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On Veteran’s Day, Reflections on Leading and Serving

A military veteran connects the lessons of service with her work as an educator

November 10, 2019
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Editor's note: Heather Driscoll was a lieutenant in the US Navy, serving as an active-duty surface warfare officer from 2012 to 2019. She is a master’s candidate in international education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

To mark Veteran’s Day, Usable Knowledge asked Driscoll how her military service shapes her life and work as an educator. 

The Lessons of Service

Military service has shaped every aspect of my life, and the lessons I carry with me will significantly impact my work as an educator. Here are just a few of those lessons.

What I Learned About Contributing to an Effective Organization

  • Observe how an organization operates before coming in and trying to implement change. Action should be based on thorough observation of how an organization functions from the inside rather than based on what you assume the problem to be from the outside.
  • Develop a set of core values among members of the organization and ensure that they are known and adhered to.
  • Establish a culture of professionalism and accountability, which comes through leading by example and holding everyone in the organization (both above and below), to a high standard.
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Leadership requires unselfishness. The needs of the organization and the people you serve come before your own, not simply when it is convenient. 

What I Learned About Leadership

  • Leadership and management are very different roles. Managers delegate a list of tasks in support of a given objective and ensure they are followed through, while leaders empower those around them and dedicate themselves to serving the people they lead as much as to the mission they support. 
  • Take the time to get to know the individuals you have been entrusted to lead and ensure that those individuals are not only provided with opportunities for growth and leadership, but that their voices are heard.
  • Leadership requires unselfishness. The needs of the organization and the people you serve come before your own, not simply when it is convenient. Being a part of a group requires that you put the group first and not rely on others to carry you through.
  • Respect is not given but rather earned through hard work. The people you lead must know they can count on you to always follow through on your word. 
  • Leadership requires humility. Those around you will be forgiving of the mistakes you make if you acknowledge those mistakes and take responsibility for them. 
  • Learn to adapt. Circumstances change and you will be required to make decisions without having all of the required information or the necessary time to plan. Trust your instincts and act decisively, never allowing those below you to feel the weight of those decisions.
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About the Author

Photo of Heather Driscoll
Heather Driscoll
Heather Driscoll is pursuing a master’s degree in international education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. After earning a B.A. in sociology from Brown, she joined the National College Advising Corps, serving for two years as a college advisor in the Providence Public Schools. She attended the Naval Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a surface warfare officer. She served in San Diego and in Yokosuka, Japan, onboard USS Chancellorsville, as well as at the Pentagon as an action officer on the Joint Staff. 
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Civics and History Global Education School Leadership