Playing with fire

harder than it looked on YouTube

The one thing that a Navy career, and a subsequent life in an engineering industry, gave me is an appreciation for tools and their uses.  As a result,  I have been able to learn over years, homeowner maintenance skills that I have put to good use.  Sometimes these skills are out of necessity and other times, as a result of being unwilling to hire a “professional” – who probably could do a particular task more efficiently but at a cost to my pride and wallet.  

I learned that earlier in the year when my air conditioning system shut down unexpectedly.  I inspected what I knew, but then found – when calling a serviceman – a dog-hair and dust-choked filter had caused a pressure switch to trip.  At considerable expense for that lesson,  I then decided I would research all my home systems for maintenance and repair information that I could reasonably do myself.  Fast forward to this past week.   All our large appliances in the kitchen have failed in turn over a few years.  We were hanging on till we became “empty nesters” (the kids were extremely hard on our kitchen).   We purchased new refrigerator, stove, microwave and dishwasher.  But because the last time I had replaced leaking water valves  I wasn’t thinking what working appliances needed  I had no means for the installation crew to hook up  icemaker or the dishwasher.   And the man the company sent to install my new microwave told my wife the unit had greater dimensions than the old one to be removed.

Of course, this was partially correct and partially, B.S.    In the case of the microwave,  the installer was likely tired, irritated or unmotivated to actually “look” at the unit.  When my wife and I went back to the store – talking with the salesman also – the floor display was a HALF-INCH larger in depth and height than the original.  It would have fit without any modifications!  But the installer took the new unit away with him.   I still need to get him back. As for the line to connect the dishwasher,  apparently the issue was a little more complicated.  Because the stock water line was four feet shorter than required (new kitchen have the dishwasher next to the sink and not adjacent like my  1960’s-design) a new hose about ten feet in length is needed.  

I put the new dual-outlet valves on the existing pipes under the sink so I would not totally foul-up Thanksgiving plans my wife had.  The cobbled together work leaked requiring a big roaster pan catch basin, and frequent draining for the past few days.   That is where my love for tools, an engineering sense, and YouTube comes in.   Today while my family was out of the house, I removed a stubborn piece of copper pipe under the sink and then brazed on a new section.   A few technical difficulties resolved by a quick visit to the hardware store – for some advice,  a section of flame-proof cloth for welding;  I also borrowed my son’s fire extinguisher at his insistence – and after a couple tries:  Success.   With full water pressure back on this evening there have been no leaks and no desperate calls for a plumbing contractor on a holiday weekend.

Tools any Bronze-Age craftsman would love

Both dogs, Dexter and Comet – who normally hang around at my elbow ALL the time I am in the kitchen – were NOWHERE to be seen. Maybe they didn’t want to be witnesses to me setting myself on fire?

I came here for an argument

The older I get, the more I find it ironic how some people argue and protest about fairness in life – as opposed focusing on gaining in-demand skills, creating work to employ themselves and others, or volunteering to share their talents and good fortune with others.  College students and academics are often the noisiest, when they themselves are better off than most other people in the world.  Ironic, as, once upon a time I was one of those post-high school, underemployed, single people whining about fairness.  And at the time,  I had my own apartment, a vehicle,  and was a spendthrift living on credit.    In my early Twenties, I was not skilled sufficiently due to personal choices I had made about education.  I was economically disadvantaged.

As I grew older,  I made better choices.  I made the military a career.  I used skills and resources gained there to obtain a better living.  I have been able to serve my fellow man, here and abroad, with material things I can provide from my income.  I have taught some to read. Others, I have helped through translation.  And still others I help through donations to Non-Governent Organizations (NGO)  medical clinics, disaster-response efforts and  volunteers.   In the process of working for myself and for others,  I learned the maddening impossibility of an efficient bureaucracy.   Governments may be able to provide for the national defense, but can spend trillions of dollars and still not have good roads, education that translates into skilled occupations, or decent healthcare.   Often I find myself in an argument because I believe more in principles that are in line with my religious and personal views, and individual responsibility, than government “nannies”.   I will tell people,  “I’m here for an argument, not abuse.”  And that usually gets a quizzical look.

