LAMS: An Inside Look at Coast Guard Leadership Training

by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kip Wadlow

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Whether living in expansive metropolises or small isolated hamlets that dot the river banks and coastline of the United States, people have different images of the Coast Guard.

For some the image of a Coast Guard rescue helicopter plucking Hurricane Katrina survivors from roof tops of shattered Gulf Coast communities is an image that first springs to mind.

Others may see the crew of a small motor lifeboat, fighting their way through, pounding, mountain sized waves, racing to save mariners from being dashed against an unforgiving and distant rocky shore.

From these, heart stopping, adrenaline laced emergencies, to the mundane, day to day routine of training personnel and maintaining rescue and law enforcement equipment, Coast Guardsmen are called upon to use judgment, teamwork and, most of all, leadership to accomplish their missions.

LAMS

One of the tools the Coast Guard uses to prepare its up and coming leaders is the Leadership and Management School, (LAMS). This week-long course is geared toward teaching both active duty and reserve Coast Guard officers and enlisted members in middle management positions. The Coast Guard also provides LAMS training to its civilian employees and auxiliary members.

“The major goal of LAMS is to ensure that we (the instructors) are training the front line supervisors,” said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Troy Riedel, Chief of the LAMS training detachment at Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown.

“The First Class Petty Officer or E-6 pay grade is pretty much the middle of the Coast Guard. In a lot of jobs out there, whether it’s at small boat stations, marine safety offices or onboard cutters, you have Second Class Petty Officers and E-6s in positions of leadership and they are supervising junior personnel and it’s very important that we give those people the tools so that they can be successful being supervisors and being leaders,” said Riedel.

Communicating is the Key

The course focuses on team building and communications by putting the students through several scenarios requiring them to come together in order to accomplish their assigned tasks.

“There is a survival scenario that we put students through to see if they can survive as a team, incorporating exercises (to) make the students work together,” said Riedel.

The classroom based scenario puts the students into a simulated remote wilderness environment. The students are required to use teamwork to decide how to best use the resources provided to them in order to survive

One of the techniques the instructors use to accomplish this is to keep the students on the same level, by removing rank from the class.

“We try and teach in civilian clothes at commands that allow it. That removes our shoulder boards and collar devices allowing us to be on the same level and treat each other as equals,” said Riedel.

Lights, Camera, Action!

During the course, instructors put students into situations they will face in the field involving motivating employees while correcting trouble spots.

The classroom provides a non-threatening environment that allows students to make mistakes without fear of punishment for improperly handling a situation. It also allows instructors to step in and guide them to a more appropriate solution so they can be more successful and effective when they encounter those same scenarios in real life, explained Riedel.

“We try to make the class as interactive as possible. There are many people out there that believe in the philosophy of death-by-PowerPoint so there is very, very minimal PowerPoint. We try and use turn charts and a lot of role playing,” said Riedel.

“Over the years we’ve compiled all kinds of real life scenarios. We pride ourselves on using these real life examples of things that have happened in the field to either ourselves or people that we have known to try and make it realistic,” said Riedel.

Drawing Motivation to Teach from Past Experiences

In fact, some of these past experiences are what drive the instructors to teach leadership techniques to junior personnel.

Instructor, Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Shipperley, a Coast Guard Marine Science Technician, said he draws his motivation to teach quality leadership practices to other Coast Guard members based on his brushes with poor leaders.

“My personal motivation for teaching this class comes from when I was a MST3 working for a lot of mid-level and upper managers who were very poor leaders. It had such an impact on me as a Third Class Petty Officer that I started to hate that unit and hate the Coast Guard, and I wanted to get out of the service,” said Shipperley.

A change of leadership, however, turned Shipperley’s opinion of the unit around and motivated him to stay in the Coast Guard.

“If I can have an impact on these people, the junior officers and enlisted people, before they get to that higher-up level, I hope to give them different ideas and tools for leading and managing their subordinates. Hopefully by the time they’re in these senior leadership positions they won’t be the sort of people I had to experience as a junior enlisted person,” said Shipperley.

Keeping Class Fun

Instructors also make laughter a key element of LAMS by sharing lessons-learned and sea stories from comical experiences that they’ve experienced.

“Laughter is an indicator of enjoyment and empathetic involvement. Emotion provides us with the strongest memory,” said instructor Senior Chief Petty Officer Paul Miller, a Coast Guard Machinery Technician.

“If a person enjoys what they are doing, wants to be involved where they are, then learning and growth will take place. Interaction is vital in leadership and learning,” said Miller.

Not Just for Coast Guard Members

The Coast Guard doesn’t restrict teaching LAMS only to Coast Guard members. They also teach the system to foreign military members as well.

Lt. Michael Hanna, a 20-year veteran of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, was one of several military members from a foreign country in attendance at a recent LAMS course held at Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown.

“The instructors were very knowledgeable, very professional and very patient and accommodating. They worked well with the international students and were very understanding of our cultural differences,” said Hanna.

Hanna said that he intends to pass on the leadership techniques and lessons he learned at LAMS to his fellow service members back home.

“I absolutely recommend this class, especially to middle managers who have responsibility to their supervisors as well as their subordinates. It’s a good problem solving tool,” said Hanna.

Repeat Attenders

The Coast Guard encourages personnel E-5 and above to retake the class every three years to maintain leadership proficiency and keep them up to date on new leadership techniques.

The International LAMS class that Hanna was the student in was the second that Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jose Orta, a yeoman working at the Coast Guard’s Fifth District/Atlantic Area Headquarters in Portsmouth, Va., has attended.

Orta said his favorite part of the class was the role playing scenarios because they gave him the opportunity to use what he learned. The humor helped put him at ease and made it comfortable for him to pay more attention to the course materials.

Orta also liked attending the LAMS class with international students.

“I think taking the class with international students made it very unique. You will encounter and experience a cultural mix, you get to know their background, customs and courtesies and the difference in ethics. That, I think, made the class better than any other LAMS class that I attended,” he explained.

Techniques That Work Everywhere

“The Coast Guard presents LAMS as being a professional development tool and it is, but it’s also a personal development tool. The very same models that you use with your subordinates and peers in your office are the very same things that can work with your spouse or significant other, and with your children,” said Riedel.

“It’s very exciting to see people come back and say, ‘This works on my family life too and I’m a much better mother or father because I’m listening better or I’m using this technique and it really helped me out in my home life as well,'” said Riedel.

The Coast Guard also uses LAMS as a building block for the Chief’s Academy, the Coast Guard’s leadership course for senior enlisted personnel E-7 and above.

Everyone Benefits

By taking the lessons they learned at LAMS with them, graduates pass valuable leadership techniques to more people. This allows the Coast Guard to develop positive leadership and management techniques in junior personnel creating better working environments Coast Guard wide allowing the service retain experienced personnel.

This continual pass down of techniques and experiences is important to the Coast Guard because the junior leaders of today will be the senior leaders of tomorrow and they will be called upon to train and mentor new Coast Guard members for the future roles and missions they will be called upon to perform.

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