A mentor and leader for over two decades, Shon Barnwell has funneled her vast experience since her retirement from the U.S. Air Force into a successful event planning company, her own publishing company, and a variety of speaking and consulting engagements. She has just published her first book on leadership, and is a recent recipient of the RBLP-T certification!
In our latest RBLP Spotlight interview, we spoke to Shon about her experience as a leadership mentor and the alignment between the teachings in her book and the RBLP program…
Hello Shon, thanks for chatting with us! Tell us a little about who you are and where you’re from.
Greetings, thank you for the opportunity to share my story with you and your supporters! Currently, I wear a few hats – mom, wife, mentor, and ambassador. I am also the owner and director of an event planning company; president of a publishing company; author, speaker, and consultant. My hometown is Detroit, Michigan and I currently reside in Warner Robins, Georgia. I am passionate about talent management and preparing next generation leaders for success.
What can you tell us about the journey of your career in the U.S. Air Force?
I served honorably in the military for over 25 years – reshaping Air Force organizations on five continents. The journey continues today – out of uniform – as I am still in touch with many of my Air Force comrades. My career was magical because I gained new family members across the globe, served as a “second Mommy” to others, and played an impactful role on some remarkable initiatives.
Your bio lists that during your tour of duty at Robins AFB, you were responsible for upholding such things as morale, welfare, resiliency, retention, recruitment and readiness among the enlisted there. What drew you to this line of work within your time in the service?
My first Air Force career path was Logistics. At my 10-year career mark, I retrained into a career field called Manpower, which is similar to Industrial Engineering. The shift allowed me to further expand my background in process improvement and efficiency efforts with an added Human Capital Management focus. In my humble opinion, our greatest impact as leaders is shaping the culture of an organization. When we care for people – our greatest asset – we help them soar to new levels of achievement, productivity, and growth. I enjoy helping people reach their next big thing.
You recently published your book on leadership – congratulations! What can you tell us about the AIR (action, impact, results) application that you discuss in the book, and how it can benefit leaders in civilian organizations as well as the military?
Yes, my new book, Leadership Is About Behavior, Not Titles was released in April. Thank you for your well wishes! The role of every leader is to solve problems, so our “action” is to be prepared. Preparedness can take many forms. Sometimes we need to demonstrate technical aptitude, and sometimes we need to show our team members emotional intelligence. Our “impact’ as leaders is to educate, train, motivate, and leverage talent. Our “result” can be creating change, taking a course of action, improving proficiency or productivity, or sparking innovation. When we plant this concept of AIR (action, impact, result) – any time we touch a project or process, or develop future leaders – we are engineering success. All institutions – military, private and public corporations, academia, sporting teams, and families, to name a few – strive to be successful. So there’s application in all realms of our existence. It’s important to be intentional and deliberate to ensure that our efforts are positive and forward moving.
How is leadership – specifically, the ability to lead and understand people – important to you personally, and what are some great examples that you’ve experienced both from the leaders you served under and as a leader yourself?
Great question! I truly believe that we can’t win the minds of our team until we win the hearts of our team! Research shows that more than money and prestige, people want their leader to show them respect. We spend so much time in the workplace that our team members often become extended family members. Of course, those relationships can only evolve when the culture is supportive, positive, and safe. I genuinely care for each member of my team, and that authenticity allows people (and myself) to fail forward, to share information that leads to creative solutions, and allows people to soar!
On the topic of great examples I’ve experienced from leaders I’ve served under. Whoa, that would take a few volumes! For the sake of time, I’ll share an account from my tour of duty in Korea. During the assignment, I learned the benefit of taking calculated talent management risks from Majors Jarrard Galbreath and Edmond Sims. Major Galbreath served as the Squadron Commander and Major Sims was my Flight Chief. An unforeseen personnel shortage required our Flight Chief to relocate to another organization and instantly I was thrust into a leadership position. Both leaders took a significant chance on me because at the time, I was an enlisted Technical Sergeant (E-5) and previous Flight Chiefs were officers in the rank of Captain or above. Their trust in me reinforced my belief as a leader that (1) sometimes you have to build the car while you are driving it; (2) people will live up to your expectation; (3) every experience prepares you for your next big thing; and (4) trusting your team builds resiliency.
