Thursday, June 2, 2011

Some final thoughts from Secretary Gates on leadership - "Real leadership is rare."

For starters, great leaders must have vision – the ability to get your eyes off your shoelaces at every level of rank and responsibility, and see beyond the day-to-day tasks and problems.  To be able to look beyond tomorrow and discern a world of possibilities and potential.   How do you take any outfit to a higher level of excellence?  You must see what others do not or cannot, and then be prepared to act on your vision.

An additional quality necessary for leadership is deep conviction.  True leadership is a fire in the mind that transforms all who feel its warmth, that transfixes all who see its shining light in the eyes of a man or woman.  It is a strength of purpose and belief in a cause that reaches out to others, touches their hearts, and makes them eager to follow.

Self-confidence is still another quality of leadership. Not the chest-thumping, strutting egotism we see and read about all the time.  Rather, it is the quiet self-assurance that allows a leader to give others both real responsibility and real credit for success.  The ability to stand in the shadow and let others receive attention and accolades.  A leader is able to make decisions but then delegate and trust others to make things happen.  This doesn’t mean turning your back after making a decision and hoping for the best.  It does mean trusting in people at the same time you hold them accountable.  The bottom line: a self-confident leader doesn’t cast such a large shadow that no one else can grow.

A further quality of leadership is courage: not just the physical courage of the seas, of the skies and of the trenches, but moral courage.  The courage to chart a new course; the courage to do what is right and not just what is popular; the courage to stand alone; the courage to act; the courage as a military officer to “speak truth to power.”  

In most academic curricula today, and in most business, government, and military training programs, there is great emphasis on team-building, on working together, on building consensus, on group dynamics.  You have learned a lot about that.  But, for everyone who would become a leader, the time will inevitably come when you must stand alone. When alone you must say, “This is wrong” or “I disagree with all of you and, because I have the responsibility, this is what we will do.”  Don’t kid yourself – that takes real courage.

Another essential quality of leadership is integrity.  Without this, real leadership is not possible.  Nowadays, it seems like integrity – or honor or character – is kind of quaint, a curious, old-fashioned notion.  We read of too many successful and intelligent people in and out of government who succumb to the easy wrong rather than the hard right – whether from inattention or a sense of entitlement, the notion that rules are not for them.  But for a real leader, personal virtues – self-reliance, self control, honor, truthfulness, morality – are absolute.  These are the building blocks of character, of integrity – and only on that foundation can real leadership be built. 

A final quality of real leadership, I believe, is simply common decency: treating those around you – and, above all, your subordinates – with fairness and respect.  An acid test of leadership is how you treat those you outrank, or as President Truman once said, “how you treat those who can’t talk back.” 

The true measure of leadership is how you react when the wind leaves your sails, 
when the tide turns against you.

Secretary Gates' Commencement address to the 2011 Class of the United States Naval Academy is HERE.


Anonymous said...

Captain Lambert,

This is one of the last public statements SecDef Gates made. His speech to his captive audience, “Real Leadership is rare” sounds very inspiring; it is unfortunate that he displayed little of that leadership that is so valuable to young Military Cadets within a week or so of that time. The SecDef was one of the first Cabinet members to volunteer monetary cutbacks in the military budget, and you might notice we are still involved in fighting or supporting 2 wars and maybe even more, no one seems to know.

Here is what he said just recently and he should have told those young Cadets this same thing as a finale to his grand speech.

“The defense secretary said the strategic review could require politicians to look at other uncomfortable choices, including pay levels for service members, new approaches for retirement and pensions, or higher healthcare costs for working-age retirees.” - David Alexander, Reuters 24 MAY 2011

I know that the wounded warriors out there are looking forward to what is coming down the line, haven’t they given enough?

Very Respectfully,

Chris and Roberta Garvin said...

Re: Navyman's comment...Sec'y Gates had the guts to admit military is, for the most part, overcompensated, and our retirement and pension program is anachronistic, to say the least.

