Aspiring Leaders Kick Off New Season of Learning

USACE Middle East District
Published Jan. 23, 2013
A Tier II team attempts to bring a “helium stick” to the ground through use of leaderships skills and teamwork. (Photo by Kristin Hoelen)

A Tier II team attempts to bring a “helium stick” to the ground through use of leaderships skills and teamwork. (Photo by Kristin Hoelen)

Members of the Leadership Development Program Tier II group participate in a problem-solving exercise. (Photo by Kristin Hoelen)

Members of the Leadership Development Program Tier II group participate in a problem-solving exercise. (Photo by Kristin Hoelen)

WINCHESTER, Va. – “Great leaders aren’t born that way – they are groomed,” said Robert Thomas, structural engineer and Leadership Development Program facilitator. “Leadership is something you have to work at. That is why we are here: to train great leaders.”

On Dec. 13, 2012, twelve members of the Middle East District team began their year-long journey into the LDP Tier II program: Danny Banks, Brandon Chance, Jerry Dabkowski, Shufeng Lin, Dan Lyons, Steve Markland, Kevin McLellan, Dave Rackmales, Joe Riley, Kim Sanders, Christine Sawalha, and Jeff Slater. This is the sixth year for the LDP at the district. Tier II is aimed at helping participants get a better understanding and take control of their personal strengths in leading. Typically, Tier II participants have already completed Tier I which is focused on being a valuable team member.

Their formal session started with a presentation by Caryl Hickel, LDP graduate and chief of Project Management Division’s Business Management Branch. She discussed objectives for Tier II participation and what each member should put into the program during the next year. She encouraged participants to grow outside their comfort zones, diversify, and learn, all while having fun.

“During the next year, this group will observe each person’s learning style,” said Brian Ball, project manager and LDP facilitator. “They will learn how they approach different problems and group work. This will help prepare them to recognize and accommodate each person’s style for when they are the leader. The focus is not only on improving one’s self but also improving the organization.”

In past years, the LDP team would travel to an offsite location where they would spend the day participating in team exercises, climbing towers and exploring tree top courses. This group chose a new approach for an offsite, keeping everyone’s feet on the ground, at the nearby park. The afternoon was spent on fun problem-solving activities.

“The rope courses done previously were always more of a personal challenge than a team challenge,” said Daryl Puffinburger, LDP graduate and program facilitator. “This year we wanted to put emphasis on team building and strengthening.”

The three facilitators used a few exercises they had previously learned but also researched and invented a few of their own. They led the group through six activities in several locations throughout the park, allowing everyone to use their creative skills to engage in solving the puzzles.

“During the activities, no one sat back and let everyone else do the work,” said Thomas. “Everyone put in their two cents worth. You are only going to get out what you put into it, and you are only going to help the group if you are able to step out of your comfort zone.”

Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Rusty Sears also participated in the group activities, working with the Tier II members. He commended them on a successful start to their program and added, “My challenge for you is to drop your ego and open yourself up to new experiences.”

At the start of the day, each member was assigned the task of observing someone in the group and how he or she reacted during the activities. As a wrap-up exercise, each person provided feedback on what was learned from that experience.

“Feedback is good,” said Puffinburger. “Feedback is when you have to say the hard things at times. You have to be able to hear it, accept it, and learn from it. I was always taught that feedback is like a gift. You can take it and use it; take it and throw it away; or take it and regift it. You just have to remember that it is not good or bad; it is just learning about yourself and how others perceive you.”

“I am an introvert by nature, but that doesn’t work for a leader,” Sears said. “I got a lot of great feedback in the Army and learned that you can have a lot of respect for someone who can give you that information.”

The facilitators have had good experiences with the LDP programs and expect this LDP group will succeed. This program will continue through September. During this time, they will attend sessions on leadership and mentoring, self awareness and personal effectiveness, leadership philosophy, making a change, empowering people in their relationships, effective communication and making presentations, and understanding the organization and senior leadership.

The group will meet monthly and will be given a large group project that will enable them to apply their new skills. After graduation, the 12 members will each be assigned individual utilization assignments working with various groups and committees that will help improve the organization.