In the 1970s,  Monty Python, a British comedic troupe was very entertaining with comedic sketches that lampooned society, politics, culture, and history very irreverently and often quite bizarre in a very British styled humor.   This sort of humor might harpoon many topics sacred to a generation focused on a dire future.  Why few have any opinion on a solution for the topics they brood about, from climate,  health care or international relations is odd for an opinionated society.   Perhaps if we could laugh at each other and disagree with one another – in a manner that Monty Python did so well -we could find solutions in the best interests of our fellow man.

 

Ask the Chief: dress for success

In the manner of dressing for work,  the corporate world I entered in 2000,  was a lot like the corporate world where my father worked.  That is,  suits, or sport coats with button-down shirts and ties,  nice slacks and polished leather shoes.  With the corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the CEO and founder a product of the late 1950s, we dressed up even when we never left the office.  But employment in San Diego in the new Millennium was being influenced more by Silicon Valley than Wall Street or Foggy Bottom in D.C.

Not surprisingly, the client of my employers in that first decade of the Twenty-First Century were the Naval officers and senior civilian staff (SPAWAR) who oversaw technical development in ships, electronic systems and aircraft for the Navy and Marine Corps. Since the military has prescribed uniforms for daily wear, and standardized grooming,  these military officers had a certain expectation for civilians who supported their efforts.

In published articles in the Wall Street Journal and Scientific American , studies have shown also that dressing well, whether in button-down shirt and tie,  or  “business casual”,  in the years since my father’s generation retired,  has positive benefits on worker advancement, attitude and productivity.  When I first interviewed at my company eleven years ago, I was still a member or the Navy Reserve and a Chief Petty Officer, so I arrived fit, clean-shaven, with shined shoes, and in a tailored suit.  When the offer of employment was accepted,  I was told that the dress code, when our clients were not on site, was more casual.  California in general and San Diego, in particular,  is a center of technical businesses, Integrated Circuits, Biotech, software companies and avionics.  But with several universities in the area,  interns and later their graduates were recruited and accommodated with casual dress options, flexible working hours and amenities from gyms to coffee houses to volleyball courts.  Of course, the industrial standard requirements for manufacturing areas are as uniform in required dress as the military.

While senior management of the major divisions were often more formal due frequent meetings with senior-level clients, it was still an office environment where a staff meeting occurred at 10 AM to allow for surfing or gym workouts.   In the last ten years however, the growth of the company has changed the culture slightly.  From acquisitions, becoming a publicly-traded company, and increasing leadership roles in major technical boards, advisory groups and other businesses, business casual, including button-down shirts, nice tailored polos (with the corporate logo) and slacks and leather shoes is increasingly seen in the middle and senior division-management and those groomed for their next level.  New hires, and casual employees who make a significant contribution to a project  (read “brain trust”) are often the ones who are more casually attired year-round.

What does all this mean for the transitioning military member who has the education or the skills to enter the corporate world?  It means having to adjust their “uniform” for the workday.   While it may seem refreshing to wear baggy shorts and sandals,  or hair that recalls more of the college dorm life than a corporate environment,  one’s work ethic and contribution to a project, may be hindered.  During meetings with military or senior government clients,  a sharp appearance can foster more productive outcome.    And the more ambitious a former military member becomes, there is value in a certain standout appearance.

This also seems to motivate employees to maintain or enhance a certain fitness and healthier lifestyle.  Not only because the workplace may subsidize health insurance for workers more generously for fitness, but also it reflects better on the employee’s advancement opportunities.  (Of course,  this does not imply that any of the equal opportunity standards that govern employment are overlooked.)  A sharper appearance and a healthier overall person is more often a better candidate when looking at similar qualifications.

don’t smoke that mushroom

Eat it.

Compared to the years I served in the United States Navy, robust health and nutrition of sailors in the Nineteenth Century – the “iron men and wooden ships” of lore- was less a factor of the sea air than good fortune.  Logs of ships’ surgeons from that era contain reports of men lost overboard in storms at sea, accidents, cholera, dysentery,  over- consumption of alcohol leading to death, infections, sexually-transmitted diseases, run -ins with native populations )in the then- relatively isolated foreign ports), and poor diet.

