Leaders Share Inspiring Stories at Lifestyle Event

by Gail Kellner
posted July 22, 2013

Balancing your personal life with your role as a leader in the workforce or the community is not an easy task. How do you negotiate through barriers successfully and move from opportunity to opportunity?

Can you really have it all?

These were just a few of the questions that sparked a dynamic discussion aptly titled “Leadership Lifestyle: In Work, Life, and the Community” on July 18 at The Aerospace Corporation’s El Segundo headquarters. Dr. Wanda Austin, Aerospace president and CEO, hosted the event that offered a unique opportunity to learn about individual traits of successful leaders by exploring their personal stories on their quest to succeed at work, in their personal lives, and in the community.

The audience, consisting of Aerospace employees, local industry, and community and university leaders, was attentive as Austin moderated candid conversations including a “coffee talk “ interview with a national bestselling book author, and a panel discussion with an esteemed group of leaders. An interactive question and answer session and a networking reception followed.

Aerospace co-chairs Dr. Jeff Emdee, general manager, Vehicle Systems Division; and Dr. Malina Hills, general manager, MILSATCOM Division, acknowledged distinguished guests, and introduced Austin.

Austin is frequently asked when she decided to become a CEO. Although she never consciously set out on that path, she said she realized at a very early age that solving math problems had a practical application – solving engineering problems.

“This thing that I loved, and that I could do well, was also very helpful; it helped make people’s lives better,” she said. “I was encouraged and helped along the way by my parents, my teachers, and my mentors. At the same time, I’ve been very blessed to have a wonderful husband and two marvelous sons who understand both my need to do my work, and the importance of being grounded.”

Dr. Wanda Austin with author Nell Scovell during the “coffee talk” portion of the leadership event. (Photo: Eric Hamburg)

Austin introduced her first guest, Nell Scovell, co-writer of the national bestseller, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” The book describes the corporate ladder as more of a jungle gym than a linear ladder to the top and asserts that women must have the ambition to lean in to their career and bring a voice to the decision table. It also delves into many other questions, including “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

In the 1980s, Scovell was a young journalist who took risks. She had a dream — to write for David Letterman. Although it was a long shot, she set her sights on joining the staff of an almost all-male writing staff. She sent jokes off to the show and never heard anything back from them, but those same jokes she sent in just for her “dream job” launched her television career.

Her dream persisted and she was eventually hired as the second female writer in the history of Late Night with David Letterman. She soon discovered that the job was not a good fit, and moved on to other writing endeavors that were much more satisfying.

On the topic of balance, Scovell describes herself as “a full-time mother, a full-time wife, a full-time writer, and a full-time person.” She added, “My husband never said ‘you are working too hard,’ so all of these aspects mesh together.”

Austin moderated the panel discussion with the precision of a talk show host, using quick off-the-cuff humor. The panelists were Claire Leon, vice president, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems; Dr. Timothy Graves, senior project engineer, Space Based Surveillance Division at Aerospace; Christina Youn, Commander’s Action Group, Space and Missile Systems Center; and Dr. Bruce Janousek, principal scientist, Aerospace Strategic Planning.

The group initially shared their stories on how they juggle their responsibilities and what they have learned along the way.

Leon wanted to make it clear that although she has achieved much success in her 34-year career, life is a journey and it is “messy.” “You have to make choices, prioritize, and choose your battles,” she said.

She said that her family afforded her one night off a week to do whatever she wanted. Since her passion was education, she pursued this, one week at a time, for years.

In the workforce, she feels that senior leaders set the tone and that modeling good leadership is very important. At Boeing, she has teams for strategy, people, and execution to keep those priorities out front and visible.

“Managers need to give their employees some space,” she said. “Flexibility is the key; we will have loyal employees if we allow them to take time off when they feel it is necessary or work part-time to refuel.”

Graves, a 2012 Aerospace President’s Distinguished Achievement Award recipient, believes that passion and enthusiasm are very important. He views work as an extension of what he does with his life.

When he was in college, his parents expressed concern that he studied too much and they gave him money to go out and have some fun. He took his parents’ advice and started trying new adventures and experiences. He gained a lot of knowledge by pursuing internships, and he is paying that forward by being very involved with the summer intern program at Aerospace.

“In order to lead, you must be excited about what you are doing,” he said. “When I believe in my project, I do better, and once it’s fun, it’s no longer a job.”

Dr. Jeff Emdee, co-chair of the event, with Tomeka Fisher of Northrop Grumman, during the reception. (Photo: Eric Hamburg)

Dr. Jeff Emdee, co-chair of the event, with Tomeka Fisher of Northrop Grumman, during the reception. (Photo: Eric Hamburg)

Youn’s advice about finding life/career balance was to step back and be honest about your career choice. If it is not fulfilling, be honest and admit that it doesn’t work for you. She did just that.

She went to law school, passed the bar exam, and had two short stints at different law firms. At her first job in a large law firm, it became apparent to her that the firm’s values and practices did not line up with her own so she tried another firm. After this, she was still unhappy, so she stepped back to admit that this was not the path for her. She took a course on negotiations and her professor became her mentor. Her mentor helped her to realize that she had tunnel vision regarding a career in the legal field and Youn then made a definitive decision to not pursue another job in the law field.

She is currently enjoying a federal service career as a speechwriter for Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander, Space and Missile Systems Center.

Youn added that she believes the younger generation is more cognizant of the work-life balance issue and that they may define success differently due to the fact that they have had access to much more information at an earlier age.

Janousek made an unorthodox decision to work part-time for the last 20 years, but he has proven that you do not have to be a full-time leader to make significant contributions.

He believes that having a lot of interests and going to a small college gave him a myriad of experiences to add balance to his life. He also suggested that you can gain great leadership skills by working for the community. He said that he learned how to manage by stepping away for awhile and leading in the community.

What precipitated his decision to work part-time? He became the father of two children. He said early on that he was greeted with “attitude” by some men who wonder why he would ever want to give up his full-time career. He shared that he has spent his adult life surrounded by a lot of women and he finds them to be empathetic, communally minded, and people who share.

“I don’t think we allow men to behave that way,” he said. In support of the irony of this statement, Austin said that in the United States, 20 percent of single households are led by men.

In wrapping up the evening, Austin said, “We need to encourage communication so employees can tell us what they need and what works for them in order for them to reach their full potential. Men and women both need to be part of the solution.”