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!