Leadership Program Seeks to 'Operationalize Diversity'

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Do you know how you are wired?

"When we understand our own personality, when we learn about ourselves, we can better understand the people who we are working with," said Capt. Donald Davenport, a KC-135 pilot with the 171st Air Refueling Squadron. "The question they keep asking us is 'how are you wired?'"

Davenport was one of about 60 students who participated in one of two Leadership Challenge Programs at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., the week of April 30. The goal of the program, organizers said, is to "operationalize diversity."

"We know everyone is different," said Senior Master Sgt. Joe Stevens, human resource advisor for the 127th Wing at Selfridge, which organized the training program. "We want to take advantage of the fact that everyone has different ideas and different ways to get things done."

A highlight of the two-and-a-half day training program was a capstone presentation by Lt. Gen. (ret.) Daniel James III, the most recent former director of the National Guard. James, a former fighter pilot, offered several pieces of advice:

· Talk to your boss. "Find out what are the two or three most important things to him or her. What does your boss expect from you and what do you expect. You need to ask them - and tell them."

· "Be aware of what signals you are sending, both good and bad." The general relayed a story about his days as a pilot in Vietnam. Then, he and several of the other pilots had a habit on some nights of having boisterous parties at the club. One night, James, who is African-American, was pulled aside by a young staff sergeant. The sergeant explained that when James was carrying on, even though he was part of a group of other, white pilots, James was recognizable - and that created a negative image for other African-Americans on the base, including the staff sergeant. James said that he changed some of his behavior because of that conversation. More than 20 years later, shortly after James was named adjutant general in Texas, he was pulled over by a state police trooper. The trooper was in fact that former staff sergeant. "He pulled me over because he knew it was me and he said, 'See, I knew you would do OK,'" the general said with a chuckle.

· "It isn't about you. It is about the organization." The general admonished the students to remember that the name of the organization is at the top of the letterhead and the name of the individual is at the bottom of the signed letter.

· "Take control of your schedule, or it will take care of you.

· Always continue to learn. James said that he is always reading a book, generally in a rotation of three categories, one on some aspect of leadership, one on a topic he knows little about and then one just for fun, like a 'whodunit' mystery. "I always have a book going," he said. "There's always a tidbit to be gleamed." James said he is currently reading "The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell" by Oren Harari. Powell is a former Army four-star general who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as U.S. Secretary of State.

While James himself was never assigned to Selfridge, he does have a family history with the base. James' late father, Gen. Daniel James Jr., was the first African-American four-star general in the U.S. military. The elder James was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen group who helped abolish the color barrier that existed in the military before and during World War II. James Jr. received his fighter pilot combat training at what was then known as Selfridge Field and was part of a unit that endured extreme prejudice and racial hazing.

"That is part of our history as a nation," the younger James said. "Even in times of great challenge, you have to persevere."