Wednesday, February 29, 2012


The team with whom I currently serve is made up of Sailors and civilians.  We have far more Sailors than civilians, but our civilians are equally valued and critical to our success.  Civilians bring much specialized expertise to the team and the continuity they provide is vital to our ability to grow and strengthen relationships outside of the command, as well as competency inside.  At the same time, they are able to serve as the foundation for "The NIOC Pensacola Way" so that the command's culture does not ebb and flow too much based on the personalities that enter and exit through the Navy's revolving Permanent Change of Station (PCS) door.

At the outset of my tour as Commanding Officer, I made it clear to all that 100% retention is not an objective for neither Sailors nor civilians during my tenure.  Though I am committed to giving every member of our team reason to stay, I do in fact hope they aspire for more than even we can offer.  At the same time, I told the civilian members of our team that there was no upward mobility within our command and that I would do whatever I could to help those who felt they have peaked within the organization to find employment that allowed them opportunities for more personal growth or a larger paycheck elsewhere.

20 months later what has happened?

- Some very talented civilians have voluntarily left our team for greater opportunity
- One civilian left the team because, as he put it, "the organization had outgrown (him)"
- More than a few very strong Sailors have decided not to re-enlist

I am certain that more civilians are looking for employment elsewhere and provided the rationale behind their planned transition is excitement about additional opportunity vice frustration with their current situation, I celebrate that fact and stand ready to write letters of recommendation.  At the same time, I welcome more separation/resignation/retirement requests from members of our team, uniformed or not.  Some might wonder what such a statement says about my commitment to the institution, and that is OK by me.  My answer is that I firmly believe...

- Life is too short to be doing something other than what you love
- What we do to make a living needs to be about more than a paycheck
- We all have a right, and a responsibility, to reach our potential
- A scarcity mindset that is focused on retention kills creativity and weakens the team

A few months back, our Executive Officer told civilian members of the team that none of our civilians would realize their potential as members of the NIOC Pensacola Team.  I personally loved the statement and couldn't agree more.  At the same time, I was taken aback when a few members of the team took it as an insult.  They didn't seem to understand that it was high praise and a testament to both their demonstrated abilities and unrecognized capacity.  They didn't realize that though we know their contributions are critical to ensuring we realize our collective potential, 15 years in the same job is not helping them to realize theirs.

It may sound odd, but I hope everyone on our team outgrows the organization.  In fact, I would be disappointed to come back to the command in five years and see more than a couple of familiar faces at the same desks.  The rationale behind such a statement is aligned with the three reasons I am not retiring when I reach the 20 year point this May:

1) People - I love the people with whom I serve (military and civilian) and in some cases, I want more for them than they want for themselves
2) Experiential Diversity - The opportunity to contribute in new and exciting ways every 2-3 years ensures life doesn't get monotonous
3) Personal Growth - The continual challenge of leaving each tour a better person and making each command better ensures I make the most of each day and that stagnation is not my reality

I am sometimes guilty of mirror imaging.  Wanting more for others than they in fact want for themselves may not be fair, but that is how I am wired.  Though I continue working to develop a more empathetic mindset, I won't stop helping others to want to realize their potential.   Even if it means they shed the uniform or leave the command in search of greater opportunities elsewhere.  I remain committed to do my part to give everyone reason to stay, to refrain from changing anyone's mind to leave, and to facilitate the transition for those most deserving of some additional momentum.

That's no recipe for the Golden Anchor Retention Excellence Award, but life is not about retention.  It's not about doing the same thing today as you did yesterday, and it's not about staying within your ever-shrinking comfort zone.  It's about fulfillment!  Are you fulfilled with your current employment?  If not, please consider what fulfills you and move on.  As my parents taught me long ago, settling is only cheating yourself.  I'm not willing to cheat myself and I refuse to silently watch others cheat themselves.



  1. Sean,

    Yet another very thoughtful post. Great job.

  2. I get where you're coming from, but there are more than a few people (and I work with them, too) who are perfectly happy doing the job they're doing and not moving on anywhere. For them, employment is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Who am I to second-guess someone who would much rather have limited work responsibilities because she would rather be able to attend to the things that matter to her more than work?

    That said, I commend your commitment to your military/civilian team. That is lacking in many a leader.

  3. s - You are so right. I know how lucky I am to have "work" that is so aligned with my personal values. I had a nice conversation last night with my wife and a similar one today with a value colleague on this very subject. I feel sorry for people who settle for a job that does nothing more than pay their bills. It's a sad place to be. That said, I realize that the majority of people fall in that category. As I stated in a previous post (, I am addicted to "Self-Actualization" on Maslow's Hierarchy. I want others to get a taste, see how good it is, and strive for me. Just one of my many flaws, but one I have accepted.

  4. Justin Rogers ENS, USN (1170)February 29, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    oh my can't retire!! Please don't leave the Navy.....!!

    1. Justin Rogers ENS, USN (1170)March 1, 2012 at 10:48 PM

      wuupss...mis-read that paragragh...

  5. How do you reconcile your beliefs that "Life is too short to be doing something other than what you love" and "What we do to make a living needs to be about more than a paycheck" with your acceptance that you "want more for them than they want for themselves"?

    I don't believe these are contradictory statements, but I think one must be careful to ensure that when you push people toward more than they want, that you push them toward something they will want once they understand it. We do people no favors by encouraging them to give up on what they love to instead do what we love. Conversely, opening someone's eyes to the potential of a better version of themselves is a great gift.

    1. "you push them toward something they will want once they understand it"

      This is in one form or another a nearly daily occurrence in my professional life, except I am on the receiving end. Helps me truly appreciate and be humbled by the experience of those that I work with.

  6. One can only hope that your boss will ask you to move on after 20 years.

  7. Anon 07:36 - Funny you should mention that given that my 20 year mark arrives two months from today. If my boss sees greater opportunity for me elsewhere or believes I am no longer adding value to the organization, I hope he has the courtesy to do the same.

  8. Anon @ Mar 1, 212 07:36 AM

    Actually, one would expect that his boss would ask him to stay more than 20 years. Officers like Sean don't come along often in a Navy career. We need him to continue to challenge himself and others to grow more in their careers in support of our Navy. And, your words would have more credence if you had the courage to put your name to them and own them.

  9. I couldn't agree more with your philosophy of allowing your Sailors to seek new opportunities for growth and advancement even if it's outside the Navy. I feel I'm in a minority in that opinion, especially when it comes to junior officers. I try not to be an over-bearing pain in the arse to junior officers who have legitimate reasons and good plans for what they intend to do when they leave the Navy. Some other COs I know tend to put a tremendous amount of pressure on their JOs to stay in, and I have also known Commodores to request interviews with JOs who submit their resignation letters so they can also pressure the JO to stay in (or find out what's wrong with your command's culture that would make them want to get out). While I don't disagree with an ISIC looking into guys leaving to see if it is indicative of a command culture problem, I also think we (the Navy) incur some risk of souring our relationship with those JOs as they leave the Navy to start their new careers. If it's clear to me they have good reasons and a good plan for getting out, then I would rather they leave on a positive note. They will go forth serving as ambassadors to their future communities on what a good experience it was for them to serve their country for five years before entering the corporate world.