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Ten Leadership Lessons Learned in Five Years Aboard Two US Naval Warships

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 10, 2014) The U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, fly in the Delta Formation over the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) off the Florida coast near Mayport Naval Station. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Terrence Siren/Released) 131210-N-KG934-050
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My first j-o-b upon graduation from college was way too good for me. I graduated from Annapolis in 2010 and was immediately thrust into our nation’s elite fighting force – America’s warfighters at sea.

The first five years of my naval service was a large existential experiment that was trial by raging fire. Managing little credibility, below average technical knowledge, and understanding what motivates people on the go as a young Naval Officer was daunting.

In five years, I deployed to the Mediterranean, Horn of Africa, and Persian Gulf and spent a total of 470 days at sea between my two ships, the USS PONCE(LPD-15) and USS GEORGE H W BUSH(CVN-77).

Here are the 10 greatest Leadership Lessons I took away in 5 years of leading men and women in defense of the United States.

  1. USNA-0745No One Cares Where You Went to College

There’s nothing your diploma can do for you – zippo. Yes, it provides credibility and a great conversation starter for connecting, but in the minutia and grind of the daily operations at sea, no one actually gives a second thought to where you attended college. Because it doesn’t matter. I’m very proud of my degree – and it afforded me great opportunities to be well-educated and ready for naval service. But it did not guarantee proficiency as a good naval officer.

  1. It’s Your Fault

The Leaders ethos and a young officer’s plight – it’s your fault, dude. Not in a bad way – no one is trying to offend you. But you need to own that any micro or colossal failure that befalls your sailors. Take great care of that failure and learn from it. Because it has way more to teach you early in your career than any amount of success ever will.

      3. It’s Their Success

Oh, and if you do manage to have blips on the success radar, it was because your team was able to rally behind you and accomplish the mission. Again, we’re not trying to offend you. But, success must be shared – so make sure you recognize each and every Sailor(in public!) and BE SPECIFIC when recognizing their contribution.

  1. Your Words Matter

Your sailors(team members!) will hang on to every word that you say to them. If you chastise them, they will not forget. If you undermine them, they will become skeptical of you. If you tear their ass in public, they will be scarred. If you take the time to empathize for their honest effort and reprimand only in private, they will trust and admire you.

  1. Stay Vigilant at Night

Without light, the eye sees less. The mouth speaks less. And the brain wonders more. Navigational lights on passing ships can be missed with the veil of complacency. The most dangerous times at sea are when no one is looking. Stay awake.

  1. Run Towards the Fire

Flight DeckThe length of the USS GEORGE H W BUSH is 1,092ft. It weighs 103,600 tons and is decked out with the latest and greatest military-grade electronic and hydraulic systems. When we go out to sea, this is home. But unlike home on land, the fire department is every member of the ship. Yes, we do have designated damage controlmen that are specialized to handle fire, flood, and smoke, but you cannot rely on them to combat the threat alone. You must run towards the problem and handle it with confidence.

  1. State What You Intend to Do

When you force yourself to state your intentions, you put yourself in a position to defend your actions. If you intend to launch a missile, you must be firm and confident. If you choose to maneuver an aircraft, you must do so deliberately with purpose. If you decide to make an organizational makeup shift, go confidently in the direction of your intentions. Replace “I think…”, “I want to…”, and “I should…”, with “I intend to…” and see what happens.

  1. Being Likeable Helps
  1. Lean on Your Senior Leaders

Want someone to take an interest in you? Take an interest in them. Especially those that have succeeded in their job. They know more than you, period. So ask them good questions every chance you get.

  1. No One Cares How You Feel Today

You’re sleep-deprived, unhappy with the food, sick of watch, missing your family, bummed you missed another holiday, hoping to see land soon, overworked, underpaid… just like everyone else. This is what you volunteered for — Now get the job done.

These lessons have shaped me into the type of leader and person I am today. It was trial by fire…and I survived.

How can you implement these lessons into your life to lead from the front and inspire your vision?

About the author, Tim

US Navy Surface Warfare Officer.
Lacrosse Player.

1 Comment

  1. Butch Zink on 08/08/2017 at 11:32 AM

    Great Read!!
    I will have my team review at our next meeting!

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