LCDR Matt Intoccia
A native of Collegeville, PA, Lieutenant Commander Intoccia graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2009 with Bachelor of Science degree in Economics.
A career surface warfare officer, Lieutenant Commander Intoccia’s shipboard assignments include: USS JOHN S. McCAIN (DDG 56) as Combat Electronics Officer and Repair Officer, USS MOMSEN (DDG 92) as Navigation and Administration Officer, and USS JOHN S. McCAIN (DDG 56) as Weapons Officer. Ashore, he served as Action Officer and Intelligence Analyst for Naval Criminal Investigative Service Office of Military Support with a focus in western Europe. Most recently, he served as Operations Officer in USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN (CG 57) in San Diego, California.
Lieutenant Commander Intoccia is currently attending the Command pipeline in Newport, Rhode Island. He lives with his wife, Marcie, and son, Declan.
His personal decorations include the Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, and various unit, campaign, and service awards.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
My first monumental failure came before the Navy. It was February 2004 and my senior year in high school. I was wrestling at the National Prep School Championships and had made it to the final round. Throughout the season I had worked hard and been successful enough to be selected as the first seed in the heavyweight class. After three challenging opponents, I emerged victorious and poised for a chance to win the National Title.
My entire wrestling career to date had been leading to this moment. More than anything, I wanted to be a National Champion.
If you’re familiar with the sport, you may remember that the big boys usually go last. So, throughout the day I had a lot of time to think… and I did, way too much. By the time I stepped on the mat, my strongest opponent wasn’t standing across from me. He was in my own head! I was overcome with the “what ifs” that could lead to defeat and was beaten before the referee even blew the whistle to start.
Suffice it to say, I did not come home with the gold and I was devastated.
But in the years since, I use this experience as fuel. It compels me to work harder and train more because I never want to feel that disappointment again. I know that the tendency to overthink the problem is something innate in me. I acknowledge it and have learned to handle it differently today. Once it surfaces, I take a cleansing breath, set that urge aside, and move on.
I certainly have known failures since and plenty of them in the Navy. But I collect them now, add them to my fire and keep pressing forward.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
“Who is your Mike Tilley?” – Captain Paul Rinn, Commanding Officer, USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG 58), 1988
I highly recommend reading Captain Rinn’s book No Higher Honor. It’s a gripping case study in the value of realistic training and the courageous potential of the human spirit.
I have had the privilege to hear Captain Rinn speak several times. In his presentation, he describes one of his Sailors, Mike Tilley, as a good person who was consistently challenged to conform to the standards and norms of our organization. He was the subject of several Captain’s Masts and struggled to assimilate into the Navy life. But Captain Rinn saw something in Tilley that compelled him to give him another chance.
On April 14, 1988 when the ship struck a mine and was in dire straits, Mike Tilley turned toward danger and single handedly started the generator that likely saved the ship.
So how do you know if your struggling Sailor is the next Mike Tilley? In a crisis you never know who will rise to the occasion. I value this existential struggle. No matter what “people” challenges exist I strive to find the spark that drives them and fan their flame.
I served with an IS1 when I was working at NCIS who specialized in Human Intelligence collection. She willingly placed herself in harm’s way outside the wire in bad places so that others have a chance to be free.
In order to make that happen, a big part of her job was to develop information sources through criminals guilty of violent crimes – the worst of humanity. Her anecdote provided me a perspective I deeply value.
I ask myself – if she was able to find value in the worst of humanity, shouldn’t I be able to find it in the best? Regardless of personality congruence, it is important to strive to find common ground with everyone I serve with. I also try my best to not define a person by their worst day.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
Reflection. Once I throw some water on my face and shake out the cobwebs, I grab a cup of coffee and reflect on what happened yesterday, last week, or last month. Something I learned from a past Captain is that we love the PBED (Plan, Brief, Execute, Debrief) process, but it doesn’t allow for the deep thinking and process improvement that reflection provides.
I have a 5-year-old, and there is seldom a quiet moment in the house when he is awake, just ask my wife. The best time to quietly reflect is the morning while I’m getting ready for work. I think this time is where most of my lessons are learned. Once I get into work and get settled for the day, cull through emails, message traffic and check for new NAVADMINs, I talk to the team about those lessons.
