Minimalism: As a Military Member


As a military member, you are by default a nomad.  You’re going to move more times than you really want to.  Change is good and it’s important to grow professionally in our careers.  Each place we move to I dread the unpacking.  So much stuff!  In our most recent move, July 2016, we still have boxes packed!  Which means nothing in those boxes we’ve needed in the last 11 months.  

Sure, there may be some sentimental items in there, but for the most part I’m sure the ‘things’ in there we can afford to throw away or donate.  Every now and then I’ll rumble through trying to find something tiny like my tie clip.  I was attending a formal event recently and couldn’t find my tie clip.  Could I have done without it?  Yes.  I knew where it was, though so I went digging.  The point is the things we think we need are some things we’ll never use. 

Image how much easier moving would be if you owned less than you actually purposefully needed.  We spent four years at our first assignment.  In those four years we still had boxes packed.  At least three.  During the Summer of 2014 my wife and I took time off work to finally get to the last few boxes unpacked.  That morning I made a comment on Facebook, “Now that our last box is unpacked watch us get a new assignment.”  Later that day I got an email with notification of a new assignment.  Go figure.  It was now time to move again.  The crazy thing is we could have kept the box packed because for four years in one spot we never needed it opened, which means we could have got rid of everything in them, but instead we insisted on ‘thinking’ we ‘have’ to keep things.  Perhaps we have the mentality that if we bought it we need to keep it as long as we can.  It might be the case in some instances, but not all. 

Think of all the uniforms you have as a military member.  Your utility set, your services set and your physical training set.  That’s 12 sets of clothes given to you once you start basic training.  I never owned 12 shirts at one time in my life.  And now I have that plus my normal civilian clothes.  Over the years I’ve replaced old uniforms and bought new ones.  I recently donated all of my older uniforms that were serviceable for reuse.  The others I threw away.  My closet got smaller.  I did the same with the few civilian clothes I had.  I now only have 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of blue jeans, 2 pairs of cargo pants(my favorite) and 6 shirts, all black.  Other than furniture I will be able to fit everything I own in my trunk. 

Just a few days ago I saw a moving truck down the street.  The next day I saw a curb full of things that I guess the family didn’t need or want to take with them.  It was a lot of stuff.  We did the same during our first move back on 2014.  We left a curbside full of random things that we just didn’t need or wanted to take to our new home.  

I’ve come to realize that all that stuff that we think we need is not really necessary after all.  It’s okay to live with less especially when you know you’re going to be moving again.  For any military member out there, if you dread the move, think about minimalism as a way to make moving simple.  I am certain our next move will be a piece of cake.  

As a challenge for your next move, if you can’t fit everything that you essentially need in one vehicle, then perhaps you really don’t need it.  I know for a fact that for my next move I’ll be able to fit everything I need in the trunk of my Toyota Corolla and that is quite refreshing to know.  

5 Ways to Help You Lead in a New Environment

Ideas, Innovation, Leadership, Organization, Social, Tips, Tricks

It would be naive to think that one leadership or management strategy is going to work exactly the same from environment to environment.  It’s just not that easy.  Every organization, work center, company, and or course, the military will have different ways of operating.  After all, they all have different missions.

I am now working in my fifth work center in the last six years. I didn’t have a full spectrum of the mission or what I’d be doing.  I did have to put my learning cap on and embrace the change. A question that has come to mind lately is how do I lead in an environment that I am unfamiliar with?  After brainstorming with my mentor and close friend I have narrowed down some ways. Here are 5 ways to get your foot in the door into leading in a new environment.

Learn the mission!  You have to know what the overall mission is and you have to know your role in the mission.  Know your limits of responsibility and know your strengths and weaknesses given the new mission.  Everyone has a specific amount of responsibility over their area. Know where your role begins and ends. Ask yourself what you bring to the table? What are you good at and what do you need work at? You will need to self assess your strengths/weaknesses in this new environment. Play your strengths when you are able and learn when you are unfamiliar with the process or directions. Ask questions when you don’t know an answer or a process. It’s okay to ask other agencies how they fit in the mission. You need to see the big picture and not just the area around you. Knowing the mission and knowing your role will ultimately help move the mission forward.

Introductions! Aside from knowing the mission, you have to know the team you’re a part of. In order to work on a team you’ve got to know the team and the team has to know you. First impressions are very important, but we can never truly know someone by a simple greeting.  After personal introductions have been made, lay the foundation of your work ethic. Begin to show your work ethic. This is where people will truly get a sense of who you are. Lead with values, not authority.  Values provide a standard of positive behavior. Use them and add other values that instill a strong work ethic. Get to know how your team members operate. Seek what drives their performance.  Ask them questions about their passions, their family, their background.  Leading is ultimately about taking care of people.  One must know their teammates on a professional and personal level in order to be effective at taking care of them. After all, leadership is about taking care of people. Know your team!

Be proactive, not reactive!  Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do something.  Take initiative in your area.  Seek out and find what needs to be done or what could be done.  There is always someone who needs help.  Go ask them if you can help or if there is anything you can do to help.  If you know what needs to be done, do it.  If you don’t, then ask someone what you can do to contribute. This is why knowing the mission is important.  It will give you an idea on what needs to be done.  When you’re proactive you stay ahead of the game.  Doing so can often help save you and others time in the future. Being proactive means you’re prepared.  No one likes the feeling of being unprepared. Take initiative every chance you get!  It may lead to some great opportunities! Nothing is more satisfying to a supervisor than seeing a subordinate take charge.  This not only tells them you have a great work ethic, but that you are capable of leading. Be proactive!

