over the last month, I have been giving a great deal of thought to organizational culture. Having recently read David Marquet's "Turn The Ship Around", having an article that I wrote with the Command Triad on cooperative leadership published in PROCEEDINGS Magazine, and experiencing more behavioral challenges at work, I've been really reflecting on what I am doing (or not doing) to contribute to our command culture.  Being a big believer in "The Power of the Triad", I know that the Executive Officer and Senior Enlisted Leader (SEL) are my primary partners in defining the culture.  It is our actions that set the tone for the team at large. Because the three of us are conditioned to hold each other personally responsible and accountable first, we've spent some time over the last week really analyzing our words and actions and comparing them to our organization culture. Feeling even stronger about our visible commitment to our command values and demonstrating that we are far more interested in our deliberate actions than merely our words, we felt pretty validated that by Admiral Quinn's definition, our actions are in fact consistent with the culture we value most.  Being firm believers in 360 degree awareness, the XO called a Command Assessment Team meeting to hear the constructive feedback we have grown to expect from this group. Again, they reenforced our assessment. The culture is sound, morale is good, and mission is being accomplished.

So why is it that we've had reason to relieve two Chief Petty Officers from their positions? Why is it that after such a long stretch with minimal distractions, we've had incidents with SPICE, underage possession of alcohol, adultery, failure to obey orders, and unauthorized absences all within the last two months? Sometimes an organization's challenges are rooted in its culture, sometimes good people get caught making bad decisions, and sometimes a team just becomes more committed to enforcing the standard. After looking at this from just about every angle and being as inclusive in the introspection as possible, I am confident that our problem is not one of flawed culture. Our problem is two-fold. We've had some good people make extremely poor decisions that we were not willing to ignore and we've uncovered a few others of questionable character who were in need of our personal attention. By being even more visibly committing to holding people accountable to the standard (as a team), we became more aware of the exceptions to our culture, as we continually strengthen the same.

What seems to be happening of late is more people are committing to the culture, making those who hadn't very visible. Funny how questioning our words, our action, and our culture, validated all three (action always being most critical)...

So Admiral Quinn is once again right, culture is in fact the collective action of leadership.  The key is to get a larger portion of the team to see themselves as leadership and ACT accordingly.  We are all leaders, the culture is reflective of OUR collective action and holding ourselves accountable is OUR responsibility.  As we say, there is no THEY, only WE and US.

What culture are you endorsing with your personal actions?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Making Personal Recommendation Meaningful

Note: I am repeatedly reminded of how fortunate I am to be surrounded by such great people. The below post (my second guest posting) comes from a Shipmate whom I have known since 2005. A leader, a critical thinker, and outspoken thought leader, LCDR Kevin Ernest is now serving as the Executive Officer at the Center for Information Dominance Unit Monterey, CA.  We are very fortunate to have a leader with such incredible  character, humility, and passion for truly serving his Shipmates, helping to shape the minds of every new linguist joining the Navy.  This post is further demonstration that Kevin is not afraid to question the ways things have always been done and he is equally willing to offer solutions to any and all areas for improvement. Thanks for making the time to share your thoughts, Kevin...

Letters of Recommendation – many of us have had the opportunity to be associated with them by writing, or receiving them, or perhaps both. Many of the programs the Navy offers require letters of recommendation and we uniformly believe that you simply have to ask for one and within days you’ll be presented a page filled with superlatives describing yourself. Similarly, when asked to provide a letter of recommendation, most of us simply comply with the request and fill the page with the superlatives. Easy process, not much thought or effort required.

Several weeks ago, I was privileged to have the opportunity to write a letter of recommendation for a protégé seeking admission to the Stanford University Graduate School of Business MBA program. After I agreed to write the letter – I’ve known him for several years and consider him to be an excellent candidate - the protégé told me that he would send an email with all the instructions for preparing the letter. Instructions for writing a letter? I thought that meant he’d provide an email address for where to send the letter. When I received his email I was surprised to find to a lengthy transcription of an interview with a Stanford admissions officer describing Stanford’s requirements for letters of recommendation,as well as instructions for completing a leadership behavior grid.

As I read the transcript, it occurred to me that that much of what the admissions officer was saying should have been obvious; things like are you willing to write the letter and, if, not are you honest enough to tell the person not only will you not write the letter but why you will not give them a recommendation? But much of what Stanford is looking for in letters of recommendation is not what you’ll find in a typical Navy letter of recommendation.Summed up, Stanford is looking for recommendations where, “…the person jumps off the page and they really come alive. I feel like I know them; I know the good, the bad, the warts; if I walked into a room, I could almost pick out this person.” To meet the goal of getting the person to jump off the page, Stanford wants the writer to answer four questions:

1) What’s the context of your relationship with the applicant that you’re recommending?
2) How has he/she performed versus his/her peers?
3) Tell us about a time you've given constructive feedback to the candidate. That helps us see how the candidate has grown over time.
4) Finally, we ask an open-ended question to give the recommender a chance to comment on anything else we should know about the candidate's performance, potential or personal qualities.

And, Stanford doesn’t want just a list of superlatives; they want evidence to support those superlatives. They want the writer to describe the how the person made an impact on the organization. As I was writing the letter, I realized that the Stanford model of letters of recommendation is a useful model for Navy use. It’s a going in assumption that each candidate for each program has many great qualities that supposedly qualify them for whatever it is they’re applying. But we never talk about the areas where a candidate can improve. I believe it’s this type of information that would allow selection boards to make better-informed selections. For example, if a candidate has a 4.0 in computer science from MIT and paints swing sets at the orphanage but routinely exercises questionable judgment and decision-making at work, the selection board can use that information to compare the candidates more completely.

