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News | Jan. 1, 2022

Leadership Reflection: Mike Cannon

DLA Disposition Services Public Affairs

Mike Cannon

Mike Cannon in blue suit in front of American flag and the SES flag
Mike Cannon
Official photo of DLA Disposition Services Director Mike Cannon
Photo By: Jace Armstrong
VIRIN: 211215-D-OS362-100
Director, DLA Disposition Services
Battle Creek, Michigan

Can you tell us about yourself? I’m a grandfather of three, father of two and husband of one. I spent 33 years as active duty in the United States Air Force – eight years enlisted and 25 years commissioned. I led DLA Disposition Services for about seven months on active duty and loved the people and mission so much I opted to retire and apply for the directorship.

Describe your job in a sentence or two. I lead a joint team of over 1,600 professionals who execute the DOD global disposal/reverse logistics mission. I provide direction, guidance, leadership, and top cover.

How long have you worked for the federal government including military service? I spent 33 years, 3 months, and 5 days in uniform (but who’s counting?) and have been a civil servant for just over 7 years. That’s a total of just over 40 years of service.

How long have you worked for DLA Disposition Services? It’ll be eight years in April. Although I do like to count my time in Kuwait/Iraq as the DLA DST commander as “DLA Disposition Services” time, as most issues I worked were related to the Iraq drawdown and site closures.

Awards/Recognition: I have several, but only my mom would be impressed.

What was your first interaction with DLA Disposition Services (including any legacy names)?
Great story. I was a young airman at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois, and saw a sign for a DPDO auction. I stopped in and bought two Hot Shots for $2.

A Hot Shot is like a small coffee maker that rapidly heats water to dispense in a cup or mug for tea, cocoa, instant coffee, ramen, etc.

I kept one in my dorm room and took one to work. At our worksite, the lock on the door to one of the buildings always froze shut during the winter. My boss, Staff Sgt. Neason, would heat the knob with his Zippo to get the key to work, usually burning his hand. The first day with the Hot Shot, I heated some water, moved him and his Zippo away from the door, poured the water on the lock and opened the door. No fuss, no muss, no burns. As I walked back to the break room, he said “Cannon, you’re going places!”

As an NCO, I upgraded most of our workstations, ohm meters, and tools via reutilization, saving the squadron a lot of money.

Later, as a lieutenant, I had a nicer desk than the commander thanks to DRMO. She was a bit miffed but got over it when I got her a nicer desk from the local DRMO, as well. So, I’ve been using us as a source of supply from the beginning. Getting a lot of kudos for it was just a bonus.

Where do you see DLA Disposition Services as the agency looks onward to its next 50 years?
We have been near the front end of innovation and technology, especially considering the work we perform. We were some of the first to go to a PC platform for our records. We took advantage of the World Wide Web for RTD earlier than most in DLA.

I see us continuing to leverage technology to better support the warfighter. Scanning and item recognition technology, mobile computing/receiving/processing, new methods of disposing of hazardous waste, and even de-manufacturing additively manufactured items to break them down into reusable components are all very likely for our future.

I see two things that won’t change, though. First, is our dedication to support the warfighter wherever and whenever they need us. How we do that might change, but that core mission will remain a constant. And second, is our reliance on a dedicated and professional workforce – civilians, active military, reservists, local nationals, and contractors – to execute that mission.

What are some of your favorite memories with DLA Disposition Services? I really enjoy my site visits and the time I get to interact with our people. There are too many to mention, but my first no-notice site visit (Fort Sill) was a good one.

What is your favorite thing about your line of work? I have the best job in all DLA. I’m a Major Subordinate Command commander/director (the only civilian one in the agency).

We have a very cool and unique mission which few outside of DLA Disposition Services understand.

I’m the senior person at the DLA Battle Creek site and my boss is 700 miles away. But what I like most is getting to support the warfighter while surrounded by a world-wide network of professionals in DLA Disposition Services and support from the HQ J/D code organizations.

