Five lessons of success guided a grandson of a North Carolina sharecropper to the rank of two-star Navy admiral and vice director for operations to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Retired Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris shared his thoughts on leadership and success during a Defense Logistics Agency Energy mentoring session in the McNamara Headquarters Complex at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Sept. 19.
“My five lessons for success are: no excuses, follow the golden rule, pay yourself first, never stop learning and care about the people in your life,” Harris said.
The lessons for success were imparted by two of the most influential people in his life; his mother and his uncle Harris explained.
“No excuses and no drama is the first lesson I learned from my mother, Margaret Moore, who was a member of the Women’s Army Corps, attended Howard University, became pregnant and dropped out to get married,” Harris said.
“She didn’t get her college degree but she didn’t quit. As a single mother, she went on to a distinguished 31 year career as an arbitrator for the U.S. Postal Service, a published poet and a federal personnel management expert. My uncle Chuck Huddleston was a computer specialist who in his words, “served 20 years, 20 days and 20 minutes in the Air Force” and went on to have a successful federal career programming for the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Postal Service. In 1954, he worked on a UNIVersal automatic computer 705 in Fort Myer…a whopping 40KB of memory! There were no excuses for the disappointments and adversity encountered in life, only, how are you going to deal with it and move forward.”
Harris retired in 2015 after a 34-year career in the United States Navy. During Harris’s distinguished career, he led joint, combined, multinational, and interagency organizations both at sea and ashore. Despite the prestige and accolades of the job, Harris emphasized that no matter how important one’s job is, everyone can be replaced.
Lesson 1: Ditch Your Ego
“Life as an admiral is one thing, life as a civilian is something totally different,” Harris said. “Don’t take your ego with you, the train doesn’t stop."
Lesson 2: follow the golden rule
“If you want people to listen to you, then you must listen to them,” Harris said. “Treat others as you would want to be treated.”
Lesson 3: Get Paid
“If you earn a dollar, pay yourself 10 cents from it,” Harris said. “Do this as early and as often as you can.”
Lesson 4: Learn something new every day
Learn something new, train for what you do and educate yourself for internal development he said.
“Learning for your self becomes important as you get older,” Harris said as he cited the example of his 83-year old aunt who reregistered as a nurse.
“As we find ourselves in a challenging technical environment, you can’t stop learning, you need to keep going for the certificate, the degree,” he said. “Right now I am trying to learn how to be a logistician, it’s hard."
Lesson 5: Be genuine and caring
The final lesson in success is caring and showing that you care. No matter what you say, you have to care for the people who work for you, Harris said.
As a surface warfare officer, Harris spent the majority of his naval career on ships at sea.
Often at night before taps, Harris would walk around the ship and go down to the engineering spaces to talk to the sailors on watch.
“My favorite example is management by walking around,” Harris said. “I would ask the sailors how they were doing and what was going on with their work and families. You need to listen, more than talk. These things served me well, and I would like to share them with you.”
That lesson resonated with DLA Energy Commander Action Group Director Army Lt. Col. Kevin Ward.
“I found the admiral’s mentorship session very informational toward the application of future personal and work goals,” Ward said. “The two main things that resonate are you must care and show it daily for your personnel and plan for three job transitions in your life, not a retirement."
Harris spoke candidly about retirement and how as a flag officer career transitions can be offsetting.
“My transition was fairly sudden,” Harris said. “I never took any of the transition classes and had no idea what my special purpose would be after 34 years in the Navy,” Harris said. “Don’t be afraid of the transitions, we all transition.”
When asked about traditional retirements, Harris explained that there wasn’t such a thing.
“If you take care of yourself, your health and money, you can have three retirements,” Harris said. “I consider myself in transition, not in retirement.”
Contract specialist James Forde is a retired 20 year Navy veteran who identified with the challenge of transitioning from a military career to a civilian career.
“I was amazed at how similar our fears were with regards to transitioning to the civilian sector,” Forde said. “My favorite takeaway was the list that he openly shared that he has followed throughout his career, especially never to stop learning and listening… so profound.”