Monday, January 30, 2012

Dr. Maxwell, I Respectfully Disagree

Last week, a little more than 20 of us from the Command were fortunate enough to attend a speaking engagement featuring John Maxwell (Leadership Author) and Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happyness). Making the time to attend this event was important to me because I have a strong desire to both realize my potential as a leader and enable those genuinely interested in personal development the opportunity to make themselves even better than they already are

Having read a few of John's books (my favorite is The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership), I knew what to expect and despite the continual sales pitches, I enjoyed hearing much of what he chose to share. Those of us who are avid readers of leadership books will likely agree that there is great overlap in the teachings or each "leadership guru". The difference is merely in how each author packages their ideas. The foundation of John's talk was his latest book, The 5 Levels of Leadership. As expected, it was much of the same, and reenforced what many of us have already heard and John had previously told his readers. The problem for me was that I so disagreed with the premise of his first level of leadership that I had trouble getting past it.

The first level of leadership in his model is Positional Leadership, which he defined as "People follow you because they HAVE to." Those of you who follow this blog may know how much I disagree with "Have Tos". He went on to say that being placed in a leadership position marks the beginning of one's journey toward becoming a real leader. Hogwash!

I firmly believe that leadership positions are earned only after we demonstrate both the ability to lead and the aptitude for additional growth. That is one of the reasons I make no assumptions about any member of the military, especially when it comes to rank and length of service. At OUR Command, we talk of "Competence over Collar Device" and I ask that none of us default to relative seniority as a means of ranking people on personnel evaluations or assigning them to a specific position within OUR team. Unfortunately for many, that is 180 degrees out from traditional military culture and, therefore, hard for some to accept. Please don't misunderstand me, I believe we have a shared responsibility to help rank, positional authority, and competence to align the best we can. The difference is that competence is paramount and must influence the others, we cannot assume competence based purely on a person's position or rank.

Two weeks ago I welcomed a new Sailor to OUR team. He's a Seaman and he's been in the Navy for less than two years. I make no assumptions. He's 25+, he's received a college degree from a great institution, he has earned a law degree from a premier university, and he has been a practicing attorney. He is now one of the most junior members of OUR team from a rank perspective. Will we constrain him by his rank? Absolutely not! Will we find ways to leverage his strengths? Absolutely! Has he begun his leadership journey without the benefit of a traditional leadership position? You bet! The truth of the matter is that OUR Navy is attracting great talent in both OUR officer and enlisted ranks. In many cases, the two are beginning to blur, but that's another discussion.

On the flip side, I have experienced working with people who believe they are worthy of a leadership position despite not having any leadership experience, without any demonstration of their ability to lead, and little evidence that they are willing to invest in themselves and those around them. John Maxwell's pitch regarding Level One Leaders would have you believe that it's OK to overlook such flawed logic and that we should feel alright positioning these individuals as leaders.

Dr. Maxwell, I agree with most of your teachings and continue to use many of your books as tools to help fully develop as a leader. However, I completely disagree with you on how a position of leadership is earned and when the leadership journey actually commences. Unfortunately, too many agree with you on one or both issues. I will do my part to help ensure that all with whom I serve see themselves as leaders in various stages of development regardless of position and those most deserving are placed in positions of leadership regardless of rank or length of service.

For those of us who aspire to develop into true leaders (not supervisors and not managers), let's overtly commit to becoming better than we are, let's develop those around us, and let's give our seniors reason to block on our behalf. For those more interested in the job title, the office, and the parking spot, please give those who we are "leading" more credit. Be the leader the team deserves or kindly step aside...you're holding us back!

Friday, January 20, 2012

High Fives

I must admit that I enjoy "giving high fives". That is to say that I enjoy recognizing others for a job well done, and I feel comfortable admitting that doing so is far more satisfying than being on the receiving end. As I reflect upon the recognition I choose to give others, I have come to realize two common themes, the first is deliberate and the second must be subconscious.

On the deliberate side, I am quicker to applaud process than I am result.  In fact, there are times when I overlook a positive result because the means of achieving or the motivation behind it was not especially noteworthy.  As I have been known to say at work, HOW we achieve a result is just as important as THAT we achieve said result.  There have been more than a few occasions where the result was less than desired, but the process used was exceptional.  It is my opinion that too many of us celebrate (or are disappointed by) the result without meaningful consideration of the process used or the intent behind it.  It may be flawed in the eyes of some, but I would rather applaud another for a subpar result of a nobly intended and thoughtfully executed initiative than for a solid result of an action with questionable intention or subpar execution.  I guess that is just another way of saying that I would rather help to slowly build a great team that lasts over time than reenforce the values of a good team that fades before its time.

