Growing strong leaders and team champions in work, life and technology


An interview with
Len Kulik, Senior Vice President,
North Carolina’s Eastern Region Economic Development Partnership

Question:  As an experienced leader in both industry and the U. S. Army, what do you believe is the most important element of leadership?

KULIK:  I believe that knowledge is the most important element of leadership. If you don’t know what needs to be done and have at least some idea on how to apply that knowledge, little else matters. One teaching point that sticks in my mind from a Leadership Class during the Basic Infantry Officer’s Course at Ft. Benning, Ga. is, “Even a poor solution, vigorously applied, often achieves positive results”. My translation? A solution does not have to be elegant or complex to accomplish a mission or task.

Question:  Based on the FM 6-22 document on Army Leadership, there are three levels of leadership in the Army – Strategic, Organization and Direct.  In your experience, how does industry mirror this leadership structure?  In any way does it not?

KULIK:  In my experience, industry mirrors the Army’s Strategic, Organization and Direct levels of leadership pretty closely. Small to medium sized companies tend more toward the Direct and Organization levels. While large companies tend to encompass all three levels. Strategic thinking, or more correctly, finding the time for strategic thinking, is more of a challenge in small and medium sized companies. More often than not, larger companies have personnel specifically devoted to strategic planning and operations. Industry and the Army vary significantly in one area, the training of its employees. In the case of Army officers and NCO’s, there is a definite training cycle associated with promotion, i.e., Basic, Advanced, Command & General Staff, etc. In the majority of businesses that I’ve been exposed to, the formal education you have when you hire in, is pretty much what you have when you leave for other employment or retire. There are exceptions in industry, but they are not common place. If the company you work for does not offer continuing education opportunities, employees need to forge their own way. I’m happy to say that Bell Helicopter and Textron funded continuing education programs for me.

Question:  Per the FM 6-22, the Army is a team, and a team of teams.  In your experience, what is the importance of teams in industry?  How is the structure and management of teams similar to that in the Army?  How is it different?

KULIK:  A team of teams is extremely important in industry, especially so on very large projects such as the development of new commercial transport aircraft like the Airbus A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) and Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Historically, the Boeing and Airbus business model was vertical integration. With the exception of engines, landing gear and electronics, both companies did the design, development and final assembly in-house. Today, the immense cost and risk of new aircraft development has driven both companies to the “team of team’s” model. I like to call this, “management by the no alternative method”. For example, in the A350 XWB program, major airframe components are being developed at twelve different facilities, in five different countries, with final assembly in Toulouse, Fr. The development of engines, landing gear and electronics; add more teams to the Airbus “team”.

Question:  What are your experiences with “Shared Leadership” (3-58) and the keys to its success?

KULIK:  The primary mission of the Eastern region office is Economic Development. Many of our goals can only be accomplished by forming partnerships with other groups or organizations. It’s the old “strength in numbers” thing. Consequently, we have facilitated the creation of partners such as an Environmental Advisory Council-EAC, Chambers of Commerce of NCER-CCNCER, Community College Presidents-CCP, Workforce Innovation Network-WIN and Defense/Aerospace Advisory Committee-DAAC, just to name a few. Since we have no direct leadership authority over any of the groups or their members, we share leadership on every project. The keys to the success of ‘Shared Leadership” is to establish mutual trust, define clear goals and to create a win-win situation for all the parties involved. Working together, the partners have created a Green Business Certification program that meets goals of the Chamber and Environmentalists, a unified legislative agenda that all the Chambers can support and a project that will create a Composite NDI/NDT Institute that meets goals of the DAAC, WIN,  CCP and two of the regions largest employer. One defense and one civilian.

Question:  What approach do you suggest that a new engineer take as he or she starts a new job in relationship to the concept of serving as a responsible subordinate, or good “followership”?

KULIK:  It’s been a long time since I was “new engineer”, but the advice that I would give to someone entering the field is: don’t assume you know everything, ask questions, learn how your position or group fits into the overall scheme of things, do more listening than talking, prepare-prepare-prepare for presentations and volunteer for projects, especially if they will take you a little out of your comfort zone.

Question:  What advice can you offer to a new engineer in dealing with “leadership without authority” when faced with having to take “initiative to alert superiors of a potential problem or predict consequences if the organization remains on its current course?”  Can you provide an example in your career where you were faced with this?

