SACEUR, Adm. James Stavridis and LTC Vincent Ciuccoli
So, when you look back on this chapter of your life, what will come to mind? Perhaps, it will be the fond memories of good times spent with friends and colleagues, or adventurous family trips to the far reaches of the European continent or tasty encounters with Belgian chocolate and beer....ahhh the beer! How about your impression of SHAPE? Have you discovered a common thread that weaves its way through the cognitive fabric of our strategic military headquarters? For the first two and a half years of my first NATO tour, I struggled to find an answer. I was just one of the many cogs in the strategic command and control machine, and with the exception of a brief assignment to the Libya operations team, my days as the lead action officer for the NATO Training Mission in Iraq (NTM-I) blended together. Like most of you I remained dedicated, trusting that the many desk hours spent in the shadows indirectly contributed to the achievements of our forces in theatre. For it is this work ethic that keeps us committed to the daily grind; always believing that the support we provide keeps our brothers and sisters safe and ultimately leads to our Nation's collective success.
Then something changed…..or did it? Intense legal negotiations to extend NTM-I were met with resistance and within months NATO military personnel were out of Baghdad and I was out of a job. Luckily, the start of my last six months at SHAPE brought with it one last chance to excel as a member of a new team. Now, before I tell you about this team I want you to know that I can be quite close-minded and resistant to change at times so it was not exactly a natural fit. The team, formed to manage the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre (CCOMC) project, was known as the Implementation
SACEUR, Adm. James Stavridis and Major General Andy Salmon
Project Team or IPT. Ultimately, it was the project leader, MG Andy Salmon, who inspired me to write this editorial – a reflection on my experiences as a member of a high-performing team.
Firstly, I can assure you that I'm not some righteous, out-of-touch, self-glorifying staff officer. Instead, I pride myself on my broad awareness of the SHAPE culture. I realize there are many quality individuals and outstanding teams spread throughout ACO that do incredible work in their functional areas. However, it's also clear that only a fortunate few have the opportunity to influence undertakings that attract the attention of the wider NATO community. We all pride ourselves on being ready for that moment, and for me, and the rest of the CCOMC team – that time was May 2012.
Part of the CCOMC team
I had the honor of working alongside a group of consummate professionals in translating abstract concepts into concrete processes and in the beginning it was all about the product. In the end, I can now say it was more about the journey. The team was presented with exciting daily challenges as we immersed ourselves in the foreign world of innovation. To consistently perform at a high level in such an environment it became self-evident that we needed to practice what we preached or in military speak – train like we wanted to fight! In that sense the project was a true learning experience and here are a few things I discovered along the way:
- A vision is most effective when it is employed using a particular leadership philosophy. Even when a project is time-constrained, a fluid plan can be effectively implemented if the leader issues clear guidance, updates key priorities and empowers flexible team members.
- Team chemistry is highly important but sometimes oil and water can be the most effective formula. When working in a resource-constrained environment, risk can be accepted and effectively mitigated using a collaborative or dare I say comprehensive approach to problem solving.
- Internal team communication is essential to achieving your objective but relationship building, external marketing and information sharing is paramount to accomplishing the overall mission. Always ask yourself, "what do I know, and who needs to know it?”
Now I'm not so delusional that I would tell you we were perfect in all those regards. However, I can tell you that we wouldn't have succeeded in delivering CCOMC Early Operating Capability if we didn't at least understand their importance.
So how does this all relate to my desire to find common ground or a universal mindset that guides our daily work? Look no further than the SHAPE shield. For isn't our true identity entrenched in our will to remain vigilant and doesn't that mean we must stay sharp, always keeping one eye on the future? I would argue that to remain relevant in this unpredictable and resource-constrained 21st century security environment our capacity to remain vigilant will be contingent on our ability to connect. Enter the new SHAPE approach to crisis and operations management. The CCOMC is the perfect conduit for setting up mutually beneficial networks with other high performing teams and some have even referred to it as a ‘docking station'. As we undergo yet another peacetime establishment reform we will all need to be acutely aware of our new roles in the SHAPE CCOM process. Together, we will learn what it means to think, plan and act strategically. Together we will discover what it means to be part of a high-performing team. Together we will sow the seeds of change. Together….
We are empowered
Take initiative, accept responsibility and know SACEUR's priorities
Open your mind, promote new ideas and create opportunities
Understand your role
Begin with the strategic outcome and the comprehensive picture
Communicate and connect
Listen, share and build great relationships
Encourage others and achieve success through collaboration
Take time to think
Ask yourself, "so what?” when delivering your products
Be flexible, constantly adapt, improve and evolve