Monday, March 12, 2018

Kruse's Keys: Read "Turn the Ship Around" To Emancipate Your Company and Build Lasting Success

I first heard about “Turn the Ship Around” on college classmate Scott Macke’s Service Academy Business Mastermind podcast. In it, he interviewed the author, retired Captain David Marquet, and delved into both his writing process and his revolutionary leadership philosophy.

I let the book rest dormant on my amazon wishlist for months, however, because of my unfair bias against submariners. Despite some of my best friends being bubbleheads, I just didn’t associate leadership with that community. I wasn’t even a chapter into the book when I realized how misguided my bias had been.

There’s one episode in particular that sold me on Marquet as a leader that I would follow. My emphasis is on ‘as a leader’ because really, someone can put together a snappy, clever, well-marketed leadership product but people don’t follow a product--they follow a person. About midway through the book, Marquet shares the story of a nighttime passage the the strait of Malacca. This is a high risk evolution that nearly resulted in a collision with a tugboat if not for the exemplary and timely actions of one of his petty officers. As soon as the sub was clear, Captain Marquet immediately awarded the petty officer a Navy Achievement Medal on the spot. This floored me because despite it being a recognition that any Commanding Officer can give, I’d never seen it awarded other than at the end of someone’s tour. I’d say with confidence that my personal observations are indicative of trends across the Navy. If anything, commanding officers today tend to be more worried about awards inflation (i.e., too many O-4s getting DSMS for example) than actually providing timely recognition. Beyond that, I’ve had to put myself up for every award I’ve even gotten and usually end of tour awards arrive a year after you’ve already PCS’d (i.e., moved to your next assignment for my civilian readers). So I appreciated that Marquet not only cut through the bureaucracy (he did the write up afterwards, but also that he quickly and publicly recognized exemplary conduct. Marquet also made sure to have family members present whenever possible for awards--something commands often overlook.

As you can see in my "Key Takeaways" section, this book is packed with concrete actions leaders can take today to emancipate their subordinates (more on why Marquet prefers “emancipate” to the ubiquitous “empower” below.

*My 2018 reading list is here.

