VICKSBURG, Miss. - "What is leadership and what are the qualities that make a good leader?"
This is a question Brig. Gen. Donna Williams, deputy commanding general of Operations, 412th Theater Engineer Command, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, native, presented to Leadership Vicksburg while speaking to them Jan. 27 at the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce.
Leadership Vicksburg is an annual program run by the Chamber of Commerce to provide leaders with a deeper understanding of critical issues effecting Vicksburg and Warren County. The attendees include leaders of the local casinos, hospitals, restaurants, mills and the Vicksburg National Military Park.
"We have this program of the chamber called Leadership Vicksburg where the people of this community, we're developing them as leaders," said Jane Lauderdale Flowers, executive director, Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce. "We're also trying to acquaint them and make them aware of all the various industries in town, so they'll have an industry day, they'll have an education day, in Vicksburg, which is unique, they'll have a casino day. Today is an Army Corps of Engineers day."
Williams was asked to speak to the group about her leadership and how it was cultivated.
"There are different definitions and philosophies on leadership, so here is mine; everyone has their own philosophy," said Williams. "Leadership is about positive and decisive action to transform others and the organization to greater achievements. It's not about your rank, it's not about your status, it's about having a compelling vision and influencing others to embrace and buy into the vision and take appropriate action to add back. Leadership is also about change, it's about getting extraordinary results from ordinary people."
During her presentation, Williams focused on five areas she believes are important qualities of a leader.
The first of these is to have a positive attitude and motivation.
"Leadership is about motivating people to accomplish a mission that they normally wouldn't dare to attempt to do. There is an art, which is leadership and a science, which is management, to influence people to a higher level of performance. It's not all one way," she said. "Central to this are three universal questions that people ask themselves when dealing with a leader, a peer or subordinate: Can I trust you? Are you committed? Do you care about me? I've found subordinates as well as peers with go above the call of duty to assist you in becoming a great leader if you take time in building trust, being committed and demonstrate you care about the workforce."
Effective communication is the second area Williams focused her attention.
"As an effective leader communication was essential and the common denominator to my success over the years. In any organization, most of the time you will hear people didn't do things correctly because it wasn't communicated properly. I view communication as two-fold: Talking and listening," Williams said.
"In talking when I spoke to my workforce, I was clear, concise and complete in my intent, guidance and directives. You have to do that as a leader," she added. "As a leader, you have to be an active listener. I actively listen to my subordinates, peers and subordinates, and encourage and value their viewpoints, because sometimes their viewpoints are opposite of mine. But you have value their views. That's what makes you a diverse leader. When you're listening and their views are opposite, it doesn't mean it's wrong. I'm sure you've all heard the old cliché, 'There's more than one way to skin a cat.' Well, there is more than one way to tackle a task. As a leader, bring people to the table. Let them provide you with their thoughts. You'll be surprised what they come up with."
The third is compassion.
"I believe a leader should be compassionate. Not a push-over, but compassionate," Williams said. "Some leaders believe you have to crack the whip or lead with an iron fist, but in my experience I've gotten more from those that I've lead simply by practicing mutual respect. If you treat people as what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of becoming, they will surprise you with their results."
Williams' fourth area is allowing for professional development.
"You want to develop your subordinates and bring them forward. Groom them to be leaders, because they're the ones who are going to be in charge. We're going to continue to move up as well, as leaders, but they're going to be the one in charge," she said. "I believe investing in people, your subordinates and peers, is very important."
Investing in an individual sometimes pays dividends for more than just that one person.
Throughout my profession, I've continued to develop the subordinates, even if it wasn't engineer related. If they found a course to attend that will develop them professionally and put them in a position to move forward, then I would allow them to go," said Williams. "You have to develop your personnel, send them to schools. When they came back from school, they brought that information back and that made my organization more well-rounded. It's two-fold, you helped the organization and you helped that person develop professionally and personally."
The final area for Williams is team building.
"As a construction engineer, I don't think I've ever been on a project site by myself to build anything. It takes a team," said Williams. "I, I, I! No, it's we and us. I can pass you something, but it's us. You have to get that sense of team in your organization because if not, you will be standing alone. Being a leader and standing alone is not good."
Williams believes applying these five areas contributed to her success.
"I can tell you, had I not included teamwork, allowing people to be professional and grow in their professional career and help them grow in their professional career, that I would not be standing here today as a general officer. There's no way," she said. It took a whole lot of people to assist me to get to this rank. People like the (noncommissioned officers), the warrant officers and officers alike."
Williams concluded with this thought.
"True leaders are GAP fillers. They show gratitude, they show appreciation and they show a perspective for the workforce," she said.
The Leadership Vicksburg was thankful for Williams' input, asking her for book recommendation and other ways they could develop after her presentation.
"The people here make this community. We're glad that you came back to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and we're very appreciative of you giving us some words of wisdom as far as leadership goes," Flowers told her. "Implementing just a little bit of your experience, as a developed leader into this Leadership Vicksburg program is definitely a plus for us, I think."