Are You An Ambassador of Goodwill or Hostility?

Each year the U.S. Navy advances thousands new chiefs and each goes through a process called Initiation. One significant line of effort with the process is to indoctrinate them on the new expectations and roles that accompany their advancement. As I explain in the first chapter of the Chief Petty Officer’s Guide, many of these expectations are found in the Chief Petty Officer’s Creed. Among them is the charge to be the “ambassador of goodwill.” Although this charge is directed towards new and tenured Navy Chiefs, the necessity for any naval or civilian leader—from leading deck seaman to the Chief of Naval Operations, shift supervisor to CEO—to embrace and execute their role as an ambassador of goodwill cannot be understated. Outcomes such as the Glenn Defense Marine scandal, liberty incidents overseas and stateside, public hearings on the impacts of infrastructure shortfalls, and recent expressions by Sailors indicating their growing mistrust of the CPO mess all have caustic impacts on organizational reputation, morale, and performance. Yet, despite the charge from senior naval leaders to commissioned and enlisted naval professionals to serve as ambassadors, there is little formal education or guidance on ambassadorship. In turn, individuals are left to determine who or what they represent, when, and how to manage loyalty conflicts that are certain to arise with the role of ambassadorship. 

An ambassador is a person who represents, speaks for, or advises an organization, a brand, or a group of people. In this role, naval leaders represent many things including their country, their Navy, their command, their ratings and warfare communities, and their Sailors. The second word “goodwill” is more important and finds its roots in the old English words of “good”, which means virtuous, and “villa” which means wish. It is having friendly, helpful, or cooperative feelings or attitudes or a disposition to kindness and compassion. The opposites of goodwill include hostility, apathy, meanness, or disagreement. 

Ambassadorship requires the development of a suite of skills and attributes not just a warm smile and a cache of mantras and platitudes. Ambassadors must possess a deep base of knowledge of their brand, their organization, and their people; a high a level of professionalism; solid speaking, listening, and writing skills; the ability and willingness to gather feedback and offer insight on behalf of people; and a keen ability to influence people and compel action towards organizational goals. Another fundamental requirement of great ambassadors is to have a belief in, passion for, and loyalty to people and relationships. And it is in these areas that those in positions of leadership should be particularly reflective, asking themselves questions such as, “Is there implicit bias shaping my attitude towards my junior personnel?”, “Do I view younger teammates as adults capable of making decisions (and mistakes) or as children I must constantly supervise?”, “Do I have an attitude grounded in a belief that people gravitate towards personal success and development, or do I think they have an inherent bias towards irresponsibility, inaction, and failure?” 

Because your leadership behaviors and approach towards your people reflect your underlying beliefs and attitudes, taking time to reflect on these questions can help you determine whether you are leaning towards goodwill or hostility. I think it’s important to note here that having an attitude of goodwill does not mean you can’t express frustration, disappointment, or lead in a firm and fair way as you pursue high levels of team excellence. However, you should be professional and take time to evaluate how you are being perceived and the tone you are setting. We are all human and susceptible to burnout, fatigue, or creeping cynicism, and we need to also be able to manage our leadership “villains”

As an ambassador, you will have a multitude of loyalties—to your organization, to your brand, to your peers/colleagues, and to your people. You will often represent many brands (sometimes called “wearing different hats”) and represent/wear them 24 hours a day and 7 days a week whether you want to or not. In some roles you will wear one hat at a time, in others you will wear several at once, and sometimes these different simultaneous roles will bring one or more of your loyalties into conflict. It’s great when all your loyalties are aligned, but it’s important that you consider which organization or brand you are expected to represent in given situations and understand that if you knowingly or unknowingly choose loyalty to the “wrong” brand or group, there is usually a cost. One frequent example is in your role as a change agent helping manage the introduction of an unpopular policy, decision, or order which brings disagreement or discomfort into the team (longer working hours, less resources, etc.). In this situation your loyalty to your organization/command may conflict with your loyalty to your people. When this happens you should understand why the decision was made and the trade-offs, communicate the policy down including the why and the understanding of the cost of the decision by leadership, actively solicit feedback from your team, communicate impacts and attitudes up and encourage decision-makers to adjust when they can or clarify, and continue to support and communicate up and down and engage resistance to resolve conflicts--taking time to teach others about loyalty. If you find yourself resistant to the change or unable to advocate for it, take time to examine your own personal attitudes, values, & beliefs and talk to a mentor who can help you reconcile your position. Another example is when the behavior or attitude of a peer or colleague runs counter to group norms. In this case you will find your loyalty to your organization and peer group in conflict with your loyalty to your peer, friend, or colleague. 

In these kinds of situations, you may choose to represent the “wrong” thing, for example choosing personal values over organizational values. A recent illustrative case was the firing of U.S. Navy Captain Brett Crozier for his approach to handling the COVID breakout onboard his ship. And as we see all too often, we are all susceptible to choosing misplaced loyalty to our own selfish motives at the expense of organizational or team loyalty. One example was the 2017 CPO Mess scandal onboard USS Hue City in which a large portion of the CPO Mess was disciplined for misconduct—an example of choosing loyalty to CPO Mess brand over loyalty to organizational values and commitment to Sailors. Only you (or your group) can make the decision but understand and accept there may be a cost to your personal reputation and career prospects. When you are experiencing these kind of loyalty conflicts, get advice, experience, and insight before you make the decision on who or what you are going to represent.

I hoped I’ve helped explain the importance of understanding the attributes of what makes an effective ambassador. The more you invest in and maintain these skills and attributes, the stronger your ambassador effectiveness will be, and your personal and organizational reputation will improve. I encourage you to take time today to pause and reflect on your relationship with your teams and seek feedback on your effectiveness as their ambassador of goodwill. Give this episode of the Cutlass Podcast on ambassadorship a listen and then ask yourself what you believe about your people. Are they “kids” you must manage, or do you see them as future leaders you want to help develop to their full potential? If you are doing this right, keep doing it right and help those colleagues who are falling short. If you find you are falling short, take time now to understand why and fix it. Talk to a mentor and take some time off, reset, re-engage in a positive way. When you develop the right mindset and embrace your role as an ambassador of goodwill, I promise your connection with your teams and people will improve. 


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