Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Thursday, May 06, 2010

McKeague: Diversity strengthens military

by Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
National Guard Bureau

5/6/2010 - NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (AFNS) -- The strength of the military is improved by the diverse backgrounds of those who make up the organization, a senior National Guard officer said May 3.

"I'd like to think that (for) the success of the United States military, one of its essential elements is diversity," said Maj. Gen. Kelly K. McKeague, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard Matters, while speaking here during the annual conference of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council here. "It's made us who we are. It's made us into, literally, the greatest military force on earth."

Success is dependent upon the contributions of many, according to General McKeague.

"It requires contributions from different genders, from people from different walks of life, different religions, different creeds, different nationalities, all coming together for one stated purpose: the security of our great nation," he said.

General McKeague added that diversity also contributes to good leadership.

"Diversity is about leadership, diversity is about engagement," he said, adding that in order for diversity to be successful in an organization, hands-on leadership, as well as a strategic vision, is needed or "it will just be another program."

General McKeague also said that he learned the importance of diversity at an early age. He is the child of a Caucasian father and a Hawaiian mother.

"If you know Hawaii, they don't call Hawaii the 'Crossroads of the Pacific' for nothing," he said. "If the United States is a melting pot, then Hawaii is the garnish on that melting pot. Every race is in Hawaii, especially from the Pacific Rim region. For me, diversity was something I grew up with; it was part of my nature. It was part of everybody's nature."

When it was time to attend college, General McKeague chose one very different from his native Hawaii: Georgia Tech. He said that the move allowed him to get out of his comfort zone and expand his horizons, which is one of the keys to being successful.

"If there is a thread in my career since going to college, it would be getting out of your comfort zone," he said. "That is truly important for you to make a difference in your organization, because when you broaden your horizons, what happens is you open up the aperture of experience."

For General McKeague, who spent the first 14 years of his career as an Air Force civil engineer, having a diverse background of experience translates into having more than one perspective.

"When I was an engineer, I saw the world from an engineer's perspective," he said. "I knew a lot about engineering. I knew a lot about military construction. But, I didn't know a lot about anything else. When I got out of my comfort zone, expanded my horizons, my aperture is now much larger.

"That, I believe, is essential to a leader, either military or civilian," he said.

The importance of diversity and expanding your comfort zone is something that can be applied to working with not only those from different racial, religious or skill sets or backgrounds, but also to working with those from different governmental agencies, General McKeague said.

"Joint-agency, inter-governmental and international (working environments are) here to stay," he said. "Whether it's a single service, whether it's the Department of Defense, whether it's the United States itself, we need joint, we need inter-agency, we need inter-governmental and we need international.

"If you have an opportunity to shape or influence your ability to work within that environment, I would encourage you to do so."

General McKeague continued to encourage the audience to take advantage of any and all opportunities.

"Never miss an opportunity to grow, whether it's personally or professionally," he said. "Those are the bases for success in anything that you do."

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