We read and hear a lot from senior leadership that we shouldn’t have a zero-defect mentality, but we also know that if we submit letters of recommendation with anything but superlatives in it, the candidate’s chances for election drop precipitously. It’s time to embrace the idea of accepting our people for everything they are, and then making the proper recommendations for them, their warts and all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Think. Do. Become.


I have come to believe the best way to determine that which is truly important to an individual is by taking a hard look at how he allocates time and what activities she chooses to put on her calendar.  While paying personal attention to the same, I have witnessed changes in my own development and effectiveness, as I also become more aware of those around me.  In doing so, I have grown disappointed in more than a few of my colleagues, caught myself losing focus on more than one occasion, and identified a few individuals (both senior and junior) worthy of emulation.  As leaders, we are often times overly focused on mission accomplishment.  Whether we choose to believe it or not, the HOW that leads us and our team toward accomplishing our mission defines who we become over time, both as individuals and as a team.  It also serves as a metric for how long we might be able to deliver similar results.

Every action we take today shapes our future self.  If we identify who it is we want to become over time,  commit to purposeful self-awareness, and care enough about ourselves to be personally accountable, it is rather simple to validate our path or correct our course on a daily basis.  Some observations of late that are not as obvious as we like to think include...

1) If we truly want to be healthy, we will eat properly and exercise regularly.
- Eating poorly and living a sedentary lifestyle is our way of accepting a future self that is fat and sick.

2) If we are truly committed to building a culture of teamwork, we will create opportunities to work with others, we will seek feedback from all willing to give it, we will create opportunities to both teach and learn from others, and we will express our appreciation to those who care enough about the team to do the same.
- Not doing the above is our way of communicating that putting self before team is both a characteristic we condone and a trait we want to encourage.

3) If the people with whom we serve truly are a priority, we will be supportive of them in a time of need; we will be mindful of their goals and help them to reach the same; we will hold both them and ourselves accountable to exceeding the standard; and we will create opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue with them. 
- Failing to do any one of these things makes the phrase "people are our greatest asset" (and I hear that a lot) a hollow promise and diminishes the trust we have in those who fail to deliver.

Over the course of my ongoing experiment of being hyper aware of those in my professional life and equally critical of myself, I have assessed that too many people live a life of contradiction.  We say we value one thing and our actions state something very different.  In essence, we are blind to our authentic selves.    

As leaders we have a responsibility to be deliberate about developing the attributes of our team with an eye toward the future.  What specific attributes do we want to become commonplace across our team over time and are we exemplifying them?  How do we use today to help all to grow in that direction?  How do we get those who don't seem to have the capacity to embrace the ideals we value to find another team?

Ghandi is known to have said, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world."  He did not say "Talk of the change you wish to see in the world and then act in opposition", nor did he say "Accept those who act contrary to the change you wish to see in the world."  Be as you wish to become and help others to to do the same.  The decisions we make and the actions we take today, determine who we will become tomorrow.  Let's be consistent, deliberate, and purposeful. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Player Development

Most of the time I consider the insights I choose to share as doing little more than playing the role of "Master of the Obvious".  I also find it enjoyable to have someone share with me that which should be blatantly obvious, but isn't.  I recently had an experience that made me laugh at myself, as I simultaneously thought, "Why is he telling us something so obvious" and "I never thought of it that way".

I've previously written about baseball and my dissatisfaction with my experience with the local little league coaches (link here).  Just as with that post, what I share here is about much more than baseball.  I was recently listening to a radio interview with the Manager of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (AA Team for Cincinnati Reds).  While answering questions, he spoke of expectations for the team, highlighted certain players that were performing exceptionally well, and addressed the challenges that come with starting a new team in a new stadium and building a fan base from scratch.  Not being much of a baseball fan, I was only idly paying attention.  Near the end of the interview he grabbed my attention, as he philosophized about his primary responsibility as a manager in minor league baseball.  He wanted to clarify that his job was not to win, his job was "Player Development".  He wanted all to be aware that he would be making decisions during the course of each game that will be questioned by fans and players who are focused merely on winning.  Like all of us, he prefers winning, but he was far more interested in creating (or capitalizing on) situations that allowed him to assess how a player performs given certain circumstances.  He did not particularly care about winning on any given day, he was here to help baseball players realize their potential, while giving the Cincinnati Reds a chance to win over the horizon.  

I thought about it and for about 15 seconds I was puzzled.  I, then, quickly began laughing at myself while acknowledging, "of course".   As parents and leaders of teams, how many of us make "Player Development" a deliberate part of our day?  How many take a strategic approach to developing the teams we lead and the children we parent?  How many of us allow or even encourage failure today, with an eye toward tomorrow's success?

