Land and Maritime Commander discusses leadership development principles

By Michael Jones DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs

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Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Commander Navy Rear Adm. John Palmer shared some essential management principles with Land and Maritime associates during a Leadership Development Council sponsored event Oct. 30 in the Building 20 Auditorium.

Before transitioning into his presentation, Palmer presented outgoing LDC President, William Brewington, with a coin in recognition of his outstanding council leadership and the group’s achievements. Additionally, incoming LDC President Christina McCoy and new LDC officers were introduced.

Palmer titled his presentation Into The Gray, and his central message was to link effective leadership development to organizational contribution and career success, whether it be in military or civilian service.

Palmer spoke about the focus areas of a military officer’s career during the first 10 years. “The Navy puts its officers in a leadership role from day one during that first 10-year period,” Palmer said.

He explained that leadership skills are then nurtured throughout the early part of military careers, enabling gradual and observable growth in the officer’s journey to be becoming an exceptional leader.

Contrasting the process to the civilian leadership development model, Palmer said civilians focus more on spending the first 10 years of their careers becoming experts in the business operations areas, often not getting the opportunity to practice the leadership development skillset a military officer might receive during that same timeframe.

Separating leadership development into two critical areas of leadership and management, Palmer said understanding them is prerequisite to acquiring the critical thinking capability that’s fundamental to mastering the practice of operating within the gray space, an area of expanded critical thinking and problem solving.

Defining leadership as more of an art and management as more of a science, Palmer explained how they complemented one another in the pursuit of leadership development, military or civilian, with the demand being to navigate them both. Within each of these skillsets were subsets that included critical characteristics like vision, priorities, understanding people, knowing your business and planning and communication. Though not a complete listing, they support leadership development, helping transition emerging leaders as they encounter more challenging roles and exercise more critical thought processes in solving increasingly complex organizational issues.

“As a person gets more senior, gray space discussions become more important,” Palmer said. “There’s more on the line, because your credibility is the currency of the realm.”

Palmer recounted a story that emphasized the importance of gray space awareness involving a junior officer working a small business issue at a previous command.

Essentially, the decision-making process of the junior officer was still evolving, and they hadn’t fully comprehended the significance of gray space discussions. After some investigation of the situation, Palmer interceded, both mentoring the junior officer through the resolution of this gray space encounter and engaging and providing a satisfactory solution. His intervention helped the officer’s leadership growth by understanding the shifting expectation to broader critical thinking as career advancement opportunities unfold.

The message for all aspiring leaders during the presentation was that a vital part of leadership development must include understanding the importance of their role and being prepared to demonstrate support through providing well studied, data driven narratives to advance their organization’s business interests. In Land and Maritime’s case that interest is whatever provides the best support to the warfighter.

Palmer said that communications and interpersonal skills are extremely important when involved in gray space discussions. “In the world of critical thinking, there are a lot of dimensions to these conversations. You represent your team, it’s more than just showing and going,” Palmer said.

He explained that mastering the command of gray space communication is challenging because every developing leader must become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, which generally occurs during engagements in decision making that extend beyond basic problem-solving considerations.

Palmer reminded those gathered that gray space interactions very often involve strategic negotiations, with leaders leaving those negotiations wishing they got a little more from the interaction, but ultimately being satisfied that they didn’t lose a lot.

Palmer concluded his presentation by tying the importance of ethics in the role of leadership development before opening to questions from the audience.