Sunday, December 27, 2009

Belated Merry Christmas

I went back to the east coast for Christmas and had a very nice time visiting family and friends.

Here's a little video from an afternoon of ice skating...my favorite part is my friend's cackle. I never said I was *good* at it.

video
Now I'm back in Hawaii...without my luggage, but with the start of a nasty cold. That'll make this next week interesting.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Mentors

I originally wrote this post about a year and a half ago, just when I took over MAUI in Bahrain and started blogging. It was probably my second post ever, but I think it's good enough to repost, especially since I've been talking about doing it for a while. Maybe it's solely an opportunity to brag about myself and my successes, but these five women, whether they know it or not, had a huge hand in my current situation.

The first and most influential is my very first boss ever. I was 14 when I started working at Larriland Farm for Lynn Moore. I was very impressionable. She was my boss on and off for seven years, as I finished high school and entered college. I didn't know much about myself, what I wanted to do, or where I was going with my life. She exuded confidence as she ran the family farm with her two brothers. She took care of the marketing, selling the fruits and vegetables produced on the farm at the on-site barn market, in the pick-your-own fields, at a satellite market, and at about half a dozen farmers' markets in the local region. Looking back on it now, I'm impressed all over again at how many moving parts she kept track of...I mean, for goodness sake, Lynn kept a crew of nearly 20 teenagers motivated during the sticky humid heat of East Coast summers to actually care about making sure all the strawberries/tomatoes/blueberries/peaches were completely picked from each row before moving on the next one.

But on to some of the lessons I learned from her, with their translations that I've figured out over the last (good gawd!!) twenty plus years:

1. Always put tools back where you found them. Translation: Be responsible about equipment. Even a stapler. Someone else depends on being able to find it when they need to use it. CG translation = configuration management

2. If someone asks you a question, and you don't know the answer, politely say, "I don't know, but let me find out for you." And follow through with an answer. Translation: Customer service is important in nearly every job anywhere. As a supervisor, my subordinates are my customers and I need to make sure they have what they need to get their jobs done. And following through ensures that something is done correctly.

3. Before you start an engine, check the oil. Translation: Take care of your stuff; don't abuse it. It'll last longer that way. CG translation = Preventative Maintenance Systems (yes, the acronym for that is PMS, which I've always thought was a little unfortunate)

4. Be knowledgeable about the details. Translation: Know your stuff. Bluster will only get you so far if you don't have any credibility.

5. From her brothers (who are both over 6 feet tall), push the seat all the way back when you get out of the truck. Translation: Be considerate of other people, embrace the diversity of perspectives working with others provides.

6. Product quality is singularly important. Translation: Uh, duh. But even with the simple stuff, make sure there're no typos, commas are in the right place, and use spell check. There's so much more credibility in appearing literate.

7. Presentation, presentation, presentation. Translation: People pay more attention when something is attractively presented. Use colors and be creative.

8. Always wear sunscreen (I wasn't ever so good at that one), a hat and sunglasses when you go out for field work, and take a jug of water.

Those are all basic job skills. One of the leadership skills I learned from Lynn was the importance of giving people the opportunity to learn and develop skills on their own. I remember being sent out to the blackberry field to prune the canes. It's not a particularly hard job, but in order to maximize production and make picking easier, there's a certain amount of skill required. Lynn took a group of about six of us out to the field, talked through what the goals of the project were, explained why each was important, then gave us a demonstration on a handfull of sections. And then she left us alone! She came back in about an hour to check on our progress, gave us a couple of pointers and then left again. It was brilliant.

I learned later, from LAMS (Leadership and Management School), that tactic works well with motivated, but unknowledgable subordinates. There's a whole matrix: unknowledgeable/unmotivated, unknowledgeable/motivated, knowledgeable/unmotivated, knowledgeable/motivated. Lynn's practice gave me a concrete example of the benefits of knowing and understanding your subordinates.

And somehow, despite 80+ hour work weeks around greasy tractors and farm equipment, dirt roads and rotten produce, she managed to have the most beautiful hands.

My next mentor was Dr. Carolyn Orr, the Agriculture Department Head at Berea College where I got my Bachelor's degree. She was the youngest of five professors, and the only woman in a heavily male-dominated field. All the others were old white men, very firmly entrenched in the agricultural practices developed during the Green Revolution in the 1970s.

Carolyn taught me the importance of presence. You knew when Carolyn walked into the room. Sometimes it was because she was loud and yelled at people to get her point across, but more than that I think it was her own self-confidence that did not allow her to be ignored. And god bless her patience with my best friend and me as we cracked jokes and snickered our way through the summer job program at the College Farms.

