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Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Leadership Starts with Followership aka What I Learned During Plebe Summer

Last week was my classmates and my 28th anniversary of I-Day (Induction Day) at the US Naval Academy.  We were eager teenagers taking an oath of office that launched us into Plebe Summer and our military careers.

Plebe summer taught me lessons that I used throughout my military and business life.

About being in charge:

  1. If you are in charge, we are watching you.  We see everything you do, and we hear every word.
  2. We know when you are sincere and when you are not.
  3. If you play favorites, either positive or negatively, we respect you less.
  4. We look to you for guidance.  We want you to lead us.  We want to trust you.
  5. We want great leadership.

About time management:

  1. Don’t waste minutes.  A minute is a long time, especially if you are holding a push-up position for the third time. You can learn facts in a single minute.  You can fix your bed, wipe out the sink, or do a quick shine on shoes in a minute.
  2. Walk quickly.  You get there faster.  It is good exercise.  People think you are on a mission.
  3. Think quickly.  One of the funniest comments I heard in grad school was, “I need to reflect on the material.”  He was taking ONE class and not working.  (He wasn’t reflecting, he was lazy.)  Learn to process information fast.

About teamwork:

  1. We really are stronger together.
  2. Working as a team means giving as much as you can with whatever you can.  You don’t have to be the best at everything.
  3. We are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, so help each other.
  4. Teams survive because people focus on the good of the many.

About not making excuses:

  1. “No excuse, sir!” Was one of our five basic responses.  If the question did not elicit any of the other authorized responses: “Yes, sir.”  “No, sir.” “Aye aye, sir” (which means, I hear you, I acknowledge you and I will comply).  “I’ll find out, sir” (and you had to). And “no excuse, sir!”No excuses meant that you took personal responsibility.“Why were you late?” “No excuse, sir!”
  2. Try hard.  A friend was recently telling me about his son who wanted to join the Army but couldn’t pass the physical readiness test because the young man couldn’t run.“Why can’t he run?”  I asked.  “Is he injured?” “No, he just can’t run,” the dad replied. “So how often does he run?” I persisted. “Well,” the dad admitted.  “He doesn’t.”I see the problem. Can’t isn’t the right word.  Will not is more accurate.  The only way to improve running is to run.  If you choose not to run, you are choosing not to join the Army. Don’t make excuses for what you choose not to do.
  3. Choices matter.  The choices we make every day count.  Are we going to be happy to not?  Will we help others or not?  Will what we post on our Facebook page come back to haunt us? (That is to my younger friends…)Our choices are our Permanent Record.  We live with the choices we make and so do others.  So make good decisions.


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With over twenty years of leadership experience and a diverse background leading teams in the U.S. and abroad, Mary Kelly makes leadership a reality for all levels of an organization. Register for her free newsletters at


  1. Shirley

    You are so right! Your comments about Plebe Summer are
    right on. A good read!

  2. Jeanne


  3. Tom Schwab

    Excellent summary that brought back many great memories. There’s one additional lesson I learned many years after Plebe Summer: Sometimes your most difficult challenge, will become you fondest memory. Too bad they stopped having real Plebe Years after ’87 (LOL)


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