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Drive It Like You Stole It
June 11, 2012
Written By: Russell Jensen

I spent a weekend last year with an old acquaintance, now new friend, in Washington, D.C. When I last saw him almost 30 years ago he was the goofy friend of my youngest brother-in-law.  Chris went on to get a degree in nuclear engineering and is now a captain in the United States Navy, serving at the Pentagon.  He served on four nuclear submarines, and commanded the USS West Virginia before being assigned to his present post.

Chris told me he occasionally has the honor of speaking to a class of submarine officers as part of their training, and when he does he always encourages them to “drive it like you stole it.”  He laughed when he saw the confused look on my face and explained.  “A United States nuclear submarine is an incredible thing; powerful, sophisticated, intimidating. Don’t waste all that beautiful power and capability by driving it like you’re taking your grandmother to church. Push it to perform like it was made to perform.”

That comment echoed in my head all the way home.  Only I wasn’t thinking about submarines.  I was thinking about people.  I was thinking about how very different corporate cultures can be, and about how few companies really tap into the talent pool they employ.  I was thinking about a comment a client relayed to me that went something like this: “People with ideas don’t last very long at companies that have all the answers.”  I was thinking about how some client companies are ghost towns at 4:30 p.m. while others have a steady trickle of people in and out at all hours.  I was thinking about a young professional I know in her first career position, who is thriving and taking on more and more challenging work because the VP goes around her stifling boss to give her more demanding opportunities.

So my question to you, leader, is “how do you drive?”  When you look at your people do you see them as incredible?  Powerful, sophisticated, capable of much more than you let them do now?  Or do you let them operate at 25 miles per hour?  Or worse, do you insist on it?  What percentage of their full potential are you getting?  50%  Less?  What percentage of YOUR potential is the organization getting?

People are, in fact, incredible things.  And people need to be pushed, pulled, stretched and challenged to grow into their full potential.  All people.  Champions need to be challenged to achieve more than they have before.  Leaders need to be tested to grow and perform better than they have before.  Team members need to be stretched, encouraged and challenged.  Isn’t that, in part, how you yourself have grown?

A final note – The weekend we spent together in Washington D.C. was the 10th anniversary of September 11. Captain Anklam is retiring from the Navy in June. Thanks for a powerful and special weekend Chris, as well as for your dedicated service to our nation.

 

Here are four tips from Captain Chris Anklam, head of Information Dominance for the U.S. Navy, on applying the “drive it like you stole” it philosophy to people.

  1.  Encourage initiative and creativity. Make sure you have safety nets available. Make it okay to take risks, calculated risks; with a consideration of what the possible gain will be by accepting that risk.
     
  2. Assign new folks a "Sea Daddy". Get your experienced "salty dogs" to take the youngsters under their wing and train them.
     
  3. Obviously, reward good behavior. Giving a man or woman Friday off because he or she has been working hard can go as far as giving them a medal or an award. Medals and awards are nice too. When you reward your person, make it as public as possible. I include the family whenever possible. Another thing I did was to write a letter to parents and spouses when my people reached a significant submarine career milestone. The phone calls that those proud parents made to their young sailors are PRICELESS. 
     
  4. Set a good example. Bust your own butt and challenge your team to keep up. Don't do their work for them; but communicate the standard that if you're not improving, there's a good chance you're getting worse.

 

 

 


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