Dr. Nancy Creamer was my graduate advisor at North Carolina State University and taught me the necessity of being passionate about my job. From what I remember about working with Nancy, she truly believes in the importance of the work that she does. It's practical and easily applied to real-world situations that can almost immediately benefit her target audience. While she puts in long hours, travels extensively away from her family, and constantly fights the inanity of an institutional bureaucracy, her work has meaning and the goal of making the world a better place.

While I agree with the Coast Guard's goals, unfortunately, I can't say I have a deep, underlying commitment to our methods. I will support them to the best of my ability, because that's what I do. My command philosophy states that [a job worth doing is worth doing to the best of my ability, so that I can look back and be able to honestly tell myself that I've faced every task and challenge to the best of my ability. This is the only way the sacrifices I've made will have been worthwhile.] But that's selfishly for my own benefit.

I joke sometimes that I sold my soul by being a cutterman, instead of a duck-scrubber, which was my original interest on coming into the Coast Guard over ten years ago. I know I made the right choice for my personal sanity. But, the cutter's belching diesel exhaust, lack of thorough recycling program and practice of discharging sewage outside of three nautical miles from land still go against my own personal beliefs of environmental stewardship and simple living. I guess the lesson I have to take from Nancy is to enjoy at least something of what I do. And I do absolutely. I love driving the ship, working with the people, and seeing all the fantastical sights there are to see. I think part of what I like about it is that I'm pretty good at it.

I took a professional break after graduate school and worked as a receptionist at a massage therapy school. The director, Kathleen Grey, was a very kind woman, dedicated to making people feel better and ease their pain. My job at the school was by no means challenging, but Kathleen taught me a lesson that I think a large number of professional, driven women forget...Take care of yourself. She made her students take Tai Chi and yoga to strengthen themselves personally before she allowed them to practice bodywork on other people.

I'm still working on the fitness attitude for this one...I do my best to get three workouts in a week, when we're inport. Underway is a *whole* 'nother story, especially with this port and starboard nonsense we've got going on right now. But regular yoga, occasional massages and nightly face cream are all vestiges of working with Kathleen that I really enjoy.

CAPT Beverly Kelley (ret) is the last of this group of mentors. She joined the military the year I was born. She fought some historic gender battles to earn her commands, and was the first woman in command of many of the units at which she served. I could not have asked for a better introduction to being a female officer than to have worked for her. I remember getting frustrated with her frequently for her seemingly embittered stance when it came to women in the military. I knew she had had to fight to get where she was, but why was she still fighting those battles, when things were so normalized for women in the military now? Well, nine years and five units later, I think I understand better. It is far, far easier for women, but it's still not a totally comfortable environment for, well, at least me. I should know better by now than to make generalizations that put word into other people's mouths. But CAPT Kelley, thanks for all you did along your way to make my path that much smoother.

So those are my mentors. One last note on this topic of mentors, though. I experienced a complete perspective shift when I was OPS on a WHEC, where I was the senior female onboard a ship of 160 people, about 20 of whom were women. By default, I became a mentor for them. I still keep in touch with some of them, and it's amazing to hear about their successes and triumphs, and watch them struggle through the difficulties. I never set out to influence them, but through my position and experience I was able to offer them some perspective on how to persevere through and be happy with themselves along the way...or at least I hope that's what I did.

I wanted to honor and thank those women that influenced me professionally. So, ladies, thanks! I wish the best for you all and am so grateful for the opportunities that I've had because of what I've learned from each of you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Plate of Spaghetti

I'm a food-nerd...self-ascribed and-admitted. So it's totally in character for me to use food metaphors. Here's my food metaphor for my job...it's a double helping of oil-slicked angel hair pasta ('cause that's my fave), slopped onto a tea saucer. Some days I fool myself into thinking that I can keep every strand of pasta perfectly balanced on the plate. But most days I'm more realistic and realize that there is no way humanly possible that I can keep every single carb from falling off. My responsibility is to not let the important stuff slide off, and to decide what is less important that can be slurped up later.

I think that most operational units are like this. I really don't know about shore /support jobs...I haven't had enough of those to really make a call on that. But with operational units, you've got personnel, operations, engineering, guns, awards, classified material, training, medical, schedules, message traffic, SORTS, community relations, port calls and morale, readiness standards, AOPS/TMT, surging lines that need adjusting, meetings, inspections, human relations, assist visits, CASREPS, parts, budgets, and that's just the stuff from the top of my head in about two minutes.

