Fairfield University’s Quick Center for the Arts hosted Four Star Navy Admiral James Stavridis Monday. Stavridis addressed “21st Century Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities” as part of the Dolan Lecture Series.

Stavridis explained key tools he believes all leaders need in order to help them succeed in the 21st century. He drew upon knowledge from his own leadership experiences spanning nearly four decades, using examples related to cyber security, terrorism, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, and the environment.

“I am talking tonight at the Dolan Lecture about 21st century leadership, not 19th century, not 20th century,” Stavridis said. “Leadership in this 21st century is fundamentally different because of transparency, because of the speed and acceleration of events, because of a globally interconnected society. I think leaders today have to focus on innovation, adapting to change because everything happens so quickly, and they have to focus on communication strategically, how are they going to move their messages in this vast wilderness of the social networks. They need to focus above all on collaboration, on building teams — no one of us is as smart as all of us working together. That’s the message I’m trying to move across tonight.”

Key leadership tools Stavridis suggests are, “communication, innovation and collaboration, but all of that has to rest on a base line of integrity and value and all of that is enabled by education. When I put it all together for a leader - it’s your integrity and your value set, your ability to use your education and continue your education and then to reach for these three tools I have described, they’re critical.”

The military has been a lifelong way of living for Stavridis. “I am a native Floridian and grew up in a military family,” he explained. “I went off to the Naval Academy and had a long career in the Navy culminating in becoming the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. My father was in the Marine Corps and so we always had a proclivity for the ocean and the sea and when I went to Annapolis I decided instead of the Marine Corps, Id become a Navy Destroyer sailor, which means serving in destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers.”

Stavridis spent 37 years in the Navy. Among numerous notable commands, Stavridis spent four years as the 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, overseeing operations in Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans and piracy off the coast of Africa. He also commanded the US Southern Command in Miami, charged with military operations through Latin America and is the longest serving combat commander in recent US history.

“Three things that have helped me in life, all of which I’ve gotten from my parents, are number one - stay physically fit and work out. Its gives you more energy and gives you more longevity, social connection with people and it makes you a part of something bigger than just yourself.”

Number two,” he continued, “Read, read endlessly, and own your own education. So many people go to high school and to college and are given reading lists but when you graduate, that’s the moment when you own your own education. Read, read, read. Thirdly, I would say, a sense of humor, empathy for others - as St. Thomas said, ‘Be kind to all you meet for you know not what burden they carry.’ That sense of empathy has been important to me.”

Following his military career Starvidis, for five years, served as the 12th Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “We are honored to welcome Admiral Starvidis to share his perspective on leadership through the lens of his distinguished military and higher education careers,” said Dolan School Dean Zhan Li. “His message will be of great importance to our students and aligns with the Dolan School’s mission to cultivate ethical leaders for a global future.”

“For all of us in America, I would like to convey optimism,” encouraged Stavridis. “I think increasingly in America today, there’s a sense that the world is so difficult and complicated and things are going wrong and our body politic is so polarized and yet if you look back at 200 plus years of American history we’ve had many challenges. We will overcome the challenges we face today by working more closely together. I spend a lot of time trying to find and encourage young leaders in their 20s and 30s because the future of our nation is in our youth, in our young millennials who I think are going to turn out to be a hero generation. I really believe that. We talk often about the greatest generation in WWII, got it. but I’ve spent a lifetime with young people in the Navy and then as Dean at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. I’m around millennials a lot, they will in the end, not only change the world but here in the United States, they’ll give us common cause and that’s what we need.”