What I learned from Stephen Covey: Begin with the End in Mind
Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People profoundly affected me. After taking command of the USS Santa Fe I thought I might apply some of his lessons to running the nuclear powered submarine even though it was essentially a personal self-help book.
One of the lessons we applied was the concept of Begin With the End in Mind (Habit 2).
We would have weekly strategy sessions with each of the senior officers and Chief of the Boat. We rotated, one a day, 6 a week with Sunday off. During these sessions we practiced the discipline of only talking about long term issues and issues that involved people. Maintenance and operational planning discussions were forbidden. When we started most of the officers only had a vague notion about what they wanted to accomplish personally and with their departments during their tour on board so we developed this exercise: write the end of tour award (for 2-3 years hence) that you want to receive. Be specific about the accomplishments.
During the first go-around many of the hypothetical award write ups included laudable but imprecise phrases about improving morale, performance, promotion, or the health of their men. With discussion and work, we were able to take these imprecise goals and work them into measurable objectives. “Help my people get promoted” for example, would become “Promote 10 first class petty officers to Chief Petty Officer.” Once we had precise descriptions we could measure our progress toward the goal.
I particularly remember Dave Adams’ write up which he did in the spring of 1999. When he transferred from Santa Fe in the fall of 2001 the award my boss, the Commodore of Submarine Squadron Seven approved for him read almost word-for-word like his write up. Dave went on to command the NATO Provincial Reconstruction Team in Khost Province, Afghanistan and is currently in command of his own submarine.
I thank Stephen for giving us this mechanism for achieving operational excellence.