I was recently conversing with an officer who recommended that I strongly consider making certain things "mandatory" and that I direct specific action.  In other words, he thought it would be best if I told people what to do.  I told him of my disdain for "The M word" (How many of us are truly present when things are mandatory?  I know I am not.) and my belief that weak leaders made things mandatory, weak leaders lead through directives, and weak leaders took away opportunities for others to demonstrate personal initiative.  I went on to make him aware that as a leader, I am observing authentic behavior and that I was assessing his potential to one day be in command, as well as everyone else's for their next career milestone.  Yes, when poor decisions are made, inappropriate (or no) action is taken, or there are other compelling circumstances, I will intervene and even tell people exactly what to do.  Until then, I am far more interested in the same things articulated by the manager of the Blue Wahoos (Jim Riggleman).  I want those with whom I serve to realize their potential, as I strive to meet mine, and I want to do my part to ensure tomorrow's leaders are even more capable than today's.

I must admit that I take great satisfaction in watching others rise to the occasion.  I sincerely enjoy witnessing others step up to the plate, bat in hand, and ready to give it their all.  Sure we may go down swinging periodically, but it is the opportunity to strike out today that prepares us to hit home runs tomorrow.  It is the opportunity to fail only to be picked up by a team that builds the requisite trust.  It is the opportunity to act authentically that determines whether  or not we have what it takes to succeed at the next level.  

As a Commanding Officer and self-appointed Chief of Player Development, I know we have players on our team that are more than ready for the next level.  We also have players that will likely be in the minors for as long as they choose to play, and still others who will realize that a career in the Navy is not their dream.  Regardless, all have the opportunity to develop as part of our team.

Though I laughed at how obvious Manager Riggleman's point was, it's not.  The majority of us don't get it.  Youth athletic coaches don't get it, many parents don't get it, most leaders don't get it, and just about all private sector CEOs won't get it.  Short term wins often give way to long term failure; while short term failure is often critical to long term success.  Let's focus on the long haul, let's all make "Player Development" more of a priority.      

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

360 Degree Hiring

I like learning about new ideas, thoroughly enjoy formulating good ideas, and absolutely love executing great ideas.  In a previous post (link here) summarizing a short visit at the Google complex, I mentioned five key attributes that were commonplace there that I wanted to weave into the largely traditional military culture at our command.  Because stating an intention is of little value without a commitment to following through, I am pleased that with two months to spare we were able to incorporate the last remaining experiment:  360 Degree Hiring.

We decided that it was time for us to make a civilian addition to our team in the form of what we call a "Senior Reporter".  Though the job title is not relevant, the approach to filling the position is.  Rather than convene a traditional selection panel where senior leadership decides who "they" would like to welcome to the team, we not only involved potential peers and juniors, but we made them influential in the process.  In an effort to make it absolutely clear to whomever we hired, as well as the team with whom the new hire would be working, that we are truly committed to teamwork, collective ownership, and cooperative leadership, we made two Petty Officers (PO1 and PO2) part of the interviewing team.  Imagine if you will being a relatively senior civilian or a retired Chief or Officer and you show up for your interview and you find not only your potential supervisor, but also your potential "right hand man", as well as a junior you will potentially be asked to lead.  Comparing notes with a knowledgeable third party who knew a couple of the candidates, there was an element of surprise.  We had these Petty Officers ask questions of each candidate, evaluate their resumes, and assess their overall potential to contribute as a member of our team.  We did so with the understanding that we were less concerned about hiring the person with the right experience to do the job than we were about ensuring the right person joined our team.  Who best to make the decision than the team with whom the selectee would be working directly?  We are pleased with the selection and I am pleased that the team selected the person they were committed to help succeed.

The other Google-inspired experiments that we enjoyed incorporating into our culture over the last couple of years were:

- Expression of Individual Creativity - We are not Zappos, but we currently have life-size cutouts of Hulk Hogan, Rocky Balboa and "The Most Interesting Man in the World" in various work centers, individual "flare" adorns many desks, and most walk the building with a lanyard of their choice around their neck.

- Accessibility to Seniors - We all have an open door policy, but that's commonplace.  In an effort to flatten the organization, create a deliberate intersection, and synchronize the team, we host a "Command Weekly Update" each Tuesday morning where all are invited to participate, ask questions, share awareness, or merely listen.

- 360 Degree Feedback - We have made 360 degree mid-term counseling standard for all PO1s and above, as well as our most senior civilians.  One of our civilians is currently championing a tiger team focused on  refining the process.  360 v2.0 will include open ended questions as a way to focus the feedback and ensure it is as constructive as possible.

- Personal Empowerment and Accountability - Commencing with command indoctrination, all command members are asked to take permission, refrain from telling yourself no, and not be surprised when your Chain of Command finds ways to say yes.  Deckplate ideas are abundant, but not as plentiful as we continue to hope.  Evidently, it's more difficult to unlearn the lessons taught through years experiencing traditional top-down military culture (or a few months in accession level training).  That said, I must admit the accountability piece is less than optimal and we are working on that.

I am pleased with our experiments on all of the above, though I would like to see a little more individual creativity and personal accountability.  I'll leave the former alone, but we'll continue to make our commitment to personal accountability more evident across the team.  I will freely admit that not all ideas are good ideas and not all good ideas produce the results we envisioned, but unless we act, nothing happens.  I thoroughly enjoy being part of a team that has difficulty "admiring the problems" and is committed to MAKING things happen as we continually question the status quo...missteps and all, we are committed to gaining clarity through action.

