Today’s Tuesday Reading is an essay by Theresa Bamrick, CIO at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory operated by Stanford University. Her essay first appeared as a leaders program reflection last fall. [Theresa may be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.]
I come from a cranberry and fishing town near Cape Cod, MA. My parents were born in the Greatest Generation, when survival and self-sufficiency were the keys to getting by. Both worked to support their families, and neither completed high school. Consequently, I was raised with an emphasis on creative solutions that didn’t require money (great foundation for working at a Lab!), and on long-forgotten Yankee skills like splitting wood, canning the summer’s harvest, and hunting for the winter’s meat. My parents valued practical knowledge over academics, and didn’t understand the importance of higher education as a path toward professional achievement. Utterly unaware that there was a way I *could* go to college out of high school, I combined a profound sense of patriotism with a compelling desire to get out of a no-future rut and joined the Marines at 18.
United States Marine Corps: Images of heroism, selfless valor, fitness, service, grit, pride. There were less than 5000 females (out of a force strength of over 200,000) in the Marine Corps when I enlisted. And those of us who challenged the Old Corps were pioneers in the ultimate male-dominated industry. I worked in signals intelligence and ground electronic warfare, and was a Chinese linguist and cryptanalyst. I finished my second tour with the Corps as a Chinese instructor at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey.
As I thought about our Stanford leadership lesson, about the balance between leading, managing, and doing, I reflected on my decade in the Corps. While I don’t recall any specific acts of heroism or valor, I can tell you that there were many lessons I still carry with me to this day from those amazing years.
I learned about placing people first – their training, development, well-being, and never leaving anyone behind. I learned about trusting and empowering my people to act in accordance with the overarching mission and objectives of the greater organizations. As an individual contributor, or perhaps a small team of specialists in a particular domain, the lives of my platoon, company, and battalion might be at stake based on MY level of job expertise – and I learned the importance of how my role was integral to the achievement of the mission. I swelled with the pride of doing work well and being recognized for it to the further pride of my unit, and I learned about the value of recognizing others for their efforts and dedication to excellence. How to praise publicly, and how to counsel privately.
I learned about teamwork, and that no task is beneath someone when it has to be accomplished for the good of the organization – scheduling, sharing, fairness, pitching in. I learned how to give briefings to non-technical, and non-domain strategists so they could use my work to form tactical and strategic courses of action.
I learned about multiculturalism, both from the people I served with, and from the places I was stationed. I learned about international relations through civic duty – on one deployment to the DMZ in Korea, my company commander volunteered us to help the local village plant rice. We spent a lot of time getting to know people with fewer than 20 words of language in common. I got great exposure to cross-functional collaboration as we shared resources and missions with the Navy and the NSA.
I saw masterful agility, mobility (long before it was a tech buzz word), and logistical sophistication. Lots of people cannot pack effectively for two weeks’ vacation with the family, yet our logisticians could deploy our battalion, fully-self-sufficient, for 6 months on a week’s notice. Imagine three 18-21 year-old cooks, handling the planning and preparation of 3 meals a day for 300 Marines on a mountain 30 miles from the nearest village.
A thousand lessons in leadership, management, and the importance of executing everything from the shine on the edge of your shoes to a report headed for the White House with exemplary standards of excellence.
I don’t know that a leader can actually be all things to all people, but I think the greatest lessons from those years were around the importance of values-based leadership. Leading in service to others and holding true to integrity and honor as your highest pillars. These are the kind of things that the people you lead and serve can hold onto in turbulent times of change, and that will help guide them to follow your leadership. Know yourself. Know and demonstrate your values, and lead others by knowing them, and remaining true to your principles.
These are very powerful words from Theresa. Take a moment, go back and read and reflect on principles Theresa listed. Ones that spoke loudly to me included place people first, trust and empower, recognize others, praise publicly, counsel privately, teamwork, fairness, getting to know people, cross-functional collaboration, executing with exemplary standards of excellence, values-based leadership, service to others, holding true to integrity and honor, knowing yourself, knowing and demonstrating your values, remaining true to your principles.
Each of these could become the basis for a new practice. Perhaps you might want to select one to work on in the next few weeks.
Make it a great week for you and your team. . . . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates. He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.