Leadership Through Self Awareness Education Essay

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In response to the needs of an agrarian economy, President Abraham Lincoln established the United States Department of Agriculture in 1862. Since its inception, the USDA has provided assistance to farmers, educated rural youth, and ensured the production, distribution, and nutritional value of foods. Although farm related research was conducted within USDA, it was not until 1953 that the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) was created as the principal in-house research agency charged with solving agricultural problems that affect Americans including the safety and quality of foods. I joined the ARS as a Research Microbiologist at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa in 1991 where my research focused on food borne pathogens and in particular controlling Salmonella in swine. Salmonella is a zoonotic bacterial pathogen which can be passed between animals and humans primarily through contaminated foodstuffs. I studied the transmission and persistence of Salmonella within swine herds in an attempt to develop mitigation and control strategies. A sentinel finding was the observation that Salmonella can also be transmitted aerogenously. This was important as dogma described Salmonella as a fecal-oral pathogen. The fact that it could be transmitted by aerosols was a critical observation in the development of mitigation strategies.

Recognizing that the development of antimicrobial resistance was emerging as a global problem my work also included study of the development of resistance to antimicrobials used in veterinary and human medicine. This is important as antimicrobial use in animals may lead to the development of resistant food borne and commensal bacteria. If resistant bacteria are transferred to humans and antimicrobials are warranted to control disease (particularly in the young, the elderly and the immunocompromised), they may be less effective and lead to increased morbidity and mortality. In 1996 the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) program was established as a partnership between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). While the FDA and CDC focused on antimicrobial resistance in food borne and commensal bacteria from retail meats and humans, respectively, I became the USDA lead and focused on antimicrobial resistance in bacteria isolated from animals. NARMS is recognized globally and has served as a model upon which other countries developed resistance monitoring programs.

Following a transfer to the ARS laboratory in Athens, GA in 1997 I was selected as Research Leader for the newly formed Antimicrobial Resistance Research Unit. This afforded me the unique and rare opportunity to build a research program from inception. I subsequently hired six scientists and 20 plus staff members to study the persistence and transmission of antimicrobial resistant food borne and commensal bacteria isolated from animals. In 2004, I also envisioned a complementary program to the CDCs PulseNet program, USDA VetNet, which serves to characterize the relatedness of food borne pathogens at the molecular level. This is critical when tracing the source(s) of contamination during food borne outbreaks.

I am a big-picture person with a high degree of research acumen; I know what it takes to not only build a program, but to sustain it in uncertain times. I was confident in my ability to build coalitions within the research and customer communities but less confident in my ability to build coalitions at the political and international levels. My supervisor recommended the Leadership for a Democratic Society course as a means of assessing my potential at the executive level. Following completion of the course I realized that completion of the LEAD Certificate program would provide additional tools to build coalitions at the executive, political and international levels. This paper describes the leadership lessons learned and my growth as a leader.

Course Content Highlights, Lessons Learned and Applications:

Leadership for a Democratic Society (LDS). I completed this course on 4/2/2010 utilizing the split 2 week format. LDS provided a broad overview of the requirements needed for leading a global society as well as enabling participants to explore individual strengths and weaknesses as current leaders. We were expected to demonstrate leadership within a small group as well as within the class. Self-awareness was a key component of the course and we were afforded the opportunity for future development through study of the past. Prior to LDS I did not fully understand the value and need of 'knowing one's self' at the deepest level possible. I believed I knew who I was; now I know who I was not. The demands placed upon today's leaders require that we meet challenges head on, fix problems quickly and well, and implement a vision for the future. Our forefathers provided invaluable examples of leadership that have transcended time.

Lessons learned: It is incumbent that we not suffer burnout. This can only be achieved by taking care of ourselves both physically and mentally. Working smart versus long hours is critical when leading people. Burnout can be particularly troublesome when mental fatigue sets in and underperformance becomes the norm. Understanding the impact physical and mental health has on an organization is particularly important to move an organization forward and deal with crisis as it arises. Humor is also an important component of leadership. Demonstrating that there are light moments can strengthen collaborations as well as mitigate stress. True leaders keep their egos in check.

