Failing at Success

Today’s missive is about the failure of success.  This phrase is a take on the one coined in a paper I often reference by Dean Ludwig and Clinton Longenecker entitled The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders. This came to mind once again as I was reading the morning paper and discovered an article on yet another Naval Officer pleading guilty to bribery and conspiracy  charges  in conjunction with the Fat Leonard debacle.  Here’s another sad failure of a successful individual.  Perhaps this commander was an otherwise decent guy.  But how does a decent guy, a successful Naval officer, wind up in the throes of bribery and prostitution?  Before I sound too self-righteous, I should point out that there is a dark side to each of us.  I just finished reading a great book by Christian Miller entitled The Character Gap: How Good Are We?  The theme of this book was that we all are some mixture of good and bad.  Most people wind up between the extremes.  Surprisingly, we tend to think we are not a bad as we might actually be, and  we almost always overlook our flaws.  This problem of human nature gets magnified when we become successful, making it all the more important to constantly evaluate our behavior. The book ends with some strategies to keep one on a virtuous path.  There is one interesting strategy worth mentioning here, “nudging toward virtue.”  The basic premise is that there are little “nudges” you can make which tend to move one towards a more virtuous life.  The analogy used is called “Fly in the Urinal”.  There’s an airport in Europe that was having real trouble with maintaining cleanliness in the men’s room. Signs urging guys to pay more attention to doing their business apparently didn’t have much effect.  By engraving the image of a house fly in the bottom of the urinals, spillage decreased 80%.  The signs were a hammer, the fly was a nudge, but many times more effective than the hammer.  (I’m reminded of the sign in the men’s room at Penn Station in New York: ONLY ONE PERSON PER URINAL) Nudges can be little things, giving blood, giving a homeless person a buck at a stoplight, a quick thank you to the janitor, etc.   While nudges won’t necessarily turn things around, they are a reminder that each one of us could do better.

Back to failures of success. Examples are everywhere.  I always introduce myself as a ‘twice-failed” retiree.”  I just can’t seem to get this retirement thing right.  Many small businesses fail because they are wildly successful as an 8(a), but fail to make the transition to big business.  Football teams can be highly successful for 58 minutes of a game, only to revert to a “prevent defense” for the last two minutes.  They stop doing the things that made them successful for most of the game and the opposing team takes advantage of this lapse. Senior leaders destroy brilliant careers by outrageous behavior. They, too, abandon what made them successful all their career.

 

 

 

It seems to me that the worlds of success and failure are very much alike:

  • Success or failure does not always relate to level of effort. Luck plays a role.  Other people play a role.  Events beyond your control play role.  This is why it is so important to reflect on the results of your labors.  Was I just lucky this time?
  • Success or failure tend to have unintended consequences on those around you. They may be impacted, even though they may have had nothing to do with your behavior or actions.
  • A single event can make you a success or a failure, but a single event rarely turns the tables. If you are successful, analyze why and keep doing that.  If you have failed, realized that there’s probably a long road ahead to turn things around. (Note to self: Insert Luigi the Bridge Builder Joke here)
  • Success and failure can be unfair. As they say, “A rising tide floats all boats”, but just as easily,  one bad apple can ……yadda, yadda, yadda.
  • Success and failure can happen randomly. Most leaders say one makes one’s own luck by setting the favorable conditions.  Throughout my life, I’ve been lucky enough to have the successful surprises outnumber the opposite.
  • Both always bring the judgement of others on you, good and bad. Some are envious. Some are resentful. Some feel vindicated.   Some are happy/sad for you.  Regardless, you will be judged.

 

So how does a successful person avoid the “failure of success”, succumbing to the Bathsheba Effect? How does one stay on the success side of the fine line?(This is a good place to point out that I firmly believe that the more successful you are, the more susceptible you become to the failure of success.)  Besides the aforementioned Nudge to Virtue, Here are a few of tips I found useful:

 

  • Set the Standard. Make sure all who work for you know YOUR standard.  A particularly useful way to do this is to send out a memo on what your expectations are and how you expect business to be conducted.  Include topics like who pays for lunch, how you expect gifts to be handled,  what can and can’t be in an email, etc.  If people know what you expect, they will generally deliver, but you have to tell them first.
  • Use moral reminders. Set up a system to make sure you are adhering to your moral compass.  Have an ethics topic of the day at staff meetings.  I found using my EA as a moral reminder was effective.  If I was scowling during a meeting, he might pass me a note that said “Smile.”  Just think of something to keep yourself grounded and use it.
  • Seek role models. Nothing beats having a good role model to fall back on.  It doesn’t have to be someone who you can talk to (although that helps)  Read about those you admire. Study their character traits and think about how they might react to a situation
  • Attend to “Nagging Feelings.” If you find yourself mulling over tough decisions again and again, or if you are spending a lot of time justifying a decision, then something is wrong.  If it’s bugging you, then you probably need to do some more thinking.  Someone once said, “A clear conscience is the softest pillow.”  It’s true.  I suppose the corollary is “A guilty conscience is a bed of nails.”  Bottom line is to listen to that little voice in your head.
  • Fill the “Knowing-Doing” gap. This is a hard one for people that move into leadership positions.  One of the “separators” between leaders and followers, is that leaders don’t have the luxury of looking the other way.  If you know about something, you must take action.  Once people are confident that you take action on the things you know need fixing, they are far more likely to take action themselves.
  • Seek Advice. This is closely related to having a mentor, but is really all about realizing your limitations and knowing when to ask for advice on an issue.  Having another perspective on tough issues can be very helpful and healthful.
  • Practice Ethical Fitness. Think a little each day about how you are preparing for the next tough decision.  Listen to the news and think about how you would react to situations.  Work a little daily at making tough decisions so that when the chips are down and you have little time to make a decision, your ethical reflexes kick in.
  • Get out of the office. Walk around.  Talk to people.  Watch what’s going on.  Read the bulletin boards.  Have lunch in the cafeteria with employees.  Don’t let the small cloud of sycophants and head-nodders surrounding you keep you from knowing what’s really going on.
  • Listen to (and value) all opinions. You don’t have to agree with or heed all the advice you are given, but it sure helps to know what others think.
  • Reflect. Set some time aside for reflection each day.  Insist your staff schedules it and protects it.  Don’t let them fill it up with other meetings.  It doesn’t have to be long…15 minutes is fine.  There are plenty of people over you that can intrude on your time for reflection, but don’t let your staff do it.
  • Be a role model. Pretty simple.  You are a role model, rather you want to be or not.  Remember that while it may not seem like it, everyone is watching what you do, what you say and how you say it.  They are like your young kids sitting in a car seat.  They are listening to everything  you say and are happy to provide the grandparents with a complete rundown of what was said.

 

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Who do you trust? Part Two

This is the second part of an article on trust.  In Part One, most of the discussion was on whom I did not trust and why.  Of course, everyone wants to be on the other list, the “I Trust” list.  In the last article, I asked that you take some time to make your own list of those you trust and don’t’ trust and to think about why they fall on a particular list.  The ultimate aim for you to strive to be on everyone else’s “I Trust” list.  It’s a great list to be on.

 

Whom do I Trust?

I had a tougher time coming up with a list of those I trust because I found that unless someone had done something to violate my trust, most people were on my “I Trust Them” list.  There are some obvious ones that I won’t dwell on:  parents, brother, wife, children and their families, close friends, etc. There are some outside of my immediate circle of family and friends that I do think are worth mentioning:

My pilot.  Many years ago as a Bombardier/Navigator flying A-6 Intruders I found myself completely dependent on the aviation skills of the person sitting directly to my left, my pilot.  Over the years I may have trusted some more than others, but I never jumped in a jet without complete confidence that we were going to get home safely.  There were no flight controls over on my side, so I guess I didn’t have much of a choice.

The flight deck crew.  More than 1000 times I placed my life in the hands of the young Sailors who were responsible for maintaining my airplane,hooking it to the catapult, ensuring the correct amount of steam was dialed in, directing my Intruder back to the carrier via radar control, setting the arresting gear to the correct weight and taxing the jet to a safe parking spot.  Over the course of a deployment, I came to know many of them personally….but not all.  And still I trusted them completely.

The Post Office.  Oddly enough, I trust the Post Office to deliver important mail, almost without question…I send my tax payments, pay bills, and Christmas cards and expect them to get there, on time and intact.  If I didn’t trust them, I suppose I could use FEDEX, UPS or some other private courier, but they are expensive.  Because I trust the Post Office to deliver, it’s not worth the cost and, in truth, FEDEX has lost a very valuable shipment (my golf clubs).   I’m reminded of the scene in Miracle on 34th Street  when Fred Gailey does such a masterful job of describing the Post Office. Unfortunately, his main point is the US Postal Service is an arm of the US Government, and that alone should prove that it’s efficient, effective and reliable- not necessarily these days.  A recent Gallup Poll revealed 47% of Americans have little or no confidence in their government. (ED Note: The Lovely Mrs. Crenshaw disagrees with me on this one….yet she still sends lots of payments through the US Mail..I’m just sayin’)

Amazon Prime.  You can count of one hand the number of times that Amazon has missed a promised delivery date.  When they do miss, I get a message letting me know that something’s going to be late.  So I trust Amazon not only because they have a track record of delivering on their promises, but also because they let me know when they are going to fall short of my expectations.  This is an important concept for leaders to ponder.  Those who work for you will not always be right, or deliver on your expectations. But if you let them know that you trust them, more often than not they will deliver and your trust level with them will increase.  I always expected that everyone who worked for me was doing their jobs and didn’t spend a lot of time checking up on them.  If something went amiss and they had told me about it, then I may not have been happy, but I did not lose trust in them.  On the other hand, if something went wrong and I didn’t know about it, not only was I unhappy, but I also lost trust in that person.  As a result, I had to check on everything they were doing and eventually I just didn’t give them anything to do.

Banks.  Call me naïve, but I just don’t worry about the safety and integrity of my deposits.  I’ve had a hiccup or two throughout the years, but unlike my parents, I keep the majority of my money deposited in bank accounts.  I mention that because as my brother and I have been going through things in the old family home (My Dad passed away a couple of years ago and my Mom now lives in an assisted living facility) we found some cash just stuffed between the pages various books.  My Dad kept a giant safe in the house with a substantial amount of cash in it.  They never had credit cards, and on the rare occasion they travelled, they used cash.  They were a product of the Great Depression and no doubt didn’t trust banks as a result.  I know that there are constant cyber threats which seek to challenge the integrity of the banking system, but I trust my financial institutions to stay on top of things.

 

The pilots in the cockpit of my next flight.   Why not?  If I didn’t trust them I guess I would drive.  Of course, I have no idea who they will be or what their safety record is.  I trust that the various players in that chain have followed all the rules and regulations and that the pilots themselves have enough integrity to know when it’s not safe for them to fly.  I know there are occasional reports where a crewmember has been removed for being drunk but they are not frequent enough to affect my trust.  In reality, it’s not the individuals I trust, but the institutions which govern the pilots’ behavior.  I assume that such institutions are one of those that the 53% of Americans do trust .  I just saw in the news that 2017 was an extremely safe year for American-based airlines, with zero casualties related to accidents.  My trust seems well placed, for now.

Factors in Trust

So why do I trust those on my list?  I won’t comment on my trust of family and friends, except to say that in almost seven decades they have never let me down.  It’s why I’m generally a trusting person.  I know that not all of you will trust every family member, spouse or certain friends, most likely because they violated your trust.  That gets to a point I made in the previous article, lack of trust because that trust was violated. Here are some factors in fostering trust:

Reliability.  Many people and organizations I trust deliver on their promises regularly and reliability.    It’s important to note that those organizations don’t always deliver, but the ones I trust are really good about keeping me informed when they know my expectations may not be met.  When they miss the mark, I have confidence that they are looking into the whys and wherefores and they will do better next time.  If you want others to trust you, you have to deliver or “fess” up when you fall short.

Empathy.  I trust those that I think are considering my concerns when they are making decisions on my behalf.  Those decisions may not always be the ones I would make, but at least they considered my point of view.  This is the principal reason many Americans lack trust in the Hill at present.  A December 2017 Gallup Poll on approval rating of the US Congress found that 78% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.  I submit that most of the problems on the Hill come from a lack of trust among them.   Neither side of the aisle trusts the other, so nothing really gets done.  People compromise when there is respect for and trust in the views of others.  Violation of confidentiality, constant partisan bickering and “he said, she said” confrontations all erode trust.    To be trusted in your dealing with others, they must feel that you care about their views, not necessarily agree with them.

Honesty.  If I find out that someone was not honest with me, I will not trust them.  Honesty is fundamental to any trusting relationship.  There’s a presentation on Ethical Decisions in the Insights tab of the CCA Website, and it has a section on honesty, truth and truthfulness, so I won’t rehash that here.  I do want to say a word about my previous comment about telling the truth and being truthful.  I’ve seen this get people into trouble again and again and as a result, they lose credibility and sacrifice trust.  You know what I’m talking about here.  Remember the old gag in The Pink Panther?  “Does your dog bite?”

Same thing here.  Carefully crafting answers that are true, but not truthful is a quick ticket to the “Don’t Trust” list.

