ENS Kyle Hunter is an Information Warfare Officer, commissioned in 2011 through the Seaman to Admiral-21st Century program. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in March 2001, and after completion of basic training reported to Monterey, California to become a Cryptologic Technician Interpretive. Currently, he serves at Navy Information Operations Command Colorado as a division and watch floor operations officer. When not on shift, he focuses on completing a certificate program from Naval Postgraduate School, running and cycling though Denver’s extensive park and trail system, and spending quality time with family. He is married to his better half, Christie, and they have five great children – Nicholas, Lenora, William, Evelyn, and Cash.

My closest mentor once told me the business world is an ocean of fish and sharks. Fish were interested in making it through the day, one of many in a large school of common everyday occurrences. Often, no matter the cost, sharks were in it for themselves. We all make choices as our career unfolds: we may choose to be a fish or to be a shark. Then again, we could decide to be something altogether different – a dolphin. Dolphins are those who choose to not simply go with the flow or singularly focus on career enhancing activities, but navigate the sea according to a value system.

As an organization we cannot afford, in part or whole, to be fish or sharks. It is our challenge to become strong individuals and our collective goal to be a cohesive team. If we are just fish – uncaring, unmotivated, or unengaged – we will fail to effectively respond to adversity. Commitment is required to be at the ready, and being prepared is our charge as warfighters first. Whether we choose a check-the-box approach or a put-my-name-on-it mentality, we fail to recognize the adaptive nature of warfare and the need for strategic organizational planning. The combination of fish and shark practices crush both individual performance and bonds of teamwork. Our initiative is only possible when we work independently and together towards common goals; when we choose to be dolphins.

Determining the goals we will commit to is challenging enough, let alone working together to achieve them. Effective communication is vital to focus a group on setting and following through on goals, but that is not where the process starts. The idea is not for everyone to say the right things or drop anchor for a vote. Indeed, the best communication can stem from vigorous, fact-facing debate, and successful military strategy cannot always afford discussion, but effective communication streams from common understanding and intent, whose source depends on, and begins with, shared values. The process of creating shared values reinforces that common understanding, which can be routinely practiced by people of different backgrounds, cultures, and ideologies-without ignoring the strength of such diversity. Such values help create core threads of thought that aid in the communication, coordination, and execution of common objectives.  Values should, individually and collectively, challenge us to better ourselves, stand the test of time, and hold us accountable. Even if idealistic, values should bind us together, because, even though it is an imperfect world, it should be worth believing in them.

As leaders in the Information Dominance Corps, it is our responsibility to engage our respective teams in the creation of shared values and discuss parallels with other standing initiatives (e.g., Tenants of CNO’s Sailing Directions), because shared values facilitate effective communication that, in warfare, can be the difference between success and defeat. A leader’s visible commitment to shared values facilitates a follower’s trust that decisions made are in the organization’s best interest or encourages juniors to demonstrate personal initiative by confidently contributing to the decision making process. It is not the easier direction. It will ask us to challenge our friends, our systems, and ourselves and demand more time and thought in what we do-initially. We must ensure, at all levels of command, our ability to quickly adapt to any challenge. That begins with a shared value system that ties a community of largely independent steamers together to facilitate constructive decision-making. Let’s care enough to be more than fish, selfless enough to be more than sharks, and visibly commit to values that bond us…Let’s be dolphins!

Have you devoted time to empower and listen to your Sailors and peers to create a shared value system? What do you do to ensure you are communicating expectations clearly? How do you encourage open dialogue or display unification behind a decision with your peers, seniors, and subordinates?