You received your RBLP-T certification earlier this year. In what ways did the RBLP program resonate with you, particularly as it relates to the concepts that you discuss in your book?
The RBLP-T program resonates with me because the RBLP objectives deliberately address creating positive climate, developing cohesion, providing purpose, facilitating team learning and supporting organizational learning. Each of these efforts is key to developing high performing and resilient teams.
Every day, leaders worldwide influence workplace culture in various industries – education, aerospace, energy, food, healthcare, hospitality, information technology, manufacturing, and transportation, to name a few. Their goal is to solve problems and generate revenue. But are they effective? Do they lead by example? Are team members valued? How often does miscommunication result in lost opportunities? Is turnover soaring? Do leaders show favoritism to a particular group of people? How often does infighting occur? Is morale low and disruptive behavior high? Is the leader a bully? Is the work culture toxic? Is the company losing time, money, and talent? Leadership Is About Behavior, Not Titles offers actions to address these concerns and more!
What are the three most resonant aspects of RBLP, in your opinion, that you would convey to others as examples of why it is a valuable certification to have?
I feel the RBLP certification offers value because it specifically aligns with leadership advice that I personally offer to others:
1. Be a voice for the voiceless
2. Be fair and consistent in all matters
3. Surround yourself with good (positive) people
4. Don’t ask people to do something that you wouldn’t do
As a RBLP participant, you gain insight on and enhance emotional intelligence; position yourself to fully embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion; and most importantly, create cultures that are safe, respectful, and trusting.
What did you find most rewarding in RBLP’s exam preparation, and the most applicable for individuals who are looking to begin their careers or develop themselves as leaders within their organization?
I thoroughly enjoyed the communication process with my instructor, Dr. Christine Lustik. Her remarkable sense of self-awareness was instrumental in active listening. She kept our communications engaging and positive, and she was attentive and non-judgmental which encouraged me to be completely authentic during the RBLP learning and sharing experience. The RBLP process is very reflective and engaging. You are able to sharpen your communication skills and build a stronger foundation of active listening, sharing feedback, building confidence, asking questions, and displaying courtesy and consideration towards others.
What is one of your own best personal experiences in your service that has influenced or inspired you?
To be truthful, having a toxic leader experience most influenced and inspired me to become a different, positively impactful, and engaging leader. In our discussions about leadership – emotional intelligence, humility, and accountability are behaviors that must be addressed. Even though some studies show that three out of 10 leaders are toxic, we don’t often talk about this dilemma. People are suffering immensely from toxic leader experiences! It is my hope that by sharing my story, solutions will be implemented and healing will begin. My Air Force Sergeants Association’s 2021 Professional Education and Development Symposium keynote address speaks to this, and can be viewed on YouTube.
Tell us a little about yourself outside of your service! Any other activities or hobbies, and how do you like to spend your spare time?
Shon Barnwell Events LLC and Barnwell Publishing LLC keep me pretty busy. Next year, 50 beautiful souls will join me on a 12-Night Western Mediterranean Cruise – I love to travel! My country count is 26 and counting. I also enjoy mentoring and coaching and can be found creating on-demand leadership and development curriculum as well as delivering the content.
The new book allows me to meet many new people via book signings and speaking engagements. When it’s time to wind down, I like to travel, read a great book, or roller-skate. Of course, anytime spent with my husband Andre – retired USAF Master Sergeant and educator to 8th graders – and our lovely daughter, Aliyah, is an awesome day!
Can you give us a quotation that you feel really inspires you to continue inspiring others?
Too easy! I love this quote by Nelson Mandela: “I never lose – I either win or learn.”
Shon Barnwell’s Leadership Is About Behavior, Not Titles is available now via Bookbaby.com.
RBLP leadership certifications are about Building Resilient Teams™ that overcome adversity and then can adapt and grow together!