Ben Zoldan in Stories | July 12, 2016 | No Comments

No Secrets

There is so much talk about aligning Sales with Marketing, Product Development with Delivery and Support, getting departments to all work together, integrating silos. But the conversations are so wildly insufficient.
I recently spent five hours with United States Navy Officer, Bob Hechtman, retired 24 years, former Commanding Officer of a U.S. Navy Guided Missile Destroyer.

What if, instead of integrating Sales & Marketing, your job was to get these departments to work together: Weapons (including Nuclear) with Navigation, Operations with Engineering, Combat Systems with Communications, etc., all in accordance with U.S. Navy policies, goals and its mission. I got a remarkable lesson from Captain Hechtman and he starts by sharing a story.

During an at-sea training period where ships are preparing for eventual deployment overseas, his ship was participating in a missile firing test against a drone target. All systems tests and checks indicated the missile system was in a “ready” status. When the target reached the outer edges of the firing range, the missile was fired. Five seconds into missile flight, the missile self-destructs. This is not good.

Missile system tests and checks are immediately redone and again all systems indicate “ready” status. A second target is acquired and a second missile is fired. Again, five seconds into flight, it self-destructs. This is really not good! Each missile costs about $250,000.

At this point, it is obvious that there is something seriously wrong with the missile fire control system, but it’s not being revealed in any of the tests. So, a fault investigative team of ship’s sailors and officers is formed to carefully examine the entire system. After extensive reviews of all documentation and retests, still no indication can be found.

All review team members worked as a team from the most junior technician to the most advanced Chief Petty Officer along with technically qualified officers, and all expressed their puzzlement and agreement that they didn’t know what the failure cause was. So, technical help was obtained from a shore advanced technical team and they together with the ship’s team had an open and honest exchange of information. Status regarding rank or rating, Navy or civilian, was not a factor as all regarded each other’s expertise and open communication.

“My goal was for them to determine the system fault, not “shoot the messenger”, Captain Hechtman tells me.

Eventually the fault was found to be a missile fire control design issue for one particular missile and it hadn’t yet been tested by the missile fire control design team. The fault was identified by a lower ranking technician. The ship’s team installed the “fix” and they proceeded to successfully complete the missile test.

The lesson learned, he shares, was that the open communication channels in the chain of command kept the information flow going whether good news or bad, and no one was afraid to give the Captain bad news even when things seemed grim. This permission allowed the team to operate without fear or threat to achieve a common goal for all.

I heard one amazing story after another from Captain Hechtman, and a theme started to emerge. He dispelled so many misconceptions I had about Leadership in the Military. I thought it was about power, rank, managing from the “top”, enforcement. Instead, he talked about something entirely different.

I wanted to know more. How do you foster a culture where even the lowest ranking crewman can solve some of the ships biggest problems? So I asked him.

He responds, “The School of the Ship”.
I had no idea what he meant.

He describes his ritual that during mealtime, he and his crew shared stories about everything, from Navy traditions, to the ship’s fighting systems, operations, command or ship support, to Navy policies and goals. But unlike Corporate America, the ritual wasn’t limited to the C-Level suite. And it wasn’t a “top-down” exercise. The School of the Ship used a well developed qualification system that lead to warfare qualification regardless of rank, rating or seniority.

The system was used as a means of open communication, confidence and trust building among shipmates, from the lowest ranking seamen, all the way through the XO’s and the Commanding Officer. Through the use of training, qualification board interviews and discussions conducted by all ranks and levels regardless of seniority, the crew would spend time together, with the intent that everyone knows each other, and knows what everyone is doing.

The School of the Ship cut across rank and bridged departments. This environment created a desire by all of the crew to want to participate and contribute to become warfare qualified like their shipmates for a common goal of holding the ship’s combat readiness paramount and sacred. This was the bedrock of warfare qualification for all levels in the ship.

He pauses and then says, “No secrets.” There can’t be any secrets on the ship. He talked about the affects of secrets and then talked about fear.

