Case Study: US Navy

The Leadership Summit was held at the Naval Postgraduate School, 3-6 December 2001. The first of its kind, the Summit assembled over 260 people ranging from seaman to Admiral, that also represented all backgrounds in our Navy. The Leadership Summit was an application of a new way to view and lead large-scale change called a Large Group Intervention (LGI). Combining LGIs with the positive change approach of Appreciative Inquiry yielded a dynamic summit process for rapid, collaborative change. Hence, the Leadership Summit was aimed at leadership improvement and our Navy's system of leadership development, utilizing an LGI with Appreciative Inquiry to quickly get to decision points with input from all stakeholders. 

Background: In January 2000, the Honorable Jerry Hultin, then Under Secretary of the Navy, convened 19 mid-grade officers at the Center for Executive Education at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. The course was called "30-Something" and was a seminal innovation by senior leadership to tap the ideas of mid-level Navy executives. The group was given free rein to envision their Navy/Marine Corps of 2020. While many ideas were developed the group focused around their core vision of a Navy/Marine Corps that could "attract and retain great people." A central part of this goal was leadership.

High quality leadership is a cornerstone for everything our Navy does. As the 21st Century, Information Age Navy takes shape, how will leadership need to adapt? Today's rapid pace of change and increasing uncertainty is fueled by the constant development of new information technologies. This forces our Navy to become more adaptable, faster, and flexible in response. Growing access to information will increase participation in decision making processes. Hence, our people must be ready to respond, in kind, by stepping up to the call for increased responsibility and leadership. Further, the changing values of the Internet generation are an important consideration for all leaders.

Outcomes: During the Leadership Summit, participants used Appreciative Inquiry questions to tap into their own past high-point experiences in the Navy. The diverse group present discovered many commonalties and hopes for the future. The participants then learned how to leverage these past strengths and shared visions to create action plans for positive change. Specific outcomes included over 30 pilot projects. Additionally, the Leadership Summit:

  • Created a shared vision and alignment for the kind of leadership the Navy is calling for in its future

  • Provided spark for Task Force EXCEL's leadership component 

  • Established a method to collect examples of exemplary leadership

  • Focused on the importance of positive "self-talk" and Appreciative Inquiry as a tool for leaders

  • Empowered participants with the knowledge of Appreciative Inquiry and the summit method

  • Demonstrated the value of this methodology for other complex issues facing the Navy

  • Participants returned with a heightened sense of the possibilities ahead - positive effect on retention

The Leadership Summit initiative was briefed to the Chief of Naval Operations in October 2000. Admiral Clark has since championed the effort as a CNO pilot project, and participated in the Summit on the third and fourth days. Admiral Clark's comments and other information about the Summit can be found on this web site.

The Leadership Summit is a helm for change,
"...right full rudder."

This summit was led by FLI's Strategic Advisor David L. Cooperrider.  For more writings, reports, or information on this case example feel free to email David at

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