Five takeaways from the NNOA Annual Leadership, Professional Development & Training Conference

ADM Paul Zukunft, Commandant, USCG, stands for a picture with fellow Coast Guard officers and civilians of all ranks at the NNOA Annual Leadership, Professional Development & Training Conference at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Virginia, July 19, 2016. Photo by CDR Warren Judge.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft stands for a picture with fellow Coast Guard officers and civilians of all ranks at the NNOA Annual Leadership, Professional Development & Training Conference at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Virginia, July 19, 2016. Photo by Cmdr. Warren Judge.

Written by First Class Cadet Sarah Ritchie

Officers and civilians of our nation’s sea-going services recently gathered together from all sides of the country for the NNOA Annual Leadership, Professional Development and Training Conference. The agenda was loaded with discussions and opportunities for mentoring. Attendees learned about the work that is happening in human resources and recruiting to develop a more diverse and inclusive workforce, and how they can grow professionally as leaders, mentors, and mentees. Here are just five of the countless takeaways from the conference:

1) NNOA stands for the National Naval Officers Association and is composed of officers of the Coast Guard, Navy, Marine Corps, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The group is dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion within our nation’s seagoing services. Officers of all ranks, members and non-members come together annually to discuss some of the important issues in diversity and inclusion that we are facing today. At this year’s conference, during joint sessions and working lunches, senior officers discussed the challenges with recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce. In the breakout sessions, speakers gave advice on how to develop mentoring relationships, how to prepare oneself for success as an officer, and how to improve as a leader. Meanwhile, the association also sponsored a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) event so that kids could be exposed to the sea-going services that they have the potential to join.

2) “The toughest thing about mentoring is not to give advice. Your responsibility is to ask them where they want to go and ask the right questions to help them get there.” During his presentation on “The Importance of Deck Plate Mentoring,” Coast Guard Rear Adm. David Throop, commander of Coast Guard Force Readiness Command, explained that many people want to tell their life story when they mentor and how they got there. Instead, you have to let the mentee define where they want to go. They shouldn’t follow exactly in your footsteps; everyone will have a different path they need to pursue. Between the sessions, people had a chance to put to practice what they were learning by networking and reaching out to other attendees. These interactions could help people find their best mentors, sponsors, and coaches.

3) Dealing with diversity and inclusion is like an iceberg; as leaders, we need to learn more about the critical mass in the subcultures beneath the surface. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft made this analogy as he addressed attendees of the Coast Guard, Navy, Marine Corps, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the luncheon on Tuesday. He said that to improve on diversity and inclusion, we need to work on awareness and compassion, and suggested reading the books The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam and Broad Influence by Jay Newton-Small, in addition to the cover article in the August edition of Harvard Business Review titled, “Why Diversity Programs Fail.” During his keynote, the Commandant also remarked how leadership was at the cornerstone of diversity and inclusion initiatives, calling on attendees to continue the conversation. “To be clear, we have made some great strides in diversity and inclusion,” said the Commandant. “We’ve hit some significant milestones which are laudable and deserve attention. But there is more work yet to be done.”

4) It’s time to focus on inclusion. Coast Guard Rear Adm. William Kelly, assistant commandant for Human Resources, and U.S. Navy Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of Naval Operations, agreed that we need to focus more on inclusion now and not just diversity as we have in the past. Trusting one another is vital to the missions of our services, and that requires an acceptance and respect for diversity of thought. “It doesn’t matter what the demographics were in the community you grew up in; it matters how you are working to fill your blind spots now,” Adm. Moran explained at his luncheon address on Wednesday. He believes that we need to continue to work on bettering ourselves to build a culture of inclusion.

5) You need to attend this conference next year. Exceptional leaders in all the sea-going services use the annual NNOA conference as an opportunity to share advice because they believe in making an investment in the future of our services. Attendees learned how to get to the next level through performance, professionalism, leadership, education, experience, training, mentoring, networking, reading, stretching. Learn more about the opportunities NNOA offers and how to get involved at http://nnoa.org/.

To learn more about Coast Guard’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, click here.

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft addresses Coast Guard attendees at a breakout session called “Commandant’s Corner,” at the NNOA Annual Leadership, Professional Development & Training Conference at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Virginia, July 19, 2016. Photo by 1/c Cadet Sarah Ritchie.

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft addresses Coast Guard attendees at a breakout session called “Commandant’s Corner,” at the NNOA Annual Leadership, Professional Development & Training Conference at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Virginia, July 19, 2016. Photo by 1/c Cadet Sarah Ritchie.

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