General Laura Lenderman: Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself
Brigadier General Lenderman became the youngest general in the Air Force two years ago, after serving as a war-time pilot and on the Joint Chiefs staff. Today she is responsible for thousands of people and billions in our Defense budget, yet she is convinced that leadership still comes down to relationships and love. Tune in as Gen. Lenderman gives Adam a rare glimpse into the daily life of an active duty general.
Dave Douglas: Welcome to another episode of Up2. Eight years ago, Up2 started as a live event series showcasing leaders who are as humble as they are successful. The humility piece is extremely important as we identify leaders who can inspire others. We try to focus our interviews on the non-business aspects of their lives, and in doing so, have found there is a real thirst to explore their hearts and minds in atypical ways. Our host as always is Adam Kaufman, and our guest today is Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman. Right now you're listening to the Up2 podcast. We'll be right back.
Adam Kaufman: During the first season of the Up2 Podcast, I had several companies and entrepreneurs approached me about potential partnerships, but I'm really selective before choosing to do something like that. One choice we did make happily is to partner with VividFront, a full service digital marketing and website design agency based in Cleveland that works with both local and national brands. They built their entire client base on referrals, and they've won a lot of awards, including the 2019 Inc Magazine, Top 5,000 Fastest Growing Companies, North Coast Top Places to Work, and several others. They're known for their talent, they're known for their creativity, they're known for their culture. A firm I liked before we agreed to partner together for the show. Check out vividfront.com, or you can email me and I'll introduce you to their dynamic leader, Andrew Spott.
Dave Douglas: Welcome back. You're listening to the Up2 Podcast. Here's your host, Adam Kaufman.
Adam Kaufman: Our guest today is United States Air Force Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman. Now, we've been fortunate to have some really accomplished leaders on the Up2 podcast in the past. We've had a Heisman trophy winner, we've had the world's most requested heart surgeon, we've had CEOs of large public companies, we've had many super successful entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, but I think it's safe to say that our guest today has more responsibility and has accomplished more at a young age, I'll add, than any of our tremendous prior guests. Laura is currently commander of the 502nd Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, which unifies 11 geographically distinct locations, including Joint Base Fort Sam Houston, Joint Base Lackland, Joint Base Randolph, and Camp Bullis. The 8,000-person 502nd Airborne Wing executes 49 installation support functions to enable the largest Joint Base in the Department of Defense consisting of 266 Mission Partners, 80,000 full-time personnel and a local community of more than 250,000 retirees. Wow.
Adam Kaufman: The 502nd also manages and provides oversight for major projects, facilities and infrastructure worth $37 billion annually. She graduated from Duke University in the Air Force ROTC program there. She has earned an MBA from George Washington University. She has also been a national security fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School. She has flown thousands of hours for the us air force and she has been stationed abroad as well as domestically. She was also assigned to the joint chiefs of staff working at the Pentagon for some time. Laura, welcome to Up2.
Gen. Lenderman: Hello, Adam. It's so good to see you.
Adam Kaufman: Thanks for being here. I'm going to try not to call you Laura. Gen. Lenderman is the proper title. I'm sorry for that, but we're really thrilled to have you, and I think you told me this is your first ever podcast.
Gen. Lenderman: This is my very first podcast.
Adam Kaufman: Well, welcome. We love that. We're just thrilled to be able to get a little bit of your brain and your heart during the end of a busy day. What have you been up to?
Gen. Lenderman: First of all, can I say thank you, Adam, for, gosh, 30 almost 40 years of friendship. Being in the Air Force and being an Air Force child growing up, it's hard to maintain those friendships, but I think you are the longest friendship that I have, so I want to thank you for that.
Adam Kaufman: Wow. The feeling is mutual.
Gen. Lenderman: It's been fun to watch you grow in all the things that you and your family are able to do today to help our communities and inspire others.
Adam Kaufman: Thank you. We're here to talk about you so that's enough, but you're very kind, but see the ...
Gen. Lenderman: Let's interview you.
Adam Kaufman: The theme of this show, all the shows is leaders who are as humble as they are successful. You starting off by commending me epitomizes how humble you are. It's unbelievable that that's what you start with, but thank you. Now to you, what have you been up to?
Gen. Lenderman: Well, you described what I'm doing today as the commander of Joint Base San Antonio, and like the rest of the nation, we've been really responding to the COVID-19 crisis. It came to us in San Antonio early in the process, because we were one of the installations chosen to take care of American citizens that were being evacuated from Wuhan, China. We had the whole month of February where we were taking care of Americans that were evacuated, first from China, and then from the Princess Cruise lines. That was not a popular decision from our community's point of view, outside of the fence line, because if members of Wuhan province or the cruise ship were positive for COVID, they were taken into the city and cared for at a civilian hospital, versus military.
