Leadership is a key ingredient for all organizations. In the professional acquisition community and others like it, functional experts can quickly find themselves in situations where they need more leadership dexterity when promoted to fill key leadership positions.
The best leaders not only continue learning new leadership techniques throughout their careers; they also develop and mentor leadership within the organization to enable:
More and more leaders have started to make strategic investments in the professional development of their personnel. They know the vital importance of long-range planning, which includes the people variable—one of the keys to an organization’s long-term success. In the last 6 years, the Defense Acquisition University has had the good fortune to be part of their learning through its Acquisition Leadership Development Workshop (ALDW) series. These workshops provide a mixture of hard-hitting content and practical exercises representing typical workplace challenges.
Acquisition Leadership Development Workshops Explained
At its core, such workshops promote the development of leadership skills that the acquisition workforce requires through customized training solutions based on workplace needs. Organizations can select from a variety of workshop variations. The sample modules along with their focus areas are outlined in Table 1 and were distilled from a wide range of parent DAU courses.
This “menu” of workshop options are especially applicable for intact teams to help them work together to explore and develop (or refine) their skills. With few exceptions, each workshop module is a standalone topic; although many modules work in tandem when integrated and embody a greater understanding of the leadership essentials. Leadership workshops can be applied to grow leadership skills in junior personnel, or perhaps more rigorously help senior leaders explore complex and impending leadership challenges they sometimes face. Simply stated, an acquisition leadership workshop is a very flexible construct that can address organizational imperatives at all levels, especially those that pave the way for high-performance teams.
Such workshops can start with a discussion on leading up, down and across, or ignite the participants’ interest with a critical thinking challenge. No matter what the facilitator uses at the starting gate, the participants quickly learn more about the deeper context of leadership and the extensive tools that are at their disposal. To enrich the workshop experience, DAU facilitators draw from their technical knowledge and personal experiences to reinforce the lessons learned from similar leadership challenges they faced. Workshop participants need not be employed in acquisition-coded positions to attend the workshop. Unlike other training solutions, there are no prerequisites—just two expectations that participants need to: (1) approach these workshops with open minds and (2) demonstrate a willingness to think more about their own thinking (i.e., metacognition) as they learn how to put proven methods into action.
Table 2 shows how workshop modules can be aligned for growth and alignment within intended focus areas (e.g., self-development, skills for leadership, skills for teams, and stakeholder relationships).
These delivery combinations can also include modules that focus on self-examination and evaluation—all key tools that promote more self-awareness such as shown in Table 3.
Since intact teams very often face challenges (and future opportunities) that require agreement, the delivery combinations can include modules that help teams break through various decision logjams characteristic of some workplace challenges:
In a more magnified view, Figure 1 shows how a module focused on building (or restoring) trust can be addressed in a customized ALDW. The resultant practical exercise includes a structured activity model that drives to the root cause of a known case of mistrust followed by the steps and strategy to restore trust. After the participants complete a rigorous exercise, their commander is asked to join the workshop for a decision brief, which includes a review of their strategic plan to guide the workforce and specific performance targets to verify the participants achieved their targets. The participants take a lot of pride in their plans, and show a great eagerness to hear their commander say, “Make it so.”
Stakeholder management has become more and more crucial in promoting leadership gains, and DAU developed a series of workshops that address stakeholder management, including:
What Can You Expect in the Workshop?
In addition to our commitment to best meet the needs of acquisition professionals, DAU provides certified and seasoned facilitators. Our facilitators help participants collectively understand their risks and issues, investigate the solution space and develop actionable recommendations. This last item is all about ownership and leaves the intact team with the responsibility to implement the actions to achieve the intended outcomes. As the participants craft their own heading, they also become ideally suited to serve as the actions’ champions back in the workplace. Something else happens at these workshops that is less apparent at the beginning: After the first couple of hours, the participants not only are exposed to some very relevant material but form conspicuous bonds within the team and can serve as the guiding coalition across the organization to see the required changes through to their conclusions.
What Past Participants Have to Say
If testimonials indicate the usefulness of ALDWs, the comments below reinforce the reports of its efficacy. More important, what measurable impacts have these ALDWs had? Note that many customers were very grateful but preferred not to be quoted. The following statements were made by a representative group that volunteered to be quoted:
Author Spring’s Leadership Retrospect
As a former Army officer, whether a platoon leader in Vietnam, an Experimental Test Pilot team lead, a major acquisition program manager, a NASA astronaut, or a division manager with industry, I have experienced the requirement for continuous growth in different types of leadership and the need for various tools and techniques for both my personal success and that of my programs in different environments. In many instances, I wish I could have had an organization like DAU available to me to help facilitate the issues and challenges my programs and I faced on our journey to success. Leading programs—to be able to function without you, mentoring subordinates to be leaders, enabling organizational innovation, trust, and responsibility and leaving programs in better condition to succeed than when you assumed the leadership are universal leadership challenges. John Larson, this article’s co-author, and I thoroughly enjoy our current jobs as DAU professors and our involvement with Mission Assistance workshops in the workplace and at the point of need. We are not alone; every DAU Mission Assistance facilitator feels the same way.
Does your organization require a shot of energy to gain the learning lift it needs? With a booster shot of the leadership “knowhow,” found in our Acquisition Leadership Development Workshops, organizations can achieve noticeable performance gains with greater efficiency and effectiveness. How can we help you? Visit the DAU website at www.dau.mil or contact DAU at firstname.lastname@example.org. Depending on your need, we may recommend an organizational assessment survey tailored to your organization which is intentionally designed to uncover any issues (See Spring’s article—“Take a Deep Dive with DAU” in the January-February 2017 issue of Defense AT&L magazine). Based on survey results, DAU would then have enough objective data to help you determine the most appropriate workshop agenda that draws from the modules described above. Contact us for your leadership inoculation, today.
Woody Spring, a graduate of West Point and former NASA astronaut, is a professor of Engineering, Test and Evaluation at the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) West Region in San Diego, California, as well as chief learning officer and executive coach. John Larson, a retired U.S. Navy commander, is a DAU professor of Systems Engineering in San Diego. He is Level III certified in Life Cycle Logistics; Production, Quality and Manufacturing; Systems Planning, Research, Development and Engineering (SPRDE); and Program Management.
The authors can be contacted at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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