SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – South Pacific Division kicked off its 25th year of growing leaders this week with its latest class entering the Regional Leadership Development Program.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ three-tiered Leader Development Program, executed by Divisions and Districts across the enterprise, is one of the Army's leading development & training programs, which aims to enhance individual leadership skills of high-performing employees to meet the ever-changing needs of the Department of Defense, the Army, and USACE.
Geoff Chatfield, an SPD program analyst, and longtime facilitator of RLDP, says the rigorous program includes onsite and virtual training forums, tracked coaching and mentoring, a visit to Washington, D.C. to attend the Gov. Affairs Institute, a class project that recommends a solution to a regional problem, and briefing and shadowing with senior leaders.
“This program remains the best way to improve leaders who would have been leaders anyway,” says Chatfield. “(By) addressing through action plans at least one or more issue or obstacle in participants’ futures as a leader or manager, it greatly improves the organization.”
SPD has graduated the most RLDP classes within the Corps (nearly 290 graduates) and Chatfield, after 20 years with RLDP, knows firsthand the long-term benefits for the entire Corps.
“The program dynamically improves through daily, weekly, and monthly after-action reviews which is incorporated into improvements for the next year’s program,” says Chatfield. “Thirty to forty percent of USACE SPD senior civilian leadership have graduated from the program, which creates better consistency and stability in the enterprise.”
With the 25th year of the program kicking off this week, new students are looking forward to improving both personally and professionally.
“I would like to learn more about myself and how I influence others as well as improve my communication skills and become a better strategic thinker,” said Deborah Lewis, a project manager with USACE Sacramento District.
Brandon Colvin, a project manager with the USACE Los Angeles District, is seeking skills that will increase his expertise in management.
“I am focused on strengthening my ability to manage a team through clear communication of the objectives, effective delegation, accountability, and positive reinforcement,” shared Colvin.
LeAnne Jett, an appraiser trainee with USACE Sacramento District, who just graduated from the program, feels RLDP has been a game-changer for her career.
“The organization has a lot to offer and many potential opportunities to improve relationships and processes,” said Jett. “I wanted to be part of that - influencing positive outcomes and building a workplace that feels inclusive and meaningful to employees. I recognized that I needed to expand my skillset to meet that goal, and the RLDP provides the formal and informal training that I cannot receive in my regular day-to-day job.”
Jett added that though the two-year program is intense and requires dedication to both personal and professional growth beyond her official job– her time in the program was well spent.
“I left the program with stronger communication skills, organizational skills, and other important soft skills required as a team member and leader,” said Jett. “I can now leverage my skills more effectively and help others to deliver the USACE mission.”
Jett says the program also helped her overcome a deep fear of hers – public speaking.
“I am most proud of how I have grown and overcome a significant fear of mine – speaking with senior leadership and public speaking in general,” shared Jett. “With the support and advice of my teammates, I feel more confident briefing to senior leadership - I still get nervous and my legs and back shake, but I can redirect those feelings to move forward with confidence.”
The program is not only geared to enhance and develop students’ leadership and resiliency skills but also gives them on-the-job experience through a class project and post-utilization assignments after graduation.
Laura Shively, a mitigation banking specialist with USACE Sacramento District, explained that the FY23 class project centered around how they could improve the process for how individuals request assistance and expertise from other districts within the Corps.
“Each project has a slogan, said Shively, “Ours was, ‘It Shouldn’t Rely on Who You Know.’”
Jett’s post-utilization assignment includes crafting a legally and fiscally permissible framework for executing outreach programs in underserved communities consisting of young students that will be consistent with USACE’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility initiatives.
“I am excited for the potential opportunities that my project may provide for our communities and children,” said Jett.
One highlight of the program that is a favorite among students is a trip to Washington, D.C., where they visit leaders at USACE headquarters, while completing a congressional course.
“I also greatly enjoyed the learning experiences and relationship building that occurred when we traveled to Washington D.C. for the Government Affairs Institute course,” agreed Jett. “I highly recommend this course if offered.”
Some RLDP graduates are so passionate about their experience, they decide to stay on and help manage the program. Robin Liffman, a former emergency management contingency planner with SPD, felt so impacted by the experience, she ended up facilitating numerous RLDP classes after her graduation in 2012.
“I loved most aspects of the program and watching and nurturing the amazing development of the associates as they gained confidence and leadership skills during the program year,” said Liffman.
“It is an amazing growing and maturing experience,” she added. “Where associates not only learn various skills: communication, team participation, leadership, and Corps knowledge, but more about themselves in the process - it truly is one of the most life changing programs I’ve experienced.”
Encouraging future students to apply for the RLDP, comes easy to current and past participants.
“RLDP provides an opportunity to more actively invest in yourself, which in turn will result in an investment in the future of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” says Colvin. “This helps to bring greater meaning to the work we do on a regular basis. While I recognize participating in this program requires additional time and effort, the value gained far outweighs what is given.”
Lewis agrees that RLDP is worth the investment of time and energy.
“I would say this an opportunity to allow USACE to invest in you and to help teach you the things you need to know in order to be a successful leader,” she added. “How can you say no to that?”