What opportunities are you creating?  What experiments are you conducting?  What initiatives are you championing?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Because We Can

There are some things we as human beings can't do, many that we won't do, and even more that we don't do.  Rather than focus on those lists, I like to concentrate on what we can do, should do, and want to do.  In fact, in partnership with my family, I have been exploring the merit of a "Because We Can" approach to life.  I do not use that term as some others might, gloating because they might have resources or abilities that others do not.  I use it instead to communicate a lifestyle of embracing personal responsibility, making smart decisions, and taking advantage of fleeting opportunity and ability.  Though not as intentional as many, I do believe I have been living my life in this manner.  Being a firm believer that accidents do not exist and luck is created, I have recently made it a point to be deliberate in my application of such a philosophy.  In fact, over the last couple of years, both my wife and brother have helped me to understand the importance of doing things "Because We Can" and the corollary "For Those Who Can't".

Last year, I had the pleasure of sharing a long bicycle ride with my brother.  Riding along the beautiful beach I call home and not being people who take life for granted, we talked about just how fortunate we continue to be.  Though our lives are very different, we are equally fortunate.  He lives in San Francisco surrounded by countless friends, has a job he loves, and makes it a point to take advantage of  his surroundings.  In fact, it's very difficult to get in touch with him because he is so busy doing things "Because He Can":  bike rides over the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito, runs through the Presidio, skiing in Tahoe, wine tasting in Napa, walking to world renown eateries, great concerts on any given weekend, etc.  While others are content talking about a "bucket list" they have no intention of completing, he is creating life experiences "Because He Can" and actively demonstrating his love for life.

During my tour here in beautiful Pensacola, my family made sacrifices in order to live on the beach..."Because We Can".  In fact, my wife has turned that into a family mantra.  We have "Because We Can" days.  On these days we take advantage of our surroundings:  lounging in beach chairs, taking the water taxi to our favorite restaurants, enjoying family bike rides, etc.  We also have days when we will go out of our way to take advantage of the local area:  trips to museums, aquariums, a local play, or venturing off on longer trips to places we will never live this close to again.  She is of the mind (and has helped me get there) that we're only on the Gulf Coast for two years, so we better experience all that we can.  As we migrate back to Maryland, the what we do will change (lots of trips to DC), but the purposeful way in which we embrace the "Because We Can" philosophy will not.  We are committed to not taking life for granted, acknowledging our good fortune, and remaining cognizant of how limited our window of opportunity is.

Back to the bike ride with my brother...As we were nearing the end and our legs were beginning to really feel it, we encouraged each other with the rally cry "For Those Who Can't":  wounded warriors who no longer can, loved ones whose health now prevents them from more actively participating in life, and others who want more but truly can't.  I am not worried about those who don't or those who won't do things in life, but I do have a soft spot for those who want to but can't.  There may come a time in our own lives when we will no longer be able (physically, financially, or geographically) to do the things we want to do.  For that reason, I refuse to defer until tomorrow what I can do today, and I refuse to take seriously others who merely talk of doing.  Truth is, for most of us there is no can't, but a heck of a lot of won't and don't.

DO while we can; DO because we can; DO before our can turns into can't!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Leading From Your Desk

Throughout my career, I have heard many people profess that you can't lead from behind your desk.  I've thought that to be true, but I must admit that I became less and less convinced each year and now I see how shortsighted such a philosophy truly is.  Yes, technology allows us to do more from our desk, but that is not the reason I believe the argument is flawed and grounded in legacy thought.  There are lots of personal definitions of what it means to lead, but for the sake of argument let's use "to guide, to direct, to influence", as this stream of consciousness is more about the HOW than the WHAT.  We can point to many great leaders who lead from the front, lead at the deckplate, and lead through presence.  None of us would argue the fact that leadership through presence is most effective and serves as the foundation for one to lead even from afar.  But what about virtual presence?

As we migrate from tactical leader to operational leader and further to strategic leader, our sphere of influence grows beyond our ability to lead soley through physical presence.  In fact, I am of the mind that truly strategic leaders can only be effective if we choose to lead even from behind our desk.  I believe true leaders educate, communicate, remove barriers, and create opportunities for individuals within the team and the team as a whole.  I offer that all of these can also be done from behind the desk and sometimes with greater effectiveness.

Just last week, among other things, I've observed the following:

- One Four Star Admiral write a single letter to a Four Star General that has generated much action, focused the efforts of many, and reallocated numerous resources
- Peers remove barriers by engaging seniors via phone
- Juniors create opportunities by making a case for the need for a conference by writing a message
- Our Senior Enlisted Leader effectively communicate a way ahead after listening to issues brought before her while sitting at her desk
- Personally educated others by writing blogposts, book abstracts, and sharing operational context using the written word

Like many leaders, I did not sit behind my desk all week.  I was physically present.  In fact, it's the physical presence aspect of leading I enjoy most.  However, I in no way stopped leading when I sat behind my desk, called a colleague, or opened my laptop at home.  The thought that we can't lead from behind our desk is simply short sighted and false.  The truth is we can lead even from behind our desk, we must lead even from behind our desk, and, yes, sometimes it makes most sense to get behind the desk in order to lead.  The greatest form of leadership is leadership through influence and I have yet to find another location where my sphere is greater than when I am sending e-mail, participating in a telephone/video conference, or posting on the internet.

