Return to Leadership Competencies and Models

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original was posted by The Navy Public Affairs Library (NAVPALIB)
   A service of the Navy Office of Information, Washington DC

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Remarks as delivered by 
The Honorable John H. Dalton, Secretary of the Navy
USNA Graduation, Annapolis, MD
31 May 1995

TIMELESS TRAITS OF LEADERSHIP
                                    
     Thank you, Chuck [Admiral Larson].  I want to congratulate
you on the outstanding job you have done here at the Academy. 
One of the decisions I am most proud of was my decision to make
Admiral Chuck Larson Superintendent of the Naval Academy.  He has
stepped in and demonstrated once again his extraordinary
leadership ability.  I thank you, the Academy thanks you, the
Naval Service thanks you, and, above all, America thanks you for
producing such outstanding young officers as we have graduating
here today.

     I am very pleased today to have two people--who are very
special to me--here with us.  ...First of all, my claim to fame--
the first lady of the Navy, my wife, Margaret... and sitting with
her is a young man who graduated with honors last year from
Davidson College and taught for a year at a Peace Corps-related
service in Jamaica--teaching kids in the third world... and who
is going to be entering Officer Candidate School this August to
become a Naval Officer of the United States Navy: my son John.  

     We are also very pleased to have with us today an
outstanding Member of Congress, who has been a strong support and
friend of the naval service, Congressman Steny Hoyer.

     I have a letter I would like to read to you from our
Commander-in-Chief.  He wanted to be here today, but was called
to that other Academy out in Colorado.  I took the first prize
and came here.  The letter reads:

          Congratulations to the class of 1995 as you complete
     your studies at the United States Naval Academy.  You can
     take great pride in the skills and character you have
     developed, knowing that you are well prepared to meet the
     tremendous challenge of leadership.  Through the past 150
     years, more than 60 thousand Naval Academy men and women
     have helped to keep our nation great.  

          Today, America looks to you to maintain this tradition
     of excellence.  I am confident that you will be equal to the
     task.  As you establish new standards of able performance
     and lead the Naval and Marine Corps into the 21st Century,
     you will stand as a beacon of liberty and democracy for
     nations around the world.  On behalf of all Americans, thank
     you for your dedication to the idea of freedom and your
     commitment for defending the Constitution of the United
     States.  Best wishes to each of you for every future
     success.  Signed... Bill Clinton
                    
     It is simply not possible to describe what a great honor and
privilege it is for me to be the principal speaker at the
sesquicentennial graduation ceremony of this great institution
that I love.  I'm proud to be a graduate of the United States
Naval Academy, and I know how proud and excited you are today 
because I remember so well how I felt as I sat where you now sit
on graduation day in 1964.  The speaker was Congressman Carl
Vinson, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.   Due to
the day's excitement, I remember very little of what he said.

     Three decades from now, you probably won't remember much of
what I say either.  But, I hope that you get the main point.
Actually, in preparation for this speech I went back to review
Carl Vinson's text.  He said "during your Navy careers there not
only will continue to be Secretaries of the Navy, but these
Secretaries will also continue to shoulder heavy responsi-
bilities."  Those words did not have any significance to me at
that time.  They certainly do now!  Paul Nitze was Secretary of
the Navy then and handed me my diploma as I will have the honor
to present yours to you today.  

     At graduation last year President Clinton said, "I came here
today because I want America to know there remains no finer Navy
in the world than the United States Navy, and no finer training
ground for naval leadership than the United States Naval
Academy."  I could not agree more.  Today, I want to talk to you
about naval leadership and my experience here as a midshipman.

     When I was a sophomore at Byrd High School in Shreveport,
Louisiana, we had a guest speaker who said that in his opinion
the finest overall education that anyone could get in our 
country was at the United States Naval Academy.  My mother always
taught me to "hitch my wagon to a star," so I decided right then
the Academy was where I wanted to go.  That was the only place I
applied, but in the spring of my senior year, I learned that I
had not been accepted.  I was devastated!  So, I went to LSU for
a year, which I enjoyed, but my heart was still set on the Naval
Academy.  The next year I was admitted into the Class of 1964.

     I got off to a rocky start as a plebe and continued to have
some painful and humbling experiences.  I wanted to row crew, but
got cut plebe summer.  The first time they published an unsat
list for academics my name was on it.  I wanted to fly, but my
eyes deteriorated.  I competed for a Rhodes Scholarship and was
not selected.  

