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The US Naval Academy: Adapting for Modern Naval Leadership Challenges

The US Naval Academy (often referred to as Annapolis or USNA) has a longstanding history of developing leaders who have made a tremendous impact in the world whether on the field of battle, the playing field or off earth exploration. The Academy is noted for famous graduates with names like Carter, McCain, Stockdale, Shepard, Burke, Nimitz, Robinson, Staubach, Webb, Bolden, Perot, Lovell, Lawrence, Krulak, Crowe, Trost, Rickover, Stavridis and Williams. But Navy and Marine Corps leadership aren’t just recognized within the military. Their bold effects have touched every sector and every industry in business, philanthropy, and beyond. Yet, as societies evolve and new threats surface, the question arises as to how the U.S. Naval Academy will adapt. Given its history of leadership development, the US Naval Academy and its future strategies are topics worth exploring.

Bold Business was fortunate to interview the US Naval Academy’s 87th Commandant of Midshipman Captain Robert B. Chadwick II at the Zephyrhills Jump Zone where he was participating with the Naval Academy Parachute team. In this exclusive interview with Associate Publisher John R. Miles, himself a 1993 Academy graduate, Captain Chadwick discusses how the Academy is evolving with modern warfare and leadership needs.


Although many consider the US Naval Academy for its military training, it is also one of the top academic colleges in the country with an 86 percent graduation rate. Both Forbes and U.S. News and World Report ranked it as top public colleges and the later for the best undergraduate engineering program. Over fifty United States astronauts were trained in the Yard. In addition, there have been seventy-three Medal of Honor recipients, two Nobel Prize winners, twenty-six members of Congress, five Governers and a former President of the United States. Likewise, the US Naval Academy has generated over 1,000 academic scholars, including fifty-two Rhodes scholars, and twenty-eight Marshall scholars. But modern Navy leadership and academic training continue to evolve as the world and social change.

New Generations, New Challenges for Navy Leadership Development

The mission of the US Naval Academy is to develop midshipmen morally, mentally and physically while advancing ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty. Life at the Academy is centered around preparing them to be Naval Officers in the United States Navy or Marine Corps. Through a variety of programs and activities, individuals are trained for the highest levels of command, citizenship, and government. And global changes continue to evolve over time, and the US Naval Academy has adapted with them. This includes a shift towards greater diversity.

Capt Robb Chadwick speaks on USNA diversity
A more diverse world means a more diverse US Naval Academy.

Contemporary generations learn in different ways compared to past generations. The challenge, then, is to continue to excel in Navy leadership development while considering new approaches. This case requires assessing new attitudes and perspectives while continuing to invest in ethical and bold leadership values. Indeed, a perspective that embraces diversity and inclusion helps. Still, the US Naval Academy is doing much more to enhance Navy leadership training for new recruits.

According to Captain Chadwick, the US Naval Academy views itself as a leadership laboratory. The laboratory, as an analogy, continually seeks new ways in carrying out Navy leadership training. In this regard, he notes that both the leadership and ethics departments have been growing significantly in the past years. Because the US Naval Academy is leveraging these advances with diversity in leadership experiences, midshipmen are enjoying new approaches to Navy leadership training. This approach has not only been ideal for newer generations but also effective for dynamic world environments.

Vice Admiral Walter E. "Ted" Carter Jr.
It takes a top-notch educational institution to create top-notch Navy leadership.

The Price of Innovation: A Battlefield to Master Through the Center for Cyber Security Studies

Generational preferences also show a significant inclination towards the use of technology in leadership development. But technology is shifting leadership needs in other ways as well. Specifically, cybersecurity issues are now ranked as the most pressing matter for organizations across the globe. Therefore, the US Naval Academy must equip tomorrow’s leaders with cybersecurity skills and knowledge. They are doing this through the Center for Cyber Security Studies.

The Center for Cyber Security Studies’ purpose is to enhance the education of midshipmen in cyber warfare. The program (one of the first of its kind) fosters the sharing of information and expertise on the perspectives of cyber warfare from inter-disciplinary research. All midshipmen must take two classes from the center during their four years at the Academy.

