Take a lesson from the U.S. Coast Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus.” Asymmetrical warfare has a 360-degree threat sector with an unpredictable timeline. If you train for the worst case scenario, casualties short of worst case will be more controllable.
As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Flynn. Tim joined Intel’s New Technology Group, which focuses on delivering artificial intelligence and cognitive analytics capabilities primarily to the federal sector, in 2016. A native of New Orleans, Tim graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science degree in marine engineering. He completed nuclear propulsion plant operator training in 1980 and later earned Master of Science degrees in National Security Affairs and Mechanical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. At sea, Tim served on three cruisers, a destroyer and an aircraft carrier, and qualified for supervising naval nuclear propulsion plants and for command-at-sea. Ashore, he oversaw aircraft carrier construction and directed information technology installations at shore locations worldwide. From 2002 to 2005, he served as Commanding Officer, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego, the Navy’s lab for command and control, communications, and intelligence systems. Promoted to Rear Admiral in 2006, he served as Vice Commander of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and Program Executive Officer for Enterprise Information Systems. After retiring from the Navy in 2009, he served as an Accenture consultant, a Vice President at Scientific Research Corporation, and a Vice President at Scalable Network Technologies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I grew up in New Orleans, as the second of four kids…Kim, Tim, Jim and Mim.
Our dad was a bar pilot on the Mississippi River, responsible for piloting all ships entering and exiting the mighty Mississippi at the Gulf of Mexico. As kids, we saw our dad leave home to work 2-weeks every month “down the river” piloting ships at all hours, regardless of weather, between Pilottown and Southwest Pass. Throughout his life, he impressed upon my brother (who became a bar pilot), my sisters and me the value of service before self. My mother instilled us with our Catholic faith and a commitment to excellence.
Later, at Jesuit High School, my classmates and I learned from Jesuit priests how to be “men for others”. During my sophomore year, I enrolled in Marine Corps JROTC and learned about leadership and service to our country. My 34-year career in the Navy began when I reported to Plebe Summer in July of 1975.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today I work in the Sales and Marketing Group of Intel. I am responsible for translating the mission needs of the U.S. Department of Defense and Intelligence Community into problem statements (or use cases) that can be solved, in whole or in part, using Intel technology.
For example, the U.S. Navy needs shipbuilders to deliver ships faster and asked Intel for help. Intel assembled a team whose members come from our Data Center Group, Internet of Things Group, Manufacturing and Industry Group, and others. Our team is currently applying its cross-domain expertise to digitally transform the first two shipbuilders. This effort will add efficiencies that will lead to faster ship construction and delivery to the U.S. Navy.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
- For the first half of my 30-year career, I was a Surface Warfare Officer and nuclear propulsion plant operator on ships. I made five deployments overseas.
- In the second half, I oversaw aircraft carrier construction and later directed information technology installations at shore locations worldwide.
- As a Captain, I served as Commanding Officer, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, the Navy’s lab for command and control, communications and intelligence systems.
- Upon promotion to Rear Admiral, I served as Vice Commander of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and later as Program Executive Officer for Enterprise Information Systems.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
In the Navy, our operational assignments define us. As a Lieutenant, I served as the Operations Officer on a destroyer that was escorting reflagged Kuwaiti tankers through the Strait of Hormuz during the Iran — Iraq War. I was the Tactical Action Officer on watch in the Combat Information Center as we transited west along the mountainous Musandam Peninsula of Oman at dusk. Basically, a Tactical Action Officer’s job is to execute the assigned mission, including launching weapons.
That night, the Officer of the Deck suddenly announced that a lookout saw one or more high speed vessels fast approaching our ship’s port side. This didn’t make sense to me as Oman (not Iran) was on our port side.
I quickly checked all surface radars and saw no contacts approaching the ship. As both .50 caliber machine gun operators were preparing to shoot, I ran to the Signal Bridge and, with the “big eyes” (giant binoculars), could see the approaching boats….and their cargo of refrigerators, microwaves and television sets. I yelled to the Officer of the Deck to hold fire.
