Coach Havlik, What Makes a Good Leader?

Hey GLC readers! August is here, school is starting, and the summer is almost over…….where exactly did it go?

We’ve all read articles by authors telling us how to be better leaders. So, I thought with this month’s post I would share with you all the leadership traits of the finest officer I ever worked for during my 31-year Navy career.

What was unusual about this extremely positive working relationship was that this particular officer was a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) by trade, a Navy ship driver when he wasn’t sitting behind a desk, and not a fellow SEAL that I had grown accustomed to working for. SWO’s are part of the conventional Big Navy, and SEALs are unconventional, so in general, when a SWO and a SEAL are paired together, they don’t mix or play (work) well together.

When I started my new staff job, I was leery of my new supervisor.

Would he be like all the other SWOs I’d heard about so far during my career: a condescending workaholic tyrant who loved to “eat their young?”

My suspicions were quickly laid to rest during my initial sit down, when he looked me in the eye and told me: “Coach, you can swim as much as you want, you can work out as much as you want, you can jump out of perfectly good airplanes and/or dive as much as you want, but when I need something from you, I expect timely, quality work, and I need you around to answer any questions I may have. If you can’t do that, we aren’t going to work well together. Any questions?”

Stunned by the bluntness (and simplicity) of my new boss’s direction, I quickly regained my bearing, looked my boss in the eye and said “No questions, sir. Got it!”

Thus started my best two-year assignment ever in the Navy.

What was so good about this officer?

  • He was “solid.” His core values as a person were good to go.
  • He was reliable.
  • He was fair.
  • He was consistent.
  • He had a backbone, so he could make a decision!


Coach’s tip(s) for this month: The best leaders aren’t always the biggest, baddest, or loudest!

My boss, the guy I was supposed to hate working for, was diminutive in stature, not as physically fit as he would’ve liked because of the time demands of his job, and extremely quiet by nature.

But he was smart, took care of his people, and taught us all how to be better officers.

To me, his very best quality was that he always found time for me when I had a question/needed help, and he always had my back.

Ultimately, that’s what we owe our people as leaders!

CAPT John “Coach” Havlik, USN (Ret), retired from the Navy in 2014 after 31 years of distinguished service in the Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) community. He has served on SEAL teams on both coasts, including the famed SEAL Team SIX. Coach completed graduate studies at the Naval War College in Newport, RI, receiving an M.A. in National Security and Strategic Studies. He graduated from West Virginia University with a B.S. in Business Administration and is a 2017 inductee into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.

Coach Havlik is a Special Advisor to Giant Leap Consulting and regularly speaks about leading high performance teams under arduous and stressful conditions. John Havlik and Bill Treasurer are authors of the forthcoming book, The Leadership Killer: Reclaiming  Humility In an Age of Arrogance (fall 2018).

You Might Also Like…

Risk Being Yourself

Risk Being Yourself

Risk being yourself. This concept is far from new. Throughout the ages, the most consistent prescription for personal well-being is this: Be who you must be. The Greek poet Pindar said, “Grow into what you are.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Insist on yourself, never...

Leading People

Leading People

The old saying is true: if you claim to be a leader and you turn around and nobody is following you, you’re not a leader. You’re just out for a walk. The impact you have on people can, potentially, be positive and enduring. In the same way that good leaders before you...

7 Ways To Improve Your Professionalism

7 Ways To Improve Your Professionalism

Professionalism is not just a trait; it's an art form that can dramatically elevate both individual and organizational success. At Giant Leap Consulting, we offer an entire professionalism workshop that highlights the following 7 characteristics. These key areas are...