Adam Kaufman: Who decides that? Was that like a CDC decision, or a military decision, or a San Antonio decision?
Gen. Lenderman: That was actually at the federal level. The CDC and Department of Health and Human Services had the lead. Part of that agreement was that we would provide the lodging facilities, but not the medical response. But what it ended up doing was it created an opportunity for us to learn from the CDC and the DHHS how to take care of people that do test positive, how to make sure that we have these strict protocols for safety in terms of quarantine and isolation. So that, in March, when it became a national issue and it got to the city confines of our city, then we were able to pick up and run with it because we had a lot of practice over the last four or five weeks.
Adam Kaufman: You said early March. I saw you, I think on March 4th in San Antonio, you and your husband, that was when it was really becoming more known that this may become a national, let's close things down situation, but you probably knew that before we did.
Gen. Lenderman: I don't know if we did or not, honestly. I think we were all learning as a Department of Defense and as a civilian community. I think we had to make our decisions a little bit sooner than later because of our training population here. It's like a college, so you have people that are living, and eating, and sleeping near each other. In order to keep the training pipeline safe, we had to make some tough decisions early on that started to close down the base a little sooner than the rest of the city, but quickly the city made some very important decisions. I think they were pretty far out front in terms of national response. We have such a great medical community here. There's Metro Health that we're tied into from the installation point of view, and together, with all the experts, they made some tough choices early on that really protected this population.
Adam Kaufman: I should add that you're coming to us today from San Antonio so I appreciate you doing this, not in person. We're grateful for that. You've described what everyone in America has gone through. Your life drastically changed when COVID came to our shores. Can you give us a sense, maybe before that? What's the life of an Air Force General like?
Gen. Lenderman: Prior to a worldwide pandemic.
Adam Kaufman: If you can remember.
Gen. Lenderman: My mom and I were just talking about that today, like the days run into each other. We wake up and it's June 3rd. I'd say before the pandemic, every job's unique, and every job presents an opportunity to learn and grow. I would say this job has certainly given me lots of opportunities to learn and grow, sometimes in an emergency crisis situation. This is by far the toughest job I've ever had. It's the biggest job I've ever had.
Adam Kaufman: What made it so tough? The fact that it was this large and this much responsibility?
Gen. Lenderman: Yes, those are two big factors. As the installation commander, it's comparable to being the mayor of the city, but you're actually the mayor of a city that's not connected necessarily by fence lines.
Adam Kaufman: But the cool part is, unlike a city, everyone has to listen to what you say in your particular city where your mayor. They have to say, yes, ma'am, and salute you. Most cities struggle with getting consensus on anything. I'm not belittling how challenging it is, but at least there's that respect for authority, right?
Gen. Lenderman: You're right. There are challenges here that are not as difficult. I can order them to wear their masks.
Adam Kaufman: Then they have to listen.
Gen. Lenderman: But on an installation like this, there are a lot of commanders. That's one of the challenging parts of it, is that I'm not the commander of everyone here. I'm the commander of 8,000 of the 80,000 people. There's a responsibility there to take care of 80,000 people, so you have the responsibility, but maybe not necessarily all the authorities.
Adam Kaufman: Another year or two, you'll be in charge of everything.
Gen. Lenderman: But it comes down to relationships. When you're in an environment like this, coming into it with the perspective that you're not in charge of everybody and your job is to take care of everyone, but also build a trusting transparent relationship so that they do know that you have their best interests in mind and you are being proactive, whatever the issue.
Adam Kaufman: This is, like you said, the perils of being a city mayor, the acts of God and other types of problems.
Gen. Lenderman: All of that.
Adam Kaufman: In listening to you talk about the importance of relationships in your role, and I just think that ... I'm in the relationships business myself, and I think the two key components of good leadership are one, relationships, and two, being a good listener. Do you have to spend much time listening?
Gen. Lenderman: Oh my gosh. Absolutely, Adam.
Adam Kaufman: Or is everyone always listening to you?
Gen. Lenderman: Well, I hope they listen to me at times when it's appropriate, but I would say listening is one of, if you were asking me of my leadership philosophy, listening is number one. There's actually three Ls. If you know me long enough, that those are my initials, Laura Lee Lenderman, so I can remember it easily. So listening, and to your point, it's not just listening with your ears, but listening for all the body language changes, looking in their eyes. You can see so much by people just how they answer your, how are you doing today? We get an opportunity to do that many times a day. That's for the people that work for me. The people that I work for, all the mission partners here, listening to what's important to them, understanding their priorities, and then following up on our promises is critical here for success.
