Retired Army general discusses benefits of positive work environment

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Tammy Smith joined Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends to discuss how to create a positive work environment that allows others in the org...

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Tammy Smith joined Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends to discuss how to create a positive work environment that allows others in the organization to be their authentic selves.

Smith recently retired from the Army after serving 35 years. At the conclusion of her career she was serving at the Pentagon as the military advisor to the assistant secretary of the Army, Manpower and Reserve Affairs — the military’s largest service branch with over 1 million personnel in the active, National Guard and Reserve force.

Smith was  promoted to brigadier general in 2012 and became the first openly LGBTQ+ general/flag officer. She was awarded the Secretary of the Army Diversity in Leadership Award for her contributions to Army inclusion efforts.

Smith was  promoted a few months after the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT), giving her unexpected visibility as the military’s first openly LGBTQ+ flag officer.

She never sought to be the first but felt it was an important moment for the military.

“Military identity remains the foremost identity of a soldier, but it is also important to acknowledge the intersectionality of other personal identities. Visibility helps people rid their minds of stereotypes held about a person or group of people,” she said.

Smith described her leadership style as collaborative and believes in fostering a creative work environment where members of her team are given the freedom to work on complex problems.

She tries to be “their best cheerleader” and give them a sense of purpose while also giving them the  space to fail. She says if you can strike a balance between the two you will create a “culture of success.”

Smith admires leaders who have character and humility and doesn’t believe “leading with fear” is an effective way to reach your goals.

Smith also alters her leadership style when the environment changes. She learned early in her career collaborative decisions or styles can be taken as “wishy washy,” so time and pressure come into play on how a decision is made.

Decision making becomes more complicated as you move up the ladder in  your career, so she said its important to take your time when deciding on issues that will affect your organization for years to come.

“You must resist the urge to feel like you need to be quick on these decisions and not be tempted with the concern that you may be viewed as indecisive. Your approach should be led with competence and confidence,” she said. “Making decisions [is] easy. Making good decisions [is] hard. You need to resist the impulse decisions on these long-time horizon decisions.”

Smith also has some advice for the next generation of leaders. She urges them to “remain in public view” because it prevents stereotypes from taking hold. She also said “presence is pressure,” so don’t be afraid to speak up when important decisions are being made. Finally, Smith said leaders should not accept the status quo.

“Own your space. You can be a change agent. Don’t be afraid to change the things around you and do the right thing. You can do it,” she assured.

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