TACOMA, Wash. -- Leadership was the talk of the town in Tacoma, Washington, Monday, where about 55 University of Washington-Tacoma students, community leaders and education professionals came to a luncheon to hear three experts speak on the subject.

The event was co-sponsored by the university and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, with Joe Lawless, executive director at the Center of Leadership and Social Responsibility at the university, moderating the event.

JBLM's senior mission commander and most senior military official in the state participated as a panelist.

"What you want in a leader is someone who can provide purpose, direction and motivation, and I think that is what any organization is looking for," said Lt. Gen. Steve Lanza, I Corps commanding general at JBLM. "If you think you're uncertain as a leader, just imagine how everyone below you feels. A leader who can embrace that will be able to lead in uncertain environments."

Lanza was joined by Kathleen Deakins, president of a strategic communications firm in Tacoma, and Jane Taylor, founder and chief strategy officer of a military medical research foundation.

Everything from bringing people together to creating inclusive cultures was open for discussion, but the moderator chose to begin with a leader's character. He asked each panelist to weigh in on what was more important in identifying effective leaders: character or competence.

"I can close a capability gap. I can train to close that gap," said Lanza. "I cannot close a character gap, and when a character gap occurs, we fail as a military; we lose your trust."

Both Deakins and Taylor agreed that character was the more important of the two in determining effective leadership.

Taylor added that, "expertise can be taught, but character can't necessarily be taught. Character is something that comes from within."

The approximately one hour conversation spent a lot of time discussing diversity and bringing people together.

Lawless posed the question of how to create inclusivity in diverse environments to Lanza, noting that as a military leader he leads an organization comprised of people from all around the world.
"I think in order to have diversity you have to be part of a values-based organization, and I'm proud to say that as a profession the military is a values based organization," said Lanza. "I think that's something you need to look for because in an organization without values it's very hard to embrace diversity."

He added: "Our junior leaders have done a magnificent job, with not a lot of guidance, on embracing how to change the workplace to making it more diverse," said Lanza. "I think that's what you want in a leader; you want someone who is adaptive, someone who is agile, and that can understand intent."

The conversation concluded with an opportunity for guests to pose their questions to the panel members. 

One guest who identified himself as a university freshman asked how you bring people together in a world that feels so divided right now.

"In the military we offer debate. We offer it in a way for people to bring issues forward so we can have a [conversation] about what to do to treat people with dignity and respect, and to listen to others' perspectives," said Lanza. "But at the end of the day we have to be able to operate together. I have to be able to trust you with my life and you have to be able to trust me with your life."