FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Nov. 3, 2017) -- A pack of supervisors were drawn together in the classroom, hungry and ready to hunt, catch and hold the lesson plan prepared for them. Their appetites would ultimately be fulfilled by instructors who for five days pitched raw strategies and scientific studies, and offered techniques for meeting the challenge of leadership in an austere professional environment.
This was the scene at the pilot of the Supervisory Leadership Course designed by the College of Installation Management at the U.S. Army Installation Management Command -- to facilitate a student-centered experience using peer-to-peer feedback, problem-solving, role-playing and self-analysis so that select managers could understand themselves first, then learn how to raise their leadership level.
"The CG directed us to put together a course to address some of the issues based on the DEOMI survey," said Larry Doxtater, the lead instructor for the SLC and course developer. "When designing the curriculum, we realized positive attitudes, leadership and trust are not gained after just two hours in the classroom, but rather something you learn and do as you go about your life."
DEOMI refers to the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, which can be employed by Army commands to help assess their internal climate.
"Young supervisors can learn awareness and be cognizant of different personalities and behaviors as they relate to trust issues," Doxtater said. "We want all these factors to come together to start a fire within IMCOM and solve some of the common leadership problems."
"You have to fit leadership to the organization, there is no one-size-fits-all," said Farrah Santiago, training instructor for the CIM and co-facilitator for the SLC. "Leadership is fluid and has to adapt as teams change. Paying attention to what effect you have on others is crucial."
"It's not like a traditional class. We're not going to stand up here and lecture," Doxtater said. "It's all driven by the students who have hundreds of years' combined experience within the class. They'll be working in groups and pairs. The student generates the knowledge."
"Everything we talk about in this class ties to the Service Culture Initiative," Santiago said. "It's the Leadership Pledge, it's employee recognition, it's responsive leaders and training."
The Service Culture Initiative philosophy was released in a memo by Lt. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, commanding general of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, on April 21, 2017, to represent "our long-term commitment to improving ourselves as an organization."
"The SCI establishes an environment where every professional has an engaged and caring leader, feels valued and respected, possesses a sense of belonging and loyalty to the organization, and they treat each other with dignity and respect," Lt. Gen. Dahl said in his April memo. "Be open, honest and straightforward in communication, especially during periods of change."
Any management initiative starts with a plan, and any plan is subject to the role-players encountered at first contact. The priority for placement in this pilot class were IMCOM staff in assigned supervisory positions.
"It's a good group [in the class], meshing leaders from different backgrounds, disciplines and expertise," Santiago said. "It'll be interesting to see what they bring forward in reaction to this type of course."
"My chief suggested I come to this course, thinking it would benefit my growth as a leader," said Alexis Thomas, supervisory contracting specialist in G9 Contracting. "When I started the class, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was hoping to be able to network with other supervisors from the other G staff, to help me better understand the organization, and the different experiences they've had, which would help me in my career."
"Initially I was a little apprehensive, worried that the class would be status quo," said Kelly Jones, G9 Marketing operations branch chief. "After being a part of this course for a week, it's been really inspiring, reshaping my whole thought process toward leadership."
The CIM required two readings prior to the class: "The Five Levels of Leadership" by John C. Maxwell, which focuses on a lifetime leadership game plan, and "Crucial Conversations" by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, which delves into interpersonal communication.
The readings were a major part of the students' intellectual and emotional development.
"The top leadership challenge we face is to stop focusing on managerial positions, but finding ways to inspire other employees at all levels to take ownership of their own leadership role," Jones said. "I'm confident that by doing this at the earliest stage in their career, we can make the biggest difference in leadership at IMCOM."
"I think self-awareness is the greatest value in the class," said Pam Budda, division chief in R2 (Ready and Resilient) and the substance-abuse program. "When you can step back, take a breath and get in touch with how you feel -- extremely valuable."
From all indications, the SLC was surprising, thought provoking and well received.
"This class highly exceeded my expectations," Thomas said. "I didn't think I'd learn so much about myself and the chance to understand others in the organization. It's important to understand there are different cultures and beliefs - it makes you stronger and helps you connect on a personal level. This builds trust."
"My expectation was -- this is just another thing, but I've been very pleasantly surprised," Budda said. "It has been extremely valuable and I have plans to use some of the tools learned in the class with the team."
"I would highly recommend this course," Thomas said. "The one part of the course on 'emotional intelligence' makes me nervous, but excited as well, to take back and apply to the dynamics of my office."
"We have a diverse group of people, who have their own perception on trust," said Matt Mattox, chief of the conservation branch in the Army Environmental Command. "If we can be open minded, look at ourselves and show vulnerability, we will feel better about ourselves."
It now will be up to these pilot students, to express among their peers the value of the SLC. The CIM is hopeful that as a result of the pilot, the potential benefits to the whole organization will be realized.
"These 15 students will be able to tell the story," Doxtater said. "It's an honor to have been selected to create this course. I think SLC could raise the level of teamwork and take teams to another level. If it does, I will feel like I've made a difference in the organization. I'll know I've succeeded when I hear people starting to talk the course language."
"I feel extremely thankful and blessed that this course has provided me an opportunity to refocus on my personal development," Jones said. "As a junior leader, this is my opportunity to pass along and influence others within IMCOM."
"I feel re-energized and refocused," Budda said. "I'm more excited about going in [the office] and being able to make a difference."
"You see, trust is extremely important," Mattox said. "[Personal] trust is built over time. I think IMCOM is starting to get it, that this is the kind of thing you need not just as an entrenched leader, but to build leadership. Everyone has the opportunity to be a leader in one form or fashion."
"This is the first time we've done the class -- I want to see that it makes an impact," Santiago said. "I'm very invested and have a passion for our IMCOM workplace. I'm hoping (this class) will open some eyes and get them thinking about leadership in a different way."
"My desire is to have a course [available] every quarter for all the supervisors and even take the class on the road. I'm a person who really wants people to take care of Soldiers and their Families," Doxtater said. "If the SLC can contribute to that, then we will have success."