     But, I also had many great and memorable experiences here. 
I marched with the whole brigade in John F. Kennedy's inaugural
parade.  Sadly, I later led a special honor company that marched
in his funeral procession to Arlington National Cemetery.  I
spent first class summer on a foreign exchange cruise with Her
Majesty's Royal Navy in Singapore.  I had the privilege to serve
as a striper in one of the truly great classes ever to graduate 
from here.  For four years in a row, we "beat Army" in
football...and I am confident that come the first Saturday in
December, we are going to start that habit one more time!  

     The greatest lesson I learned came from our Superintendent,
Rear Admiral Charles C. Kirkpatrick.  He repeatedly told us, "You
can do anything you set your mind to do, and don't you forget
it."  I pass that on to you.  You can do anything you set your
mind to do, and don't you forget it.

     I know that right now your minds are on the end of your long
voyage here...and the pride and joy you feel in what you have
accomplished.  Your family and friends share that pride and so do
I.  But along with the celebration, this is also a moment for
each of you to think seriously about the challenges you will face
in the future.   

     As you move forward in life, the one thing you will always
need is a framework on which to base your approach to leadership.
I have given much thought over the years to my own framework.  It
helped me with the leadership challenges I faced--as a
midshipman, an active duty submarine officer, a Naval reservist,
a community leader, and government official.  

     Recently an acquaintance of mine, a theologian from
California, sent me a list of eight specific leadership traits
that he drew from chapter 27 of the book of  Acts in the Bible. 
In a succinct way, he has caught traits essential to my
leadership framework.  Now I'm not a preacher and this is not a
sermon.  But you certainly don't have to be a religious person to
appreciate the value of these traits, and you don't have to be a
Biblical scholar to interpret them.

     These traits have stood the test of time.  The list is as
follows:  A leader is trusted, a leader takes the initiative, a
leader uses good judgment, a leader speaks with authority, a
leader strengthens others, is optimistic and enthusiastic, never
compromises absolutes, and leads by example.

     This list can be exemplified by predecessors of yours from
this Academy who have captured the essence of these leadership
traits.

     The first trait is trust.  I am told by Admiral Larson that
your class admires President Jimmy Carter, Class of 1947, and so
do I.  He personifies trust.  He was successful with the Camp
David Accords and the Middle East Peace Treaty, and he continues
to serve the cause of peace in the world,  because he is so
honest and straightforward that he is genuinely trusted. 

     As plebes, you memorized a great example of trust.  At the
Battle of Manila Bay, Admiral George Dewey (Class of 1859) turned
to the captain of his flagship and said, "You may fire when 
ready, Gridley."  This Academy teaches trust and Admiral Dewey
trusted each captain and crew to fight without need for his
personal direction.   

     A leader takes the initiative.  "Carpe Diem" Latin for
"seize the day" has always been a fundamental tenet of
leadership.
  
     I find inspiration in this regard in the deeds of Vice
Admiral Jim Stockdale, a classmate of President Carter, who took
command of his fellow Prisoners of War in Hanoi at the height of
the Vietnam conflict.  Admiral Stockdale initiated and led
cohesive resistance to torture and abuse despite the daily
uncertainty of his own fate.

     Good judgment is also critical to good leadership.  Good
judgment is not just evident in success, it can be most evident
in defeat and disappointment. 

     In the Battle of the Coral Sea, the carrier USS LEXINGTON--
one of our few assets following Pearl Harbor--took multiple hits
that caused her to list and burn.  Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch
(Class of 1906), commander of the carrier group--and later a
Superintendent of the Naval Academy--calmly assessed damage
control efforts.  He then turned to the LEXINGTON's captain and
said, "It's time to get the men off this thing."  Twenty-seven
hundred lives were saved by that one judgment call.  A good
leader needs to make tough decisions especially when things are
going wrong.
 
     The next trait is at the heart of a leader's personality.  A
leader speaks with authority.  A leader needs to have sufficient
confidence in what he is saying so that potential followers will
be convinced.  The best way to convince people is to speak with
authority.  And if that authority is matched by knowledge then
the chances for leadership are greatly enhanced.  

     The development of the concept of amphibious warfare was
initiated by Marine Corps Commandants who combined authority with
conviction and knowledge.  From its origins during the tenures of
Commandants John Lejeune, Wendell Neville, and Benjamin Fuller,
through the establishment of the Fleet Marine Force under General
John H. Russell, all Naval Academy graduates, the development of
the Marine Corps as America's expeditionary force was the result
of leadership.  It was backed by the experience of campaigns in
the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific and China.  These
leaders spoke with authority in directing new ideas because they
had experienced the old ideas and borne the scars.

     Likewise, when Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh
Burke (Class of 1923) began the project to build the first fleet
ballistic missile submarine, he needed to convince both the
civilian leadership and the Navy itself that the program required
top priority.  The authority of his presentation was fortified
with his combat experience--and his reflections about the
deterrence implications of that experience.