The importance of understanding our own personality preference as well as those of staff members cannot be underemphasized. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality inventory and the 360 instrument are tools used to understand management preference and provide a perception of how others see us. It was invaluable to define my personality type (ENFP) and the difference between peer, subordinate and supervisor evaluations. It was also informative to understand that peers see the end result while staff members live the management style of their leader. I did not deal with conflict well. Understanding the source of conflict, resolving conflict quickly, and providing a means to mitigate future conflict is critical for organizational productivity and expansion. Conflict resolution is hard; ignoring conflict is a disaster. Avoiding conflict is impossible.

Nowhere did we learn that any one leader was, or is, perfect. Government was and continues to be imperfect. These were lessons from great leaders including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison. An individual's beliefs and convictions form the basis for establishing their values. In an article by Bill George et al. published in the Harvard Business Review in February 2007, leadership principles were described as 'values translated into action'. No one person can understand their true set of values until they are tested in difficult times. True leaders are self-aware, demonstrate unwavering values in difficult times, and build coalitions that provide perspective and support in both good and difficult times. Our founding fathers were true leaders. Emulating leadership as embraced by our founding fathers in today's society requires no less commitment to our values. Further, we must also have a clear understanding of the values embraced by global partners. Without this, conflict is inevitable.

Senior Executive Assessment Program. This course was completed on 12/10/2010 and provided an overview of the requirements and expectations of a senior executive, described the five Executive Core Qualifications, and provided an assessment of our readiness and potential to enter the Senior Executive Service. A common theme carried over from LDS included the need for self-awareness. My 360 instrument demonstrated the positive changes in perception that occurred following implementation of corrective actions regarding my ability to manage conflict.

Lessons learned: The five highest rated leadership competencies include (in decreasing order of rank) integrity/honesty, leveraging diversity, interpersonal skills, technical credibility, and partnering. Leveraging diversity is required for cultural transformation and both are required to make our workforce more diverse, inclusive and representative. This is critical as we expand our global partnerships. Visionary leaders embrace diversity and leverage each person's unique contribution to meet business objectives. While honesty and integrity are absolute requirements for leadership, only leaders that embrace a 'multi-everything' workplace will achieve success in a global culturally complex society.

I understand that wanting to be a senior executive and executing as a senior executive are mutually exclusive. While highly competent leaders are the backbone of many organizations, not all leaders are able to function at an executive level. Executives must be able to execute and serve new leadership while balancing continuity and change. They must have well founded and grounded values, understand that people who work within the organization are their greatest treasure, and provide a vision for the future. Work life balance is critical and continues as a theme from LDS. Prior to applying for a senior executive position an honest assessment of one's abilities, values, tolerance for sacrifice and ability to translate vision into action is critical. The most successful senior executive exerts more influence behind the scenes than out in front of the organization; they determine whether an organizations survives (well) through turbulent times.

Having a passion for one's work strongly influences success. The Passion Revealer Assessment provided an analysis of activities in which a person is most likely to succeed. Therefore, the success of an organization can hinge upon ensuring complementary passions among executives. This solidified my view that a senior executive must understand that not everyone within an organization shares their passion. Ensuring continuity of an organization can be achieved through a holistic approach, particularly in a global environment in which the diversity of passions is magnified.

Leading Through Constructive Conflict. This course was completed on 4/6/2011 and provided an in depth opportunity to explore the pros and cons of conflict within leadership as well as additional feedback through completion of the Conflict Dynamics Profile 360. A systems approach to conflict management was also described. Conflict is inevitable; how we deal with conflict results in personal growth or destruction. Successful organizations recognize, prevent, and manage conflict on a continual basis.

