To Bring Your Plans to Life, You Need a Dedicated Crew


U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Roadell Hickman

“Officers and crew of the United States Gerald R. Ford, man our ship and bring her to life!” commanded Susan Ford Bales, daughter of President Ford and sponsor of the newest U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford.

The command was answered by sailors in crisp, white uniforms peeling off formation and running to man the rails of the newest warship in the U.S. Navy. “Anchors Aweigh” played, horns blared, bells rang out, and the U.S. flag was raised to full mast. Within minutes, the captain was informed that “the ship is manned and ready and reports for duty to the fleet.”

As I watched this emotional ceremony play out this past weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the powerful message that was being delivered. The imagery, the speeches, and the commands all communicated one point, the crew brings the ship to life.

“A ship is only as good as the people who serve on it.” Donald Trump

As a business leader and former Naval Officer, I know this to be true but sometimes we forget. It’s easy to get caught up in the importance of our business plans, strategic initiatives, and stretch goals. Often we forget, it’s people that bring these plans to life.Without her crew, the $13 billion state-of-the-art nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is nothing but a hunk of cold steel sitting in the harbor. Without a dedicated crew, all our plans our dead as well.

So, how do you get a dedicated crew to bring your plans to life? Let me suggest four important things to consider.

Get people involved in the planning. When people are involved in creating the plans, they have more ownership. Annual off-site planning sessions are a great way to do this. If done right, these sessions can create energy, excitement, and bonding in the team. It also helps to focus the team on the key objectives for the year. To learn more about how to conduct a good annual planning session, see my article 10 Step Guide to Lead your Team into the New Year.

Communicate your plans in a straight-forward manner. I’ve worked for three global companies and one of the things that frustrated me is how they communicated plans. Global companies are complex and their plans are complicated but the communication process shouldn’t be. Using 100+ PowerPoint slides to communicate your vision is not effective. Focus your plans into a handful of important points and use stories to illustrate your message. Doing this will get more people on board.

Seek feedback and be willing to adjust your plans. Rolling out new plans in small groups is an effective way to let teams absorb the message and provide feedback. Listening to feedback is critical for two main reasons. It allows teams to internalize the plan and it allows you to learn things you hadn’t considered. Seeking feedback will help get even more people on board.

Corral the naysayers. Despite your best efforts, there will always be those on your team that don’t buy into the message. It’s important to identify those individuals and meet with them individually. If they have constructive feedback, hear them out. Everyone deals with change differently. If they are simply unwilling to get on board, it might be time to part ways. Naysayers can have a negative impact on morale and can hurt the overall team’s performance. It’s better to deal with the problem than ignore it.

A ship is nothing without her crew and a plan is nothing without people to implement it. If you spend a long time developing a plan, spend twice that amount of effort getting people on board. Without a dedicated crew, your plan is going nowhere. Take the advice from this article and get more people involved in the planning process. Work on a straight-forward communications plan and seek feedback. And most importantly, corral the naysayers. If you do these things, you will bring your plans to life.

What do you think? Have you used these principles in the past? What were the results? What other ideas have worked for getting your team on board? What are some examples of great planning and poor execution? What went wrong? Let me know in the comment section below.


Gathering of Six Active-Duty Marine Corps Four-Star Generals


Photo Credit: Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans, U.S. Marine Corps

At one time in history, the Marine Corps had six active-duty four-star generals. On April 19, 2013, they gathered at the home of the Commandant of the Marine Corps where this epic picture was taken.

“Old Breed, New Breed, there’s not a damn bit of difference so long as it’s the Marine Breed.” Chesty Puller

Dressed in their desert camouflage uniforms, the six Marine four-star generals share “coffee” and reminisced about the four decades of working on and off together.  “It was a bunch of friends who started out as second lieutenants,” said Gen. James Mattis. “We never thought we would end up as four stars. It is the surprise and twists and turns of life.”

From left to right, the generals are John F. Kelly, James N. Mattis, Joseph F. Dunford, James F. Amos, John R. Allen, and John M. Paxton Jr.

I’m not sure how I originally missed this in the news but it’s pretty amazing.

Everyone Can Help Give Veterans a Fighting Chance

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Photo Credit: Chris Davies, U.S. Navy Veteran

I remember the feeling I had stepping off the USS Tennessee for the last time. It was 1994, I was 26 years old, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. For the five years I served on active duty, the Navy pretty much told me what to do. They also taught me everything I needed to know to be a successful line officer on a nuclear submarine. What they didn’t teach me was how to transition to a civilian job.

