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Retired rear admiral honed leadership skills in Navy
By SAMANTHA HENRY , The Daily Transcript
Friday, April 5, 2013
Leaders can make or break the careers of those who serve around them. In the case of retired Rear Adm. Jose Betancourt, a former surface warfare officer, one leader almost broke his career and another picked up the pieces.
Betancourt was born in Mexico and moved to Texas when he was 8 years old. His dream was to teach at a college. He was a high school teacher in 1971, when he received a fellowship to earn his doctorate and then teach.
His number came up in the draft lottery that year, so he joined the Navy. The uniforms were sharp, he could travel and he could be done in three years.
Instead, Betancourt retired from the Navy as a rear admiral 34 years later, in 2005. He started a company, Global Source Energy (GSE), in 2012 and has been consulting through the Tesoro Veterans Group since 2006.
As a lieutenant during his fourth year in the Navy, though, he almost saw the end of his career. “On the same ship I had first the worst commanding officer I’ve ever worked with and for,” Betancourt said. “And then, when he was relieved, I worked for the best commanding officer I have ever worked for. In the case of the first one, the reaction to imperfections in people was rage and yelling and screaming and berating people. That individual had no confidence in himself whatsoever and did not inspire any of us to want to make a career.”
That leader made such a negative impression that Betancourt considered leaving the Navy once his tour was up. With support from his colleagues and the follow-on commanding officer, Betancourt decided to stay. The follow-on commanding officer was Ken Nider, and Betancourt credits him with his decision to make the Navy his career.
“He was the model of the perfect commanding officer,” Betancourt said. “He had been a former enlisted man and rose through the ranks. He dressed sharply, he valued people, he allowed us to make mistakes and he was a good teacher.”
Betancourt said there are two kinds of leaders — those who seek praise for succeeding but none of the blame for failing, and those who accept both the good and the bad.
The former leader “tends to be ill-tempered, unforgiving, can be ruthless and can be destructive of morale.” The latter has confidence in himself or herself and takes responsibility while not blaming others. That’s the kind of leader Betancourt said should always be emulated.
Betancourt learned the importance of mentorship early in his career. He learned to pattern himself after the behavior and style of a successful leader.
“I used the same leadership principles they did: their comportment, their behavior, the way they treated people, the expectations they held of people,” Betancourt said. “It’s no secret with respect to how you succeed, but it’s learning the kind of temperament, the kind of style, that leads one to be successful.”
A leader has two main objectives, Betancourt said.
“Our (first) objective is to make sure we carry out whatever mission is given to us, but our second objective is to make sure that we are mindful that those who work for us are people whose lives rest in our hands and for whom we have great responsibility, not only for their safety but for their professional development,” Betancourt said.
Delegation is important for any leader, he said, because “you learn you cannot ever, ever, ever do it on your own. There’s nothing wrong with being a perfectionist in some instances, but not being able to delegate and trust people can be a very common failure on the part of leaders that one has to watch for.”