Paul G. Patton, Colonel, USAF (Ret.)
Senior Vice President, CACI International Inc.
MY GREATEST STRENGTH
My greatest strengths are leadership and interpersonal skills. Beginning with my formative years in the Pittsburgh inner city neighborhood known as the “Hill District”; continuing during my 27 years in the United States Air Force, and continuing with my personal and professional career after the Air Force, I have honed my leadership skills. A leader must speak and write clearly to encourage and persuade others to achieve organizational goals. A leader must delegate task level authority and responsibility to allow subordinates to grow in their leadership experience, but retain overall responsibility for the outcomes. This retention of overall responsibility requires a leader to trust subordinates but verify their actions. The leader must also be willing to set the example for others to follow.
When I was commander of a communications squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, I was faced with several leadership challenges, but one really stands out. I am deathly afraid of hypodermic needles! When the quarterly blood drive was announced, I was petrified. I had to encourage my subordinates to give blood and the most effective way to provide that encouragement was to be first in line to give blood myself. I stepped up to this leadership challenge every quarter for two years. It was a nerve-racking experience each time, but I did it as an act of leadership and my organization responded.
A companion skill to leadership is possessing strong interpersonal skills. The key to strong interpersonal skills is the necessity to genuinely like people. If you like people, you will accept them at face value and not react to them based upon any stereotypes or preconceived notions. If you genuinely like people, you will be able separate their behavior from their persona. Thus when they behave in a manner that supports organizational goals or personal improvement, you will be inclined to praise that behavior. Similarly, when you have to discipline someone, you can focus your constructive criticism on the offending behavior and not their persona. For example, if you say I don’t like person 1 because they did something wrong or I really like person 2 because they did something right, you are not providing constructive leadership. But if you say I don’t like what person 1 did or I do like what person 2 did, you are focusing on their behavior and stand a much better chance of encouraging person 1 to modify his negative behavior and person 2 to continue and improve their positive behavior.
In business, one frequently hears how good a manager someone is, but I have tried to focus on leadership, because one manages things but leads people. I listen, try to give clear guidance and direction, delegate task level authority and responsibility, then get out of the way and let them soar. Through status reports, onsite visits, and client interaction, I verify that the desired results are being achieved.
I became a member of Team CACI in April 2000, when they acquired the small company for which I had worked eight years following my retirement from the Air Force. I was a line manager with P&L responsibility for several million dollars. By exercising leadership as described above, my group quadrupled my P&L responsibility in eight years, which was financially beneficial to the company. I have represented the company on various boards and associations and used my leadership and interpersonal skills to call positive attention to CACI in a non-boastful manner. I have also leveraged my leadership skills and experiences to mentor those junior to me. This has helped to improve the human capital of our company.
I have to be selective in responding to this question because of the many people who have inspired me. I must begin with my mother, who, after choosing to give birth to me out of wedlock, dedicated her life to my well-being. She worked as a waitress, school janitor, seamstress, and medical secretary to provide for us. She marched in downtown Pittsburgh to protest against department stores managers who wouldn’t hire “Negro clerks,” but at the same time, cautioned me that “Not every Negro who smiles at you wishes you well and not every white person who frowns at you wishes you ill.” And above all, she insisted that I must keep GOD in my life.
My mother convinced me that I could be anything I wanted to be if I was willing to work for it. She would say shoot for the stars and even if you come up short, you can get to the moon. I remember her telling me as a child that I was going to go to college before I really knew what college was. Going to college was quite a stretch for a kid from the “hood” but she insisted that I was going and indeed, I went. She inculcated her strong work ethic in me and it has stayed with me all of my life. Despite the ill treatment she frequently received as a black woman and a single parent, she taught and motivated me to treat all people with respect, regardless of who they actually were or thought they were. I attribute my interpersonal skills in large part to her mentoring in this area.
The next person who inspired me was the late Bernard H. Jones, Sr., founder of POISE Foundation (www.poisefoundation.org) and my mentor and surrogate big brother from 1957 until his death in 2002. Mr. Jones “rescued” me when I was arrested for shoplifting at age 15. As the son of a single parent, he knew the challenges of the inner city neighborhood and worked tirelessly to help me and others like me. He established an Explorer Scout post to provide a wholesome outlet for our youthful energies. The story is much too long to document here, but suffice to say that Mr. Jones was ahead of his time, and I was blessed to have him in my life. Others who have inspired me include Eleanor Roosevelt; Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama; abolitionists of all races; Nelson Mandela; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Jackie Robinson; and a host of others.
