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    The Trusted Leader: Cosimo Colonna on Servant Leadership

    Posted by: Adam Polka | November 10, 2022


    Effective change demands effective leadership. As we honor those who have served and sacrificed this November, I sat down with Tecsys’ senior portfolio director and Navy vet, Cosimo Colonna, to understand how the servant leadership lessons he learned in the military have guided him in civilian and business life.


    When we indulge in stories about the military, we often fall in the Top Gun trap: Action, speed, excitement, self-centeredness, and a sprinkle of machismo just to keep the cliché going. But the reality, according to Cosimo, is quite the opposite.


    “The truth is that those stereotypical traits are the greatest hurdles to effective military operations; especially in underwater operations, the keywords are patience, rehearsal, boring teamwork and a lot of trust into each other,” Cosimo explains.


    Cosimo was an officer in the Italian Navy for nearly 20 years, having started his military journey before turning 16. He went through Navy High School, Naval Academy, Submarine School and several other training institutions throughout his career. I asked him where he learned his recipe for trust, expecting some epic war story.


    “I think I read the recipe for trust on a wall of my daughter’s Kindergarten classroom a couple of years ago. It was a poster that read, ‘If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else,’” he tells me. He then points to a book by Pete Blaber titled The Mission, The Men and Me. “I always gift this book to my team members. It’s a bit more of an action-packed version of that Kindergarten classroom poster, but the recipe is the same.”


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    In the military and in life, Cosimo recounts, education and training can only get you so far. Giving and gaining trust is a bit more personal.


    “I was serving as the Commanding Officer of an auxiliary ship in the Italian Navy when one day I participated to the usual national flag ceremony. I recall there were some wind gusts that day and as the flag was lowered, a gust just decided to get one of my sailors in trouble as he was trying to prevent the flag from touching the deck. I instinctively reached out and quietly helped my man without thinking too much of it.”


    “It was only months later during one of our operations at sea that I found myself chatting with that same person alone in about the same spot. He told me then how much he appreciated and how much it meant to him that I jumped at the opportunity to help him that gusty day a few months back.”


    “To me that's what servant leadership is all about. Be there for our people, sincerely care about their success, and do all in our power to support them by following the simple, yet powerful mantra of ‘the mission, the men and me’ exactly in this order.”


    Cosimo retired from the Navy more than 10 years ago. And while he’s not cramped in a metal tube under overwhelming water pressure or on a more pleasant ship bridge in the Mediterranean Sea, the lessons he learned in service help him to lead effectively in the civilian world: “The principles are the same working with our teams in the Navy as they are implementing transformative supply chain solutions. I serve to help all others around me succeed, because their success is our organization, our customers and ultimately my personal success.”

    Cosimo, thank you for your service and your leadership.

    On the topic of leading through change, I had the privilege to speak with two supply chain leaders who have harnessed technology to drive change on a recent episode of The Great Supply Chain Podcast: Maryah Merchant, who was recently named as a 2022 Supply & Demand Chain Executive Women in Supply Chain Award winner, and Janick Coulombe, vice president of Finance and Administration at A.M.G. Medical, who is leading her organization through a full-scale digital transformation. Building on the insights that Cosimo proffers, for supply chain leaders looking to drive change through their organizations, I encourage you to listen to Maryah and Janick’s insights.




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