Track Record of Trust.  If I tell you something in confidence, I expect my wishes to be honored.  People who have proved themselves trustworthy by respecting my wishes in the past are likely to stay on my trust list until proven otherwise.  In the electronic age this is hard to do.  There are so many ways that you can inadvertently blab something said in confidence and the next thing you know, it shows up on Facebook.  Being able to openly express opinions is part of a healthy debate, but be sure all know the ground rules before getting started.  I go to a lot of events with Chatham House Rules.  If you want a whole bunch of folks labeling you as untrustworthy, violate that rule.  However, a word to the wise.  Nothing in the world of public affairs is “off the record.”  I am very choosy about whom I choose to speak to “in confidence” and you should be too!

 

Hope this wasn’t too long. I’m sure you have your own criteria for whom you trust.  But spending some time thinking about how you earn and keep the trust of others is very important as a leader or executive.  Whether on the battle field or in the boardroom, trust is a key aspect of your effectiveness as a leader.  If people don’t trust you, it’s going to be awfully hard to get them on the bus.  There used to be a paper floating about with excerpts from British Navy fitness reports.  One of my favorites was “his men would follow him anywhere, but only out of sheer curiosity.”  Make sure your followers are not just curious, but trusting as well.

PS.  Please excuse my misuse of who and whom. I know I have violated the who or whom rules.  But “Whom Do You Trust” sounds so pretentious.  My old English teachers are all rolling in their graves and I apologize to them.

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Who do you trust? Part One

OK, I know it’s been a while since I sat down and put some thoughts on paper…One of my New Year’s resolutions it to do a better job.  Frankly, for me, writing these articles is a way to organize my thoughts and to vent (but not too much).   And it seems that of late one risks a great deal by exposing one’s thoughts to the universe of tweet-ers, facebook-ers, linked In-ers, and web lurkers, given the apparent lack of tolerance for anything but the most extreme views.  There.  I feel better.

On to “Who do you trust?”  I think it’s a good time to consider this question, especially in light of the “fake” news craze, endless exposure to unverified “Breaking News”, and a Congress seemingly motived by party politics and reelection fever over trust.  I admit that’s harsh, but I’m pretty sure when you make a list of who you trust, your representatives on the Hill won’t be on it.    I really don’t know what to think when I hear our elected representatives constantly using the most extreme superlatives, good or bad, when describing each bit of proposed legislation….It’s either “the most devastating blow to the middle class since the Great Depression” or “historic legislation which will restore the American Dream.”  Really?  Can it be that bad or that good?  I don’t think so and hence, I don’t trust what is being said.

I’m thinking this will be a two-parter….There’s too much to cover in one article, so I will focus on who/what I don’t trust and why in this article.  Tomorrow, I will follow up with who I do trust and why.

First, I encourage you to make your own list of whom you trust and don’t trust.  After you’ve done that write down some reasons why people appear on each list.   Here’s my list:

Airline Flight Status.  Airlines always recommend you check with them before heading to the airport….I’ve yet to check on a flight that still three hours away that says anything but “On Time.” I’m talking about normal operations, no big storms or computer meltdowns in the offing….just an everyday trip to the airport.   So I bop on over to the airport, go through security, check again on flight status (On Time) and head on over to the gate.  I’ve got a nifty app on my phone that lets me see where the airplane is coming from so I can check on it….Lo and behold, my airplane is 30 minutes behind schedule ….but at my gate it still says “On Time.”  If I ask the gate agent, usually I get a “nothing is showing on my system” reply.  Eventually, they have to come clean and the announcement is made that there’s a delay. Now they post a new departure time, usually wildly optimistic, that they have no hope of making….I’d much rather they use technology and post actual status….6 minutes late, or 15 minutes early.  By the way, ever had a delay because the aircrew was late arriving from another flight?  The airlines know that way ahead of time. Why don’t they put a status up that reflects that? I don’t trust ‘em.

Network News.  Ever listen to the Today show?  It always starts off with one of the personalities saying, “BREAKING NEWS!!!  Blah blah blah”.  Gosh, it must be important one would think…But turns out it’s not “Breaking” at all….and it has only a 50% chance of actually being something important.  Why must everything be sensational?  I just want the news, and if nothing big happened today, well I’m OK with that.  My other problem with network news is that they, too, have become slaves to the extremes.  I actually can shape the news I get by choosing which channel to listen to, left or right.  Not sure I know of a middle-of-the-road channel, so I really have to watch several channels to get some sort of balance.  I wind up only watching the sports news, because it’s usually accurate…..Army beats Navy, Redskins lose, etc.  They just haven’t figured out how to fiddle with the scores yet.  (Although I will say that they have figured out a way to tweak election results so sports score tweaking may not be that far behind).  Imagine channel surfing between sports shows to find the scores that you like. “Hey, Navy beat Army on Channel 4!”

Weather Reports.  Apparently actual temperatures are not very news worthy, so weather guessers have invented wind chills and heat factors.  It’s not so interesting to say it’s going to be 15 degrees tonight.  Instead, why not say, “We are going to have serious, life threatening wind chills of minus 5 tonight somewhere is our listening area. Stay tuned as this story develops.” Huh?  Why say “There’s a chance of snow tomorrow” when you can say “I can’t rule out the possibility of over 12 inches of snow and blizzard conditions similar to Antarctica will be here tomorrow because the Manchurian model says so.”  And why are we naming storms which we used to label northeasters except to make them seem as serious as a hurricane so the viewers will “stay tuned”? Since when has a cold spell become a “Bomb?” Everything the weather reporters say always emphasize the extremes.  I’m interested in their best guess about what’s likely to happen, not their speculations on how bad it might be. They seem to be just opposite.

Congress.   It’s all about the extremes over there too.  Apparently, nothing can be solved by compromise, so they have invented ways to ensure the extremes always win (or lose). I get a kick watching coverage over there. It’s always the leadership slinging superlatives right and left while surrounded by 5 or 6 colleagues looking concerned.  I would feel like such a dope standing in the background, nodding my head and furrowing my brow while having absolutely nothing to say.   I always wonder what the stand-arounds are thinking. “Do I look concerned enough?”   “I wonder if they are having meatballs in the cafeteria today?”  “I hope they see me standing here back in the District.”  Who knows what they are thinking?

The Internet.  Anyone can say anything and it’s all recorded, attributable, unrecallable.   Who thinks hitting the “Recall Message” button works?  All it really does is highlight a message so that I want to see what was recalled and try to figure out why.   By the way, as far as email goes, you don’t even have to send it….It’s still there lurking in the drafts folder just as if you hit the “Send” button.  It’s only one fat finger away from being accidently sent.   Heck, Amazon knows what you are going to buy before you buy it and they pre-position your future purchase so you can get it quicker.  We are not that far away from having your thoughts zipping through cyberspace. (By the way, I do trust Amazon to deliver something when they say they will.  Don’t you?)

Factors of non-Trust

I guess I’ve said enough to get me in trouble, but before I leave the subject of non-trust, I thought it might be interesting to think about why things/people show up on the non-trust list.  I’m also interested in what’s on your list.

