FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Oct. 15, 2020) -- Kate Reinsburrow and Tammi Dindl have a lot to say about the Leader Enhancement and Developmental Education Requirements (LEADER) program, but they weren’t given much time to do so.
That’s OK, because one of the things taught in the LEADER program is how to speak confidently and clearly to an audience, and that’s what they did during the two Fort Drum garrison workforce briefings Oct. 13-14.
As members of the LEADER Class VII, part of their final group project is to create a strategy to promote the program. They want to inform eligible civilian employees about how this program can impact their personal and professional development – and more importantly, how people can apply for the next class.
It’s a project that the entire class is enthusiastic about, and not because they are only weeks away from graduation. All five members said that the LEADER program requires a lot of time, effort and motivation to manage two years’ worth of requirements, but the experience is worth it.
“I’m glad I got to do this. Honestly, it challenged me, taught me so many things I didn’t know and it has given me confidence in myself,” said Reinsburrow, Directorate of Human Resources military passport agent. “I’m more secure in some of my abilities, and I have learned about what kind of leader I want to be.”
Dindl, a budget analyst with the Directorate of Resource Management, said her supervisor recommended the program to her.
“He said that this would be an excellent leadership opportunity for me,” she said. “I agreed right away, and then I saw all the work that was involved. I love a challenge, so I took it on.”
The LEADER program spans 24 months, during which students complete more than 200 hours of online and classroom training. Participants learn leadership principles and techniques, while observing leaders in action at all levels of the installation.
“This is an interactive opportunity for employees to develop, emerge and practice their leadership skills,” said John Kadaraitis, Workforce Development chief and LEADER instructor.
The program is separated into three eight-month tiers, each with its own set of requirements that include job shadowing, staff rides, public speaking and presentations, and developmental experience opportunities (DEOs).
“Basically, you’re going out in the community and doing things you’ve never done before,” said Lavale Edwards, a contact representative for the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, Fort Drum MEDDAC. “A DEO is supposed to put you in situations that you have no experience with so that you can learn to deal with it.”
That was certainly the case when the class went to the John Betts / War of 1812 Cemetery in the town of Denmark in September. Under the guidance of Edwards’ LEADER mentor, Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum Cultural Resources manager, the group removed debris from the cemetery and cleared markers and headstones that were half-hidden or covered. They also cleaned the headstones and then mapped the cemetery.
“Cleaning and mapping a cemetery was definitely something new to all of us,” Edwards said. “But when Dr. Rush asked if we would be interested in doing this, of course we said yes. That’s what we are in this class to do – to learn and grow.”
As a LEADER mentor, Rush said that it was a privilege to take the group on archeological tours and develop a rapport with them.
“It was great fun to work with all of them,” she said. “They are an impressive group – friendly, motivated and genuinely interested in what they were doing.”
Most DEOs are conducted individually, sometimes in pairs or more, but rarely as an entire class. Earlier in the month, Edwards and Amber Sawyer volunteered at the Feed the Vets food pantry in Watertown. Dindl volunteered at the recent Mountain Mudder, and then ran through the course herself. Other students have participated in a Red Cross blood drive, SPCA and at last year’s Riverfest.
January McIntosh, managerial assistant in the Public Works director’s office, began making face masks during the pandemic.
“I run an ambulance squad in Harrisville, and we didn’t have enough masks,” she said. “We weren’t able to order any either, so I thought, ‘What can I do?’ Well, I know how to sew, so I’ll make the masks for us. I wanted to protect myself, my crew and our patients.”
McIntosh knew that other rescue squads were experiencing similar shortages, so she kept making masks – for rescue squads, for hospitals and for anyone who needed one. She made roughly 350 masks, and was able to use her efforts toward completing a DEO.
Reinsburrow said that having grown up secretly wanting to be a pilot, the chance to try the flight simulator at the airfield was an eye-opening experience. She said that many Fort Drum employees never have the chance to fly a Black Hawk simulator, let alone know where one is on post.
“This entire program gets us out – outside of our offices and outside of our comfort zone,” she said. “As they keep saying throughout, to be a leader you want to have the broadest horizon you can. Through all of these DEOs, we are broadening our understanding of Fort Drum and learning how an installation works.”
Whether it was revising the Civilian of the Quarter regulation and organizing the award luncheon or networking with the deputy to the garrison commander, Reinsburrow said that each opportunity presented an insider’s look at installation management from a different perspective.
“I did a job shadow at DPW (Directorate Public Works) with Kurt Hauk (director), and I loved it,” she said. “He had me sit in on a bunch of different meetings. Seeing the way he interacted with his employees, it looked a lot like what we’ve been learning – the leadership style, how you should treat employees – I mean, you actually see it working.”