I also make the bed. Admiral McRaven’s speech at the University of Texas connected with me. I read his book Make Your Bed and do my level best to square away the corners and center the pillow before leaving the house.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO?
Never underestimate the value of authenticity. In my opinion, authenticity is the single most important character trait. People respond to it. Whether you’re loud and friendly or quiet and contemplative – find a style that is true to you and stick with it. Your team will see through any facade. Being fake is the fastest way to lose trust.
Listen to your Chief. No matter how trite you may feel that phrase is, I have never been led astray by trusting my Chief. You will never misallocate time dedicated to building rapport with your Chief, that relationship is built on mutual respect.
Don’t run away from no. If you run up against a wall in your career, the entering argument will often default to, “no, it can’t be done.” If you want to make a change and you truly believe it's for the best, do you homework, build a coherent argument and brief your boss. More often than not, if it makes sense, your boss will let you run with it.
Ignore the assertion that you are “just a J.O.” - Fresh perspective can shake up a team and recalibrate it; setting a better trajectory. Being new to the Navy puts you in a unique position to see what we could be doing better. Temper your delivery, but don’t be afraid to speak up when something is wrong. Strive to find the balance between humility and confidence.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
Turn the Ship Around. It was the first leadership book that I really connected with. I love the idea of “intent-based” leadership and the goal of sharing the same mental model of mission success across all ranks. It's challenging to implement without the context of the book, and I think Captain David Marquet does a great job of succinctly capturing mechanisms for positive change in your team. I recommend looking at his “leadership nudges” to get a better feel for his ethos.
The Road to Character. David Brooks proffers the concept of Adam I and Adam II. Both Adams reside in each of us. “Adam I is the worldly, ambitious, external side of our nature. Adam II is the humble side of our nature. Adam II wants not only to do good but to be good, to live in a way internally that honors God, creation and our possibilities.” I would offer that it’s our job as leaders to cultivate and nourish our own Adam II and strive to inspire others to do the same. Adam II is rank agnostic and comes in all shapes and sizes. Allow your people the latitude to fail and find those strong Adam IIs that will galvanize our Navy.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
Setting priorities. I ask questions and assume nothing. While at NCIS, my job was to draft threat assessments for Fleet Commanders regarding Department of Navy activity in my area of concentration. My focus was on United Kingdom, Ireland, and the BENELUX countries (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg). When you look at the wide variety of concerning activity across multiple threat and geographic domains it’s very easy to get sidetracked on analyzing a stream. I specifically recall working on one threat stream analysis for several days before reaching out to the operational unit (my customer) and asking the commander if my work was meeting his intent (feeling good about the progress I had made). In which I promptly and professionally was told I was not even close.
After taking a moment to compose myself, I realized the error I made. I thought I knew what he wanted, and I ran with it. But I ran in an entirely different direction. Henceforth, I make sure that if clear guidance is available, I use it. If I’m operating in the grey, I make my best effort to know that too. Ultimately, that’s the process I use to set my priorities.
Managing time. As an OPS, I pursued the establishment of a reliable and predictable schedule. I did it outwardly for the ship and inwardly for my sanity. The more you can place predictable rocks in your daily path the less frequently you will trip over them, and prediction has the added, and oft times more important, benefit of driving a healthy work-life balance.
What is your most effective daily habit?
I bullet journal. Using paper takes a bit longer but there is value in the process. As a Division Officer, I used a wheel book to track my tasks, but I found tracking priority issues was all too often literally and figuratively lost in the pages. After department head school I realized many of my classmates had excellent processes codified in their style. I knew I was behind the power curve.
So, I ate some humble pie and asked around. I finally found what I was looking for at ATRC Dahlgren from my friend Eric Larson. He introduced me to bullet journaling and after some research, I found what I had been looking for.
I’ve tailored the process over the years, but the foundation remains the same and my productivity has improved substantially because of it.
How do you define success?
Trust. There has come a point in each of my tours when I realize deep Sailor connections exist; when they stop listening to me because of rank and start listening because we’ve cultivated trust. I know that I don’t have all the answers, not even close. So, I trust the team to work in the best interest of our shared mission goals.
It’s one of the best feelings in the world and is the foundation in which all success in this organization is built. If success is the predicate, then trust is the subject.