Admiral Sandy Stosz started out in the US Coast Guard as an ensign serving on polar icebreakers, conducting national security missions from the Arctic to the Antarctic. She was the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes and to lead a US Armed Forces service academy. After serving for twelve years at sea, commanding two ships, and leading large Coast Guard organizations during times of crisis and complexity, she finished her career as the first woman assigned as deputy commandant for mission support, directing one of the Coast Guard’s largest enterprises. She has lectured widely on leadership and been featured on CSPAN and other media outlets. In 2012, The Daily Beast named Sandy to their list of “150 Women Who Shake the World.” She volunteers in leadership roles for several organizations and runs Sandra Stosz, LLC. Sandy enjoys hiking, swimming, and spending time with her family.
Today, our nation is like a ship being tossed in tumultuous seas. The winds and waves of change have divided and distanced our society, threatening to wash away the very principles our nation was founded upon. Now more than ever, our nation needs leaders with the moral courage to stand strong and steady-leaders capable of uniting people in support of a shared purpose by building the trust and respect necessary for organizations and their people to thrive.
In Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass, Admiral Sandy Stosz draws upon her forty years of extensive experience and wisdom to provide tools that will help leaders reach their goals and succeed at every level. Character-centered, proven leadership principles emerge from these engaging, personal stories that teach leaders how to find, and then become, an inspiring mentor; implement successful diversity, inclusion, and equity programs; successfully lead in a complex environment; and much more.
Leaders eager to make a difference by helping people and organizations be their best will find Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters their go-to resource.
1. What was the process like for you to write your book Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters?
Answer: Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass is a nonfiction book on character-centered leadership. It’s not a memoir, but leadership lessons emerge from stories based on experiences during my forty years serving in the US Coast Guard.
I’m one of those fortunate authors who never got “writer’s block.” When I retired from the US Coast Guard in 2018, I took a few months to visit the friends and family I’d neglected for far too long and to enjoy some time off. One day my sister-in-law called and asked me when I was going to start writing. She offered to help me organize my thoughts. That was just the incentive I needed to start the front end of the writing process. I spent probably four to six hours, five to six days a week, writing over the course of a couple of years. Writing doesn’t come easy to me. I found it challenging to match my stories with the leadership lessons I wanted to convey. It was hard, but it all came together after a very critical, anonymous developmental editor ripped my manuscript and sent me off in a new direction. That was also a good dose of humility!
2. What is one inspiration you hope to instill in your readers?
Answer: Quite simply, all leaders can prepare themselves to navigate the uncharted waters they’ll inevitably face in their professional and personal lives. They shouldn’t fear change, because right action can’t flow from fear. They must prepare for tempestuous times by learning to push aside fear and believe in their power to overcome.
3. As a writer, what do you wish to accomplish in the next five years?
Answer: I’m excited to have started my blog, Leading with Character. It’s a companion to my book. I plan to continue the blog as a way to keep giving back leadership lessons learned from my forty years with the US Coast Guard. I’ll also be marketing the book and using it as an opportunity to share those leadership lessons learned through speaking engagements, podcasts, interviews, book talks, and other engagements.
Here’s a funny story that goes to the title of my blog, Leading with Character. When I first approached John Koehler with my book proposal, my working title was Leading with Character: Proven Principles. John, with all his tact and sensitivity, blurted out, “That’s a boring title! There are a thousand books with a title just like that. You’ve got a unique story. Your title needs to reflect that.” So, I went back to a title I’d been thinking about for thirty years, Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass. That title reflects that I was one of the first women to attend a US armed forces service academy and couldn’t outrun being “the first,” many times over, throughout my career. In addition, my first assignment as a newly commissioned officer in the Coast Guard was onboard the polar icebreakers Glacier and Polar Star, which took me to the Arctic and the Antarctic. So, the title Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass reflects that journey and is also a cool double entendre.
4. What motivated you to write this book?
Answer: I wrote this book to give back leadership lessons learned during my time with the US Coast Guard, from cadet (student at the Coast Guard Academy) to Admiral (senior executive). The Coast Guard turned me—a shy and unconfident young woman—into a leader, by pushing me to what I thought were my limits and then beyond. I feel like I got more from the Coast Guard than what I gave. I want to help others succeed in achieving their full potential.
When I was a junior officer, in my late twenties, I was appointed the Secretary of Transportation’s military aide. At the time, the Coast Guard was a part of the Department of Transportation. I met a young woman, Shane, who was also working in the Secretary’s front office. We had some amazing experiences traveling with the Secretary and seeing how the government works. One day I was telling Shane I thought I’d write a book on leadership to give back some of what I was learning form my unique experiences. She knew I had been the first woman to serve in some of my jobs, so she immediately declared, “you’ve got to call that book Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass!” Thirty years later, Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters is published!
5. What is the most challenging aspect of writing a book?
Answer: For me, the hardest part of writing the book was walking that line between a memoir and a business book on leadership. I purposely chose not to write a memoir, as I didn’t want the book to be all about me. I wanted leadership lessons to emerge with clarity from the stories.
A savvy developmental editor helped me realize I needed to organize my manuscript in a more logical fashion. It was hard to go back over a forty-year career and maintain a coherent sequence of events with a format focused on leadership topics. I used a framework for the book that showcased leader development, from the entry level to the middle level to the executive suite that helped me apply stories as well as lessons from my journey from cadet to admiral. I worked hard to get that sequencing right, and I think it turned out well.
6. In life, what makes you happiest?
Answer: I think there’s a significant difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is fleeting whereas joy is enduring. I try to avoid the trap of chasing the next level of happiness. Rather, I look for the joy that’s found through fulfillment, satisfaction, and contentment. What gives me happiness are the daily interactions with friends, family, colleagues, and nature. I love to hear the birds sing in the early morning as the sun rises. I enjoy mentoring and helping develop young leaders. What gives me that deeper, more reverent feeling of joy is on the spiritual side; it’s the peace of knowing God, and living a life that focuses on doing God’s will through service to others versus service to self.
7. Borrowing a question from Sophia Bush’s podcast, Work in Progress, what do you view as a work in progress in your life right now?
Answer: That’s easy! It’s this business of being a first-time author, navigating the uncharted waters of the publishing and marketing process. I’m very thankful to the awesome team at Koehler Books for helping make my book the best it could be, and for guiding me along the way.
For more from Sandy Stosz, visit her website here.
Check out her book here.