The Gouge Cover Photo v2


After speaking at UNC Charlotte last week, I had lunch with two firefighter attendees and heard this: “We have regular get-togethers at our station but the Chief never swings by. NEVER. We don’t understand why….and we really like your accent. How can we learn to not use Rs when we talk?” Ok. Maybe I just dreamed that second part, but that first part was real and is super frustrating.

Fire and rescue personnel, like the military, have challenging, time-consuming, and dangerous jobs that generate stress at work and home. These fire station get-togethers are low-key team building events with families that help build a stronger support network and widen personal connections. The senior leader’s decision to skip these family events is significant.

I attended a similar family event last month but on a much larger scale. On January 17, USS Gerald R. Ford returned to its homeport of Norfolk after a nine-month deployment. A ship returning home is an incredibly emotional event and watching thousands of families, loved ones, and children reunite with their exhausted Sailors brings tears to your eyes. I watched about 25 new Dads see their babies for the first time and got a little verklempt: In 1997 after a six-month deployment, I was one of those fathers and finally held our six-month old daughter, our first child, for the first time.

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You know who else was on the waterfront on that biting cold 20-degree morning? The squadron aviators who were also on that deployment. They had flown off the ship a few days earlier because all aircraft have to be off the flight deck before the ship can pull in. Those aviators had their reunions three days ago, but showed up pierside with their spouses and loved ones to express appreciation for the Sailors who busted their asses every day to provide safe, mission capable aircraft, ready to support the Navy mission.

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Fighter aviation debriefs are broken down into “Goods” and “Others.” So…

“Goods.” Air Wing EIGHT naval aviators did it right. They showed appreciation for their Sailors through actions not words.They were not ordered to be there. They didn’t have to be there. They did the right thing. They chose to JUST SHOW UP.

“Others.” Not showing up. By choosing to be absent, that Chief had implicitly stated, “I’m too busy to come spend time with you. I do not care about you or your family.” I have to assume that the Chief would not agree with that statement, but this type of notable absence can create a void that quickly fills with rumor, conjecture, and negativity. If the Chief showed up for a few of these, his team would have noticed and appreciated it. It’s a big “other” when senior leaders don’t “climb up” and assess from a higher altitude the negative strategic perception their actions or inactions are creating.

JUST SHOW UP. It’s a simple, low-cost act, and simple acts over time can have positive culture and work environment impacts. And showing up is not just attending events. You can just show up one day in someone’s office to say hello and talk about non-work related topics. You can pick up the phone randomly and “show up” with a call to a remote worker. Don’t show up via email or text because your virtual presence is actual nothingness.

DON’T OVERTHINK. I’ve heard this: “but if I show up to support this group then I will have to go support that group and what will that other group think if….” STOP! Shake off the analysis paralysis and move out. I’ve heard this too: “…but a (insert Overblown And Ego-feeding Title here) doesn’t do that.” BS! Get over yourself and show up.

YOUR ACTION ITEM. Company picnic? Go. St Patty’s Day event? Dress up like a leprechaun and go. Haven’t been to a remote site in a while? Pack a lunch and go eat a meal with your frontlines. Once a day “show up” somewhere unexpected and express your genuine appreciation, even for just a few minutes. You will build good culture one conversation at a time. Be bold in your actions.

Share this with someone who’d benefit from some Gouge this week! 

Show them you care,

J.J. “Yank” Cummings, Captain, USN (Retired