After a successful career in the US Navy, retired Rear Admiral Danelle Barrett knows plenty about effective, motivational leadership, and now she’s sharing it with anyone who strives to be a bold change leader.
As Barrett learned in the military, strong leadership is inherently about people and behavior, not formulas and complex theory. The hallmarks of great leaders are their vision, tenacity, integrity, and thoughtful mentorship of others. Barrett imparts her experience through practical advice for leaders in any industry and the best examples she’s learned from the remarkable leaders she’s served within the navy. She also includes plenty of wit via engaging “Sea Stories”―anecdotes told by sailors, chiefs, and officers, often embellished over time―that have humor, heart, and valuable lessons.
Leadership is not complicated, but it is deliberate. It can be summed up in this basic principles:
Inspire and connect
Find three positives
Don’t be a jerk
Becoming a fearless agent of change is particularly relevant today as we face the unprecedented and exponential pace of technological advancement, and Barrett provides you with the powerful tools you need to succeed and ride the wave of this evolution in whatever industry you work.
Tell me a little about your book “Rock The Boat”
I wanted it to be a book that is a nice easy read about leadership and mentoring- like having a cup of coffee and discussion with your mentor.
I recently transitioned from the US Navy back to civilian life after over 30 years on active duty where I held many key leadership positions. I retired as a rear admiral specializing in communications, information technology, and cyber offensive and defensive operations. I wanted to write this book to share my first-hand experience like serving in some of the toughest leadership positions across the nation and to also share mentoring advice I got from many great leaders over the years.
What is the backstory behind “Rock The Boat” ? And why did you decide to write this book?
In my time in the service, I mentored hundreds of diverse people—both in and outside the military—and have spoken to hundreds of audiences, so I have a breadth and depth of direct experience to draw on for the lessons in this book. I really enjoyed the mentoring part of the job and was happy if my advice was helpful to someone. The advice in Rock the Boat transcends industries and is applicable in any leadership or management position, and I have included many of the most requested topics of conversation from my mentees. I had been kicking the idea around for a couple of years but when I retired I had a bit more time to devote to it so just did it. I’d get writers’ block sometimes, but remember hearing author Neil Gaiman speak at a conference once and he said, when you get writers’ block, just sit down and write, do the work. So I followed his advice!
How has writing helped you personally? And changed the way you think?
Hasn’t really changed the way I think but, I always feel good when I finish something I set out to do that will be something new for me. I always learn along the way and this was no exception.
Is there one short story from your book you would like to share?
I think storytelling is really important when mentoring and talking about leadership. People remember your story long after the leadership theory fades from their memory and I have often told this “Sea Story” in speeches. It is about work-life balance and I have included it here as a PDF.
Is there anything that you had to Edit OUT of your book that you wished was kept in?
My editors at Greenleaf books were really good with working with me. There were something I was pretty hard over on and they stayed in and I gave in on others (I wanted the book title to be Leadership and Mentoring: So Easy a Monkey Could Do it, but they thought Rock the Boat was better and they were right… I did convince them to put my monkey comment in the top corner of the cover though. Anyone who knows me will recognize that as one of my “go to” phrases and we don’t need to overcomplicate leadership.
What books would you recommend for a Junior Officer ready go to his or her first operational command?
I actually like an older book called “Lincoln on Leadership” and used to give it to many of the folks I mentored and the other thing I would give is a copy of the Constitution. It may sound corny but it’s important to go back to basics about why we serve. As for leadership and mentoring advice, I also like blogs and articles – I find the interaction and crowdsourcing of ideas powerful.
What is the biggest takeaway that you hope a reader will learn from “Rock The Boat”?
To be a bold, fearless change leader who makes change a reality, take three positives out of any situation, and don’t be a jerk.
What are you reading now?
I Just finished up Bob Woodward’s latest book and I am actually trying to catch up on some of the Pulitzer Prize-winning books ( I am reading “The Confederacy of Dunces” by John Toole now). I also like to read books and blogs and online content about the art of the possible by futurists. I am a big fan of Ray Kurzweil, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musks’ vision. Just like I consider Walt Disney a hero. Truly transformational minds and thinks who put their vision into action inspire and motivate met. I like to read about them.