     A leader strengthens others.  A good leader does not seek to
impose his or her own attitudes or solutions on others.  Rather,
the leader provides the support and guidance that prompts others
to have confidence in their own abilities and decision-making.

     When Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz (Class of 1905) arrived to
take command of the remnants of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl
Harbor, his first effort was to renew the confidence of the staff
and the commanding officers that they could go on to victory. 
Rather than making heads roll, he made them think.  Rather than
emphasizing the mistakes, he convinced his subordinates that they
were the ones to overcome the past.  Those who served under him
recalled that his very "presence" seemed to give confidence
wherever he was.  He strengthened others to believe their
abilities could achieve the crucial victory that they sought.  
     
     A leader remains optimistic and enthusiastic.  To lead
effectively, see the glass as half-full, not half-empty. 
Believe, every morning, that things are going to be better than
before.  Attitudes are infectious.  Optimism and enthusiasm
overcome the greatest challenges.

     Captain John Paul Jones captured this idea with the immortal
quote, "I have not yet begun to fight."  I have a painting of
that famous battle between the Bonhomme Richard and Serapis
hanging in my office and it inspires me every day.  John Paul
Jones's spirit of optimism and enthusiasm has been a part of our
Navy since the American Revolution.    

     A leader never compromises absolutes.  Defense of American
freedom and obedience to the Constitution of the United States
are two absolutes the Naval Service lives by, and for which our
Sailors and Marines may face death.       

     Admiral Hyman Rickover (Class of 1922), the father of the
nuclear Navy--by whom I was interviewed for the Navy's nuclear
program--vividly demonstrated this commitment to absolutes.  He
wanted to ensure there was no compromise in the safety of our
submarines.  And he did this by setting an example.  Most
Americans don't know that Admiral Rickover went on the first
trial dive of every nuclear submarine the Navy built.  He knew
that it wasn't enough to simply certify on paper that a new
submarine was safe.  If Sailors were going to trust their lives
to an untested submarine, he would go with them.  If something
seemed like it was going wrong during the dive, he would calmly
go to the compartment where the problem appeared and sit to watch
the crew handle it.  How could you be afraid when this small,
wrinkled old man was not?  How could you treat safety as anything
but an absolute. 

     This leads to the final quality on this list of traits: 
example.  The best leaders need fewer words than most, because
they lead with their lives.  In the sports world, example is not
just ability, but both the willingness to lead and the humility
to support a team effort that is stronger than one skilled
individual.  Roger Staubach class of '65 and David Robinson class
of '87 are competitors who set the example as both leaders and
teammates.

     Among today's Naval leaders, Rear Admiral Anthony Watson,
class of 1970, has set an example that many young Americans have
decided to follow.  Raised in a public housing project in
Chicago, he was a recognized leader in every position from
midshipman to Commanding Officer to Deputy Commandant here, and
became the first African-American submariner to make flag rank.
He takes over soon as Commander of the Navy Recruiting Command, a
position that demands a very public example.

     And finally, I want to mention an academy graduate who
exemplifies the fact that women in the Navy and Marine Corps no
longer face any limits to their dreams. Since the age of ten,
LCDR Wendy Lawrence, class of 1981, dreamed of becoming an
astronaut. Three years ago she fulfilled that childhood dream. 
She became the first female naval aviator chosen by NASA for the
astronaut program and was a mission specialist on the shuttle
Endeavour's last mission.  LCDR Lawrence demonstrates that what
matters to the Naval service, above all else, is your performance
as an officer.  Man or woman, you will rise as high as your
abilities will take you. 

     These eight traits of leadership provide a path, a course
that has been marked for almost two thousand years.

     There is a long line of Naval heroes before you...men and
women tried by history.  Your turn has come.  That's what you
were trained for.  That is why the Naval Academy has existed for
150 years.  Not just to educate...not just to train you in the
arts of war...not just to provide competent officers.  But to
instill you with a commitment and tradition of service and
leadership that will remain with you forever.  

     In character and in deed, you will always be the ones to set
the example.  This institution is unique because its mission is
to ensure that in your hearts you are unique... that foremost and
everywhere the defense of American liberty will remain your
task... whether in the Naval Service or elsewhere.  Those people
behind you are counting on you.  When you shake hands with me as
you receive your diploma, let's regard it as a pact--a bond
between two graduates of this extraordinary institution--to be as
worthy as we can possibly be of those who have gone before
us...of those who march with us today...and of those who will
follow us.  In a few moments, your diploma and our handshake will
seal that bond.  And then the real challenge will begin. 

     God bless you.  God bless the United States Navy and United
States Marine Corps.  And God bless America.
                               -USN-