I was a warfighter for decades and my son is currently serving. I like to think in some small way, that I’m supporting him and his wingmen.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given you? I was an aide/executive officer for Maj. Gen. Bobby Floyd and was staying late. He asked me if I had anything going on, I told him both of my children had sports events. He told me to go. I explained that the colonel directed me not to leave him alone in the office. He pointed to his stars and reminded me that two stars trumps an eagle. Then he said this: “Your family doesn’t miss you when they are asleep.” He went on to explain that whatever I did at 6 p.m., nobody would arrive to work until 7 a.m., so I should go home and spend time with my family. Come in very early, if necessary, so the work is done by the time the next person comes in. He reminded me that family is more important than work. One day we will all stop working. We need to make sure we have a family to go home to and we don’t neglect them because of controllable work situations.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? Integrity.

What is your leadership philosophy and how does that tie into your line of work? Faith, family, and flag. Be true to yourself. Be consistent and approachable. Never stop learning. This is a big organization, and I didn’t grow up in the disposal part of logistics. Being approachable helps me get input and information I otherwise wouldn’t get. The more I know about reverse logistics, the more likely I am to ask the right questions, see anomalies and make good decisions.

How would you describe your leadership style and why has it worked so well for you? I try to lead from the front with openness and integrity. I hold myself to a higher standard than anybody else but expect everybody to be accountable for their actions. Don’t be overly cautious — it’s okay to make mistakes, but learn from them and don’t repeat them.

Can you share a story when you realized your efforts were making a difference? My first time on a HQ staff, I worked hard for years and hoped I made a difference. My second tour with HQ Air Mobility Command, I worked on three big issues. I developed the plan to pre-position CWDE assets in the CENTCOM theater so deploying airmen wouldn’t have to lug all that gear from their home stations. I developed the wartime spare parts package for the C-130J aircraft (new at the time) so they could “get to the fight” a year early. And I developed and found funding for the “Three Little Pigs” – the three C-130 aircraft transferred to the newly reestablished Iraqi Air Force. When I deployed later in that tour, I was issued my CWDE in Qatar, flew to Baghdad in a C-130J, and one of the first things I saw when I walked down the ramp at Sather AB were the Three Little Pigs.

How you approach change? Change is challenging but inevitable. I always look for the opportunities change will enable.

What keeps you motivated? Being able to make a positive difference in people’s lives, whether it is personal or professional.

What do you look for when evaluating top talent? People who are proven performers, who understand the issues related to the organization and have ideas on how to address them. I also look for people who are as or more interested in what they can do for the organization than what the organization can do for them.

What do you believe is your biggest accomplishment and why? With a lot of help from my wife, I raised two wonderful children. They are well-adjusted, responsible adults, great parents, patriotic citizens, and productive members of society.

What are your best practices for achieving goals or accomplishing tasks? Set difficult but achievable goals, provide clear intent on what the end state is, assign clear roles for the team (and myself), periodically and routinely check on the status (trust but verify), then sit back and watch them exceed your expectations. Finally, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.

What do you see as your biggest challenge right now? Dealing with the unknowns of White House, Congress, OPM, DOD and DLA approaches to the current work environment without adversely impacting our people and always meeting or exceeding mission requirements. Well, that, and getting old.

Why is networking to build professional relationships so important in achieving success? I often say, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. Having a network of strong contacts gives you access to advice, introductions to others, and an easy source of information that is far beyond your knowledge. Humans are social animals, so relationships are as important as competence and properly networking builds those relationships.

What mistakes have you seen individuals make that prevent them from being successful? There are three things you need to do to be marginally successful; come to work on time, do a good job (always), and be nice to people (be a team player). Any unsuccessful person probably has issues with one of those three things. There are three things that are typically career enders, regardless of performance, so you always need to be above board in these areas: money (yours and the taxpayers’), sex, and substance use/abuse.

What would you have done differently in your career if given the opportunity? There are several things I thought I might have done differently at the time, including taking different assignments, jobs, etc. But looking back from here, had I done anything differently, I would not be where I am now. And that is a very good place to be.

What is the most recent book(s) you have read? “Inside the Magic Kingdom – Seven Keys to Disney’s Success,” and Ephesians.

Tell us something that most people might not know about you? I was acknowledged by an author at the beginning of their novel. It’s a romance novel, but that still counts, right?

What was your first job? I had a newspaper route.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A forest ranger.

Who is your hero? It used to be my father. Now it is my son.

If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be? Play all day with my grandsons.

What are your hobbies? Jeeping, shooting sports, camping, and I dabble a bit in woodwork.

Is there anything else you would like to add? I am humbled and honored to be a part of such an amazing organization.