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News | May 12, 2022

Leadership forum kicks off with inspiration for potential leaders

By Nancy Benecki

The Defense Logistics Agency is planting the seeds of its legacy in potential future leaders.

During the Building Your Roadmap to Success leadership forum being held virtually May 11-13, more than 150 DLA employees at the GS-14 level are learning to harness their potential from DLA leaders and guest speakers.

“The purpose of this leadership forum is to inspire, develop and motivate the next generation of DLA leaders, which is all of you,” said Sharyn Saunders, the DLA Human Resources director. “Your organization recognizes that you are all self-motivated learners with a strong foundation of technical skills and leadership competencies.”

GS-14s were selected as the forum’s target audience because of where they are in their careers, DLA Vice Director Brad Bunn said during kickoff remarks.

“In some ways, it’s a way station on the way to further advancement,” Bunn said. “For some, you may feel like this is the pinnacle of your career. But you would not be part of this forum if you were not identified as someone who has potential to provide even higher-level leadership, whether it’s on the technical side or in managing people programs and part of the institution.”

Identifying new leaders is important to the future of the agency, he said, and DLA takes that seriously by offering development opportunities through programs like Pathways to Career Excellence, the Enterprise Leadership Development Program and the Executive Development Program.

“Those are not common across the federal space,” Bunn said. “As you think about your future and your career journey, I always point that out as a distinguishing feature of the Defense Logistics Agency.”

DLA Chief of Staff W. Eric Smith presented the forum’s first session, “Managing Aspirations and Professional Development,” and spoke to the event’s theme to “Aspire, engage, learn.”

He outlined his four steps to achieving career aspirations: preparing for opportunities, networking, mentoring and career development.

The best way to prepare for future opportunities is to succeed now rather than only focusing on the next position, he said.

“You are here today because someone noticed your potential,” Smith said. “So how did you get noticed? You were chosen by your leadership because they recognize that you are currently doing a very good job, and it convinced them you have potential for increasing responsibility and advancement.”

Networking is an art, he said, and not all networking is the same.

“A critical aspect of achieving your career aspirations is not necessarily who you know, but I would argue that rather it is who knows you,” Smith said. “That goes back to my first point about opportunity and how well you function in your current position.”

One doesn’t need to attend every event to be an effective networker, he said, and it can even be done at informal or social events with friends and co-workers.

Smith recommends having an elevator speech ready to let people know “who you are, what you will bring to whatever situation, and what you’re trying to aspire to,” he said.

If networking feels like a daunting task, Smith said finding a mentor can make it easier. When selecting a mentor, have a clear idea of the desired outcome of the relationship, he said, adding that one can have separate mentors for professional and personal guidance.

Some of the most competitive candidates for advancement have diverse, well-rounded backgrounds, Smith said. Staying in the same job at the same place may not be the way to go.

“Consider opportunities not only outside of your current position, but even outside of your current organization,” he said.

As with any well-thought-out plan, even a career development plan may not go as expected.

“You have to be willing to make and accept adjustments … so you may go sideways, maybe take a step back, but if you keep adjusting your plan and keep your eye on your goals, you will still achieve it,” Smith said. It just may look a little different.