The need to lead through presence is both clear and obvious, but the true leader finds a way to lead even, and sometimes especially, from behind the desk.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Personal Validation

When I go to bed each night and reflect whether or not it was a day well-spent, I merely ask myself if I did my best to make legitimate progress toward a goal of mine or to help someone else make progress toward one of theirs.  A simple "yes" to either or both is the only metric that matters.  Rather subjective and simplistic, I know.  The other potential flaw in such a metric is that I, alone, own the assessment.  No one has to validate my actions, I am judge and jury.  As time goes on, I have chosen to rely less and less on others to validate my decisions, contributions, or performance.  It seems perfectly natural to me that I feel this way, but I know it wasn't always the case. Heck, early in life we all are taught that it is more important what others think of us than what we think of ourselves.  I've grown convinced that provided we have a solid moral compass, the more quickly we unlearn this lesson, the happier we will be.

As young children, we are conditioned to please our parents.  Staying out of trouble and, at times, giving parents reason to be proud is what drives pre-adolescents.  Then we go to school, and we do the same for teachers.  We fill out worksheets, we "behave" in class, we regurgitate memorized information on tests, and we seek validation in the form of grades.  On the athletic field it is all about the trophy we "earn" for being the best amongst a given grouping of peers.  As adults, many of us find jobs or even careers where the performance appraisal that someone senior to us writes is what decides if we are fortunate enough to keep our job or promote.  Heck, last week I listened to a retired football player (Hines Ward for you Steelers Fans) tell the listening audience that he retired because he no longer had anything to prove to his critics.  It should come as no surprise that so many of us go through life (or at least a significant portion thereof) with the focus being proving ourselves to others.  How many Americans go into extreme debt to buy things they don't really need to impress people they don't even know?  We seem to care more about what others think of us than what we believe ourselves.  What an unfortunate way to go through life.

Please don't misunderstand me, I do enjoy pleasing others and giving friends, family, and even strangers reason to smile makes me smile.  The difference is I choose to look at external validation as a potential result and not the desired effect.  It's not about the trophy, it's about the effort.  It's not about the applause, it's about the journey.  It's not about the grade, it's about what we learn.

Making my parents proud pleases me, but it's not my specific intent.  Getting an A in a class is of no importance to me, continued learning is.  High marks on my periodic fitness sports (performance appraisals) matters little, self-satisfaction in leading WITH my team matters much.  Getting the next promotion would be nice, but it doesn't validate who I am.  And if given the choice, I'd wear no ribbons on my uniform at all.    

In my professional career, I have adopted a philosophy of picking myself as opposed to waiting for someone else to pick me.  I take great pride in doing things that are not my job, I don't like to wait to be tasked to do something, and I very much enjoy creating opportunity.  This blog is but one thing I gave myself permission to create.  I write thrice monthly and enjoy it a great deal.  I don't give much thought as to who reads it and I surely don't expect there to be any comments.  External validation is not what drives me to write, to lead, or to simply be.  That said, I am not a robot and constructive feedback is not lost on me.  Truth is I am fond of the thank-yous I receive from others with whom I continue to enjoy life's journey.

Earlier this month, I saw this unsolicited blogpost from Gaping Void (Represents Hugh MacLeod, an artist and author I admire).  Reading it touched me more than I expected and, at first, I was unsettled by the smile it put on my face.  As stated earlier, I was the only judge and jury for my work and I need no one else's approval.  So why did the appreciation expressed in this singular post and the generous donation to my Shipmates fill me with pride?  

It may seem to contradict the message above, but I don't think it does.  I am willing to admit that it does feel good when someone else sees merit in the things we do.  But as good as it feels, I don't believe that should be the reason we do it.  We do it because it matters to us, because it makes us smile, and because we see it as meaningful use of our time.  If others see value in it, all the better.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Enjoy the Taper...

It's less than two weeks until the big event.  I say "event" and not "race" because my upcoming half Ironman is far from a race for me.  It's an "event" and more than that, it is an "experience".   I've only done one other Ironman event and that was Ironman Austria back in 2002.  That, too, was not a "race", it was an "experience".  I like the word "experience" far more than race for a couple of reasons.  First, the pace at which I make forward progress does not make me competitive for any medal other than that of Finisher (I am a mid-packer).  Second, the "experience" is the celebration of months of hard work, the icing on the cake that bakes for the 18 weeks, and the immersion amongst other people who are passionate about reaching their fitness potential irrespective of finishing time.

I have just entered the tapering phase.  For those of you not familiar with this phase, it is nothing more than a reduced training phase that gives athletes a chance to rest, recover, and mentally prepare for the challenge ahead.  For those of us who played football, it is the light pads practice the day before a game.  For those of us going through school, it is the period between the last study session and the exam.  For those of us in the Navy, it is the pre-deployment leave period.  Whether we know it or not, we all have experienced the tapering phase for one thing or another.  I like to think of it as the time where we reflect on the work we have put toward a specific objective.   If we feel good about our level of preparation, the tapering phase is a rewarding period, second only to enjoying the actual event.  If we aren't happy with our level of preparation, then the tapering phase can be extremely stressful and cramming is not the answer.

While I enjoy the tapering phase this time around knowing I am ready, I also acknowledge that my work family is entering a tapering phase.  We have been working hard for the last 22 months doing great things for our Navy and Nation.  We've sprinted at times and we've rested at times, all the while making forward progress.  With three months left at the helm, I now see an opportunity for us to take some time to admire the progress we continue to make, to acknowledge the significant level of effort, and to throttle down a notch or two.  A new Commanding Officer will soon arrive to lead this very team, and the gun will go off once again.  The initial sprint will undoubtedly be swift and the team will be prepared to move forward under his leadership on the same course we continue to navigate.  In order to prepare the team for success under new leadership, it is paramount that they are rested, focused, and grounded in the strategic approach they helped to define.  I had originally planned to have us "sprint to the finish" (as defined by the change of command ceremony) and though we will finish strong, sprinting at this point would be unfair to all.