  • History of being wrong. I guess this one is obvious, but worth a comment.  If you tell me something and it was wrong, I’m probably less likely to trust what you say in the future.  It helps if you come to me and admit you were wrong and to express a desire to be more accurate in the future.  There are plenty of reasons to be wrong, so fess up!  Just remember, I tend to trust people who have a track record of being right.  The weather is usually never as bad as the worst-case scenario pushed by the TV forecaster, so I tend to take what they say with a grain of salt.  By the way, I woke up this morning with a white driveway, yet there was no mention of any precipitation for the next 24 hours.
  • Shifting reality. I don’t trust people or things that seem to change based on convenience, personal benefit, discovery of the truth, or crowd-think.  Airlines know that flights aren’t “on Time” usually well in advance.  Why not say so when they know?  Sure, they eventually are truthful, but only after they have no other option but to be truthful.  People are sorry after they get caught…..not while they are doing illegal or hurtful things.
  • Inward focused. When people are self-focused, saying and doing what’s best for them, not for others, I don’t trust them.  One can usually tell when the “What’s in it for me?”  rule is in effect and I find it hard to trust someone who hasn’t at least considered the consequences of their actions on me and others.
  • Agenda over truthfulness. If I sense that someone is more focused on their own agenda at the expense of being truthful, then I don’t trust them. They frequently are unresponsive to facts, seeking alternate facts (Whatever that means).  This results in a situation where the opinion of others is seldom valued or even considered.  I don’t trust people who develop solutions that haven’t considered all perspectives.  I don’t think that many who seek our trust are intentionally un-truthful.  They may “think” they are being truthful, but because they are so focused on their agenda, they have conveniently overlooked facts which don’t contribute to their version of the truth.  Remember, one can tell the truth without being truthful.
  • Violation of Trust. When you have trusted someone who then wrongly takes advantage of your trust, it will be difficult to ever trust them again. This is the most important factor I consider when determining who to trust.  Have they ever violated my or someone else’s trust?  If so, they wind up at the top of my “Do not Trust” List.

 

It’s useful to spend some time to think about trust and who you do and don’t trust.  More importantly, thinking about why people wind up on one of those lists will serve you well when a new person pops up. What list do you put them on?  Is it possible to change lists? Probably the most important outcome of this little drill is to think about where you fall on other peoples’ lists.  This article was about a list you don’t want to be on and the things which will put you there.    We all want to be trusted, but we must earn that trust by our actions.   Next time, how to be on the “Trusted” list.

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[Non-DoD Source] Sigh…ber Part 2

What’s up with that kooky title?  Well that’s how all your email coming from outside the “dot mil” domain appears to those inside…As if they are somehow more secure?  I guess this is an attempt to highlight emails coming from us pogues outside the secure boundaries of DoD email and to alert those on the inside that there is danger in communicating outside the domain….non-dodPersonally, I would like all their outgoing email to be marked [DoD Source] so I can choose not to read some of the mountains of stuff that comes out from them…Like the DoD media reports that give us a detailed “Readout of SecDef meeting with the Dali Lama” and the like (See the News section of this web site).  I don’t think I have ever finished one of those “Readouts”, because frankly, there’s nothing of substance in them.  Does anyone outside the Pentagon really care?(and I’m pretty sure only a very select few inside do)   That’s a candidate for [DoD Source] marking so I can avoid it.  And yet, some GS-15 is probably making a lot of money producing them.  There’s also the de rigueur morning DoD press reports of the wildly successful strikes against ISIL targets conducted by our forces overnight.  Yet another candidate to be marked [DoD Source].  I guess I have just become overwhelmed by all the happy talk to the point that I just don’t have confidence that everything I read is really “true.”

Now hold on there you DoD buckaroos!!!!!  I’m not saying that what you put out is not “True”, but I think we can all agree that words can be put together is a way that while they are true, they may not be “truthful.”  I put on an occasional seminar on Ethical Decision Making and in that class I discuss some points concerning “truth.”  truth2  Perhaps the most famous seeker of a definition of truth was Pontius Pilate when he asked, “What is truth?” He didn’t get an answer to his question then and the answer to his question has been  debated for centuries.  In my previous article , Sigh-ber, I touched upon the wisdom of always being completely truthful so I won’t jump into that morass again.  But is always just telling happy truth, and ignoring some of the bad news, being completely truthful?  I think not.  I recall during one session on the Hill when I was asked if we had fully funded the ship maintenance requirement I replied, “Yes Sir.  We have fully funded the ship maintenance line to 75% of the requirement!”  True enough!  Anyway, I digress.

I am somehow offended that DoD chooses to mark my email as [Non-DoD Source].  I suppose I should be grateful that they deign to open my “insecure” emails.  Given the thousands of emails folks receive in the Pentagon, my guess is that they will all become desensitized to that phrase and will ignore it.   But……if someone ever clicks on a [Non-DoD Source] email and causes some sort of bot or bug or worm or virus to be introduced into that bastion of security, the “dot mil” domain, the Cyber-police will descend upon them for ignoring the [Non DoD Source] warning.  I am sure the cyber-Dons within DoD are correct when they believe that this sort of thing can’t happen from within the “dot mil” domain….But somehow I still see echos of Bradley Mannings, Ed Snowdens and a lot of others who had inside access, that could care less about [Non DoD Source], because they were a [DoD Source]!

PS.  My N8 former self can help but wonder how much it cost to mark all non DoD email as [Non DoD Source].

FoundationAnchorLogo  Please help our wounded Sailors and Coast Guardsmen by attending a performance of “A Christmas Carol”, presented by the Little Theater of Alexandria on the evening of December 16th by clicking here.

 

 

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C’mon Brian!!!

Unfortunately, Brian Williams, NBC News anchor who is under the gun for exaggerating his “Combat” experiences, is not the only instance of politicians, military leaders and corporate executives that got caught gilding their own lilies.  Mr. Williams’ latest predicament has brought to mind a few ideas which I thought I would share with leaders of all sorts, military and civilian.

The first that comes to mind is that people in positions of authority (like national news anchors) are always being watched…I don’t mean NSA-type watch (although I have no doubt they are watching each and everyone of us), but being watched by those who work for and listen to them.  Their every word is heard, digested, analyzed just as their every action is recorded and digested in someone’s brain.  It’s natural that leaders are watchable people.  pinocHopefully, their people want to be like them.  It is said in the Navy that a ship mirrors the personality of its captain, and I am here to tell you that it is absolutely true.  I’ve seen it again and again.  It’s because everyone is watching the Captain…they want to do things his way, they want to respond the way she responds.  What Officer of the Deck (OOD) hasn’t been standing watch on the bridge in a dark and stormy night and mused, “What would the Captain do?”  With this scrutiny comes the responsibility to always act and talk like you are in a classroom filled with wide-eyed kids who are going to go home and tell their parents everything you did and said.  Even when you think they are not watching, they are….especially in the digital age of tweets, twerks, instagrams, posts, e-mail, etc. Mr. Williams, regrettably, has (had, once NBC dumps him) millions watching him and the example he set certainly fell short of the mark. C’mon Brian!

