CEOs…Please Read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Normally when I write, I share topics that I have either read about or done myself. Today, I want to talk about something from the perspective of a front-line employee. This was something I witnessed from our new CEO, and how he interacted with a risky innovation that my boss (not the CEO) was involved in. This is an amazing real life example of how I hope to model my leadership, simply because I know how it made me feel as a follower.

Story

For context, the company I work for recently changed CEOs. It is going extremely well, yet everyone is still taking the necessary time to adjust to the new regime.

Earlier this year, my boss and several other colleagues started a community around a companywide initiative. At a high level, their goal was to start a monthly platform where employees could come together to share ideas (see Share Your Ideas for more info on what this looks like). This was an employee-driven effort, so the team didn’t have sponsorship from senior staff yet. Senior staff had awareness, but not all members bought into the idea. In fact, some were completely against it at both the senior staff and employee levels. So, the pressure for success was higher than usual.

Our CEO had very little knowledge about it. He asked my boss to schedule 30 mins of his time to talk more in depth. In that meeting, they discussed the history and what they plan to do with the idea moving forward.

Immediately following the meeting, the CEO wrote an email to my boss stating his stance on this particular initiative. He was in full support of the idea and in turn, encouraged more employee-driven initiatives. The most powerful part of the email, however, was the way he ended it. The last words before his signature were, “I’ve got your back.”

Something awesome happened following this email. That sentence meant so much to my boss that he decided to share it with his team and colleagues. They then went on to share it with their teams and so on. That sentence was obviously very powerful to have permeated through the company so quickly. I am three levels removed from the hierarchy, and I have shared that story on multiple occasions. The reason it was so powerful was that everyone believed it. He instilled trust in the platform team, and everyone gave it back.

Wrap up

I wanted to tell this story to highlight that actions matter. They ripple throughout the company, and when kept positive, you just might see positive results. I mean, look at what one sentence has provoked. He didn’t even say it to me, yet it meant so much that I wanted to blog about it. From the bottom looking up, CEOs set the tone of the company. Their words and their actions simply hit harder. When a CEO can show trust and positivity, their message has a deep motivating quality. As someone near the ground floor, I can vouch that it works.

Recognizing there are many ways to run a company, I only wanted to share my experience with our new CEO. If you would like to share your experience, similar or not, please leave them in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Leader Leader

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I gave a presentation to Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. Aug 26th regarding a topic I have become very passionate about: Leader-Leader. The recording of the presentation is below. I got the story from 2 books. Leader’s Eat Last by Simon Sinek and Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet. The sound quality isn’t 100 percent so I have a transcript below for those who would rather read it. Enjoy.

Background

Our story starts with a man named David Marquet. He was a career submariner who finished top of his class in almost every category. One area that David Marquet excelled in was Leadership. As such, he worked his way up the promotion ladder until he received the greatest honor a navy man can receive, command of his own ship.

The now Captain David Marquet was to be command of the USS Olympia. This was a very prestigious sub. To prepare, he takes the year prior to his command and dedicates it to learning every component of the sub, including the crew. He believed that in order to gain the respect of his crew and to do his job well, he needed to know as much if not more than the crew themselves.

However, two weeks before taking command, Captain Marquet receives a call. In that call he learns that he will no longer be taking command of the Olympia, but instead the USS Santa Fe. The Santa Fe was a newer sub but not extremely different. The crew however, was another story.

The crew of the Santa Fe ranked last in nearly every readiness and retention category that the US Navy had. It was so bad that real life scenarios from the Santa Fe were used as bad examples for general Navy training. But that was ok. Captain Marquet was confident in his abilities and was up to the challenge. The Navy had shown him that Marquet would be a leader because he was given control. So it was easy for him to believe that if I give good orders, I will have a good ship, and if I give great orders, I will have a great ship. So Captain Marquet took control of the Santa Fe in January 1999 knowing that he had an uphill battle.

Fast forward a few months…Captain Marquet, after getting more comfortable with his command, decides to run a drill while out at sea. The simulation was a reactor failure (basically an engine failure). It was a standard drill, nothing out of the ordinary.

Everything was going well. The sub was running on battery power and all the crew was working on restoring the reactor. So Captain Marquet decided to shake things up for the crew. He looks to the officer on deck (the most experienced officer) and says “Ahead 2/3” meaning move forward at 2/3 the maximum speed. This would drain the battery faster and increase the urgency of the crew to get the reactor fixed.

“Ahead 2/3” the Captain said

The officer on deck confirms by saying “Ahead 2/3” to the Helmsman.

Buy nothing happened. The direction of the sub and the speed remained the same. So the captain looks at the helmsman and sees him sitting very uncomfortably in his chair and asks, “Helmsman, why did you not execute the order?”

The helmsman replied, “Sir there is no 2/3 setting.”

The ship that Captain Marquet had studied for had a 2/3 setting. The ship he was on did not.

Caught off guard by this he turns to the Officer on Deck and asks “Did you know there was no 2/3 setting?”

The Officer on Deck replied “Yes Sir.”

Caught even more off guard the Captain asked “Then why did you issue the order?”

The officer simply replied “Because you told me to.”

