One of the biggest mistakes that leaders make is expecting respect based on title alone, according to retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Sandy Stosz, the first woman to lead the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
“Too often, people rely on their ‘position power’ instead of their personal power. They expect others to trust and respect them because of their place in the organization,’’ Stosz says.
“Instead, leaders should get out of their offices and walk around to look, listen, and learn from their people,’’ she says. “Coming to work every day with an attitude of servant leadership keeps a leader humble.’’
Stosz will speak with UConn alumni, students, and other guests in a presentation titled, “Leading with Character in Uncharted Waters” on Wednesday, Nov. 10. Her presentation, part of the Theodore R. Rosenberg ’55 and Mary F. McVay Business Leadership Series, will be both in-person in Hartford and livestreamed.
The Rosenberg-McVay Business Leadership Series was created through the generosity of Theodore “Ted” Rosenberg ’55 and his wife, Mary McVay. The program is designed to bring the nation’s leading executives to UConn to lecture on topics facing business leaders. Previous speakers have included alumnus Patrick Harris ’70, former VP and CFO of the NBA’s LA Lakers, and alumnus and former Walmart CEO Bill Simon ’81, ’88 MBA.
The couple were longtime contributors to UConn and the School of Business, creating a scholarship fund, faculty fund, and a named classroom in Storrs. Rosenberg was the CEO of The Burney Co., a decorated U.S. Army colonel, a frequent contributor to PBS’ “The Nightly Business Report,” a member of the UConn Foundation Board, and adviser to the School of Business’ Student Managed Investment Fund prior to his passing in 2013.
Commanding Icebreakers Is a High-Intensity Operation
Stosz began her Coast Guard career as an ensign, serving aboard polar icebreakers and conducting national security missions from the Arctic to the Antarctic. During her 40-year career, she said, she learned to ‘break ice and break glass’ as the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes and to lead a U.S. Armed Forces service academy. Prior to her retirement she became Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, responsible for the mission from human capital to IT, education to security.
She spent four years as superintendent (president) of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London from 2011 to 2015, responsible for developing and educating a corp of 1,000 cadets.
She and her crew patrolled off the coast of New York City, keeping the nation safe after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But it is her work on the Great Lakes that she recalls most vividly.
“When I was captain of the 140-foot icebreaker, Katmai Bay, stationed in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, I knew it was going to be a cold day underway when mist was rising like wispy clouds off the parts of Lake Superior that were not yet frozen over. That meant the ice-cold water was warmer than the even more frigid air,’’ she says. “We would jokingly exclaim, ‘Mother Nature is making ice today!’ ”
“We had to keep the waterways clear of ice so the iron ore carriers could navigate from the mines along the coast of Lake Superior down through the St. Mary’s River to the steel factories in Indiana,’’ she says. “The 1,000-foot ships would get stuck in the narrow waters of the St. Mary’s River and we’d have to make passes ‘close-aboard’ down their sides to try to loosen up the ice and get them moving again.’’
“That was really hard at night when it was sometimes below zero, and we had to use a spotlight to see,’’ she says. “If we got too close breaking the ice alongside of the big ships, we risked getting sucked in and colliding if the ice cracked a certain way, creating a pressure differential. So, it was a high intensity operation, with all hands on deck.’’
Despite the peril, Stosz loved the job.
“Sometimes on those cold, quiet nights, the northern lights would brighten the sky with a kaleidoscope of color and I’d feel like the luckiest person alive,” she says.
There’s Strength in Overcoming Adversity
Stosz graduated from the Coast Guard Academy with a bachelor’s degree in government and then earned an MBA from Northwestern University and a master of national security strategy from the National War College. She also completed an executive fellowship in national security through the MIT Seminar XXI program and completed the Navy’s Executive Business Course at the University of North Carolina.
She has received multiple military awards including two Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medals, three Legion of Merit Medals, and four Meritorious Service Medals. She lectures on leadership development, strategic vision and planning, change management, training and education and leading in complex organizations.
Although the nature of work has changed significantly, due to the pandemic, Stosz sees opportunity in change.
“The past year has been stressful, and stress is hard on people and organizations. But, people grow and become stronger when they face and overcome stressful situations. As the pandemic eases and companies return to a ‘new normal,’ employees and employers should bring a positive attitude and reflect on how they’ve grown and matured through the crisis. They’ll discover there’s strength in overcoming adversity. And, I believe they’ll discover they’re stronger together, as employees and employer, united by a common purpose, as opposed to each entity looking out for its own best interests.’’
One of the themes of her presentation will be leading with character. That is also the theme of her recently released book, “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters,’’ where she discusses her experience leading mostly all-male teams.
“Leaders of character are grounded in core values that orient their moral compass, alert them to decisions warranting deliberate moral reflection, and govern their actions and behaviors,’’ she says. “Leading with character is important because it means doing what’s right, regardless of the consequences.
“It’s rare, because moral courage isn’t always rewarded in our society. Moral courage is doing the right thing, even when it’s a difficult decision and the leader is in the spotlight, being criticized and judged,’’ she says.
U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Stosz’s presentation ‘Leading with Character in Uncharted Waters’ will begin at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the UConn Graduate Business Learning Center at 100 Constitution Plaza, and will also be livestreamed. Participants must RSVP.
Her presentation is part of the Theodore R. Rosenberg ’55 and Mary F. McVay Business Leadership Series.