“Old dogs can’t learn new tricks” is not only wrong, it’s misleading. With over 25 years in military service and three wars under my belt I still learn new things. During my last assignment on staff at the Pentagon as a Senior Chief in the US Navy I was sure I had it all finally figured out, and, I was wrong. To really make an impact on an organization means being open to learning new tricks. If learning is a process by which change takes place as the result of an experience, I only had half the equation to solve problems in my new role, I had experience but that was only the start. In business and life experience helps us solve problems we already know the outcomes to, we have to be open to learning if we want to deliver results on new issues.
I found myself on a short term assignment working for Navy admirals and captains (the top of the food chain in the Navy) trying to tie-up a project that had been languishing for nearly two years. The delay was simple to explain, no one on the team had been held accountable for their deliverables, no one was reporting on results, just attendance. Don’t get me wrong they were all working hard in their departments and everyone was busy managing multiple projects but to overcome the delays and missed deliverables we had to get the team focused on results, not motions.
This experience changed the way I approached my role as a subordinate in rank who had the responsibility to accomplish the task at hand. Unless I could figure out a new way to manage up I was on course for a train wreck at the end of August when we were bound to fall short of our goal.
Experience had taught me that deliverables and accountability were the answer but how to get senior leaders to commit was the problem I needed to learn a new approach to. I have a formula – Responsibility minus Authority equals Failure, and I hate to fail so I needed to complete the equation. Regardless of their rank superiority I needed their authority and “buy in” to complete the program on time. Going through a process of getting them to provide authorization helped me to take ownership for them the project while getting them to change their approach as they now were part of the structure reporting results, in short by assigning authority to me they had taken ownership of the program too, which was fine by me, I’m a do’er.
Learning new tricks is the hallmark of successful business leaders, if you give someone the responsibility to get a job done or a quota met, then it is critical that you also give those people the authority to make it happen. If you, as a leader, don’t buy into the success of programs by empowering your team who else is going to?
HMCS(FMF) Larry Gene Tentinger, USN (Ret)
Garth Massey, MLMethods founder, LtCol USMCR