Today marks my 591st day as a proud member and the Commanding Officer of Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command. When I joined this team I committed to helping them write an especially meaningful chapter of what continues to be a story worth telling. I emphasize helping them because it isn’t my story to tell: It’s my responsibility to inspire them to take action, shape the journey, and experience a story compelling enough to share. I emphasize write because their/our story continues to be one worthy of sharing, and when you have something worth sharing, I firmly believe you have a responsibility to share it for the benefit of others.

Like every operational command in our military, the primary story is about mission accomplishment and operational outcomes. That is the way we measure success – that is why we exist. What we do is vitally important, so important that we often overlook how we do it. Therefore, the chapter we continue to write focuses more on the how than the what, more on environment than mission accomplishment. For it is our environment that informs the norm and if we are to be even more amazing tomorrow than we are today, our environment must evolve and our norms must change. Simply put, the environment informs operational outcomes and the team I joined 591 days ago was good, but in no way ready for increased relevance tomorrow. In a somewhat subversive way so as not to allow the change antibodies to overtly resist,  we set out on a journey to make critical thinking, creative problem solving, and collective ownership core competencies across our team. At the same time, we began to make it a point to share our story with the outside world. Given our unique mission of cyber defense, partnerships are critical to mission accomplishment and we needed to give people reason to partner with us.

Though we will share a more complete story of this two year chapter in an appropriate forum once we are done living and writing it, I wanted to share some visible progress given my observations this last month. A core group of leaders across the Command has been priming the pump for a very long time and there have been many times when we wondered if the water was ever going to flow. This month proved to us what we continue to believe: there is an abundance of water in that well and the trickle of yesteryear has begun to increase in volume daily. Here are some examples:

  1. We hosted our Mentor Draft. This was an effort to turn yet another mandatory program into something meaningful as we provided an opportunity for juniors and seniors to connect and choose their own mentor. Because we are committed to leading well beyond our Command, we invited another Command to participate with us. Here is a story we shared about it.
  2. The Suicide Prevention and Physical Readiness Teams partnered to provide Command members free salads. The next day, they hosted our first yoga class.
  3. We facilitated yet another design-thinking “Thinkshop” in our very own maker-space. Our focus this month was customer service.
  4. The team is putting the final touches on our New Teammate Handbook, which was largely inspired by Valve’s New Employee Handbook.
  5. In an effort to continue to attract amazing talent to our team, a half-dozen teammates represented us at a job fair and collected dozens of resumes from people who had no idea they could serve as a part of the Navy without wearing a uniform. These potential new teammates were also blown away by the creative things happening at a military command. We look forward to more formally welcoming some of them to our team soon.
  6. Sailors are increasingly checking into the Command because they are passionate about our mission and intrigued by the environment; a direct result of our deliberate engagement efforts and our emphasis on sharing our story. After all, if you don’t let people know what you do and what you stand for, they have little reason to want to join the cause.
  7. We received a few e-mails from the Chief of Naval Operations expressing his personal interest in a couple of the operations we had ongoing and received accolades from all echelons for the way we were executing our operational mission.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I firmly believe the first six things I mentioned are the reason the seventh happened and will continue to be the norm…critical thinking, creative problem solving, and collective ownership. I couldn’t have said these things two months ago when many were shaking their head thinking the focus on culture and environment was wasteful and in some cases irresponsible. Priming the pump is hard work and results yet unseen represent a questionable return. Couple that with the fact that the non-believers are conditioned to wait out transient leaders (I only get 24 months at best to be a part of the team) and given the senior leadership team is set to change dramatically (the leaders, not necessarily philosophy) this summer, it becomes increasingly challenging to get others to join the movement.

I use the below to frame my actions each and every day:

WE see what many are able to see – WE think what few are able to think – WE do what only WE can do.

NCDOC: Cyber Defense through Creative Discovery

Helping others see what they cannot yet see is the responsibility of a leader, and the only way to make that happen is to lead as a team. I remain extremely blessed to be a part of an amazing leadership team. A team that is growing in number, growing in commitment to the vision, and growing more comfortable with the environment we are creating. An environment that is different not for the sake of being different, but an environment that is tailored to optimize operational outcomes tomorrow, as much as today.

  • How well is your environment aligned to the outcomes you desire to deliver?
  • Are you appropriately invested in shaping the culture of tomorrow?
  • Is your team giving others reason to want to be a part of it?