In the years just after Desert Storm,  fresh dairy products, fruit, and vegetables became available fairly regularly at sea due to underway replenishment.   Even in the early 1990s,  it was not uncommon to have powdered eggs, and ultra-pasteurized milk ( the sort the US Army Veterinary Service certified as safe for consumption) in place of fresh more than a week out of port.

It leads me to wonder aloud,  whether the new health-consciousness of many activists for varied range-fed beef and compassionately-raised chicken,  organic vegetables and gluten-free choices, have filtered down to our armed forces.

Most of my peers who retired around 2009 -2010, know that the military began a renewed campaign to fight obesity – discharging members who failed to maintain a standard that – even with body-builders  – was difficult to achieve.   But we also know that society has gotten farther and farther away from healthy diets and regular exercise.

But there are choices.   Although,  I do not expect my local Pizza Port to alter the menus just yet.   And with virtually every town having small breweries popping up,  I do not believe “lite” beer is going to be on the minds of the young men and women today.   However, for those fewer of us, where the excesses of youth are around our waistlines, in our zeal to stay off medicines and out of hospitals,  may yet find ways to exercise moderately and eat tasty, and healthy, food.

When I heard about this Portobello mushroom pizza, I was skeptical.  It is remarkably tasty!

But this also has cancer-fighting properties as well as staying off my waistline.   And I surprised my doctor last Wednesday with my complete turnaround in health.   Thirty-five pounds lighter,  blood -chemistry all in the normal range,  and much happier.   He didn’t ask me how,  but when others may,  I’ll tell them, “Pizza, fish, Chinese food, fresh vegetables.  Yogurt.  And more cooking with garlic, turmeric, mushrooms, and herbal ingredients.”

That gives me the ability to enjoy a nice craft beer.   Guilt-free.    I’m still a Sailor, after-all.

Leadership

Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile. Vince Lombardi

In the military, in business, school,  one’s faith, family, and pursuits,  leadership is a challenge that not everyone aspires.  However,  it is a rewarding opportunity for some who embrace it .   While people may naturally recognize a person with the qualities that make a good leader,  fewer know that leadership can be developed.  Some confuse position with leadership, and other confuse management with leadership.   Sometimes opportunity is looking for someone to lead, but fear, doubt, or improper motives get in the way of leading.  What are the characteristics that identify individuals as strong leaders?

 

8 Characteristics of good leadership

Forbes magazine published research that examined what makes a good leader:

  1. Sincere enthusiasm.  Belief in a company, it’s mission, its employees and its products cannot be faked and have that person succeed.
  2. Integrity.  Giving credit where it is due,  acknowledging mistakes, and putting quality ahead of the bottom line, is another.
  3. Excel in communication.  Great leaders are effective communicators.  They instruct, listen, discipline and motivate those they lead.  Weakness in these areas can demotivate and generate sloppiness.
  4. Loyalty.  Leaders are loyal to their people.  It is tangible and benefits are seen in the employees having the tools and support to do their work.  Leaders protect them in times of conflict or crises.   And in turn, that loyalty is given back to the leader.
  5. Decisiveness.  Leaders make decisions, take action, and calculated risks.  They know that consensus -building takes much effort, creates indecisiveness and perceived weakness, and results in applying band-aids instead of solutions.
  6.  Competent as managers.  Good technicians, business people, or a skilled athlete do not translate into managing people to excel.  Competence means people can inspire, mentor and direct others.
  7. Empowering others.  Leaders can recognize and foster in others to perform, possibly make mistakes, take some risks and be creative in achieving the objective.
  8. Charisma.  Good leaders are approachable, friendly, and sincerely care for those they lead.  People follow those they respect and like.

The motivational coach  who for more than twenty years has helped many succeed in business and life,  Tony Robbins , adds confidence and positivity to these principles.  A leader generates confidence in non-verbal ways as well, in manner of dress,  maintaining eye contact when speaking to another, and practicing self-control (not fidgeting). A leader radiates positivity, focusing on that, and not negative “what ifs”.

