Leaders of character

By Megan PaiceApril 17, 2023

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The DEVCOM Analysis Center, or DAC, workforce had the opportunity on Tuesday, March 14, to hear a special presentation, "Leaders of Character,” from guest speaker retired Col. Dwayne Wagner, followed by a panel discussion that included the DAC Interim Director, Brig. Gen. David Trybula and Chief of the DAC Experimentation Cell Office, Mr. Brian Wilder.

The Lunch and Learn, led by Ms. Caroline Zellhofer, DAC operations research and systems analysis and member of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council, or DE&I, showed a short video of Wagner’s presentation at the Command and General Staff College and then held a moderated panel discussion.

Through the lens of a Black Army Officer, Wagner gave his perspective about his character-defining journey. From his success as an Army leader and navigating the trials and tribulations of racial/gender bias, Wagner showcased the importance of those outcomes by being an outstanding guide, teacher and leader of character.

Each panelist showcased a different perspective to the workforce. Trybula brought his 34-years of experience in the military and routine use of the platinum rule: “treat others how they would want to be treated.” Wilder has worked with the Department of Defense since 2003, but prior to that, worked for two major industry partners, which allowed him to share a corporate America perspective.

Panel members were asked two questions before opening the floor to the virtual audience, the first being “who was the most impactful mentor for you and what was the most memorable lesson that they taught you?

Guest speaker, retired Col. Dwayne Wager; DAC Interim Director Brig. Gen. David Trybula and chief of the Experimentation Cell Office, Mr. Brian Wilder, all participated in a virtual panel to talk about their perspectives on leadership to the DAC workforce.
Guest speaker, retired Col. Dwayne Wager; DAC Interim Director Brig. Gen. David Trybula and chief of the Experimentation Cell Office, Mr. Brian Wilder, all participated in a virtual panel to talk about their perspectives on leadership to the DAC workforce. (Photo Credit: Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Trybula stated he could not pick a sole mentor because he had the privilege to learn from many advisers with a diverse set of experiences. The most poignant takeaway for him was understanding empathy and treating others the way they want to be treated with dignity and respect. “If you recognize the importance of empathy, you know you have to learn every day and you have to keep trying every day to be able to get there.”

Wilder also could not pinpoint just one mentor. However, the common theme between each of his mentors was recognizing, whether you are in a leadership position or not, that your people are your biggest asset. The bottom line for Wilder is, “you must always recognize people. You must understand, empathize, understand where they're coming from by recognizing where you came from and that was a big lesson in leadership for me.”

Wagner chose Lt. Col. Monty L. Pickens, his battalion commander, in Mannheim, Germany. Pickens ordered Wagner to teach a college class. When Wagner said he was too busy, Pickens gave him a look. He taught three classes within the next year, which taught him a valuable lesson, “I’m not as good as I think I am. I can always grow.”

The second question asked about the cliquey nature of Army culture and how leaders can disrupt this phenomenon to move towards a collaborative culture.

Trybula acknowledged that human behavior bins people into different groups, but as individuals, we must make a conscious effort to sit, or talk, next to people who we may subconsciously bias as ‘others.’

Wagner gave an example where he was asked to speak at a military police battalion event. At the end of his remarks, he asked everyone who were not Military Police to stand-up to show how these ‘others’ were important to the battalion.

Wilder agreed and talked about the need to make a concerted effort to be diverse. He uses the STEM field as an example since it is an area typically dominated by men. Wilder recommends making the effort to see where the gaps are or where potential may be, “you are bridging that gap so that folks can advance and you know, quite frankly, that diverse nature will enhance everybody else.”

When Zellhofer was asked about moderating the panel, she said it was each panelist’s thoughtful and vivid responses that were most rewarding. “All our panelists' experiences emphasized that true leadership is somehow both complex and incredibly simple: treat others with empathy, respect, and consideration and never be complacent in the way you treat people.”

Wagner ended his presentation by asking attendees to read his article ‘We Have Come a Long Ways,’ and after reading to, “share, listen; ask, listen; self-reflect and share."

Presentation to the Class of 2023, the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS., August 2, 2022. Focuses on treating people with dignity and request, using Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a backdrop.

The DEVCOM Analysis Center (DAC) is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. Visit the DEVCOM website for more information.