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USCG Top 10 Rules

I'm a big fan of the television series NCIS.  If you are even vaguely familiar with the show you know that Gibbs (played by one of my all time favorite actors Mark Harmon) has a number of "rules" that he lives by and expects others to respect if not follow.  Well, long before "Gibbs' Rules" became all the rage, a buddy of mine (a fellow Coast Guard Officer) and I kind of developed this list over dinner one evening while we were attending some Coast Guard meeting.  We did it somewhat as a joke, but the more I looked at it the more I realized that it is all good advice.  I pretty much followed this advice my entire career and really only got burned (more like singed a bit) a couple times over stealth policy that I wasn't really aware of.  I've seen guys and gals really get burned over all 10 though and it wasn't pretty. 

I've expanding the list since publishing the original ten and these "new" rules are presented after the originals.  I left out some of the more obvious stuff like don't use illegal drugs and don't show up drunk to duty.  I also left out being reliable.  A lack of reliability is a ticket to the door.  Although a couple of these rules apply strictly to the Coast Guard (especially Rule 2), most of them could be adapted to anyone in any job/career/life situation. 

In addition to my "rules", I have also added some great quotes I have heard over the years.  They are kind of like rules, but not really.  Check them out by clicking HERE.

Please keep in mind that I have been retired since 2009 so if I have a policy wrong I hope someone would let me know.

My (Original) Top 10 Rules for a long and happy Coast Guard career:

1.  Never have sex with anyone who has any kind of military ID card unless it happens to be your legal spouse.  I made this rule number one for a reason.

2.  Do whatever it takes to stay off the "Fat Boy (or Girl)"  or whatever name they call the Weight Program these days.  When they are looking for a reason to not promote someone or just cut some people you will make the top of the list.

3.  Don't think for a minute that anyone else is watching out for your career.  It is your responsibility to make sure your record is complete and accurate.  Don't blame the Yeoman (or HR for civilians and none military types)!

4.  Stay out of ANY trouble with civilian law enforcement.  This one is huge.

5.  Don't lie about anything - you will be caught eventually and it won't be pretty (for this rule "lying" includes things like falsifying logs/reports/travel claims).  Once you've become an established liar, no one will every trust you again.

6.  Never make yourself indispensable (don't confuse "indispensable" with "reliable" - reliability is a good thing!), but at the same time remember that:

7.  You can be replaced and they'll forget you ever existed no matter how "irreplaceable" you imagined yourself to be.

8.  Just because you think it's a "dumb rule or law" doesn't mean you can ignore it.  There are ways to change laws.

9.  Beware of "stealth" policy.  It really exists and can really bite you hard if you aren't aware of what's going on.  I learned this one the hard way.

10. Remember that you will always have people above you that you are certain you know more than and there will always be people below you that are smarter than you.  That's the nature of the military.  You must learn to manage both groups.  Always remember, there are people below you that feel the same way about you.

Here are some more "rules" that I've decided to add.  If you've read this far you probably don't agree with me on one or more rules and probably won't agree with some of the ones I've added below. That's your prerogative (of course IG0F's) but I can assure you that while you may get away with something for a while, eventually the gravy train will derail and you'll be in the hurt locker big time.  So, without further ado here are:

More Rules For a Long and Happy Career (and life for that matter).  I know I try to follow them all.

11.  Don't surprise your boss.  Everyone loves surprises but nobody likes to be surprised. If it even crosses your mind that the boss needs to know - tell them.

12.  Always be aware of your surroundings.  After 9/11 some people liked to claim they invented "domain awareness".  Here's a News Flash for all of them - they didn't, it's been around for a long time and it would serve anyone well to follow this rule at all times.

13.  If you've got a good thing going, don't mess it up.  Let me put this another way - don't try to "fix" anything that isn't broken.  Don't mistake change for the sake of change with actual process improvement.  

14.  Don't threaten to quit unless you really mean it.  This is kind of like be careful about bluffing because getting called when you've got nothing is bad.

15.  Never appear insatiable with the Assignment Officer (Coast Guard specific) or pretty much anyone else - if they know they can do nothing to satisfy you they won't even try.

