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Leading with Character: A Journey of Self Discovery

A mariner navigating a ship down a narrow channel can’t just set a course and expect safe passage to the destination.

I know this might sound strange, but I love reading the obituary section in newspapers. Last weekend I was fascinated with a piece in the Wall Street Journal written by James R. Hagerty. The subject was Laszlo Z. Bito, who died November 14, 2021.

Leading Oneself

Leading with character starts with learning how to lead oneself. You would think that should be easy. No subordinates, no supervisory responsibilities, no personnel problems. Just oneself to worry about. Heaven, right?

The truth is far more complicated. When I was superintendent at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, I enjoyed watching young cadets learn how to lead themselves through a journey of self-discovery. They all entered the Academy at different levels of maturity in that area. Some thought they knew exactly what they wanted to do with their studies, careers, and lives. Others had no idea; they joined the Coast Guard to find out more about what was right for them.

Passion and Practicality

So, let’s look at the life of Laszlo Z. Bito. He grew up in Hungary during and after World War II. Early on, he wanted to be a writer. But the Cold War got in the way. Young Bito fled Soviet oppression to seek his fortune in America. Since he couldn’t speak English, becoming an author was no longer an option. Instead, he attended Bard College in New York and studied pre-med. From there, he earned a Ph.D. in cell biology and biophysics at Columbia University. His research provided the foundation for discovery of the medication used to treat glaucoma, the disease that can cause blindness.

As time passed, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Dr. Bito returned to Budapest where he finally indulged in his passion to become a writer, producing novels and essays. By being practical, and adapting his expectations and efforts to take advantage of opportunities presented by current realities, he ended up succeeding in more ways than he ever imagined.

Navigating the Journey

A mariner navigating a ship down a narrow channel can’t just set a course and expect safe passage to the destination. The wind and currents, or failure of a piece of machinery, could set the ship onto a shoal if the mariner doesn’t continually change course. Life is all about adapting and adjusting to changes, both small and large, that impact us on our journey. We have to be ready to seize the opportunities as they present themselves, while navigating toward our desired destination.

I believe people can achieve their goals in life if they’re willing to adapt to circumstances, adjust course, and persevere. The trackline, or pathway, to success will never be a straight line, and that’s okay. Like Dr. Bito, leaders of character who pivot when the opportunity arises will make discoveries and achieve success they could never have conceived.

Look in the mirror. Are you willing to pivot and embrace new opportunities as you seek to discover your passion and purpose?

Please join me again next week for more on Leading with Character.

If you enjoyed this post, please visit my website where you can buy my book, Breaking Ice &
Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters, and sign up for my mailing list: https://sandrastosz.com/book/breaking-ice-and-breaking-glass/

Sandra L. Stosz
Vice Admiral Stosz, a Homeland Security Today editorial board member, started out in the U.S. Coast Guard as an ensign serving on polar icebreakers, conducting national security missions from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Her 40-year career is filled with leadership lessons gleaned while breaking ice and breaking glass as the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes and to lead a U.S. armed forces service academy. She finished her career as the first woman assigned as Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, directing one of the Coast Guard’s largest enterprises. She has lectured widely on leadership, and has been featured on CSPAN and other media outlets. In 2012, Newsweek’s “The Daily Beast” named Vice Admiral Stosz to their list of 150 Women who Shake the World. Proceeds from “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters” will be donated to the US Coast Guard Academy James M. Loy Institute for Leadership.

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