Lessons learned: Conflict involves feelings; often these feelings are intense and reflect passion (good or bad) about a situation. It was instructional to learn that conflict occurs in all venues, often by surprise, escalates through neglect, and provides a real opportunity for growth. I was particularly struck by the quote from Benjamin Disraeli 'Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth'. Conflict is an emotional response to something we care about (our truth) that may not be shared by others. However, if we decide to discuss conflict in an open, neutral environment free from fear of retaliation we can resolve conflict in a manner that ensures personal growth. This was a powerful lesson and is apparent in organizations in which employees are most satisfied with their workplace environment.

Dealing with conflict is hard and takes work; change occurs in baby steps. Through feedback from the Conflict Dynamics Profile it was apparent that I needed to continue to make changes in the way I deal with conflict; delay in dealing with conflict is destructive. The coaching sessions were invaluable and confirmed that as subordinates see positive change, they expect it to continue. However, it was also important to learn that engaging subordinates in honest discourse and defining their role in managing conflict is critical for mitigating future conflict.

Three types of awareness are critical in conflict management: self, team and organizational. I must understand how I act in conflict and define my attitudes and beliefs about conflict. I must also understand how my team handles conflict and what their attitudes and beliefs are about conflict. Managing conflict involves the use of five styles of behavior: accommodate, avoid, compete, compromise, and collaborate. Each style can be used as the situation dictates. No style is 'right' or 'wrong', they just are and successful leaders utilize all five styles.

Dynamics of Public Policy. This course was completed on 12/8/2011 and provided an overview of the roles and influence of the President, Congress, media and the public in policy development, implementation and acceptance. There is an interesting and dynamic interplay that occurs within and between each of these players in policy making. Each synonym for influence (power, persuasion, pressure, sway, authority, weight, control and manipulation) has a very different meaning and is used by each player in different ways and at different times during policy making.

Lessons learned: Developing policy involves 10 distinct processes the most important of which is program adoption (also known as the path of legislation). Problems can be defined, agendas set, and policy formulated. However, a means for budgeting and appropriating funds, establishing regulations, scheduling implementation, evaluating and revising and changing the policy hinges on legislative approval of the policy. Power networks (stakeholders and decision makers) are some of the most influential players during this part of the process. A critical lesson for leaders is the need to involve stakeholders early in the process to ensure policy support.

A simple definition of public policy is whatever the government chooses to do or not to do. Public opinion is often gathered through the use of polls. How strongly the public feels about an issue affects polling results. Therefore, it is important to attach a level of transparency to polling questions - does a person 'care' about the issue. It was very instructive to deconstruct several methods employed by groups measuring public opinion. Methods can vary significantly between groups and result in significantly different outcomes. Therefore, it is critical when assessing public opinion to understand the methods used by the polling group(s).

Perhaps the most influential player in the policy process is the media. They can drive public opinion and often transfer their own opinion to influence the policy process. Reading a wide variety of papers affords a quick overview of the breadth and depth of differences in public opinion related to a policy. By assuming the role of reporter during the class I demonstrated the ease with which 'spin' can be used to influence opinion. Understanding the power of the written word is important regardless of whether a policy is government-wide or agency specific.

Leadership for a Global Society. This course was completed on 8/24/2012 and provided an overview of the intercultural communications and awareness required to lead within a global society. Leading and influencing global partners involves building coalitions, negotiating, partnering and collaborating. The role of the United States in the world as well as with specific countries including China, Russia, Latin America, and Europe were explored.

Lessons learned: Adoption of a constitution sets the stage for establishing a political system within a country or region. A 'rule of law' is established. Sham constitutions have no means of restraining power. Partnering on a global level requires leaders to understand how each country establishes its government and enforces its laws. This provides a true test of one's values in tough times particularly when opposing constitutional countries must interact. 'Know thyself' as an individual must be elevated to 'know thy country'. This is a far greater challenge and responsibility required of global leaders.

While there is a common global language and the same words are used in many countries, these same words often have different meanings in different countries. Therefore, translation is critical. This is best achieved through partnership with trusted and knowledgeable partners.

