Standard military leadership training has made the United States military the strongest fighting force in the world, but many in the Wyoming National Guard still feel there is something lacking, and have launched a new program to potentially fill the gaps based on leaders’ personal strengths.
Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, Wyoming’s adjutant general, provided opening remarks and led a discussion on ethics at the Wyoming Military Department’s first LEAD (Leadership Enrichment and Development) workshop.
He said LEAD training was designed to provide an opportunity for emerging leaders to broaden their viewpoints on topics such as communications, motivation, collaboration, strategic planning and ethics.
“We’ve done a lot of surveys over the years, and one area that always comes up is ‘we need more leadership training,’” Reiner told the group of 15 commissioned and noncommissioned officers gathered at a Cheyenne conference center Nov. 5 and 6. “We want to be sure our team is the best it can be, and thought maybe we need a small group just focused on leadership.”
With that said, Reiner sent a few representatives to Nebraska, where that state’s National Guard established a similar program four years ago. “They have a great model, and we’re going to follow it and maximize each other’s strengths,” he added. “This isn’t going to be a one and done. We’re hoping to do this maybe twice a year.”
One of those soldiers that has championed Gallup’s CliftonStrengths LEAD model and attended the training in Nebraska is Lt. Col. Jakob Norman, who has become a certified instructor and led the initial session in Wyoming.
“The main idea is to get them thinking about leadership in their units and themselves, and to keep an open mind and try some new things,” Norman said of the program he became aware of through his civilian occupation. “There are a lot of leadership options, other than just military.”
One of the first presenters at the workshop was Lt. Col. Jeremy Sparks, the inspector general for the 153rd Airlift Wing and a drill status guardsman, who now works full-time as the chief innovation officer for Central Arkansas Water, where he manages corporate change, much like he did for Tyson Foods a few years ago.
He told the group that resistance to change is natural, and to make changes effectively and successfully in an organization should be a top priority. He used changing his watch from one wrist to the other as an example of a change that would likely be poorly received because there was no good explanation, nor buy-in for the change.
“Now you’re all gonna change your wristwatch over because I said you are. I know as soon as I leave most of y’all are gonna change them back over, but I better not see it.”
Norman, too, stressed the importance of starting at the “why,” rather than the what when making plans and decisions.
“When we came into the military, we were just told to do it. We didn’t get to ask why,” he explained.
“Make the effort to start at the why. We’re good at the how and what, but a lot of people will follow you a lot farther if they know why you want them to.”
The students were nominated by their leaders to attend the workshop, and subsequently administered the CliftonStrengths assessment that “identifies a person’s unique sequence of 34 themes of talent,” according to Gallup’s website. Each member wore badges listing their top five strengths, and learned how to use them effectively as individual leaders and within a group of people with various strengths and talents.
Maj. Nicholas Rayes, a sustainment officer on the Joint Staff, said the assessment and workshop opened his eyes to why some of the jobs he has held in a 15-year military career were better suited to him than others.
“This has given me a different context for looking at jobs and my success and satisfaction in them,” Rayes said. “I think if I were to go into command or working in a team, I would want to know the strengths of the members, and how to maximize our combined strengths to benefit the organization.”
One exercise allowed teams to do just that. One team found it was predominately made up of strategic thinkers. They determined they would have to add another type of talent to their team to avoid stepping on each other’s toes.
“A group full of strategic thinkers would have a difficult time without the balance of another type of thinker,” Air Guard 1st Lt. Charrolet Henry, told the class after a team discussion. “We decided we would need to add a relationship builder or an influencer, but it would be dependent on the specific mission and short- or long-term goals.”
The sole junior enlisted airman nominated to attend the workshop was Senior Airman Jonathan Thiel, assigned to the 153rd Security Forces Squadron. While he is not in a specified leadership role yet, he said he has learned a lot and can see the benefits of the training in his future.
“It’s teaching me to focus on my strengths rather than my weaknesses, and flexing those strengths to my advantage,” Thiel explained. “I have been working with an airman who just came back from school. I think I will be able to help him out more next time we work together.”
Norman said units may request the training, albeit an abbreviated version.
“This was an introduction to how this works,” he said in his closing remarks. “You are not coaches, we are. If you like this and you want to continue with your units, tell your boss. We could do a no-less-than four-hour class and pay for the assessments, and if we do this again, please nominate someone to your leadership.”