I recall going to civilian job interviews and being asked questions I had no idea how to answer. Business jargon was a mystery to me. It was like I had been living on another planet for the past five years and, after seven deployments, I guess I had been. Luckily for me, I was hired by a company that was recruiting former nuclear naval officers. They understood my background and didn’t care that I knew very little about the job they needed me to fill.

I was also lucky to connect with several Navy veterans at my new company who mentored me and helped me make a successful transition to civilian life. As I said, I was lucky. But veterans shouldn’t have to rely on luck to be successful. For most veterans, making the transition to the civilian world is significantly more difficult than my experience. The biggest challenge they face is just finding a job.

As stated in my article Six Reasons You Need to Hire a Veteran Today, many companies pass over military veterans when reading resumes. The reason is they have both a lack of understanding as well as misconceptions about veterans. They often overlook veterans for key job openings because they don’t understand the work history and military terminology on the resumes of veterans. They also have misinformed assumptions of what veterans are like based on popular culture.

As a result, more than 340,000 veterans are out of work as of May 2017. Even though the unemployment rate for veterans has improved, there are still 340,000 Americans who have served their country with honor who can’t find a civilian job. Something has to change!

This is where organizations like the Foundation for VETS (Veteran Employment Transition Support) are stepping in to make a difference. They are helping veterans, employers, and the economy by working to reduce and remove barriers to civilian employment. One of the ways they do this is through intensive research that provides practical solutions to both veterans and employers alike.

This month, the Foundation for VETS launched a series of new studies to examine, and subsequently inform, the veteran employment transition landscape. This new research will answer many valuable questions including finding out what specifically are the most challenging aspects of the employment transition experience for veterans.

The great news is that everyone can help. The Foundation for VETS is looking for civilians, veterans, active-duty military, and human resource professionals to participate in an anonymous, 10-minute, online survey. This survey is being authored by four PhDs who are all professionals in the employment research space. The outcome of the research will lead to actionable solutions, not just services, for transitioning veterans.

If you are looking for a way to honor veterans and help in their transition, take 10 minutes and fill out this survey. Your input will be extraordinarily valuable.

What do you think? Did you take the survey? What do you feel are the greatest barriers to civilian employment for veterans? Why are there so many misconceptions about veterans? What can organizations like the Foundation for VETS do to help? Let me know in the comment section below.

Patton on Micromanagement

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“Keep on advancing… whether we go over, under, or through the enemy,” General Patton told his troops, and they did.

Under his leadership, the 3rd Army swept across France, crossed the Rhine and charged straight into the heart of Germany.  In 1945, his troops captured more than 10,000 square miles of enemy territory in one 10-day march. In the end, Patton and his Army achieved their mission of liberating Germany from the Nazi’s.

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” George S. Patton

Like other great leaders, Patton understood he didn’t need to micromanage his troops to get them to do extraordinary things. A leader’s role is to cast the vision, set the goals, establish the boundaries, and get out of the way.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Too often, leaders think they need to know everything, direct every activity, and be involved in every decision. When you do that, it comes across that you don’t trust your team. You don’t think they are capable.  In the end, you are limiting the success of your team. They will only be as good as you are. You will never be surprised with their results.

What do you think? Have you worked for a micro-manager? What was that experience like? Was the team’s success limited? Do you have experience working with a visionary leader? What was that like? Did it frustrate you when they didn’t get involved in the details? Let me know in the comment section below.

The Four C’s of Leadership


“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” Douglas MacArthur

Douglas MacArthur, arguably one of the greatest military leaders in U.S. history, points out the four C’s of leadership in this famous quote.

Confidence. Great leaders are confident. They are able to rally their team around a vision of the future that doesn’t yet exist. Even when the odds are stacked against them and the goal seems impossible, a true leader will stand alone, if necessary, and provide hope.

Courage. It takes courage to make tough decisions. The best leaders have the guts to be decisive even when the facts aren’t clear. As I wrote about in Fail Fast & Fix It Faster, being decisive as a leader is critical, especially in the “fog of war.”

Compassion. Leadership is about people. As I wrote about in an article called 3 Questions You Should Ask Before Taking a Leadership Job, leadership is a people business.  Your entire job is to motivate people towards accomplishing a goal. You need to love people and have the compassion to listen to the needs of others to be a great leader.

Character. Being a person of integrity is critical for leadership. A leader is being watched every day by the team. They will see every inconsistency in the leader’s behavior and actions. What is accepted by the leader is embraced by the team. A leader without character will have a team without integrity.

What do you think? What are some other characteristics of great leaders? What leaders have inspired you in your career? What is the difference between a good and a great leader? Let me know in the comment section below.