It would've been gutsier to do this early in his tenure, but then again, that might've shortened his time in office.

Bottom line...I believe DoD could take a 10% cut, at least, without affecting operations...*if* leadership is willing to cut pet programs, staffs, etc, vice operational units.

And regarding pay, it needs work...paying an O-2 who sits in a cubicle in Millington basically the same as an O-2 who gets shot at in Kandahar is absurd.


Anonymous said...


You just described the Secretary as a yes man, which he was. It makes one ponder how a high level appointee can work for a conservative administration and adhere to the spirit of that administration, and then do an about face to conform to a liberal administration. I read and evaluated what the good Secretary did in his lifetime as a political appointee who claimed to be a hardline Cold Warrior, an oil company executive, a CIA executive, a college administrator and an honorable Secretary of the Navy. When you scramble these things together they still do not coagulate. That is the way many political appointees survive. He probably had to retire on a medical disability due to whip lash from constant change of position on those things that the country needs and relies on.

I am just a wee bit surprised at your being a LCDR in the United States Navy, which had to take a few years of having something on the ball, and having a lack of confidence in what the military retirement, the pay system and the operational expenditures that are required. As a person of resolve you should send 10% of your military pay, be it retired or active duty pay, back to Uncle Sam each month as a gesture of commitment to your words. Please ask for a receipt and post it on this web site so we may all be able to follow suit in order to get this situation that you have found so wrong, corrected.

Very Respectfully,

Chris and Roberta Garvin said...

Your experience seems to be pretty much exclusively on submarines, where things are a bit different. I suspect if you had spent time at a shipyard, or on a staff in DC, you may have a different view of the amount of waste in the DoD budget.
Take a look at the military construction sectoin of any recent Defense Authorization bill and you'll see literally hundreds of millions of dollars being spent. There's room to cut.
As far as pay goes, I argued that the pay system was wrong. That frankly, I am overpaid...I got a "good deal" when I continued my contract. And that there are folks who are likely underpaid (say an E-5 SEAL operating in country...he should make less than an O-3 in Millington? Really?).
Your response to my pay argument was only suggested I tithe 10 % to the very organization that needs to slim down. Do you, if you get a good deal at the supemarket...maybe a chicken on sale for 50 cents/lb...decide you should give money to the market, since they priced their goods wrong? Heck no. Similarly, if the Navy chooses to offer me a job at higher-than-market rates, I don't feel any obligation to give them $$ back.
BTW, you can tell the job is at higher-than-market rates becasue the quit rate is low. When the quit rate of military folks with 19 years in is near 0%, that tells you the pay and retirement system isn't optimized.

Anonymous said...


I was a sea going Sailor not a Civil Engineer and never spent a tour of duty at a shipyard or on a staff in DC, and I do realize there is a lot of waste and probably graft in both of those endeavors. We folks in the fleet had to suffer a great deal because of the proverbial $800 toilet seat. This may have been much before your time.

I did not really care to give a long dissertation on what I stated before, of course, you pointed out that what I said was fact free. I will add a few facts for you, though I am sure that will not convince you to change your opinion on what you have stated.

I was stationed on the USS Observation Island (EAG 154) and was the senior Fire Control Technician for the R/D of the Poseidon Missile Fire Control System, and the Poseidon missile launches to prove the viability of the Fire Control System and the Poseidon missile. The installation of the fire control system was accomplished at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth Virginia and this was a one of kind installation so the yard workers had no background on doing this job. I felt it was my place as the senior enlisted man to watch what the yard workers were doing, I assigned men to observe each job to see that it was done correctly. On at least 3 occasions I had the work stopped, the first time this happened the yard worker told me he had to do it the way the plans indicated, he did not care if it was wrong or not. I went to the Ship Supervisor and he was more than willing to help to correct the problem to prevent cost overruns. I always felt that it is every Sailors job to reduce costs where ever possible.

