TIME career

What to Do After You’ve Been NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) James Stavridis (L) speaks with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander, US General Stanley McChystal, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on June 11, 2010 before the start of the second day of a NATO defense ministers meeting at organization headquaters in Brussels. GEORGES GOBET—AFP/Getty Images

How to change a life: James Stavridis had to transition from a world where people more or less do what you order them to do, to one where no one is going to salute.

Recently, I made a huge job and life transition: after more than 35 years in the U.S. military, and the last four as the Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, I needed new challenges. This is, of course, a situation familiar to many — especially in today’s highly mobile job universe, when an average college graduate will have perhaps a dozen significant jobs and possibly four or more separate careers.

As I tried to work through what to do next, there were many options. I was offered positions in international consulting, global risk assessment firms, domestic business ventures, board positions and even additional jobs in government. To sort through it, I tried to think of what I had enjoyed so much about my time in the U.S. Navy. After all, something had kept me happily going for more than three decades. I realized that I liked many things about the Navy: going to sea as a mariner, traveling around the world, working with brave volunteers in combat and on diplomatic missions, and the educational benefits, to name a few. But what I truly loved about the Navy was the challenge of leading and mentoring young people, helping guide the trajectory of their lives in a positive direction. “Sounds like education,” said one mentor, herself a university president. And so I set about finding the right kind of job in the world of education.

“If you think faculty meetings are tough sledding, try mediating between 28 allies debating an intervention in Libya.”I knew that I have a deep passion for the international sphere, and a real love for the place I had earned my own graduate degree, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Luckily, the incumbent dean was retiring at a time that made it possible for me to move directly from my position at NATO, which Dwight Eisenhower had held, to a nice campus in Medford, Mass. I went from an organization representing half of the world’s GDP and 3 million men and women in uniform to one with 700 graduate students and 150 faculty and administrators. It was a startling shift.

People kept saying, “it must be pretty challenging to go from the military — where people more or less do what you order them to do — to the world of academe, where no one is going to salute and move out.” The President of Tufts, to whom I report, was asked why on earth he hired a military guy to lead one of his graduate schools. He said, only slightly in jest, “I wanted at least one dean who knows how to follow orders.” There’s certainly some truth in that.

The transition has gone well. Why? Because of things I learned along the path of what my father jokingly referred to as my misspent youth in the Navy.

First, I have focused on listening and learning, especially in this first year. I have been reading not only classics on higher education (The University: An Owner’s Manual by Henry Rosovsky), but also brilliant novels about this world (Stoner by John Williams and Something for Nothing by Michael Klein). I’ve also reached out to mentors in this industry, from Robert Gates, former President of Texas A&M, to Jack DeGioia of Georgetown, to Donna Shalala at the University of Miami, and many others.

Second, I spend lots of time walking the campus and talking to students, faculty and administrators. The faculty is at the heart of any school, but as I always say, there is another name for students: customers. I also chat with the cleaners, maintenance people, campus police and the folks running our dining facility. Putting in the time to understand the full spectrum of an enterprise is critical.

Third, the university is coming up with a strategic plan for the first time in a decade. It’s not only a terrific way to team build and create a coherent way ahead, but also a good exercise in learning where the faulty lines and fissures of an institution lie. Research versus teaching? Practical skills courses versus theory and history? Fundraising for facilities or financial aid? Disciplines that cooperate together and those that compete? Working on the plan throws all those issues under a bright light: just what the new dean needs.

Finally, I went from the crisp efficiency of the U.S. military to what feels like, in comparison, the free-wheeling academic carnival that is higher education. I spent four years in NATO, a consensus-driven, highly competitive, discussion-oriented international security organization. If you think faculty meetings are tough sledding, try mediating between 28 allies debating an intervention in Libya. Much of the same skills are called for: collegiality, good humor, a sense of where you want to land in the process, but above all deep respect for each of the participants in the dialog. Collaboration is at the heart of NATO, and at the heart of the academy as well — hard as it is at times to achieve.

Academe and higher education in particular are not for everyone, nor for the faint of heart. But for me — applying some of what I learned along the way in my nation’s service — it has been a delight.

James Stavridis, a former NATO Commander and retired four-star Navy Admiral, serves at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is the author of the upcoming memoir The Accidental Admiral.

