Educational background: University of Texas, Biology; Central Michigan University
Current or most recent position: Vice Commandant, United States Coast Guard
Every day in the United States Coast Guard is a challenge of risk management. Dangerous work in unforgiving circumstances. I learned risk management as an aviator and as Atlantic area commander in charge of the eastern half of the world. And I'm now using that training in my role as second in command of the Coast Guard.
Risk management is something I know about, but it's just one tool in the larger management kit necessary for leadership in the Coast Guard. The MIT Sloan Fellows Program added to my personal tool kit. I'd enroll again today if I could, because there's always something new and essential to learn and, in my view, MIT is an ideal place to learn it.
After I left the program, I moved up into a position that required me to build the Coast Guard's budget — and, just as important, market that budget to the administration on Capitol Hill. Although I now wish I'd focused more of my attention on marketing, the work I did do in the subject at MIT Sloan comes in handy every day.
And finance, accounting, technology management, system dynamics. One of the most thought-provoking courses I took as a fellow was on ethical dilemmas. The range of readings was incredible, from Genesis to Billy Budd, from Frankenstein to The Secret Sharer — 20 or 30 books in all. We delved deeply into issues about the exercise of power and making tough choices that pit the good of the individual against the good of the whole.
What I learned in that class and from classmates during my entire year as an MIT Sloan Fellow contributes to who I am right now as a leader. I draw on that knowledge in managing the Coast Guard's senior staff, in succession planning and high-level strategy, and in making major acquisitions, including the replacement of our $25 billion dollar offshore capability.
I couldn't do any of this without understanding one key reality of leadership: you can't do it all yourself. Working my way up the ranks in the Coast Guard and spending a year in the intensive team environment of the MIT Sloan Fellows Program taught me that you must rely on the people working with you. Reinforce them, accommodate them when you can, and give them room to do what they do best.
I told one of my first bosses in the Coast Guard that I wanted to go to flight school, but back then women were barred from attending. He said, “We're going to change that.” He taught me not to give up. And I didn't give up. I was one of the first two women in the United States Coast Guard assigned to flight school and the second to get my wings.
I learned something else very important from that experience. Changing attitudes is very much a part of being a good leader, as is being a good mentor. A good leader helps others to achieve their dreams.