ADELPHI, Md. -- With the pandemic in mind, a cohort of 22 Army researchers turned to the virtual world for a unique professional development opportunity.
At the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, now known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory, the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program challenged the group to seek new solutions in a business-oriented environment.
The program took a diverse set of individuals with a desire and potential for increasing their impact and broadened their leadership potential across the laboratory.
“My biggest take-away is the importance of authentic and personal relationships and how these relationships bring about trust and propel future growth,” said Ashley Eidsmore, an ARL Cafe architect and one of the technical advisors to the laboratory director. “A leader who is able to acknowledge and lay their weaknesses bare in a room is all the stronger and more admirable for doing so.”
The laboratory, in collaboration with the University of Maryland Baltimore County Center for Leadership and Innovation, created and developed the program two years ago. It runs part time over a nine-month period and is a bit different from traditional courses because it places concentration on self-examination and relationships.
“This experience was unique because it set the conditions for the development of genuine and longstanding relationships with an amazing cohort of future leaders,” said Army Researcher Dr. Pablo Guzman. “The ELP environment was a safe space to have true dialogue and learning moments where vulnerability and transparency was encouraged.”
ELP exposes participants to a variety of components such as professional coaching sessions, mentor assignments and 360-degree assessments. Participants present final capstone projects to senior leadership.
One capstone project evolved directly from a COVID-19 conversation between DEVCOM ARL Director Dr. Pat Baker and Vehicle Technology Directorate Director Dr. Jaret Riddick lamenting the need for a virtual water cooler, which led to an employee meeting site. The lab’s Communications and Collaboration group grabbed the idea and through intense work came up with the virtual, ARL Cafe.
The site, which is online at the Commercial Virtual Remote Environment, is open to all laboratory employees. It offers a place for all to connect, communicate and collaborate through chats, seminars and mentorship opportunities. The lab’s director has even made himself available taking part in a virtually lunch for anyone interested. This initiative continues to expand and grow with great effect, Eidsmore said.
Other capstone projects addressed bidirectional awareness and exchange of information between ARL civilians and warfighters in support of operationalizing science for transformational overmatch, and even went as far as proposing several opportunities to outline a methodology to help secure the lab’s future.
“This is a direct investment in DEVCOM ARL's personnel and this grass-roots strategy allows participants to present these ideas directly to ARL senior leaders allowing them to see a direct impact of their efforts, thus creating a sense of ownership across all levels of the organization,” said Sgt. Maj. Luke Blum, the laboratory’s senior enlisted advisor.
The ELP is a way to enhance talent management and development to enable the most capable, professional, and diverse workforce within the Department of Defense, he said.
“We genuinely developed some new skills and strengthened existing ones that will enable us to be better scientists, businesspeople, and leaders - how great it is to work someplace that is so willing and even so excited about investing in its people's growth,” said Dr. Greg Lieberman, an ARL Cafe architect and also one of the technical advisors to the laboratory director.
ARL is now taking applications for the next group willing to push themselves in addition to their normal duties for what proves to be a rewarding experience.
“If you're looking for a way to practice leadership skills, this class is a great opportunity and will lead to career-lasting relationships,” said Army Researcher Dr. Victoria Blair. “Having a diverse group of people available to tackle a challenge is important when attempting to solve big problems.”
DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL is operationalizing science to achieve transformational overmatch. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more successful at winning the nation’s wars and come home safely. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command.