Key Quotes:
  • “You may be able to ‘buy’ a person’s back with a paycheck, position, power, or fear, but a human being’s genius, passion, loyalty, and tenacious creativity are volunteered only. The world’s greatest problems will be solved by passionate, unleashed “volunteers.” -Stephen R. Covey (xxi)
  • “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves. -Stephen R. Covey (xxi)
  • On the Navy’s short term focus: “Hundreds of captains [make] thousands of decisions to optimize the performance of their commands for their tour and their tour alone. If they did anything to for the long run it was because of an enlightened sense of duty, not because there was anything in the system that rewarded them for it. We didn’t associate an officer’s leadership effectiveness with how well his unit performed after he left. We We didn’t associate an officer’s leadership effectiveness with how often his people got promoted two, three, or four years hence. We didn’t even track that kind of information, All that mattered was performance in the moment. (14)
  • “When the performance of a unit goes down after an officer leaves, it is taken as a sign that he was a good leader, not that he was ineffective in training his people properly.” (15)
  • “Don’t move information to authority, move authority to information.” (49)
  • “Taking care of your people... [means] giving them every available and advantage to achieve their aims in life.” (172)
Key Takeaways:
  • One of the book’s strengths are the “how to” questions at the end of each chapter. Sometimes these include exercises you can use in your own company such as “Embedding cultural change” or “How to identify training gaps within your company/department”
  • Applying this all in your own organization: ID Excellence creation points. Internal and external processes (customer and physical world). What decisions do the owners of those process NEED to make to create excellence? What’s it take to get those owners to make those decisions? Drive to the intersection of technical competence, organizational clarity, and authority to make the decisions. (207)
  • How do you build company/unit/squadron/embassy/directorate identity? Require employees/subordinates to own both the problem AND the solution to it (xx).
  • Why is “empowerment” not the answer? Spoiler alert: Marquet prefers the term “emancipate.” A follower has limited decision-making authority but more detrimentally little incentive to give it his/her all. The fact that it takes the boss to empower ‘you’ is inherently disempowering (xxvi)
  • The cycle to transform an organization to leader-leader begins with a triple track parallel effort that is repeated continuously: divesting control, building technical competence, and strengthening organizational clarity--all while maintaining responsibility (xxx).
  • The Navy’s focus is short term--officers and units are effectively evaluated in three year cycles (i.e., tours). The success of the organization lives and dies with the leader. Marquet points out that in our military today “when the performance of a unit goes down after an officer leaves, it is taken as a sign that he was a good leader, not that he was ineffective in training his people properly.” The military’s worship for the cult of the individual is so strongly ingrained, that Marquet’s observation never occurred to me. In finishing “Turn the Ship Around,” I’ve become convinced that Marquet’s leader-leader model is one that could enable radical transformation within the U.S. military. Some questions to consider include:
    • Should the FITREPs of commanding officers only take into account their performance during their tour? 
    • Or is how the command performs after he/she leaves also a notable indicator of their leadership?
    • How can organizations operating on continuous turnover optimize performance?
    • How would you improve the military’s evaluation/fitrep system?
  • Begin your arrival to a leadership position with a focus on your people’s actions and interactions (20)
  • What are your inbrief questions? That is, as a new leader what questions do you ask of your employees to understand your organization? Conversely, what questions do you ask new employees who check-in with you? 
    • What are the things you are hoping I don’t change?
    • What are the things you secretly hope I do change?
    • What are the good things about our company we should build on?
    • If you were me what you would do first?
    • Why aren’t we doing better?
    • What are your personal goals for your tour here (for the next two years in a civilian company)?
    • What impediments do you have to doing your job?
    • What will be our biggest challenge in accomplishing XXX large project?
    • What are biggest frustrations with how the company is currently run? 
    • What’s the best thing I can do for you? (24)
  • Lead with curiosity, ask people about their roles not as a test but as you would an outside person who just wants to know what they do--earn trust before you start critiquing. (26)
  • Leaders involve widest audience for recognition. If you have an award, give the awardee time to invite their family and/or friends but also give it in a timely manner, or on the spot if appropriate. (33)
  • Importance of psychological ownership (37)
  • Two barriers to delegating decision-making: lack of subordinate technical competence and misunderstanding of organization goals. (58-9)
  • Good decisions are a combination of technical competence and clear grasp of an organization’s purpose/interest. (60)
  • There’s power in a leader embracing the “caring but not caring” paradox. This means caring about those under you and your company at the expense of consequences to yourself. (64)
  • Instilling the idea of the 3-name rule: Good morning Mr. Smith, I am Jack Kruse, welcome to Bell. When this becomes an ingrained habit, it goes a long way toward embedding a culture of ownership--that is, I associate the most basic of interactions--a greeting--with my own identity and that of my company. When I was the wing safety officer I started using the tagline “I am aviation safety” after reading an article about a clothing company whose employees espoused a similar ethos. (68)
  • One step toward emancipation is shifting the way information is communicated. This involves shifting subordinates from passive to active: i.e., ‘I’d like to’ or ‘can we’ to ‘I intend to’ or ‘I will’ (83)
  • Eliminate top-down control mechanisms to build ownership--do you have unnecessary meetings? (97)
  • A resilient company has employees that think out loud to build context. (103)
  • In the Navy, we often dread inspections, Inspector General inspections come to mind. The idea of embracing inspectors shows an important mindset because employees ideally can mine inspectors for best practices they’ve seen elsewhere. (112)
  • Shift to deliberate action: Before any action pause, vocalize and gesture. This can also be used in administrative scenarios where these three steps are done prior to approving purchasing or submitting requests. We have an obvious parallel in naval aviation where we say “slow is fast and fast is slow” and “no fast hands in the cockpit.” (124)
  • Incorporating “we learn” into your organizations creed. Learning is more active than training. The purpose of training is to build technical competence to drive down decision making lower. (129)
  • Use an off-site exercise idea to determine what training is needed in your department or company. (132)
  • To drive engagement = certify, don’t brief. The military is rife with briefings prior to evolutions, exercises etc. Marquet points out a major deficiency with a ‘briefing mentality’--it can become a passive exercise where everyone zones out as the briefer drones on. I experienced this first hand as a naval aviator, often when I wasn’t giving the brief, I would just lay back and let the guy/gal in charge do all the work. When you certify everyone is safe and ready to complete a task you switch to interaction between the lead briefer and those under him/her. (141)
  • The power of repetition cannot be understated in inculcating a new message or program within a company. (149)
  • Give your people goals, not methods. Having prescribed methods unnecessarily constrains your team’s creativity. (159)
  • Guiding principles should guide decisions for your organizations. (179)
  • For military leaders looking to get their subordinates to think long term/strategically: have them write their end of tour awards at the beginning of their tours. Early on his tour as Commanding Officer, Marquet sat down individually with his junior officers and gave them a week to write their end of tour awards. Then he met with them for a mentoring session to go through their prospective/desired objectives. You can probably guess that while most people initially come up with impressive sounding achievements they fall short in coming up with measurable/verifiable objectives. That because it’s hard work to think critically and take the time to measure your work. This is also where you have a chance to identify gaps in your organization (i.e., places where there’s no measuring system in place) and shift from a mentor-mentee relationship to a mentor-mentor one. Ideally, this process develops both the leader and his subordinate. For those in the corporate world, Marquet recommends, having your team members write out 1, 2 and 3 year performance evaluations. What methods have you found effective in pushing your team to think long term? (190-3)
  • Blind obedience is a symptom of a disempowered organization and can cripple mission accomplishment. Encourage questions! (200)
  • Great reference table: Do This, Not That (205)
Key References
  • Start with Why” (46)
  • Built to Last” (56)
  • Visual Display of Quantitative Information” (75)
  • Out of the Crisis TQL (98)
  • Control and Chaos (126)
  • Briefing (137)
  • What is NIPO’s legacy? Motto? (183)
  • Gamification (187)
  • Chapter 2 of 7 Habits of Highly Effective people: ‘Begin With The End In Mind.”
  • Empowerment and Emancipation (212)
  • While Marquet focuses on military units, this is easily applicable to any unit/company/organization with a high turnover. Embassies come to mind, as well as the various sections within an embassy. For military offices in an embassy, such as the Offices of Security Cooperation (OSCs, ODCs etc), the difficulty is applying Marquet’s thesis is that there aren’t currently good metrics by which to evaluate one office in comparison to the other. The Combatant Commander in all likelihood knows who his/her best OSC Chief is (i.e., the individual) but there’s not currently any way to evaluate an ODC as a whole. A Battle E equivalent would likely take into account IG inspection results, Physical Fitness...what else?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Kruse's Keys: Read "Memoirs of a Porcupine" to Learn About a Congolese Serial Killer...Porcupine (Republic of Congo)

