Life and Leadership Lessons I Learned in The Military: “The Navy taught me how to interact with people from all backgrounds.” with Mikea Taylor and Marco Derhy
Working for the officers and the sailors helped me improve my customer service and diversity skills. You come across some interesting people in the military from all walks of life. It taught me how to interact with people from all backgrounds.
As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned in The Military,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mikea Taylor, Navy Veteran and Night Manager for the Embassy Suites Crystal City. Originally from Alexandria, Virginia, Mikea joined Hilton two years ago at the Embassy Suites in Arlington, Virginia. She started as a Guest Service Representative and worked her way up to becoming the Night Manager. Prior to her work at Hilton, she was a Sailor for the U.S. Navy in Spokane, Washington where she had a “boatload” of responsibilities as a building manager as well as a food and hotel service attendant.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
You are very welcome — I am honored. I was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia. I come from a huge family with over 200 cousins around the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia Area. We are everywhere! As a child I was fun and goofy and very adventurous…probably a little too much at times.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today I am the Night Manager at an Embassy Suites hotel and I love it. I also love sharing my story with the world and showing our Veterans that while life in the military is great, there is also a life outside it. Not long after I started this role I shared my story with G.I. Jobs Magazine and an old shipmate called from deployment letting me know she had seen my picture in the magazine and asking if I was a model. I said “No, I work for Hilton!”
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I joined the Navy in October 2011 and left for boot camp June 2012. I was so scared. I was 18 and it was my first time being away from home, but I never showed my fear. After basic training, I went to Pensacola for Aviation Boatswains Mate Handling A School. My first ship was the USS. Nimitz and my last was the USS Carl Vinson. During that time I had many jobs. From chalking and chaining multi-million dollar jets to doing officers’ laundry — I did it all! My favorite job was the Honor Guard. I performed at the funerals of our fallen shipmates. We played taps, folded the American flag and presented it to the next of kin. Although it was very sad, it made me proud to be a Sailor.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
When I was in a school in Florida, the base was evacuated to Georgia because of a hurricane. We went to a warehouse that had endless rows of cots. We only had our sea bags. We showered and used the bathroom outside. We ate MREs. We all lived on top of hundreds of people. It definitely toughened me up.
I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
Being in the military, you hear many stories about heroes and heroism. Too many to remember. I always looked at the fallen sailors we preformed funerals for as heroes. Listening to their loved ones share stories about them and their time in the Navy; to me they were definitely heroes.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero to me to someone who affects another person’s life positively in some shape or form. It can be as small as being nice to someone or as large as saving someone’s life. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?
In my opinion, no. You can find a hero in many situations. You can be someone’s hero by helping them get through a difficult time in their life. That is just as heroic in my eyes as shielding someone from a bullet. In both cases, you saved a life. That is heroism.
Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
· Never let them see you sweat: I used this lesson in boot camp. Many people could not handle the yelling and screaming that came from the RDCs. It got to a lot of people. But me? I never showed that it bothered me. I kept my head high, did everything they asked me to and came out on top.
· Be confident: always try to be confident in yourself. In basic training when they asked a volunteer to be in charge of all the girls for our division I put my hand up. I knew I was a great leader and I could do the job. I proved myself and it led to a promotion.
· Ask questions: No one knows everything. You should be learning and gaining knowledge every day. This helps you become a better leader because you can share this knowledge with your team and in turn help them grow.
· Be optimistic: I am a huge optimist. I see the good in everything. Even bad things. I believe this helps me not dwell on the negatives in life and focus on the positive. Positive thinking evokes positive feelings.
· Be humble: I am a strong believer in being grateful for your blessings and not taking them for granted. Being humble reminds you that this can all be gone tomorrow and that you should continue to work hard to better yourself and progress.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?
Definitely. Working for the officers and the sailors helped me improve my customer service and diversity skills. You come across some interesting people in the military from all walks of life. It taught me how to interact with people from all backgrounds.
As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?
I did struggle when I officially left the military. I’m not going to lie, when you’re serving it can seem like there is no life outside the service. When I got out it was hard finding my footing. I worked a number of jobs but it wasn’t until I found this position that I realized, I got this! The Operation Opportunity program at Hilton gets Veterans, military spouses and careers into jobs and I am passionate about supporting and sharing information about the program.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I speak at a local high school to students who are the first in their families to graduate and go to college. I talk about my military experience and how it helped better me as a person. I hope it sparks their interest and awareness that the military could be a good option for them after college.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Honest communication is key. Too many times, I have been in situations where I could not talk to my boss open and freely. Because of this, my needs and concerns were not being heard and it affected my performance. I make it a priority to have strong individual relationships with my team to ensure I know their needs. If you take care of them, they will take care of you.
What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Try to delegate your workload so you can focus on taking care of your people. Make sure they feel valued. And again, communication.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have to say that it would be my mother. The values and morals she instilled in me as a child are the same ones I follow today. When I became an adult her “tough love” approach helped me pick myself up on days I was feeling sorry for myself and turn it all around. She would say to me “it’s time to put your big girl pants on and get to work.” I love her!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
By continuing to share my story and experiences. Helping veterans find their way and constantly reminding people to be great in whatever you do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would start a movement called “Be Kind’. It is so unfortunate the amount of online and social bullying that goes on in the world today. I would love to challenge everyone to be kind to at least three people a day. Whether it is helping them or just saying hello. Be kind.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is “This too shall pass.” It reminds me that no matter how bad life may get sometimes, better days are coming. It won’t be bad forever. You have to push through.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Beyoncé — she inspires me to go after what I want! A quote from her song Formation is one of the sayings I live by: “I see it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it.” That is exactly what I’m doing now. I see my future and I’m working hard and grinding until I achieve it!
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.