WILLIAMSBURG — The Women’s Business Council, a committee of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce, heard thoughts and anecdotes on leadership from Rear Adm. Ann C. Phillips, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Administrator for the Department of Transportation Maritime Administration during its annual Power of Women Leadership Keynote Friday at Williamsburg Lodge.
Prior to her current appointment, Phillips served as the first Special Assistant to the Governor of Virginia for Coastal Adaptation and Protection and served nearly 31 years as a surface warfare officer in the United States Navy. She related her experiences as a female leader in both the military and in the public sector.
“My mantra for you is experience matters, and leadership matters,” she said. “And anything you can do to bring people along in that context is only going to add more value to your organization.
“And for women, in particular,” she continued, “Ensuring that you are deliberately focusing on ways to move women up in your organization. That will make your organization richer … but also of value to the community.”
Over the course of her career, Phillips said she learned “however you lead, you have to lead as you at your best,” Something she realized when she took on an engineering role she wasn’t necessarily qualified for and got into an argument with her second in command and was called out by one of her chiefs.
“I treat people decently, I treat people with respect. I expect them to treat each other that way,” she said. “I do set standards, I do follow them, all that was in my head. I was so scattered by the fact I had taken this position that I wasn’t qualified to take, and I knew it, that I had lowered my standards elsewhere just to look, or seem to act, the part. So, that was a turning point.”
The lessons in leadership she picked up over the course of her naval career helped prepare her for her current role as head of the Maritime Administration, both in the unique challenges the pandemic presented, as well as dealing with a shortage of personnel that could be addressed, in large part, by women, she said. While the industry hasn’t traditionally been female-friendly, it’s a conversation that it is now starting to have.
When asked, looking back at her career, what she would tell her younger self, it was to have courage.
“So, I’m an introvert, and I think I would tell my younger self not to worry about that so much, and to be more courageous,” she explained. “… because leadership takes courage. You’ve got to be able to stand up and say, ‘this isn’t right, we’re doing it that way’ to people who have done it the first way forever, maybe.”
Phillips earned a Master of Business Administration with distinction from the Raymond A. Mason School of Business in 2016 and holds a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The program also featured a flag ceremony by members of the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast who recently earned their Bronze Award after working together to learn about fire safety and making a public presentation at the Williamsburg Regional Library.