June 2011 - Navy
by RADM Elizabeth Niemyer
Recently, the topic of sustainable leadership
has received a lot of press, and I am
intrigued by this concept. We’ve all
heard about sustainability as it relates to
the environment––deliberate acts to decrease the
negative impacts of human life, such as the act
of recycling, or decreasing carbon emissions
through walking or bicycling to work. I strive to
be “green” as well. I drive a hybrid automobile;
and in my last position in San Diego, CA, I was
well known for walking to work. I even have the
bragging rights of only having to fill up my gas
tank ten times during a two-year tour!
So how does sustainability apply to leadership?
And is sustainable leadership compatible
with life and leadership in the U. S. Navy?
To help answer these questions, we first
looked at some definitions. According to the
Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary (2011), sustain
is defined, “to keep up; prolong.” The word sustainability
is defined as “the capacity to endure”
(Wikipedia, 2011). Sustainable leadership,
therefore, is leadership which moves an organization
in the present, while having an enduring
impact upon the organization in the future. I view sustainable
leadership as events which reverberate outward––like
the outward flowing ripples of a stone dropped in a lake.
In a survey performed by the Highland Consultant
Group (2009), effective sustainable leadership was found
to be composed of three main attributes: moral values,
influence, and creativity. I believe these three attributes
are key to a successful naval career, and see sustainable
leadership as integral to what we do on a daily basis.
As leaders, we must make honest evaluations of our
qualities, understanding that there is always more to learn.
Leadership is not tied to a certain job title. It is a reflection
of the way we think and the work ethic we keep. We act as
role models and strive to “walk the talk.”
The first attribute of effective sustainable leadership
identified by the Highland Consultant Group was moral
values. We enter into the Navy from a variety of backgrounds
and with differing individual moral values developed
during our upbringing. Indeed, this individual diversity
strengthens our organizational capacity. As an organization,
however, the Navy embodies the values of Honor, Courage,
Honor: “I will bear true faith and allegiance ...”
Courage: “I will support and defend ...”
Commitment: “I will obey the orders ...”
These core values provide sustainability in fundamental
behavior expected of our leaders well beyond one’s naval
The second identified attribute was
influence, which is also extremely important.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to
some of the Navy’s newest officers at the
Officer Development School Graduation
ceremony in Newport, RI. Navy life is much
different today than when I joined. More
than ever, we work in partnership with other
Services and Federal and nongovernmental
entities, as well as many international organizations.
The ability to influence across these
partnerships and foster collaboration is necessary
in order to secure our future. “Strategic
Partnerships” is a goal of the Navy Nurse
Corps to promote deliberate acts of partnering
with Federal (Military, Veterans Administration,
and Active/Reserve Components) and civilian
health care and academic systems in order to
strengthen the profession of nursing and
maximize utilization of limited resources.
Creativity is the third attribute of effective
sustainable leadership according to Highland.
Peter Senge (2009) offers that creating goes
beyond reactive problem solving. Creative
leaders are oriented toward the future vision of the organization.
Furthermore, creativity and innovation can come
from any level of the organization, but it must be cultivated.
I believe that we all have the capacity to excel within us
through the use of these three attributes of sustainable
leadership. Army Gen. Colin Powell (Ret), former U.S.
Secretary of State and former U.S. Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said once, “If you are going to achieve
excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little
matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing
attitude.” We must foster and develop the desire to excel
in ourselves, and in the Sailors we lead. Without drive,
without enthusiasm, and without excellence in our daily
activities, we will not accomplish our mission. And without
sustained actions of leadership, we will shortchange
professional development of our Sailors.
Thank you for your loyal devotion to duty and unselfish
service to our country. It is my honor to share with you
these thoughts today. God bless you and God bless
The author, Rear Admiral Elizabeth S. Niemyer, NC, USN,
is currently assigned as the Deputy Chief, Installations &
Logistics and as the 23rd Director, Navy Nurse Corps.
(Her complete biography is available at navy.mil Web site,