When Brutal Honesty is a Brutal Mistake

When Brutal Honesty is a Brutal Mistake

Some people wear it like a badge of honor, something that’s part of their identity. 

“I’m brutally honest.”

“I say it like it is.”

I get the appeal. We generally appreciate honesty and candid communication. We sometimes equate “brutal honesty” with strength of character or integrity.

But the truth is much more complicated. 

Sometimes—many times, I’d argue

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Leading Collaboration and Disaster Response

Leading Collaboration and Disaster Response

Rescue and recovery efforts related to Hurricane Harvey, which struck the Texas coast on Aug. 26, are likely testing the ability of numerous organizations to coordinate or collaborate effectively. 

People within all of these organizations—including the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security, the National Guard, state and local law enforcement, the fire service, and many others—have undoubtedly been working around the clock to help those in need. Like those professionals whom I’ve had the pleasure to know in these and similar areas of public service, these people are selfless, hardworking, and well-intentioned. 

With any massive event like this, however, there are

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Accidents at Sea and Human Behavior

Accidents at Sea and Human Behavior

When I heard about the collision involving USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) on June 17, 2017, my heart sank. For me and other Navy veterans who have served aboard ships like Fitzgerald, the feeling is rather personal—we’ve driven ships, we’ve been in situations that are tough to navigate, and we can imagine fairly closely the moments before and after a collision. 

Then, only about two months after Fitzgerald, came the news that USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) collided with a vessel on Aug. 21 near the Strait of Malacca. Because it connects the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it’s a high-traffic area, one that puts many large ships within relatively close proximity of each other. Of the many tough waters in the world to traverse, this one is somewhere near the top of the list.

My heart—and, I’m sure, the hearts of many others—sank again. 

First, of course, I think of those killed and injured. My thoughts and prayers are with them and their families. 

Second, I wonder:

Why?

What happened? 

Myriad explanations abound, and

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On Learning Strategic Thinking

On Learning Strategic Thinking

Some people, it seems, just “get it” better and faster than other people. They understand how what other people do influences their options, they consider what incentives are at work in complex situations, and they think through the possible consequences—intended or unintended—of numerous scenarios. 

They think critically. They challenge assumptions, including their own. They do all of these types of thinking, which roughly fall under the umbrella of “strategic thinking.” 

These strategic thinkers, we hope, are among those leading our organizations. 

We hope that leaders think strategically because our world is continually changing. Many argue that the pace of change continues to accelerate, and increasingly rapid technological innovation combined with globalization suggest that this is the case. 

We need leaders who think strategically because the success of their organizations in the long term depends upon it. 

Therefore, many are investing in developing the capacity for strategic thinking within their organizations. They wonder, with good reason,

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Human Resource Management and The Great Unlearning

Human Resource Management and The Great Unlearning

Exciting changes in the world of human resources (HR) abound. As noted by Stephen Barley (University of California Santa Barbara), Beth Bechky, and Frances Milliken (both of New York University) in their recent article in Academy of Management Discoveries, 

“Few people would deny that the nature of work and employment has changed over the last four decades, not only in the United States but in many countries worldwide. Moreover, the nature of work is likely to continue to change as we move further into the 21st century.”

Such changes make HR work continually dynamic, with evolving practices with regard to new technologies, the increasing prevalence of contingent workers, and more. Barley and his coauthors also mention the rise of artificial intelligence and the rise of project-based work as fundamental shifts that will influence careers and even how people think about themselves in relation to their organizations and society. 

These changes alone are enough to keep HR leaders and other executives up at night. 

