By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneJuly 23, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Sixty-two questions.
That's how many queries on leadership that the participants in the Aviation and Missile Command's 2014 Leader Investment for Tomorrow Leadership Forum had for five Team Redstone executives who participated in a panel discussion at their leadership forum July 16.
Time didn't allow for that many to be answered, however. So, they were winnowed down to 11, and those were reduced further during a nearly two-hour session that provided insight into how the executives manage their employees and set the stage for success within their organizations. For all the panelists, success begins with good leaders who affect and impact their organizations in ways that are difficult to measure.
"There are all levels of leaders," said panelist Dr. Grace Bochenek, chief technology officer for Army Materiel Command.
"You are leaders at work, within your families, in your community. We all have leadership roles. As a leader, you must realize that people are observing you and they will emulate your behavior. Everybody is a leader in an organization at some level."
The first question for the panel discussion -- "Which core value is most important to you and why? What characteristics and competencies do you think every leader should posses and what behaviors are pitfalls for leaders?" from Jason Bradshaw of the Space and Missile Defense Command -- set the tone for the entire session.
Across the board, the answer was "Integrity."
"A leader has to have credibility with the workforce. If they are not genuine, then their employees won't follow them," said panel participant Ronnie Chronister, deputy commander of the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.
"A leader has to have integrity to maintain that credibility. In this time of declining resources, morale issues and position eliminations, you have to have credibility with the workforce."
Leaders in an organization who do unethical or illegal acts degrade the credibility of their entire organization, Chronister said, even if everyone else in the organization is doing things the right way.
The other panelists -- James Johnson, executive director of the Test Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Activity; Col. Ian Klinkhammer, deputy executive director of the Army Contracting Command; and Shirley Perkey, acting chief information officer for the Aviation and Missile Command -- agreed with that assessment.
"The value is integrity. You have to walk the talk. Having values central to yourself and living those every day is pretty critical," Bochenek said.
Of the seven Army core values that Klinkhammer "eats, lives and breathes" during the course of his more than 25 years of service, integrity -- doing the right thing no matter what -- "builds confidence in yourself, in your leadership and in the American people."
For Perkey, integrating the concept of integrity with that of loyalty is her top core value, and she turns to the other Army values to build on that concept.
"I want to do what's right for my command," she said. "You have to balance loyalty with integrity. And you use personal courage to ensure you are walking that fine line."
Johnson believes integrity also touches on one of the top pitfalls of leaders when it comes to managing employees.
That pitfall? "When the leader starts thinking it's all about him or her, and that everyone is there to serve them," he said. "The leader is there to take care of their employees, not to do things for personal gain. Sometimes leaders can forget why they are there and start thinking it's all about them."
Another question -- "Resiliency is a major focus for many reasons. What techniques do you use to keep yourself or your organization positive in long-term stressful situations?" asked by Shannon Marion of the AMCOM Logistics Center -- brought answers regarding balance in life.
Work, family, spirituality, hobbies and health -- all should be in balance, Johnson said. If not, "you're not going to be an effective leader … and you need to encourage these in your employees," he said.
Even when bad things happen in an organization, the leader must establish a command climate that allows employees to recover and regain momentum.
Klinkhammer emphasized three pillars of resilience in the work environment -- maintaining employee well-being in mind, body and spirit; maintaining a good working relationship between employee and supervisor; and maintaining good support of the customer.
"Have fun and enjoy what you do. Be optimistic and happy," he said.
"Build up resiliency through relationships. Those relationships allow you to get things done. So, they need to be nurtured and developed."
When things get difficult in the work environment, Perkey said coming to grips with failures or issues is a matter of changing perspective.
"Is somebody's life on the line? No one is going to get hurt. Put things in perspective. It's OK to deliver bad news. But are you making a bigger deal out of it?" she said.
In stressful job environments, Bochenek suggested that leaders take time to talk to their employees on a casual level, and to do activities with their employees that create bonds of trust and caring among the group.
"Bring a little more of the people back into our people business," she said.
Chronister said it's up to every leader and employee to take care of each other.
"Have conversations, build relationships, build bonds with each other," he said.
"If something's going on in one person's life, you need to know about it and ask 'Are you OK?' We've got to get back to the basics of taking care of each other."
And, Chronister said, to him, balance also has a spiritual piece that has become more of a sanctuary to him as the years have gone by.
"Because of that spiritual piece, I am much more able to handle things in a common sense, non-emotional, peaceful manner. When we do have a failure or there is a setback, I can fall back on my spirituality, and it helps me to handle things in a respectful and dignified manner," he said.
