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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Where is, repeat, where is Task Force Thirty Four?

That WW II message was sent by Admiral Nimitz to Admiral Halsey in support of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, Commander of landing forces seizing the island of Leyte in the Pacific.  Admiral Halsey had fallen for the Japanesse ruse, diverting most of his carriers and battleships 200px-Nimitz_and_Halsey_1943supporting the invasion to chase the Japanese decoy Northern Force, leaving Admiral Kincaid’s forces in the lurch.  Famously, however, when the message was delivered to Halsey, the phrase “the world wonders” was added by mistake.  Halsey took it to be an insult,  creating bad blood between the two. There are some pretty funny accounts about “Bull” Halsey blowing his top when he read the message. Here is the actual message:

msg3

I just returned from the annual American Society of Military Comptrollers (ASMC) Professional Development Institute (PDI) in New Orleans.  It was an outstanding opportunity to learn about the state of the art in the DoD budget and accounting.  Well done to Executive Director Al Runnels and his staff!!!  This year I reckon there was north of 2000 folks from throughout the DoD Financial Management profession….Army, Air Force, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Defense Agencies and even the US Coast Guard.  Leadership and rank-and-file throughout DoD, from the Honorable Mike McCord, the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) on down, gathered to consult, confer and otherwise hobnob with their fellow budget wizards.  In fact, I dare say that most of the senior Financial Management leadership from the services and defense agencies was there. There was only one thing missing: the Navy.

Yep, that’s right. The Navy chose not to participate.  Given that every other service, defense agency, and the OSD staff decided it was important to send their people, I can only assume that either the Navy thought that its people (personnel in DoD speak) didn’t need the training offered at the PDI or that despite the need for training, barring their attendance was the safer or smarter move.  So the Navy and USMC financial managers sat on the sidelines while the remainder of their counterparts in DoD heard for Mr. McCord; the Honorable Jamie Morin, Director of CAPE; Mark Reger, the Deputy Comptroller of the United States and numerous other senior officials. They attended required FM certification training, attended workshops, participated in a whole day of service-specific training and  conducted community service projects. In the interest of accuracy, there were a handful of Navy folks there, but only if they were actually presenting a workshop or receiving a national-level award.

Why did the Navy choose not to participate?  Well, it is true that in recent years “conventions” and other large-scale events have come under scrutiny because of some very bad decisions made by some not-so-good leaders.   But checks and balances were put into place to ensure legitimacy and need before approving such meetings.  All organizations in DoD went through the same process of evaluation.   The PDI was not given “blanket approval” by DoD and thus the leadership in each organization had to make the call on whether or not to send its people to this valuable training.  Obviously, Navy leadership uniquely decided this PDI was not in accordance with applicable rules and regulations and thus elected not to send its people.  Now those of you who are not familiar with the world of financial management might wonder why a PDI is needed. Here’s the scoop:

Most DoD financial managers are required to receive about 40 hours of continuing professional education annually.  Those who have achieved the coveted Certified Defense Financial Manager (your humble author among them) are required to take 40 hours annually to retain their certification.  In addition, the DoD recently introduced a financial certification program aimed at increasing the professionalism of the FM workforce.  It’s a tiered program with each level requiring specific courses delivered by qualified personnel.  Once a certain level of qualification is reached,  there is a continuing education requirement similar to those above.  The highly specialized training required for the various certification levels is offered at the PDI, along with a variety of accredited courses that count toward annual training requirement.  I’m not quite sure how many hours it would be possible to knock out at the  PDI, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 20.  That’s half the annual requirement!

To make sure people actually attend the training, they are individually scanned in and out of training sessions and only given credit if they attend the entire session.  Each day begins at 07:00AM with breakfast and training sessions go on throughout the day until 4:40 PM.  Believe me, that’s a long day and I have yet to figure out a way to “beat the system” so I have to sit through the classes all day to get credit.  It’s not exactly a cake walk.  You can be sure people are actually getting the training.

Enough of that.  And now for the gorilla in the room:  Yes, it’s in New Orleans, but there’s no escaping the fact that PDI attendees are sequestered (I just had to use that word) for a good nine hours a day….No zooming up and down Bourbon Street, no clowns wandering around, no $26 cupcakes…it’s all business during extended working hours.  (This shouldn’t be surprising since it’s basically run by accountants, for accountants).  By the way, what’s the difference between an introverted accountant and an extroverted accountant?  The extroverted accountant looks at your shoes when he talks to you….Badda-Booom!