Yet I wonder

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Wellness? How About Comprehensive Employee Fitness

Wellness? How About Comprehensive Employee Fitness

Within the military, attention in recent years has been shifting among senior military leaders toward a model of health for service members that included the idea of resilience. Notably, in 2011, a whole special issue of the high-visibility journal American Psychologist focused on the U.S. Army’s idea of “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness,” or CSF. In the opening article, then U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George Casey Jr. described it this way:

“… the Army is leveraging the science of psychology in order to improve our force’s resilience. More specifically, we are moving beyond a “treatment-centric” approach to one that focuses on prevention and on the enhancement of the psychological strengths already present in our soldiers. Rooted in recent work in positive psychology, CSF is a “strengths-based” resiliency program that shows promise for our workforce and its support network so our soldiers can “be” better before deploying to combat so they will not have to “get” better after they return.”[i]

Although I’m a Sailor (i.e., in the Navy; more specifically, the Navy Reserve) and not a Soldier, the notion of resilience has seeped across the branches of service. And while most of the personnel burden for the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan has fallen upon the Army, the Navy has also begun to appreciate the notion of resilience. That’s good, because resilient service members will be better equipped to handle the increasingly dynamic nature of their work, and, when they eventually leave military service, they’ll have yet another skill that transfers to the civilian workplace.

It’s also a concept that’s critical for leaders working in any industry that’s either beginning to experience—or is in the throes of—what’s becoming the turbulent, modern business environment. Work organizations that embraced a concept of “comprehensive employee fitness” would surely benefit through the more engaged, more motivated workforce that would result.

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Leadership and Deviance

Leadership and Deviance

One of the many interesting things about leading a team or an organization is that it inherently involves being a social deviant. 

Left to their own devices, most teams and organizations tend to follow the path of least resistance, with members generally figuring out what’s expected and doing that—but not much more. That would be fine if we lived in a static world, one in which change was rare. 

But we don’t. 

Change is ever-present, and our teams and organizations must continually evolve. Otherwise, they become irrelevant, even obsolete. And I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we can all recognize those moments in which other people—leaders—have pushed us to do and become more than we thought was possible. 

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Take the High Road in Office Politics

Take the High Road in Office Politics

If you haven’t worked in the military or alongside the military as part of a larger operation, you may think that the danger of being in a warzone or the importance of the overall mission may supersede the political games people often play in organizations.

I wish that were true. 

I was part of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) from December 2012 to December 2013. I quickly learned upon my arrival was that NTM-A comprised myriad types of people

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The Death Star Aimed at Your Scrum Team

The Death Star Aimed at Your Scrum Team

I worry about many companies that are starting to use scrum for project management or product development. 

I worry not because scrum doesn’t work. It surely can, and when done right, it can be a highly invigorating and effective process for all involved. 

I worry about companies that are starting to use scrum for two reasons:

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Leadership Lessons from the U.S. Navy--FREE ebook!

Leadership Lessons from the U.S. Navy--FREE ebook!

Examine virtually any big problem in a team, an organization, or even society at large, and somewhere you’ll find a leadership vacuum—a space where people simply aren’t closing the gap between the status quo and a better alternative. 

And if being a commissioned officer in the greatest navy to ever exist on planet Earth has taught me anything, it’s that maintaining and improving any organization—regardless of its strong core values or technological superiority—requires people to step up and lead, every single day. 

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The Best Organizations Have No Heroes

The Best Organizations Have No Heroes

What are some of the ways you recognize superior performance?” I asked. 

“Well, we used to have ‘The Hero Fund’,” said one of the executives.

“It was a pot of money we set aside for people who really went above and beyond the call of duty, helping the company in a crisis.”

The rest of the executives started to get excited, apparently remembering The Hero Fund in all its glory. 

“You know, we should bring that back,” said another. 

The excitement continued to build. Finally, I couldn’t help myself.  

“Hold on a second,” I said.

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Death, Taxes, and Fancy Mustard

Death, Taxes, and Fancy Mustard

A healthy awareness of death is good. The back of my house overlooks a cemetery, and I’m grateful for this continual reminder of my eventual resting place. 

Death is, of course, inevitable. So too, apparently, are taxes. A handful of men—including Benjamin Franklin and Daniel Defoe—wrote about the permanence and certainty of these two largely unpleasant parts of life a few hundred years ago. 

And while reminding myself that I’ll die someday helps me prioritize my remaining life, and while reminding myself that taxes must be paid helps me stay on the right side of the law, there’s another saying that I find even more useful as I grow older

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Four Reasons Why Leaders Should Write More

Four Reasons Why Leaders Should Write More

As I write this, I have the urge to check Facebook and LinkedIn. I feel the need to see if there’s anything new in the news. I want to minimize the page upon which I’m typing and look for new e-mail. 