Adam Kaufman: Being a woman or a man of your word, very important. Following up on everything you say you're going to do. I believe that there are four key points of relationships, and one of them is always do what you say you're going to do, and don't do any empty talk where you just say, "Yeah, I'll call you next week," and then not call the person next week.
Gen. Lenderman: We call that the say, do gap. You try to eliminate that.
Adam Kaufman: I like that, the say, do gap. That's good. Okay. Timeout. I realize here that we didn't get to the second and third L, so I followed up with Gen. Lenderman, and she was kind enough to leave me this voice message.
Gen. Lenderman: Hi Adam, it's Laura. The other day we were talking about the three Ls. We talked about the first L, which is listen, but we didn't get a chance to talk about the next two. I wanted to follow up with you, and the second L is love. As a leader, and even more so as a senior leader, I find that this quality is so important, just to love the individuals in your organization and to love your organization. To me, that's just wrapping your arms around everybody, especially in the good times and celebrating with them, but it's also important when things are not going so great. Sometimes that's tough love, and you have to really hold people accountable. To the point that you love them so much, that you want them to improve, and you want them to be their best selves, but you also love the organization so much that you have to make some of those tough decisions that are for the best of the organization.
Gen. Lenderman: Usually, those are for the good of the individual as well. The third L is lift up. For me, it's about being positive and being a positive leader. It's not a Pollyanna type leadership. It's more really knowing true, deep in your heart, that things are going to be okay. In the last two years in my command tour here, we've been faced with some of the most challenging times that this organization has ever faced, and it was just one right after the other. These weren't local conditions. They were pretty much national news making issues. But with each time, we met them head on, and we met them with the people around us. We listened to everybody in the room. We got the best ideas out on the table. We loved the folks, even when they might've made a mistake or had a misstep.
Gen. Lenderman: Then we came to each problem with a whole lot of energy and positive mental attitude and going towards it as a group, knowing that we're going to get through this together. We see it today with the COVID crisis that we truly are in this together as a small community, as a city, as a nation. There's so much strength and power in that collective coming together for good. With that, I just wanted to leave you all with those three Ls, if they're helpful to folks, I hope they are. I know they've helped me over the last couple of years, especially as a senior leader, but with that, thanks a lot, Adam. I'll talk to you soon. Bye-bye.
Adam Kaufman: Okay. Now, back to real time, the actual interview. I want to go back a little bit in time. You've always been a leader since I've known you. You said I'm one of your older friends, and ever since I've known you, you've been a leader. Class president, I hope I don't embarrass you by saying that. Captain of your softball team, captain of cheerleading, etc, homecoming queen. Do you think that leadership is something one is born with, or could that be learned over time? I know in the military they do send soldiers and pilots like you to different levels of leadership school, but are these innate skills that we're just born with or do you think they can be taught?
Gen. Lenderman: I think it's both. I have leaders in my life that are just natural leaders. I'm married to one. But then there's the wonderful part about the military is you grow into your leadership and you become a better leader over time, and you [crosstalk 00:15:21].
Adam Kaufman: So you it is impossible to become a better leader.
Gen. Lenderman: Oh gosh, absolutely. 100%. We see it all the time in the military where folks start off getting a little bit slower start, and I don't mean that in a bad way, but just because this is their first opportunity, they'd never had a chance to be a leader. Then someone believes in them, gives them opportunities, puts them through training, and they're the ones that I love calling the late bloomers, but they're not necessarily late bloomers. They're just developing at a different time.
Adam Kaufman: But I feel like you were perhaps born ... I believe in the born leader theory, because you didn't have military training when you became class president or some of those other titles that I already mentioned. Those, I think are skills one is born with, or one is not born with.
Gen. Lenderman: There's people that are inclined to take charge, and they could do it in a very quiet way, or they could do it in a more follow me, take the hill kind of way. You and I, we have friends that fall into all those categories.
Adam Kaufman: For sure.
Gen. Lenderman: I think what you're describing is ... I think about my sister and I, how we grew up in the same household, we had the same parents, we ate the same dinner, we played on the same softball team, but we have very different adult lives, and we took very different paths. That is, to your point, I think, where I was born one way and she was born another way. All these extenuating circumstances didn't necessarily change us to become more similar in that area. But yeah, I think for me, it was a natural stubbornness, if you will, and trying to always challenge myself and take the harder road on purpose.
Adam Kaufman: I was going to ask you about that. Did you set goals or do you just always try to be the best you can be, or do you have really specific goals that you set for yourself? I'm also thinking about, like running, I can remember I would maybe go out and run a run five miles, and you would say, well, I'm out running 15, I'll run the final five with you, because you had some goal in mind. Have you always set black and white goals, or is it more just trying to get better constantly?
