Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lean In Circle empowers women through leadership development

by Jodi Ames
375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs


12/9/2015 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Following the Department of Defense's lead to empower women through leadership development, Scott Air Force Base now has a Lean In Circle, a group to train, mentor and network for success.

In September 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced his unconditional support of Lean In Circles for service members and civilians. His announcement followed the Pentagon's partnership with best-selling author of "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

It was the spark Capt. Karen Mock needed to pursue her idea of forming a circle at Scott AFB.

Mock, who serves as director of public affairs for 18th Air Force, founded the Scott Women Lean In Circle with the goal of empowering women through deliberate leadership training and peer-to-peer mentoring. The circle is designed to connect women from diverse backgrounds and provide them with an opportunity to network, exchange ideas and share experiences.

"What I hope is that with the very diverse group of women in the circle, that you can find somebody to connect with who will be able to help with any issue that you may be dealing with in your professional life or personal life," said Mock.

The group started small, initially comprised of only a few of Mock's closest colleagues. Now, less than three months later, the Scott Women Lean In Circle has quickly grown to 59 total force members, making it the largest group in the Air Force chapter.

The outpouring of interest and participation from women of various ranks, services and components indicates that there was clearly a need for this type of group here.

The early success of the circle can be attributed to the structured and practical approach to discussions regarding gender issues.

While the Lean In website provides tools and resources to run successful meetings, the Scott Women circle is unique in that it specifically targets leadership within the group and has been structured around a one-year syllabus that outlines discussion topics and recommended readings for each month.

The syllabus, which was developed by Lt. Col. DeDe Halfhill, Air Mobility Command public affairs director and facilitator for the circle, is intended to guide discussions in a way that promotes open and constructive dialogue among the group's members.

"Women have come to the group, and they've seen that we have a plan that guides the year-long discussion through several deliberate leadership development topics. They can see what we're going to cover and how those topics apply not only to leadership, but to their everyday lives," said Halfhill.

The syllabus focuses on practical readings and exercises that were developed to facilitate immediate changes that encourage personal and professional growth.

"It's not just about coming together to talk about academic ideas on leadership, but to provide options for 'in the trenches' implementation," said Halfhill. "Every single month, we'll walk away with practical tools that can be put into place that day. I think people see that, and they carry that excitement out as they start talking to other people."

While members will see gender issues related to barriers and bias sprinkled throughout the discussion, the group is much more than that. Halfhill and Mock explained that the emphasis of the circle is more about honing leadership skill sets and instilling confidence than it is about gender.

Those skill sets include navigating difficult conversations, delivering feedback, identifying blocks to accepting feedback, and the ability to develop boundaries that help put work-life balance into place.

"It's really about giving young leaders tools and opportunities to try those tools out in an environment where they can come back and have a discussion about what is or isn't working," Halfhill said. "The circle isn't about women versus men. The circle is about empowering whoever attends to be the best version of themselves and the best leader they can be."

Mock added, "We're trying to encourage each other to go after our ambitions, go for what we want and support each other in doing that."

As for the long-term vision for the group, Mock said she hopes to see the Scott Women circle evolve into a chapter that supports other Lean In Circles throughout the Team Scott community.

"We may find that there are enlisted folks who are more comfortable discussing these topics with each other. That would be a perfect circle," said Mock.

Halfhill said, "There are so many topics we can address. We could turn that syllabus into a two-year discussion. I think the sky is the limit."

In addition to regular meetings, the Scott Women Lean In Circle also hosts guest speakers. The first guest speaker, retired Chief Master Sgt. Vicki Gamble, former AMC Command Chief, is scheduled to speak to the group Dec. 15 at 11 a.m. in the 375th Contracting Squadron conference room.

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