Leadership Interview

Welcome to AboutLeaders’ new series, ‘A Leadership Interview With…’ where we highlight contributors of AboutLeaders to learn more about them and their background in leadership. This week we have David McCuistion, who grew up in Tennessee, and loves teaching about Servant Leadership.

Thanks for doing this interview! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today – where you’re from, your educational and/or work background?

I grew up in near Rockwood, Tennessee, a small town about 50 miles southwest of Knoxville. My first leadership opportunity and responsibility was when I was assigned to lead the Sunday morning church service, which comprised of coordinating with the minister on scheduling the service agenda, song selection, leading service hymns, giving announcements and leading service prayers. Following high school graduation, I joined the Navy in which I completed a 29-plus year career during which I had several leadership responsibilities.

Included among my several leadership positions include the following responsibilities.

Enlisted Career – Departmental and Division Manager and Supervisor; Senior Enlisted Advisor to one of my Commanding Officers on all matters concerning the ship’s enlisted crewmembers leadership and overall well-being; Overhaul Project Manager for all Ship’s Force enlisted maintenance projects during a six-month major overhaul of my ship; Material Maintenance Manager for all shipboard routine preventive maintenance projects; and Senior Technical Telecommunications Advisor to the Commander, Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) Wing of the Pacific Fleet, from which I was commissioned to my Warrant Officer rank.

In addition, I was an instructor in telecommunication, leadership, which included several associated responsibilities, I counseled sailors in career advancement and working through life struggles, and mentored several of them in ways to improve their knowledge, skills, expertise and personal growth; all very satisfying endeavors.

Officer Career – Radio Telecommunications Technical Operations manager and Communication Department Head for a major Navy Amphibious Combatant; Recreation Services Manager; Assistant Officer-in-Charge and Interim Officer-in-Charge of a major Navy Shore Telecommunication Facility responsible for the leadership and management of over 75 civilian and military personnel that provided service to over 100 military departments at Naval Air Station Moffett Field, California.

I also was an officer instructor, teaching several topics, including SMART Goal Setting, rights and responsibilities and telecommunication subjects. I successfully let two separate and distinct communication departments at the Naval Communication Station, Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory. In addition I was project manager for the Operations Readiness Inspection, leading the station to an outstanding completion recognition.

Since retiring from the Navy in 1992, I have been employed as a Program Manger and Instructor in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC), teaching leadership and citizenship as well as a myriad of Naval and Maritime subject to high school students.

I was honored to have commissioned personally two military officers and been instrumental in several students receiving college scholarship and watching them grow from my leadership, mentoring, counseling and coaching; truly the most intrinsically rewarding time of my entire life.

I am currently matriculating with the John C. Maxwell Online University gaining certification as a John Maxwell Team Member providing mentoring, coaching, public speaking, and other leadership training throughout the United States.

I hold a Master of Arts Degree in Organizational Leadership from Chapman University in Orange, California, a Bachelors Degree in Behavioral Science from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, and two lesser degrees in Business Management and Accounting from Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California.

I also hold Masters’ Certificates in Human Resources and Project Management from Villanova University. During my naval career I attended several Leadership and Management courses and other training at seventeen different Navy training schools.

 What made you interested in leadership?

My interest in leadership stemmed from my church and scouting endeavors, my Navy career and being assigned to several leadership positions – some as a result of my performance and some because of my ascension from the enlisted career my commissioned officer years in the Navy.

During my early college studies, I was interested in business management as there were no leadership curriculums at the time because it was believed that leadership and management were one and the same. Due to several personal family moves and having to restart my pursuit to a degree, I obtained my bachelors degree due to a change in vision and my teaching career, and really because I wasn’t satisfied with learning about management.

Leadership is about people, making things happen, accomplishing major tasks, which is the real fun in leadership and progress, and watching people grow.

Finally, I was able to enroll in an Organizational Leadership curriculum through Chapman University, where I found my “leadership heart” if you will, beginning in-depth studies in leadership without the management aspect. From there the rest is history.

The reason for my passion about leadership is because it is about people, their well-being, their personal and professional growth, their morals and ethics, and about conflict-resolution and educational advancements. Conversely, management is about resources and things with no heart, no feeling, no belief system and not way to grow except by replacing it with another resource.

Building relationships with people is much more fun and rewarding, especially since I began following Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership principles and practices. The more I study Servant Leadership and leadership in general, the more passionate I become about the subject as it has led me to my philosophical research and personal growth as a man, father and husband.

What do you believe is the key to effective communication with your team?

The key to effective communication not only with my team, but also with everyone with whom I interact in my teaching, my family and public speaking endeavors is building personal relationship with others in my continual leadership of putting others first.

I love teaching and speaking about Servant Leadership, about setting personal and organizational vision, mission and goal statements. But most importantly, I receive tremendous intrinsic rewards and satisfaction watching people change their personal and leadership behaviors as a result of my interaction with them – speaking, listening and affirming.

My Leadership Motto is “Developing Great Leaders Who Develop Great Leaders,” which I initiated back in 2012. Every communication I make with my students is geared toward making a difference in their lives, helping them change to a new and improved individual who goes on to greater heights of success, with the desire that the will maintain a focus of “Leading themselves” to greats levels of personal growth.

In this, I feel I am developing a leader who will pass the information along to others. As I watch them and listen to their stories of improvement, I remind them to “Keep the Quest Alive! in their pursuits.

All of this requires communication: verbal, non-verbal and visual – watching me live what I tell them they need to do to improve. It requires me communicating with them about morals of right and wrong, vice what they see in the movies and on TV and what they hear in their music. I confront – another form of communication – them about their ethical and unethical behaviors – affirming the good, counseling and mentoring of the others.

