GDIT president explains how empathetic and compassionate leadership affects workplace culture

Amy Gilliland, president of General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), joins Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends to talk about how to lead with empathy and...

Amy Gilliland, president of General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), joins Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends to talk about how to lead with empathy and compassion while still driving results.

GDIT is a business unit of General Dynamics Corporation, and is an $8.5 billion global technology enterprise with operations in 30 countries worldwide. As president, Gilliland oversees General Dynamic’s IT business. She has more than 25 years of public sector experience including nearly two decades in leadership positions at General Dynamics. Gilliland  has been recognized as one of Virginia Business Magazine’s 50 Most Influential Virginians, a Washingtonian Tech Titan and is a five-time Wash100 award winner.

Gilliland started her career in the Navy after graduating from the Naval Academy. She says was inspired to serve by her great grandfather who immigrated to the United States from Switzerland.

“He  served his country and he was so proud. I was raised by a single mother. And I remember sitting at the breakfast table with him because she worked full time. I got such a sense of service being with him. So I went into the military and served on a guided missile destroyer,” she said.

Gilliland describes her leadership style as “empathetic.” She says many leaders fear that empathy is sometimes seen as a weakness but she believes it is one of the most important traits a leader can have — especially now.

“It is all about the people. If you take care of your people, they will take good care of your customers. You can lead with empathy and compassion and still drive results,” she said.

During her tenure at GDIT, Gilliland received a phone call informing her that one of the company’s employees died by suicide. That tragedy drove her to create a program within the company to open up conversations about mental health, especially among veterans.

She worked with INSA (Intelligence and National Security Alliance) to take the stigma away from people with security clearances who are afraid of reaching out for help. The work done by GDIT is now open to those outside of the company to help anyone seeking assistance. Employee resource groups are a main focus for GDIT, according to Gilliland. She says they have helped GDIT leadership and employees  navigate societal issues during COVID-19 and in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder.

“Now as a company we are having regular meetings and discussions that support employees around things like what happened in Buffalo or LGBTQ+ parents and how they navigate the environment with their children. We want everyone to feel included and supported,” she said.

Gilliland says she and her leadership team are also having conversations with company employees about veteran suicides.

“Thirty percent of our population are veterans. Coming from a military background this is very important to me and the leadership at GDIT,” she said.

Gilliland says having these conversations about mental health is “how you build a company with a soul”, and how you build a culture that is people focused.

“28% of GDIT employees are vets. This is great for our company and great for our customers. I found transition to civilian life difficult — ‘tough to navigate.’ GDIT ensures that the right resources and support systems are in place to help every employee,” she said.

Gilliland also offered some advice for the next generation of leaders.

“Be open to new opportunities that come in the door.  Have a variety of experiences in your career.  Always lead with empathy,” she said.

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