Secondly, I have come to realize I tend to recognize those who are most likely to deflect the praise.  What I mean by that is I seem to have a subconscious knack for singling out people who are quick to give others the credit for said contribution.  Just last week I did my part to widen the audience for another Officer's  excellent work (by measure of motive, process and result).  In all honesty, part of the rationale behind sharing such work was to plant seeds with others who should consider following his lead (motive and process).  The Officer whom I chose to publicly recognize was the first to diminish his contribution, give others credit, and write it off as business as usual.  The problem is that for too many people it is not business as usual, but I digress.  The fact is that those who seem to contribute the most in my mind are those who are not motivated by praise and don't need the validation of another human being to know they are contributing in meaningful ways.

On the subject of praise, I will share that I received some of the most meaningful praise earlier this week.  It came from my boss in the form of a simple handshake, a sincere thank you, and a genuine request that I "keep doing what (I'm) doing."  To some that might seem like a hollow expression of gratitude.  In fact, I had received a similar message earlier in my career by a different boss and hollow is exactly how I characterized it back then.  I did so because he had no real understanding of what it was that I did and couldn't think of anything specific for which to express gratitude.  This time, my boss has a clear understanding of not only WHAT I and the rest of our team does, but also HOW we go about getting it done.

After thoughtful reflection, I will continue to be deliberate in the recognition given to those who take as much pride (if not more) in the process as the result, for I believe that over the long term the right HOW will consistently deliver the desired WHAT (It all starts with the right culture).  Lastly, the attention I give to others who truly embody Captain Joseph Rochefort's words ("We can accomplish anything provided no one cares who gets the credit.") will transition from subconscious to intentional.  After all, it is we who share his sentiment who are most likely to be focused just as much on HOW as we are WHAT.

I haven't given recognition enough thought until now, and I am glad I made time to do so. What behaviors do you incentivize with the recognition you give others? How do you react when others attempt (or fail) to recognize your contributions?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The NO Jar

There are two verbal answers to a Yes or No question:  Yes and No (Note: For those who migrate to "sure", please consider showing a little less apathy).  It is my experience that over time too many of us are conditioned to constrain ourselves by defaulting with the negative response.  Even if we decide to respond in the affirmative, our non-verbal responses (i.e. body language, level of effort, etc.) often times take away from our verbal messaging.  

At home, I am noticing more and more that my son's default response is "No" and that bothers me.  In fact, my wife and I have dubbed him "Captain No".  Because my first response to any situation that displeases me is to assess how I have contributed to it, I can't help but think he is emulating behavior he sees at home.  Sure enough, since playing closer attention to both my words and the words of others in his presence, I have witnessed me and other adults negating him with"No", more often than affirming with "Yes".  Some will say that a child needs to have boundaries and the word "No" is the primary means many use to set them.  Well, it pains me to say that at the age of eight, my son is conditioned to not only tell others "No", but has begun to tell himself "No" (i.e. denying himself opportunities and experiences).  As a way of having some fun with corrective action, we have since set up a money jar that requires each family member to make a donation when he or she uses the word "No".

In my professional life I am personally committed to saying "Yes" and encouraging others to do the same.  In fact, our philosophy at NIOC Pensacola continues to be "Don't tell yourself no, and your Chain of Command will find a way to say Yes."  That being said, I am astounded by the number of Shipmates who are all too willing to tell themselves "No" and thereby not only deny themselves opportunities, but also allow others to believe that complying with the status quo is desired behavior.  At the same time, I see many individuals who are willing to adopt the "Yes" philosophy,  only to be told "No" by someone else in the Chain of Command and over time repeat the cycle with their juniors.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that both parenting and leading a team comes with the responsibility to use the word "No" when warranted, and I am given reason to use the word more than I care to (few things are as irresponsible as deferring the role of "Bad Guy" to a senior).  The truth is, I have never responded well to the word "No".  Yes, I respect authority when I am told "No", but I don't like being told that I am not capable of doing something that I truly want to do or see great value in doing.  My concern is that we in the military are too quick to blindly comply with "Ref A" and follow the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).  I emphasize the word "blindly" because clearly command and control requires compliance and commitment to shared standards when it is time to execute.  I offer that rather than focus on creating boundaries through the use of the word "No", we should aspire to reach beyond those boundaries, give ourselves permission and create ways to tell ourselves and juniors "Yes".

I have a renewed commitment to using the word "Yes" as much at home as I do at work.  I am committed to helping my son to make as few donations to our "No Jar" as possible.  I am committed to helping as many people as possible to break through the boundaries they have placed upon themselves after years of being coached to conform by teachers, parents and other authority figures.  Think about it, how many times have you told yourself or someone else "No"?  Who are you holding back and why?