What books had the most impact on you and your development?
Why is reading important for our Military and/or the Nation?
Leaders need to be thoughtful, contemplative, well versed in many areas, and open to diverse thoughts and opinions. Reading helps you do that and exposes you to ideas that may lead to an even better idea from you or someone else. In our world that moves fast than the speed of sound. It seems no one wants to slow down and critically think anymore. Reading helps you do that. And I prefer a hard copy book over an ebook – I do too much reading on a screen between living on my phone and other mobile devices… the old school book helps me go back to basics and relax.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading — and why?
I like great novels with well-crafted characters that have some moral dilemma they have to overcome or deal with. I also like historical and period-piece novels. Anything with a good story that keeps you guessing. The one I’ve most enjoyed recently was “All the Light We Cannot See.” I would love the spirited discussions about characters in those types of situations if I were in a book club.
What are your favorite books to give — and get — as gifts?
Depends on the person really I do like to give books and do that often based on what I know they like. I always love to give and receive books as gifts, but ones that I know the person would really enjoy reading. I often send books to friends when they are in the hospital or recovering- they are then a captive audience and books can transport them out of their current state to someplace better.
Give us three “Good to Know” facts about you.
- I worked at the Haunted Mansion in Disney World
2. I sign up to be an extra in movies and TV (was selected to be an extra in a Jeff Daniels pilot production was shut down due to CV19…) – I have always loved acting and think it will be fun do to in retirement along with other things. “Dumpy-lady crossing street #2” That’s a role I’ve been preparing for my whole life- right out of Central Casting.
3. Walt Disney has always inspired me and I love Surrealist painters (Dali, Escher, Margruitte, Rob Gonsalves). I just love people who see the world differently and expect you to come along with them.
Writing a book is tough, were there any surprises as you set out on that journey?
The whole world of getting published is a huge learning experience. I had a good publisher to help me through it but it is a whole other world. I thought I could just send it to Publishers and they would read it and respond… Sweet, naïve kid…..
General Mattis talks a lot about using reading as a tool to learn from other people’s experiences. Can you provide a specific example or story where reading has helped you learn from others’ experience?
Yes, I was reading an autobiography of Walt Disney actually and he had a huge failure with Oswald the Rabbit his first animated character. He could have ended up going back home and working for his Dad but he didn’t he tried again with Mickey Mouse and the rest is history. Failure doesn’t define you, your tenacity, boldness, and leadership do. So don’t be deterred by failure.
What is one of the best investments you’ve ever made in your military career?
The best investment I’ve made in m military career is taking care of the nation’s values (constitution) for future generations, taking care of my military family but most important was taking care of those I love.
What is next for you?
Hopefully living a long, healthy, and happy life with those I love, and helping others achieve success, however, they define that. Sounds cliché but it’s true. The rest is gravy.
“Pick up a book and read… or write your own to share your ideas. You will be inspired by others and hopefully inspire others to greatness. ” – Danelle Barrett
Retired Rear Admiral Danelle Barrett with 30 years of proven leadership expertise in innovative cyber, digital transformation, and telecommunications strategy development and global operations. She built high-performing teams, driving culture and enterprise-level change with focus and integrity. As Director Navy Cybersecurity and Deputy Chief Information Officer, acted as a technology innovator and leader, managing the Navy’s cybersecurity strategy, policy, and information technology architectures supporting worldwide missions involving 279 ships, 3700 aircraft, 93 submarines, hundreds of locations with shore critical infrastructure. Provided critical advocacy and strategic advice for a $150B information technology and portfolio investment. As Director of Current Operations at United States Cyber Command, she was responsible for daily operational achievement of full-spectrum offensive and defensive cyber effects on 1.3 million network assets for 2 million users worldwide. She was involved in many military operations including deployments to Iraq, on an aircraft carrier supporting combat operations in Afghanistan and provided humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. She is a proven innovative, thought leader and mentor. She currently executes a portfolio of work that includes being an Independent Director on several Corporate Boards including two bank boards, consulting, public speaking, and writing with over 36 articles published. Her book, “Rock the Boat: Encourage Innovation, Lead Change and Be a Successful Leader” will be out in June 2021. Oh, and most importantly for fun, she signs up to be an in extra movies.