According to the Cybersecurity Jobs Report, roughly 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs will exist by the year 2021. In fact, the current unemployment rate for these positions sits at zero percent. This need has developed rather quickly, as the US Naval Academy had few such programs a decade ago. But for quality navy leadership development, the Academy provides ways to meet the need and cultivate such skills. These skills will be increasingly essential for all leadership positions, civilian or otherwise.

Vice Admiral talking cyber education and the Center for Cyber Security Studies
Innovation has made cyberspace the next battlefield, so the US Naval Academy is busy preparing future leaders through the Center for Cyber Security Studies

More than 120 students now graduate in this field compared to about 30 two years ago. According to Paul Tortora, its director, the Cyber Security degree is now the third most popular this year for midshipmen.

The US Naval Academy Today – Proactive Strategies in Developing Future Leaders

The US Naval Academy is embracing the challenges in its leadership development efforts. As Captain Chadwick notes, the immersive process at the US Naval Academy provides a broad approach to leadership development.

In addition to providing a new Center for Experiential Leadership Development, the US Naval Academy gives its junior officers the opportunity to engage in ethical and legal scenarios as part of their training. Furthermore, by keeping up-to-date on current global needs, the US Naval Academy improves its modern Navy leadership training strategies. It is clear the US Naval Academy continues to develop the bold leaders of tomorrow—and will continue to do so in the years to come.

John McCain talks USNA
As a US Naval Academy grad, the late US Senator John McCain was appreciative of what the institution had taught him.


For more on US Naval Academy Commandant of Midshipman Captain Robb Chadwick II, check out this week’s Bold Leader Spotlight. For the full length interview. watch it here.

To read more about the Naval Academy’s impact on leadership, read our exclusive story with Major Katie Higgins Cook USNA’08, the first female Blue Angels Pilot.

To learn more about the Marine Corps’ traditions and the impact of women in the Corps read our Bold Leader Spotlight on Lt. General Lori Reynolds USNA’86.

Bold Leader Spotlight: Captain Robert B. Chadwick II, US Naval Academy Commandant of Midshipmen

It’s spring break at the Naval Academy, so where might you find the Commandant of the Midshipmen? Jumping out of an airplane at the Zephyrhills drop zone training camp outside of Tampa, FL, of course. Despite there being roughly 30 years since his last jump and his most recent stint with the team, Captain Robert B. Chadwick II believes in bold leadership. And part of his bold leadership philosophy includes a team-focused mentality where he leads by example. So, skydiving with the US Naval Academy jump team is perfectly aligned with this perspective.

I have been lucky enough to know Captain Chadwick and witness his leadership directly since we were both Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. His brother John and I were classmates, friends, and served on the Honor Committee together. In this video we filmed at the Zephyrhills drop zone, Captain Chadwick provides his perspectives on what it means to be a Bold Leader.

Captain Chadwick’s bold leadership approach involves much more than simply being a role model for others. In his nearly three decades in the US Navy, he has led many to become strong and effective leaders. Whether serving as a fellow naval officer or as a commander, Captain Chadwick has always taken leadership seriously. This fact explains why he continues to receive the US Navy’s highest degree of respect in both leadership awards and positions including a recent selection to Rear Admiral (lower half). It’s also why his bold leadership deserves a more in-depth look.

Growing from Leadership Opportunities—From Student to Naval Academy Commandant

Captain Chadwick currently resides at the Naval Academy Commandant’s house in Annapolis, MD. But it isn’t the first time he has lived here. While Captain Chadwick is the 87th US Naval Academy Commandant, his father was the 71st. As it turns out, Captain Chadwick first lived in the house during his junior year in high school. So, both his father and his early life experiences at the Naval Academy likely helped mold his bold leadership perspectives. This is a first in Naval Academy history, to have both a father and son become the Commandant. Captain Chadwick now joking tells us that he and his father call themselves 87 and 71 in conversations.

Of course, these were not his only leadership influences. After graduation, he was assigned roles as gunnery officer, weapons officer and combat systems officer before becoming executive officer of the USS Philippine Sea. Captain Chadwick received his first commander’s role in 2009 of the USS Roosevelt. In addition, he became the commander of Destroyer Squadron 21 from September 2016 to March 2015. In 2017, he was advanced to the Naval Academy Commandant’s position, where he continues to serve as a bold leader today.