I never backed up in the pay line while I was in the Navy because I always felt that enlisted men were underpaid and pay was not the major consideration as far as I was concerned. You spoke of the quit rate being low for Sailors with 19 years, but that really has nothing to do with the amount of money that a Sailor was being paid. He/she is looking at the investment they made at less than the going wages of civilians for a retirement that is not anything extraordinary, that applies to enlisted I haven’t the foggiest idea what Officers get paid, even though it is public information for the largest part. Take a look at what the retention rate of Sailors over 22 years service or so is and you will find that the quit rate is more than 80%, what does that tell you? It is just the opposite of your argument. Enlisted personnel stay in the Navy not for the pay, but for the small retirement they can get as a buffer, many Navy people retire from the Navy in their early 40’s and get jobs at probably twice the pay they were getting in the Navy.

After spending 24 years in the Navy when I went on Social Security I realized it was not going to be much. Even after being on Social Security for more than 10 years I make less than $900 a month after the Medicare deduction. That should tell you that this Sailor did not make a lot of money during a Navy career. I made Master Chief more than 5 years before I retired from the Navy. And still did not make much money. I was required to live in Air Force housing, another way that services save money, when I was stationed on the Observation Island at Port Canaveral, Florida. I became well acquainted with many Air Force individuals and I was surprised to find that the average person retiring from the Air Force is only E6, do you really believe those Airmen were overpaid?

There are many more examples of pay deficiencies and cost savings that I could come up with but this is too much already.

Very Respectfully,

Anonymous said...


I was too wordy and overdid the maximum requirements for digital input on my last post. But I still have more to say about military expenditures, the waste that can result and the possible consequences. You said that it appeared I had spent most of my time on Submarines, but I spent more time on surface craft than on Submarines. One of the Destroyers I was on could not change its azimuth of one of the
5" 38 gun mounts because of a faulty Train Receiver Regulator, the problem had been diagnosed and it would have cost $5,000 to replace the necessary components. This condition continued for 5 months. This left the ship with 1/3 of its Main Battery OOC and if our ship had to respond with gun fire to combat enemy forces we would have had insufficient Main Battery armament to do the required job. That may seem to be a small problem but this was in the middle of November of 1962 and the ship was participating in the Cuban Missile Blockade during that time. It was probably a good thing the Soviets backed down at that time because our typical Destroyer was not at maximum battle readiness due to lack of funds to support the Destroyer Force. The Destroyer Force Atlantic either did not have or did not want to spend the resources to keep the Destroyer Fleet battle ready.

A few years later after being shanghaied into the Submarine Training Program from DesLant, and teaching that equipment for three years, I found that I was the most qualified individual in the maintenance and operation of the Mk 84 Missile Fire Control System, Digital Geoballistic Computer (DGBC) in the Navy including the GE Combat System Engineers. That system was necessary to control the Polaris Missile Launch from an FBM Submarine. There were many inaccuracies in the Ordnance Publications that had been written for the Sailor to allow him to perform the proper maintenance on this Fire Control System and the DGBC. The Navy had contracted the Main Contractor (General Electric) to update the manual but I was aware that they (GE) did not have sufficient knowledge to do the job so I took it upon myself to persuade the Navy and GE that I could rewrite the OP myself to correct the deficiencies myself. I spent the next year in rewriting the OP for the DGBC on my own time and it was completed and judged satisfactory after that period of time. My main concern over doing this job was to provide that Sailor on deterrent patrol with a maintenance manual that he could use while he was on a 70 day patrol to keep DGBC operating and ready to perform missile launches at all times during that deterrent patrol. By the way, the contract from the Navy gave GE $75,000 and I did all of the work in making the corrections to the OP. I did not even put in a beneficial suggestion for compensation for my efforts. I did by the way receive a letter of commendation from Guided Missile School, Dam Neck, Virginia. But the Submarine Sailors on deterrent patrol gained from that effort and that is what was important, along with our country being more secure during the Cold War.

Very Respectfully,
E. A. Hughes, FTCM (SS)
USNavy (Retired)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps real leadership is rare because, for the most part, we punish it?