When Admiral Michelle J. Howard was 12, she saw a show about people who attended U.S. military academies and realized that was what she wanted to do.
“You can’t,” her older brother said. “It’s closed to women.”She thought he was messing with her and went to her mother.
“He’s right,” her mom said. “But you’re only 12. You might change your mind. And, if you don’t and want to apply, you should apply. If you don’t get in, we’ll sue the government and take it to the Supreme Court.” Even if it is too late for you to attend, she added, it wouldn’t be for other women.
It proved a powerful lesson for the woman who went on to become the:
- The highest-ranking woman in U.S. Arms Forces history,
- Highest ranking African-American and woman in Navy history,
- First woman to become a 4-star Admiral, and
- Person in charge when the Navy faced down Somali pirates to rescue Captain Phillips (of Tom Hanks fame.)
We recently caught up with Admiral Howard to ask her advice about how to stay calm in a crisis and lead in these times of great uncertainty. Here are some highlights:
On keeping calm under stress
“My mother and father raised us to take a deep breath. Sometimes, you have to react in seconds—but honestly, not usually unless you’re in combat. I think most people do not give themselves time to breathe. I know it’s not easy but you’ve got to distance yourself from the information you’re receiving. It’s just information. It’s not going to kill you.”
On dealing with the unknown
“I would try to take time, and get my teams to take time, to think about what potential crises could be and then walk our way through how we would respond. If you are surprised by events, give yourself more time for your imagination to work. It’s the art of the long view: identify the worst, best, and middle case scenario. You will go down one of those three avenues or something in between.”
On the commitment to lead
“The most fundamental thing about leadership is you have to choose. You have to decide for yourself whether or not you want to be a leader. It’s not something you are just going to fall into. It has to be something that drives your passion—knowing: I am the right person to get this in a better place. I am the person to make this better.”
On traveling light
On being yourself
On connecting with other women
“Women pioneers had quilting bees. It was not about the quilt. It was about hooking up with other women. The Massachusetts Conference for Women is the biggest quilting bee!”
LEARN MORE! Admiral Michelle J. Howard will join Golden Globe Award-winning actress Awkwafina, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and more amazing women at the 2020 virtual Massachusetts Conference for Women.
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