Monday, June 25, 2012

US Naval Academy and Ford's Theater

Today we ventured down to Annapolis to visit that U.S. Naval Academy. While there we had the privilege of conversation with a retired Colonel, graduate of the Academy who now works for the Academy in leadership development. He was very generous with his time in sharing with us his insights into leadership of self, community and how the Academy works to encourage the development of leadership. One of the key learnings of this trip is the concepts of frames for leadership. Understanding that leadership occurs in organizations across multiple viewpoints and that a good leader must understand them and which ones their people are operating out of to be effective.  

The Academy is clearly a structural framework organization in that it has clear rules and procedures, hierarchies and processes. This is the framework that engineers love! It is all about who you report to, who is in charge of whom etc... Certainly a valuable frame and illustrated clearly by the Naval Academy mission statement which you see to the right here. This plaque is in the central foyer of the Bancroft Hall, the main building on campus.  It outlines the structural frame in which those who teach, work and learn at the Academy are expected to operate within. These are the parameters of the organization. However, they are not devoid of other frames.

One of the other major frames (there are 4) is the symbolic frame. This is the frame of meaning. Through rituals, symbols and myths, the organization motivates and ties together those within the community.  Certainly a frame those of us who work in the church understand. The Academy is full of those frames also, which perhaps even supercede the structure. Up the stairs in Bancroft hall, at the center of the Academy is the Memorial hall.  In that room are the names of those graduates of the Academy who have given their lives in the service of the country. This room is full of symbols, symbols that give meaning and purpose to the sacrifice of those men and women. Most notably, the immortal words of the father of the US Navy, John Paul Jones, "Don't give up the ship!" These words, more than any mission statement, structural alignment or other organizational chart, exemplifies the Academy. Because of the sacrifice of those who have gone before, present day students and graduates are expected to continue this tradition.

Interestingly, in conversation with the Colonel who was so generous with his time he related that the biggest issue they have in leadership at the academy is arrogance. These young women and men who come to the Academy are highly skilled, the best of the best. They know they are good and while challenged at Navy, they understand they have the ability to succeed. So the challenge is getting those highly skilled leaders not to operate under the rules to "just check the boxes and win the prizes," as the young ensign who escorted us around related to me, but to live into the ethos of self-sacrifice required to be a part of a symbolic community like the U.S. Navy.

Self-Sacrifice for country epitomized the life of Lincoln.  Leaving Annapolis we drove back to Washington and toured Ford's Theatre and the Patterson House, the place Lincoln died. You all know the story of Lincoln well, what I found so interesting about the tour was this enormous stack of books in the center of the spiral staircase in the museum there. These are all books about Lincoln, an estimated 15,000 in print. Why do we write so much about Lincoln? It certainly isn't because he was a great structural designer of policy. He was a symbolic leader who cared about holding together his nation in the midst of a great conflict. And by embodying the vision, that the Union would be preserved, he achieved his leadership goals. 

Tomorrow we go to Philadelphia...

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