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