Former Chief of Naval Operations Shares Lessons on Leadership

Admiral Vern Clark entered the U.S. Navy as a reservist. What he thought would be a three-year commitment turned into a career, and he eventually found himself at the helm of the entire Navy as Chief of Naval Operations. On a biannual visit to Regent University’s Robertson School of Government (RSG), where he serves as a distinguished professor, Clark shared his insight on leadership. He told students his success was the result of submitting himself to God’s leading and not his own career planning.

The conventional career approach is to have the thing planned out, but the scriptures say we can’t chart our course,” said Clark. “Chart your course if you want, but if you’re going to kick your doors in, that is a full-time job. My approach was simply to go through open doors. Seek the Lord.”

Clark referred to the doors God opened to lead him into different roles in the Navy to accomplish various purposes. He shared stories about how God used his obedience to restore integrity amongst an entire ship’s culture. He says credibility is the foundation of leadership, and he succeeded not by seeking career advancement, but working “unto the Lord” and excelling at the tasks of each job he held.

“We must be constantly be renewing our minds,” said Clark. “It’s about being up to the call He gives us. We will reap what we sow. I’m amazed how millions of people want to be successful, but few people are willing to pay the price to be successful.”

This call could require challenging leadership to avoid compromising your own integrity or knowing how to identify good mentors. Ultimately, Clark says, through seeking the Lord and depending upon His providence, the Holy Spirit empowers and enables His followers to do His work. The result is a life that shares faith through action, not just words.

Clark visited a leadership class taught by government professor, Dr. Paul Bonicelli. Both men served in the George W. Bush administration.