Four Experiences Every Successful Leader Needs

I often get asked what it was like to attend the Naval Academy. My initial response, “Well, it definitely wasn’t a typical college experience.”

We “chopped” down the hallways as freshmen, wore civilian clothes on liberty our sophomore year, got to drive as Juniors, and got to park our car on The Yard (Academy grounds) our Senior year!

The foundation of my leadership is because of my parents and the Naval Academy experience.

Ultimately, we were part of a four-year crucible in leadership training commissioned to lead our great Navy and Marine Corps.

Each Year Represents a Critical Leader Experience


As a freshman, we’re called plebes. The term itself originates from ancient Rome as a lower class citizen or commoner. The idea is that we must first serve as followers to truly appreciate the challenges and circumstances of the individuals we will soon to be leading.

We must learn how to be followers, to walk in other’s shoes, and understand the pain, challenges, and obstacles that our people face.


The second year at the Academy, we’reĀ positioned to help the incoming Plebe class, their mentor through the first grueling year. For many, this year is even more challenging than the first. Partly, because even though given more freedom, we face three more years, not like our friends attending a regular college.

The fulfilling part of the year is helping plebes be successful and giving them tips and ideas on how to survive. We cheer them on through the rough days with guidance and encouraging experiences.

To give back through mentoring and coaching, a leader is able to build a network of knowledge and support.


Our second class year (Juniors), we become detailers with the responsibility to train and develop the incoming plebe class. We have developed the skills of drill, cadence, fitness, and military discipline. We further reinforce our skills by being the trainers: a proven method of ensuring knowledge is retained. Leadership experiences are enhanced with this approach.

Each second class is assigned two to three plebes to help develop and train throughout the year. Prior to classes, before meal times, during meal times and after school, military training was conducted throughout the year.

Learning how to train and applying those skills are critical in business. With constant changes, training is essential for businesses to thrive.


First class midshipmen (Seniors) are placed in charge of the whole brigade (school population). With some oversight by military officers, we’re not leaders alone. To become leaders, we must be a leader. Our senior year gives us the environment to be leaders, make mistakes in a safe environment, and practice the concepts were learning along the way.

It’s the concept of learning by doing and being given direction when needed. Accountability and responsibility are developed and expected.

Learning to be a leader is a lifelong endeavor.

Being a follower, mentor, trainer, and leader are critical experiences in order to be a successful leader. In today’s fast-paced environment, any new leader should seek out the opportunities to place themselves into each of these roles within their field.

Each stage doesn’t have to be a year-long experience. As long as you set aside time to focus on each area as you work through your day, you will reap the same benefits.

Those under your leadership will recognize your commitment to truly being a part of their experiences and understanding of their needs. They will open up to you, provide more ideas and respect your decisions because you’ve “been there.”

Have you had all four experiences in your current leadership role? Have you worked for a leader that has had these experiences? One that didn’t?

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