Gen. Lenderman: I think it's, as I've gotten older, my goals have actually become very different, of course, as we all mature, but as a younger person, it was more tactical like you're describing. I want to get an A on the test, or I want to run for class president. I remember, specifically in eighth grade, deciding I was going to take German in high school because it was harder. Who does that? I would never do that to today.
Adam Kaufman: Usually, we choose the easier route.
Gen. Lenderman: Yes. I would never do that today, but that's how I thought. Then, I was going to go to Duke because that's my long shot school, and it's hard, and I was going to be an engineer because it's hard.
Adam Kaufman: Not an easy major. Right.
Gen. Lenderman: Yeah. Like I said, as I've gotten older, I've learned that there's hard things in life still out there to do, but I'm choosing to have a little more balance and more free time to enjoy the people in my life.
Adam Kaufman: I want to talk about that in a little bit, but one more leadership question if I might, because you're just such a tremendous leader. Were there certain influences on you early on, leaders you admired from afar, maybe in a book or on TV or in the news, or were there more influential people you knew who helped you hone your own leadership style?
Gen. Lenderman: I think it was more of the people in my circle that influenced me the most. Of course, I had heroes in history, and even current day that I admired, the president, people that you look up to in that way. But as I look back and I connect the dots backwards, I look at my dad setting an example of how to take care of a family, and he always put my mom and my sister and I first always.
Adam Kaufman: And he was a Colonel, is that right?
Gen. Lenderman: Yes. He retired as a Colonel. I realize now not everybody's dad did that. I took up ...
Adam Kaufman: Most don't.
Gen. Lenderman: Most don't, and I took it for granted, but I don't think that was a bad thing. I think that was the way our family dynamic worked, is that mom and the girls were up front and dad was in the background.
Adam Kaufman: That's kind of your leadership style now. I've seen you on base and you're always propping up others, even this podcast today, you were beginning it by propping on me. That's been a style maybe that you lucked from your father.
Gen. Lenderman: I think you're right. I hadn't thought about that, but yeah.
Adam Kaufman: Anyone else, in addition to your father?
Gen. Lenderman: My mom. You know when I got in trouble? I think the time that I'm referring to in high school, it was so much easier to tell my dad, but I disappointed my mom. I realized that hurt much more than anything else is disappointing the woman that trusted me. She has always been kind of the moral touchstone of my life and created my spiritual foundation, and still today, is the person that I call every day, twice a day.
Adam Kaufman: You're listening to the Up2 Podcast. We'll be right back.
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Dave Douglas: Welcome back. You're listening to the Up2 Podcast.
Adam Kaufman: You've mentioned your parents, clearly they were a major influence on you. Was it always a given that you were going to join the military, or was it entirely up to you? Or can you talk through that a little bit?
Gen. Lenderman: It was always a given in the sense that I, I'd mentioned I was stubborn, and I don't look at that as a negative trait. Having a stubbornness to stay the course or accomplish a goal or those things that we were talking about earlier.
Adam Kaufman: Yeah, sticktuitiveness, rather to your call.
Gen. Lenderman: Sticktuitiveness, yes. Never give up to the point that you're extremely annoying to my family. Yeah, when I was 10 years old, I woke up and looked around and I said, you know what? This Air Force life is pretty amazing. Even as a 10 year old, I realized it was special. That's when I decided I wanted to be in the Air Force, and my dad was in the Air Force, so I wanted to do what he's doing, and he was a pilot, so I'll be a pilot. Then I just put my head down and ran toward that goal.
Adam Kaufman: Now, you became the youngest general in the United States Air force a couple of years ago. I guess, averages are such that you may be are no longer the youngest, I'm not sure.
Gen. Lenderman: Definitely not.
Adam Kaufman: But at the time, that was quite a noteworthy accomplishment. When you made it that far, were you ever wondering, like, is there any doubt in your mind that maybe you don't even share with others, any self doubt like I can't take it to the next level? Because it seems, as an outsider, these goals we talked about, you always set them, you always achieve them, and of course you were going to make it to Air Force, Brigadier General.
Gen. Lenderman: Yes. Self doubt, absolutely. Not self doubt in terms of my values or who I am, what I stand for, but more like, am I good enough?
Adam Kaufman: Yeah. In business, we call that the imposter syndrome. Like I'm often like the least accomplished person in the room or in a conversation, including right now, and I'm wondering, how did I get here? When are they going to find out I'm a fraud and I'm not really deserving of the situation?
