NCOs learn leadership traits from execs, humorist
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT POLK, La. -- To commemorate the "Year of the NCO," Fort Polk's Warrior Transition Battalion played host to a one-day leadership seminar at Bayou Theater July 24.

The day began at 9 a.m. with guest speaker Greg Swienton, chief operating officer of Ryder Systems, a FORTUNE 500 transportation and supply chain management solutions company. Swienton said he was honored to be part of the event.

"Anytime I have the opportunity to support Soldiers, I do so," he said. "My dad was in the military and served during World War II. I grew up knowing what it was to have a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, to be a POW."

Swienton told the crowd of Fort Polk NCOs that lifelong learning is important for good leaders.

"You need to take advantage of all the Army offers," he said. "That's critical whether you stay in the Army or leave the service. You need to become students of leadership - your troops need it."

There is a close correlation between business and military leaders, Swienton said.

"If I can inspire you to read, learn and take advantage of every educational experience that comes along, then I've accomplished my goal," he said. "I believe in your mission and your commitment to serve. You are the backbone of the Army. Every chance you get to strengthen your skills is important."

Swienton added that all learning and life experiences matter.

"You must pursue both for the good of your Family and future," he said. "When you get the chance to learn with your Family, going to museums and other historical places, do it."

Swienton gave the NCOs four core qualities of a good leader: character, judgement, relationship and results.

"You must have good character," he said. "There are severe consequences if you don't. You need to be a person of integrity, who is trustworthy, speaks the truth and doesn't compromise."

Judgement comes from experience, according to Swienton.

"You learn from your mistakes," he said. "You need wisdom - tactical execution is more important than elegant strategy."

Relationship is how you manage your actions with peers and employees, and the bottom line, Swienton said, is results.

"You've got to put the points on the board," he said. "Good effort and style aren't enough. Everyone loves the Chicago Cubs, but no one expects them to win. Be more like the New York Yankees."

Swienton closed by challenging the NCOs to persevere.

"Please keep learning and reading, especially about leadership," he said. "Never give up."

Catherine Hickman followed Swienton. She is a professional executive coach and conducts leadership conferences throughout the United States. She also works with Swienton at Ryder. She said it's important for leaders to have integrity.

"You have to live what you teach," she said. "It's about who you are regardless of where you are. Great leaders have integrity; it's not something you can buy."

While no one can take integrity away from a person, Hickman said you could give it away. She went through a laundry list of qualities that identify a person of integrity, including: Sincerity, respect, consistency, a person of principles, transparent, teachable and secure.

"If you develop those qualities, you'll have influence and people will seek you out and follow you," she said.

After a lunch break, Christian humorist Dennis Swanberg entertained the NCOs. Swanberg had the Soldiers rolling with laughter as he told stories and did voice impersonations of such celebrities as Mohammed Ali, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Howard Cosell, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton. Swanberg said he was familiar with the climate at Fort Polk because his father served at Camp Polk in the 1940s with the 36th Infantry Brigade of the Texas National Guard.

"My dad said it was one of the hottest places he'd ever been," he said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Greca, command sergeant major for the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, told the NCOs they needed to take the lessons learned at the seminar back to their Soldiers.

"Inspirational leadership is an absolute requirement for our leaders," he said. "You used to just tell people what to do and they'd do it. Now, you have to inspire your Soldiers. Take what you learn today and do that."