An ongoing culvert project on post requires numerous meetings among division heads at PW, and Reinsburrow got a glimpse of how invested people are in their work.
“One time, we went down to the culvert they were getting to work on,” she said. “We trudged through the snow to get a look at it. He (Hauk) had all the different division heads there, and they were out there for probably 45 minutes to an hour talking about this project. Each one showed a lot of passion about their piece of the puzzle and how they were going to do it. I think that was probably the most enlightening, educational job shadow I had.”
What some class members found less appealing were the public speaking requirements.
“By far, 100 percent, I just don’t like speaking in public,” McIntosh said. “I’m good with everything else in class but that.”
McIntosh admitted that she has improved her speaking skills, but she still psyches herself out before every presentation.
“Usually it’s just the class and two instructors there, and sometimes the deputy garrison commander or we’ll have our mentors come in,” she said. “If it was just us, sitting down and talking, I am OK. It’s just different having to stand up and talk. There’s this switch in the brain that turns on, and I ask myself, ‘Why am I standing up in front of all these people?’”
Dindl said that she absolutely enjoyed the public speaking activities, but that doesn’t mean she was a natural at it.
“When I joined the program I was the girl in the corner, red-faced as can be,” she said. “But as we kept going with presentations, I felt this was becoming easier for me. Personally, I can approach a crowd better if I don’t know anybody. Now that I know everyone in the class, they make me more nervous than if I was in front of 500 people I don’t know.”
Amber Sawyer, an administrative services assistant at the Directorate of Emergency Services, said that she always has been better at one-on-one conversation than with group presentations.
“Even though I think I’m a people person and love interacting with others, I’ve always had a hard time speaking to a group,” she said. “So this has brought me out of that shell a lot. I’m not as nervous, and I have a lot more confidence in myself when presenting in front of large groups of people.”
In their first 30-minute presentation, Sawyer had to talk about herself. Even though it was nerve-wracking, she said she did fine. The next long presentation was about the Army values, and she received different results.
“I was nervous,” Sawyer said. “I knew my material, but there’s a difference between knowing it and having it come out the way I wanted it to. It was hard for me to know ahead of time in my head what to say. I hadn’t at that point been able to comprehend how to do that in front of a group. They tried to make me feel better – ‘you just barely failed.’”
She said that her peers didn’t think it was a failing presentation, and Sawyer was determined to resurge from this blow to her self-esteem.
“I had to do the presentation over, and I was told what I needed to do better on,” she said. “I had time to practice and get better at it, and thankfully I did. I blew it out of the park. I don’t know if that was what they wanted to see and wanted me to do. I might be speculating, but maybe that’s why they failed me the first time. I made sure that they were not going to fail me again. It was a breeze after that.”
Sawyer said she knew little about the program before she applied, except that it was time-consuming – with an expectation of spending hours away from the office and home. She said that the online classes are manageable during the work day, but then there are the hours of preparation for in-person classes.
A typical class size is 12-15 students, but that number can dwindle for various reasons.
“Sometimes you have a person who relocates, gets a promotion or just can’t meet the class requirements anymore because of their job,” Kadaraitis said.
With half of LEADER Class VII occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kadaraitis said that there was some added pressure to complete the curriculum.
“We fell behind on some things, but then we started to go virtual for all the things we could do – like staff calls and presentations,” he said.
McIntosh teleworked for 14 weeks during the pandemic, and she said that playing catch-up on the coursework presented a unique opportunity for them to test their resilience.
“I like a challenge, and I definitely got that,” she said. “It’s been fun, as well. We’ve all become very close.”
Edwards said that everyone in the class had the same mentality about succeeding in the LEADER program.
“I think we are all the type of person who doesn’t want to fail, or to look bad,” she said. “So if we have a task to do, we all want to do our best at it. There’s the saying, ‘If you surround yourself with good people, you become a better person.’ I think that’s the way our group is. We’ve surrounded ourselves with each other, and we try to build each other up.”
Sawyer had a similar conclusion.
“If I was able to get the same group of people, I would do this all over again – I really would,” she said. “We were all strangers when we started this, and now we are very close. This wasn’t easy for me, but being with this group made it worth it.”
Applications for LEADER Class VIII can be submitted to Workforce Development until Nov. 12. The program is open to permanent GS-5 through GS-10 employees (or equivalent), and GS-11 employees also can be considered by exception of current leadership or supervisory role.
Those who wish to learn more about the program can attend an information session at Workforce Development, 219 Lewis Avenue. Sessions will be held from 8 to 10 a.m. Oct. 19, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 20, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 23 and 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 28.
For more information about the LEADER program, call (315) 772-5226 or 772-5635.