Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Chief of Staff Air Force Col. Christopher Tooman shared his experience on the subject of “Leading Through Change,” with more than 90 military and civilian DLA Land and Maritime associates during the monthly Leadership Development Council meeting held virtually May 17.
Tooman assumed chief of staff duties for DLA Land and Maritime in 2021, and is part of the senior leadership team that oversees more than 2,600 associates at 37 locations worldwide.
Prior to being selected, Tooman spent the last 33 years acquiring a vast array of leadership knowledge and wisdom as he advanced through the ranks of the Air Force. Tooman has served as a squadron commander, deputy group commander, officer in charge for aviation maintenance units and most recently as the 715th Air Mobility Operations Group deputy commander at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Tooman began his presentation by introducing himself and providing an overview of his professional background and experience; then transitioned to focus on the more personal aspects of being a leader and a peer, and not merely a scripted biography.
“So, why did I take all the time to show you guys a little bit about myself,” Tooman rhetorically asked. “People want to know about you, as their leader, they want to know a little bit about what makes you tick. They want to know that you're a person, that you're normal, you're not just a picture on the wall, not just the bio on the sheet.”
Tooman concluded his introduction by summarizing his view on leadership, stating he feels it is important for leaders to remember they’re leading people, and people want to be led by a person, not a computer or a series of checklists; they don’t want to be led by somebody, they want to be led by a person.
To address the theme of “Leading Through Change,” Tooman spoke on three core concepts during this presentation: What Has Changed, Why is Change Hard, and What Can You Do. Each concept intended to personalize and engage those viewing the presentation.
Tooman spoke to the fact that over the past two years, everyone was confronted with change. Regardless of status at DLA. Whether or not they were experienced or first-time supervisors, new to Land and Maritime or experienced, the past two years forced everyone to lead in new ways.
“I guess, a lot of people would venture to say the world's changed,” Tooman said. “Some of you may remember at the beginning of March 2020, we decided, the world was going to shut down due to the coronavirus. But what did that do from a work standpoint? Everybody left the building, making it look a little bit like a zombie apocalypse. Everyone gathered their things and left, and we had to figure out how to accomplish our mission in a completely different model.”
Tooman continued by talking about the changes brought forth as a result of the global pandemic like communications, virtual interactions, lifestyle changes, increased stress loads, and yet despite all the challenges the workforce was presented with, they still found a way to achieve the mission.
Over the duration of his presentation, Tooman addressed why change is hard and what leaders can do during times of change. To ensure everyone was on the same page, Tooman reiterated that the word change means to do something different than you’ve done in the past.
“People are resistant to change,” Tooman said. “It requires resisting well-established patterns and requires intentional effort.”
Tooman continued to address why change is hard by highlighting numerous barriers to change such as individuals being comfortable in their routines, or with the status quo, being unclear as to why change is required, the benefits of change and fear of change, and lack of required support.
“I read an article in the Wall Street Journal on supervisors that stated a recent study revealed that 83% of employees felt emotionally drained over the past two years,” Tooman said. “Not from work necessarily, but that they're emotionally drained from all the work-life issues they have encountered over this time period. However, the bigger part that I really want you guys to take away is 59% of those surveyed said supervision does not provide enough support. Think about that. Nearly 60% of the workforce felt they weren’t getting the support they needed during this time of change.”
He continued to share that these numbers were pulled from employees working for Fortune 500 companies, but he believes it serves as a great indicator that in general leaders everywhere may not be as in tune with our associates, as we should be. Tooman continued by suggesting leaders spend more time focusing on the needs of associates, helping them understand what's going on during periods of change.
To conclude his presentation, Tooman presented his tips for what action steps leaders can take to effectively lead during change. The list included:
- Remember that you are managing your associates stress as well as your own
- Your people are humans first, associates second
- Be a stabilizing force for your people
- Level emotions, filter what you can
- Be as transparent as possible
- Practice your people skills
The LDC fosters leadership and critical decision-making skills by providing the DLA Land and Maritime workforce with continuous learning opportunities through education forums, networking and professional events. Membership continues to be open and associates interested in more information may contact the LDC through their membership email at DLALMLDCMembership@dla.mil.