And it dawned on me. The story he shared about the Missile test was about cooperation and inclusion. And the answer lay in those two words: secrets & fear. When there are secrets, there is fear. Secrets lead to fear; the fear to speak up; fear to take risks; fear to admit a mistake, or even make mistakes in the first place.

Ever since meeting Captain Hechtman, I keep thinking about those two words. Secrets & Fear, and why are they so inextricably linked to each other. I didn’t have to look far.

Fear. Here was my very first “Management” lesson; my then Sales Manager brought me behind my new desk in my new office, literally walks me over to my chair, raises the chair so it sits as high as it goes, and tells me to always have my chair higher than the others. That was my very first lesson in so-called leadership.

It seems like a small thing at the time, but looking back, its wasn’t, and it serves as such a powerful metaphor for me now. Everything was about rank & seniority. Worse, the chair meant I was “more than”, I had status, rank, power. It kept people at arms length. It was the farthest thing from inclusion and cooperation. The result: it instilled fear and intimidation.

People felt smaller, “less than”. People were afraid to bring things up to me in an open, honest way. It made my feel powerful at the time, but as I soon learned, it doesn’t work.

A lot of my “management” training, though, started long before my time in Corporate America.

Secrets. This is something I know well. Here is where I’m an expert. Growing up at an early age, in the midst of turmoil, abuse, I learned to shove the bad stuff away, to not open up about the difficult things. Maintaining secrets was my way. Putting on a happy face was an attempt to make everything look ok on the outside.

I learned at a young age to keep secrets. But the weird thing is I didn’t know I was keeping secrets, and maybe that’s the real lesson. It was the culture around me; I didn’t have the Captain of the ship fostering permission. Nobody knew how to open the lines of communication.

Secrets were part of my survival. But that proved to unravel too. It led to either outbursts, or worse, total withdrawal. It’s a dysfunctional way of living.
Today, there’s so much evidence that secrets and fear still dominate many corporate cultures. I recently reconnected with an old colleague, who leads Sales Enablement for a pretty large tech company.

He was telling me how his time is solely focused on deal reviews, “scrambling to hammer home” (his words) that all deals in the pipeline have a tight sequence of events, customer’s pain clearly defined, the compelling event “locked and loaded”, and sponsors identified and qualified.

Along the way, data accuracy had to be verified and any missing key activities logged to show progress toward the deal close. The inspection was as process driven as it could be. He talked about the constant barrage by leadership, total process adherence or berating would result. That was the life of every sales manager in the company, all at the exclusion of openness and cooperation. Imagine that.

Worse, imagine working in that culture. Yet he kept sharing how frustrated he was and that he wanted to do something about it. So, I asked him about bringing his frustration up through the organization – to his boss and he stopped me, “Not a chance.”

And there it was; the lines of communication in his organization totally closed down. He didn’t feel safe, included; zero permission, intimated, scared to bring something up the chain.

Not coincidently, he talked about the continued struggle his company is experiencing; missing numbers each quarter, low morale, high turn over. And yet, his organization continues the cycle. Nobody feels they can make a difference.

But Captain Hechtman taught me there is a different way. Its not about beating people up, berating them, managing through power, intimidation and fear.

The most interesting thing after spending time with him, was that he didn’t once talk about the two things that dominate this conversation in Corporate America: accountability and process.

Clearly those things exist on a Navy Battleship, but it was as if those things were the commodity; the price of admission. He was reflecting on something deeper about our humanity; that cooperation is the way to live and lead and accomplish great things together.

That’s how we’re supposed to be. Its how we’re built. When people feel included and have permission, we feel part of something bigger than ourselves; we feel connected. Fear gives way to innovation, creativity and risk taking.

For me, its often a struggle. I sometimes feel my expertise lies in the other way, the old way. And, as I reflect on my time with Captain Hechtman, I am reminded that I want to lead, train, sell, parent, and live this new way.


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