We will instead taper.  We will rest, recover, and mentally prepare for the next chapter in the NIOC Pensacola story.  We will enjoy the experience that is the transfer of command.

As for me and my upcoming Half-Ironman, I am ready.  I've enjoyed most of the training (some of the long bike rides were a mental struggle).  My fitness level has increased, I've lost 12 pounds, and I've learned some things about my 41 year old body.  Regardless of what happens on 20 May 2012, and like most things in life, it has been all about the journey.  Just like a tour of duty, it's not what someone else chooses to pin on our chest, it's (in the words of Coach Wooden) the "self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."  I have prepared my best for the event and I have done the same as a member of the NIOC Pensacola Team.  We will not completely coast, but we will enjoy the taper...

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Coalition of the Doing

My last post made mention of my list, "The Coalition of the Doing".  It evidently struck a chord with at least a few of you who sent me a note, so I wanted to amplify.  I have long admired the people in my life who create ways to enhance the lives of others.  My father is a retired Oakland Police Officer and my mother a retired Police Dispatcher.  They each made a career of helping others.  My brother specializes in ensuring the sun shines on any room in which he walks.  He gives everyone reason to smile and makes it a point to lighten up just about any situation.  My wife is determined to help those of us lucky enough to be in her life to see opportunity in place of obstacle and to participate in life instead of watching it pass by.  I lucked into the family I was born, and I chose the partner I needed (thankfully, she settled for me).  They are Doers.

I will hit that 20 years of military service milestone one month from today.  It is a milestone for many reasons.  One being I can no longer deny I have been wearing the uniform for much longer than the average Active Duty Sailor (working with primarily 18-26 year olds reminds me of that every day).  Over the course of those 20 years, I have migrated from observer to follower to doer to complainer to leader, and I find reason to play each role over the course of a given day.  The difference is I do a heck of a lot less observing and complaining.  Sure, I follow, and yes I lead, but I take most pride in the doing.  Observing is a great way to learn, but the more we observe, the less we contribute.  Complaining is necessary, provided we do so in a constructive manner and offer solutions to the issues we bring to the surface.  It is said that "A complaining Sailor is a happy Sailor" and that may be true for some, but a complaining Sailor who doesn't offer solutions is little more than a distraction.  It is the active followers, the deliberate leaders, and above all the constructive doers who make the difference.  Those are the attributes of "The Coalition of the Doing".

Yes, I maintain a list.  Yes, I do my part to create opportunities with people on this list to do things that are not in either of our position descriptions.  Yes, I look forward to a day when I can work with more of the people on this list in a more official capacity.  I won't speak of the contributions that some of the people on this list have made because that might be construed as taking or giving credit and that is not what drives these individuals.  Note that I use the word "individuals" in favor of "team" to describe them.  They don't know each other, so they can't really be a team.  That will likely be the next step in this experiment (and oh how I love experiments) - Allowing these individual contributors to develop into a team of game changers.  You see, that's the biggest thing about nearing in on the 20 year mark, acknowledging that it will be over soon.  I aspire to making my legacy one that multiplies these doers so that today's exception becomes tomorrow's rule.  Where it is the complainer, and not the doer, who is looked at with a questioning eye.  It is the one who doesn't ask the hard question, submit an insightful  point paper, or blog about their journey so that others can learn who is seen as the anomaly.  This is not about me or anyone on the list (I hope that all have a similar list of people we know who can and will get it done), but about the list and the attributes it represents.  The longer we can make this list and the more we collectively commit to doing, the more we will contribute and the more fun we'll have along the way, effectively pushing our retirement/separation dates further away.  (Who would willingly walk away from a team having so much fun doing cool things?)  Truthfully, the list is not that long and the bulk of the doers are nowhere near their retirement eligibility (most are JOs or E-5 and below).  That said, they serve voluntarily and many will leave at their next decision gate.  If they leave because of opportunity elsewhere, good for them.  If they leave out of frustration because of us, shame on us.  When the doers hang it up and we are left with the status quo protectors, the problem admirers, and the whiners, we will have reached that tipping point.  A tipping point toward complete irrelevance as we spiral into that self-licking ice cream cone some perceive us as being even today.

What are you doing to create unique value for our Navy?  How are you partnering with other passionate doers?  What is your side project?  Do you consider yourself part of the coalition?  Do others?      

The experiment continues...  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda, Did...

As information continues to become more easily accessible, two very different things begin to happen.  The Indecisive Leader quickly becomes more overwhelmed and finds it even more difficult to commit to a decision, while the Decisive Leader is just as quick to make a decision as he was a decade ago, it's just more informed.  Don't get me wrong, I am not encouraging anyone to rush to a decision, but the circular logic and over analysis gets us nowhere fast.  I am a big fan of making informed decisions, embracing the 51% solution, committing to action, and collaboratively addressing the remaining 49% during execution.  Those who prefer the 100% solution before taking action continue to hold the rest of the team back.

