I was about to welcome another baby into the world and was more than excited to join SLG.
When Julie Campbell reached out to me in 2021, I had recently made the decision to separate from Active Duty in the Navy. Although that transition was still over a year away, I was looking for something to help me reflect on my leadership experience, connect with like-minded leaders, and also explore how my values and skills may translate to a future career outside of the military.
Knowing that I was about to welcome another baby into the world was actually one of the reasons I was excited to join SLG at the time that I did.
I felt I had learned a lot from my first year working at the Naval Academy and my first year as a mother, and I wanted to continue to prepare myself for the looming transition from the military which will of course impact our family as a whole. I started with the SLG Annapolis Cohort when I was about 6 months pregnant, and had my baby a few days before the 6th session (of 10 total).
Though I often say I prefer to participate in events in-person, the virtual format for SLG actually helped me to seamlessly fit the program into our busy family life! I was able to put my toddler to bed minutes before dialing in to each session, and once Baby arrived, it was easy to continue attending from home while still recovering and bonding with him!
SLG opened my eyes to just how many leaders in my community, no matter what stage of their career or season of life they are in, are looking to grow – be it improving their leadership style based in values, share what they have learned from their journeys, develop young leaders, and also constantly reflect and learn about themselves and how they impact those they work and live with.
The connections I made through SLG have already had a massive impact on my personal and professional life (I have even recruited SLG cohort-mates to jump on and enhance the Character Capstone Seminar Program that I run for the Leadership Department at the U.S. Naval Academy!).
I also greatly appreciate the connections I have made with SLG mentors and Alumni who were not in my cohort: our SLG foundation gives us an understanding of one another’s values even if we went through the program at different times.
As a working mother, SLG offered the opportunity for me to remain connected to my professional life and to continue developing myself as a leader, without having to go back to work too quickly! SLG’s impact on my life and development far outweighed any workload the program presented at the time.
Participating in SLG, especially after the baby was born, made me incredibly appreciative of the timing of everything: not only was I able to truly focus on the newborn stages of bonding and motherhood, but I was able to take breaks and focus my mind on who I was becoming as a leader.
So much of pregnancy and birth revolves around the baby (of course!): pregnant and new moms consider their baby’s needs constantly, and as many moms know, sometimes our own needs/wants take a pause. With that in mind, through participating in SLG, expecting or new moms can have scheduled time set aside to focus on themselves, and our personal and professional development during a time when we do not often have time to ourselves due to our exciting new role. I felt that it was so important to have this dedicated time not only for professional development, but also found that this intentional time for self-reflection contributed to my growth as a parent.
I believe that even stay-at-home parents, or those who are on an extended hiatus from the workforce could greatly benefit from SLG.
Doing the coursework for SLG essentially provides fellows with a journal of their current leadership development, future goals, and also a framework to which we can return at any point to reassess. During a hiatus from the workforce, not only would a parent still have mentors and other fellows reaching out to them and remaining connected, but whenever they do decide to return to work (if at all), I would highly recommend re-reading the Difference Makers articles and their individual responses. I think having this snapshot of yourself as an introspective leader is so valuable to look back on, whether you take a break from professional life or not.
During SLG, I realized that “parent” is truly another word for leader: “parenting” is not authoritarian or dictatorial (unless you want to be wildly unsuccessful!), but intentional, respectful, and a constant learning process.
In SLG, we discuss that the best leaders are genuine in all aspects of life: professionally, personally, in their communities, etc. Through our discussions and reflections in SLG, I connected how all of these requirements are also true when leading professionally, and truly believe that I became a better leader both at work and at home. Both settings require you to genuinely give your dedication, respect, and honesty to those whom you lead, and if done from a place of authenticity, everyone will thrive on the trust that is built. While it seems obvious, making the connection between leader and parent transformed my approach to both!
Of the SLG Virtues, today I am driven strongly by truth. When discussing truth, we sometimes define this virtue as having the willingness to stand up for what is right/speak up when something is wrong, and the challenges that can pose.
Perhaps because I am nearing a major life transition, I find myself in a state of reflection almost constantly about who I am and what values guide me. Whereas for much of my military career, I felt able to ‘go with the flow’ and somewhat passively follow the path set for me, I now feel much more responsibility and much more emphasis on being intentional about what is next, which has involved being truthful with myself about my strengths and skills.
Truth within our family discussions has played a huge role recently as well, as my husband and I have established a habit of communication about our futures: we openly discuss all possible paths for our lives, including the seemingly outlandish versus the more “practical”, and the benefits and drawbacks to pursuing any of them together.
All this to say, I think this season of life is in fact one of the best times to participate in SLG. Becoming a mother–whether it is for the first time or the 5th–is transformative, and SLG’s curriculum allows you to explore your leadership journey from a transformative lens.
Claire Olechowski is a working mother of two, who is currently Active Duty Navy, and a 2021 SLG Fellow. She flew the MH-60S helicopter and was stationed in Norfolk, VA, before moving to Annapolis to work as a Company Officer and instructor at the Naval Academy. She is planning to transition out of the military in a little less than a year.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Navy or the Department of Defense.