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves. Ray Kroc

“Deckplate Leadership” and the Navy Chief

https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2018/01/29/mcpon-dishes-new-guidance-to-all-cpos/

 

The mentorship I learned as a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy underscores these principles.  For more than a century, the Navy has relied on the most senior and experienced enlisted Sailors in their particular specialty, the Chief,  and the wisdom and expertise of the Chiefs’ Mess,  to execute the mission of the officers appointed over them.  They were not only mentoring junior enlisted sailors, but also the green junior officers that were appointed in the command or unit.  The training I received encompassed these mentioned characteristics.   But it adds some important fundamentals:

  1. When a Sailor was asked “when” he became a Chief Petty Officer (leader) and was confused by the question,  the seasoned Chief responded that he, himself, became a “chief” when he decided to act and think as one.  He just waited for the uniform (rank) to catch up.
  2. A leader is not about his or her achievement, but fostering development and leadership skills in others.  When a Chief empowers others, so that they succeed, this benefits that individual, the mission, and the community of leaders.
  3. A leader still requires the mentoring and support from other more-seasoned and successful leaders, whether through study, personal relationship (mentoring) or community of peers.   The Navy Chief’s Mess, including former (retired) and current Chief Petty Officers is a community that serves this function in perpetuity.

 

United States Navy Chief Petty Officer Creed

During the course of this day, you have been caused to humbly accept challenge and face adversity. This you have accomplished with rare good grace. Pointless as some of these challenges may have seemed, there were valid, time-honored reasons behind each pointed barb. It was necessary to meet these hurdles with blind faith in the fellowship of Chief Petty Officers. The goal was to instill in you that trust is inherent with the donning of the uniform of a Chief. It was our intent to impress upon you that challenge is good; a great and necessary reality which cannot mar you ─ which, in fact, strengthens you.

In your future as a Chief Petty Officer, you will be forced to endure adversity far beyond that imposed upon you today. You must face each challenge and adversity with the same dignity and good grace you demonstrated today.

By experience, by performance, and by testing, you have been this day advanced to Chief Petty Officer. In the United States Navy ─ and only in the United States Navy ─ the rank of E7 carries with it unique responsibilities and privileges you are now bound to observe and expected to fulfill.

Your entire way of life is now changed. More will be expected of you; more will be demanded of you. Not because you are an E7 but because you are now a Chief Petty Officer. You have not merely been promoted one paygrade, you have joined an exclusive fellowship and, as in all fellowships, you have a special responsibility to your comrades, even as they have a special responsibility to you. This is why we in the United States Navy may maintain with pride our feelings of accomplishment once we have attained the position of Chief Petty Officer.

Your new responsibilities and privileges do not appear in print. They have no official standing; they cannot be referred to by name, number, nor file. They have existed for over 100 years, Chiefs before you have freely accepted responsibility beyond the call of printed assignment. Their actions and their performance demanded the respect of their seniors as well as their juniors.

It is now required that you be the fountain of wisdom, the ambassador of good will, the authority in personal relations as well as in technical applications. “Ask the Chief” is a household phrase in and out of the Navy. You are now the Chief.

The exalted position you have now achieved ─ and the word exalted is used advisedly ─ exists because of the attitude and performance of the Chiefs before you. It shall exist only as long as you and your fellow Chiefs maintain these standards.

It was our intention that you never forget this day. It was our intention to test you, to try you, and to accept you. Your performance has assured us that you will wear “the hat” with the same pride as your comrades in arms before you.

We take a deep and sincere pleasure in clasping your hand, and accepting you as a Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy.

Quotes obtained from http://www.brainyquote.com 

Image: (top row, l. to r.): Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandi, John D. Rockefeller; (bottom row, l. to r. ): Steve Jobs, Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein.

 

Lessons of a military life

#2. If you’re gonna be stupid, you’re gonna be strong!