Negotiations require an acceptance that attitudes and relationships are as important as negotiating skills. Knowing what makes you a stakeholder (principle-based interest) is a key component of the negotiation process in addition to effective communication, productive education, and responsible use of power. Global leaders understand what their limits are, what results they want to achieve and that everyone team member must have equal ownership of the process.

END NOTE: Each lesson can be applied at every level within an organization. Successful organizations will provide opportunities for employees to become self-aware, manage conflict, communicate effectively, influence work units, and negotiate with peers who hold completely different values, views and levels of expertise.

Leadership Growth and Development

The 2 most important lessons I learned involved self-awareness and the value of conflict. Not only must I know who I am, I must also know who I can become. This involves understanding my leadership strengths and weaknesses and continually modifying my leadership style to maximize my strengths while minimizing the impact of my weaknesses. Conflict can also provide a tremendous opportunity for learning and growth.

I was particularly inspired by the instructors in the LDS class. The course content was presented in a manner that left me wanting to know more. During the break between sessions I was motivated to read additional books on leadership. I was also inspired through the evening discussions with instructors during the Leadership for a Global Society course. They have an enviable knowledge of global affairs and shared remarkable stories of interactions with our global partners.

In discussion with instructors I came to understand that weaknesses provide opportunities for growth and that I alone control my leadership style. I chose to pursue the LEAD Certificate as a result of the encouragement and feedback I received from instructors in each of these five courses. They enabled me to see that I am a competent and compassionate leader with vision. My definition of leadership is 'bringing out the best in people to meet organizational goals'. A leader is not defined by a team of 1.

Actions Taken or Planned

I arranged for my team to take the MBTI which included discussion of our personality types within the group. Further I also arranged for instruction on crucial conversations and managing conflict. As a result of these activities tensions, which had been building, were mitigated. On a personal level I now meet conflict head-on and embrace the opportunity to discuss the conflict which is often based on two different views of achieving the same outcome. Now, staff are more likely to discuss and resolve conflict first as they understand that I will deal with unresolved conflict immediately. It is my intention to provide further self-awareness opportunities for myself and staff members to ensure that high productivity is maintained.

Feedback on the LEAD Program (optional and not rated)

While I liked everything about the LEAD Program I was most impressed with the Leadership for a Democratic Society class. LDS set the stage for every other course and I was more than impressed that the lessons and themes learned in LDS were repeated in subsequent classes. I highly encourage you to maintain this format and the lessons taught. They have become an invaluable part of my leadership style.

One change I would make is the provision for follow-up over time to assess what is continuing to work and what isn't.


Leadership is complex, dynamic, and requires continual reassessment. One key component of leadership is self-awareness which includes an understanding of one's values. True leaders maintain their values during difficult times. Common themes resonated in each course: self-awareness, constructive conflict, diversity, influence and negotiation. Global leadership requires an understanding of the values and goals of each country we partner with. With the expansion of travel, deforestation, and emergence of new and deadly diseases the USDA must be prepared to meet the challenges of producing and ensuring the safety of foods on a global level. It is my goal to acquire an executive level position and develop food safety policy at the global level.

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Certificate

Capstone Paper Review & Rating

To be completed by OPM staff

Candidate's Name: _______________________________ Date of Review: ________

Level of LEAD Certificate (Check one): ¨ Team Lead ¨ Supervisor ¨ Manager

¨ Executive ¨ Professional Leader

Evaluator Name: _______________________________________

Rater Instructions: Please review the LEAD Capstone paper and indicate your ratings against the Capstone paper guidance. Your Overall Rating will be taken as the rating of record. Please provide comments as you deem appropriate. If your initial Overall Rating is Fail, please provide comments that will assist the candidate in re-writing the Capstone to reach a Pass rating. Once you have determined your final rating, please email this form to Claire Thurston for further processing. Thank you for your time.





Course Content Highlights, Lessons Learned and Applications

Leadership Growth and Development

Actions Taken or Planned

Feedback on the LEAD Program (optional and not rated)


Capstone Paper Format

Overall Rating