Mr. Jones taught me that there was more to being a man than the ability to make babies. He said it was perfectly acceptable to achieve good grades in school. He motivated me to never take no for an answer unless that was the answer I was looking for. And he was relentless in saying, “The hood is where you are from, but it doesn’t have to be who you are!”
Thus, my mother and Mr. Jones were the two prime motivators in my life who helped lay the ground work for what I am today: A husband to the same wife for 46 years; a responsible father of two and grandfather of three; a retired Air Force colonel (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CurTkHHT81c); and a successful business man who continues to keep GOD in his life.
The others I mentioned above motivated me with their courage, drive, determination, tolerance, and strong focus on doing things right and doing the right things. Of that listing, I must single out Eleanor Roosevelt who I met in person 1960. At the beginning of the “Tuskegee Airmen Experiment” in the early 1940s, Mrs. Roosevelt traveled to Montgomery Alabama and flew with Chief Anderson, the primary flight instructor for the Tuskegee Airmen. The courage she displayed in flying with Chief Anderson was a key factor in the success of the program. The success of the Tuskegee Airmen Experiment proved the efficacy of having African Americans in the Air Force (Army Air Corps at the time). Absent the success of the Tuskegee Airmen Experiment, there is a high probability that there would never have been a Colonel Paul G. Patton. That is why I derive special motivation from Mrs. Roosevelt.
HOW I MOTIVATE OTHERS
I frequently start with my own story: If a black kid, the son of a janitor, who was raised in the “hood” in a single parent family, can do the things I have been blessed to do, surely you can excel. I place a high value on mentorship and use my leadership skills to mentor and motivate others. I encourage them to place a high value on academic achievement, stress the importance of hard work, and exhort them to exploit their areas of excellence. We are all good at something and we need to capitalize on our assets. I also stress the need for and value of being passionate about what you do. I remember my mother’s admonition that whatever you do, strive to be the best at it whether you are a garbage collector or a heart surgeon.
If I am talking to an African American man, I sometimes try to use our history as a source of pride and strength. We were forcibly removed from our native land, endured a grueling trans-Atlantic “voyage” under the most inhumane conditions, suffered through centuries of cruel and brutal slavery as we watched our mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts beaten and raped, and our relatives sold and removed from the family. We were forbidden to speak our native languages and prohibited from learning to read a new one. We survived segregation, Jim Crow, and any number of other indignities. But despite all of these impediments, we not only endured we soared. We fought for our new country in every war it encountered. We have excelled in every profession and participated at all levels of government, including the presidency. I conclude with references to world changers who were of African descent: Alexandre Dumas one of 12 black generals in Napoleon’s army and his son, Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo; Hamilcar Barca, the North African warrior who was Hannibal’s father and for whom Barcelona, Spain, is named, Alexander Pushkin, the famous Russian poet who was the great grandson of an African; Pope Victor, one of three African Popes of the Catholic Church, and a host of others. My hope is that this knowledge of our proud Afro-centric history and the more recent accomplishments of men of African descent will motivate them.
OUR GREATEST CHALLENGE
I believe economic disparities and racism are the two major issues for the African-American community. The overarching issue is economics. According to an August 30, 2013, Pew Research Center article (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/30/black-incomes-are-up-but-wealth-isnt/) titled “Black incomes are up, but wealth isn’t,” the median net worth for black households in 2011 ($6,446) was lower than it was in 1984 ($7,150), while white households’ net worth was almost 11% higher. The average U.S. household assets in 2010 were $783,224.00 for white families and $154,285.00 for black families. The impact of this 5-to-1 difference is apparent in numerous aspects of American life. In most cases the quality of neighborhood schools is directly proportional to the affluence of the neighborhood. Be it access to capital, health care, nutrition, or employment, economic disadvantage is the overarching issue facing African-American community.
Closely coupled with economic disadvantage is the issue of racism, an unrelenting cancer that has besmirched our country since its founding and continues to thwart our efforts to drive it into remission. The corrosive impact of racism is an ongoing problem for the African-American community and for the country as a whole. A nation has only so much human capital and to the extent that our nation allows racism to fuel diminished economic opportunity in the African American community, we are wasting human capital. If we have a 5-to-1 asset disadvantage in the African-American community, the opportunity to develop African-American human capital is diminished. If we deny or reduce access to capital, health care, nutrition, and employment, we not only negatively impact the African-American community, but we also deprive the nation of doctors, scientist, military officers, teachers, entrepreneurs, and other individuals of promise who, for lack of resources, will become promises not kept.