I do my best to prioritize what I keep on the saucer. My XO says that my metaphor lends itself to just constantly putting out fires, which is definitely a possibility. But if I can define what is important to me, as the ship's leader, I can help build little birds' nest pastas that keep critical stuff as a basic building block of the whole heap.

I afford my personnel a very high level of importance. If I take care of my crew, they'll take care of me. Or said another way, I can't do their jobs, but I can make sure they have the tools, training, time and environment with which to do their jobs. Operations are also important to me...that's what this gig is all about, why it's fun. I'm also finding that material condition, readiness and sustainability are important to me. If the equipment doesn't work, we can't do the mission, and we're wasting time, money and effort until it gets fixed, and fixed the right way.

Jeez, I just realized I'm parroting an ALCOAST from a while back where the Commandant talked about People, Mission and Stewardship. But it's really true, those are the basics of what makes this organization work and last.

Those three things cover a lot of what's on the plate, but of course it's more complicated than that. All junior officers learn from a very young CG age that there are some things that you just don't mess around with because they are career enders. This list includes money, guns/bullets and security issues. So those *must* stay on the plate. However, because they're so important, there are myriad ways for them to be messed up. Two small pieces of guns and security slipped from my plate today. Whooooop, just slithered away. I see the durn buggers on my lap making gross grease stains on my trousers, but they're slippy and small and round, and really, really hard to get back on the plate once they've fallen off. I can make sure no more of that particular flavor of pasta fall off the plate, but I can't go back into the past, and return to the plate the ones I let slip off.

And I've got to get over the fact that they're gone. Learn from my mistakes so I don't make the same ones over again, and then...move on. It's harder than it sounds.

Just for the record, I'm not eating pasta tonight...I just had a bowl of some awesome homemade beef and barley stew.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"He's Going To Be OK, But..."

We got back from an almost week-long patrol this morning. It was a good trip, with lots of diverse operations. XO and I are port and starboard, so we stood six-on-six off for the week. That means I stood watch from 0600 to 1200, he stood watch from 1200 to 1800, then I stood watch again from 1800 to 2400 and then he had watch again from 0000 to 0600. It means neither one of us got much sleep. But it was easy to keep going, especially being surrounded by the perseverance and enthusiasm of the crew as we went from port, waterways and coastal security, to law enforcement, to maintenance, to law enforcement, to search and rescue. I think I'm the one that whined the most about standing soooo much watch, because I certainly didn't hear it from any of the crew!

When we left at the beginning of the week, we left behind one crew member. This is a usual practice for us, because we're overbilleted, which means we have more crew than we have racks to sleep them all. And I won't let people hot-rack, or share racks. Life underway is hectic enough without having your own personal space, even if it is only 6 ft by 3 ft by 3 ft.

The person that stays behind is usually busy enough anyway, getting mail, answering phones, running errands and doing stuff that needs to be done at the office. And handling lines for us when we get underway or pull in. So I was a little annoyed this morning when we pulled in and there was no one waiting on the pier for us to handle lines. It meant I had to maneuver close enough to the pier for long enough for one of the other crewmembers to jump over, and then continue my maneuvering the rest of the way into position. Weather conditions were good, so it wasn't overly difficult, but I was still peeved that we had to do it anyway.

Not being there as required was out of character for the young man that stayed behind this week, but everyone has slept through an alarm or something similarly irresponsible before. So a couple guys went to his apartment to roust him, but didn't find him or his car there. At this point, I started to worry. Before I had been thinking he had blown us off, but now...now I'm worried. XO went off to call the police and hospitals (after having been up since 10:30 pm last night, standing watch). It didn't take XO long to find him...there's only one hospital in Hilo.

So, he's going to be ok, but he's pretty smashed up after being in a car crash this morning. I don't really know any more details than that since the nurse on his floor hadn't talked to the police and he doesn't remember anything beyond sitting at a stoplight in the dark, and then waking up in the hospital with people sticking a bunch of needles in him. We'll follow up with the police on Monday to find out the whole story and get the accident details. But thank goodness he's going to be ok. A couple of broken bones and cuts. He won't be on the boat for a while, maybe at all again, since he had orders to his initial rate training (A school) starting in January...but he's going to be ok.

This was my first experience calling parents. I offered to call his Dad and let him know what happened. I started out with, "Your son is going to be ok, but he was in a car crash this morning." His Dad was calm and asked all the right questions. It sounds like he may come out here to see his son and help with recovery. I really, really, really hope I don't have to make any more calls like that one. And I'm so grateful that his Dad accepted the news so graciously. And that he's going to be ok.