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01
Sustainable actions of leadership

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, and Commitment.

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 career.

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 America!


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, http://www.navy.mil/navydata/bios/bio.asp?bioID=496.)

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