West Bethesda, Md., –
At Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, new leaders are cultivated by the Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) Program. Currently in its seventh iteration, the program is designed to provide high-performing mid-career engineers, scientists, business and financial professionals with strategies and tools to lead the next generation of Carderock employees. It is a long-term organizational strategy to enrich the workforce, transfer knowledge and invest in the growth of Carderock. Components of the LEAD program include a six-week rotational assignment, a capstone project and discussions with executive leaders within the Navy and Department of Defense and tours of organizations and facilities that are of strategic importance to the U.S. Navy.
The LEAD program’s current cohort features Liana Sansom, an acoustics engineer in the Submarine Onboard Signatures Branch; Aidan Cowhig, a research and development engineer in the Additive Manufacturing Branch; Dr. Abel Vargas, a mechanical engineer in the Maritime Systems Hydromechanics Branch; and Brian Noyes, the Acting Deputy Department Head for the Naval Architecture and Engineering Department.
As a cohort, the group decides on a capstone project, anticipated trainings, tours and mentorship discussions with senior leadership. For Vargas, time management and being able to delegate to team members are critical to success in the program. Noyes adds that participants can tailor the program to develop knowledge and skills based on their interests.
Typically a one-year long commitment, the fiscal year 2020-2021 and 2022-2023 cohorts were extended to two years each due to COVID and budget concerns. The current cohort is just over halfway through the program and is finishing their rotations across Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).
Noyes is currently on rotation as the Acting Deputy Department Head for the Naval Architecture and Engineering Department.
Vargas is on rotation as the Assistant Project Manager for the Next-Generation Attack Submarine Program at Carderock under Brian Heidt, the Director of Future Submarine Design and Integration Branch.
Cowhig has not yet taken a rotation, but he is looking into an opportunity with the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency in Bethesda, Maryland.
Sansom was on rotation with the NAVSEA Inspector General’s (IG) office, where she worked with each NAVSEA IG Division Director to investigate issues, such as fraud and wasteful spending.
“I developed a report showing trends across the enterprise identified through inspection, investigation and evaluation, while also highlighting recommendations the office provided,” Sansom said. “It opened my eyes to the breadth of work done by the NAVSEA IG and also the NAVSEA enterprise as a whole. This report will be shared with NAVSEA senior leadership.”
As a mid-career leadership development opportunity, the LEAD program is open to all Codes at Carderock and only requires two years of experience working at the command. Even for those without the requisite experience, exceptions can be made. When Sansom applied, she lacked the requisite experience requirement. During the application period, she reached out to the previous cohort of the LEAD program and was able to qualify due to having nearly nine years of experience with the shipyards and four years with initial startup testing on a construction site.
“The previous cohort decided to allow me to apply since the shipyards also fell under the NAVSEA umbrella,” she said. “The time requirement was to help ensure people had enough experience in the workforce and enough experience in NAVSEA to make the most of the program.”
The LEAD program is self-paced and provided ample schedule flexibility for employees who have other commitments, such as travel and duties at the command. According to Noyes, the program also expands opportunities for LEAD program participants.
“Many of us are focused on doing a good job daily rather than actively thinking about other work opportunities at the command,” he said. “Some will not apply to these job opportunities even though they’re interested. The LEAD program expands your network and your comfort zone to start inquiring about those opportunities.”
From meetings with flag-level leadership to tours and trainings all over the East Coast, the LEAD program helped Noyes develop his network, as well as his leadership skills.
The LEAD program taught Vargas about his strengths and areas for growth while broadening his perspective of Carderock’s work at higher levels of leadership.
“The trainings we have done as a group have helped me identify some of my weaknesses and areas where I need to improve upon,” he said. “We read a lot of books focused on leadership in the program, and we extract key concepts from them to apply to our everyday environment.”
Sansom learned the importance of emotional intelligence and social skills, as well as the critical role of clearly stated expectations. When a project leader provides ambiguous expectations, the team assumes what their leader wants in a trial-and-error approach, resulting in an increase in project failures and increased costs.
“Use terminology your audience will understand and try to understand different perspectives,” she said. “Everyone is different: they have different ways of learning, communicating and value different aspects of their work. Try to learn what people need and treat them with respect.”
The brown bags, mentoring and tours all provided Sansom opportunities to learn from senior leadership and to see different ways of doing business. Each cohort decides which facilities to tour, and this year’s cohort decided to visit locations such as the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland, and USS Constitution in Boston Harbor.
For Cowhig, interactions with leadership helped the most in his professional development while also providing visibility and relationship building for program participants. The LEAD program’s leadership training courses also highlighted strengths and blind spots in personal leadership.
“For me, the most interesting part of LEAD was the insight we gained into the challenges faced by Carderock’s leadership, as well as leaders’ thought processes,” he said.
The entire cohort recommends potential applicants go ahead and apply, as the program is open to all Codes. Sansom recommends the program to everyone at Carderock, especially those who want to broaden their knowledge of Carderock, NAVSEA and leadership in general.
“Our cohort drew people from only the technical Codes, and we are limited because of it,” Sansom said. “A mix of business and technical Codes provides a point of view to the other cohort members might not otherwise see.”