Thoughts On Leadership From the Commandant of the USCG, Admiral Linda Fagan
Leadership is not for everyone. It takes more than a set of recognized skills to be a good leader in any situation. There are the external qualifications of leadership: experience, knowledge of the specifics related to a particular leadership role, etc. But the internal indicators are even more important: humble self-confidence, character, and an ability to see the value of each person, each unit under one’s leadership. Admiral Linda Fagan has demonstrated both of these elements throughout her 40-year-long career in the United States Coast Guard.
As a young girl growing up in Massachusetts, she went sailing regularly off of the Massachusetts coast with her family. She remarked that, when you do that regularly, it is common to see the presence of the United States Coast Guard carrying out its responsibilities along our coasts and waterways. It was when she was a sophomore in high school that she heard about the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. She decided in her young mind at that time that that was going to be the path she was going to take to get an education.
She entered the Academy in 1981, which was only five years after the first women were allowed to enter that school. It was still a “novelty” to see women in the Academy or to have women officers in the fleet, but she made an internal decision not to let that get in her way as she began her career in the Coast Guard.
Upon graduation from the USCG Academy, Fagan’s first duty as an officer was on one of the USCG Antarctic Heavy Icebreakers. At that time, there were two of them in operation, the USCG Polar Star and the USCG Polar Sea. Only one, the Polar Star, remains active and is homeported in Seattle, WA. The Polar Sea is there as well but is inactive and is essentially being used for spare parts to keep the aging Polar Star operational.
Every couple of years, Fagan was presented with new roles to take on as an officer. Clearly, this was because she was demonstrating growing expertise and skills as a leader in the officer corps of the USCG. In an article in CNBC Make It online, she revealed the inner, self-reflective skills of a good leader as well when she said that every time she was presented with these new opportunities, she would ask herself, “Is this something I’m excited about? Do I feel like I can make a difference? Is the work meaningful?” And she said that each time, she was able to answer “yes to all of these questions.” That reveals a deep awareness of self and her relationship to the job, as well as to the people that she was going to be responsible for in that new duty. That is an important character trait of any leader.
As she went up through the ranks, taking on more and more important responsibilities, she revealed in the CNBC Make It article that she would be struck with a certain level of wonder. She would say to herself, “I can’t believe I’m here, in this room, listening to this level of leadership and conversation.” But she would then realize, “I am in this room for a reason.” And, clearly, that was the case. Now at the pinnacle of her career, she is in the big room, the room at the top. She is the first woman to be given the top leadership role of any of the U.S. military branches. As Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, she commands 42,000 active duty personnel, 7,000 reservists, and 8,700 civilian personnel, and she is in charge of all of the duties and operations across the breadth of the United States Coast Guard.
Adm. Fagan sees her career as a lifestyle and a calling. She understands that she is serving something larger than herself. This attitude of humility is the sign of a true leader. She gives some great advice in the CNBC Make It article as well. She directs the comment to women, but it is advice for all of us as well. She says, “You are stronger, smarter, more capable, more courageous than you believe. Tell yourself you are in the room for a reason.” That is good advice for all of us.
We honor and respect the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Admiral Linda Fagan, for her clear dedication to duty, her love of the Coast Guard, and her example of leadership. Semper Paratus, Adm. Fagan! We wish you and the USCG continued “Fair Winds and Following Seas.”Whizzco