The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

RLF Recap: In the Arena: Translating Thought into Action as a Young Leader with Nate Fick '99

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Last Thursday, Nate Fick, class of ‘99 and current Dartmouth trustee, spoke to the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows about his experiences as a marine officer and as a CEO. Fick’s astounding track record includes two combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, executive management of both corporate and nonprofit enterprises, and a bestselling autobiography, but more impressive is his endearing modesty and keen perception for how morality, authority, and responsibility fit into the choices we make. 

Fick began the session by examining the differences between legal authority, which comes with titles and hierarchies, and moral authority, which necessitate the leader truly taking care of his or her followers. He emphasized that sending, or directing, is not the same as leading, which inherently requires servitude and leading by example. He also acknowledged the challenges faced by leaders, including dealing with deception or misinformation, investing in the right followers, and creating the right culture for maintaining goals, values, and drive. After his overview, students then had the chance to ask any questions they had, and from this discussion, we learned about cultivating trust and legitimacy, avoiding hiring traps, building in personal time to work schedules, and seeing the dangers in judging leadership off of charisma alone.

To end the session, Fick brought in pieces of his personal story, contained within two decision-making scenarios that the group was asked to contemplate. What we learned from the gut-wrenching situations was that leaders are the ones responsible for solving the toughest of dilemmas, even when there isn’t a clear answer. While thinking through these decisions, leaders must balance morality with obligation, conscience with constraints. Without spoiling the details of the scenarios, which can be found in Fick’s book “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer,” it became evident that sometimes there isn’t a correct answer, so a leader must be prepared to deal with the consequences. Fick himself used and still uses a litmus test for moral authority when making decisions that impact others, and he urges, given that there is adequate time to think, that we similarly put careful reflection into our choices and actions.
Quotes from RLF Participants "Through the use of military case studies, Fick made me realize how important context is to the way I view leadership. To me, the case studies required very careful moral and ethical considerations. By putting myself in those situations, I felt like the stakes were higher and there was more pressure to make rational and thought decisions. I realized in that exercise how important it is to take seriously the decisions you make as a leader - because if you don't, no one else will want to follow you"- Catie O'Sullivan '14 

"The material that resonated most with me was Solitude and Leadership, the West Point address by William Deresiewicz. "Leadership and aptitude, leadership and achievement, leadership and even excellence have to be different things, otherwise the concept of leadership has no meaning." That was what did it for me. It's so easy to think we're all leaders just because we're here at Dartmouth. And while we may have been leading the class in GPA and extracurriculars enough to get us here, that doesn't make us leaders. I'm not a leader because I'm ahead of everyone. I'm just one of those "people who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to." And these are the kinds of people who "lead" us today." -Amber Porter '14

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences