It all began as a Loop
Updated: Jan 16
This is a blog about leadership from the perspective of a lawyer and a naval aviator. For over 36 years, I have served in many high visibility positions both as a Naval officer and as a lawyer, in the military and in the legal profession. These positions have included serving as an admiral's aide, a naval flight officer, a federal judicial law clerk, a commanding officer of a U.S. Navy aircraft squadron, a partner in a national law firm, and a senior in-house corporate counsel for a Fortune 500 company. As a lawyer and aviator, I have had a lot of bosses.
I have learned lessons that have become integral to my success from all of these positions. Many of the lessons I learned about leadership and business success and failure from my experiences in both the military and the civilian world built upon each other. In fact, many of the lessons were reinforced or reemerged with a slight twist depending on the job and the boss over the years. Regardless, common themes and threads remained relevant and constant.
Several years ago, I realized that these lessons of principled leadership have been guiding my success in military positions and civilian jobs. Each military and civilian position has had its unique demands and performance criteria. But, ultimately, the principles of leadership and business execution are very much the same as I have watched leaders in both environments.
As previously noted, many leadership books speak to being a leader. This blog speaks first to being the servant follower and learning from leaders, and then using those leadership lessons for a lifetime of military and legal success.
As a lawyer, of course I have to start with a few disclaimers. As I have grown older and hopefully wiser, more information, facts, and data have moved onto an already crowded hard drive of my brain. However, I will endeavor to accurately recount what I recall while taking the liberty to change the names and modify some anecdotes however slightly when it is best to do so or quite honestly, when my memory might have faded slightly, and the sea stories have aged with time.
A few years ago a neurologist told me during a routine memory test to just keep a 3x5 card in my shirt pocket and jot things down as a memory tool like he did. Ironically, Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Benkowski told me the exact same thing more directly with his face about 2 inches from mine more than 40 years ago when I was a young Navy ROTC college midshipman. He said: "An officer always carries a pen and a 3x5 card!" From that day forward, Gunny Benkowski never caught me anywhere on campus without a white 3x5 index card and a black pen in my pants pocket.
Regardless, in all of these stories, the faces, feelings, sounds, smells, and scenes that have formed these lessons remain burned into my hard drive. The stories are etched in my memory and intended to be based on actual circumstances.
In addition to some potential license for minor modification, all the opinions are my own and do not reflect those of any of my employers. I was very fortunate that throughout my entire 24-year naval reserve career, every civilian boss I had and every employer I worked for highly supported my military service.
I will also include photos, many of which are actual depictions of the events described, and I include others to provide color and visual representations of the events or places. Finally, some have absolutely nothing to do with the story, but I like them.
Leadership, servitude, accountability, and responsibility are foundational to many of the lessons I learned as a 27-year-old admiral's aide in the Navy. I worked for two admirals as an aide. Both were senior Naval aviators and my boss.
The first was Admiral Claron E. Johnson, III. His professional colleagues and friends simply knew him as "Ted." He was a wonderful fatherly figure. I was his third aide, so he knew what to expect in an aide. He had also "fired" his first aide. Things just did not work out well, but the Admiral took care of the relieved aide despite that early departure. Admiral Johnson was a salty admiral who had also commanded a group of Navy ships.
The second boss was Admiral David S. Simpson. He replaced Admiral Johnson after about a year of my being on the job when Admiral Johnson got a second star and military orders transferring him to a new duty station. I was Admiral Simpson's first aide, so I used my knowledge to help him realize how to use an aide to make his daily life easier. There are just some tasks that it is better for the aide to do rather than the admiral, which will be explained in greater detail later.
Both Admiral Johnson and Admiral Simpson were exceptional tactical aviators, exemplary Navy leaders, and great teachers. They were also good bosses.
I have remembered and applied all the lessons I learned as an admiral's aide throughout my life as I changed jobs over the years and moved into leadership positions myself. Those lessons are just as relevant today in my job as a senior in-house lawyer for a multi-billion-dollar corporation as they were for me as a young Navy lieutenant.
So, I will start with where the keen realization of "who is the boss" first began: as a Flag Lieutenant or Admiral's Aide in the U.S. Navy, affectionately known as "The Loop." As the Loop, there was no doubt about it, the Admiral was the boss!