TIME women

Less Talk and More Action: Expand Women’s Corporate Leadership

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) speaks during a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos Jan. 25, 2014 Ruben Sprich—Reuters

As an opportunity to highlight women’s contributions, International Women’s Day has always served to commemorate the cutting edge of the global women’s movement, from demanding better working conditions in US sweatshop factories of the early 1900s, to voting rights, pay equality and, more recently, promoting women’s leadership in politics and business. Recent years have featured women’s economic contributions, ranging from women producing nearly 90% of the food in Africa, to 7.8 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. with $1.2 trillion in total receipts. Yet qualified women are continually stymied in their efforts to contribute at the highest levels of economic and financial leadership, while global policies and companies forego the benefits.

The disappointing numbers of women participating at the World Economic Forum in January was one highly visible and public manifestation of the challenge: While we are well into the 21st century, many participants and observers at Davos this year expressed astonishment, and even outrage, at the abysmally low representation of women. In this era, there are many outstanding examples of women’s representation at the highest levels of political and corporate leadership, including Christine Lagarde, Janet Yellen, Mary Barra, Sheryl Sandberg, and Presidents Park Geun Hye, Dilma Rousseff, and Michelle Bachelet. Yet even after the absence of women had been duly noted at the 2013 Forum, women’s representation at Davos in 2014 actually dropped, from 17% to 16%. Likewise, despite numerous studies that show the financial and governance benefits of mixed gender boards, global corporate boardrooms remain male-dominated, with women accounting for less than 15% of public company corporate board positions.

For years, the explanation given for minimal board diversity has been a lack of qualified and experienced candidates. The solution offered was patience: Improvement was promised because of the rapidly growing number of women with middle and upper management experience. In fact, since the 1970s women’s graduation rates from the most prestigious universities around the world have climbed to equal those of their male counterparts. Since then, many have gained equivalent skills and experience in the private and public sectors.

At the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where we are affiliated, talented women have graduated since the 1960s, and made up about half of each class since the 1980s. Hailing from nearly every nation in the world, Fletcher’s alumnae include ambassadors, elected officials, corporate CEOs and CFO’s, military leaders, professors and leaders in nearly every sector. Many should have been at the World Economic Forum. So, too, many should be serving on corporate boards of directors, helping those companies to succeed in the twenty-first century.

Apart from the exceptions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and France, this amazing talent pool of women still makes up less than 17% of corporate boards everywhere else. This explains why even some who are strong advocates of free markets, like the IMF’s Largarde, are raising the “Q-word”: quotas. According to Catalyst, this is the eighth consecutive year with virtually no increase in women’s representation on corporate boards. Hence many are weary of the excuses and incessant debate. It is such impatience and frustration that are leading to pro-active measures, including government and stock exchange quotas and proposed directives.

Yet beyond the implied political dimension of quotas, it is simply in everyone’s best interest to find ways to expand women’s leadership. Our Fletcher community is focused on getting talented women onto corporate boards. The imperative is to make them visible, and to connect them with boards that recognize the business case but say that they are unable to find qualified candidates. Since launching our initiative, Fletcher Women on Boards, we have built a database of qualified alumnae and have reached out to scores of search firms.

Next year, the Fletcher School will identify alumnae to participate in the World Economic Forum – and we urge other prominent institutions to do the same with their star alumnae. Likewise, we are re-doubling our efforts to connect qualified women with boards of global companies that will benefit, along with their shareholders and customers, from the expertise and competence of our alumnae. We urge other enlightened universities and businesses around the world to react to the lack of progress and immediately implement a similar proactive approach to help fill the void of global women’s leadership.

While shared frustration at the lack of improvement is real and understandable, there is a real sense of urgency to correct this long-standing and destructive exclusion of women’s leadership. There are many qualified women ready to jump at the opportunity to lead, but they must be promoted and recognized; demand for their talent exists, but opportunities must be increased by eliminating the insider bias that keeps so many boards so homogeneous.

James Stavridis is the 12th Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a retired US Navy admiral. Marcia Greenberg is a former labor lawyer, co-Chair of Fletcher Women on Boards and a globally-recognized expert in gender mainstreaming.

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