Thoughts on Being a Three Star Flag Officer … Retired Vice Adm. Alan Thompson, SC, USN

Newsletter: What do you attribute your success to?

Thompson: Certainly learning the technical aspects of being a Naval logistician along with developing solid leadership and management

Vice Adm. Alan Thompson, SC, USN

Vice Adm. Alan Thompson, SC, USN

skills were essential. From the day I entered the Navy, I worked to be a positive leader that set the very highest ethical standard. Early on, I found you got far more done if the entire team was enthusiastically focused on the mission or goal. Always treating people with dignity and respect should be your standard. Honing your communication skills is a critical leadership enabler because you are frequently counting on others to help you accomplish the mission. I also learned the importance of relentlessly focusing on what the customer wants and working to make others better. I think we all should work on our self-awareness. You need to leverage your strengths and continuously work on your weaknesses — we all have them. Getting diverse input on important decisions will help you make a lot more correct and effective decisions. We all have our “blind spots,” and if you don’t reach out to a variety of people for their perspectives, you can make some really bad decisions. As you become more experienced, be wary of thinking you always know the best course of action, because you may not. Finally, I discovered the power of focus, and as a senior leader I evolved this into a structured process of considering what were all the things we needed to get done beyond the normal routine Feature Story and then selecting the most important initiatives to drive to successful execution. This was the reason I initiated the annual “Commanders Guidance” at Naval Supply Systems Command and later “Directors Guidance” at Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). Chasing too many initiatives is a common problem and you will find you will have a much greater impact if you have the discipline to focus your leadership efforts on what is most critical.

Newsletter: What was your most challenging assignment?

Thompson: Every assignment had its challenges, but I would have to say being the Director of DLA was perhaps the greatest challenge because of the size and complexity of the organization coupled with having to work effectively to support a very broad and diverse customer base. It was also the most rewarding. I had the privilege to lead DLA during a dynamic period supporting the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq while at the same time supporting a surge of forces and operations in Afghanistan. Additionally, we had to continue to provide needed support to the rest of the U.S. armed forces, around the clock, around the world.

Newsletter: What is the hardest thing you have ever had to do as a Supply Corps officer?

January/February 2008 - Chief of Supply Corps, RADM Alan S. Thompson, SC, USN, joins the Director of Logistics for the Joint Staff, Lt. Gen. Christianson, in signing a new Memorandum of Agreement for the Joint Operational Logistics Internship program.

January/February 2008 – Chief of Supply Corps, RADM Alan S. Thompson, SC, USN, joins the Director of Logistics for the Joint Staff, Lt. Gen. Christianson, in signing a new Memorandum of Agreement for the Joint Operational Logistics Internship program.

Thompson: I think dealing with difficult issues with people were always challenging. I had to take disciplinary action in a number of roles during my career and this was never easy or pleasant – but it is an essential part of being a senior leader. So many times in my career, I saw examples of serious misconduct that could have been prevented if a more junior leader who was aware something wasn’t right had intervened and taken prompt and appropriate action before the misconduct grew into a career-ending event.

Newsletter: What in your career are you most proud of?

Thompson: I am most proud of our Supply Corps and the Sailors and Department of Defense civilians I had the privilege to lead during many different assignments. I like to think I set a good example of being a positive and ethical leader. And, I think I was a positive influence on many who worked with and for me over the years.

Newsletter: How do you think what you’ve learned over your career helped you after you left the Supply Corps?

Thompson: I think learning the power of being a positive and ethical leader has been what has helped me most. You get a lot more leadership responsibility in the Supply Corps from the very first day than you will normally experience in private industry. This experience will always serve you well for the rest of your professional life.

Newsletter: What one piece of advice would you give to today’s Supply Corps Officer?

May/June 2007 – Rear Adm. Alan S. Thompson, SC, USN, speaks during Naval Supply Systems Command and Chief of Supply Corps Change of Command held at Naval Support Activity, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  During the ceremony, Thompson relieved RADM Daniel H. Stone, who retired after 36 years of service.

May/June 2007 – Rear Adm. Alan S. Thompson, SC, USN, speaks during Naval Supply Systems Command and Chief of Supply Corps Change of Command held at Naval Support Activity, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. During the ceremony, Thompson relieved RADM Daniel H. Stone, who retired after 36 years of service.

Thompson: As I used to encourage when I was Chief of Supply Corps, I encourage every new Supply Corps officer to put together a career plan — it doesn’t need to cover 20 years — just the next two to three assignments. Then seek out mentors a few years senior to you and ask for their feedback on your plan. This should not be a one-time effort, but rather something you work throughout your career. I am convinced if you do this, you can really increase the odds of getting every assignment you want and meeting all of your career progression goals. Sustained, superior performance is always essential, but you need a living career plan if you are going to be as successful as possible.

Newsletter: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thompson: Serving for 35 years as a Supply Corps officer, and having the opportunity as a Flag officer to serve as Chief of Supply Corps, was the privilege and honor of a lifetime. I have so many wonderful memories from my Navy career — I am so glad I had the opportunity to spend a large part of my life serving in our great Navy.