Ask the Chief

leadership

I heard a great sea story once about an engineering problem given to a room full of Officer Candidate School students. Given a number of requirements, they had to calculate how to get the job done. Every pencil in the classroom was furiously calculating away but for one student. That student, a Navy Chief Petty Officer, had written, “Find a Chief Petty Officer. Tell him, “Chief, I need this flagpole erected. Today.”

One of the best leadership tools has been around four thousand years.

  • Seek Advice:
    • 22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15: 22)
  • Don’t talk so much
    • And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7)
  • Arrogance loses to humility every time
    • When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom (Proverbs 11:2)
  • Set the example for others
    • 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)
  • Listen, and learn
    • let the wise listen and add to their learning,  and let the discerning get guidance— (Proverbs 1:5)

Leadership books are written by the thousands, to distill for others the principles and lessons of leadership. Some look for quick guidelines and surefire tricks. Others look for the “rules” to impress on others or for the means to skirt “around” them. Many realize that leadership is as much developing character as it is authority and taking action. Just as a military veteran understands that we are under authority, and those authorities are under authority, it is through the lessons of Scripture, ultimate authority desires us to seek Wisdom, and reverently follow our Creator.

You have two basic rights

I am dusting off and republishing a few of my oldest efforts blogging. Rough around the edges. Originally published in July, 2009.

My old Senior Chief back in the days before political correctness blanched most of the testosterone from the military, used to introduce himself to his charges, “You have two rights in this world, one, to live, and another, to die. Gentlemen, when you f*** up, I will take one of them away from you!” I was the Petty Officer assigned to escort restricted and brig confinement -bound men at the NTC San Diego Correctional Custody unit, when the Navy Training Center and not an artsy community/ civic center.

It was his responsibility – and by delegation, mine as well, to attempt through proper application of discipline and hard work to turn last-chance misfits – clowns, chronic whiners, and immature boy-sailors into rule-followers, and rehabilitated men. There were of course, two alternatives that several ended finding – discharge at the convenience of the government, or hard time at the Navy Brig – and then discharge.

After those formative days of my youth, I see my responsibility as training young people in my charge, Sailors in my Reserve unit, recent graduate-engineers at work, and especially my sons, to help them develop along the right course. There is a culture in the military that juniors respect the senior enlisted mentors, as this is how the former progress to becoming the latter. In the civilian workforce, particularly in companies which nurture and reward excellence among all employees, there is a lot of the same cameraderie, cross-training, and shared purpose.

As a parent, though, raising boys who were as independent-minded and stubborn as mules, was work! These teens were self-disciplined only to the extent of things which held their interest – guitars, skateboards, and motocross bikes. Perhaps memory of similar behavior in those young men from the Correctional Custody days, urged me to impart some cautionary pearl of wisdom. Often the effect was wrath and counter-accusation, and exasperated red-faces. It would have been so much easier to find “a fan room”. (a Fan Room is a noisy air handling compartment where 2 could a disagreement with a few fists, without a public display). But political correctness has broken down all the means to apply discipline at any age.
Too much is thought of individual liberties, psyches, and others well-being, to the detriment of everyone from classroom pupil, to those helmsmen of a warship or even public transport operators. Policy which prohibits certain behavior (texting on cell phones while operating a train) is only effective when the individual has ingrained self-discipline.

Were it within my ability, I would like to see a return to the days of the old Senior Chief at NTC. A good butt-kicking would nip a lot of these problem behaviors.

the answer is forty-two

In the late 1970s, a British radio program, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy introduced me to brilliant satire, a science fiction story, and more of the British wit I already enjoyed in another British show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. A book (Douglas Adams), television and a 2005 movie popularized the story for fans.

For those who are not fans, the story introduces us to Arthur Dent, an ordinary English guy, completely lacking in self-confidence, who finds one morning that his home is scheduled for demolition by the local government planning commission – to put a highway where it sat. He commiserates with a friend, Ford Prefect, who it turns out is an extraterrestrial who has come to rescue him. Apparently some galactic planning commission intends to destroy the Earth that day, to put through some highway of its own.

The story involves several humorous jabs at bureaucracy, technology, space travel, romance, and political incompetents. At one point, the plot story describes that some galactic beings – in the form of common mice – commissioned a computer to answer the question, “what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?”. The answer, “42” confuses them, so they seek a second computer to find the specific question that “42” satisfies. Before they could get a satisfactory answer, the computer – Earth – was destroyed for that highway mentioned earlier. At the end of the story, everything is made right again with a newly-assembled planet Earth, but the mice-beings and their quest for the eternal answer are thwarted by Arthur.

Sometimes I think that the eternal answer to the meaning of Life will continue to elude most people. For the rest? Love your neighbor, enjoy the time you have, and most importantly, do not misplace your towel.