Second, I think Mr. Williams wanted so much to be like the exceptional men and women that serve in our military, that he just had to seize on any opportunity to “be like them.”  Frankly, there are many folks out there in that boat…those who had an opportunity to serve in the Armed Forces and either didn’t or couldn’t. When they see their countrymen and women risking life, limb and happiness they regret not having served.  I see this a lot in politicians who never served in the military.  And so, they begin to find ways to “join the club.”  Some are deserving of club membership, combat correspondents, foreign service officers, police, firemen, and all other manner of folks who put themselves in harm’s way for whatever reason.  But merely telling a story to gain membership in the club is not enough.  Sure, he wanted to be in the helo that was shot down, but he wasn’t. C’mon Brian!

Now NBC is investigating Mr. Williams for what may have been other exaggerations during his career.  Here’s a link to an article that calls into question the truthfulness of his coverage of Hurricane Katrina. The lesson to be learned here is a bit more subtle, but oh so important.  Once you decide to tell the smallest of  “untruths” and get away with it, you are set on a path of inevitable ruin.  One of my favorite books, The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis describes the trials and tribulations of a young, apprentice devil, Wormwood, and his uncle and mentor, senior devil  Screwtape.  c6544c81a6fa091e8344de514919a8d4In order to be promoted, Wormwood must take a human and corrupt him so that he is doomed to Hell.  Uncle Screwtape provides advice and counsel.  Wormwood’s problem is that everytime he makes some inroads in the corruption of his “patient”, the patient goes to church and is set back on the straight and narrow.  Wormwood decides he needs to orchestrate a “Big” event to damn his patient once and for all.  When he informs Screwtape of the plan, Uncle Srewtape replies, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,….”  Indeed, once you start down the slippery slope of exaggeration before you know it the external temperature will begin rising to an uncomfortable level.  And then it’s too late. Who knows when the NBC news anchor started down the “gentle slope?”  C’mon Brian!

And I don’t buy for a minute Mr. Williams’ explanation that “I forgot.”  Baloney!  If you are in a helo that gets shot out of the sky you will remember….and just as clearly you will remember you were not.  I was in the Pentagon on 9/11.  I was near where the airplane hit…heard it, felt it, smelled it.  I will never forget.  I clearly remember my first real combat mission during Operation El Dorado Canyon(Lybia 1986).  I flew on the strike…I got shot at……I was scared $%*%^&&^less.  If I had flown that night in a tanker mission which didn’t go over the beach….I would remember that clearly too. One just does not forget those life-changing events, nor do they confuse them.  Now I know that PTSD and TBI may alter memories, but I doubt if Mr. Williams suffers from those problems.  C’mon Brian!

I must make a qualifier here….There will always be Sea Stories, War stories, exaggerations and boasting where Warriors gather.  We all know to take what is said with a grain of salt.  Indeed, I always thought that if I ever wrote a book about my experiences in the Navy the preface would say,

These stories have some basis in fact, although over the years they have been embellished so as to make them either more believable or less non-believable. I do not state that they are the absolute truth, nor are they lies.  They are just the way I have told them over the years and, like a fine wine, they improved with age.  This is a book of fiction, inspired by memorable events.  Do not cite this book as a reference for any serious endeavor.”

The key point about sea stories and the like is that one must have shared the years of separation from families, faced the horror of combat, walked in the shoes of the brave, been there-done that to be a credible teller of these tales.  Mr. Williams is not, and was not…and therefore gets no sympathy from me.

C’mon Brian

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Leading and Following

I always hesitate to comment on such matters, but after reading the article by the Associated Press lead-follow buttonsregarding the relief of 16 Air Force officers involved in some fashion with nuclear weapons I decided I would offer a few thoughts.  My nose was already tweeked this morning after watching the “victory” speech by Virginia Senate candidate Mark Warner (as I write this, the race is still not decided, by the way) in which he says something about how the voters of Virginia have spoken and put him in the Senate…well, (very) slightly over half the voters in Virginia thought he was the best candidate…..I would be careful about yakking about mandates and the like with only a few votes more than the other guy.  To me the mandate is to be just as diligent about representing the other half of the Virginia voters as he is in representing the half that voted for him.  But as soon as he gets back on the Senate floor, he will do what all politicians do…..follow his leader.    So it occurred to me that in general, politicians are followers, not leaders.  They follow the will of their party, they follow the polls, they follow the money.  Very few of them actually lead.  Heck, even Speaker Boehner is as much a follower (to desires of tea party interests and the like) as is a leader.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m OK with that. They are supposed to be followers, aren’t they?……following the will of the people they represent.  They also tend to make lots of mischief when they “lead”.

In the military we expect everyone to be a leader to some extent and as one gets more senior, our expectations of them as a leader grow.  I’ve been to a few leadership seminars in my day and I know all the various combinations and permutations of this concept:

  • Leaders lead
  • A good leader knows how to be a good follower
  • Lead, follow or get out of the way
  • The scenery only changes for the lead dog of the pack
  • Servant leadership….A good leader is a servant to all
  • It’s good to be the King
  • All glory is fleeting (One of Gen. Patton’s favorite sayings)*
*( Or if you prefer,  Napoleon’s take:  Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever!)

And as a Three Star in the Pentagon I was always reminded that no matter how high and mighty you think you might be, there’s always someone above you to whose tune you must dance! In the end, everyone works for somebody, don’t they?

FishBack to the nuke thing.  One thing I knew as an Attack Squadron Commanding Officer: The quickest way to be relieved without question was to  score anything other than  an outstanding on nuke inspections. Consequently, I put my absolute best officers and enlisted personnel in those positions.  I assume the same is true in the Air Force, so that the absolute best must be assigned nuclear positions.  In that business, there is no room for error. Obviously some house cleaning was needed and the Air Force leadership did what they had to do.

The Navy also frequently makes the news for relieving  various leaders for all sorts of reasons.  I liked the way a former boss of mine, Admiral Vern Clark, used to answer questions about excessive reliefs of Commanding Officers.  He said the Navy sets the bar high for its Commanding Officers, holds them absolutely accountable for not only their own actions, but the actions of all under his/her command, and we make no apologies for that.  Amen.

Leadership is about accountability…accountability to your seniors,  accountability to those who work for you and those who you work with.  All too frequently politicians tend to be accountable to the wrong people or things….big money donors, party leadership, special interest groups, etc.  That’s another reason why they don’t necessarily make good leaders. (Yes there are some notable exceptions  and I am not suggesting that ALL politicians are not good leaders, but work with me here!)

