Quantico Tactical

2019 Warrior East Keynote Address by ADM James Stavridis, USN (Ret)

ADM James Stavridis, USN (Ret) was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Warrior EAST Expo.

The subject was 21st Century Leadership, with particular emphasis on challenges.


He began by saying that challenges will be unexpected, move with gravity, emphasis and change. He demonstrated that by discussing the 9/11 attacks. On that day, he was a brand new One-Star in the Pentagon. He looked out his window and watched the aircraft fly into the building, striking it not far from his office. He was in one of the safest places on earth and yet, it was attacked. The world is still feeling the consequences of that day with the challenge of countering Islamic extremism.

ADM Stavridis went on to discuss current and future challenges in the Middle East which include Iranian expansionism and the Syrian humanitarian crisis. This latter conflict ties into Russian manipulation and its incursion into the Ukraine.

The next challenge he discussed is drug trafficking. While he feels that drug use is a personal decision, his concern is the proceeds of that trafficking and its effect on fragile democracies. He should know, as the Commander of US Southern Command he saw how drug trafficking undermined the government of Colombia.

ADM Stavridis went on to mention pandemics. Based on his story, we are due another. A century ago, Spanish influenza affected 40% of the world’s population.

He feels we can negotiate with China to deal with the issues of trade and intellectual property. Interestingly, he believes the US and China will work together to deal with North Korea.

Cyber security keeps him awake at night. Multiple countries have been victims of significant cyber attacks. Our power grid is particularly vulnerable, as is our personal information.

Here at home, he believes political gridlock is a major concern. Our political parties and even branches of governments rent working well together.

ADM Stavridis went over tools for the 21st century leader. He believes that the most significant tool for a 21st century leader is the ability to listen, to both subordinates and adversaries.

Second is education, with reading as a means of self-education. Books and reading matter deeply. He suggested everyone read, “LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media” by Peter Singer.

Next is innovation. One form of innovation he used at SOUTHCOM was engagement. In particular, he used sports outreach across Central America and the Caribbean, with military team members. In Afghanistan, his technique was literacy programs for the ANA, with a goal of bringing basic trainees to a third grade reading level. His experience is that only one in four innovations works, but it’s imperative to reward innovators and to share the stories of success.

Good leaders are also good communicators. He sees communication as a bridge, with information going both directions. What he refers to as alignment is key; how the information will be received by the audience. Communication is most of all, personal.

He moved on to collaboration. It’s complicated and hard. It might be with current partners. It might involve non-traditional partners. It might be a form of outreach.

Finally, he mentioned values. Leaders must uphold values. He suggested we all list our heroes and next to their name, put the reason why. Then, conduct a self-assessment of how we are doing compared to those we look up to.

Good leaders believe in hope. Napoleon said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” The Admiral said, “that sums up a leader.”

No matter the attribute he listed, across the board, all of his points were intertwined.

Admiral James Stavridis served as the 12th dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University since its founding in 1933. A retired 4-star admiral in the U.S. Navy, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as Supreme Allied Commander with responsibility for Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans, Syria, piracy, and cybersecurity. He also served as Commander of U.S. Southern Command, with responsibility for all military operations in Latin America from 2006-2009. He holds more than 50 medals, including 28 from foreign nations. In 2016, Admiral Stavridis was vetted as a Vice Presidential candidate by the Hilary Clinton campaign, and after the election was invited to meet with President-Elect Trump to discuss a cabinet-level position in the Trump Administration.

Earlier in his military career, he commanded the top ship in the Atlantic Fleet, winning the Battenberg Cup, as well as a squadron of destroyers and a carrier strike group – all in combat. Admiral Stavridis earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in International Relations and has published six books and over two hundred articles in leading journals around the world. His 2012 TED talk has over 700K hits, and he speaks Spanish and French. Admiral Stavridis is a monthly columnist for TIME magazine and Chief International Security Analyst for NBC News. He also joined The Carlyle Group as an Operating Executive and serves as the Chair of the Board of Counselors of McLarty Global Associates. His focus is on innovation, strategic communication and planning, and creating security through international, interagency, and public/private partnerships in this turbulent 21st Century.

2 Responses to “2019 Warrior East Keynote Address by ADM James Stavridis, USN (Ret)”

  1. Stefan S. says:

    Quote: “He feels we can negotiate with China”. Guess he hasn’t heard of China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Or forgot how China is buying natural resources all over Africa, Australia etc. According to Tom Miller, author of “China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road,” OBOR is part of a plan by China focused on “restoring its historical status as Asia’s dominant power.” No thanks ADM.

  2. Papa6 says:

    “While he feels that drug use is a personal decision” That may very well be, but most drugs he’s worried about are illegal in the USA, so . . . ?