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Learning their limits benefits the service 
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Peter Ellum  
PLYMOUTH, Mass.   Peter Ellum emphasizes his point to a roomful of Massachusetts Air National Guard members during a leadership seminar held at the John Carver Inn, Plymouth, Mass., Oct. 18, 2012  (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Saslav, Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs)
By Staff Sgt. Jerry Saslav, Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs 

“Every generation before, bemoans what the latest or the newest is doing,” said Peter Ellum, “We all think they’re screwed up, our parents were saying how we are ruining the world when we were growing up.”

The Massachusetts Air National Guardsmen who had gathered at the John Carver Inn here laughed with Ellum and while it seemed to be a relaxed social gathering it was not. This was a leadership course being taught by Ellum and some colleagues from the TSM Corporation. The course is structured around the premise that in order for a leader to be most effective, they need to know their own strengths and limitations.

“If you better understand yourself,” said Ellum, “Then you’ve got a chance at better understanding people.”

While this may seem to be a little ‘touchy feely’ for an organization, such as the military, that follows strict rules and regulations, it does deal with one of the military’s core missions: teamwork.

“What the research shows, and the research was done at the national research lab at Los Alamos, is that diverse teams … diverse groups of people produce better results than homogenous groups,” said Ellum.

The course stresses that it is these diverse groups of different problem solvers that can provide the input needed to assist those in leadership positions in accomplishing the mission.

  “The best leaders are the ones who realize that they are not Superman or Superwoman. The best leader is the one who realizes what they are good at and what they are not good at. Nobody’s good at everything.”

In the seminar one of the terms that they use to describe this is diversity of thought; the person who wants hard data working with the free thinker sometimes ‘goes with their gut’ when making a decision or the person who starts a project as soon as they are assigned it working with the person who may put the assignment off as long as they possibly can.

Ellum and his team use established psychological methods such as the Meyers Briggs test to help each member of the seminar identify their own strengths and limitations as well as their teammates. 

“This is all about self-awareness. I have to be honest, I was a little skeptical at first,” said Lt. Col. Chris Hamilton, group commander, 102nd Mission Support Group, “I have really been engaged since the beginning … it’s about learning about yourself and how to maximize your performance in leading other people. It’s not so much about being ‘touchy feely,’ but understanding  how other people react to you and learning how to predict that to maximize their performance … to get them to do what you want them to do, by understanding how they perceive you.”

While all Service members will obey the orders of those appointed above them, how they perceive you is especially important when dealing with younger Service members.

“If they don’t feel valued, if they don’t feel important, if they don’t feel a part of something … if you’re making them feel unimportant then they won’t strive to be their best, “ said Senior Master Sgt. Michelle O’Keefe, military personnel superintendent, Massachusetts Air National Guard, “Personnel is the hub for everything that we do. If you don’t have people [productively] working … underneath you then you can’t be successful. You have to have that unique style to motivate and to lead.”  

Hamilton would like to see this training available to more Service members, especially those just starting their careers.

“In the military there are very few people without any leadership opportunities, even if you are an E-3 there is probably somebody below you that you might be responsible for leading. I think that self awareness and understanding yourself, understanding how to make people perform or get people to perform is a great tool for somebody to have earlier in their career. The sooner they learn these skills, the better it is for any organization,” said Hamilton. “I’m trying to make sure that my people are happy doing what they are doing and they are getting the job done as quickly … as efficiently as possible. Because that’s really what it’s all about, getting the mission done at the end of the day and the best way to get the mission done.”