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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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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Set the Example: Wisdom on a Wall in Afghanistan

Set the Example: Wisdom on a Wall in Afghanistan

Although I had already been a commissioned U.S. Navy officer for more than 11 years at the time, the message hit me anew every time I read it. 

The message—stenciled in black letters upon a white sign and affixed to one of the many blast-resistant walls that encircled Camp Eggers in the heart of Kabul, Afghanistan—greeted us just inside one of the vehicle entrances to the small, crowded base.

It simply read as follows: 

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Keep Your People Informed

Keep Your People Informed

By nature, we humans continually seek to reduce the uncertainty and ambiguity around us. We’re all different to some degree, of course, but we generally like to know what to expect each day, and we like to have clarity about what’s going on. 

As a result, we’re information seekers. 

We look for cues in what people say and how they act. We try to figure out what’s important and what’s not important in part through the words and actions of others. 

And when we don’t have much information to go on—for example, when our direct supervisors don’t communicate with us on a regular basis—we tend to fill in the gaps. 

We guess. 

We assume.

We interpret—and sometimes contribute to—rumors among our peers. We do our best to reduce our own uncertainty and ambiguity. Sometimes that works. 

Sometimes it doesn’t. 

That’s why

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Know Your People and Look Out for Their Welfare

Know Your People and Look Out for Their Welfare

It’s often said but less frequently done: “No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care.” 

Being a technical expert can help you be an influential leader or manager—people like to follow people who know their stuff. 

But if you want to motivate people for the longer term, if you want people to follow you because they truly want to do so, you need to dig deeper. People need

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Know Yourself and Seek Self-Improvement

Know Yourself and Seek Self-Improvement

My first encounter with the U.S. Navy’s leadership framework came when I was barely 18 years old. I was young and eager to do well as a new midshipman in Villanova University’s Navy ROTC program. Like everyone else starting at college, I was also trying to adjust to the basics of education and life away from home. Unlike our fellow freshmen, however, we midshipmen were also beginning our introduction to military service. 

Part of that initial training involved memorizing numerous facts. 

Facts about ranks, facts about weapons, facts about history.

And facts about leadership. Quite a few useful models of leadership behaviors and traits exist across all of the U.S. military branches, but one that I’ve revisited lately is the U.S. Navy’s Leadership Principles. They’re virtually the same as principles claimed by other services (such as the U.S. Army), but 

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