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Difficult Decisions are Foundational to Strong Leadership


If you search Amazon for books on leadership, you’ll find more than 80,000 titles using the word “leadership.” People are hungry to learn about leadership. Going just by the book titles, leadership means different things to different people.

Like most submariners before me, much of our leadership is shrouded in secrecy, with oaths we take not to discuss certain things during our lifetimes. My submarine colleagues reading this know the drill, including taking numerous polygraphs over the years.

Being a leader means making the best decision you can for the largest number of people. It’s not about what is personally best for yourself. This is often called servant leadership, and sometimes forces you to make tough decisions.

I was recently awarded the Robert Link National Commanders Award for leadership and my volunteer work with the U.S. Submarine Veterans Mare Island Base. The award recognizes the many difficult decisions I was up against. After I took the helm of the Mare Island Base, I ran into issues involving ethics breaches; had to ensure I wasn’t swayed by history or previous controversy; conducted extensive independent research; and was required sometimes to make tough, even surgical-like decisions to mitigate risk to the Base and the National Organization.

Leaders often made difficult decisions about people and business. Some that stand out:

I had to relieve a key member who served as an appointed member of a County Board of Supervisors committee. This person’s motives, communications and performance demonstrated reputational risk to our organization. The individual’s replacement produced a much more harmonious relationship with our team and the outside organizations.

I led the team that took an aggressive stance with our bank when we fell victim to financial fraud of our bank accounts. The $20,000 pilfered from our accounts was not puny, and through diligent work we resolved the issue within 72 hours.

The California Lost Boat Memorial — a separate nonprofit organization with members of our Submarine Veterans overseeing operations — had fallen out of compliance with the IRS and state entities. Most of its members had passed on (known as being on Eternal Patrol) or moved out of state, and I feared reputation damage to the national organization. I engineered a full overhaul of its operations, bylaws and financial controls, and putting in many late-night hours we turned around the Memorial into a healthy organization.

We rebuilt our relationship with the USS Pampanito Museum Submarine and San Francisco National Maritime Park Association, strengthening it to a solid foundation. This included successfully raising over $20,000 during COVID.

The Mare Island Base/Chapter (for which I’m Base Commander) also received the Golden Anchor Award for innovation and leadership in recruitment, retention and chapter development.

Receiving an award doesn’t by itself make a great leader. It does, however, acknowledge that you’re successfully leading your team to do outstanding work that goes toward benefiting a greater good.

 
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