LEWISBURG, Pa. -- For the second year in a row, a Bucknell head coach and a contingent of student-athletes are attending the U.S. Naval Academy Leadership Conference. This week head women's rowing coach Stephen Kish, Bison student-athletes Ryan Johnson (men's track & field), Cori Thielemann (women's lacrosse) and Alex Wallace (women's lacrosse), and Bucknell global management major Anna Astakhishvili are in Annapolis, Md., for an intensive schedule of leadership training seminars.

The theme of this year's conference is "Followership: The Evolution of a Leader." Highlighting the list of speakers is former Vice President Dick Cheney, who addressed the entire brigade of midshipmen along with the conference attendees on Monday night. 

A year ago, men's soccer's Mike Lansing, women's rowing's Jennifer Fish, and football's Travis Friend attended the USNA Leadership conference and were able to attend panels headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh and Hall of Fame basketball coach Dale Brown. 

The USNA Leadership Conference began in 1984 for senior cadets and midshipmen from each of the service academies. In 2002, the conference's scope expanded to include students from civilian universities, with topics related to government, business and academia, in addition to the military. More than 200 participants from over 45 colleges now attend each year.

Thielemann, Wallace and Johnson will be teaming up to provide blog accounts from the Leadership Conference throughout the week, and they will be posted at BucknellBison.com. The first posting from Thielemann is below.

This conference fits into the mission of the Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy. Now in its third year, the Leadership Academy delivers programming and instruction that bridge theory, development and real experiences in an interactive learning environment. On-campus leadership programming is ongoing throughout the year and is supplemented by opportunities for student-athletes to travel to leadership seminars around the country.

Leadership AcademyAfter a busy fall, Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy programming for the 2014 spring semester kicked off in ernest this past Sunday, with Academy members meeting with Lynne Kaplan of "Do What Counts" for 90-minute sessions pertaining to effective leadership. Student-athletes discussed how to position themselves as leaders in order to influence others in a positive manner. Conflict resolution and two-way communication skills were also key topics.

On Feb. 16 the Leadership Academy will be sponsoring a career networking session, where Bucknell alumni who were members of varsity athletics programs will have a chance to interact with current student-athletes. In mid-March, Leadership Academy participants will engage in another round of facililtated sessions. 

Cori Thielemann from the USNA Leadership Conference -- Days 1 & 2

Cori ThielemannWe arrived in Annapolis late yesterday afternoon and the USNA Leadership Conference quickly kicked off. The reception at our hotel provided us with the opportunity to meet the attendees of this year’s conference, many of whom are in ROTC or attend other service institutions. Each school was assigned an escort who is in charge of taking the school representatives around throughout the conference. We were extremely lucky to be paired with Elizabeth, whose identical twin sister attends Bucknell. After the reception, we did an activity with other Patriot League athletes, discussing leadership in the student-athlete context. It was pretty cool to conclude the night by meeting a sampling of athletes from a variety of different sports and Patriot League schools.

This morning the conference opened with the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, Vice Admiral Miller, making a few brief remarks centering around the idea that the best organizations know not only what and how they do what they do, but also why. His brief introduction was then followed up by a few words from Mitch Hart, the conference sponsor, before leading into the Margaret Chase Smith Foundation Keynote Speaker, Joel Kaplan. Kaplan, currently working as the VP of U.S. Public Policy for Facebook with previous working experience with both the Marine Corps and the White House, had a very interesting background that he drew upon when explaining some leadership traits that followers must develop in order to then transition to leadership roles. He specifically talked about knowledge, integrity, courage and loyalty, some of the traits from the Marine Corps Acronym JJ DID TIE BUCKLE. Facebook was brought up in a few different contexts, and his experience there was a thought-provoking contrast to his prior work.

Next, we witnessed a very stimulating panel entitled “Change From Below: Creativity, Dissent and Reshaping” that was comprised of Bob Kulhan, Barbara Kellerman, Glenn L. Carle, and Kelly Shackelford. The panel members each had different backgrounds and somewhat differing views on ‘followership’ that definitely made my fellow attendees and me critically engage with and view leadership from another angle. Kellerman postured throughout her comments that you cannot have bad leadership without bad followers and that leadership cannot be discussed without spending time on followership. For Kellerman, leadership systems must be analyzed according to three parts: the leaders, the followers, and the context. Carle also provided valuable insight based upon his CIA background. He encouraged us moving forward to ‘challenge everything always’ and to ‘always doubt everything’. He asserted that the job of the follower is to help the leader see what s/he cannot. Kulhan and Shackelford also presented key points centering on communication, character, integrity, and humility.

After these speakers, it was finally time for lunch! We had the tremendously cool opportunity of joining the Midshipmen in King Hall, where they take their meals every day. Over lunch, we discussed many of the traditions that make the U.S. Naval Academy a very unique institution. After lunch, we toured the campus grounds with our Midshipmen friend Alec, and then we attended breakout group sessions where we discussed dissent and the role of the follower. My group focused on how when leaders do not know about a problem, they probably also do not know how to fix it. On top of this, my group agreed that all leaders should be open to dissent … just not at all times.

The final event of the evening was the Brigade Forrestal Lecture where we had the great opportunity to hear the Honorable Dick Cheney. His speech was less directly centered on platitudes and lessons of leadership and more about describing the times that he had been called upon to be a leader, notably as Secretary of Defense and then as Vice President. Vice President Cheney addressed 9/11 and some of the controversial programs that came out of the Bush Administration. At perhaps the climax of his speech, the former Vice President drove home two points that developed from his stories. First, he said you have to play the hand you are dealt and secondly, you have to take care of your own people. This second point particularly resonated with me as I think that the service component of leadership is often overlooked in favor of other aspects.

All in all, today was a very fun-filled and informative day that I will always remember. I cannot wait for the new lessons and the new people and friends that tomorrow will bring.