Longest enlisted female Soldier shares career lessons
April 17, 2013
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - As the longest serving enlisted female Soldier in the U.S. Army, Donna Brock can draw from her depth of experience to share her experiences regarding leadership and mentoring.
"I guess you can say I've been there, done that, got the T-shirt," Brock said of her 33 years of service. Brock is Command Sgt. Maj. and senior enlisted advisor to the Army Surgeon General.
Brock will retire within the next year and a half after completing 35 years on active duty, completing nearly every assignment a female enlisted Soldier in the medical field can hold.
To save money on travel expenses, Brock spoke April 11 via video teleconference to the civilian workforce at Picatinny Arsenal, as well as to personnel at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., and Benet Labs in Watervliet, N.Y.
The Munitions Engineering and Technology Center, part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, hosted a leadership forum at the Lindner Conference Center at which Brock was the featured speaker.
The April 11 program also featured a video presentation honoring each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
After the video, two Soldiers and two Marines each were responsible for reciting the U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer's Creed, U.S. Marine Corps Noncommissioned Officer's Creed, the U.S. Army Soldier's Creed and the U.S. Marine Corps Rifleman's Creed.
Brock told the audience about how she first joined the Army in a roundabout way.
"I was ripping and ready to go to college, but something tragic happened that summer when I was about 17 years old. My mother passed away at 40 years old from a heart attack."
"I made the decision to stay at home with my father to help with the children. I went to school and worked full time," Brock said.
In 1979, she visited a recruiter and joined the Army. "My intent was not to stay in the Army. I was going to do four years and get out and work for the Postal Service.
"My leadership started with my mentors that trained me," Brock said. "It started with my father.
"Every five or so years I would mention that I was going to get out of the Army, and it was my father who believed in me and pushed me to stay in."
Other mentors throughout her career included her first detachment sergeant, followed by a squad leader in Germany.
"Sgt. Dennis was the rst person to tell me that I wasn't going to be in the Army forever. He told me to go to school and to do what I can while I am still in," Brock said.
His words troubled her, but Brock realized that he was setting her up for life after the Army.
As she progressed in her career, Brock learned the importance of getting to know people well to be effective.
"You have to understand that it is people that run this business," she explained. "It is not technology or machines. People are behind it. You have to take care of people directly and indirectly. Treat them with dignity and respect."
When given opportunities, employees respond, which helps them grow and excel, Brock said.
"You have to learn to trust that people will do the right thing," Brock added. "You cannot always assume that you have to complete the task because they will not do it right. If you do that, you are carrying too much of the workload. The team will have nothing to do and will feel that you are not condent in them."
However, knowledge is a two-way street, Brock said. Just as you have to understand your employees, they must also understand you, she continued, underscoring the need to inform others of your idiosyncrasies or pet peeves so they know what to do or not to do to avoid conflict.
Brock said the most important thing she learned in her career, especially as a female in a male- dominant environment, was to express yourself.
"If you want to be heard, speak up," she advised. "But do your homework before you open your mouth. Make sure you know what you are trying to say and with factual proof.
"You will make mistakes. This is one thing you need to understand. And when you make them you to acknowledge it."
Fair treatment for everyone is important as a leader, Brock told the audience.
"As a female command sergeant major, it is expected of me to mentor females. I work for everyone, males and females, so I try to be neutral."
Over the span of a career, it becomes evident that some leadership challenges can be thornier than others.
"Sexual harassment is a challenge for a female leader," Brock noted. "The environment that you work in must be a no-tolerance environment, otherwise you are going to have these kinds of issues."
Brock relayed that she has seen, and even experienced, issues with sexual harassment but addressed the situation head-on before it escalated.
Brock said another major challenge that leaders will face is stereotyping. People will have preconceived notions of how things are or why they are that way. Brock said you can control those stereotypes by establishing your work ethic.
"Determine what works for you and for others around you and run with it," Brock added.
Effective leadership also entails expressing condence in your people.
"I strongly believe that mentoring, teaching and coaching are what good leaders do. If you are micromanaging you are not a leader. They (employees) will never grow if you are micromanaging."
Brock also took questions from the audience.
How do you motivate yourself and others?
"You've got to know the people, remember things about them. ey will feel comfortable. It is rewarding for them to know that you care enough to remember things about them. As far as myself, I am a positive motivator. I get up and do PT (physical training) in the morning and it gets me going."
What was the most challenging part of your career?
"I had butted heads with a Sergeant Major when I was a First Sergeant. I had an all-female staff and we were discussing something one day when he approached us and said a sexist comment about females not being able to be decisive. He said it in front of my troops and it upset me so we had a discussion about it. We butted heads for a while, but down the road I heard him telling others that he genuinely respected me for standing my ground and speaking my mind."
What do you down when you come in as a new leader and work with people who have been there 10-15 years who know you will transition in a few years?
"You have to let them know that you are not there to take their position. You are there to work together for one goal as a team."
How does a younger person take on leadership roles without stepping on the toes of those who are much older, and gain their respect and trust?
"The first thing people will look at is your maturity level. They do not want to know your bio, but if you show you are mature for your age group, people will recognize that and act accordingly."