Right now, you might be standing at a crossroads in your military life. Curiously, it’s not a crossroads where two roads meet, but where dozens do. And it’s not clear which road should begin the journey.
The thing is, like every other military spouse who has stood there, you have something powerful to guide your way.
Potential – potential to lead.
This isn’t the kind of leadership that’s linked to your service member’s job or that involves heading up a company.
It’s the kind of leadership that steeps in all of us, each time we power through a transition, walk through the fire of deployment wounds or invite the new spouse to coffee.
Cultivating these skills can be quite helpful in your military life’s journey, and they can even change the scenery.
But I’m *Literally* not a Leader…
You might not serve as the person in charge of a team. But, doesn’t acting as parents, group moderators, volunteers, employees and home front warriors require the same responsibilities as traditional leaders?
“We as military spouses lead more than we think we do,” said Kimberli Roth, who is an Air Force spouse and the UK Area Coordinator of Americans Working Around the Globe (AWAG), which focuses on leadership development and networking.
“For people who live such dynamic lives, it’s invaluable to invest time in learning to be at our most efficient and effective,” Kimberli said.
Cassaundra Martinez, 2017 AFI Army Spouse of the Year and Founder of Boost, a leadership accelerator for military spouses, echoed this sentiment, concluding, “There’s a leader in us all.”
So, how will leadership skills development benefit you?
Move ahead with a Sense of Purpose
Military life requires us to plan, organize, transition, settle and maintain. Plus, we handle the day-to-day duties of our homes, kids, and jobs.
“We become project managers,” Cassaundra said. “But this is transactional.”
Cassaundra’s experience serving in the Army and creating Boost showed her that strong leadership skills provide a sense of purpose, as they challenge people to examine and exercise their individual values and strengths. As a result, people enjoy living a more authentic, purposeful life.
Similarly, Army spouse and 2018 AFI Military Spouse of the Year for Robins AFB, Kelly Keesecker found that intentionally guiding our thoughts will ultimately shape our behavior. Becoming a Master Resilience Trainer through the Army’s Ready and Resilient program helped her develop a communication style in which she feels more aware of her own values and perspective, as well as those of others.
These skills are valuable to her as a group leader, as they aid in effective communication, positive support, and respect of all participants.
Establish and Strengthen Networks
Strengthening your leadership skills will give you opportunities to build networks that can assist you both personally and professionally.
2018 AFI Marine Corps Spouse of the Year Jolynn Lee is a Mentor with the Marine Corps’ Lifestyle, Insight, Networking, Knowledge and Skills program (LINKS).
“This provides opportunities for mentorship,” she said, noting that connection with likeminded spouses helps everyone gain a better insight into military life and become stronger overall.
Making these connections can lead to valuable outcomes on a larger scale, too.
Kimberli sees AWAG’s annual seminar enable spouses to raise more money or build more robust volunteer programs for their installations’ spouses clubs, Red Cross chapters, church organizations and more.
“Spouses with the drive to be effective leaders are in themselves amazing and contagious,” she said. “Get 150 of them in one ballroom and you become a part of something different.”
Let’s be honest, resilience is important, and building your leadership skills comes with the handy side effect of building your resilience, too.
Kimberli even thinks strong leadership skills can be a “game-changer” when it comes to resilience. We can apply skills from our “leadership toolkit” to the demands of military life. For example, networking skills will help us meet new people and find necessary resources. Problem-solving and communication skills can help us through tough transitions.
Kelly noted that when spouses develop their leadership skills it also benefits the whole family.
“When you have stronger spouses, you’ve got the backbone of the family strong,” she said.
When you build leadership skills, you’ll notice the trickle-down effect, especially as your overall confidence improves.
In fact, Cassaundra sees leadership as a key to building your military spouse “muscles.”
Reflecting on the environment Boost provides, Cassaundra said that when spouses focus on developing their individual leadership strengths, “they can use that knowledge to make value-based decisions, to inspire and build up others and lead confidently in their community or work.”
Jolynn expressed a similar perspective. Within the LINKS program, training spouses, delivering presentations and adapting quickly to changes has given her great practice in adjusting to new and uncomfortable situations with poise and composure.
“If I walked into a job interview, I could operate with more confidence and assurance,” she said.
How Do I Get Started?
Take a first step by seeking resources for assistance. To start, check out the web sites of any of the organizations* referenced here, and ask how you can become involved. Consult your command or your installation’s family support center to find out what kinds of leadership skills development programs are available for spouses. Or, ask military spouses in social media groups what resources they have tapped.
Our military life’s journey is unpredictable, and many of us might wish there were clear road signs along the way or guides who could offer a map and cup of water.
But in the absence of those, let’s make the greatest asset we have the strongest it can be. Look deep inside, and follow the leader. That leader is you.
* The Army’s Ready and Resilient Program involves a commander’s nomination and application process.