Communicating clearly.  Communication is a very hard skill to master.  For someone to put thoughts or an idea into words, or better yet, action, it can be quite difficult if you don’t understand how each member of your team listens or learns.  To clearly get your objectives across to your team can be very delicate.   Make sure you take time to get the correct words down before you speak your objectives/tasks/ideas, etc. The precision of your communication can make or break the success of your team.  And always make sure that your team members know to ask questions if they don’t clearly understand the objective.  That is also another part of communication.  It’s a two way street.  Ensure you communicate clearly and ensure your team knows how to seek answers from you by asking. Listening and hearing are two different things.  Listening is an audible action, hearing what’s said is the process of information into a structured concept.  Communicate clearly so that your point is heard.

Be willing to learn!  A leader’s job isn’t to know all of the answers.  Leaders must show they are willing to learn from their team members.  Listening and learning from the members on the team builds trust.  When teams learn from each other it strengthens their ability to adapt to overcome challenges. It creates a teamwork environment.  When leaders and members of the team are open to learning from each other it also creates a culture of learning.  Learning is how we grow.  Show them that if you can, they can.  Learn together!

Why change matters!

Ideas, Innovation, Leadership, Organization

Every organization has a time when the people leading, the processes they manage and the products they create transform into something new, something different, something better and sometimes worse.

When I think of change, I think of the movie Without Limits.  It’s about Steven Prefontaine, the famous long distance runner who was tragically killed in a vehicle accident. He instilled such a strong belief, philosophy and approach to running that he refused to bow down to anyone’s advice, even his coach, Bill Bowerman, in the way he wanted to run.  Coach Bowerman tried immensely to teach Pre that his methods, although, effective, could be better if he would just change his strategy.   Pre insisted that there was no other way to run other than running flat out until he had nothing left.

Steve Prefontaine: I don’t want to win unless I know I’ve done my best, and the only way I know how to do that is to run out front, flat out until I have nothing left. Winning any other way is chicken-shit.

Though, Pre was extremely effective in his unchangeable belief in running, he also learned that hard work could still lose a race while a mediocre effort could win one.

Bill Bowerman: Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort can win a race and a magnificent effort can lose one.

Change is difficult to comprehend when the ways you’ve been doing things are working.  While some see no need for change, there are those that adapt to change and seek change very quickly.  In a work environment, no matter the career, these two types of people can clash and create an uneasy work environment.

So why the need for change?  Even when processes work in today’s culture we have to ask ourselves if they’re going to work in the future?   Are we willing to change to fit the culture we may evolve into?

Change scares us for many reasons.  We don’t like unfamiliar territory,  we like having control of what we know, we like stability and certainty.  That’s okay, it’s only natural that we feel these comforts.

Pre knew that his coach was right.  He knew that running with a better strategy would decrease his time, but winning wasn’t the only thing that mattered the most, it was ‘how’ he won that mattered.  Thus, Pre resisted change.

In the Air Force, every two years a squadron or base proceeds through a change of command. This means that a new Commander will take over as the current Commander moves on to another assignment. In this, many things happen. There is a time when things continue the way they are, but at one point a new set of eyes sees something that can be better. Thus, a new process begins and it’s like the first day of the school year again.  There are those that take it, some that resist it, some that wait and see and some that will try to avoid being a part of it.

There are a number of animals that deal with change too.  Some animals change their core temperature to fit in the environment’s climate. Some change color to blend in with their surroundings as a defense mechanism.  We, as humans, have a hard time adapting to the shifting direction of our environment.  Change is essential to adaptation.  It is also detrimental to not only surviving in our area, but also thriving in our environment. 

A football team is a prime example of how changing, “adapting,” can predict the outcome of any situation.  A football team must be able to change at a moment’s notice if the play they are trying to initiate is noticed by the opposing team.  The team may call an audible or they may play it out.  The defensive team, must do the same.  They will either play along with the play and each player do their part, but what if the offense calls a play change on the line.  The defensive team must adapt to the change and be ready for what is about to come.  They must change their defensive strategy!

This same concept is crucial to every organization.  Every organization must embrace change as a readiness tactic.  A readiness to remain in business.  If not a part of a readiness process, then it must be taken as an opportunity to make progress.

In golf, adaptability is key to winning.  Players must adapt wherever their ball may land.  The inability to adapt could be the difference between winning and losing.  Sometimes the case is just 1 stroke away, sometimes it’s a battle for a tie breaker and it may require tiny adjustments to win.  The winner of the 2015 Masters Champion(Jordan Spieth) won 1.8 million dollars, the 2 runners up(Rose/Mickelson) tied for 2nd and received $880K each and the 3rd place winner received $480K.  The difference in these winnings were very close and I’m sure there were many barely missed putts for birdie that could have put anyone in the lead at any time.  After each round, the players are usually questioned with how they performed.  Most will say they made adjustments in their swing or even changed their attitude.  Adapting to the situation definitely makes an impact.  A million dollar putt could be quite literal!

In all reality, change matters in all aspects of our culture, whether it’s sports, business, military, time management or even eating habits.  We must accept change as opportunities to make progress or in some cases not only survive, but thrive.  Businesses’ goals are not just to survive, but every business wants to thrive.  Adapting to compete with their competition, or adjusting to the supply and demand  need can really make or break a business.

Take change as opportunity.  Adapt as it requires.   Although, we’re not putting for a chance at a million dollars, we are all goal oriented for success .  Change doesn’t mean taking jumps in processes, but even adjusting with baby steps makes a difference.  Change matters!