AFCEA Leadership Series: Good Leaders Never Stop Learning
‘I’m a student of leadership, I’m not a teacher of leadership.’
Sometimes, skippers glean keen insight on being better leaders not from their superiors, but from their peers. Such was the case for two U.S. Navy leaders who, as junior sailors years ago, learned lessons from each other on the power of endurance and follow through and the importance of a sharing a sincere thank you.
When James Stavridis was but a young ensign, he wasn’t so sure life as a naval officer was his calling—until he spent a few days at the behest of his commanding officer with fellow sailor Doug Crowder. The two hit it off, and Crowder persuaded the young mariner to stay Navy. History now notes the remarkable careers of two naval leaders who both reached the upper echelons with the nation’s sea service. Adm. Stavridis, USN (Ret.), now serves as the dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and is the former supreme allied commander at NATO.
Good leaders spearhead as much as they follow and must keep an open mind to learning not only from their superiors, but from peers and their subordinates, Vice Adm. Doug Crowder, USN (Ret.), advises during a recent episode of AFCEA’s Leadership Series: Five Questions, produced in conjunction with the AFCEA Educational Foundation’s Leadership Forum.
Cynicism, while sometimes funny, can tarnish and eclipse good judgment. “We live in a cynical time, and it’s very easy to be cynical. Jon Stewart [the political satirist and comedian] has made a multibillion dollar career out of being cynical,” he tells Max Cacas, producer/host of Five Questions and AFCEA Answers Radio. But it’s not the mark of a good leader.
“I’m a student of leadership, I’m not a teacher of leadership,” continues Adm. Crowder, who retired in 2010 from his 36-year naval career and last served as deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy and the senior adviser to the chief of naval operations on joint operations and strategies, strategic planning, international politico-military matters and security assistance.
His post-military career had him serving as chief operating officer (COO) of Boeing Kestrel and then as COO of a larger consolidated business unit within Boeing Defense Integrated Information Systems.
Early in his career, Adm. Crowder tapped his passion for continuous learning when selected in 1980 to be a scholar of the George and Carol Olmsted Foundation, which provides junior officers opportunities to live abroad and study at graduate-level foreign universities in 57 countries. Adm. Crowder is the chairman of the foundation’s board.
Three decades ago, he was plopped into Lausanne, Switzerland, to study European economic and political affairs—solely in French. His memories of his two years there are a mix of hard work and a little humor. While he had enough advanced French language training to buy groceries, secure a place to live and get around town, he found his teachings were a little lacking when he tried to make an appointment to learn whether his wife was pregnant. Much to the amusement and good-natured laughter of the staff at the gynecologist’s office he telephoned, he was seeking instead for an appointment “to get her pregnant.”
Mission accomplished. Good leaders, too, find and laugh at the humor in life.