Captain Chadwick shows bold leadership
From junior officer to Naval Academy Commandant, Captain Robert B. Chadwick has always shown bold leadership.

A Bold Leadership Philosophy Deserving of Recognition

When considering his bold leadership philosophy, Captain Chadwick honors three pillars in leading the Midshipmen. These pillars are leadership, character, and accountability. To spur growth in these areas, Captain Chadwick encourages others to seize every opportunity to develop their leadership. As Naval Academy Commandant, he likens experiences to arrow quivers in a bow sack. Good or bad, each experience represents a quiver that can provide leadership development. Experiences under bad leadership can thus offer as many insights as good leadership.

Continued growth and learning are activities that Captain Chadwick consider as essential to bold leadership development. Furthermore, this growth pertains not only to leading others and accepting accountability but also in persistent character development as well.

Captain Chadwick does more than merely preach these bold leadership principles. He also lives by them. This fact is why he was awarded the Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership in 2011. The award, named for Vice Admiral Stockdale after he received a Medal of Honor for the leadership and valor he embodied during the Vietnam War, honors five key leadership traits. These include serving a leader’s role as a moralist, jurist, teacher, steward, and philosopher. Peers nominate leaders for this award. And only two naval officers can receive this recognition each year. Captain Chadwick was one of them.

The Naval Academy Commandant is a bold leader
Bold leadership is exactly what you’d want out of a Naval Academy Commandant… and it’s exactly what Captain Robert B. Chadwick II has shown.

Humility as a Bold Leadership Trait 

For the US Naval Academy commandant, humility is an essential aspect of bold leadership. Captain Chadwick values humility as a way to allow others to develop their own leadership skills. His most profound experience was when he was asked to oversee a naval vessel that had failed inspection. By being humble, rather than authoritative, he fostered a team mentality with his crew. At the same time, by being bold, he was able to boost morale and initiative. As a result, the entire crew excelled overcoming multiple adversities along the way.

Captain Chadwick’s philosophy of humility permeates each leadership role that he has pursued and held. For example, when receiving the Stockdale Award, he attributed his success to his crew and asked them to sign the back of the award. This action reflected his overall recognition that any success he has had as a leader involved others and his team. It’s also the reason he chose to jump 13,000 feet with the jump team as their Naval Academy Commandant. He never puts any task above himself and values the men and women he leads as co-equals. He believes in each one of them, encourages and instills trust in them that they will accomplish the task or mission.

Through his actions, Captain Chadwick serves as a role model for others—showing in tangible ways how leaders can be both humble and bold. In this way, he continues to foster leadership development among those under his command.

Quote from Lauren G. O'Malley - Midshipman First Class
The Naval Academy Commandant has served as an inspiration for many future bold leaders.

At the Heart of It All Stands Character

As one of Captain Chadwick’s bold leadership pillars, character represents a crucial component. Such character highlights honesty, respect, and trust when interacting with others. And it means serving with integrity and authenticity. For Captain Chadwick, that is essential when it comes to bold leadership.

Throughout the 173-year history of the Navy, a father and son have never both served as Naval Academy Commandant—until now. His bold leadership philosophy and approach has made a tremendous impact on others around him throughout his career. And this case is not about to change as he embarks on future leadership positions.

cartoon of captain robert chadwick with the united states naval academy logo beside him
How did Captain Robert B. Chadwick II grow his leadership from being a student to a naval academy commandant?

Whether jumping from planes or attending midshipmen graduations, Captain Robert B. Chadwick II continues to embrace every leadership opportunity he can. Clearly, his influence will be felt for many generations to come.

To learn more about Captain Chadwick, read our accompanying article on how the US Naval Academy and how the institution is changing with evolving times.

For the full-length interview. watch it here.

Captain Robert B. Chadwick II: From Student to Naval Academy Commandant

cartoon of captain robert chadwick with the united states naval academy logo beside him
How did Captain Robert B. Chadwick II grow his leadership from being a student to a naval academy commandant?

Captain Robert B. Chadwick II: What Does It Mean To Be A Bold Leader