“Shut up”..! That was the best advice I got this week.

About a month ago I changed jobs.   I went from a military component organization to a DoD component organization.  Don’t know the difference?  Don’t worry it doesn’t matter, that much.  Well, at least that is what I think after a month or so.  I am not writing about the job though as much as I would love to start putting key to board on my thoughts.  I am writing about what one person told me this week that I thought was interesting and important.

I changed positions not only from one company to another but from one government organization to another, I started to look, listen and learn about the culture, the job itself, the organization etc.   In my head I started to see a picture, it was becoming clear and I was convinced that my coming in would CHANGE things for my new organization.  After all, I have experience with my ABC’s and 123’s.   Where I left people would say “ask Howie” and I would come to meetings with my trusty notepad and pen with various process and methods to help whomever has a problem.   You could say that I was there long enough to be a known commodity.  I have spoken and written about Joint Forces in the past, it is no secret that the Joint world has a certain flavor / culture that is based on the Joint lexicon and taxonomy and fundamentally like the rest of the world you are who others perceive you to be.   In other words,  if someone in leadership says “that is the smart guy” then that is the smart guy.    Now, I wasn’t the smartest guy in the room and I wouldn’t pretend today that I should have been labeled as such.   What I did have was “trust credit” which means that leadership knew if I read something or wrote something or better yet attended a meeting, that they would get my honest opinion but I would back my perspective with some facts (where possible).   This is important, because YOU have this too in some degree.

I left my position at what was Joint Forces because I felt strongly that I can help more people from the DoD enterprise.   What I didn’t count on was that it is going to take a long time.  

I thought I would come in and start looking at the situation, perform analysis, make assessments and start to ask questions that would challenge my new leadership into thinking in ways previously undiscovered.   What I found was different from what I thought.   It doesn’t really matter why but it has really challenged my thinking in ways that were previously undiscovered.

I miss my friends and co-workers at what is now Joint Staff and I miss the others that have since left and moved on to other positions due to the Joint Forces disestablishment.  Looking at my work today, I see connections between what I did and what I do.  I have asked both my current leadership and my past leadership if I can find and bind these connections and thankfully they both agreed.   Which brings me to this past week.

There are days that I am sitting in my old office not far from where I used to sit, hanging around the people I grew up with career wise.  It is nice to see them and spend time with them knowing that they mean a lot to me and that I mean something to them.  This past week I had some things to do in the office and went down to take care of them.   One of the civilian leaders came down and saw me sitting there.   Immediately he was interested in what I was up to and sat down to have a chat.   I explained that I am working hard and running on the old hamster wheel trying to figure out the best ways I can help my new organization in ways that made sense to them.   He knows me pretty well and he understood clearly what I was going through.   He looked at me and said “You know what your problem is?”  “No sir” I said .  Then he paused and said “shut up.”    He went on to explain that I have been in my new position for a very short period of time.   He said “I know you, you are a great leader and after 27 years I know who will be leading and who will be left behind.”  He continued “You need to listen for at least 90 days, you need to LISTEN not speak, not write, not know, just listen.”   My first class when I took my MBA was about “effective listening” and of course, he threw me back there in a blink.   I thought I was listening and taking note and looking and learning, but maybe not.   It wasn’t a punch in the face or anything, it was simple truth and I like to say that when I am talking to people who I am giving them the same.  It was a good dose of my own medicine and I think I needed it.   He didn’t just leave it at that, he gave me a plan to execute after the 90 days and he asked me to follow-up with him to see how I was progressing.   I have that plan written and I have my listening ears on.  All this time, I thought I was going to just go in there and help them but really my helping them is helping me.

I don’t know what the results will be 90 days from now for the people I am currently working for but I do know that 90 days from now I will have practiced better effective listening skills and I will look make every attempt to “shut up” unless there is something I have to say.   With all the talking and communication we have to do today it does seem that we do a lot of this wha wha wha something important wha wha wha something something and really the only thing we needed to say was the something important part.  All the wha wha’s are just to hear ourselves.

“Wha Wha”




One thought on ““Shut up”..! That was the best advice I got this week.

  1. Howie,

    It is hard to resist the urge to “do” as in “fix” something when you were accustomed to being the “fix it” i.e. go-to-guy. However, grasping the big picture can often only be learned by sitting back and observing. Just think, then you know where to apply your skills at “fixing it” where it’s need the most and rather than just put out the fire of today….



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