PENTAGON (Dec. 4, 2020) — The Office of the Army Surgeon General and the U.S. Army Medical Command hold regular leadership seminars to support their Leader Development Program. The goal is to build agile and adaptive leaders for today's environment by sharing the learning, teaching, and personal development experiences of senior leaders.
On Dec. 4, 2020, the leadership series featured Kathleen S. Miller, Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army, who discussed her perspective on leadership. The lecture was delivered virtually.
The position of Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army has been in existence since the late 1700’s. Miller is the 40th person to hold the position. She had previously been accepted in the Senior Executive Service during an earlier stint at the Department of the Treasury.
Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, The Surgeon General of the Army, welcomed Miller and thanked her for taking the time to share her thoughts on leadership. “We want to hear from you, what your story is, what you do, but also, your leadership words of wisdom that you would like to share with us,” he said.
Miller discussed her experience and education. What her position does, she said, is to help run all the support organizations for Department of the Army Headquarters—from personnel to budget and everything in between. She is the senior career civilian in the Department of the Army. Miller acts on behalf of the Secretary for administrative matters. She oversees two field operating agencies, a headquarters element, and more than 1,000 civilian and military employees.
Miller is a civilian and never actually wore the uniform. Nevertheless, she has “served the uniform for 36 years. I am proud of that service,” she said. She also has had many family members who have served in all services.
She is a graduate of an Ivy League school, and she says that challenged her to be mentally flexible and agile. She is also a civilian graduate of the Army War College and was in the Pentagon when the plane hit on 9/11. She also was selected for the Army Comptroller program, which is an MBA program at Syracuse University.
She described four things as important for leaders: “flexibility,” “capacity,” “walking the talk,” and “be the future.”
By flexibility, Miller means that, as positions or organizations change, you cannot always lead the same way. In every position she has held, she leads a little differently. Leaders have to adjust to the mission, to the workforce (e.g., uniformed versus civilian or contractors). In addition, the leadership you work under will also be different, and their style will need to be adjusted to. There are also “intangibles that affect how you lead, she said. Examples are civilian political leadership and the current environment during the COVID pandemic.
The second item is capacity. How can you increase your leadership capacity, Miller asked, considering you only have a limited amount of time each day? First, remember the Performance Triad of exercise, nutrition and sleep and address those every day. In addition, take care of your family, she said. Balance those things first. Then, consider how to expand capacity.
Miller discussed “active delegation.” Delegate responsibility to your workforce. You need to give away part of your authority to fulfil the mission and get reports back so you know what is going on. Delegate and have subordinates report back.
Third is walking the talk. Show you care about your employees; it’s not enough to just say it, Miller said. Have dialogues, use MS Teams for remote meetings, answer questions, listen to staff concerns through active listening, even sending a birthday greeting reaches out to show you care. There are other things for organizational esprit de corps as well. Give staff something to point to so they can say their leader cares about the staff. In addition, create the time for your staff to learn. Encourage online classes and challenge your staff to learn, she said. Gain their trust. One way to do that as a civilian in a military environment is take the opportunity to deploy if it arises, Miller said.
Finally, Miller said, be the future you see coming. Change minds and create a better understanding of what is to come.