I owe so much to so many that I will never be able to repay the debts, but I will continue to make installments as long as I live. In 1980, I was an incorporator of Pittsburgh’s POISE Foundation, (www.poisefoundation.org), the first African-American-owned and operated community charitable foundation in the state of Pennsylvania. For the last 16 years, I served as chairman of the board and remain a board member today. Since its incorporation, POISE Foundation has raised and distributed more than $5 million in grants, and is currently capitalized at just under $7 million. POISE has been and continues to be a force for good in the black community of the Greater Pittsburgh area. Its current focus on sustaining the black community by strengthening black families is a nationally recognized program.
While attending the National War College in 1981–82, I discussed with some of my classmates the observation that black officers entering the Air Force through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) programs at the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) were ill-equipped to make the transition from life on campus to life in the Air Force. In response to this observation, I started an HBCU campus visitation program to provide information and strategies to help these new officers make the transition from life on campus to life on base. This initial effort that began in 1982 grew into an officially recognized mentorship program (The Air Force Cadet Officer Mentorship Action Program (AFCOMAP) that is still active today.
As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, I am on the board of directors of the Ira Dorsey Scholarship Endowment Fund,(IDSEF) a 501(c)(3) organization that provides scholarships to graduating seniors (primarily African American) in the Greater Washington metro Area. Over the past 10 years, IDSEF has awarded more than $100K in scholarships. At CACI, I am the executive sponsor for our African American Employee Resource Group, and have been active in promoting diversity and inclusion activities for more than six years. I also represent CACI on George Mason University’s University Life Advisory Board that provides a pathway for students who would be the first in their families to attend college to gain admission to GMU.
This is a tough one because I can’t settle on the most important lesson, so I will offer a few:
- You are never as good as you think you are, nor are you as bad as others may think or want you to be. As a young officer in the Air Force, I thought I was the best lieutenant and captain in the service. When I was promoted to Major, I accepted the fact that there may be a few officers as capable as I. When I was promoted to lieutenant colonel, two years ahead of normal, I accepted the fact that there were a lot of officers as capable as I. And when I was promoted to colonel, I embraced the fact that there were many officers more capable than I. My evolving personal capability assessments were due to in large part to maturity and my acceptance of the spirit and intent of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “IF” (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/if/)
- The boss may not always be right, but the boss is always responsible. When you are a subordinate, your boss has the right to expect you to do all you can to help her achieve the organization’s objectives. If you disagree with her approach, you have the right and the responsibility to raise questions. But once she says this is what we are going to do, your professional and moral obligations are to help her do it, unless you are being tasked to do something illegal, immoral, or to impugn someone’s integrity. This was a particularly difficult lesson for me during my early days in the Air Force. I knew that right way to do everything, and if you didn’t believe me all you had to do was ask. After being insubordinate to my commander in Viet Nam, it took me four years to admit to myself that I could have done what he asked the way he asked me to do it.
- Keep your family close and GOD closer in your life. Don’t allow your job to become who and what you are. Work as hard and as long as you need to, but make time for your family and your faith, for when your working days are over, the quality of your retirement will be directly proportional to the quality of your relationship with your family and your faith.
FINDING A BALANCE
I try to maintain balance by keeping a lot of things going on in my life in addition to work. I like to enjoy my family (my beautiful wife, two grown married children, and three grandchildren). I also read, play golf, fish, macramé, cycle, go to the movies, play cards, do woodworking, travel, participate in professional associations and fraternal organizations, and cheer for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I am secure in myself. As a consequence of my service in Viet Nam, I am a prostate cancer survivor, and have contracted late onset type 2 diabetes, which I control with diet, medicine, and exercise. The fact that I am still standing means that GOD is not finished with me yet.
For those just beginning their careers, I would offer one last bit of advice in addition to the points I covered above: The most important job in the world is the one you have now. It is important to plan for the future and take the actions that will position you to progress—additional education, certifications, etc.—but no matter how well you prepare for the future, if you fail to excel at the job you have now, you may forfeit your opportunities to progress.
As an African-American female, who has strived to be the best I can be with God’s help and directions, I was truly inspired by your writings and assertions and I was reminded of just how important it is to always strive to reach for the stars (and the heavens) and to be the best man or women one can be—not only for oneself but for others to
glean from. Thanks for reminding me of the privilege and the honor we have in this great country to not suppress but to share with others such a rich heritage.
This article is very inspirational to me. I will really like to take the opportunity to thank you for taking the time to educate and motivate others to follow your footsteps. Once again, thank you