Parting advice from a Great Lakes Coast Guard leader


Cover art for book oabout Coast Guard leadership

Cover art for book oabout Coast Guard leadership

“The Coast Guard is a superlative example of an organization with effective leadership, loaded with leaders at all levels,” said Donald T. Phillips, author of eight books on leadership including “Character in Action: The Coast Guard on Leadership.” “From a guardsman scraping barnacles off buoys in the Gulf of Mexico to the captain of a cutter in the Gulf of Alaska to the Commandant in Washington, they know exactly what leadership is, how it works, and why it is important.”

This is the first of a series of blogs that will discuss several topics related to leadership. Scheduled future leadership topics include: who can be a leader; what leadership is; how to be a leader; how to develop leadership skills; young leaders; and leadership from another spectrum.

Rear Adm. Michael Parks, former commander of the 9th Coast Guard District has now officially retired and Rear Adm. Fred Midgette has taken his place as the commander of the 9th Coast Guard District. Before Parks left the Coast Guard, he was the first guest speaker at a new series of luncheons with the focus of sharing leadership values and experiences.

The luncheons are designed to nurture and develop new leaders and to build upon the foundation of current leaders. Leadership comes in various forms, styles and people. Leaders learn from followers and followers learn from leaders.

These leadership luncheons will have several spokespersons from up and down the chain of command. So far in addition to Parks, Capt. Thomas Routhier, commanding officer of Base Cleveland and Master Chief Petty Officer Paul Holling, command master chief of Electronic Support Unit Cleveland have shared their leadership values.
“There are two basic types of leaders – servant leaders and caring leaders,” said Parks. “There is always somebody to serve.”
Parks is both. As a servant leader, he serves the people under his command by always pushing credit downhill. As a caring leader, he adds a positive vibe to what he does day in and day out, and he spreads cheer to those around him with a kind word or recognition.

Coast Guard 9th District Senior Leadership Group

Coast Guard 9th District Senior Leadership Group

He is a leader as a professional and as a man by the way he lives his life. He strives to improve every day by reading one of his favorite books, John C. Maxwell’s “The Maxwell Daily Reader: 365 Days of Insight to Develop the Leader Within You and Influence Those Around You.” Parks feels so strongly about this book that a copy of it is given to most of the reporting servicemembers to the 9th Coast Guard District.

“The first step to leadership is to figure out how you learn and remember,” said Parks. “I am not living or leading if I am not learning.”

Coast Guard 9th District Senior Leadership Group

Coast Guard 9th District Senior Leadership Group

“Leaders are learners,” says Maxwell, the New York Times best-selling author. “It is the capacity to get a little better each day and continue learning that separates leaders from followers. We need to develop our technical skills, but more importantly our soft skills – working with people and leadership. One key is that we look at ourselves first to see how we can improve the situation.”

Parks gave seven main skills he believes every leader has or needs to develop to become a better leader.

Listen – “The ability to listen is a key part of leadership,” said Parks. “It will always be harder to listen than to talk. But, being able to command the art of active listening is well worth the challenge.”

Motivate – “Being able to convince a subordinate to have the same passion for a job as you do will motivate them to do their very best on an assignment,” said Parks.

Have character – “Do you act and do the same thing in front of a supervisor as you would while being left alone? This is the truest test of character,” said Parks.

Practice empathy – “Find out how someone feels about a certain subject or assignment and try to understand their point of view,” said Parks. “If you disagree, instead of arguing, try asking ‘What makes you think the way you do?’”

Obtain knowledge – “Obtaining knowledge and managing information is vital to

A seasoned boat crewmember teach break-in crewmembers

A Petty Officer 2nd Class Phillip Wilson teaches break-in crewmembers about the P-6 dewatering pump

becoming a great leader,” said Parks. “Learn to be a good journeyman before becoming a master at your craft.”

Learn – “Learning how to use your time wisely is critical when resources are short,” said Parks. “Be a dynamic subordinate.”

Communication – “Strong communication skills are the lifeblood to good leadership skills,” said Parks.

Click here to read about the 28 Coast Guard leadership competencies.

As we say goodbye to Parks and hello to Rear Adm. Fred Midgette, leadership of the district is passed on during the traditional change-of-command ceremony, which signifies that continued leadership is in place to the men and women of the Coast Guard. These servicemembers learn every day that leadership is a responsibility that can’t be taken lightly. Come midnight, somebody will need their help. The Coast Guardsmen on call have to do the right thing at the right time, whether it is a seasoned heavy-weather coxswain, or a brand new seaman taking a mayday call in the communications center. That Coast Guardsman has to take charge, has to take an order, has to follow an order, has to lead.

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