Personal Essays

Unites States Navy

Lessons in Leadership I Learned as a Naval Officer

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

It has been exactly two months since John McCain was laid to rest at the Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis. Like countless others who watched the memorial service held at the Washington National Cathedral the day before his burial, I was moved by the tributes to the extraordinary life of this true American hero, warrior, and statesman. Many of the leadership traits that helped define Senator McCain’s character were first learned while he was a midshipman at the U. S. Naval Academy and then put to the test as an officer honorably serving his country under some of the most difficult conditions imaginable.

Today also is only four days before the midterm elections in the United States. Senator McCain believed that voting was every citizen’s right and duty. If he were alive today, I’m sure the senator would encourage all Americans to go to the polls next week and cast their votes for the best available leaders, perhaps even putting aside party affiliation if an opposition candidate clearly was better qualified and more committed to uniting our country.

This all prompted me to reflect on what skills define a good leader—in the military, government, business, or any other walk of life. In doing so, I excerpted from an interview I recently did with Professor Mike Useem from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania on the subject of why some former military officers go on to have successful business careers. Since I added some additional content to the answers given in that interview, what follows is an updated version of some of my own learnings about leadership from the time I spent as an officer in the United States Navy.

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Running: Losing myself with “The Boss” along on Chicago’s Lakefront Trail

Running: Steps I Took to Find “the Zone”

Sophia Shaw
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

“There’s not much more I can do to help you,” my therapist said three years ago. “At this point, all I can suggest is that you run as hard as you can at least five days a week. The only clients I have who can really keep their anxiety in check are the ones who exercise—hard—regularly.”

This advice was not what I wanted to hear. Speaking on behalf of those of us who live with panic attacks, trust me: I thought this “wisdom” ranked up there with other useless attempts at calming words nice people say to us when our hearts are beating out of control and we are sweating through our clothes, suffocating, and picturing sudden death: “just relax,” “breathe,” “it’s going to be okay,” “It’s all in your head,” “be rational,” “don’t get hysterical,” or “let it go.”

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Gardening and Mental Health

Gardening and Mental Health

Sophia Shaw
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

In honor of spring, I thought it would be fitting to re-post my 2015 essay about mental health and gardening that I wrote for Sibbaldia, the journal of botanic garden horticulture published by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, while I served as president & CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
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