Monday, April 13, 2009

Intrusive leadership

"Intrusive leadership" is what the Navy calls sticking your ass in someone else's business. The thing is, it's one of the greatest tools I have as a leader. Not necessarily the quality or capability for this leadership, but rather the culture that exists in the Navy in which it's okay for me to ask uber-personal questions of my sailors.

I've counseled my sailors who have to meet with child protective services, who are deep in debt to payday lenders, who are getting divorced, who just disappear for days at a time, who are breaking up someone else's marriage, who are struggling to get their citizenship and who are getting dishonorably discharged from the Navy. These are the most dramatic examples I could think of, but not that unusual.

I mean, everyone has money problems, family problems, health and legal problems from time to time. The civilian world can't be any different in those terms. What is different, though, is that I can, in fact I have to get involved in my people's problems. And it's one of the things I'll probably miss the most about the Navy. When one of my guys is struggling, it's common to get a call from their parents or their wife or their girlfriend or maybe they'll just come into my office or my stateroom and tell me all about it. Or I'll hear a rumor and pull them aside or my Chief will bring them to me. In the end it comes out and it needed to.

I had a whopper today and it was just the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes, when I've got a sailor in my office, things come out that you can't believe. Stories about how they joined, experiences they've had in the Navy or before they joined, when they were still in high school. Today I was ranting at this kid about how we were going to help him through his tough times and he laid out on us this hidden whopper. I had no idea this kid was facing these kinds of issues. He'd been working for me for almost five months, doing really well. But inside and at home he'd really been struggling. He really needed some slack at work to take care of his family, but we had no idea until it all blew up.

When I leave the Navy in less than two months, it will be strange to work with folks and have their personal lives be none of my business. I think the principle behind intrusive leadership will still be valid, though. And that is to know your people and support them and be available to them.