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NEWS | Nov. 1, 2023

Jumper shares lessons in leadership with DMA mentees, mentors

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Brig. Gen. Catherine M. Jumper, the Virginia National Guard Assistant Adjutant General - Air, provided remarks as the guest speaker for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs Workforce Development Mentoring Program Oct. 26, 2023, at Fort Barfoot, Virginia. 

During the program, Jumper shared with program participants lessons in leadership, communication and accountability learned during her nearly 30-year career as an Air Force officer. In particular, Jumper highlighted key areas in which any leader must excel, including recognizing people’s strengths, giving honest feedback, self awareness and character. 

“Any time I get asked to talk about leadership and communication - these are things that are passions of mine, and they have been for a really long time,” Jumper said to the program’s participants. “The fact that you all are committed to this mentorship program is a testament to your desire to help build a successful organization. You have to always be committed to self-improvement and helping others improve if you want an organization to be great.”

The first topic she highlighted was recognizing strengths inherent in an organization’s personnel. 

“One of the things I’ve learned over my career is that organizations don’t get better by capitalizing on people’s weaknesses,” explained Jumper. “They get batter by capitalizing on people’s strengths. It’s important we help people identify and be aware of their weaknesses and work through them, but that’s not really where we want to focus our efforts. We want to figure out what it is that people in the organization do well, and then try to get them in a place where they can succeed.”

Jumper tied that lesson into her other talking points, including giving honest feedback and being self aware, and explained why a mentorship program like the DMA’s is beneficial to those goals. 

“What does it take in order for you to help identify your own strengths or help to identify a teammate’s strengths? It takes communication,” said Jumper. “You have to be willing to seek feedback, you have to willing to give feedback, you have to be willing to ask for help. That’s one of the reasons these types of mentorship programs are really great. It’s great to have someone else to bounce the feedback that you get off of. It’s tough to give honest negative feedback and it’s tough to hear it. It’s nice to have these relationships and mentors to go to. It’s important that we as mentors are willing to really challenge the people who are seeking feedback from us. For mentees, it’s important to ask for that feedback and then really hearing it, not just the good stuff.

“I think that getting that honest feedback is so much easier if you are already self-aware, and you already kind of know the things you aren’t at great and can acknowledge them,” she added. 

She also stressed the importance of having character in becoming a successful leader. 

“I just heard this quote from John Maxwell, that leaders cannot rise above the limitations of their character,” she said, referring to the popular author. “Another way to translate that is do your words match your actions? If you say you’re going to do something, are you doing it? Are you willing to admit and acknowledge it if you’ve done something wrong? Humility is one of the key traits any leader has to have.”

Jumper also fielded questions from the mentors and mentees in attendance after her remarks, and made sure she shared some advice for the mentors who have volunteered to provide guidance to their mentees. 

“I would say it’s engagement,” Jumper said. “I feel like when someone reaches out and asks you to mentor them, it is your job to drive the relationship. It’s your job as a mentor to check in, it’s your job as a mentor to be aware of what they have going on. Don’t just rely on the mentee.”

The DMA mentoring program is in its fourth iteration since its inception. Once paired, mentors and mentees spend a year together in formal partnership. The program was born from a need in the organization, according to retired Brig. Gen. Walt Mercer, the DMA’s Chief Operations Officer. 

“About five and a half years ago, we had a vision that there was a need for a mentor program in order to develop talent and create more of a collegial environment for DMA, and give us an opportunity to cross-talk and grow with each other,” said Mercer. “We built a working group, and we ended up stealing a lot of the program’s good ideas and policies from the University of Virginia. They had a really good mentor program for their staff and faculty. So, we took some of the basics and tweaked it to our agency and kicked this thing off four years ago.”

Mercer said to date, the program has been a resounding success. 

“It’s a great program and a lot of fun,” Mercer said. “We’ve had a lot of successes, a lot of good growth, professional development as well as friendships and relationships which weren’t there before.”

The current class of mentors and mentees are slated to graduate the program in early 2024, and a new class will launch shortly thereafter. 

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