Top Pacific Commander Embraces Early Leadership Principles
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
HONOLULU, May 28, 2009 As young Tim Keating was growing up just outside Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, his parents taught him to treat other people the way he’d like his children, one day, to be treated, and as if all those other people outranked him.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said childhood lessons his parents taught by example formed the foundation of his leadership style. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisia Gonzales
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
It’s a philosophy he embraced as he attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and he never lost sight of it as he rose through the ranks to become the senior U.S. military officer in the Pacific.
“Dad tried to make sure we understood that he thought it important to treat everybody the way he would have them treat his kids. That kind of stuck with me,” Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating told American Forces Press Service. “But my parents also taught me that if you figure everybody is senior to you, and regard them that way and give them that respect – whether they are or not isn’t so important – it will allow you to develop the capacity to listen, to pay attention and to learn.”
Approaching his third year at the helm of the largest U.S. combatant command, Keating said he strives to draw on the strengths of his people while providing them opportunities to grow.
“There isn’t anybody in United States Pacific Command who doesn’t have a good idea and isn’t eager to do their job,” he said. “And when given a certain amount of latitude and authority and responsibility, in an extraordinarily high percentage of the cases, they rise to the occasion.
“So you drive the authority down to the appropriate level,” he continued. “Give some general guidance, and then kind of get out of the way and let people do their jobs at the level at which they are capable, capitalizing on the training and equipment they’ve received.”
When forced to make tough decisions, Keating said, he strives to ensure they’re “firm, fair, consistent and honest.”
“You don’t always have the blessing of sufficient time to explain every decision you make,” he said. “Sometimes they’re hard, and have to be made in a split second.”
But whenever possible, Keating said, he seeks advice and counsel from what he calls “an immensely dedicated, smart group of men and women” at Pacom.
“If you give them the time to make their recommendation, sort through the facts and decide to do what you think is best for our nation, your command and the men and women who are going to have to do the heavy lifting, most times it turns out to be a pretty good decision,” he said.
Shortly after taking command of Pacom in 2007, Keating declared it “the best job in the Department of Defense.” Time on the job has reinforced that initial impression.
“It sounds trite and hokey, but I walk into the headquarters every morning happy to be there, and anxious to get up to the office,” he said. “It’s the best job in the world.”
Now, as he expects to pass his command to his successor this fall, Keating said he feels positive about the state of U.S. Pacific Command. He credits the recently revised Pacom strategy, built on the tenets of partnership, readiness and presence, with promoting peace and stability.
One measure of that success, he said, is the fact that the region continues to enjoy a relative peace, with no significant military incidents and no state-on-state conflict. “In a way, it’s what hasn’t happened,” he said. “Some of that is good fortune. But a lot of it is due to a concerted effort by a lot of people, including those at Pacific Command.”
Keating calls Navy Adm. Robert M. Willard, whom Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced yesterday President Barack Obama has nominated to become the next Pacom commander, the right man for the post. Willard currently commands the Navy’s Pacific Fleet.
“There is no one as qualified in the department as Bob Willard,” Keating said.
In the meantime, as he looks back over his 38 years of commissioned service, Keating said, he considers his time at Pacom the crescendo to a career punctuated with high points.
That career path was all but sealed when Keating was just 8 or 9 years old and his father took him to the annual air show at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Two military air demonstration teams, the Air Force Thunderbolts and the Navy Blue Angels, alternated years at the show. As it turned out, it was the Navy team’s turn to perform. Keating was smitten as he watched the Navy pilots scream through the air, leaving white smoke in their wake.
Suddenly, the young Keating had an alternative to his life-long dream of becoming second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. Maybe he’d become a Navy fighter pilot instead.
Keating ended up following the latter dream to Annapolis, calling his Naval Academy experience “one of the very great things that happened to me.”
“I’m eternally grateful for that opportunity,” Keating said of the lessons he learned there and the lifelong friendships he made.
Keating said his Naval Academy experience reaffirmed many of the leadership lessons he learned at his childhood dinner table. But he also pointed to several major figures he said influenced him and his leadership style during his career.
Retired Navy Rear Adm. Thomas A. Mercer laid the groundwork as Keating’s first fleet squadron commanding officer.
Navy Adm. William J. Crowe, the former Pacom commander for whom Keating served as a military aide while a flag lieutenant, gave Keating wide exposure to the Asia-Pacific region and new approaches to addressing the challenges there. Crowe later served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“He expanded my horizons and exposed me to processes and thoughts and ways of thinking that I didn’t know existed at the time,” Keating said.
Another former Pacom commander, retired Adm. Joseph Prueher, became Keating’s close friend and advisor.
Retired Rear Adm. Jack Zerr, who assumed command of Keating’s squadron after its commanding officer died in a tragic accident, provided a “spectacular” model of leadership as he looked out for the health and welfare of everyone in his charge, Keating said. “I try to live those lessons every day,” he said.
Retired Marine Gen. Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left a deep impression, Keating said, citing his “towering integrity and abiding interest in the men and women in uniform.”
But perhaps one of the most profound influences on Keating came early in his career, when he was serving with Attack Squadron 122 at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif. That’s where Keating met the future Wanda Lee Keating, the head-turner he jokes was attracted more to his “fancy-pants Corvette convertible” than to the hot-shot fighter pilot behind the wheel.
Turning serious, Keating called his wife “the best thing that has ever happened to me,” and a never-ending source of support and encouragement that has sustained him throughout his military career.
“Wanda Lee is a perfect example of the strength you can draw from a partner who understands the importance of what you are doing and makes every sacrifice to help you achieve your command and personal goals,” he said. “She is every bit as dedicated to faith, family and friends and country as anyone in uniform.”
Together, the Keatings raised two children: a son now serving as executive officer of a Navy F/A-18 squadron, and a daughter who’s married to an F/A-18 pilot. Both Keatings hope to relocate closer to their children and grandchildren after retirement.
“We’ll probably go to the East Coast, take a couple of minutes and figure out what we are going to do next,” he said.
But in the meantime, Keating made it clear he has no intention of taking his eye off the ball at U.S. Pacific Command.
“We are going to do our level best to give everyone a very clear impression that we are going to sprint right to the finish line,” he said. “There is plenty to do out here. And this is, and has been, the best job a man and women can have, so we will relish every moment of it.”