5 Tips to Develop a Solid Leadership Foundation

By Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Stacey L. Zimmerman, Master-at-Arms 1st Class Jacob A. Widener, Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Ann C. Jones and Yeoman 1st Class Paige S. Bosco. 


Through Laying the Keel — like the solid backbone of a ship — the Navy seeks to empower future Navy leaders to build a lasting framework for leadership development. To that end, the recent SAILOR 360 inspired Naval Support Activity Mid-South 2019 Leadership Symposium leveraged various experiences, backgrounds, leadership styles and perspectives to help build and strengthen the leadership foundations of those who attended. The two day symposium, hosted by the First Class Petty Officer Association, featured motivating and insightful presentations from various speakers on the first day, and battle stations type events designed to get Sailors to work together to overcome challenges on the second day — promoting trust and teamwork.

From the symposium, here are the top five takeaways to help you develop a solid leadership foundation:

  1. Humility

Remember where you came from. Many times, we forget where we started and it’s important to realize at one point in your career you were a junior Sailor. Learn to practice “Followership.” You need to not only practice it, but also teach it to others. You can’t lead if you don’t know how to follow. Share yourself and your experiences. We are all human and we all make mistakes. Sometimes you will not have all the answers, but someone else might and it’s OK to ask for help. It’s how we learn and it’s a two-way street. As much as you learn from your leaders, your leaders will learn from you.

Seaman Caleb Geffeney poses for a photo in the well deck of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryre Arciaga/Released)


  1. Focus on Team-Building

The biggest thing everyone always talks about: communication. Learn to talk to each other. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or look someone in the eye to have an actual conversation. Email and electronic devices have made communication faster, but not necessarily better. We need to talk to each other. If someone is speaking, don’t just pay attention, actively listen to what they are trying to tell you and be receptive to suggestions. Be honest with each other. One of the hardest things you can do is to be honest with your team and peers. Your viewpoint has value; don’t be afraid to express it. It will help build trust within your team.

Camaraderie is real. It’s not about the “I”; it’s about the “WE.” The title or position doesn’t matter; it is about the impact of what you’re doing. Remember that everyone plays a role in the bigger picture.

  1. Diversify Your Perspectives

We all come from different walks of life; we are different people coming from different places, and we have different values. Take advantage of those views and respect them. A different set of eyes on an issue can provide an enormous amount of clarity. Use it and learn from it.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (March 22, 2019) Sailors applaud after an award was announced at an all hands call on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Steven Edgar/Released)

Challenge yourself and pull yourself out of your comfort zone. You will never grow as a leader if you don’t get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Use every situation as a way to learn and develop yourself. It will help you learn your weak spots. If you want to develop Sailors, you need to develop yourself as well.

  1. Adapt and Overcome

It’s really hard to learn to let go of control. You can’t do everything or control every outcome. Even though the way something was done might not be how you would have done it, you need to realize that if the goal is met and the task is complete, it’s complete.

Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Grimley (DDG 101) practice firefighting skills and techniques by battling a simulated fire at the Bremerton International Emergency Services Training Center (BIESTC). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Wyatt L. Anthony/Released)


Change is rough. No one likes change. But, you can’t stop it. You have to learn to evolve and embrace change. You may not always agree with the change, but don’t reject it because you don’t understand it. Be patient and pause. Take a moment and take a breath. You will not always have all the pieces to the big picture.

Not everything is under your control. Be flexible. Sometimes, things have to play out. Never lower your standards, but learn to adjust your expectations.

  1. Never Give Up

Face it, as a leader you’re not going to get everything right all the time. At some point or another, you will make a mistake and it might feel like the end of the world; it’s not. Good leaders are leaders who take obstacles and turn them into learning experiences. Your keel, the backbone of your foundation as a leader, is constantly evolving. If it’s not working right, and the structure just isn’t what it should be, don’t be afraid to rebuild it.

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