“Golden years” or “Fools Gold”?

The idea of outliving my money scares the hell out of me. But worse, would be to have a chronic health problem, and being unable to get the help needed to maintain a “quality of life”.

Unless the United States becomes insolvent, a military retiree or a combat veteran will not go without some social or health services. Being eligible to obtain certain benefits or services, however, is not a guarantee of actually receiving aid. If the person seeking benefits does not have an advocate- either a relative or some knowledgeable case worker – the system may never actually connect the need with the claimant. In recent months, a veteran who had been eligible, for decades, for a benefit – and had not received it – was compensated by the Veterans Administration with back pay. This was a significant boost in that veteran’s access to healthcare and standard of living. In another case, a combat veteran, with a heart condition, received lifesaving surgery, and when his deplorable living conditions were investigated, received a stipend and moved to suitable housing.

Recent requests for aid from an elderly family member, not a veteran, living thousands of miles away, highlighted a similar dilemma. Care is available, but several conditions including a debilitating nerve disease, a passive nature, and the anonymity of living in a huge city complicate matters. Yet, with services and people available to render support, a mentally-competent person, elderly civilian or veteran, has to voluntarily accept assistance. In this instance the relative refused it.

As a veteran, a retiree, and having a close network of family, friends, social and civic organizations, I will unlikely face the prospect of outliving aid. For many though, without “connection” and proper planning during a person’s working life, post-retirement “golden years” can be disappointing “fools gold”.

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

taps

Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

An Army veteran and great-grandfather, Rudy was buried Monday. This nonagenarian was full of life and wisdom up until he died, and it was evident in all those who shared his impact in their lives. After an Army enlistment, he spent a career in industry. And his interests were just as varied as his life: step-father and father, an artist and sculptor, avid tennis player and golfer. Asked for advice at various times he would tell stories guiding the person asking to decide the answer for herself.

At the graveside for the rendering of military honors, an Army bugler played “Taps. The most memorable scene most in attendance missed, was noted by a child’s grandmother during the playing of “Taps”. His 14-month old great-grandson had been squirming, smiling, and making “mam…mam” noises for most of the preceding service. But the little boy became still in his mother’s arms, and cried silently as the bugler played.

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

the paint locker

When I wandered over to the Paint desk at my local Lowes, I had been tasked by my favorite “Admiral”, my spouse, to rehab our kitchen. This is where “Boats” comes in. Retired Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate, was, appropriately enough, working the Paint counter at Lowes the day I came looking for “cabinet” paint. I was wearing one of my favorite Retired CPO shirts, and we connected. During my career afloat in the Navy, I learned that salt water corrodes metal seven days a week, so it was a continual task for our Deck Division to chip paint and remove rust, and apply new. When it was needed, all hands took part in priming and painting.

Though our residence has never put to sea, periodic painting inside and outside is considered routine. At least, for married homeowners. My neighbor across the street completely rebuilt their kitchen at the behest of his spouse. Fortunately, I have a fiscally understanding Chain of Command. Since I am not a professional painter, Boats told me about cabinet paint and how to prepare the surfaces for painting. I bought a small can of primer, tinted to what we think we like, today. With friends coming over to dinner this week, I only got started before it was time to pack it up. Long ago, the mission would have been ’round the clock, to prepare everything for dignitaries arriving. Unfortunately, Senior Chief will be unavoidably detained.

laughing matters

“It’s good to be here. I’m just trying to go through life without looking stupid. It’s not working out too well. ”
Brian Regan

https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/98398.Brian_Regan

Laughing at oneself is a skill only a few can make into a successful career. And doing so, consistently and without throwing in “F-bombs”, sexual humor, or biting political satire in the mix is more rare. Brian Regan is one such successful “clean” comedian. After years of working in mentally-challenging careers, me, with rapidly-changing priorities, technical challenges to resolve, and demanding schedules, and my spouse performing management and ‘crisis’ counseling of staff, students, and the bureaucracy of an educational institution, we are exhausted. With family drama in one spouse’s family, or the other, or our own for more than a decade, we have relied on laughter to help one another. Laughter is really the best medicine. Next to exercise and improving our diet.

hook ups

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

For anyone who has served honorably in the military, the experience, and camaraderie among enlisted men and women (and undoubtedly among commissioned officers, too) indelibly stamps one’s character. We tend to recognize each other, long after having served, from our demeanor, appearance, and way of speaking. Sometimes, we can approach each other with a particular attitude or sense of humor which can be off-putting for any but another military veteran. It’s a veteran sort of thing.