I also know that such satisfying those desires, in a way, is a drug that’s killing purposeful thinking and thoughtful action for millions of leaders around the world. 

And it’s only getting worse, with intentional efforts to make these distractions ever more addictive increasing daily. Web sites need faithful eyeballs to boost their revenue. 

Yet I argue that leaders must practice distraction-free existence, even if just for a short time every day. One way to do this is

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Cowards Need Not Apply

Cowards Need Not Apply

Much ink hath been spilt on the inspirational nature of leadership. Although such thoughts have merit, I have long wondered if we overemphasize the inspirational aspects of being a leader to the detriment of underemphasizing the perspirational aspects of being a leader. 

That is, we like to talk about the glory, the soaring rhetoric, the passion that one person can infuse into situations. We like to idealize—and maybe idolize—people who do those things. 

Yet being a leader demands a higher standard of behavior and an attention to detail that can be isolating. It’s often unglamorous. When you’re leading the charge, you’re often at the tip of the spear—sometimes making the most impact, but also frequently encountering the most resistance. 

Quite simply,

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What’s Your Unfair Advantage? 

What’s Your Unfair Advantage? 

In one of the early episodes of the StartUp Podcast—which features Alex Blumberg, formerly of This American Life and NPR’s Planet Money—he meets Chris Sacca, a renowned former venture capitalist and entrepreneur. 

Blumberg painfully bumbles through an attempt at pitching his business idea to Sacca. Believe me, it was bad. I found myself embarrassed for Blumberg just listening to it in my car. Then, Sacca follows by showing Blumberg how he should have pitched it. 

And within Sacca’s formula for pitching a startup, he reveals what I’ve come to think of as a highly useful concept for not just startups, but for leaders, teams and organizations of any size. 

That useful concept? 

It’s the idea of

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Develop a Sense of Responsibility Among Your People

Develop a Sense of Responsibility Among Your People

It was a new organization, a new unit in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and someone—in his infinite wisdom—put me in charge of it. One of my first tasks was to make some sort of sense of how to organize the 55 members of the loosely defined group into an arrangement that would divide the work in a relatively sensible way and allow for an efficient and effective flow of communication. 

I had some specific ideas. In fact, I had a clear picture of what I thought would work. 

Yet I paused when deciding how to proceed. And instead of announcing my plan and telling everyone to get in line, I chose a different path. 

I

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Make Sound and Timely Decisions

Make Sound and Timely Decisions

Rate the extent to which you would agree or disagree with the following statement: "My organization promotes making decisions at the lowest possible organizational level."

Strongly agree? Strongly disagree? 

If you’re like the 800 business leaders who have participated in The VUCA Report survey, a project I’ve led for almost two years now, you’re almost right in the middle on this one.

A solid, “meh.”

The average response to this item on decision-making is consistently the lowest of

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Train Your Unit as a Team

Train Your Unit as a Team

“Where is your squad member? Why isn’t he here?” 

Probably because he slept in, I thought. He should’ve gotten here on time (i.e., early) like the rest of us. 

In those pre-dawn moments on the dewy grass outside of John Barry Hall on the campus of Villanova University, a lecture was underway. No professors were involved—it was far too early in the morning, and I suspect few of them, had they been awake or aware of what we were doing, took much interest in our initial training as new members of the university’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. 

Rather, this

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Is Micromanagement Really That Bad? Making Sure the Task is Understood, Supervised and Accomplished

Is Micromanagement Really That Bad? Making Sure the Task is Understood, Supervised and Accomplished

One of the courses I’ve taught to both graduate and undergraduate business students is “Managerial Skill Development.” And among other high-energy theatrics that I employ during our class meetings, I typically ask students to think about the best managers they’ve ever had and the worst managers they’ve ever had. 

I then ask them to share some of the characteristics of these “best” and “worst” managers. The answers have become highly predictable. You probably wouldn’t find many of them to be surprising. 

Their “best” managers tend to (among other behaviors):

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