Gen. Lenderman: That's it. I think never believing that you're good enough to be in the caliber of people that make it to a certain level. I set goals for myself in terms of, I want to be in the military, I want to be a pilot, and then after that, it was, every promotion board, I always thought I wasn't going to get promoted. Every assignment, I never thought I would get the assignment that I ended up getting. There was always a surprise element there.
Adam Kaufman: Sure. I guess on the one hand, it could be self-doubt, I experienced that, but on the hand, it could be humility as well, which is not a bad thing. I can remember when you were becoming a Colonel, and I said, "Okay, how many years into a General," and you were like, "Oh no, no, no, that will never happen." Then once you became General, I said, "Okay, when are we going to become the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff?" And you were like, "No, no, no, no, never." But that's your humility as well as any self doubt, but self doubt can be real, I'm being silly a little bit, but it is a challenge to overcome that, and then to play your best game and to be the best version of yourself, because you do deserve to be in that room or to be leading that group.
Gen. Lenderman: That's a great point, because I think there's something that happened at my last job at Scott Air Force base, and you were there for that change of command and that promotion. But before that, that's when I was in a position where I realized, I know I'm not the smartest person in the room by far. I'm not the funniest at all. I'm not the tallest, all those categories of ...
Adam Kaufman: Measurements, right. Yeah.
Gen. Lenderman: ... measurements, but I bring something special, and it can be the things that you've mentioned already, the fact that I'm a woman, the fact that I'm a pilot, the fact that I listen. I'll bring whatever I bring, which is my strengths to the organization, and I won't discount them.
Adam Kaufman: You deal with pressure really well. Some people can be accomplished, but they don't deal with pressure well, and in fact, I don't know if you remember John McEnroe, he used to always famously smash his tennis rackets and yell at the umpire. He was the only person I can remember who seemed to do better once he got angry or stressed out. Most of us do worse once we stress out. We need to relax. Everything I think we can do, we can do it better if we're relaxed. You've been in a lot of intense situations in your career. How do you think you deal with pressure? Do you do it well?
Gen. Lenderman: It's interesting that you say that, because as I end this tour here and people start saying goodbye and all the things that happen at the end of an assignment, that's a common theme that everybody has said.
Adam Kaufman: About you.
Gen. Lenderman: About me.
Adam Kaufman: That you handle stress well.
Gen. Lenderman: You're so calm, and you're the right person for the job because you were so calm. That's why I think God plays a big part in my life, and Him placing me here. Couldn't have predicted the things that we faced over the last two years, but if I could bring that calmness to the organization that is always dealing with a crisis every couple of weeks, then that's why I'm here, and help people feel connected to each other and to the mission, those are the things that are important to me. That's why I joined the military, and that's what we worked on the last couple of years. By creating that connectivity and trust when the crisis hits, everybody's all in. It's like Band of Brothers, where you're combat, but you're in combat here in San Antonio, fighting against the facilities and fighting against the weather, the pandemic, you name it.
Adam Kaufman: Now, you mentioned combat. Can you remind me, when you were flying in the middle East, were you flying out of Kuwait?
Gen. Lenderman: We flew a lot of Saudi Arabia Time.
Adam Kaufman: Saudi Arabia. Okay. Maybe that's what I was thinking of.
Gen. Lenderman: And then Al Dhafra is where ... the UAE is where I was most recently.
Adam Kaufman: Didn't Wolf Blitzer interview you one time?
Gen. Lenderman: Yes. Oh my gosh, I can't believe you remember that.
Adam Kaufman: Well, of course, I do. I think the situation was how ironic that a US pilot was flying on behalf of freedom and defending Liberty over countries that didn't let, at the time, women show their faces, or even I think drive cars. Wasn't that kind of the storyline?
Gen. Lenderman: It was. It was 2003 right before OIF kicked off and-
Adam Kaufman: What's OIF?
Gen. Lenderman: Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Adam Kaufman: It's good. We've got this far without an acronym that I didn't know, and I know the military has a ton of acronyms, so thank you, at least thus far. It was Iraqi Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Gen. Lenderman: Yeah. That was a pretty amazing time from a professional point of view. Of course, we know the history and the things that happened after that, but at the time, it was something that professionally we'd been preparing for, for the first quarter of my career, and to be there when it started, and with my husband, we were deployed together.
Adam Kaufman: Yeah, because sometimes you were based in different countries, right? You weren't always in the same place. That must've been very difficult. I can't even imagine.
Gen. Lenderman: Yeah, it's been challenging. However, we look at it a little bit differently, I think. From the outside, it looks like, oh my gosh, you were a part so many years, but we look at it as something we both wanted. We both wanted to serve, we both wanted to be as helpful as we could be to the airmen around us, and we loved each other enough to communicate to each other that we could be apart, but still have a professional life and a strong marriage.