So I propose that accountability is why we are blessed with so many good leaders in our Armed Forces.  So next time you read about someone in the military being held accountable, you should say to yourself, “That’s a good thing.”

But…..problems arise when the “followers” become the leaders….either because of their control of the purse strings or worse, because they fill a void left by leaders more interested in  following than leading.  Civilian control of our military is one of the fundamental principles of our democracy and I wholly endorse the concept.  Nothing distresses me more than when I hear someone from the Hill say that if our military wants it, then it must be good. After all, militaries fight great wars but they are not all that great at making policy.  They are only one of the instruments of national power (economic, diplomatic, informational, and military)  that the US can bring to bear.  All too often they tend to discount the value of other types of power because investments in them take money away from Defense coffers.  To be fair here, there is a great deal of writing on the use of other instruments of power in military doctrine, but I submit it is mostly theoretical and when money is at stake, all the rhetoric  goes out the window.  According to our Constitution, our political masters are the ones to make those judgments.  But our military also has an obligation to make sure their best advice is given to the “deciders.” Once they make a decision, the military’s job is to salute smartly and carry out the decisions.

It is a fine line, and I have the greatest respect for those in senior leadership positions who have the moxie to advise what they believe, not what they think their political masters believe.  It can cost a career.  Look what happened to Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki when he disagreed with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld  on the number of troops required to tame Iraq (in the end the General  was right, but never played the “I told you so” card)?  He was shown the door to the River Entrance at the Pentagon!  Can we ever really succeed in Syria without putting some number of troops on the ground? Will Afghanistan implode if we pull all our troops out?  Can we still have the world’s most capable military with sequestration?  I admire those who give sincere,  apolitical answers to these questions.  But then again they are leaders! Beware those who do otherwise.

 

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“Where you stand, depends on where you sit.” Miles Law and related Maxims

I attended an evening affair recently with a well respected leader who reminded me that the old maximum “Where you stand, depends on where you sit” was actually memorialized by Rufus Miles of Princeton University back in the 70’s.Sit Stand Anyone who has ever been in a bureaucracy knows exactly what he means.  I myself am a slave to Miles Law.  And not only when I was lurking around the bureaucracy of the Pentagon, but even afterwards in my second career.  It’s not a bad thing, by the way.  In fact, if  you are to be a loyal member of any organization, you will be dealing with the outcomes of the Miles Law.  I recall my first job on the OPNAV staff as the Deputy N81 (Assessments).  At various meetings in the Pentagon the inevitable “What are they thinking in the Fleet?”, was heard time and time again.  We were sure they just didn’t understand the problems we were dealing with and their solutions seemed untenable.  Then I got back to the Fleet, and at just about every meeting I would hear, “What are they thinking in the Pentagon?”  And so it goes.  The point is ones perspective is always shaped by the environment, business or otherwise.  Once I retired from active duty and become a “contractor”, within a matter of a few months I just couldn’t figure out what my former colleagues in the Pentagon could be doing….They should be doing it our way!!!!

So remember when you are in the next meeting where you think your organization has the market cornered on the thinking on some issue, there are others out there just as passionate (and probably just as right) as you are.  Where you stand indeed depends on where you sit. Realizing that might make things go a little smoother.

Now for the six maxims related to Miles Law.  As you read them, I think you will find that they offer some invaluable insights into how to deal with your superiors and those who work with and for you.

Maxim #2.  The responsibility of every manager exceeds his authority, and if he tries to increase his authority to equal his responsibility, he is likely to diminish both.  The lesson here is don’t worry too much about matching power with responsibility.  It’s the way the system is designed and if you attempt to twiddle with it, you are asking for trouble.

Maxim #3Managers at any level think they can make better decisions than either their superiors or their subordinates; most managers, therefore seek maximum delegations from their superiors and make minimum delegations to their subordinates.  As a leader, you will be pulled in many directions and in order to be effective, you must delegate….the trick is knowing your people and their capabilities so you can delegate the right things to the right people and keep you focus on what you should be focused upon.

Maxim #4:  Serving more than one master is neither improper nor unusually difficult if the servant can get a prompt resolution when the masters disagree.  Boy can I relate to this one…In the military, we are often “Dual Hatted” or holding down more than one job with more than one boss. In fact, even with one job you can easily find yourself with more than one boss.  Keeping #4 in mind will help you in managing the expectations of both (maybe even several) bosses.  Communicate early and often with your bosses and make sure they all have the same version of the truth!

Maxim #5Since managers are usually better talkers than listeners, subordinates need courage and tenacity to make their bosses hear what they do not want to hear.  My observations are that managers have a monopoly on talking without listening.  Force yourself to listen…you will be surprised at what you hear.  This is true no matter the circumstances; whether you are on a cold call with a prospective client, or sitting in a community association meeting.  Too much talk, talk, talk…My advice………listen for a change.

Maxim #6:  Being two-faced–one face for superiors and one face for subordinates– is not a vice but a virtue for a program manager if he or she presents his or her two faces openly and candidly.  I have no idea what this means, but it sure sound profound.

Maxim #7: Dissatisfaction with services tends to rise rapidly when the provider of the services becomes bureaucratically bigger, more remote , and less flexible, even if costs are somewhat lower. Of all the maxims, this is one which is applicable in almost anything when it comes to bureaucracies, or even companies.  You have to constantly keep yourself in tune with your clients….refer to Maxim #5….., listening to what they have to say.  Ice Cream Cone Be vigilant that your organization is not morphing into the ubiquitous “Self Licking Ice Cream Cone”, existing not for providing services to clients, but for its own pleasure.  By the way, by far, my article on Self Licking Ice Cream Cones is and continues to be the number one article people view when visiting my web site.

 

So there they are…I thought it worth putting to paper because I think they are things that leaders need to be aware of as they go about leading from day-to-day.  If nothing else, I’ll bet each and every one of you Govies reading this have experience in all of these (even #6, whatever it means)

If you would like to read the famous paper by Professor Miles, here is a link to a site that will allow you to purchase a copy ($25).

 

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What to do, or what not to do. That is the question!

I received several comments after I published my last article on “Leadership in the 21st Century” and I appreciate all the comments. In that article I commented on the recent case involving a former Commanding Officer of the Navy’s elite flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels.  After consulting, conferring and otherwise hobnobbing with my  fellow former Wizards, I thought I might offer up just a few more comments on the subject before forever holding my peace on the subject of Capt. McWherter and the Blue Angels.  There was a lot going on there besides just the failure of judgement of the CO, including limited oversight by the Navy and the absence of an Executive Officer senior enough to step in and provide some advice and counsel. More on that later.

