Leadership lessons from AMC's top civilian
January 31, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Department of the Army Civilians from across Team Redstone filled the Summit here for professional development and leadership training at the third annual Department of the Army Civilian Leadership Summit, Thursday, Jan. 30.
Executive Deputy to the Commanding General of Army Materiel Command John Nerger served as a guest speaker.
Nerger, a Chicago native, used parallels from his work on the rail system to teach leadership principals applicable to Army civilians today.
"Lesson one is always look ahead and always look to the future," said Nerger.
When Nerger began working the rail lines he was always tempted to look down, while the more experienced workers looked to the horizon -- keeping their focus above rather than below. While 2013 was a tough year for civilians with budget restraints and furloughs. Nerger stressed looking ahead to the future.
"There are times in our career where the job loses its luster and that?'s when you really need to find ways to keep your job interesting," said Nerger. "You are doing it here today. Lesson number two is keep your job interesting."
Lesson three Nerger presented was to think through your next career move; he explained that not every promotion is the right choice.
"I'm one who has turned down job promotions, but I knew it was not a right fit for me. The grass is always greener when times get tough, so think through your next career step," Nerger said.
Nerger reflected on the overhead cables that can carry 25,000 volts of power from his youth railroad experience and stated how important it is to operate carefully around sources of power as lesson four. Also just like the Chicago rail system used a map to guide its routes, civilians should use a map to guide their careers.
"Acquaint yourself with career roadmaps and write your own," said Nerger. "Lesson five is have a career road map and don't be too rigid, make sure to use a number two pencil."
For the times civilians must do the jobs they like a little less, Nerger said one word -- persevere.
"Persevere and make the best of it; try to be content where you are. Lesson six is to persevere to the next step," Nerger.
And when times get tough in the organization, Nerger stressed lesson seven, "There is always a light at the end of the tunnel."
Next Nerger urged the audience to perfect their craft.
"I struggled with driving spikes into the rail. The older guys, it would only take them three swings," he said. "Muscle memory comes from a lot of practice. You just don't grow that skill or expertise overnight, but it takes practice to get you there. Lesson eight is improve your career through practice."
Of all the work Nerger has done over his 34 years of experience, what he remembers most is the people and the relationships he had with team members.
"Lesson number nine is be a good teammate," he said. "And lastly, lesson ten is diversity strengthens teams."
Nerger described his coworkers from the 'railroad gang' being varied and from many different nationalities.
"It is here that I learned that you can unite all kinds of backgrounds for a common goal," he said. "The Army has a lot of work to do in this area especially in the senior executive service."
"So what does right look like," asked Nerger.
The next slide gave the acrostic for the word civilian as the answer: character, integrity, values, introspective, leader, innovator, adaptive, and networked.
He also noted two things most civilians get wrong.
"The two primary reasons why individuals don?'t get selected for the position, advancement, or senior service college and advanced schooling are insufficiently broad and varied experience and insufficient supervisory or leadership time," said Nerger.
In closing, Nerger left the aspiring leaders with the following thoughts.
"The best Army in the world needs the best possible support and that's what we as Department of the Army Civilians do," said Nerger. "If we fail as Department of the Army Civilians, we fail our Army. If we don?'t recruit, hire and retain the best civilians, our Army readiness will suffer."
While it may be easy to get lost in the system, Nerger reminded the audience to, "Never doubt for a minute the role you play. It is so important. From one public servant to another, from one Department of the Army Civilian to another, thank you for what you do."