KULIK:  The concept of “leadership without authority” and having to take “initiative to alert superiors of a potential problem or predict consequences if the organization remains on its current course”, does indeed remind me of a time when I was faced with exactly this situation. When I joined Bell Helicopter, my first job was an engineer in the Armament Design Group. At that time, unbeknownst to me, Bell was secretly building a prototype of what would become the worlds first attack helicopter, the AH-1G Huey Cobra. The prototype Cobra featured tandem seating for a crew of two, a flexible gun turret in the nose and stub wings capable of carrying a seven tube rocket pod on each wing tip. After the Army decided to buy the Cobra, I was assigned to the design team to convert the prototype drawings into ones suitable for production. My specific task was the design of the wingtip weapons pylon. The production award also directed that a second weapons pylon be added to each wing, so the Cobra could carry two 19 round rocket pods per wing. It was assumed by the Army procurement office, that all that would be required was the addition of a second weapons pylon. That was a bad assumption. As I began to layout the plan form of the wing, two major issues became readily apparent. First, the larger inboard pod could not safely be ejected in case of an emergency. Second, the inboard tube of the inboard pod, would not meet the DoD half angle safety cone for launch. Either issue would dictate a substantial redesign of the wing. It needed to be longer and substantially stronger. My challenge was to alert my superiors to that fact. After rechecking my drawings about a dozen times, with facts in hand, I approached my superiors.

Question:  How do you believe the seven Army values translate to industry?

KULIK:  I would say that the Army Values translate reasonably well to industry. But, with the exception of civilian ‘first responders’, few civilian occupations call for the level of Personal Courage our men and women in uniform are expected to demonstrate every day. Baring some bizarre situation, I don’t expect to be shot at when I go to work or to be deployed for months at a time half way around the world, with little or no notice.

Question:  Character development is an important part of an Army career as “becoming a person of character and a leader of character is a career-long process involving day-to-day experience, education, self-development, developmental counseling, coaching and mentoring.” (4-55)  In your experience, how does industry mirror this career process?

KULIK:  I am sad to say, that other than going about my day to day activities in the business world and learning by observation, I don’t recall any formal character development training at Bell or Textron. Nor am I aware of any such training in other companies. I suspect and hope that someone is doing it somewhere.

Question:  Resilience, competence and knowledge lead to success on the battlefield (5-15).  How is this mirrored in industry?  Can you provide an example of an experience in your career that resounds this?

KULIK:  While working at Bell, I was in charge of contractually obligated full scale maintenance mockup review for a new attack helicopter. The review spanned two full days and included several dozen people in the demonstration team. The afternoon preceding the review, the team discovered that the main rotor blade removal procedures outlined by the engineering department would not work. The tech reps, some of the best in the business, said Len, “don’t worry, will figure it out”. This was their area of expertise, not mine. They took charge, worked through the night, and found a solution. That cleared me to address other issues.

Question:  What are your methods for motivating and inspiring those with whom you work and lead in industry?  How do these compare to Army methods?

KULIK:  I find that involving people in goal setting and in the decision process is a great motivator. It leads to buy-in from the beginning. Asking for the help and explaining why/how their expertise is equally important.  I believe that there is more persuasion required in industry than in the Army. The Army and Industry use organization charts, but my observation is that the adherence to the chart is much greater in the Army than in industry. A civilian is much more likely to go around a superior or not follow direction than someone in uniform. Many companies have informal organization, built around key personalities, that actually run the company.

Question:  What is the most effective means of assessing the performance of a leader?

KULIK:  I use three primary means of assessing the performance of a leader. Does he/she:

  1. Meet established goals
  2. Care for subordinates in the process
  3. Accomplish tasks not required (think/act outside the box)

Question:  The Army has a body of knowledge in CALL in which they document mistakes as “lessons learned”.  How important is this in industry and can you provide examples of how this is done?  Do you feel there are additional opportunities to those processes that are already in place?  How can an engineer help in such opportunities?  Can you provide an example of a lesson learned in your Army career?

KULIK:  I believe that compiling lessons learned is extremely important. However, based on my experience, the Army is much better at doing it than my colleagues in industry. Some companies do it very well; others don’t do it at all. The process is spotty at best.

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