Adam Kaufman: Well, our military is fortunate to have people like you and your husband, Dave, who also is a Colonel choosing to be in the armed forces. You could have chosen different paths and succeeded quite well, but we're all benefiting from those decisions you both made. Can I move a little bit beyond the military, if you could even possibly mentally do that, and maybe the answer is within your career, but what are you doing, Gen. Lenderman, what are you doing when you feel most alive? What gives you the most exhilarating kind of rumble in your belly,
Gen. Lenderman: Instantly when you said that, I thought of my nieces and nephews. When I'm with those kids, and they're almost young adults, that's when I feel happiest, that's when I feel most centered and most present in that moment, it's when I'm with them.
Adam Kaufman: Kids will do that, especially if they're family members, and that actually relates to my next question. Do you ever think about who you're role modeling for? I don't think I ever told you this, but one time when I was visiting, I think it was Scott Air Force Base, and I was staying in the on base hotel, or guest house, and the clerk was checking me in, and she was a young woman in the military. I boasted that I was here to be involved in your appointment. I said, maybe that could be you someday. She, her eyes lit up like, oh no, never. I'll never be a Gen. Lenderman. Do you ever think about who, maybe you don't even know, is following how you behave and how you lead and how you treat others?
Gen. Lenderman: Wow. That's a great question.
Adam Kaufman: You really are, even if you don't try to be, you are a role model for many people, and I just wondered if you ever thought about that.
Gen. Lenderman: I hadn't thought about it until, again, going back to the last assignment, when I made a Wing command position, and almost immediately, I had people, I'll say people, because it was both men and women, folks that saw something in me that they hadn't seen in anybody else, and it gave them courage to be fully themselves. It was, I remember an Indian woman, she was captain, and she just said, "Thank you. I've never seen anybody that looks like you," meaning you're a woman, you're in a command position, and I thank you for being that role model for us. Then there's African-American men, many different types of people that were looking for somebody that looked like them, not just physically, but how they treated people, how they lead.
Gen. Lenderman: I realize I did that too. I looked for people that that didn't have to be big and boisterous to be effective, that cared about the men and women around them, that treated-
Adam Kaufman: Meek is not weak, I always say that. Meek is not weak.
Gen. Lenderman: Yes, that's it. I got my first real experience with that in my last command. It has been exponential here.
Adam Kaufman: Tell me more about that. What do you mean you had your first experience in your last command?
Gen. Lenderman: With people who were bold and brave enough to come up and say, "You look and sound and act different, and I admire that, and thank you."
Adam Kaufman: Tremendous.
Gen. Lenderman: That's when I realized, you know what? If anything else I'm staying in the Air Force as long as they'll let me, so I can be somebody like that.
Adam Kaufman: I think they'll let you stay long. Yeah. Do you think that this is a burden, this role modeling, is it a burden or is it a blessing?
Gen. Lenderman: Oh, blessing. Oh my gosh, yeah. I look at it, just whatever I can do to help people and inspire them for a day or a minute. We've had lots of opportunities to do that, especially lately with the COVID crisis, and also the other issues that are happening in our country with race and justice and equality. People want to see leadership speak about these. They want to have that difficult conversation. I think so many times in the past, especially in the military, we're taught to be a political. That's the right thing. We don't take sides in that area, but that doesn't mean you don't have a conversation about these issues, that aren't necessarily, they become political, but they're human issues. They're humanity issues. They're in our communities, they're there they're being talked about in the dorms. I'd rather them talk to leadership about it so we can hear what's on their mind.
Adam Kaufman: From your perspective, do you think race relations are better inside the military or are they better in general, San Antonio community? Because I feel like the military has often been a testing ground for social change and acceptance. I know some would say they were behind in some areas of change, but I also think you let us in some of those changes.
Gen. Lenderman: This is a difficult question for me to answer as a Caucasian woman, because I think you'd never know what it's like to be in someone else's shoes, just like anything else.
Adam Kaufman: Of course. Right. But you have an ability to observe, and I'm sure you've had people under your command or above you of different races. I think also there's a chance that as a female, you may have been the victim of any sort of bias or even age bias. I can remember myself as a white male, but I had age bias issues when I was in certain roles as a young person. Maybe my question is beyond just race, but yeah, race is forefront.