Flashback to 1977

My Navy career had a lot of great life, management, and leadership lessons. Many are undecipherable to those who have not been in military service but range from teamwork, testing physical and mental limits, courage, decision-making, and taking responsibility before being given authority.   In Navy boot camp, the first thing learned is obedience to authority.  Line up, no talking, do not move,  and other commands.  A second is quickly having situational awareness, introduced to recruits around 0400 (4 AM) on their first morning with a barracks wakeup.  On my first morning,  a metal trash can was hurled clattering across the floor.  That, and a simultaneous yell of “Get your @#$ up!”,  by the Company Commander.

For 9 weeks  recruits are converted from civilians into military service men and women.  Attention to detail was another lesson.   A military uniform is worn is a precise manner and everything from stray threads to “gig lines” – proper alignment – and cleanliness are inspected.  Deviations from the expectation often result in exercise – pushups, situps, 8-count body-builders.   In addition, some “special attention” is paid, verbally, to the offender.  However,  everyone in the unit is afforded the same attention.  To build cohesion, the expectation is for others in the unit to help their shipmate improve for the good of the unit as a whole.  Making one’s bed, or rack,  had to be done in an equally precise manner.  Proper stowage of uniform items is also according to regulations.  It was the proper folding and stowage of underwear that earned me “special attention”.  I had reversed the left-right folds prescribed by the company commander.  For that and other misunderstandings, I  became the “Polack” – an endearing term – to the company commander until I graduated and became a “Shipmate”.

 Thirty years later (2005)

Half a lifetime later, I was again in training.  This time it was as a Navy Reservist selected for advancement to Chief Petty Officer (CPO).    There is a century and a quarter of tradition in the Chief Petty Officer ranks, where these senior enlisted men and women train and mentor enlisted sailors and junior officers.  Officers provide the mission and the direction.   Chiefs take their direction and delegate the execution to sailors they place in charge of their division. Chiefs oversee their divisional petty officers,  and they in turn, place more junior petty officers in charge of division Workcenters made up of several sailors. The purpose is to identify and mentor sailors to gain leadership skills and advance up through the ranks.  To be a trusted member of the Chiefs’ Mess, a First Class Petty Officer, who may be technically proficient,  has to be trained to think and act, not for self-promotion,  but to delegate and mentor more junior sailors.  Also, it is a Chief who deflects criticism,  rebuke or conflicting directions given by a junior officer to an enlisted person in their division.  It is the Chief who relies on advice from the years of expertise within the Chiefs’ Mess, to lead sailors, handle interpersonal conflicts, maintain discipline, and mentor junior officers to perform to the Commanding Officer’s expectation of warfighting proficiency.

As a Chief Petty Officer Selectee, prior to the promotion ceremony each September, each undergoes  a period of training (exercise, team-building, lessons in leadership, traditions and CPO history) and builds camaraderie within the Mess.  This formally begins when selection results are reported.  And there are invitations to Chief Petty Officers, both on Active Duty and Retired to participate in the “Season” to build the sense of identity as a Mess.

To this very day, I still chuckle over the introduction of our trainer, a Chief Petty Officer who carried a bullhorn with a frequently-used siren.  He combined exercise with Question and Answer sessions. We had “homework” every day, including Navy lore, songs, and so forth. We were supposed to share everything we learned and help our fellow Selectees with tasks and such.  If we “failed” the answer or task, our trainer had a memorable response:

“If yer (sic) gonna be STUPID, yer gonna be STRONG!”

And then,  “DOWN and give me twenty (push ups)!”

Everybody laughed, labored, and “suffered” together but everyone learned.  And everyone got stronger, leaner and became a member of the Mess.   But then, in the last ten years, politics, social pressures, and a lack of clear direction ( a military needs clear objectives), also affected the leadership at the deckplates.  But being a member of the CPO Mess,  “Chief Petty Officer, United States Navy”, is the recognition I will treasure for life.

I think a lot of the issues that were reported during the last ten or fifteen years within the leadership – the Chiefs and the Officer community – was due to abandonment or at least a minimalist approach, to training the Chief Petty Officers and mentoring junior officers.  I hear it is returning to the tried and true.