By Rear Adm. Rick Williams, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific
What is the definition of leadership?
That was on my mind last week while attending the annual sea service awards ceremony sponsored by the Honolulu Council of the Navy League to honor young leaders of the Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Navy.
Former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Arleigh Burke, who was considered the father of the modern surface Navy, said, “Leading Sailors is an art, not a science.”
In previous generations, military leadership was defined as influencing others to be obedient, respectful and loyal in order to accomplish the mission.
Today, leadership is more nuanced. Smart leaders use responsiveness, identification, understanding and inspiration to influence and motivate. They help young people find their inspiration from within.
Good leaders encourage people to do things they would not otherwise do on their own. They listen, encourage, create successful conditions, and reward passion and commitment.
Finally, good leaders also support education and lifelong learning because they know knowledge is a force multiplier; wisdom creates confidence and credibility.
The focus at last week’s ceremony was on our sea services, but these principles apply throughout the military, and I believe they are universal throughout society.
Helping someone discover his or her passion, motivation and desire to make a difference is extremely rewarding, and when people find their sense of purpose, they become better leaders themselves.
Most of the sea service awardees were millennials. Born between the early ’80s and through the ’90s, they have spent most of their lives experiencing the uncertainties of conflict following 9/11 and many economic challenges.
The youngest generation has been part of a more globalized world, which results in greater competition and an associated sense of urgency. So the millennials are accustomed to coordinating, communicating and cooperating in ways many Gen Xers and baby boomers may not. They possess a competitive spirit to get innovative things done, and they embrace technologies and adapt ahead of change better than other generations—they are setting the new pace.
In fact, this younger generation is ushering in the new “Cooperation Age.”
Entrepreneur experts like Aaron Hurst believe that the millennials, with their builtin sense of purpose, are essential in advancing change and progress in these challenging times. Our Navy certainly appreciates this view and leads society in employing young people. The average age of our Sailors is 22. Most of them joined after Sept. 11, 2001, and many joined because of 9/11.
During RIMPAC, our Task Force Energy and Environment [TFEE] demonstrated for the first time the ability to generate solar power in the field for sustained humanitarian assistance operations. This humanitarian assist exercise proved new expeditionary energy initiatives while training for civilian disaster support.
The success of the TFEE initiative was due to the creativity of young people who led the effort. We provided the end goal and means to achieve the goal, but they found the way—the how—to make it work.
This same generation is going to apply this innovative spirit in other domains as well. As technologies mature, new capabilities like rail-gun and directed energy weapons will be mastered by this young generation, and this will be a new revolution in military affairs similar to other technology breakthroughs realized during previous transformation eras like steam to diesel and gas turbines or nuclear power.
We need to continue to look for ways to challenge, resource and reward our team of young innovators. A prepared mind is ready for creating opportunity.
The leadership awards help us say thanks to the young men and women who are working together and encourage them to continue leading efforts in the defense of freedom.