Alphabet Soup

We use acronyms as a way to shorten spelling and speech. Acronym is a fairly recent word, dating from the 1940s, although acronyms existed long before we gave them that name.

In the military and government service we are known, if for nothing else, our extensive use of acronyms…an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word. We’re really, really good at this. Most you might know of them, even if you’re not subjected to their use (and overuse, honestly) every single day.

For example, most people would recognize NASA. In fact, it’s more often said that way than its official title of National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Acronyms permeate the civilian world as well. Computer people will speak about ASCI, online and social media users have made it almost an art form within modern culture. FOMO, YOLO, etc.

We use acronyms as a way to shorten spelling and speech. Acronym is a fairly recent word, dating from the 1940s, although acronyms existed long before we gave them that name. The term was preceded in English by the word initialism, meaning an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of a phrase, and which has been in use since the late 19th century.

Some people feel strongly that acronym should only be used for terms like NATO, which is pronounced as a single word, and that initialism should be used if the individual letters are all pronounced distinctly, as with FBI. Our research shows that acronym is commonly used to refer to both types of abbreviations.

Either way, the point of this isn’t to give you a lesson in English or even the use of acronyms, it’s to tell you a story about leadership. That’s right, those 3 paragraphs above were all leading to a discussion about leadership.

When I was promoted to Chief Petty Officer, it entailed a 6 week long extensive training session into management and leadership. You see, the day you become a Chief, you are moving into another level of leadership and thus, it requires some training to make you realize the differences in how to lead at that new level.

One of the lessons that stuck with me and still does to this day is a lecture from an older Chief. He had never been to college, didn’t have a degree or any specialized training. He had been in the Navy since high school, about 18 years total at the time. Yet, he taught a lesson that day that should be taught first in every college business school. No, wait, scratch that. It needs to be taught in high school. The earlier the better.

OK, I’ll get to it. the lesson was this. He told us that too many people advance in rank and think that they’re done with physical work. And to a point that’s true. He told us that it would be easy to get trapped at our desks every day, bounded by the stacks of paperwork, reports and other administrative tasking that one would expect with increased responsibility. Then he taught us an acronym to help remind us every day to get out from behind the desk and go lead from the front, to be with our people. The acronym is LBWA. Not impressive at first, but when you unpack it, Leadership By Walking Around is an excellent reminder to focus on our people, be out there talking to them, asking those questions, seeing what’s really happening, suffering their problems with them and celebrating their successes.

As leaders, our people are our greatest asset, our responsibility and our focus. How can we be that leader they deserve sitting on our asses behind a desk or screen? You’ll either learn to perform LBWA or you’ll become familiar with BOHICA….Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.

Get out there and lead, folks. Your people deserve it. You’ll be better for it.
Semper Fortis.

Chief Chuck

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