Thirty one GS-15s from across Aberdeen Proving Ground including the 67 tenant organizations that operate here began a year-long journey March 24 through 26. An innovative new leadership development program called Leadership Cohort kicked off during a session at the Chemical Demilitarization Training Facility that will put the concept of "action learning" into practice.

"The concept," explained Joe Wienand, the director of Program Integration at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, "involves learning by doing. It revolves around the idea that the best way to understand leadership concepts is to practice them. Cohort students will work on installation-wide projects over the course of the next year that will give them opportunities to practice leadership skills and concepts."

But, they won't do it alone. The Office of Personnel Management, which designed the training program for the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command, enlisted an academic crew of professional coaches from universities and institutions across the country to coach the students through the year-long endeavor.

"These are the people who coach the captains of industry at major corporations," Wienand said. "They will serve as a support system for the students. Along with 'Executive Champions,' ten local members of the Senior Executive Service who have agreed to help guide the students throughout the year, there is a very strong support system built into this program."

That is a vital element, according to Gary Martin, deputy commander of RDECOM.

"As far as I'm concerned," he told the group March 26 while on a panel of SESs addressing the Cohort students, "we are all where we are because someone along the way took an interest in our careers. We are here as SESs today to make that same commitment to you.

"You will help senior leaders solve the issues that face us today," he continued. "When all of the BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] dust settles, we will need to draw people in to fill critical jobs here in Harford County. We need to look at the issues that come along with that, such as the conversion of the infrastructure to meet the demands of an expanding workforce. It is by design that you all come from a wide variety of organizations across the installation because these are installation-wide issues that we will be dealing with."

And from those issues will come opportunities for leaders to grow - looking beyond their traditional roles within their organizations to working across each of the 67 tenant organizations that make up APG to tackle larger issues.

"Each of the Cohort students will have an individual project during the year that is part of their normal work," explained Wienand, "but each will also have a project they work on with a group of their peers in the program. Over the course of the program, they will have to reach out to one another outside the scheduled sessions to coordinate their efforts at solving larger challenges."
In all, the group will have eight scheduled meetings during the year where it gets together for progress reviews of projects.

In addition to immersing themselves in senior level, installation-wide projects and sharpening their leadership skills, Martin asks one thing of the students.

"Just as each of us has had someone who has helped us in our careers, you now have people who are taking an interest in yours. I ask that you pass that on - to start mentoring people so we can continue to grow leaders into the future," Martin said.