Personal Engagement and Leadership

During my Training with Industry fellowship, one of the things I have been most impressed and inspired by is the quality of Dewberry leadership at all levels and how they engage and inspire their teams. This did not come to me as a surprise given the large number of Army alumni currently at Dewberry I have had the honor of serving with in the past. Each of them made a point of incorporating personal engagement into their leadership style that resulted in significant positive impacts on the members of their teams. The following are anecdotes from my own career working with them and how they helped shape me as an engineer, Soldier, and leader.

The Professor and the Plebe

As a young and highly overzealous Plebe (freshman), during the first week of my first academic semester in 1995, I marched my way to the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering at West Point. With thoughts of great works and feats like the construction of the Panama Canal and the crossing of the Rhine in World War II, I proudly announced to the first professor I could find my vehement desire to be a Civil Engineering (CE) Major! What I came to discover (and much to my embarrassment) is the fact that Cadets do not declare their majors until the second semester of their Yearling (sophomore) year. I had shown up a year and a half early.

The professor I was talking to could have dismissed me for ignorance with instructions to come back in a year and a half, if I had survived to that point. In actuality, he was genuinely delighted to hear of my interest and even proceeded to give me a complete overview of what the CE major entailed in regards to courses and graduation requirements. Although, it was too early to sign up for my major, he also encouraged me to participate in CE sponsored activities such as the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers to help further inform my decision.

A year and half later, I had survived and became a CE major. That professor that helped feed my interest instead summarily dismissing me was Maj. John Boulé, PE. Based on his early engagement with me, he requested to serve as my Department Academic Counselor (DAC) and continued to guide my CE education. His example and guidance not only helped me in earning my CE degree but also helped inspire me to become an Engineer officer and eventually return as a professor myself to the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering. One of the key lessons I learned from Col. (Ret.) John Boulé, PE, now a senior vice president with Dewberry and manager of the New York City office, is that sparks of motivation and passion in our team members should never ever be squelched but rather identified early, kindled, and regularly fueled.

A Late Night Check-in

As the Air Operations officer for my Engineer battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2002, one of my key responsibilities was to prepare our personnel and equipment for loadout via military aircraft to deploy to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Given the operational tempo, this would result in me spending days at the departure airfield working with Air Force loadmasters to ensure our personnel and equipment were properly loaded and departed on time to their destination. Although an inherently important task with an incredible amount of responsibility, it was still heavyhearted duty as I sent my fellow Soldiers into harm's way while I remained stateside. During these continuous operations, I would regularly finish my duties for a movement by wishing my fellow Soldiers good luck and to stay safe as they waited in a school bus to drive onto the flightline and board their aircraft.

Late one evening on the flightline, my battalion commander surprised me with a visit. As I fumbled to retrieve the battalion departure schedule to provide him a quick update on our progress, he calmly stated that he was not worried about the loadouts; he knew I had it all well in hand. He had stopped by to check in on me because I had been on the flightline for the last couple of days and wanted to see if there was anything the battalion could provide me to ensure things continued smoothly. He also made a point to thank me for doing such a diligent job on an important task that he knew would be tough personally. Lt. Col (Ret.) Steven Harvey, PhD, PE, now Dewberry's DoD projects department head in Raleigh, North Carolina, did not come to micromanage or inspect, he trusted I could do the job and just wanted to make sure I personally was doing all right and if there was anything I needed to be successful. That small interaction that showed trust, appreciation, and empathy stiffened my resolved to complete my mission and has stuck with me to this day. Lt. Col (Ret.) Harvey taught me to empower and trust your team to accomplish the mission secure in the knowledge that you appreciate them and are there to support them. As leaders, despite operational tempo and daily chaos, we must make the time to check in with our teams on an individual level.

A Leader of Note

In 2008 as an Airborne Engineer Company Commander, I was involved in a military parachuting accident while jumping into Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, which resulted in my falling without the aid of a parachute from approximately 100 feet above ground level while wearing a full combat load of equipment. The resulting impact shattered my pelvis apart (known as an "open book" fracture) and sheared the wing bones off my lower vertebrae. After significant trauma surgery, I faced a painful and lengthy recovery while still serving in a position of significant responsibility coupled with the potential of an untimely medical retirement. Shakespeare had it right, "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." But with these sorrows, came a note!

To be specific it was a neatly handwritten note on General Officer letterhead from my former engineer brigade commander and then the U.S. Army's military construction program manager. In the note, he stated he was sorry to hear about my recent troubles but he KNEW, as a fellow paratrooper, I would find a way or make one to continue to serve and furthermore the ENTIRE Army Engineer Regiment was behind me! One of the top leaders in the Engineer Regiment, hundreds of miles away in Washington D.C., took the time to personally write and encourage my recovery. A little bit of care and encouragement from unexpected sources does wonders for motivation and builds trust, confidence, and loyalty to the organization. With encouragement like this and from others, I completed my physical therapy, company command, and have continued to serve over 17 years. To this day, because of Major General (Ret.) Bo "Bonecrusher" Temple, PE, PMP, now a member of Dewberry's board of directors, I am an avid letter writer not only to thank family, friends and colleagues, but also to celebrate their successes and, more importantly, to grip hands with them in times of need.

Lt. Col. Cullen Jones
B/27th EN BN (Combat)(Airborne)(Rough Terrain) and their Commander, CPT Cullen Jones, PE (Note: still recovering from his jump injuries) receive the Battalion Honor Company Streamer in June 2008.

In conclusion, each of these individuals took the time to engage with me on a personal level, and through these small acts, showed genuine interest, concern, empathy, and appreciation. In doing so, they inspired me through significant career and life milestones and more importantly taught me through their example what true leadership is. I am forever thankful for this most valuable of lessons.Take care of your team and you will be amazed at what they can accomplish.

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