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Excellence touted at Joint Women's Leadership Symposium

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 2012 Joint Women's Leadership Symposium was held in National Harbor, Md., March 5-6. Attendance was record-breaking with more than 1,700 participants across the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. At 33 weeks pregnant at the time of the symposium, I was surprised at the number of pregnant females attending (conveniently identifiable by the attractive uniform, which is apparently standard across all services); there were at least 15 that I counted. Being pregnant is a very visible sign of the question that many women in the military have, which is how to address the work-life balance question. While this topic was addressed at many of the panels, the overall, unofficial theme of the JWLS could be summed up in one phrase: Be Excellent. No matter what your gender, rank or job, if you always strive to do the very best you possibly can, you will excel and be recognized for your efforts.

The theme of excellence began with the first keynote speaker, my personal favorite, Michéle Flournoy. In February 2009, Flourney was appointed the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the highest position in the Department of Defense held by a female. Flournoy provided tenets of success that she has gleaned throughout her career. These tenets are applicable to all personnel, regardless of gender, rank or job. Her first piece of advice was that the best way to make an impact is to be excellent, in line with what I found to be a common theme across the speakers throughout the symposium. I was also struck by her advice to put the mission first when she described a sign in President Barack Obama's war room that states "No Ego, No Drama, This Is Not About You." She shared that if you don't care about who gets credit, you can do wonders.

In terms of work-life balance, she believes you can have it all, but not at the same time. She described the work-life balance as a sine curve and stated that sequencing is important. Essentially, you have to determine at what times the job comes first and at what times family comes first. Flournoy described her interview with Secretary Robert Gates, stating that she would do her best in the job, but if she couldn't make it home in time to see her children before bed, she wouldn't accept the position. She then went on to say that maintaining equilibrium is a dynamic process that involves regular reflection and balance. Most of the panelists who discussed the work-life balance stated that it is one of those things you have to work out for yourself and make the decisions that work best for your family; none said it was easy.

The second day of JWLS was broken into service-specific discussions. The keynote speaker for the Air Force portion was Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger. On  Feb. 6, Wolfenbarger was nominated by President Obama to become the first female four-star general in the Air Force. She is a member of the Air Force Academy's class of 1980, the first to have female graduates. Again, the advice imparted by Wolfenbarger is applicable regardless of gender, rank or job and begins with excellence. Her first piece of advice is to excel day in and day out on your job. Early in your career, you're responsible for a piece of the mission and you have the opportunity to become the expert on that piece. Some advice that Wolfenbarger shared that I found particularly striking was that you may not always have a choice in what life brings, but you have a choice in how to respond. She emphasized the importance of a good attitude, regardless of the situation.

The symposium was a well-organized gathering of military professionals focused on encouraging diversity in the services, creating and rediscovering connections and providing career and leadership advice while maintaining the work-life balance. Ultimately, the unofficial theme of both keynote speakers was to excel, which was echoed by the variety of other speakers and panelists throughout the symposium. By taking care of the mission, the people and yourself while performing at the best of your ability, success will surely follow.