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Leadership Lessons from San Diego’s Military

The cohort gets a briefing from the USS Benfold crew before boarding for a tour.
The cohort gets a briefing from the USS Benfold crew before boarding for a tour.

Despite being a fourth generation native to a city whose military history is as long as its sandy white beaches, my interaction with military life is limited at best. So when the LEAD San Diego IMPACT class recently spent the day learning about the military’s impact on our region, I was eager to get an in-depth look.

The cohort spent the day with well-respected military ambassadors, including Rear Adm. Dixon Smith, who presented a number of achievements and challenges faced by the San Diego military community – from sustainability efforts and post-military job training to the looming sequestration cuts.

Adm. Smith and retired Capt. Larry Blumberg of the San Diego Military Advisory Council painted a vibrant picture of just how integrated the military community is in the region’s economic prosperity.

With one in four San Diego jobs supported by defense spending and more than $20 billion in military funds flowing to San Diego through different channels, it’s no wonder that sequestration has many military personnel and civilians shaking in their boots. While some estimate San Diego’s geography and the Defense Department’s focus on the Pacific Rim may spare us from some of the worst cuts, the impact could reverberate well beyond the military community into engineering, food service, construction, shipbuilding and other industries.

One of the highlights of the cohort’s day on Naval Base San Diego was a tour of the Destroyer USS Benfold, which recently returned to San Diego after a seven-month deployment to the Western Pacific and Middle East. A young officer, who in addition to showing us the bridge and some impressive firepower, talked to us about learning to lead while he was deployed on the ship.

LEAD San Diego IMPACT class participants learned valuable lessons on leadership from our military hosts.
LEAD San Diego IMPACT class participants learned valuable lessons on leadership from our military hosts.

After graduating college, he joined the Navy and was assigned to lead the mechanical division on the USS Benfold, despite having no mechanical background. Imagine being a 22-year-old greenhorn, expected to lead an entire division of mechanical experts, some of whom may have decades of experience, but are looking to you for direction. He spoke, almost glowingly, about the assistance he received from superiors as well as subordinates, and said that both were instrumental in allowing him to grow as a leader.

It reminded me that we all too often look to authority figures or supervisors to teach us how to lead, when our peers can be just as rich of a resource. It’s also a reminder to emerging leaders that they can help improve the skills of those around them with a simple suggestion or by providing a different point of view.

Whether you’ve been mentoring for years or are just starting out on your journey, we’re all responsible for helping develop great leaders.

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