Written by Senior Chief Petty Officer Derek Johnson
I started my military career in the Navy, where I spent eight years before I transferred into the Coast Guard as a second class petty officer. I always thought I knew what being a leader was supposed to be – someone who gave orders and expected things to be done without questions. It was not until my time as a culinary specialist first class petty officer aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, and meeting my new supply officer, Chief Warrant Officer Matt McKenney, that I realized that I had some blind spots when it came to my leadership style.
The Stratton was by far the most challenging, problematic, and yet most rewarding tour of my career to date. Halfway through my tour, the food service senior chief was relieved for cause. Although he was not a great leader, it left a void in the division and created questions unanswered. One, who would replace him? And two, who was going to fill in for him? McKenney put his confidence in me to be the food service officer until a replacement was found. At this point in my career, it was the first time that I felt that the entire command – from the commanding officer, executive officer, and most importantly, the crew were encouraging me and believed that I deserved this great responsibility.
Reflecting upon both my experience on the Stratton and my time served with McKenney, I realized the potential I had as a leader. McKenney taught me how important it is to encourage and trust those you lead. I was able to put the philosophies that he shared with me about leadership and trust into action when I helped a third class petty officer (now Petty Officer 1st Class Francys Blodgett) realize her potential. I took her out of her comfort zone and encouraged her to learn more about the administrative side of the food service division. She was hesitant at first, but flourished and excelled in the job.
A few years later, Blodgett returned to the Stratton, but this time as the first class petty officer, where she would serve as a supervisor. Although I would always tell her about how much she helped me to develop as a leader, she never wanted any credit. She also showed me how impactful encouragement, teamwork, and building trust can be in leading to a positive environment where people want to work. McKenney and Blodgett are two individuals who have helped me realize what it is to be a leader in the Coast Guard.