Inside USD

Stockdale Lecture Offers Lessons in Leadership

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Humility and gratitude might not seem like important attributes for flying a fighter jet or leading men and women into battle but those are qualities young officers should cultivate, said Rear Admiral John N. Christenson.

“If you can be humble, keep your ego in check,” and even be willing to use and give credit to the ideas of others, good things are likely to happen, said Christenson, the speaker for the 16th annual James Bond Stockdale Leadership and Ethics Symposium held at USD this week.

Speaking to an audience that included some 200 future officers from the San Diego Air Force, Army and Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), Christenson recalled his years competing against four other commanders of naval warships. ”You can take the approach that this is about me proving to my boss that I’m better than the other four so I can get the gold ring” but “in my experience it doesn’t work,” said Christenson, who has received numerous awards including the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

The purpose of the Stockdale Symposium is to help attendees understand some of the difficult moral and ethical issues facing military officers and other key leaders today. USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, which co-sponsors the event with the NROTC unit headquartered at USD, is seeking to establish a chair in Stockdale’s name.

Christenson, a 1981 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, whose commands included the USS McClusky (FFG 41) and Destroyer Squadron 21 in the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), is currently the president of the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island.

Like past symposium speakers, he praised the late Admiral Stockdale, a Medal of Honor recipient, and the tremendous courage and integrity he showed during his captivity as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. Christenson also led the audience in applauding Sybil Stockdale, the admiral’s wife, who again attended this year’s symposium and is recognized for her work on behalf of families of prisoners of war.

Christenson talked about how the future officers should face the challenges and difficulties that will no doubt come their way. When you feel you’ve been given an impossible problem, “you should look up and say thank you for this opportunity to be the one who gets to solve this problem,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean the right answers will be obvious or easy to see, he added. Things can get “very grey,” he noted, expressing the hope that at least some of the challenges facing the officers in the years ahead will have “black and white” answers.

— Liz Harman

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