The days I have spent working for Indecisive Leaders have armed me with more than a few "I wish I would have" sea stories, while working with Decisive Leaders has allowed me to tell many "I am Glad we Did" tales.  The latter is so much more fun and meaningful.

Personally, I am addicted to information.  I love to know what is going on in the world (at least my tiny corner of it).  And I love to do as much as I can about the things I consider to be in my sphere of influence.  I'll offer three examples of how increased access to information has impacted my life over the last month:

1) Last month I got my dream car, and I am not joking.  It's a Honda Odyssey, which should serve as another example of my huge ego.  One of the neat things about the car is the display that continually updates the miles per gallon.  Having that information on my dashboard has already made me drive differently.  I take a different path to work (less stops), I am less concerned with how long it takes me to get to a certain destination (MPG, not MPH, is now my metric of choice), and I tend to do a heck of a lot more coasting and a lot less braking.  More information has not slowed my decision making down, but it has resulted in different decisions demonstrated through different behaviors.

2) Around the same time, I purchased my first GPS watch to help me focus my triathlon training.  Knowing my heart rate, course elevation, various time splits, swim-stroke efficiency, average/instantaneous  bike speed, etc (it does just about everything), has not changed the way I train.  It has merely made me more aware of how my body responds to the training.  More information has validated the decisions and traning strategy that I was already employing.  Same decisions, more confidence.

3) The third example of feedback informing decisions and actions is that of 360 degree performance feedback.  Over the last month, I have had the honor of providing 360 degree mid-term counseling to roughly one-third of our 215 member team.  The objective was to make each individual more self-aware by understanding how their seniors, peers, and juniors were perceiving their performance.  The goal was not necessarily to make any specific behavioral changes, though some certainly will choose to.  The desired effect was merely to encourage self-reflection and provide a working aid to help them develop their personal improvement plan.  We care enough about each member of our team, as well as the team as a whole, to provide all with unique insight on HOW they are contributing, for we believe that is just as important as THAT they are contributing.  What they do with that is on them, but the conversations I shared with each tell me how appreciateive they were to be able to make more informed decisions about the way they contribute to the team.     

Information does not necessarily change the decisions we make.  When used appropriately, it validates our gut, it helps us to convince others to take action, and it speeds the decision/execution cycle.  We have a responsibility to make use of the information that is increasingly available, and it is paramount that leaders make the right information even more accessible (i.e. training, data access, shared priorities, situationl awareness, performance feedback, etc) to the team.  Over the course of my career I have filled my rolodex with a list of people who I refer to as "The Coalition of the Doing".  I do my part to identify and develop talent in an effort to grow that list.  It is that list that gives me reason to continue to serve.  The shorter the list, the more likely I am to call it a career.  Unfortunately, people not on that list remain in positions of authority, inadvertently promote a counter culture, slow us down, and frustrate the heck out of those who care the most.    

As we live our lives, let's do so in such a way that we allow ourselves (and those closest to us) to tell stories of "I am glad we did" triumphs, instead of "I wish we would have" missed opportunities.  Those with whom I serve in the Navy's Information Dominance Corps know that we are doing so in a time where we are at a crossroads each and every day; we have the opportunity to either do something significant today, or admire the problems as we defer things until tomorrow.  Let's choose to be bold and potentially wrong (making it right through thoughtful execution), instead of so timid we fail to act until the opportunity to execute is no longer available.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Apologize? Only If You Care

There are many personal attributes I value in my friends and Shipmates and there are a few that are absolutely non-negotiable.  I won't share the entire list and will instead focus on one characteristic that I cannot overlook...a willingness to take personal responsibility.  Now, there are many ways we can take responsibility, but there is one that best illustrates the true character of a person.  It is the uttering of the three simple words, "I am sorry."

I know there are people out there who believe that allowing those three words to come from their lips is a sign of weakness, but I could not disagree more.  I have grown to believe that just the opposite is true, provided the words are heartfelt.  For me, saying those words is a way of acknowledging:

- I genuinely care about you as a human being
- I take personal responsibility for the mistake I made
- I will do my part not to allow this to happen again

Don't get me wrong, I don't relish the opportunity to apologize, as I would prefer not to make the mistake or hurt someone who is important to me in the first place.  That said, if I inadvertently do either, I am quick to own the situation I helped to create (there are no accidents).  My experience is that those unwilling to apologize are the ones who are weak, who tend to blame others for a less than optimal outcome, and who may not value people as much as they claim.  In fact, the quickest way to tell another person they do not matter to us or that we take no ownership for the situation we helped to create is by being too proud to utter these three words in a meaningful way.

These won't cut it:

- I am sorry you feel this way
- I am sorry this happened 
- I am sorry if you think I did something wrong

These will:

- I am sorry I caused this situation
- I am sorry I hurt you
- I am genuinely sorry and this is how I am going to make it right

A leader who fails to take responsibility for a mistake is not a leader I choose to follow and a friend who fails to apologize for negatively impacting another human being is not a friend of mine.  May we all care enough about ourselves and those around us to express our sincere condolences for negative situations we help to create (whether intentional or otherwise).  May we all be strong enough to say "I am sorry." 