16.  Don't be a jerk.  If you act like a jerk expect to be treated like one too.

17.  Choose your battles wisely.  If you don't know what it means, look up what a Pyrrhic Victory means.  Don't get into any battles where a win is more costly than a loss.

18.  Just beware that yes, people are watching what you are doing.

19.  Just because you
CAN do something doesn't necessarily mean you SHOULD do it.

20.  The Coast Guard Motto is Semper Paratus - just make sure you are at all times.  When an emergency comes you really shouldn't have to take care of little things before you can report. Even people not in the service ought to give this one a try.  The "ready.gov" ads are a bit corny, but they are essentially correct.  If you're counting completely on the government during an emergency you might want to rethink that philosophy.

21.  Know the difference between "Risk Management" and "Risk Avoidance".  Simply not doing something is NOT Risk Management.  Some risks really aren't worth taking.  If you are going to take real risks because the boss says it's OK, make sure they really mean it and that it isn't half a sentence with the other half being "as long as they work out."

22.  Always use the minimum force necessary to achieve your objective.  This doesn't mean just in law enforcement situation either. You can always escalate a situation but pulling back can be very difficult.

23.  No matter what anyone tells you, the USCG (and a lot of civilian organizations too) is a  "zero defect" organization at (most) times.  Learn when those time are.

24.  Watch out for people approaching when you are standing at the bus stop.  Learn how to step out of the way.

25.  Always pay attention to detail; it really does matter.

26.  As you advance (or just move forward in life), don't repeat the same mistakes you saw leader make when you were junior.

27.  Don't go out looking for trouble.  If you're looking for trouble it's generally easy to find.

28.  On a similar note as Rule 27, there is always someone a little bigger and badder than you and surprise, they're looking for you.

29.  If you need to talk to someone you need to go to them; if someone needs to talk to you, they need to come to you.
 Never give up home field advantage.

30.  It's not and you can't claim "self defense" when you start something.

31.  If you're philosophy in life is "sticking it to the man", just remember that sometimes you're the man and expect to get it stuck to you from time to time.

32.  Stay away from toxic people at all costs.  You avoid toxic waste like the plague so treat toxic people in the same manner.

33.  As soon as you tell someone else, a secret stops being a secret.

34.  If you commit to something follow through.  If you can't commit or just don't want to do it than say no.  In most cases "no" should be your first response.  It's easy to go from no to yes but nearly impossible to go from yes to no.

35.  Don't judge a book by its cover but at the same time be aware that people do judge books by their covers.

36.  If you feel the need to use big words make sure you know their meanings.  People will judge you on how you speak.  Also, spelling does count.

37.  If at all possible, avoid snap decisions.  That doesn't mean you can't be decisive as sometimes you don't have the luxury of time.  When you do have that luxury, don't squander it.

38.  Laziness has a lot of hidden (and not so hidden) costs.

39.  Move it or lose it.  Here I mean your body. If you're young you'll understand what I mean as you get a little older.

40.  Age, maturity and growing up are not the same thing.  Age is just a number and growing up is highly overrated. Maturity however is something that eludes a lot of people their entire lives.

41.  You don't always need a pro to get a simple job done.  Learn to take care of yourself whenever possible but at the same time understand when you are in over your head.

42.  The internet can make anyone (even me!) look like a pro.  If an organization can't maintain a simple website do you really want to do business with them today?

43.  If you don't know who you're talking to be careful what you say.  Never assume you're the smartest person in the room.

44.  The problem with excuses is that they all sound like excuses.

45.  Always keep in mind that you can be "passed" through most (including the USCG's) promotion system.  Don't for a minute think anyone has forgotten about being treated poorly in the past.

46.  Just because you think something is offensive, it isn't necessarily offensive.

47.  Sometimes you shouldn't forgive and no matter what NEVER forget.  Just remember, other people will follow this rule too.

48.  Expect to be judged by others.  You have to determine who's opinion really matters to you.

49.  Don't make decisions worrying about what others will feel.  If everyone is mad at you over a decision you probably did a good job.

50.  A lot of people talk about their 1st and 4th Amendment rights; the one you ought to use the most however is the 5th.  Translation: it's usually a better idea to keep your mouth shut, particularly when you are mad or upset.

And finally...

51.  Don't break your own rules!
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