Leadership Starts with Self-Image

By Vice Admiral Al Konetzni Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired)

These behavioral lessons were hard learned. Not every leadership endeavor I undertook succeeded. My plan is to be straight-forward in providing perspective to each behavior as we to openly examine leadership.

For this, my first installment, I address self-image.

Self-image starts with the ability to look in the mirror and say “I’m okay, and the mistakes I’ve made will be corrected.” But self-image is more than knowing yourself; it is imagining your future. Good self-image has the incredible ability to allow people to make things happen. It can work at any level and can define an individual or team of any size.

As I review my own influence over the years, I’m always taken with how positive individual and organizational self-image enabled good things to occur that previously had not been possible. I watched how a team first imagined and then worked doggedly to realize the permanent stationing of nuclear-powered submarines in Guam. At West Valley Demonstration Project in New York, we saw workers envision and implement the use of railroad gondola cars instead of trucks to efficiently remove nuclear waste from the site. It was impressive to see a force believe they could create an environment to minimize sailor attrition within the Pacific Submarine Force, and then watch them do it.

Strong self-image assists individuals and teams in overcoming fear and building courage. We all experience fear, whether speaking before classmates or on a night patrol behind enemy lines. But the more we face our fears, the easier it is to face them next time. We always are fearful of unknowns, and most people fear the embarrassment of failure or rejection.

A solid self-image is an antidote for fear and a foundation for courage.   Performing in a new, strange, or competitive situation requires courage. Courage is the will to do the right thing. Closely associated with courage is the wisdom to know what is right. To make self-image work, the individual or team must think long and hard using the information and experience available to decide the right course of action to make a dream come true.

Some questions to ask include:

·    Is it legal, moral, and ethical?

·    Is it financially sound?

·    Does one have the physical, mental, and financial resources required?

·    Is the successful outcome worth the physical and/or financial risk?

·    Is the team on board?

Once you have imagined something and you have answered the right questions, you must decide if you are capable. Are you or can you be prepared? With the conviction that your decision is correct and the self-confidence that you can perform the task, comes the courage to follow through. After deciding to move forward, it is time to act, take the leap, start the company, or make something that did not exist.

In the end, if the only things holding you back from of a new venture is fear of failure, embarrassment, rejection, or a temporary financial reversal, go for it! It is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. In trying, one learns valuable lessons, and most people will admire you for trying.

A positive self-image allows an individual or group to grow. It leads to making something that does not exist a reality. Can you image how powerful and influential an individual or team could be if they made one or two things happen that had not previously been considered?

Self-image is a building block of individual or team influence. This behavior creates a warm and vibrant environment in which individuals and teams thrive. It creates an atmosphere where ideas can be exchanged, risk aversion is minimized, and people are encouraged to take advantage of their individual talents. Success, teamwork, and a feeling of fulfillment always follow.

Vice Admiral Konetzni, known as “Big Al, the Sailor’s Pal,” served as the deputy and chief of staff to the Commander, Fleet Forces Command, before retiring from the Navy in 2004. His previous assignments included Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. In 2016 he retired as vice president and general manager of Oceaneering International Inc.’s Advanced Technologies Marine Services Division.



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