Harnessing Resilience in the Coast Guard’s Environmental Program

Shannan Garretson

Having recently completed the RBLP-T leadership certification program, I am honored to share some insights as to how the RBLP program has helped me grow as a leader.  I am fortunate to wear two hats and both are associated with two branches of the service: I am a member of the US Coast Guard Reserve as well as a Senior Environmental Specialist with the Iowa Army National Guard.

Shannan Garretson | Guest Contributor

In the Coast Guard, I serve as the Reserve Command Master Chief for the 13th District – or in plain language, the reserve senior enlisted advisor for the Pacific Northwest.  As part of the District leadership team, I am focused on challenges affecting the work force and impacting the mission.  In addition, I also play a key role in mentoring future leaders; for the Iowa Army National Guard, I manage a natural, cultural resources program, and I am the National Environmental Policy Act manager, ensuring that we conserve our natural areas, preserve our historic buildings, and considers all environmental impacts on construction projects.  Both professional roles provide me different challenges and place me in two different roles on their respective teams, as well as allow for me to have different perspectives on how leaders in an organization interact with their teams.

I first heard of the RBLP program through LinkedIn; at the time, I was completing a Masters in Organizational Leadership, and I thought the next step would be a certification applying the skills I had learned not only through my graduate coursework but through my experience as well.  As the Armed Forces are now offering credentialing reimbursement through their respective COOL programs, it worked out seamlessly. What I really enjoyed about RBLP was the conversations about leadership, mentorship, teamwork, and overall organizational culture.  Throughout my journey there were many “ah-ha” moments because we captured a concept into an actionable idea: to recognize how the concept fit into my life, either in my professional roles or my personal life as a mother of two teenage daughters, and I gained insight to my own leadership style as well as an understanding as to how important highly functional teams are to an organization.  I also remember many times that wished I had received training to the level that RBLP offers as I was coming up through the ranks in my military career.

These conversations really empowered me to understand how concepts like respect, trust, and accountability are key building blocks as a leader; they flow between team leaders and team members.  Accountability is a stepping stone to building trust and foster respect, so often I united these terms into a single concept, with the overall goal of mutual respect and trust across the teams.   As a leader, I have witnessed how respect and trust can be lost easily and very difficult to restore on the basis of accountability.  Accountability can also work both ways; when a leader does not demonstrate or foster mutual respect amongst their team or does not hold each member equally accountable, the trust in that leader is not strong.  Years ago, when I held a team leader position, one of my members wanted to know why my focus was not in line with the team’s; I explained that top down policy was changing, but they were not satisfied with that response.  Being able to identify what needs to be in place to foster a trusting and respecting team, through accountability is an idea I have grown to embrace as a leader in both my professions.

Another concept that was a revelation during the exam prep conversations is that of feedback.  As a growing leader in the Coast Guard, I used to shy away from providing feedback to my team or only give it during the annual evaluations.  I have also received surprising feedback during annual evaluations in both my career fields.  Leaders may often restrict feedback to annual reviews because it delays a potentially uncomfortable situation or limits the opportunity of providing negative feedback, but feedback needs to be timely and on point. It should also be balanced; team members will feel as though they cannot perform as needed if the feedback received is always negative, or given in an apathetic “good job” manner.   Well-delivered positive feedback has as much as an impact as constructive criticism, and team members will not learn from their missteps or grow in their victories if feedback is not a constant.  It also does not always have to come from the leader to the team, but can be a source of learning amongst team members as well.  Effective advice amongst the team fosters growth, and true, timely, and direct feedback are elements of accountability as well, returning us to the relationship with trust and respect.

It is imperative for leaders to understand that while we may know key concepts about being a leader, we need to be able to implement them as well.  No leader is perfect, or gets it right all the time, and team members are learning from their leaders so it is very important to understand how trust, respect, accountability and feedback are all building blocks for self-improvement.  For this reason, it is great to have a program such as RBLP where leaders are able to have conversations, share ideas, and encourage growth and learning.  Leveraging experiences, either through action or observation, is what allows leaders, at all levels, to become stronger at their craft.

Shannan Garretson is the current Environmental Program Manager for the Iowa Army National Guard (IAARNG) as well as the District 13 Reserve Command Master Chief in the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Reserves.  She has worked with the IAARNG for seven years and has been a member of the USCG for over 20 years, and holds a Bachelors in Environmental Science from the University of Iowa and a Masters of Arts in Organizational Leadership from Waldorf University.  Shannan completed the RBLP-T course in August of 2020.

RBLP leadership certifications are about Building Resilient Teams™ that overcome adversity and then can adapt and grow together! 

Learn more about the requirements for the RBLP Certification program, and if you’re interested in getting certified to Build Resilient Teams, feel free to fill out our application!

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