I was struck by a recent Gallup Poll which once again found the Navy as the least prestigious of the Services. I’m not sure what that means since most of what Mr. and Mrs. America think about the Services is a product of their own (the Services’) PR machines.  Wasn’t it the Navy that successfully extracted the Captain of the Maersk Alabama?  Wasn’t it the NAVY SEALS that terminated Mr. B. Laden?  Wasn’t it the Navy that was first on the scene providing relief during Hurricane Katrina, and Indonesia and Japan? Doesn’t the President always ask “Where are the carriers?” whenever something goes wrong in the world? Doesn’t the Navy run the White House mess?  Isn’t it CAPTAIN Kirk, not Colonel Kirk?  Jeez , what do you have to do to become the most prestigious Service around here?  I know……..Sponsor a race car that wins the Daytona 500!  Or make a cool commercial about killing dragons and rescuing damsels! Or lose track of a couple of nukes!

The notion struck me that part of the problem is that the Navy is too transparent.  We not only advertise when we relieve Commanding Officers (don’t think that the other Services don’t relieve their share of Commanders) but we also come clean when we relieve senior enlisted advisors.  You just don’t hear much about that from the other Services.  Of course it’s a big news item these days and I liken the problem the Navy finds itself in with regards to negative publicity to the problem I have on the golf course…..Once I’m in the woods, it’s almost impossible to get out. Either I schwack another tree in my current thicket, foolishly trying to thread the needle between a couple of obstructing trunks, or I wind up in the woods on the other side of the fairway because I gooned up my attempt to pitch out. Why I don’t just pick it up and take a “Snow Man” when I wind up in the woods I’ll never know.  That’s where the Navy is right now, in the trees and trying to pitch out.

This openness puts us behind the eight ball in my humble opinion….On the other hand, I think being open about our problems is not all bad.  At least it shows we are aware of the problem and attempting to deal with it.  But what exactly is The Problem?  Is it that the Navy has a crisis in leadership?  I don’t think so……in fact I know that’s not the problem. With close to 300 ships, 50 or so aviation squadrons and probably at least 100 shore commands, we actually have very few COs that break the event threshold.  In fact, you could write 100 good stories for every bad one…but that doesn’t sell papers.

I’ve commented before on abusive leaders, so I won’t beat that dead horse.  The Navy and DoD have reacted to lost nukes, out-of-control Commanding Officers and other misdeeds  by increasing  ethics training, establishing an ethics Czar ( and a very capably one I might add), and adding ethics courses to Prospective CO schools and Senior Enlisted schools.  But in the end, by then what is there to train? Someone is going to stand up in front of a class of prospective Commanding Officers and say……Don’t have sex with your XO, don’t use counterfeit casino chips, don’t fake your death to escape from your bad marriage, etc etc?  I don’t think this will have much of an impact. It’s focusing on what not to do…….not what to do.  The striking thing about almost all the heinous infractions that appear in the news is that none of them are questions on the margin. They are about personal failures by people who should know better.  No amount of training will fix that.  What we can do is:

  1. Focus training efforts of prospective COs and Senior Enlisted Advisors on how to be successful, not how to stay out of trouble.  Be positive, proactive and practical in training COs.
  2. Provide support to leaders. Conduct regular checkups of commanders by mentors who have successfully navigated the waters of command.  (Not IG-like, but as a sanity check)
  3. Improve the fitness report system to allow for a more honest appraisal of  performance and potential for command (I don’t know what the number is now, but it used to be that 70% of officers were in the top 10%…..similar to the current VA flap which found that all SES’s in VA we rated in the top 2 performance categories)
  4. Revamp the command selection process to take advantage of improved fitness reports and include 360 reviews as part of the process
  5. Continue to set the bar high for performance in command

The bottom line: Let’s spend more time on how to succeed in command,instead of how not to fail.  There’s a big difference.

 

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Command Performance

I attended a two day session put on by The Performance Institute and Association of Government Accountants this week on the subject of performance management in government.  It was a great session ( and I managed to knock out 14 CPEs) with some interesting insights on measuring performance in Federal, State and Local agencies.  We heard from David Walker (former Comptroller General), Mark Reger (Acting Comptroller at OMB), Lisa Danzig (Associate Director for Personnel and Performance at OMB) and a host of other performance gurus.  I came away thinking that although there has been a lot of progress made in measuring performance of agencies, we probably still have along way to go.

So what performance is being measured?  Is it the performance of the organization or the performance of its people.  I suppose one could say it’s both.  Most of the conference was focused on the performance of the organization as far as I could tell.  As you might think, some organizations are more easily measured than others.  Take US Patent and Trademark Office for example.  It’s fairly easy to put into place metrics that not only are easily measured, but reflect the actual performance of the organization…..number of patents issued, length of time to issue, etc.  But other organizations are not so easy.. Take DoD for example.  So what do we measure to evaluate the performance of the Defense Department?  Here’s a possible list:

  • Number of wars won
  • Casualty exchange rates
  • Ratio of  of wars deterred/wars fought
  • Number of Humanitarian Responses and lives saved
  • Number of successful defenses of the Homeland
  • Numbers of allies gained vs. lost
  • Number of states which have a military base

The list could go on and on.  The problem is none of these things can be easily measured. So the Department must use metrics which are all about input, not output.

  • Topline Budget number
  • Amount of allocated budget spent
  • Numbers of ships, airplanes, vehicles purchased
  • Number of people
  • Number of audited financial statements
  • Amount of money allocated to anything

In the Navy, we were pretty good at the input part.  I had all sorts of models to help me figure out how much money I needed to ask for…Flying Hour Model, Steaming Day Model, Installation Service Level Model, etc.   But none of the models actually reflected reality.  We never went back to check and see if we modeled for 26 flying hours per month per pilot, that they actually flew 26 hours per month.  In fact, we discovered that instead of relying on a hugely complex flying hour model for the budget, in the end it’s just as simple as multiplying the number of airplanes in the inventory by average flight hour per model the previous year.  In the end it didn’t matter how many pilots we had, you could only get so many hours with a fixed number of airplanes.  The Chief of Naval Operations frequently uses number of ships deployed, number of sailors deployed and percentage of the fleet deployed as a metric.  Here’s a link to the current data.

A few years back, then Secretary Rumsfeld tried to put a pay for performance-based personnel evaluation system in place….the National Security Personnel System.  In the end, it failed because we were horrible at trying to link what Pentagon workers did to measurable performance criteria.  This turned out to be an impossible task.  How do you  measure the performance of a budget analyst, for example? Do you link the funding level given by Congress to the analyst’s work?  If his or her particular program is cancelled does that mean they failed?  The truth is most in the Pentagon work their tails off, but on things over which they have little or no control.  I remember the classic example of why the system was flawed.  The dialogue went something like this:

Boss: Joe, you just won a performance bonus of $10,000.  Tell us what you did to earn it.

