The Chicken or the Egg

A lot of my content doesn’t just come from my head. It comes from talking with my peers, dissecting our successes and failures, and doing our best to not make decisions in a vacuum. This one is directly from a discussion I’ve had with the boss recently, or rather, one we keep coming back to. I think if two people at our level can’t seem to get away from a topic, especially when it’s a positive one, I should share.

A large part of my job falls into the category of Good Order And Discipline. Note all the capitalization: it must be important.

Keeping the crew moving forward takes very specific energy. The Good Order comes first, in the decisions we make, the morale of the crew, how we treat each other, and faith in the organization. It’s easy at sea. We’re out here to do a mission, we know our roles, and we’re well trained. This is the good type of discipline.

Sometimes, there’s the other kind of Discipline, with the capital D, when someone does something dumb. It happens, and when it does, I have to stop everything I’m doing to deal with it.

The positive type of discipline, the well-oiled machine, planned operations, and daily interactions that positively reinforce good order, are a constant every-day focus. The negative discipline is an immediate and aggressive response to some poor decision. I go from nice guy to bad guy in a moment. Sadly, it doesn’t end just as fast. The negative stuff lasts hours, days, weeks, and until then, it has to be the focus of a considerable amount of my time.

Yet another quasi-hypothetical situation: I’ve been working a long-term project involving the dissolution of an organization and the movement of all personnel to the best possible career-enhancing gigs, which includes lots of time spent with each individual, discussions of career progression, goals, family issues, and opportunity. The deadline to get it all done is coming. I’m not out of the woods, but I’m getting close. Just a little further and then…

… someone does something dumb.

Drinking and driving, breaking local laws in a host nation, you name it, it’s all the same at this point. All I see is red, not just because I have to do the negative discipline stuff, but because I have less time to work on the good discipline stuff that keeps people moving forward.

In this scenario, I end up spending more time and energy on the one person who got in trouble than the other 80 whose careers are impacted with the manning changes. And yes, this means I put in more hours to get it right for both, but it’s a strain on the decision-making process when the negative discipline distracts me and a handful of others.

I’ve been very lucky in the last few years. I spend a lot of time on good order and the positive side of discipline. People don’t do too many dumb things, so I’m not distracted by the negative stuff, and I continue with the luxury of investing most of my time and energy into the crew and its future. This keeps morale up, maintains good order, and so on. It’s rather nice.

But, which came first? The fact that people don’t break rules, allowing us to focus on the positive stuff, or the fact that my peers and I spend so much time on the positive stuff that no one breaks the rules? Did our treating each other like adults result in so many good decisions, or did they all start acting right, which causes me to treat them right?

Is our organization successful as a result of our leadership, or is it the great people who make it easy to lead us in the right direction?

Like any other ‘chicken or the egg’ question, my boss and I are lucky to be asking it. I don’t care which one came first. I’ll just try to keep this positive cycle going as long as possible.

Almost a collateral question for this one:

– What positive discussions are you having with your boss or manager that should be shared with your people?

Have a great week out there.

– JT


James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.