The United States Military Academy. Better known as West Point, it’s a legendary institution that I had the pleasure of visiting recently for a rewarding leadership summit. This event was the first time an all-female executive summit was held at West Point, and it was put on by the Thayer Leadership Development Group. Their mission is to build leaders of character by offering leadership and ethics education grounded in the U.S. Army leadership philosophy and the U.S. Military Academy values, and I’m happy to say they are succeeding.
Focusing on Leadership Values
From the moment I arrived on a Tuesday night to the moment I left on the following Friday afternoon, my time was filled with a number of great activities. While everything we did was incredible, the most impactful session for me was learning directly from two female brigadier generals. One of these generals was Becky Halstead, the first female graduate of West Point who became a general. She shared her story, including how she led 30,000 troops in Iraq. Becky drew parallels with the business world, describing to the executives present how important it is to broadcast our leadership values throughout our companies and to make sure everyone knows what we stand for and how we lead.
Becky’s advice resonated with me because she opened my eyes to the fact that different ATR employees see different parts of my leadership in the office. All of us tailor our working style to the project at hand or the person we are collaborating with. This helped me realize how important it is to project our common values in the office. I want every employee to feel that they’re an important part of ATR, and Becky motivated and inspired me to create my leadership values and leadership statement.
Relying on Teamwork for Goal Attainment
Outside of the session with Becky, everything we did taught me something about leadership. On the second day we broke up into teams and participated in an urban orienteering activity. This was basically a scavenger hunt competition in town where different items had various point values. My team quickly discovered ways to strategize in a fast-paced and deadline-driven environment, which reflected many days in the office.
A highlight of my third day at West Point was a session with Allison Levine, an inspirational woman from the San Francisco Bay Area. Already an avid mountain climber, Allison trained for months for an expedition to the North Pole by carrying a 50-pound tire up and down the beach. But when the time for the expedition came, Allison found herself unable to carry as many supplies as her teammates. Rather than be discouraged or quit, Allison’s team rallied around her and redistributed the weight she was carrying and successfully completed their mission. The moral of Allison’s story was not to look at other people’s strengths as your own weakness. We all have roles to play, and teams are made to carry each other’s weight and achieve the same end goal.
Digging Deep for Inspiration
Later the same day we had the opportunity to attend a landmark event when we watched General Ann Dunwoody receive the 2019 West Point Sylvanus Thayer Award. The annual award is presented to an outstanding citizen whose service exemplifies the Military Academy values of Duty, Honor, and Country. As the first woman in U.S. history to achieve the rank of four-star general, Ann was well qualified for this distinction. Not only does she come from four generations of West Point graduates, but Ann rose through the ranks to lead the largest global logistics command in the army, comprising of 69,000 soldiers and a budget of $60 billion.
Given our surroundings and the countless moving military stories filling our ears and eyes, the female executives attending the summit jumped at the chance to go through an abbreviated version of boot camp. We were broken into groups where we competed in challenges involving running, burpees, pushups, pullups, and stair climbs. Then we had to literally carry a teammate from point A to point B. As fatigue set in, my fellow executive team members and myself learned to dig deep to find a way to finish. It came down to knowing that others were relying on us and trusting us, something that we will remember when the work day gets stressful.
A Beautiful Week at West Point
Prior to seeing West Point in person, it was hard to picture and had an almost mystical quality to it. The campus seemed small when I arrived, but after a formal tour I realized that West Point is large and beautiful. The buildings were almost hidden, tucked away behind trees and made of gray stone that reminded me of castles. There was history at every turn, whether we were gazing out at the Hudson River or looking at relics from the revolutionary war.
Above all, the leadership summit represented a powerful week with tangible takeaways. All the executives in attendance were excited to take what they learned back to their companies. I’m thankful to come home to ATR, a company that I know is receptive to big ideas like the ones West Point was founded on. Thank you to everyone who made this summit so rewarding!
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