Captain Rich LeBron enlisted in the Navy in 1989. Following Boot Camp and Quartermaster school he reported to USS James K. Polk (SSBN 645) for his first sea tour.
As a submarine Quartermaster Rich managed to keep the ship off the shoals and was accepted into the Navy's Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) Program. He is a graduate of the University of San Diego where he earned his commission and charted a course to Surface Warfare.
Rich attended Surface Warfare Officer School and reported to USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) where he qualified as a Surface Warfare Officer and deployed to the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Gulf. Skipping his shore tour, Rich left The Sullivans to attend Department Head School and serve as Chief Engineer on USS Milius (DDG 69). While on Milius, Rich deployed to the Western Pacific and the Arabian Gulf. He was later assigned to Afloat Training Group, Pacific as an engineering plant inspector. His inspector tour was cut short and he transferred to the University of Florida.
After earning an MBA at UF, the Pentagon summoned and Rich served as a Special Assistant and Speechwriter to the Chief of Naval Operations and later to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rich departed the Pentagon to attend the Joint and Combined Warfighting School followed by assignment to U.S. Southern Command as aide to the Commander. He then transferred to Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe to serve as Special Assistant to the Commander.
Returning to sea duty, Rich relieved as Executive Officer and later as Commanding Officer of USS Benfold (DDG 65) where he deployed to the Western Pacific and the Arabian Gulf. He also cofounded the Athena Project lauded by the Secretary of the Navy as exemplary and reflective of the way the Navy must strive to capture the intellectual surplus resident within our workforce. Post command, Rich headed to Rome, Italy as a member of the NATO Defense College. He later reported to U.S. Pacific Fleet Headquarters as Director of the Commander's Strategic Initiatives Group and as both founder and Director of 'The Bridge' innovation initiative. He departed PACFLT for duty as USS Bonhomme Richard's Executive Officer, fleeting up to Commanding Officer in September of 2018. Rich is a Joint Specialty and PolMil Officer, speaks Spanish fluently, and is entitled to wear the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Commendation Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, and Humanitarian Service Medal along with various other personal, unit, and service awards.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
I’ve had many failures along the way. Some big and some small, but all have been threads in the fabric of me.
One of my biggest professional failures was when I did not complete the nuclear power pipeline. I was disappointed. Not so much because I failed the rigorous program, but because I allowed myself to be distracted to the point of not being able to balance my personal and professional lives. I was doing well until I lost focus. My grades dropped and then I could not recover. The lesson there for me was one of balance, so now I strive to balance work and personal life more constructively. Unfortunately, what I often do is tip the scales towards work, which does have a tendency to negatively impact my family life. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with a wife and kids who are incredibly supportive of what I do and make up for my own weaknesses in that regard. It’s not perfect, but after 22 years of marriage and 6 kids – one of which is a Marine and another a Sailor, I think overall it’s worked out well.
I’ve had other failures too. I’ve allowed my frustrations to boil into anger at times, and that’s never good. Over the years, however, I’ve learned to manage that weakness and have grown far more patient and empathetic to the needs of those around me. I’ve gotten a lot better at how I react when I receive bad news and have been rewarded by Sailors who are more than eager to communicate and ensure I have the tools I need to enable them to theirs.
Those two examples along with the myriad other failures throughout my career have shaped me into who I am today. Not perfect, but learning and growing every day. I’ve been humbled by my own failures as well as by how tolerant the Sailors I’ve been charged to lead have been towards my own mistakes.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
“Don’t confuse drive with passion. Drive pushes you forward. It’s a duty, an obligation. Passion pulls you. It’s the sense of connection you feel when the work you do expresses who you are. Only passion will get you through the tough times.”
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
My mornings tend to be fast paced. I get up, do the morning hygiene stuff and am off to the races taking kids to school and darting to work. With a house full of daughters, mornings are fast paced and never dull.
Whenever the stars align, I absolutely love to sit down with my wife, have a cup of coffee, and squeeze in a round or two of backgammon. It helps set my day up for success. The backgammon is the game, but the time is spent synching calendars, discussing upcoming events both from my work and her daily efforts to keep things on an even keel.
I usually take a few moments to review the Early Bird and Navy News to catch the highlights of things that could have an impact on the Navy and my ship and crew.
One thing is for sure, my mornings are never – ever – calm transitions into the day. I do always make my bed though.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO?
- Focus on only the things that only you can do. For everything else, learn to delegate and monitor. For example, put the majority of your efforts on developing yourself as a competent Surface Warfare Officer. Drive at your quals with vigor. No one can get qualified FOR you. You have to do it and only YOU can do it. So focus on that. For everything else, engage but don’t get so engrossed that you miss hitting the mark on your quals and your development as a junior officer.
-Recognize that IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. It's about the Sailors, the Navy, the mission, and the Nation. Remove the ego from your pattern of thinking. Be humble and grateful for the privilege to serve.
-As far as advice to ignore, I would say, anything that leads you astray from well and faithfully discharging the duties of the office you are entrusted. Anything that drives you towards not setting a good example of compassionate leadership. Anything that guides your steps in a direction that puts you at risk of violating the Navy’s core values, compromises your integrity, or puts you in a questionable ethical position. Remember, in this profession, integrity is your stock in trade.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
The Monk and the Riddle, by Randy Komisar. The book encourages the reader to be introspective about the motivations behind pursuits. In my view, asking “why do I want to be a _______?” is a vital question to ask and the most critical element of decision making vis-à-vis career choices.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
I apply my most meaningful resource – time – to what is most meaningful to me – people.
My time is managed largely by how I prioritize my work. People issues occupy nearly 80% of my day and I weigh that accordingly. My admin team knows that absent an external requirement, people issues trump just about anything on the schedule. That’s true regardless of how I am employing the ship. If I get the people business right and keep it on an even keel, the majority of other issues largely take care of themselves… or rather, are taken care of the people I take care of day in and day out.
Mechanically, I heavily rely on Outlook calendar and track my time and how it’s employed that way.
What is your most effective daily habit?
Maximizing opportunities for others to express their mastery through autonomy and ensuring they understand their purpose. That, in essence, is the key to motivating people to do their very best via the generation of intrinsic motivation.
How do you define success?
Watching others deliver on the promise of their potential – whether it’s my wife, my kids, or my colleagues, nothing give me joy like watching others succeed… and if I had anything to do with their own success, then that’s a huge bonus. That view of what success is inspires me to do all I can to help others rise above whatever challenges they face.