"It takes a great deal of character strength to apologize quickly out of one's heart rather than out of pity.  A person must possess himself and have a deep sense of security in fundamental principles and values in order to genuinely apologize." - Stephen Covey 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bunting For Singles

I played my fair share of baseball as a child, but I am not a big fan.  Each spring, as many of my friends get excited about spring training, I am left scratching my head.  That said, I have a few interests that may perplex others, so I am not judging.  Though not a baseball fan, I am a fan of sports analogies and an even bigger fan of getting stuff done.  While reading The Accidental Creative, I came across a baseball  analogy that struck a chord with me, the concept of "bunting for singles".

Those of us familiar with baseball are well aware that there are scenarios where bunting for a single is the right call.  Though, the idea of giving one batter after the next the bunt sign, or asking the same batter to bunt at each at bat, makes absolutely no sense (even if it is coach pitch, and that's another post altogether).  At the same time, a batter who decides to take the bat out of his own hands despite coach's direction is disheartening.  As a young Sailor, there were many times when I would come up to the plate knowing that all I wanted to do was make contact (i.e. not make a mistake) and would square to bunt.  I wasn't worried about making ground, my objective was merely to not lose any.  I did not have confidence in my ability to swing away and therefore rarely did.  With that approach, my swing never got better and my batting average was dismal.  But, I made contact and, at the time, that was good enough for me, as I wasted growth opportunity after growth opportunity.

Fortunately, I reached a point where I became less concerned about making contact and more interested in learning to hit the ball beyond the infield.  I also made it a point to spend time with people who took pride in their swing and were committed to not bunt unless specifically directed to do so (and even then tried to convince "the coach" otherwise).  The concept of "bunting for singles" quickly became foreign to me and my batting average slowly went up and the pace of progress across the team increased.

As a leader, I refuse to give any member of our team the bunt sign.  In fact, I become extremely disappointed when I see a Shipmate square to bunt.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the tendency to be more concerned with not losing than being interested in winning, but the sooner in life we get over it, the more likely we are to reach our potential.  I'd rather go down swinging away (and watch others do the same) than fouling off bunt attempts or even outrunning the throw to first base.

Swing hard, swing often - bunting leads us toward mediocrity (at best)...   

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It's The Network, Stupid

I just finished watching "The Social Network" for the second time.  I don't know how much of it is true, but what an amazing story!  Makes me think of many things.  The first time I watched it, the main take-away was the reminder that good ideas are nothing without execution (yes, I side with Zuckerberg on that point).  The second time, the take-away was no less subtle, merely more evidence of the significance our individual network has on both our ability to get things done and our ability to enjoy life.  

Those of us who work in a computer related field are well aware of Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip will double approximately every 18 months. Some are familiar with Metcalfe's Law, which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. Those of us in the "getting things done" business might take a slightly different angle on both. I offer that the value of a personal network is proportional to the square of the number of quality people in our network. At the same time, the speed of that personal network getting things done exponentially increases through the deliberate growth of that network over time. In essence, these computing laws apply to the world of human interaction.  Clearly not rocket science, and though many will call it common sense, it is far from common practice.

As a junior officer, I was not the least bit interested in growing my network. I was going to repay my education by completing my minimum service obligation and nothing more. Due to that approach, I missed numerous opportunities to learn from my peers, grow in meaningful ways, and create partnerships that would only grow in value over time. I ignored the laws of both Moore and Metcalfe and my ability to contribute was marginalized. As I near the 20 years of service milestone, it is obvious that I did quite a bit more than my minimum five year payback and though time is a metric, in isolation, it is hardly a metric of value. What was different about the most recent 15 years when compared to the first five? Easy, I grew to understood the value of the network!

Like so many great lessons I continue to learn in my professional life, the source of this epiphany was my Chief Petty Officer. The way "My Chief" worked within his peer group to magically get things done was not lost on me. There were many times when we would hit a wall. He would simply excuse himself and return a short time later with a smile.  His smile came to mean, "Don't ask me how LT, just know that our problem is no longer."  We talked many times while underway about the strong traditions within the Chief's Mess and their uncanny way of working together to get things done.  I wanted that ability to get things done, yet I knew as an officer I would never "be accepted by the Mess."  From that point on, I committed to doing my part cultivate a "Mess-like" culture. A peer-centric environment focused on self-correction, teamwork, and selflessly getting things done.

Upon my decision to make the Navy my career, I purposefully...

- Reached out to strong nodes in hopes of plugging into their network
- Cast nets in hopes of collecting additional nodes with the intent of making them strong over time
- Created a Tribe of people who get things done regardless of their current job title or position description

I can tell you that 15 years later, that network is large in number and larger in strength.  I'd like to say there is nothing this tribe of deliberate actors cannot get done, but we do hit obstacles.  Obstacles in the form of careerists, those who are quick to remind us a given initiative is not our job, and those who are simply far more comfortable admiring the problem than helping to fix it.

Though I am thankful for "My Chief" helping me to see the flaws in my approach, I do wish I had changed my ways earlier.  It is said that the best day to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the second best is today.  The day I planted the proverbial tree, was a day that changed many things for me.  It simultaneously started me down the equivalent of Moore's Law and Metcalfe's Law.

I can tell you that I purposefully use Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ to varying degrees.  In each case, I don't measure the network by the number, I measure it by the strength of the nodes.  Those in the network are there for a reason.  They bring value to my life and I do my best to return the favor.  It's not necessarily about the on-line network, but it is about the network.

How strong is your network?
How quickly is your tribe getting things done?
How are you leveraging Metcalfe's Law?

If your interested in joining our tribe, let me know.  The only barrier to entry is a desire to add value and follow through...