The following questions were also asked by LIFT members and addressed by the leadership panel:
"Technology is advancing faster and faster, especially regarding information technology. How does a leader leverage technology and focus proper development in order to keep an aging workforce relevant, effective and efficient? Is there anything the older generation can learn from the new?" -- Paige Walker of the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center.
The panelists are all working within their own organizations to determine how to transform their organizations and processes by infusing technology and how to use technology in the 21st century enterprise model.
"We have to take a chance with new technologies and capabilities, and not worry about failure," Bochenek said. "Younger people coming into our organizations have to enable us. Leaders need to listen more and let young people develop capabilities."
"How do you prevent becoming a micromanager if you are responsible for everything that does or does not occur in your organization? How do you deal with a micromanager from the employee and supervisor point of view? -- Ted Ryon of AMCOM Logistics Center
"Most people hire for competency and the ability to do things," Bochenek said.
The panelists agreed that employees should be empowered, and that leadership's role is to set the vision and mission, and then let their staff make that vision and mission a reality.
"When I empower employees, they come up with much bigger and better ideas than I could come up with on my own," Johnson said. "It also allows them to develop, and the only way to develop is through experience. Books on empowerment and employee effectiveness are great, but there's nothing like letting them get in the arena and do the work."
Without employee empowerment, the organization does not operate at full capacity, Klinkhammer said.
"Giving employees freedom, authority, responsibility and the empowerment to go out and do things increases your capacity," he said.
Offering that autonomy can be difficult for leaders, but it is necessary, Perkey added.
"When I transitioned into leadership, I had to remember that I had a staff and that I don't have to do it all by myself and that things don't have to be done exactly the way I would do them," she said.
"You have to trust your people because you absolutely can't do it alone. Employees appreciate a certain amount of autonomy, a little bit of sink or swim. Let them know that you trust them to get the job done."
However, there are times when leaders need to micromanage employees or issues, Chronister said.
Those decisions may have to do with not being able to trust an employee or with an issue that is so complex that it needs to be elevated to leadership attention. In those cases, he said, employees should work to gain the trust of their leadership and to find ways to make positive contributions to the situation.
"In light of recent public revelations about poor duty and accountability of government employees, what tools/methods do you use to hold employees, managers, supervisors responsible and accountable? What can we do to improve ensuring responsibility and accountability?" -- Wanda Chambers of the Security Assistance Command
The panelists agreed there is a lot of rhetoric in the media these days that causes government employees to become pawns in a political battle. In the midst of the negativity toward the government and its employees, Chronister urged the LIFT members to remain accountable by looking for and avoiding those "potential 60 Minutes moments."
"You have to be overly sensitive right now because you're a pawn in a much bigger game" of federal budgets and cuts, he said, that is often misrepresented. For example, in one situation investigators found problems with the costs of six parts, but it was not pointed out those six parts were out of 6,000 parts under government contract.
"People are watching and looking to make names for themselves. Don't cut corners, don't run risks," Chronister said.
Progress reports, counseling sessions and other basic management tools can all help to keep employees accountable, Bochenek said.
"It's not easy to tell an employee when they need to improve, but they can't get better if you don't," she said. "You have an obligation to report if something doesn't seem right. The leader has an obligation to do due diligence. There's a fundamental thing about face-to-face discussions that can make a big difference. And, remember, as you move up, it's not about you or the organization, it's about the bigger Army."
Accountability presents different challenges depending on the employee, Johnson said. Poor performing employees who want to excel may need mentoring or a different job assignment. But poor performing employees who don't care or who think the government owes them a job, require leadership to spend a lot of time and effort on counseling and documentation.
"You owe it to the taxpayers to deal with poor performers. And your workforce is also looking to see how you deal with them. They want you to do the right thing," Johnson said.
"If there's a perception that management isn't addressing poor performance, then that lowers the bar," Bochenek added. "If that's happening, it's all our faults."
The LIFT group gave the panelists a standing ovation following their question-and-answer session.
"I really enjoyed the insight and the different levels of experience of the panelists," said UPLIFT member Molanda Brown of AMCOM Logistics Center. "I really liked what they said about taking care of people and building relationships."
Army values resonated with the group.
"I liked how they integrated the Army values in just about every answer they gave us," said Jordan Matthews, an UPLIFT member who works for the Garrison's Directorate of Public Works, Master Planning Division.