Gen. Lenderman: One of the wonderful things about the military is it does provide opportunities. Not everybody starts at the same place, because we all come from different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, but the military provides you opportunities to get an education, to have experiences, to be a leader. I think, in that sense, is it better or worse? It all depends on where you sit and what your life experiences and your work experiences have been. Because just like on the outside, you can have a bad boss, you can have bad coworkers, and I say "bad", but we're not perfect by any stretch. We're learning those areas that are still not the way they need to be, but we're talking about it, which I think is important.
Gen. Lenderman: We all sign the dotted line, we all raise our right hand, and we're defending a constitution, not a person, not a specific political party. I think that unifies all of us to a large degree, but like I said, there are still pockets of problems and challenges, just like there are outside the military, that we continue to work on.
Adam Kaufman: Interesting. Well, what are you most excited about right now? What lights you up when you think about it, in addition to appearing on a podcast like this?
Gen. Lenderman: I love that question because I am most excited about finishing this command, leaving it in a better place, I hope.
Adam Kaufman: Awesome.
Gen. Lenderman: I pray that the people that have started the command with us are finishing it stronger and they feel more connected to each other and the mission. I'm excited to have an opportunity to stay here in San Antonio and further develop the relationships that I started here while I'm not in command, to reconnect with people that I haven't been able to spend as much time with and develop those deeper relationships. Then my family, I think Dave and I have had 10 years of a lot of time apart, and this is going to be a chance for us to start our 50s, 25 years after we met and get to know each other again.
Adam Kaufman: Well, you're certainly earned that time to have some quality time with your husband and your family. Have you thought much about, and I don't even know if you're allowed to talk about it like a professional life beyond the military, or do we not even talk about those types of things?
Gen. Lenderman: Oh, we should talk about those things. Unfortunately, I haven't. I need to put time into that because it's going to be here before you know it. I have fewer years left than I have behind me. They have great programs in the military. They're they're transition programs. You've worn certain uniform for 25, 30 years, you have a certain vernacular, you have a certain way of doing business, and you have to deprogram yourself and see what's possible. One of my husband's old bosses said he's going to go find his passion. I love that idea of you get a second career or a third or fourth career, but you get another chance to redefine your life. I'm looking forward to doing that.
Adam Kaufman: It's exciting.
Gen. Lenderman: Yeah. I know it's going to be hard though, because of all the things I just said. It's the only one life I've known.
Adam Kaufman: Beyond military groups, are you asked to speak in business communities or in schools or with students, universities? Are you doing much of that, and if so, what types of advice do you give to the younger professionals who are starting their career out? I've been really amazed during now three seasons of this show. I hear from so many young professionals, and I thought it would be my peer group, my age group and up, our age group, who were most often listening, but it's the younger people who tell me they love hearing these life lessons at the beginning of their careers so that they can maybe go on a positive path, rather than reflecting backwards like usually people our age and older do. Can you share maybe some of your favorite career lessons?
Gen. Lenderman: Yeah. There's a book, it's called Letters To my Younger Self. It's people of all ages, young people, Olympic athletes who are 19 years old, but have spent 11 of those 19 years in training. Then you have the folks that are on the other end of their lives, like Oprah, and they're writing to themselves. That's one of my favorite books, because I think about that when I go in and talk to the different groups like you mentioned, and San Antonio has given me a lot of opportunities that I'm so grateful for, to connect with all of those types of people like you just said, it's schools, it's the women's chamber, it's the business community, it's nonprofits, it's the military, elected officials.
Adam Kaufman: It's amazing you mentioned that book, excuse me, because every episode I ask the guest, and Dave, our producer will confirm this, I ask, if you could go back and talk to the 21-year-old version of yourself, what advice would you give the younger Laura? It sounds like this book is about that, so what advice would you give your younger self?
Gen. Lenderman: Gosh, Adam, I want to say something really profound, but the words that just came to me, it would be trust yourself.
Adam Kaufman: Trust your instinct to pursue something, or what are you getting at there?
Gen. Lenderman: We touched on it earlier, self doubt.
Adam Kaufman: Overcome the self doubt.
Gen. Lenderman: Maybe you're not overcoming it, but you're learning more and more to listen to yourself. I call them angel messages, and they're coming to you all the time. Most of them we listened to, I hope, but some we discard because we don't understand what they are. But to me, a lot of prayer, starting our day with prayer, and throughout the day, but listening to those angel thoughts that are coming, that are telling you where you should go, what you need to do, even providing the words that are coming out of your mouth. When I start the day with prayer then, first of all, the day is just much better, but the things that are challenging to me, like I got to write this thing and I really don't want to write it and it's hard, the worst just flow, and they're better than I could ... I'm like, "I don't even know where that came from," but those are the ones that hit the home run.
