That was the message from U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Ross A. Myers, U.S. Cyber Command Deputy Commander, during a virtual commissioning ceremony for some of the U.S. military’s newest officers at University of Kansas.
As a KU graduate himself, Myers had a few key leadership lessons for the new officers, noting the commissioned officers would be facing challenges—from a pandemic to the great power competition-- that the nation hasn’t seen since the First World War.
1. Overcome disappointment
Learning to adapt and overcome disappointment is a key lesson for leaders, according to Myers.
“When I was a student naval aviator and received my wings of gold, all I wanted to do was be a Selectively Retained Graduates –to be a flight instructor– then go to the Fleet,” said Myers. “I graduated number one in my class, student of the month. But I did not get selected for that job, or to initially fly the plane I wanted.”
Myers took a moment to acknowledge what may have been the first, but certainly not the last, of unforeseen disappointments to come—but emphasized those moments can be leveraged in a fortuitous way.
“Like you, I am painfully aware that today, due to the pandemic, all of you are denied the ability to walk down the Hill for graduation, a KU tradition everyone looks forward to,” said Myers. “I am here to say this won’t be your last time you are disappointed. One of the things I want to leave you with is learn to overcome disappointment.”
When life doesn’t turn out like you envisioned, see that moment through the lens of opportunity. Consider how those unexpected turns in life can lead to unexpected experiences.
“At the time of my winging, I didn’t get anything I wanted,” Myers shared. “But I got everything that I needed.”
One of the U.S. Navy’s newest ensigns, Hope McAlexander, a Surface Warfare officer took the advice to heart: “I enjoyed his message about overcoming disappointment and will use it as motivation to be better.”
2. Grow where you are planted
To Myers, part of leadership is committing to excellence in everything you do, no matter what you may be tasked with. Even if it is something you weren’t expecting, choose to “grow where you are planted.”
It is simple: if it is worth doing, do it well. Don’t focus on the awards or promotions, aspire to do your absolute best in any situation, and everything else will follow.
This message resonated with U.S. Navy Surface Warfare officer Ensign Eric Gustafson, who was heartened by the admiral’s perspective. “He mentioned doing our best wherever we are, and things will work themselves out—that’s a great message.”
3. Never surrender your integrity
If leaders want others to willingly follow them, they must strive to keep integrity in their daily lives. As Myers emphasized, everything in your life can be taken away from you…everything except your integrity. Integrity is only lost when it is given up freely, and once it’s gone, it is almost impossible to get back.
“His remarks on integrity were spot on and really tied everything we learned from our class into something more tangible than case studies from a book,” said U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Matthew Gant. “Hearing it from someone else makes it even more real.”
While these three lessons aren’t the only ones the new officers will learn throughout their military careers, Myers recognized today’s rough seas provided a unique moment in history to grow as leaders.
For those leading within the one percent of Americans who serve in the military, never forget: seize the opportunities, embrace the challenges, and act with integrity in all things.