Message to NNOA President & Members:
Thank you for affording me the opportunity to share some of the leadership lessons learned from nearly three decades of service. I am here today because of the Sailors who entrusted me to lead them and who worked tirelessly to realize my vision no matter where I served. It is also important to acknowledge the role of the many mentors and sponsors who not only helped me to get here but helped me to stay here.
These lessons are not just words that I say but reflect how I try to live. This is what worked for me and I hope that you will find some nuggets that work for you also.
Know what you value and then live like its valuable. Believe it or not, I did not plan to be a Navy captain. My motto is, “I’ll stay in the Navy as long as I am able to make a difference in the lives of Sailors and this lifestyle continues to be compatible with my family.” I value family, so my family was at the heart of every career decision. As much as possible, I wanted to make sure that my service was for them and with them rather than at their expense. To the best of my ability, I not only tried to stay focused on my own family, but I tried to create an environment where my Sailors were able to do the same with their families. While in command, I did not turn my office into an “I love me” wall but rather covered the walls with pictures of my family. It was more important for me that my Sailors could see that I valued my family more than my military accomplishments. In so doing, it made it easier for them to talk to me about the real issues affecting them. As you move forward in your career, I also urge you to keep the following in mind:
Be capable and competent. Nobody wants to follow someone who is incapable and incompetent.
Be humble. Everyone will know that you are the boss, so you don’t have to be bossy.
Be willing to fail. The mistakes you make today will prepare you to be better tomorrow only if you take note of what you learned and do not repeat what you did wrong today.
Don’t burn bridges. You never know when you will have to walk that way again. Rather than burning bridges, build them instead. These bridges will reach far and wide and come in handy when needed.
Never mistake kindness for weakness. Everyone has two sides. You would rather see the side of me that smiles, trust me. The same is true for other kind leaders who demonstrate that is possible to be kind and firm at the same time.
Resist the urge to be the best at everything! As a leader, you don’t have to be the best person on the team, your job is to get the best from your people.
Not everyone who speaks well to you will speak well about you. When you learn who those people are, treat them well anyway. Just know that you can’t trust them, be wary of their motives, and keep it moving. Yes, I even smile at my enemies and I challenge you to do the same.
An open-door policy is no good if it leads to a closed mind. You must be willing to be open – open minded, approachable, and receptive.
You will be wrong sometimes. Own it and make it right as fast as you can.
You can’t build anything lasting on a broken foundation. Trust is the foundation, build that first.
Don’t ignore bad leaders. Learn from them or you risk being them.
Lawful doesn’t mean it isn’t awful. Not every adverse situation warrants a severe response. Just because you can take certain actions doesn’t mean you should. A good leader discerns when and how to use power.
Be committed to excellence. At the core of the word excellence is the verb, EXCEL. You must first EXCEL to be excellent or to attain excellence. Excel is an action word, so it inherently implies that you are going to have to do some work, and not just do it, but do it to the best of your ability. To excel takes practice. It is not achieved by a one-time good effort, instead, you must repeat that good effort until you become great. Talent alone is not enough to make a winning team – leadership always matters.