An Ombudsman is faced with enormous responsibility during deployment. The command Ombudsman also has a tremendous opportunity to lead by example and to deeply love those who wait.
I had the honor of serving as command family ombudsman for SEAL Team 7. In those two years, I learned so much about supporting families in their most joyful and sometimes most difficult moments. I learned about acting boldly, even as I managed my own fears.
Make no mistake, a good ombudsman must be a great leader. Below are some of the things I found important in doing the job well.
1. Communicate powerfully and effectively or not at all.One of today’s great time thieves is sifting through the inbox. As an ombudsman, rRspect the demand on people’s time and attention. Make sure what you’re sharing is of value and precise. If you overwhelm people with emails they won’t read anything you send. Likewise, if your communications are limited to truly important information, professionally constructed and accurate, people will look forward to hearing from you.
2. Create a powerful conversation.The ombudsman sets the tone for the conversation of the group. Every organization has an ongoing conversation about who they are and what they’re setting out to accomplish. Create a powerful conversation that consistently recognizes every player for their contribution and leaves no room for uncommitted complaining or gossip.
3. Listen more. Talk less.People will come to an ombudsman with all range of challenges and emotions. Don’t react. And don’t give advice you’re not qualified to provide. You’re not a therapist. Provide referrals and resources. Listen. Great leaders listen.
4. Hold a vision of capable families.Be compassionate, but firm. A good ombudsman reassures people that they are capable of handling whatever is in front of them, but is careful not to minimize whatever they are going through.
5. Don’t take yourself too seriously.The role of an ombudsman is serious enough. People will be more likely to approach you, thus making you a more effective leader, if you are able to connect with them and share your personal side.
6. Keep your word.If you tell a spouse you will take care of something or get information to them, do it. Within 24 hours.
7. Understand why people are watching and act accordingly.Human beings are primarily visual creatures. They judge by how things look. Acknowledge that your comportment (even when you are not acting as ombudsman) is naturally part of how other people see the command. Every you go and in everything you do, you are a representative of the command. Conduct yourself above reproach. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in the presence of the entire command.
8. Offer a predictable schedule.In order to stay connected, the ombudsman needs to create a regular activity for families to participate in on a predictable basis. A monthly beach cookout, a weekly playdate, a traveling host Sunday brunch. It doesn’t have to cost anything. You know what works best for your families. It gives everyone something to look forward to, especially during those long deployments.
9. Be trustworthy and safeguard confidentiality.Do I really need to cover this? If someone confides in you, unless it’s one of the reportable events that you’re required to share with the command, keep it to yourself.
As I look back on the friendships that I made while I was an ombudsman and I’m grateful to have had the experience. To have helped families who are sacrificing so much, serving right alongside their spouses. I am forever inspired by and grateful for our military and their families.
Stacy Shea is the president of Adamantine Alliance. She delivers leadership training and inspirational keynote speeches to groups across the country. She is the promotional force behind Unbreakable: A Navy SEAL's Way of Life. Find out more about it here. She resides in South Carolina with her retired Navy SEAL husband, Thom, and their three children.