By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneJuly 23, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- "Growing up" professionally as an officer in one of the nation's most challenging and forward-moving organizations can offer an abundant backdrop for learning the lessons of adaptive leadership.
And as every good leader knows, those lessons should be shared.
So, Lt. Gen. Patricia McQuistion, deputy commander of the Army Materiel Command and senior commander of Redstone Arsenal, made it a priority to share some of her insight into leadership with Army civilian employees participating in the 2014 Leader Investment for Tomorrow Leadership Forum on July 16 at The Summit. The event involved 61 civilians participating in the UpLIFT, LIFT and Advanced LIFT leadership training programs offered by Aviation and Missile Command through G-1 (Human Resources). Some 600 future leaders have graduated from the AMCOM LIFT programs since they originated in 2005.
For McQuistion, leadership lessons start with mentorship as both a mentor and a mentee. While the Army officially recognized mentorship as a leadership development tool in 2005, McQuistion said the mentor relationships she has experienced during her 35-year career have offered her insight into her own leadership abilities and have caused her to ask questions as she has taken her career into the higher ranks of leadership.
"To paraphrase (Greek historian) Plutarch, learning is not about filling up the brain. It's about igniting a fire. … It's not my job to have all the answers" but to ask questions, McQuistion said.
"Even with 35 years of experience and educational courses and a ton of self-learning, I have a lot to learn. Never stop learning and never think you know all there is to know. … I urge you to ask questions that will help you lead others."
While traditional mentorship relationships involve a more senior person teaching or giving advice to a less experienced person, McQuistion said mentorship relationships can develop whenever there is "one who shares his or her experience to help others find their own way."
In her career, McQuistion admitted to shaping her own leadership qualities from both the mentors and "tormentors" she has worked for and with over the years. She learned from both.
"They made me think. They made me question my assumptions and biases," she said. "They made me understand different cultures and relationships."
While tormentors showed her what she didn't want to become as a leader, her mentors -- and particularly those mentors who were not in her career field or who did not work with her every day -- were those who helped her to look in the mirror to see what she could become. Some shared similar backgrounds to her and others were very different in their chosen lifestyle, occupation and ambitions.
"They provide unbiased counsel of someone removed from the situation. They help us see ourselves better than we do," she said.
"They can be blunt. They build us up when we lack confidence in our own abilities or when we undersell ourselves because sometimes we are too humble and modest to admit we can do things that with a little push we can do. Seeing ourselves in the eyes of others makes us better people."
Of all the leadership lessons she has learned in her mentoring relationships, McQuistion emphasized one that she was reminded of while visiting in the kitchen of retired AMCOM commander Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers and his wife Reba.
"There was a sign in that kitchen that said 'Because Nice Matters.' You can be nice and you can be successful and be a little easier on each other. Nice matters," she said.
McQuistion's closest mentor -- her husband, retired Col. Leif Johnson -- is a perfect example of the power of a mentor. He is supportive and a good friend, and he understands military expectations. But he can also be blunt and even challenging in his feedback, she said, and the two have an open communication and honesty in their relationship.
But McQuistion's earliest mentors were her parents -- her dad was a World War II and Korean War veteran with 25 years of service, with many of those years as a first sergeant to troops, and her mom raised seven children on a sergeant's salary.
As a young officer, McQuistion came to Redstone Arsenal in 1980 for training. And from there she committed herself to a military organization that "opened more and more opportunities to all people," she said.
"Glass ceilings are becoming less and less a barrier to truly realizing everyone's potential. I was filled with pride when (now retired) Gen. Ann Dunwoody was chosen to lead this organization (AMC) as a measure of the Army's confidence in the ability of all people."
A leader -- as well as a mentor -- must be conscious of how they direct and lead others, and how they present themselves to others, she said.
"You don't know how you come across to people and the impact you will have on others' lives. The only thing you can do is set a positive example," McQuistion said.
When McQuistion serves as a mentor, she often shares with her mentee several thoughts on leadership and her leadership philosophy. Her mentoring points include quotes from philosophers such as Greek historian Plutarch, who said "The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled"; and Thomas Jefferson, who said "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Her points also include books such as "Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning," and TEDTalks, a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less.
McQuistion prefers to describe meetings with unit commanders or employees as conversations rather than briefings. She values the team approach in solving problems.
"Commanders have direct access to me. I trust them implicitly. They are the experts at their job and I trust them to do what's right," she said.
"I value collaboration. When I review reports of colonels and generals -- who have already proven their own success -- I evaluate them based on what they have done to make others successful."
When it comes to change, McQuistion said employees will accept change if their leadership explains to them why change must occur.
"People don't hate change. They hate change being imposed upon them. They need to have buy-in," she said. "Leaders understand the complex issues, so they have a better insight into the rationale of why change is needed. They need to share that insight."
Good leaders motivate innovation and creativity in their employees, she said. Based on the three elements of motivation outlined in Daniel Pink's book "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us," McQuistion said all leaders can inspire innovation.
The first element -- purpose -- means that employees work for something larger than themselves.
"For us, that's the Army. I hope each of you feels that because you are truly working for a purpose larger than yourself and that has great intrinsic value," she said.
The second element -- autonomy -- means to allow employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on something that is important to them and have them deliver on that project within 24 hours. The third element -- mastery -- means to allow employees to become experts in their fields and then to rely on that expertise in solving problems.
"Those elements of motivation are how we change the way we think about motivating people, and how we bring them along and manage their talents. … It's an exciting way to think and it brings the best of people forward to lead them in a complex world," McQuistion said.
The following are other leadership points she made:
• Treat everyone with respect and dignity.
• Be honest and direct. Being subtle makes employees confused about the end goal.
• What you ask about and what you measure is what gets done. Define what's important and what progress you expect.
• Value time, both yours and others.
• Identify critical problems and determine how to contribute to the solution.
• Fully describe complex issues. Do not use acronyms.
• Encourage constructive criticism.
• Be as smart as you can about your issue. As long as you know your business you can't fail, even if you don't get what you want.
• Don't compare your life with others. No one truly knows what others are going through.
• Everyone decides for themselves how things will affect them. They will decide if they want to be happy.
• Don't take things so seriously.
• Share what is important to you.
• Always remember what you do is more important than what you say. Be a model of ethical behavior.