Joe:  I was in charge of  XYZ grants to the field.  The goal was to deliver grants to the field elements by July 1st.  In the last 6 years the best we have ever been able to do is get them out by July 15th.  I set a goal this year to get them out by June 15th.  In fact, we got them out on June 10th, not only 5 days earlier that the goal, but almost a month better than we’ve ever been able to do.  For that I got the big bonus.

Boss:  That’s great work.  What did you do that made the difference.

Joe: Nothing,  In fact, the dates we get the grants out is solely dependent on when the Congress gives us the money.  This year we got it early! Thanks for the bonus!

The moral of this story is make sure that  your people have clear goals and that they are measured on things that they can control.  NSPS was a good idea.  Who can criticize paying people for performance?  The problem is in figuring out exactly what people do and how to measure it. Performance management is a great tool, but only to the extent that you can measure performance.  Think about the people who work for you.  What do they do all day?  Who uses their outputs?  Where do they really make a difference?  Set up your metrics around those questions and you will be well on the way to having an effective performance management system.

One Final Thought

Don’t let your infatuation with metrics become so great that you lose sight of your outputs or mission.  In the case of the VA it appears that people were so focused on making the metrics look good that they forgot why they exist…..to serve Veterans. People do funny and unpredictable things when they perceive their jobs are at risk.  In this case, people were tweaking something over which they had no control.  They would have been heroes had they pointed out that wait times at VA hospitals are not meeting the metrics, instead they are zeros for putting self above service to our Veterans.  Time for a change at VA!

 

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Porsche or Maserati? What to Drive?

Let’s see…..What do I drive to work this morning?  My Porsche or my Maserati?  Gosh, it’s such a tough choice.   When I read all the rhetoric coming out of the Pentagon theses days about the tough choices they are making over there, I tend to think that’s their definition of  a “tough choice.” Maserati or PorcheGranted they do make a few hard choices, but none of them are the budget choices they are making for the FY15 budget that’s on the Hill right now.  They have so much money to deal with that the normal ways in which you or I would deal with problems is not possible.  There are several reasons why I believe the tough  choices are not possible.  In fact, in the Pentagon the toughest choices are actually the easiest.  Take for example the luxury of scale.  Because of the vast quantity of money the Pentagon has, scale makes things easy.  Let’s just say for the sake of argument that the total Pentagon budget for 2015 will be around $550 Billion.  I’m  working on the budget and I need to come up with $5oo million to pay for my “widget ” program because it’s two years behind schedule and Congressional support is waning.  I dare not go to the Hill and ask for more money.  What tough choices can I make?  How about I assume the inflation rate for next year will be 0.1% less than it currently is….Guess what?  Instant $550 Million in my pocket.   Problem solved!

Another factor which prevents the tough decisions is the herd mentality.  It’s much safer to stay with the herd than to break away.  Suppose one senior leader in DoD, uniformed or civilian had said, “I value people over weapons.  The margin of superiority that we enjoy over our adversaries is so great that I don’t mind shaving a few dollars off my massive budget to ensure I fulfill the promises we made to our Number One weapons system, our people.” What do you think would happen?  That person would be dragged to the River Entrance and publicly flogged and made to walk the plank into the Pentagon Lagoon.  So it’s much easier and safer to stay with the herd.  The tough decision is to break away from the herd and stand on principle.

Yet another problem in the way of making tough decisions is the limited line of sight of senior people.  They only know what their staffs want them to know.  And if you have ever been a staffer, you know that staffs tend to seek out the solution of least resistance in order to move on to the next problem.  Solving the problem is more important than how the problem was solved.   If everyone tells SECDEF that the only way to balance the Pentagon budget is to make the tough choice to continue to fund (and actually add more money to) the worst performing acquisition program in history, the F-35, and to pull money from Commissaries, up TRICARE fees and fiddle around with the retirement system, he believes them.  Somehow that seems like a no-brainer to me.  A few billion dollars is not going to make a difference in the JSF.  It’s already over $160 Billion over budget and 7 years behind schedule.  Does anyone think the money saved by cutting Commissary subsidies by $1 Billion is really going to make a difference? Well, not to the JSF, but it will certainly make a difference to a young E-2 Marine who is already on food stamps and struggling to make ends meet!

There’s also the Irreversibility Principle.  I saw this time and time again when I was in the building.  In fact, I admit guilt in actually using the Irreversibility Principle to my advantage.  It goes something like this:  The DoD budget is so complex and large that once it’s put together, it’s impossible to start over.  If you don’t get your oar in the water at the very beginning, then you will be unable to make a change.  If you want to have any hope of making a tough decision with major impacts, it must be made very early.  What do you think the DoD budget would look like if in the very beginning SECDEF had said, “Whatever we do to balance the budget, it must not be on the backs of our people.” I guarantee you there’s plenty of wiggle room to develop the budget without monkeying with people programs.  Just take a look at my previous article, Food Stamps and Decisions, and you will see what other things might be done besides chopping people programs.  The tough decision is to declare the Irreversibility Principle null and void and demand a change.  Heck, there’s so much churn in the development of the budget these days a little more chaos isn’t going to make much of a difference.

Finally, there’s the Fixation problem. Ralph Waldo Emerson said ” A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”  For example, over the past few years there has been attempt after attempt to raise TRICARE fees again and again and again…(sorry , I got carried away!).  Each time it’s shot down by the Congress and public opinion.  But it’s their baby now, and to back down would admit defeat.  There’s a “pay any price, bear any burden” mentality now associated with the TRICARE issue to the detriment of looking for alternate solutions.  This is what happened with Asiana Airlines Flight 214.  The pilots got so focused on the landing threshold and altitude they forgot to monitor airspeed and engine power.  The same thing happens in the budget process.  People get so focused on a single solution that they forget to look for others.

So it’s hard to make tough choices in the Pentagon.  If there’s any hope of actually getting to the tough choices that NEED to be made, the following “Tough” decision barriers must be addressed:

  1. Luxury of Scale
  2. Herd Mentality
  3. Limited Line of Sight
  4. Irreversibility Principle
  5. Fixation

How will we know when “tough” decisions are being made?  I think there are a few signs:

  • Service budget allocations will no longer be roughly equal
  • Under and Poorly performing programs will be cancelled
  • Majority-based decisions are made instead of consensus decisions (In other words, someone is going to be unhappy, or at least more unhappy that the rest)
  • Decisions being made early in the process
  • The number of Decision Making bodies in DoD will decrease (let’s see, they have the Joint Chiefs, the JROC, the DAWG, the Small Group, the Large Group, the SCAMR, the DBC, ……….sigh!)

If the Five Barriers to tough decision making are removed, we just might see some of those signs in our lifetime.

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