So this is a difficult novel from renowned author Alain Mabanckou.  Hailing from the Republic of Congo (the good one--hint: if a country has the name "democratic" or "democracy " in it, it's probably not), ubiquitous writer Mabanckou has penned a pointed tale aimed at taking down the role of backwoods superstition amidst modernity--at least that's what really smart people say he was doing.  I will admit I didn't really understand the point of this novel and had to do some research to come to this deeper aforementioned conclusion.  As I finished the last pages of this story, I was pretty disappointed I hadn't picked a different Congolese novel for my Reading the Continent project.  But in my research afterwards, I discovered the book was the 2006 Renaudot prize winner (given to the best original French language novel) and so in the aftermath, I've decided to give it a second chance--at least on an intellectual level.

Key Takeaways:

  • If you are only going to read one novel from the Republic of Congo, do NOT make it this one.  An ideal "Reading the Continent" selection is one that sheds light, or offers texture to a specific period of history in the subject country.  "Memoirs of a Porcupine" won't leave the reader better understanding the specific politics, history or culture of Congo beyond a knowledge that many people may still deeply embrace the superstitious.  I might recommend instead "The Lights of Pointe-Noire" which will likely take this one's place on my Reading the Continent List.
  • This tale centers around a boy and porcupine that have possessed each other--the porcupine is the 'harmful double' of a young village boy named Kibandi.  Evidently there are also 'peaceful doubles', but that's not what this tale is about.  As the narrator porcupine unfolds the tale of his life, the reader follows his journey from mere animal to Kibandi's hitman assassin.   The narrative eventually devolves into a murderous spree of anyone who happens to given even minor offense to Kibandi.  
  • A notable practice in the novel is that of "trial by corpse" where a group of men hold up the murdered person and that dead person "directs" them to the guilty party.  This superstitious practice has some commonality with the former Malagasy practice noted in "Beyond the Rice Fields." For a long time Kibandi evades detection by putting a nut up his butt...yes his butt.  

