How My Navy Career Informs My Work At Dell EMC
Years before I became Dell EMC’s consulting services leader for the South, I was in charge of another complex and very rewarding enterprise: ensuring the essential functions of a surface guided missile destroyer in the U.S. Navy.
For more than two decades, I devoted my life to this and other Navy endeavors, deploying to various places around the world and growing and learning as an officer.
The Navy gave me plenty in return. I learned that teamwork and collaborating for a greater good is how you build real trust. I understood that true leaders communicate by listening instead of talking. I realized the best way to motivate a team was to show rather than tell.
As anyone who has served in the military will tell you, the transition to the private sector can be interesting. Suddenly, the common mission isn’t always as clear. The capabilities of your colleagues aren’t as obvious because civilian clothing isn’t pinned with badges, medals and awards.
Instead, ambiguity is the norm and the problems that need solving aren’t always obvious. Today, I see these challenges as an asset in my role with Dell EMC.
Across the nation, I use my new role at Dell EMC to talk to IT executives who are struggling with constantly changing business pressures. Fortunately, the skills I’ve learned in 21 years with the Navy have made this a familiar process.
Whenever I meet with a new or potential customer, communication is nearly always the most critical elemental to get a successful digital transformation project up and running. The IT staff at organizations big and small know they need to become digital, but they don’t always know what that means or how they will fit in this future.
It’s a simple question: Do they want to be the true innovators – a valued part of the company – or do they simply want to exist as digital plumbers only needed when someone’s e-mail goes down?
Fortunately, the answer is just as easy. Most IT departments want to be relevant and ready for the future. The process of getting from point A to point B is where the battle is often won or lost.
For me, getting to the finish line simply requires a dose of Navy experience.
Whether it’s a military mission or an IT solution, the first part of solving a problem is understanding the problems at hand. That means being a good listener and digesting as much information as possible before taking any action. As all great leaders know, you can’t move forward until you’ve lifted the fog of war as best as possible.
Once you’ve identified the problem, it’s time to be decisive and figure out the best approach. Does it make sense to attack the IT challenges head on, or is a more subtle approach the key to victory? Either way, why is that strategy the right one? A clear, creative and articulate vision is crucial to this success. The bottom line is that a road map is essential. Big changes are scary enough – they’re even more frightening when nobody really knows where they are going.
Of course, any leader can have a great vision for success. That doesn’t mean anyone else cares. Effectively communicating it with stakeholders who matter most – employees, customers, shareholders, for example – is the only way to ensure the vision can become a reality. In my experience, managing the expectations and the coming changes are the most important aspects of a successful or failed Navy mission or IT transformation project.
A big part of this is clearly defining the benefits. What does victory look like? Cutting costs is certainly a powerful reason in the business world, but there may be bigger intangibles worth pursuing, such as changing the perception of IT from a “corporate tax” that is slow and unwieldy, to a data-fueled engine that helps drive innovation and additional revenue.