Army Civilians Take On Leadership Basics
February 10, 2012
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Good Army leaders start with the basics -- safety, training, and ensuring Soldier and family strength both physically and spiritually.
But beyond that, how a good Army leader leads depends on their own personal style, expectations and requirements as well as the type of team that is being led.
It's the same set of conditions in the Army's civilian work force, said a former Redstone Arsenal commander during the first Department of the Army Civilian Leadership Summit hosted by the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army on Jan. 26 at The Summit at Redstone. The event was attended by close to 300 government civilians.
"Leadership is a team activity," said retired Lt. Gen. Jim Pillsbury, whose military service included assignments as the commander of the Aviation and Missile Command and deputy commander of the Army Materiel Command.
"As a leader, it has to do with your priorities, and your likes and dislikes. I don't like it when people shirk their duties. I don't like it when people put off what they can do today. … I had an employee who had to write a letter and he told me he would have it done in two weeks. He wanted to set the conditions for success. I was the leader and I didn't like those conditions. I like it when you give me your best shot."
His likes and dislikes, and his expectations affected Pillsbury's leadership style as an Army leader. A good leader recognizes that their own personal standards will affect their leadership, and they communicate those standards to their employees, he said.
"Set your conditions for your team. How do you want your subordinates to respond to you? … Whatever works for you, do it. Be that leader. Don't be someone you're not," he told his audience.
Pillsbury also suggested that good leaders know where their leadership is needed. In his own work, the retired lieutenant general would give a lot of freedom to those he could trust to do the job. Likewise, he gave little attention to the low performers because their impact on the organization was minimal. Instead, he concentrated most of his leadership efforts on those employees in the middle of these two groups because he felt that was where he could have the most impact as a leader.
"Those folks are doing their job or they wouldn't still be there," he said. "But are they doing it at the level where they can achieve the most?"
A good leader, he said, knows the people who they lead. They understand their motivations, desires and challenges. But getting there isn't always easy.
"The first day at a new command was always the easiest because that's the day you get to talk about your command philosophy. It's the best day a commander has because they get to talk about themselves and what they expect," Pillsbury said.
"But after that day, you have to live the command philosophy. Leadership requires listening. Listen to hear. Do not listen to talk. Listen to the person talking to you. Listen to absorb. Then talk. You've got to listen to your subordinates. Then, you've got to make sure they understand."
While leaders must be fair, open and honest, they also should recognize that "everyone is different and you have to treat them differently," Pillsbury said.
Other nuggets of leadership that Pillsbury shared with the group included: recognize good and bad leadership traits in others and emulate the good and discard the bad in your own leadership style; leaders must keep emotions in check; actions speak louder than words; spend time doing the things you expect your subordinates to do; don't become paralyzed from making a decision by too much data; don't surround yourself with "yes" people, but do have a trusted circle of advisers; and don't lead the organization from behind a desk.
Pillsbury's presentation was titled "Leadership 101." He was followed by John Nerger, executive deputy to the commander of the Army Materiel Command, whose presentation was titled "All I know About Leadership, I Learned In Fifth Grade." The summit also included a leadership panel discussion involving Pillsbury and Nerger as well as Cathy Dickens, executive director of the Army Contracting Command-Redstone; Keith Roberson, the executive director of the Integrated Materiel Management Center; and retired civil servant Dr. Richard Amos, who served as Pillsbury's deputy at AMCOM and is now the chief operating officer at COLSA.
Nerger, who has worked for the Department of Defense since 1980, said he is inspired daily by those who wear the Soldier's uniform.
"It's a privilege and tremendous opportunity to serve the finest in uniform. The motivating force to keep me working in the Army are those who wear the uniform," he said.
Regardless of a person's job, everyone has a career journey. Nerger's started at age 5 when his dream was to be a garbage man. It continued at 7-years-old when he wanted to be a baseball player and, at 9, when he wanted to be a pastor.
"Your career journey starts as some kind of dream or aspiration. I'm living my dream today," he said, comparing his dream of being a garbage man to being a hardworking civil servant, of being a baseball player to a civil servant who strives for individual excellence while helping the team succeed and of being a pastor to working as a civil servant to lead other government workers in the right direction.
Nerger said the question he is most often asked by employees is: "How do I know I'm a leader?"
His answer: "When you start acting like one."
"Leadership is a practiced art," Nerger said. "It's something you do and you couple that with a passion to be a good leader, and that's how you lead. It's a practiced technique. You become a good leader by behaving like one and practicing good leadership skills."
Nerger said he started developing his leadership skills as a 10-year-old newspaper delivery boy. The job taught him about job skills (rolling papers, delivering on time, providing customer service), sacrifice (early morning weekend deliveries), commitment (seven days a week in all weather conditions), financial responsibility (bill collecting and bill paying), accountability (responding to customers who didn't get their paper) and mentorship (teaching others to take your place when you are gone or sick). He also learned patience, perseverance and resource management.
One of the first things a leader should do for a new employee is to make them feel welcomed into the organization.
"Today we call that on-boarding. It's an important part of bringing someone into the organization and making them feel they matter," Nerger said. "It's also important for leaders to remind their employees that what they do really matters. … My boss told me 'You don't deliver papers. You are informing the citizens and that's an important thing in a democracy.' Now I had a calling. It became a motivating force for me. … Knowing we have a mission that matters is powerful."
As Nerger got older, he was ready to move on from his newspaper delivery business. And that's when his boss promoted him to help manage 75-100 newspaper carriers.
"It's important to identify and see the potential in others. Open your eyes to the possibilities that exist," he said. "My boss saw something in me and he wanted to take a chance on me.
"It's not about the money. It never is. But it's about the satisfaction of having someone see something in me and then gave me additional responsibilities because of that."
He also learned that performance success often involved exceeding someone's expectation and treating people fairly.
"Treat all of each other with dignity and respect no matter how we are treated in return," Nerger said. "Customer service and leadership is always about people. It's always about relationships."
But most of all he learned the importance and value of humility.
"There are a lot of people who work real hard at what they do for a living and they don't get much in return," Nerger said.
The key to leadership development, he said, is to stick to the basics and to be committed, passionate, talented and adaptive -- just like a Soldier.
Nerger said he has stayed committed to the Army for the same reasons others stay committed to their career field -- "I have meaning and happiness in what I do. My organization gives me a chance to pursue my dreams and goals. And I like the people I work with. We're a team. I don't want to leave them behind."
But the key to Army civil service is knowing there's a reason we are all here, Nerger said, referring to his experience living through 9/11 at the Pentagon.
"It made me realize we are all here for a reason," he said. "And we have a 'use by' date that gives us a sense of urgency once you know your calling and mission.
"All of us are on the front lines and we need to remember that as we support Soldiers. Those Soldiers need and depend on you to provide the kind of support to help them succeed."