So I mentioned earlier that maybe the reason the Navy leaders chose not to send Navy and Marine Corps people to this training is that they don’t need it.   Well, you would be wrong if you made that assumption. I attended a session where the current numbers of people certified by service was presented and the Navy was just a sliver in the pie chart while all other services were big, fat pie slices just like your grandmother would serve.  So the Navy needs the training above all and they are obviously not getting it elsewhere.  In fact, given the workload of Financial Managers these days, it is really hard to find the time to take on-line courses.  Oh sure, there are on-line courses….and they are good for filling some portion of the requirement, but no matter what you say, nothing beats real-time, classroom training to allow for substantial interchange between students and instructors.  Would you rather have your dentist fulfill his annual professional training staring at the PC at home while drinking a martini or attending a gathering of dental professionals with an opportunity to talk to pioneers of the latest in the dental art and exchange views and techniques with his/her peers? When he/she says “Good thing I saw how to put in this implant on You Tube”, how would you feel??  or how about this:  “Oh yeah…..since you have to put in a 10 hour day at the office, just do that training in your spare time”……Right! Here’s an idea:  Why not do your training the next time we furlough you?  What’s the big deal?  We have posted classroom material in all the heads…..do some training while you do your business!!!  It’s all about being efficient!” Seriously folks, I do remember aircraft checklists being posted above the urinals and on the backs of the stall doors in the squadron head in order to make use of “spare time”!!!

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Hey, Where did everybody go?

I know I don’t have the right to criticize and I apparently don’t have all the facts, so I recommend the reader of this tome (It’s longer than I wanted) consider these thoughts to be from an unqualified, uninformed source.  And if you were the decision maker, please don’t get all spun up.  The decision was yours to make and I respect your decision.  I just hope your staff did you the courtesy of making sure you had all the facts before you decided.  (You only know what they want you to know.)  I am confident that the Navy leadership can give you a much better reason for why they stayed away.  That not withstanding,  I  hope the Navy decides to participate next year so they can be a part of the team.  I know I was embarrassed that so few from my beloved Navy were there.   And just because the rest of the Services, OSD, Coast Guard, and Defense Agencies took just a little risk and sent their people to PDI,  doesn’t mean the Navy had to send its people to PDI(sigh, I can see my Mother saying that right now).  Maybe they didn’t have the money to send their people (even though everyone else did).  Maybe it wasn’t that important.   Maybe there was another budget drill going on.  Maybe they elected to spend the money on local training for the hundreds (if not thousands) of Navy FMers around the world.  I just don’t know.  But this I do know: when next year’s PDI rolls around I sure hope we don’t have to again ask, “Where is TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR the FM world wonders?”

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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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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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Military to Focus on Ethics

It seems as if every time I read the Defense press over the last few weeks there has been something about ethics, leadership, scandal or illegal activity.  So I’m not surprised that the CJCS should say that the issue of ethics in the military has his “full attention.”  General Dempsey’s staff says that the focus on ethics is not due to any of the recent issues (right…..), but rather the result of a natural rhythm of post-war transition.  I guess that means that since we are pulling out of Afghanistan and still licking our wounds from Iraq (even as it inevitably sinks back into lawlessness) we can now focus on the ethical behavior of our military leaders, regardless of rank.  That’s good news.  Who can find fault with efforts to make the military “more ethical?”  I hope that there is not some radical swing of the pendulum, (as DoD tends to do) so that the goal of such training is to produce some sort of Super Citizen that upholds the values and ethics ( of their choosing) for an American society incapable of doing so on its own.  Don’t get me wrong.  Everyone who choses to serve in uniform is a Super Citizen in my book, but not to the exclusion of countless others who serve our nation in many ways.  Beware an elitist military corps who sees themselves as the only keeper of the ethical flame!

I was amused at one example of new “ethical” training in the article that says teams are being dispersed to discuss with 3 and 4 star officers the meaning of the ethics regulations and what they can and can not do.  Last time I checked the rules were clear enough to me and the JAG officers who always advised me.  3 and 4 star officer who can not understand them or ignore them shouldn’t be re-trained, but re-leased!

One’s ethics is a product of one’s upbringing.  For the first 18 years of life it’s not the responsibility of DoD, but of parents, teachers, neighbors and even friends.  I  agree with Hillary Clinton that it does indeed “Take a Village”  to produce responsible and ethical citizens.  I hope the training that DoD is providing recognizes that fact and that we can’t make someone ethical overnight.  In the end I’m not sure I would want to work for a leader who was completely “ethical’, but rather one who is a decent person, striving to do the right thing for the right reasons and not a robotic ethics machine that understands the difference between axiological ethics and deontological ethics.

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