NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. –  A Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) employee was one of 40 Department of Defense students to graduate June 2 from the Federal Executive Institute’s (FEI) Leadership for a Democratic Society (LDS) program.

The graduate, Jessica Lynch, director of Human Capital Strategy and Management (Air 6.0C), was the sole NAVAIR participant in her cohort to attend the professional development program, which involves a two-week in-house residence, six months of online courses and webinars, and the completion of a leadership project and an executive challenge.

The program is grounded in evidence-based theory and the U.S. Constitution, according to Dr. Greg Gifford, dean of executive education programs. “It develops leaders who are equipped intellectually and endowed with the competence to meet the many and varied needs of complex and dynamic environments,” he said.

The program is open to senior leaders and senior executive service candidates; and select private sector, state and local government, and GS-15 federal employees with executive-level duties. FEI instructor Dr. Marcia Ledlow said it leverages the expertise and experience of each executive by creating a learning community where participants and faculty are both teachers and learners.

The coursework provides students with the opportunity to expand their professional networks through inter-organizational collaboration and problem-solving; increase their resiliency, mental and physical wellness; and strive toward achieving a healthier work-life balance, she said.

“Our curriculum is anchored in contemporary leadership theory with the core curriculum aligned to [the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s] executive core qualifications,” Ledlow said. “Through the selection of courses, electives and field experiences, the executives tailor their learning experiences to meet their unique needs and interests.”

Lynch, who has worked at NAVAIR for more than seven years, said the course required participants to continually assess current and past motives and behaviors. Participants engaged in strategic thinking, learned the art of influencing and negotiation, sharpened their political savvy, and expanded their external self-awareness.

“I learned a lot about myself and how to grow from both positive and negative experiences,” Lynch said.

The course also helped her better understand the differences between being a leader and a manager. The attributes of a leader are not always innate, she said. Rather, they can also be learned through the study of different leadership styles and developed through emulating and modeling.

One of Lynch’s discoveries about herself centered on her own communication style and how she could more effectively foster an inclusive environment, especially when faced with challenging situations. “By understanding my own preferences and the preferences of others, I learned to listen so that I could understand and not just refute what is being said,” she said.  “Using this skill with my employees, peers, co-workers and supervisors, my career and my contributions to NAVAIR will be even more successful.”

Lynch used her leadership project to grow the business acumen of her team and challenge them to become less tactical and more strategic. This approach, she said, required them to look at Air 6.0C’s business model from both an internal and external perspectives.

“We changed the name of our division, documented mission, vision, and values, and took on special projects,” she said. “I was responsible for reenergizing AIR-6.0’s professional development as well as reworking its awards and recognition program.”

Through this experience, Lynch also discovered an interest in personal wellness. “I’m currently authoring a NAVAIR blog on mindfulness, which covers ways employees can improve how they can pay attention with purpose,” she said.

Todd Balazs, former deputy assistant commander for Air 6.0, nominated Lynch for the program because of her exceptional leadership skills and subject matter expertise. He believed it would be an opportunity for both professional and personal growth.

“Some people stand out for their great qualities, and Ms. Lynch is one of those people,” he wrote in her nomination application. “She is well known for her subject matter expertise, work ethic, positive attitude, teamwork mentality, leadership and diligence.”

Lynch believes that personal and professional development need never end, because just as employers’ wants and needs change so too do those of their employees and leaders.

“It is important to continue to invest in oneself in order to continue to be successful,” she said. “I enjoyed the introspective approach to learning about leadership through FEI’s approach and would recommend others to pursue similar opportunities.”