Key References (For Further Study):
Three Writers from the Republic of Congo

Key Quotes: 

  • the universally dreaded trial by corpse, where the corpse picks out its aggressor, is widely used in these parts, whenever someone dies, the villagers rush to do it, to their minds there’s no such thing as a natural death, only the dead can tell the living who caused their death (94).
  • ‘sit at the foot of a baobab tree, and given time, you’ll see the whole universe pass before you’, our old porcupine used to say, he told us that at that time the baobabs could talk, respond to humans, punish them, whip them with their branches when the monkey cousins took up arms against the plant world and in those days he went on, the baobabs could move about, find themselves a more comfortable spot where they could take better root, some of them came from far, far away, they would pass other baobabs going the other way because one always tends to think that the soil elsewhere is better than one’s native soil, that life is easier elsewhere (100).
  • what I really didn’t want to do was watch the poor innocent child taking leave of this life just because of the stupidity and irresponsibility of his father, that I did not want to see, and yet something about it bothered me, I felt ashamed of my own reflection in the water, I went to the funeral, perhaps hoping for some kind of forgiveness, I heard the poor folk singing their funeral songs, and I wept (120).
  • I’ve got two ideas I’d like to follow up, first I’d like to wage a merciless campaign against all the harmful doubles in this country, I know that’s a big undertaking, but I’d like to hunt them down, one after the other, by way of atonement, to wipe out my share of responsibility for the misfortune suffered by this and many other villages, and second, dear Baobab, I’d simply like to go back and live in our old territory because spending so much time with men has made me nostalgic, it’s a feeling you might call territory-sickness, men would say homesickness, a longing for their country, I cling to my memories as the elephant clings to his tusks, distant images, vanished shades, far off noises which stop me doing something irreparable, oh yes, irreparable, I do think of that too, of taking my own life, but it’s the most cowardly of all acts, and just as human beings believe their existence comes from a supreme being, I have come to believe it too, since last Friday, the reason I’m still alive, for porcupine’s sake, must be because some higher will than mine has decreed it, and if so, I must have one last mission to carry out here below (149)

Monday, February 5, 2018

2011 Reading List

You can see our lists from 2009, 20102011201320142015, 2016, and 2017.  You can also see my Reading the African Continent List here.

The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley Jack’s favorite book of the year and #1 recommendation for a book about Africa.
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins  The official Team Jamily book recommendation for 2011!
It Happened on the Way to War by Rye Barcott
What is the What? by Dave Eggers
Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Help by Kathyrn Stockett
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
The Cairo Trilogy by Maguib Mahfouz
The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell
The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Whiteman by Tony D’Souza
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

2010 Reading List

You can see our lists from 20092011201320142015, 2016, and 2017.  You can also see my Reading the African Continent List here.

Below is the reading list we enclosed in our 2010 Christmas letter.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Language of Secrets
The Last Song
The Lovely Bones
Breaking Dawn

2009 Reading List

You can see our lists from 20102011201320142015, 2016, and 2017.  You can also see my Reading the African Continent List here.
Below is the reading list we enclosed in our 2009 Christmas letter (our first as the Kruse family!).

Three Cups of Tea: An amazing tale of perseverance and sacrifice, but we  couldn’t help but to feel bad for his lonely wife and kids who seem to play second fiddle to his quest to help the children and the and people of Afghanistan. UPDATE:  This guy has since proved a fraud in a pretty major way.

Blue Like Jazz: A well written, thoughtful, frank and honest story about one man’s journey for meaning in his life.  Buy this one and read it this year!

Water for Elephants: If you ever wondered what circus life was like during the depression era, check out this quick read.  And what a great movie this will be!

Love and Respect: This book should be mandatory reading for all married or soon to be married couples.  From a purely analytical aspect, it hits at the heart of the issue most important to men and women.

The Shack : Yes, this was on all the best-seller lists, but most importantly this is the first book that Emily and I ever read together.  Beautiful imagery and relatable metaphors peripherally addresses the issue of why bad things happen. I say peripherally because in reading the book you realize that you will never get an answer to this question because it’s the wrong question to ask in the first place.

The Hakawati: A loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ooooooooooong book (over 500 pages) that is really of loosely connected conglomeration of old Persian folk tales.  This book took us months to read.  

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter: While heart wrenching, this novel about the dangers of buried secrets fails when the author refuses to take a stand on any of the character’s flawed decisions.

My Sister’s Keeper: A tear-jerker to be sure, but a little too convenient in the ending (although Emily disagrees with my own all too convenient one line synopsis of the book).

Ballistics: Poems: Do yourself a favor, put down this letter, go over to your computer, type in Amazonand find this book, order it.  This is the most accessible book of poetry published in the last ten years.  

Babylon by Bus: An incredible true story, but one whose second half turned out to be a yawn, bogged down by a narrator infatuated with himself.  

Time Traveler’s Wife: A heartbreaking story that addresses both the complexities and strength of love.  Time travel hasn’t been this interesting since Michael J. Fox hopped in the Delorean!