Over the years, as I have gotten my car serviced, purchased materials at a home improvement store, or had work done at home, a veteran is often one of those doing the work. What branch of service or unit were you in? Where did you serve? What was your occupation? Small-talk that builds acquaintance. At the DMV, and the County Recorder office, when I use my retired military ID card, I have encountered veterans, and family members or spouse of a Brother or Sister veteran. And despite age differences, or service during different conflicts, those who can, generally will hook a “brother” up.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

In context, “hook ups” to a military member or veteran, means assistance, discount, bypassing bureaucratic “red tape”, exerting additional effort, and such, to meet the need of another vet or service member. As it happened today, I had requested a junk-removal service to come haul off several items that were bulky and difficult for me to be rid of.

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

One of the men who came was a Marine, “not currently serving” (whom civilians might regard as a “former” Marine, but a Marine should tell you that is a misnomer). He saw my “retired” Navy flag and asked me what I did in the service. We chatted a few moments as he and his partner hauled everything into their truck. And I received a little discount – probably 10 – 15 percent. Anytime you get a little help, particularly when it helps your wallet, it can be a nice “hook up”.

family bonds

Forty-two years ago, a kid from a dysfunctional family got off a bus from the airport at the entrance to the U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command, San Diego. The following eleven weeks for me and my fellow recruits physically, mentally, and spiritually reshaped us into a military unit and family. Through shared sufferings, goals, and mindset, we changed from unruly civilians into Sailors.

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof. – Richard Bach, novelist

http://www.wiseoldsayings.com/family-drama-quotes/

After a few years in the military and several more as a civilian, the Navy again became my “family”. Abandoned by an unhappy wife (she later was diagnosed with mental illness), my military family was preferable and predictable. During the years that relatives would not talk with one another – or with me, one divorced parent lay dying in hospice and the other was living purposely alone in the Sonoran desert. I rarely spoke with one of my mother’s siblings, never with the other or her daughters, and only after my mother’s passing have I deliberately and earnestly sought conversations and visits with my father’s relatives.

Here’s a news flash: No soldier gives his life. That’s not the way it works. Most soldiers who make a conscious decision to place themselves in harm’s way do it to protect their buddies. They do it because of the bonds of friendship – and it goes so much deeper than friendship. Eric Massa

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/eric_massa_481858

Over twenty-six years in the military, twenty years of fellowship in my church, eighteen and a half in marriage, and in fourteen years with a company where I just retired, did I develop a trust, a bond, mutual respect and joy with people I was related to only by common experience. My marriage is a gift of trust and joy shared not through shared DNA; it was her children accepting me and them accepted as “our kids” – proving that DNA does not define family.

35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13: 35 (NIV)

So when you see two or more veterans gathered together, laughing, crying, and swapping stories, they likely are not related, nor may they even be from the same service, or of the same generation, but all have common experience. They are family.

the fog of war, and other business problems

One of the most basic issues in business that causes inefficiency or worse, confusion, is miscommunication. And as things get more technology-dependent, communication stubbornly remains an obstacle to be overcome. Communication difficulties between people or now, also between machines, can be more than an irritant. With various militaries, it contributes to lacking situational awareness and can wreak havoc in wartime.

How does this relate to your or my business venture? Everyone has, at least once, experienced a presentation to prospective clients, current clients and co-workers “hang” for a sound issue, a wireless network password mismatch, or in certain situations, restricted or “secure” computer channels failing to connect due to out-dated “digital certificates”. Being able to handle the various unexpected situations that involve either the work site, the clients, problems with technology, or bureaucracy, is part of a successful entrepreneur’s skills.

Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven. I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without the talking about the other. Bill Gates

https://www.brainyquote.com

Anyone over age forty has at least heard of, if not actually used a fax machine. We use ‘analog” transmission (if you have ever misdialed a telephone number and heard a long series of tones or chirps- that’s fax) to transmit and receive client tests/reports. So it was that my business submits examinations via a fax to an nationally-recognized agency that scores and reports back in short order whether a prospective healthcare worker has passed or failed the exam.

What can possibly go wrong with that? Well, either with the human, the machine, or the medium being used! With experience, our management team recognizes when the scoring or report cover sheet is missing data “bubbles”. Or someone misses the instructions about using a pencil – and a specific one. at that. (We carry dozens to meet a need.) Anyone who has taken a multiple choice exam filled in with a No. 2 lead pencil might remember that “stray marks”, multiple “bubbles”, or incompletely-darkened ovals can be misinterpreted. Or in certain specific situations, a device with an internal battery was not charged prior to being needed. Or the communication system may be plagued with “poor line conditions” generally at the distant end we all agree , or equipment power issues. Sometimes, in an age of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), that is, phone running within the Internet, we have experienced a lack of connectivity before the “fax” transmits or receives.

fax machines
not a musical instrument nor a museum piece

In these situations, a successful business person should try to mitigate the embarrassment and irritation we all might feel. Take a moment to relax. Breathe deeply. Remain calm. And then, to quote a recent client, and entrepreneur who is a retired military man, in this situation, one only needs to “adapt and overcome”.