Adam Kaufman: That's the calmness that people say you have, you're learning how to manage the stress, and you're perfect for the role, as they've told you. I guess those are the tools you put into practice, the prayer and listening to the angels that allow others to believe you're calm, even if you maybe weren't.
Gen. Lenderman: Yeah.
Adam Kaufman: I guess the last thing I wanted to say, Laura, is in America, those of us who are not in the military, we can admire from afar or just read current events. How do you think Americans can better understand the importance of service and duty and responsibility? Because I think that, only in the military, do those character traits really, really, really come out. Is there some better way all of us can appreciate what our service men and women do for us?
Gen. Lenderman: I know what you're asking, and I think it's a little bit hard for me to answer because I know there's a lot of folks, especially your listeners that may not live near an installation.
Adam Kaufman: Right, if there's no base around us.
Gen. Lenderman: They just don't know anybody in the military. I think, if you wanted to get inspired and truly understand what the ethos is about the military, I would recommend the Band of Brothers series.
Adam Kaufman: The series.
Gen. Lenderman: The series. Granted it's many decades ago, but the core of that movie, the sacrifices that these men, at the time is all men, make for each other, and I always tell my team, we all join the service for a different reason. Some of it's very patriotic, some of it's out of economic necessity. They have nowhere else to go, they want an education, but for those that join and stay, we all stay for the same reason, which is for each other. I would venture to say that across the board, you're a part of something bigger than yourself. You're connected to a society of folks that put the country and the flag above anything else.
Adam Kaufman: Right. It helps us understand a little bit, at least getting inside the mind of one particular leader in one particular branch, so I'm grateful that you did it, and I know others will be as well. I'm thanking you for trusting me to appear today. It's been a terrific session, and I can't believe how fast the 50 minutes have gone. Thank you.
Gen. Lenderman: Thank you so much.
Adam Kaufman: Wow. When I played back the episode with Gen. Lenderman, I really enjoyed how authentic she was with her sharing. It's really a rare opportunity to get this candid peek inside the life of an active duty General. There's plenty of former military officers we might see on TV or hear a quote from, but it was really tremendous that she shared so much while in active duty. Also, just how she emphasized being a part of something bigger than yourself is an idea a lot of us can't relate to. I'm not even sure if I ever have, if I'm being truthful, but she shared that everyone in the military feels that way. Just awesome.
Adam Kaufman: Five takeaways. Number one, I thought it was interesting that trusting and transparent relationships are vital to Gen. Lenderman's success, even in a military context where chain of command is in place, relationships still do matter. Number two, her say, do gap, and how she works to decrease the gap between what people say they do and what they actually do. Number three, Gen. Lenderman believes that people can become better leaders if time is spent developing those leadership skills. I thought that was a positive observation, could be debated, but definitely don't want to counter her qualified views on the matter.
Adam Kaufman: Number four, "Don't discount your strengths," she said, "everyone brings something to the table, everyone has something to offer and we should feel good about those unique talents." Finally, I liked how, as leaders, we shouldn't be afraid to talk about the tough issues, she reminded us. Actually, doing so is required of the most effective leaders.
Dave Douglas: Hey Adam, I got another one for you.
Adam Kaufman: Oh yeah, go ahead, Dave.
Dave Douglas: I really appreciated that Gen. Lenderman talked about leaving the job and the people around her in a better place than she found them.
Adam Kaufman: That's tremendous for all of us to keep in mind. Oh, and one more. She said, "Trust yourself, listen to yourself." Trust what she calls angel messages, really good.
Dave Douglas: Adam, do we have any listener mail today?
Adam Kaufman: We do, Dave. I got some really interesting feedback from a listener in New England, who's both a busy mother and also an author. Her comment to me was about the Ted Souder episode, that it was a great episode and an important reminder to keep looking to the future, no matter how uphill it may seem sometimes.
Dave Douglas: Ted thought there was all kinds of positive things coming around the bend.
Adam Kaufman: Right, and she said that it's a good reminder to keep forging forward, the world is a tricky place, especially right now, we all need reminders to remain centered in kindness and faith and positive optimism.
Dave Douglas: Wonderful.
Adam Kaufman: Please, to all of you, I would love to hear from you. I welcome all feedback, positive, constructive, negative. We just want to know what you're thinking of our show.
Dave Douglas: Last week, Adam, you asked people to send negative feedback about me. Did you get any of that?
Adam Kaufman: I wouldn't get that. You would get that.
Dave Douglas: All right. Well, I didn't get any.
Adam Kaufman: Okay, good, good, good. Up2 is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, a special thanks to our producer and audio engineer, Dave Douglas. I'm your host, Adam Kaufman, and thank you so much for listening to the Up2 Podcast.