Communication is key to every aspect of leadership.

How do you keep people motivated despite obstacles or setbacks?

First of all I believe that true motivation comes from within. Having said that, leaders have a responsibility to influence motivation.

There are several ways a leader does this:

  1. Being a servant leader with a focus on adding value to each one that will help them grow in professional and personal life;
  2. Being a person of character who can be trusted to do the right thing 24/7;
  3. Walking the talk, doing what they say they want from leaders;
  4. Lending a helping hand to show they believe in the process and what needs to be one;
  5. Communicating the “why” for doing what is asked of others, especially when attempting to motivate “buy-in” for change;
  6. Affirmation of praise and recognition for noteworthy achievements, even for doing their job if it show improvement;
  7. Confronting problem area through counseling, mentoring and conflict-resolution;
  8. Build solid, caring working relationship with employees by learning about their goals, family, aspirations and other areas of leadership and growth;
  9. Recognizing leadership and professional ability, then training for greater productivity; and,
  10. Building a culture of trust based on influential leadership, compassion and growth.

Which mistake do you believe leaders make most often, and how could they avoid it?

I believe the most common mistake leaders make is placing profits before people, while not building a culture of organizational vision, mission, and growth through the use of Servant Leadership practices. Secondly, I believe not enough emphasis is placed on training employees for technological change.

In addition, I believe leadership integrity mistakes have become common in industry and business to the point of believing that small compromises of integrity, for what is believed to be the greater good, are acceptable. Leaders are expected to be an agent of honor and integrity continually, character traits that build trust better and quicker than any other leadership trait.

What do you believe is a quality that a leader should try to eliminate from their team?

A main quality that I believe leaders need, not just try, to eliminate from their team, either individually or as a team within the total organization, is mediocrity. In business and leadership, good enough never is.

Accepting mediocrity – average – is a leadership flaw. A good friend and mentor of mine says that average is the way it should be all the time – except to him average was 4.0 on a 4.0 scale.

As a coach of competitive teams, following a competition we hold a “Goods and Others” meeting to discuss all those things that were “good” about the competition and our placing in the final outcome. We also discuss those “other” things we need to improve upon before the next competition.

It’s not to emphasize on the bad, but on what needs to be improved in our performance to either remain at the top or move up to that point. Intrapersonal communications like this are crucial to building team relationships and to improve efficiency. Many leaders do not see the need for these types of interactions.

Is there a particular well-known leader or company that you find inspiring? If so, why?

The most well-known leader that inspires me is John Maxwell, who is considered the premier leader in the world. For this reason, I joined the John Maxwell Team to improve my coaching, mentoring and public speaking skills. His books and philosophies are on every leaders reading list. I use his Daily Leadership Words in my leadership classes at school.

Past leaders that I read about are Presidents Washington, Adams, Lincoln and Grant, and Steven Covey. My library consists of over 30 leadership books written by several authors.

The company I admire is Southwest Airlines because their principal leadership methodology is Servant Leadership, who is just one of the over 100 top companies following Robert Greenleaf’s philosophy. I also follow the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina because of their world-wide notoriety. Obviously, I am a fan of AboutLeaders as well, who has published several of my leadership articles.

Are there any specific apps, tools or software that you use for productivity/communication?

While I am not as skilled as others with today’s technology, I do use a Smartphone, an iPad, a laptop for use with my public speaking seminars, and my Microsoft driven desktop. I maintain a website through the John Maxwell Group, and a personal leadership blog at www.vanguardldrship.wordpress.com. My VOL Leadership is also on Facebook. I have several PowerPoint lessons that I use with my public speaking, school and business training seminars.

How do you resolve conflict within your team?

I resolve conflict within my team by confronting the behavioral aspect of the conflict. Depending on the situation, it could be one-on-one counseling with recommendations necessary for improvement. Other times it could be with a supervisor and another team member along with the person(s) being confronted.

Regardless of the type of resolution, the conflict resolution is always documented, with a copy given to the person being counseled. If the counseling and mentoring does not resolve the behavior issue, then the next step is some sort of disciplinary action.

First of all, everyone is the organization is a leader, regardless of position and time on the job. The reason for this is they possess another view for creativity and performance improvement. I advise all leaders to research and read about leadership. There is so much information available to people for personal training and improvement that there is no reason for aspiring leaders to not develop leadership skills and expertise.

What advice would you give to upcoming leaders?

I teach that leadership is a responsibility. I heard Mike Frank of Speakers Unlimited speak on the topic of PRIDE. What it means is that everyone has Personal Responsibility In Developing Excellence. I then add other “E” words to expand the concept: Everyone, Everything, Ethics, etc.

I believe everyone has the potential to become great leaders, hence my motto above. I teach them to observe, learn, read, research, model other positive leadership traits and continue learning. John Maxwell teaches the Law of Process, which means it is a continual process. I am a personal example of that idea.

What are your interests and hobbies?

My current hobbies include golf, hiking (although knee problems have limited my participation), reading philosophy, morals and ethics, and researching my Scots-Irish heritage. I am president of Clan Uisdean, USA, which is the McCuistion and several spellings of the name who descend from Uisdean McDonald, Isle of Skye, Scotland.

Again, I am grateful for the opportunity to be interviewed by AboutLeaders.com. I enjoy submitting articles for publication on your website. I look forward to our continued relationship. Thank you.

Keep Up With Our ‘A Leadership Interview With…’ Series here.

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David McCuistion
David is a retired Naval Officer with extensive leadership and management experience including Officer-in-Charge of a major communication facility, in secondary education teaching leadership, and over five years public speaking on Servant Leadership and organizational development topics.
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