Balancing career and family in the military, Lean In is trying to help

Army Maj. Gen. Patricia Frost functions in a high powered job in cyber, one of the military’s top priority areas.

On top of that she’s a mother and a wife and now she’ll be escorting one of Silicon Valley’s darlings on tours of military bases.

Frost has been a mentor to both men and women over her career and she understands the pressure of military life. That’s one reason she was chosen to work with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg when they visit Fort Bragg and Fot Hood.

Sandberg is known for the creation of Lean In Circles, which give people a space to discuss gender and the challenges that arise in the workplace for both women and men.


More than a year and a half ago the Defense Department gave its employees the option to partake in Lean In Circles.

Her mission during the tour is teaching “people what the Lean In Circles can and can’t do, providing women … and also men a voice to understand the differences. Men and women actually do lead differently and sometimes what I actually say is sometimes we’ll get further along when men actually understand the differences women have and challenges,” Frost told Federal News Radio during an exclusive interview at the Pentagon.

Lean In Circles have popped up all over the defense community, even in more tight-lipped agencies like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Frost leads her own Lean In Circle, but before Sandberg came out with the concept Frost was mentoring young men and women about balancing family and career.

“The best place for me where my subordinates would let their guard down was during physical training and that I could actually do individual or group counseling or just mentoring on a run, at a physical event. People tend to share more, you’re sweaty, you’re running and it’s hard,” Frost said. “Taking people out on that long run and having that conversation, it’s amazing what you can learn.”

DoD Reporter Scott Maucione discusses this story on Federal Drive with Tom Temin

Frost said she started mentoring on runs when she was a battalion commander. People would rotate running beside her and she would talk to them.

“I’d understand who they were, their family, their background, what are their goals. So then when they actually came in for formal counseling I had a basis of which to go on,” Frost said. “I didn’t realize I was doing many things [Sandberg] talks about. Having that communication style, opening the doors of communication, understanding challenges that our subordinates are having in the workplace and then linking people up.”

Frost used Facebook as a way to keep in contact with people and link them together. She created a fitness group for women, where they could talk and lend support.

But Frost isn’t just a leader, she’s also a soldier and she will be the first to admit there were many times she almost left the Army too.

Her husband is also in the Army and the dual military lifestyle can be grueling.

“After my husband and I both deployed to Iraq, we were there for 15 months … our daughter was two years old,” Frost said. After all the training and time overseas she missed some of her daughter’s bigger moments as a baby.

“By the time we get home our daughter is four. Left her in diapers and came home to this toddler … It was difficult for both of us. Just maternally I was really having trouble getting over those years lost,” Frost said.

She had her paperwork done to leave the Army, but she stayed.

She stayed because she wasn’t afraid to ask for help, to reach out to a support system she found, and to the leadership.

Today, Frost’s daughter is 13 and has a great relationship with her parents. Frost’s daughter also isn’t afraid to let her parents know when she needs more attention from them.

But not every soldier has that support group and the Army is losing some extremely talented men and women because of the toll the career takes on family.

“You can have it all. You just can’t do it alone. So if you truly want the marriage and the family and you want to be that high-end leader, recognize you’re going to have to ask for help and what is that? Is that a nanny? Is that an au pair? Is that a family member? Is it friends? No one ever likes to ask for help or assistance. I always say you can have it all, you just can’t do it alone,” Frost said.

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