How This Former Submarine Officer Learned to Lead Under Pressure

As a young Navy officer, Rick Stollmeyer made some mistakes. Now, as CEO of Mindbody, he's learned to make more considered decisions.
How This Former Submarine Officer Learned to Lead Under Pressure
Image credit: JP Greenwood
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the March 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

I spent a big portion of my 20s underwater — but not in the emotional sense. Back in the early ’90s, I was a submarine officer, serving at the end of the Cold War.

I was 24 when I reported for duty on the USS Chicago, a fast-attack nuclear submarine. I was put in charge of 13 men, and despite my extensive training, nothing could have fully prepared me for the intensity of my role. 

A month into a mission, the ship’s turbine generators started giving us trouble, and it was my responsibility to get them fixed. The ship’s engineer — who was my boss — proposed a solution, but the chief petty officer wanted a different resolution. Wanting to impress my supervisor and resolve the situation quickly, I ordered the chief petty officer to fix it the engineer’s way, shutting down the conversation and overlooking the officer’s years of expertise. 

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The quick fix turned out to be the right decision for the ship, but it was one I quickly regretted. The chief petty officer was highly respected by the crew, and though I technically outranked him, I was the greenest officer on the ship. I should have taken more time to understand his point of view. I could have arranged a meeting with him and the engineer so we could work through the problem together. Instead, I undermined him and damaged our relationship. 

I never wanted to make that kind of mistake again. 

I left the Navy as a lieutenant in 1993, and as a parting gift, my shipmates gave me a photograph of our submarine, complete with their signatures and inside jokes scrawled across it. I kept it with me as I entered a corporate career in engineering, where I quickly learned that in business, leaders often make similar mistakes, deciding too quickly on a course of action without gathering information and support from the folks who have to carry out that decision. 

Related: Growing Up in the Soviet Union Taught This Founder to be Resourceful

In life, we tend to learn more from bad leadership examples than from good ones, and we learn the most from our own bad decisions. As my career evolved, my photograph of the USS Chicago became my daily reminder of how to make better decisions. In 2001, when I cofounded Mindbody, a technology platform that connects people to wellness, that daily reminder became more important than ever. 

Today, as CEO of Mindbody, I’m responsible for more than 2,000 team members serving more than 60,000 businesses globally. Decisions have to be quick and intentional. We’re nearly two decades in, but it’s still challenging to get things right every day. That’s why the photo of the submarine now hangs prominently in a Navy-themed room in my house. It inspires me to be the best leader I can be and make decisions thoughtfully — no matter the pressure or circumstances. 

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