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VADM (ret.) Ann Rondeau, President of the NPS, on Leveraging Technological Innovation

July 9, 2021

This month, the Pallas Foundation for National Security Leadership hosted Vice Admiral (Ret.) Ann Rondeau, President of the Naval Postgraduate School, to discuss her predictions for technological innovation trends, how she facilitates communication across military and technology experts, and leadership lessons learned throughout her career. Below are some takeaways from her discussion.

Even when working with innovative emerging technologies, the human element is key to obtaining strategic advantage.

The Naval Postgraduate School, which provides defense-focused graduate education to advance technological leadership of the Naval service, works across many cutting-edge technologies. For example, NPS is currently researching avenues to integrate 3-D printers and hydrogen production capabilities on Navy ships to increase the Navy’s efficiency and lessen potential supply chain dependence. Quantum computing, AI, and machine learning are also in the forefront of this innovation wave. However, VADM Rondeau specified that the decisions that humans make in regards to technology are more important than the technologies alone. According to VADM Rondeau, the strategic advantage of the United States comes down to the way we learn and how we apply that knowledge.

Good communication is all about cutting across different stakeholder “languages.”

According to VADM Rondeau, everyone speaks different languages--referring to field-specific jargon. In order to understand others and communicate well, it is critical to listen closely and ask questions.. In the military, she advised that senior leaders should aim to be familiar enough with technical topics to ask informed questions. However, experts also have a responsibility to engage in the conversation and try to speak in the warfighter language that others may use. The biggest challenge across both groups, she noted, is figuring out a way to make complexity simple.

Leadership requires a baseline of competence, trust, and accountability.

As VADM Rondeau put it: “Competence leads to credibility, which leads to confidence.” She pointed to several aspects of competence that will help leaders to build credibility with their teams. First, tactical competence involves knowing your work and performing well. Operational competence relates to how a leader’s work affects those around them. Lastly, strategic competence is about how an individual’s work affects the larger mission of the organization. Understanding the context of a situation and understanding the human condition are also critical, in VADM Rondeau’s view and can be accomplished through focusing on empathy and sensitivity to others. Successful leaders must also trust others and trust themselves to do a good job. At the end of the day, she said, a leader’s job is to provide their team with the tools and the foundation that they need to succeed--and trust their team to take it from there.

Retired Vice Adm. Ann E. Rondeau was appointed as President, Naval Postgraduate School on January 29, 2019. Prior to her appointment, Adm. Rondeau served as the sixth president of the College of DuPage. Her last military position was as the President of the National Defense University, a consortium of five colleges and nine research centers in Washington, DC.


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