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!