Save the children?

door-knocking

This evening I was almost carried away by a good-natured heart. After preparing dinner of grilled, fresh-caught fish my buddy shared with us, the dogs started to bark at the front door. A very tall young man with a big smile, wearing “Save the Children” attire was standing there. I went out to greet him. We get waves of door-knockers in summer, from the Jehovah Witnesses to the local high school footballer fund-raisers. As i knew he wanted a donation- everybody’s heard of this charity- I was willing to step outside.

Charity is a good thing. We believe in and support tithing to God through my church. We support a few nationally and internationally-active organizations. But as nice and hardworking as these young “Save” people are going door-to-door, to only allow donors to sign up for automatically-deducted, monthly, quarterly, or annual ‘suggested’ donations “you can cancel anytime” – set my “DECLINE” meter off. As fancy as their Ipad app is, I hesitated after he took my address and email information at the financial selections.

I do not feel any less charitable however, as i believe giving of your time, talent or finances to worthwhile causes often comes back to you in many positive ways. But we have to be prudent as well as generous. As for “Save the Children”, some complain that their generosity was taken advantage of. I have dealt with businesses where it takes more diligence and temerity to cancel a subscription than it ought.

As for the social media, “Save” seems to be fairly adept at this as well. Not five minutes after I finished my supper, and went to opine in this blog, Facebook was already showing me ads for “Save The Children” in my Feed!

I will probably look to see whether I can make a one-time donation through the web. I will still welcome young people who knock on doors. But my advice is to help children give to your church. Or to your community center. Or give to a local hospital.

Wild Bill, ain’t no fighting City Hall

If I’ve got any authority in Hays, Mrs. Lake isn’t going to pay this town a cent of license for showing, and if any man attempts to stop this show, then just put it down that he’s got me to fight.

Wild Bill Hickok, http://www.brainyquote.com

Some may wonder which came first, shaping stones and bone into spearpoints and arrowheads, or the village council that decided Mog and Og needed approval, licenses and regular inspections of their enterprise.

Eight thousand years later, an enterprising small business person who ventures into performing a service or providing a product, is supporting a community. She has not just her own family’s living to support, but an entire “industry” of bureaucrats, at the local, state and federal levels of Government. And in California particularly, as a businessperson, earning a living that minimizes the costly regulations that have environment, employment practices, taxes, fees and so forth, driving small businesses under.

Deciding to start one’s own enterprise, in California, and certainly elsewhere, requires a great deal of capital up front, a niche market, and establishing quickly an efficient organization. Mentors, business seminars and other resources can provide training and encouragement, but skilled and dedicated owners and employees find, serve and retain clients. Many, like myself, who have decades of employee experience, soon realize the challenge of one’s own business to balance investment, expenses, and fees against recurring income to make a decent return in the first and succeeding years. It takes planning, and frequent tweaking of the business model. The bureaucracy is another thing entirely.

After filing the regulatory paperwork with the State, including forming a Limited Liability Company, we loaned the business personal funds for the contractual and mandated types of insurances, paying filing fees, and notarizing documents, setting up business banking, bookkeeping, and a Google GSuite of Cloud-based calendar, business email and document storage. Since we were still working for our respective employers, tax considerations of incorporation or forming and LLC were and remain an important issue. Prior to earning a cent, our Liabilities were looking to be a very big motivator to getting our business moving forward.

As a residence-based service business, our enterprise does not operate in an office building, nor manufacture products, nor maintain an inventory. Operating out of a residence located in an unincorporated area, I learned that reporting the actual physical location – separate from the mailing address – in business organization documents would mitigate municipal taxes, inspections and other recurring fees. (The mailing address bears the nearby municipality name.)

But there are other concerns as well. Operating a business, even one that travels to a customer site as our business does, is required to file for a business license. The “gray area” that no municipal clerk whose job it is issuing business licenses and collecting fees, would likely err on the side of the entrepreneur – is whether a license to do business in every municipality that one performs a service – is required. Of course, every municipality’s City Hall will state categorically that a license is required by a business according to a list of industry types. Some types require fees and inspections from safety professionals, zoning and building code enforcement officials. Business coaches I have spoken with, concur that paying fees willy-nilly can quickly eat away an enterprise’s bottom line. While membership in associations that help small entrepreneurs may be a necessary expense, I am considering that expertise gained in those associations may help steer a small business toward profitability.

At least, one of my prospective clients is a State agency, so there is an opportunity, however slight, that money coming out of my pocket, might eventually trickle somewhat back to me. And while I might appreciate a Wild Bill Hickok helping me fight City Hall, I think even he might be outgunned, particularly if he has not paid the required 2019 firearm licensing and entertainment business fees.