Admiral Tom Zelibor at Kellogg

I had the pleasure of meeting a Naval Rear Admiral today (specifically this one), who’s now a Dean at a Naval War College. I resisted the temptation to call him “sir”, and we chatted about his views on leadership. Here‘s Kellogg’s note on the same.

He was wonderfully direct in his communication. Here are some of the insights I picked up.

  • Coaching is the most important part of a senior leader’s job. One should be training those who report to you ultimately to replace you.
  • Leaders should bear in mind what’s best for the organisation, not what’s best for oneself. The two can often be in conflict.
  • He shared a great quote from a Lieutenant General, who said that a leader should be prepared to take the heat for the mistakes of subordinates. That’s awesomely direct – most people really don’t want to do this, but I can see why it’s necessary.
  • Subordinates who are given real responsibility will work their arses off for you.
  • Self-reflection is necessary. This struck me as a most un-military thing to do, so it’s especially meaningful that he said it.
  • One must adapt one’s communication style to others in order to influence them.
  • Don’t have too many checks and controls for decision making. This one is tough for me – as an engineer, I like process, checks and controls. According to Tom, that equals policy which equals bureaucracy. My counterpoint is that it helps minimise the effect of some crazy leader making huge gambles that are out of line with the feel of the whole organisation. Tom believes it slows down decision making. I think we’re both right – the question is where a balance can be found. I suspect that if you trust your people, only minimal checks are required, if at all.

Over the course of our meeting, Tom described a little of his time as a Commander Air Group, or CAG. As he explained what a CAG was, I held myself back from yelling “ooh! I’ve seen those on Battlestar Galactica!” Immediately it become apparent how far apart the worlds of technology and the military are. Perhaps that makes sharing our learning even more useful.

1 thought on “Admiral Tom Zelibor at Kellogg”

  1. Another trait of an effective leader is his/her stamina of persuading the team(s). Many a times great ideas go down the drain in want of repitetive persuasion from the leader.

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