It was at that moment that Captain Marquet realized that he was trained for another ship and his crew was trained for compliance. In a sub this was a problem with dangerous consequences. He was getting comfortable issuing orders and his crew was getting comfortable blindly executing them. He was reinforcing a hierarchy that he questioned his entire career. He refers to it as the Leader – Follower.

In the leader follower dynamic Captain Marquet started to see a truth. He States that those at the top have all the authority and none of the information and those at the bottom have all of the information but none of the authority.

Solution

From this point forward Captain Marquet vowed to keep his mouth shut when he was on board. He wanted to turn the dynamic from 1 commander barking orders at 135 passive followers, to 135 active passionate and engaged leaders, proud and motivated about what they were doing. In order to do so, he needed to change from leader-follower to Leader-Leader.

In his book, Turn the Ship Around, David Marquet describes several practical steps he took to get here. One major step was to ban the phrase “Permission to”.

“Sir, permission to submerge the ship?”

“Premission granted. Submerge the ship”

He replaced this phrase with “I intend to”.

“Sir, I intend to submerge the ship”

The shift here is a psychological one. The chain of comman is still in tact but when initiating the command, the person that is performing the action now feels a stake in the outcome. It’s now coming from an area of intent instead of a passive task to be carried out.

Captain Marquet even took it a step further as he too didn’t blindly approve all “I intend to.” He would often find himself asking several questions before approval. So he started asking his crew to not only come prepared with what they intend to do but why they intend to do it. What he found was not only did he not have to object to many proposals, but he was correct in his assumption that the crew had the knowledge needed to make these types of decisions. They just needed a chance to vocalize them.

As an added benefit, this change caused all his crew to start thinking at the level above them. The officers on Deck had to think like the captain and so on down. This was important because the crew were literally acting their way into their promotions. This turned into a very effective leadership program.

Outcome

Trust and cooperation of the crew improved so much that once the lowest ranked crew in the Navy, now they became the best ranked crew in Navy History. Before Captain Marquet took command, the reenlistment rate of the Santa Fe was 3. After he took command, it was 33. The Navy average was 15 so there was an obvious morale spike.

As for the leadership program, on average 2 to 3 commanding officers typically get promoted on a ship after tour. The Santa Fe promoted 9 of 14 officers to go on and Captain their own ship.

So what did we learn? Captain Marque was able to do this by resisting the temptation to absorb more power. When faced with the decision, he decided to not be the smartest person on the ship rather empower those around him, letting his crew feel responsible for the success of the ship.

If this topic is interesting to you, I would like you to remember 2 questions:

  1. Do I typically ask permission or do I make recommendations?
  2. If I am in a position of power, do I typically solve my people’s problems or do I empower them to solve their problems on their own?

I hope you enjoyed the presentation. If you have any feedback or stories of your own, I would love to hear them. Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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Leading by Following

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Being a leader is a difficult goal to strive for. People say leadership takes courage, character, confidence, charisma, etc.… and they aren’t wrong. However, when defining a leader, people tend to miss the true defining characteristic: someone needs to follow. A leader isn’t a leader if they are leading no one. One could make the connection that a leader is only a leader if they were leading someone. Profound stuff I know, but at its core, the statement is extremely accurate. Any leader of value has always needed one person, and that person is known as the First Follower.

The First Follower is an underrated form of leadership. The leader typically gets the majority of the credit but it’s the First Follower that often finds themselves unknowingly determining a leader’s success. In his TED talk “How to start a movement”, Derek Sivers states that “the First Follower is what transforms a Lone Nut into a Leader.” He continues by showing a video of a lone dancer. At first glance, it is obvious that the lone dancer is very courageous, but also a bit awkward. About 10 seconds in, one person gets up and starts dancing alongside (First Follower). It only takes a second for the First Follower to start encouraging his friends to join. Around 30 seconds, dozens of people are out dancing along with more running into the group every second. With the combination of the Leader and the First Follower, they were able to start a movement within minutes. Below I outlined some responsibilities for the Leader and the First Follower to make this work.

The Leader – Although it takes a strong amount of courage to put yourself out there, its takes almost an equal amount of courage to be the first one to stand up and follow. That is why the moment you receive your first follower, its critical to raise that person up and accept him as an equal. The message must change from “follow me” to “follow us.” Future followers need to trust that everyone out there is in this together. It’s the leader’s responsibility to limit the risk to his follower while enforcing the belief that “we win together, or we lose together, not separately”.

The First Follower – You have taken a risk by being the first one to join your leader. Your job from here is to encourage the people who trust you to trust the leader. At this stage, you are now a leader yourself, so all the above statements apply. Build up anyone that decides to come along, and encourage them to encourage others. When you do, you will instantly see the impact you had on the movement.

As a closing thought, I want to encourage everyone to keep an eye out for an opportunity to be someone’s First Follower. I won’t lie, it may be hard depending on the change you decide to stand up for, but it just might be one of the most rewarding experiences you have. Not to mention it could be the only thing standing in front of success for the leader. I also encourage everyone to watch Derek’s video below. It has heavily influenced my way of thinking. And of course, please leave me comments if you have any insight to share.

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