The Captain's guide to leadership: Three lessons from the Navy's finest
By John Harrell, Vice President, Title - Settlement Services, Anywhere Integrated Services
My first commanding officer onboard USS Alaska said something that has stayed with me for my entire civilian career. During his change of command–when he bade farewell to the crew and welcomed our new captain–he told us that if we chose to leave the Navy, there are three things we would not find in corporate America that we enjoy in the military and in the submarine force, in particular. First, the closeness of our relationships formed with shipmates would not be replicated in the private sector. Second, the density of talent, capability and character are not likely to be matched in the companies we might join. And finally, we would not find a more noble calling than defending the freedoms of our nation.
While I must agree that the Captain’s observations were true in a literal sense, they have given me something to look for and strive to create within the environments in which I’ve worked after leaving the Navy.
For example, there’s no way to get to know coworkers as well as those you’ve spent 70-plus days at a time with locked inside a steel tube, hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean, living among 24 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. It’s just different. However, I have experienced, and later learned to foster, team environments that went beyond just “people you work with,” and grew into something more like a genuine camaraderie, lasting friendships and mutual investment and support. That’s not only a better environment to work in, but it also leads to better business outcomes.
The most important aspect of leadership for me is recruitment, selection and development of the absolute best talent. I know the genesis of that personal tenet was the rigorous screening required to enter the silent service. Not only was it difficult to get in, the ongoing standards that had to be met just to keep your job were numerous and challenging. The result of such standards was sustained high performance from an engaged, motivated crew. And I’ve found that nothing drives performance, for better or worse, than the talent density resulting from who you bring onto the team and the bar you hold for performance.
Finally, perhaps the toughest of my captain’s axioms to transfer to a career with for-profit companies is that of working for a higher purpose. There’s not much that can compare to the altruism of serving in a combat unit in a high state of readiness to protect your country. However, I don’t think it’s completely accidental that I’ve spent most of my career in residential real estate: first in mortgage and now in title and escrow. Homeownership is still a part of the American dream, and I try to remind myself what it was like when I purchased my first home right after I separated from the Navy. Behind every closing, there is a family with a story. If I can somehow create an environment where that challenging process can be simpler and less stressful, well that’s easily a purpose to get me up in the morning.
So, as a call to action I challenge you to:
- Create and foster a special chemistry and culture on your team.
- Recruit only the best and brightest, hold performance standards high and relentlessly manage performance.
- Be deliberate about linking the work to something that’s bigger than any one person or team.
About John Harrell
John Harrell is a Vice President at Anywhere Integrated Services. In his role, he is responsible for leading its national operations center and process optimization teams. He has a proven track record of achievement in analytically based strategy development and execution to successfully grow businesses. Prior to his role at Anywhere Integrated Services, John has worked in many facets of the financial services and real estate industries and has managed teams at large-scale organizations such as USAA, Capital One and CitiMortgage. John also served as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy.