Admiral James Stavridis Delivers Annual Dolan Lecture

Admiral James Stavridis Delivers Annual Dolan Lecture

Admiral James Stavridis on stage at the Dolan Lecture

Four-Star Admiral James Stavridis

“21st Century Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities”

His 37 years in the Navy, his tenure as Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University have helped shape Admiral James Stavridis and his views on leadership. The four-star Admiral shared those views in April at the Quick Center, where he delivered the annual Dolan lecture.

In his lecture, “21st Century Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities,” Admiral Stavridis spoke of the changing role of leaders throughout the centuries, and recognized a few of the people that he considered influential thought leaders within their fields.

“Leadership in the 21st century is fundamentally different than leadership as practiced in antiquity, in the 19th or 20th centuries,” Admiral Stavridis said. The 19th century was the age of imperialism, and leadership reflected that in its top-down, hierarchical structure. The classic example: Otto von Bismarck, the “Iron Chancellor” of Germany. The 20th century, he noted, saw more openness and approachability in leadership characterized by figures such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In the 21st century, two principal things have happened: speed and transparency. “Everything moves far faster, and everything we do is in front of a hungry world. Leadership encompasses a much wider spectrum,” he noted, explaining that today’s leaders come from fields other than politics. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and Jack Ma are all people who connect with millions and thus help shape our opinions in a number of areas, such as business and literature.

According to Admiral Stavridis, a good leader must see education as fundamental, and should continue to both further his or her own education and enable the education of others. “Reading and leading are inextricably intertwined,” he said, extolling the merits of both fiction and nonfiction.

Leaders need to be good communicators who can bridge the gap between different centers, he said. Collaboration (the building of teams and allies) and innovation (the ability to think creatively) are also essential. “Innovation can be as small as a Post-it Note, or as big as a moonshot, or as crazy as putting new things called airplanes on old things like ships, an idea that was considered crazy in its day,” he said.

Leadership, he noted, “rests on a baseline of values. Our values come from the ancient Greeks, Voltaire, our founding fathers. The values that our leaders need to inculcate include democracy, liberty, freedom of speech and education, and racial equality. We execute them imperfectly, but they are the right values.”

Admiral Stavridis is the author of eight books, most notably The Leader’s Bookshelf: 50 Books that Make Us Better Leaders. He is retired from the Navy and is currently an operating executive with the Carlyle Group, a multinational investment firm in Washington, D.C. His TED Talk on leadership has garnered over a million views.

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