The Leadership Lessons I Learned From Managing a Crisis on a Navy Submarine
Before joining the corporate world, I spent eight years as a U.S. Navy submarine officer. Looking back, those early years served as a "leadership laboratory" where I learned critical skills on how to build, manage and inspire strong teams. At times, the lessons I learned were hard ones. In such tight confines and many feet beneath the ocean's surface, the stakes are high and every decision can impact the safety of the crew. There was one particularly formative experience that stands out and helped shape me into the leader I am today.
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When you're on a submarine, one of the most dangerous scenarios can be resurfacing, because there's limited visibility right above you. During one of my stints, I heard a noise while the submarine was surfacing and realized we were coming up beneath another ship. I knew I had to act fast to keep the crew out of danger. I needed to sound the alarm, but as a more junior officer, I was hesitant. Despite those feelings of uncertainty, I immediately went for it, sounded the alarm and was able to restore safety. In hindsight, this experience taught me leadership lessons I've carried with me ever since.
Here are three vital leadership lessons from the deep that will help you become a more effective leader and build stronger, more dynamic teams:
1. Trust your instincts.
Naval training prepared me for many scenarios aboard a submarine, but when put to the test in a moment of crisis, I had to deeply trust my instincts. As executives in the business landscape, we're often taught that numbers and facts are the most important when it comes to decision-making, but trusting your instinct is critical, too. When you learn to trust yourself first and stop second-guessing, it's one of the first steps that allows you to become an effective leader. It enables you to tackle a problem head-on, without hesitation. Decisiveness can also translate into confidence. And when you're confident that your decisions will lead you to positive results, your team will be more inclined to put their trust and confidence in you as well.
2. Use your voice, no matter your level.
Going back to my time on the submarine and realizing we were coming up beneath another ship, I immediately sounded the alarm for the crew to descend, knowing that my actions would remove us from danger. Although I held a junior role as a submarine officer, I knew I had to speak up and do something to keep the team out of harm's way.
Regardless of how junior you are on a team, there will be moments when you have more information than others or you receive it first. This is the time to step up, take the initiative and be a leader -- no matter your title. Although speaking up and taking a stand can be challenging, it's a critical skill for all growing leaders. Whether you have an idea to bring to the table, a comment, suggestion or even a criticism, using your voice -- your unique perspective -- is essential to being an effective leader and ultimately, moving toward success.
3. Take responsibility.
When I made the decision to sound an alarm, I knew immediately that regardless of the outcome, I would take responsibility. This can be one of the hardest lessons to learn. Luckily for me, the decision to sound the alarm was the right call to make, but that's not always the case when it comes to being a leader (or anyone for that matter). At times, you might make the wrong decision or even fail. It's important to take those missteps, own them and turn them into opportunities or learning lessons. This is also a great way to lead by example and show your team that while mistakes can happen, there's still growth and success that can come out of it. Part of leadership is making the best decision possible with the information at hand and taking responsibility for the results.
I learned invaluable lessons as a U.S. Navy submarine officer that undoubtedly transformed me into the person and leader I am today at Oath. While not every leader will have an experience like I had, the lessons I learned along the way can be applied to anyone looking to be a more effective leader and build and manage stronger teams. Never be afraid to speak up, always trust your instincts and own your decisions and choices in life.