Now I am no expert in leadership. My leadership journey, specifically as an Officer in the US Navy is really just at its beginnings. But one thing that I have to keep reminding myself of, sometimes daily, is that there is no one key, no cookie cutter example of the perfect leader.
Today, I attended the Change of Command and retirement ceremony for my Commanding Officer, a Captain that has honorably served in the US Navy for 26 years. He is retiring with a long list of achievements and accomplishments. My new Commanding Officer, a Captain that has served in the US Navy for 23 years has a very different personality than the departing CO, and naturally, a very different leadership style. But you know what? That’s ok.
So often, I find myself trying to fit the mold I see of other Officers. This never works completely, though. It is because I am different. My personality, my life experiences, my whole self… is different. But, lucky for me there is a difference between the quality of leadership and personality type. Just because two people have similar personalities does not mean that their ability to lead is the same. But this common sense fact seems to escape me a lot when I look at someone I would consider a quality Navy (or Military in general) Officer and see how different we are.
"Wow, his Sailors really respect him." or... "Look at the way she is able to interact with her Sailors, very friendly but professional." or... "Those Sailors are really doing their best to help their Division Officer succeed."
I see a situation like that and then feel lost at how I can earn that same respect with the Sailors I lead because I am not as outgoing as her or I am not as intelligent as him. But that mindset is wrong! I have to remind myself (and this is the point to this post if you haven’t already figured it out) that sure I can and should learn from the example of other leaders, I should learn the good and the bad, but learning from and emulating is completely different.
If you completely emulate someone else you are being fake and you really can’t be fake with your Sailors. They are too smart for that. But just like my new Skipper told the Wardroom today (and I loosely quote), “Sure they have to salute you, but they don’t have to like it. They should be proud to call you their Division Officer or Department Head.” While the Captain was stating this with reference to Integrity, it is really a statement that can be taken into all aspects of leadership. A salute is really just a courtesy. A monkey can salute and there wouldn’t be any meaning behind it. Restating what the Captain was saying is that as a Navy Officer you should aim to make that salute go beyond a courtesy and to be a sign of respect.
Bringing this back to the original point of leadership styles, my take away from not just today, but from watching other Officers successfully lead Sailors every day is making sure your Sailors know that you are really there as a Navy Officer for only one reason, them. It really doesn’t matter who the leader is, whether they are boisterous or bashful, giving respect is the best way to receive it. We could argue the details, but it really comes down to the phrase that every Navy Officer hears over and over and over again…
"Take care of your Sailors and they will take care of you."
Should be simple, right? Well I just made a cookie cutter statement about how to lead. How you go about taking care of your Sailors is the part specific to you and your personality. And yes, we just made full circle…
Congrats to the outgoing CO and welcome to the new CO. Let the journey continue!