My “take away”: gather as much info as possible before making time-critical decisions.
I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like. Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
I have profound respect and deep appreciation for the Marines, Soldiers, Airmen and Sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice in combat. The American people deserve to hear their stories of heroism.
Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?
Being a hero does not always mean facing a life and death decision. My definition of ‘hero’ includes the junior Sailor who day in-day out accomplishes one of the dirtiest and most thankless jobs on a ship…like operating the wet garbage, or metal/glass and plastic processing plant. These jobs entail putting in 12 to 18 hours per day over a 6 to 8 month deployment overseas. It is not only important for our oceans, but also tactically important — it makes it more difficult for our potential adversaries to track ship movement.
Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Always cloak yourself in the mantle of the Warfighter (or customer, in the case of Intel) and act with Honor, Courage and Commitment.
- Always move toward (not away from) the problem….and fix it. Fortune favors boldness.
- Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
- Be a change agent, not a status quo player. Accomplish 3 or 4 really transformational, wildly important goals and make a measurable difference in every assignment.
- Take a lesson from the U.S. Coast Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus.” Asymmetrical warfare has a 360-degree threat sector with an unpredictable timeline. If you train for the worst case scenario, casualties short of worst case will be more controllable.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?
My experience in the military helped shape the leader I am today. It instilled in me many of the above lessons, which easily carry over to business and life.
As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?
I did not struggle after my deployments. That said, many of those who served in combat, particularly in Iraq or Afghanistan, and their families still desperately need and deserve our help and support. They also need jobs after transitioning from the military.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our work focuses on delivering artificial intelligence and cognitive analytics capabilities and technology to the public sector. All of my projects will help the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, particularly because of the nature of our work. AI and cognitive analytics are at the forefront of technology and military preparedness as we know it.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
In addition to your own ideas on leadership, start collecting others’ ideas that resonate with you. Refer to these ideas as you communicate with your people. Per Abraham Lincoln, “It is the sole responsibility of the leader to instill (core) values by constant preaching and persuasion. It is the leader’s role to lift followers out of their everyday selves up to a higher level of awareness, motivation and commitment.”
One thing I learned as a military officer (or Intel leader) is just how many opportunities you will have to lift people up in ways they cannot do themselves. Start practicing this now.
And per Stephen Covey, inspire trust, clarify purpose, align processes for high performance, then unleash the talent of your team. Do not micro-manage.
What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
As with any team, friend or family member — communicate clearly and often; treat everyone with dignity and respect; and say “thank you” a lot.
In addition, and perhaps more poignant with a larger team: put your leadership philosophy on a business card. Give it to your people. Keep it by your phone (especially when you’re not feeling unconditionally constructive about a particular issue). Make sure your team knows how you aim to lead.
Also, every time you make time to take care of yourself — whether that’s working out, going to church or taking your family on a fun outing — your people will benefit.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been extremely blessed to have been mentored by many outstanding Navy Chief Petty Officers, Executive Officers, Commanding Officers and Admirals in the Navy.
I also feel extremely fortunate to work for outstanding Intel leaders, especially Rick Herrmann and Rachel Mushahwar.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As an Assistant Scoutmaster of Scout USA Troop 5 (boys and girls) in Bonita, CA, I advise Scouts on how to make good decisions.
As a troop sponsored by a Catholic Church, my “fighter pilot kneeboard” is a series of questions I ask myself before making a significant decision. These questions are:
Is what I’m about to do…
- In accordance with God’s will for my life?
- Dedicated to the greater glory of God?
- Serving others over self?
- Making me a better version of myself…a better son, daughter, brother, sister, friend and Scout?
- Helping me stay physically strong, mentally awake, and ethically straight?
If you answer “No” to any of those questions, don’t do it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My idea is not original. “Trust in God. Keep the faith.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
From my Dad: “You’ve got to lead, not drive;
inspire, not dominate;
cause respect, not fear;
win support, not opposition.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I want to have lunch with Bob Swan, CEO of Intel, to discuss the significance of Intel’s contribution to national security.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.