hand-mirrorI have the pleasure of speaking with and to each new Information Warfare Officer via video-teleconference (VTC). This is an opportunity I was afforded based purely on geography in my last job (I served as the Commanding Officer of a Command that shared the same base as the class) and a relationship that sustains based on perceived value of such engagement. Truth be told, it is my professional highlight of most months. There is just something energizing about speaking with our future and, to a growing extent (based on the talent of our new teammates), our now.  Each engagement is different, but they do share some constants. The constants are fourfold and remain a part of the course experience purely on faculty initiative (e.g. not a top down requirement, but a bottom up desirement):

  1. They watch my TED-like talk just prior to the VTC
  2. Our engagement occurs during the last two weeks of the class
  3. They have read and discussed the IW/Cryptologic Community Foundational Principles
  4. They have been presented with copies of the three e-books in the Commanding Cooperatively Series I have written to date

The variables include, but are not limited to the following:

  1. Participation on my end varies (e.g. I prefer to include a variation of the local talent and approach it like a panel discussion)
  2. The Topics covered (e.g. I ask them to provide five questions on the front end to frame our collective conversation)

Each VTC leaves me with some additional data points about the mindset of the newest members of our team and presents me with the opportunity to help inform their approach to our shared profession. Those who know me or read my writings know that I focus a great deal of my time and energy on culture. And the optimal time to shape culture is at the point of entry. We attempt to select people with certain attributes that strengthen our culture. More often than not, we succeed. Regardless, culture evolves over time and requires repeated reminders of our shared commitment to competence, character, and collaboration. This topic has come up during the last two VTCs. I am paraphrasing here, but both classes were interested in my thoughts on the future of our community culture. The question goes something like this… “Sir, after watching your talk and learning about the culture of NIOC Pensacola during your tenure, do you think we will realize the same across the community in the future?” I have pontificated in a previous post, Culture: Defined, that Admiral Quinn’s definition of culture was spot on.  He simply stated that culture is “the collective action of leadership.” The question there is to define the leadership team, and I invite you to refer to that post to read more. The answer to the question posed by the junior officers of late is simply to look in the mirror. Yes, it’s true that our culture is a reflection of our senior leaders. At the same time, the trajectory of our culture is informed at least as much by the behaviors of today’s newest members of our team. It is the collective behavior of our seniors that largely informs both how we develop as leaders and how long we choose to serve (e.g. worthy of emulation = retentions; cause of frustration = separation). And it is the collective behavior of our juniors that inform what we collectively become over time. I answered the question, by turning it on them. “How committed are you to making such a culture our reality?” I asked. I went on, “after graduation, if each of you chooses to share your individual journey with your Shipmates; if each of you chooses to share your individual strengths while leaning on the expertise of the collective; and if each of you chooses to both celebrate the successes of each other while creating interdependencies, the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” If however, you choose not leverage the power of the strong network around you; you choose to go it alone; and you choose to let careerism drive you, the answer is a simple “absolutely not!” Culture is in fact defined by the behavior of our most senior leaders. The most junior members of our team will undoubtedly emulate what they see, and I also believe that when properly empowered (and they most certainly are), they are capable of shaping behavior even more than their behavior is shaped.  I look forward to next month’s engagement with the new batch of “newest members of our community.” I know that I will learn at least as much as I attempt to impart. The future is brighter than ever and, properly enabled, they will influence, shape, and realize the very culture to which they commit. Look into that mirror and assess what it tells you about the future culture of your “team,” no matter how you choose to define that extremely powerful word.