Leadership 101: The Boot Camp Basics

What is leadership?

The answer to this question became clear when I entered the Army as private on a hot sunny day in Fort Jackson, SC June 1978. Immediately the drill sergeant informed me of my new tile— squad leader. Okay, now what? I thought.  There were 8 confused, scared women in my squad; they didn’t know me, I didn’t know them.

So what did I learn in boot camp that has sustained me through the many places I’ve been since then?

Here are 3 lessons I learned at Fort Jackson that are relevant and timeless.


1)      Use your natural talents

Having grown up as the oldest child in a single parent family taught me a few things about responsibility and accountability.  I built on that.  Many of us have experience we can bring into our leadership situations.

2)      Get a buddy

I shared my concerns with fellow squad leaders.  We taught each other.  In the workplace it’s important to network with colleagues to do the same.


      3)  Identify your target then BRAS, (Begin Releasing A Strategy)

During the weapons portion of boot camp, the drill sergeant gave me that formula as a way to focus on hitting the mark. I knew that I wanted to get my squad and myself through boot camp safe and trained – to graduate!  Through conversations with and observations of my squad’s members I was able to address their concerns and refer them to other resources. What are your goals in your situations?  Who or where can you send others for information when you don’t have it? Leaders don’t have to know everything but it is essential to be resourceful and share knowledge with others.


Mission accomplished.  I finished boot camp and felt ready for the next thing in my army training program.

Leadership can be a very rewarding and exciting experience.  We learn to handle our professional and personal concerns and help others in turn.  We come to establish a personal power base of internal and external resources.  Many of the workplace and life’s problems are best addressed at the lowest level. A more grassroots approach is often what is needed.  The onward onus is on each of us to lead.

Changing our view of leadership is important to make it to work for us.  The view of the concept is what scares people.  Leadership is not just something you use at work, something a politician does, or the person in charge wherever you are. It is life oriented in scope. Leadership is transferable from one environment to another.

So engage and have your own personal leadership boot camp! Stay on mission and reap the benefits of leading in your work, community and family environments.


Finding Rainbows After the Storms

Nature, time and patience are the three great physicians.

Chinese proverb

           There’ve been many storms in our nation recently. From the real kind to those of the human heart with the tragedy in Colorado. Driven by the fury of chaos and emotions, we often find ourselves making bad decisions that only create more of the same.  Our way gets cloudy, blurred by our personal storms.These situations remind us to often look at what and who is important.  Below is a story I wrote to reflect on the meaning of life’s storms in my life. And the role models that keep me grounded in turmoil.

“Honey, there’s a bright side somewhere.”

My grandmother would often say these words taken from one of her favorite hymns to comfort us during one of life’s storms. In facing some difficult situation, she wanted to assure us things wouldn’t be this way forever. Even during a thunderstorm she’d remind us, “The noise will cease and the rains will stop. So for now just admire another part of the Lord’s work. Maybe a rainbow will come out after it’s over.”  The insight for me—after bad comes good. They work together to affect our lives. It’s all in how you see it and what you do with that type of force. Give it ‘props’.

I came to love rainbows!

I was visiting Phoenix during an abnormally rainy December a few years ago and during a break in the rain I took a walk. A double rainbow appeared over the Camelback Mountains that border the city. The vivid spectrum of color was beautiful and inspiring. As I stood admiring this work of creation, it gave me pause for reflection. I couldn’t stop looking and feeling very thankful for what I was seeing.  The ability of the energy of nature at its best to comfort and influence brought meaning and illumination to the end of this rainy time.

I have a print entitled Influences by the artist Brenda Joysmith, which was specially commissioned for my sorority. It hangs framed in my guest bedroom. In the picture, a woman adorned in our red and white colors and emblem stands, glancing back. Behind her are colorful images of people on a pathway; no doubt those who have made up her journey’s collage. Some faces are clear and recognizable, others not— fading as the path moves further along.

This depiction begs the questions:

Who or what has made an impact on your journey?

What clarity have they brought that has helped you through the rains and storms?

I have vivid memories of many very different people who’ve decorated my own colorful development and helped me along my odyssey’s rainy paths. Certainly my family, whose words of encouragement, sacrifice and actions on my behalf stands high in that number. I also remember my first grade teacher who wrote a note on my report card, “Encourage her to read.” Then there was my fifth grade math teacher who used a western metaphor of smoking guns to help me understand the complexities of formulas. One of my high school English teachers treated me like family and would come to our home to bring me books and gifts. My high school guidance counselor spent time with me, helping in my decision-making about going to college. In my army career, commanding officers who believed in my leadership skills wrote glowing words on my evaluation reports. There were those consultants who didn’t know me that well, but trusted me enough to bring me onto their projects when I was struggling to get my business started. All have contributed to the prisms of my odyssey—opening a lens to success. Their bright presence shines – on time.

Reflecting back to acknowledge those who saw me through life’s storms is necessary because I have been a “colored girl who considered suicide when the rainbow was enuf.”

And I’ve gradually came to realize as Judy Garland or Patti LaBelle sang, Somewhere over the rainbow …the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

“Stay with it Debbie.” “Dream and look up.” “Someway, somehow, it’ll all work out.” These words are some of the phrases that these stars of my life have imparted to keep me trekking on. And give my best when I can. I’ve also tried to pay it forward (double) in tangible and intangible ways—donating my time and support to family, friends and participants in my workshops.

Think about it.

Whose arches of insights and inspiration have sent you on your way?

Who will we touch; encouraging them to seek and shine, not resting until they find their luminous place on their journey to self?

Let’s fill our paint buckets and mirror the colors and faces of our own rainbows, those bright stars of our lives. Respect the time and talent they donated to create our masterpieces!

Excerpted from Navigating Life’s Roadways: Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration For Your Journey (available on Amazon in Kindle and print)

Courage and the Business of Leadership

As a 2LT in 1979

How often do we think about what it takes (beyond our skills) to keep doing what we’re doing. Particularly when it’s tough stuff.
This reminds me of my time in the army; going through boot camp, officer candidate school and assignments overseas. Those situations required some courage on my part - combined with a few fears I might add. Many days I wondered if I could make it through the rigorous training and if it was worthy of all the effort. But I made it and saw also a part of my purpose become clear - to support and defend as well as embark on a new career! Twenty years later, I’m very glad I took that leap! Even then, I drew on my upbringing and the lessons from my determined and persevering elders. Theirs and my own challenges and victories prepared me for other career experiences to come, especially as a “solepreneur” and author.

So I recently had a conversation with a few other business owners/ consultants about our marketing challenges in today’s economically shifted private and government landscape. And what keeps us pressing on as entrepreneurs, in spite of. So I shared an excerpt from one of the stories in my book, Navigating Life’s Roadways.

Courage Corner
By trying often, the monkey learns to jump from the tree.
Cameroon proverb

The lion in The Wizard of Oz wanted it.
Soldiers in the face of battle exhibit it.
Facing a medical challenge requires it.
New and seasoned business owners need it.
What is it? Courage.
To be able to stand in the face of something imposing, while not knowing the outcome, stretches our mettle. At some point we all find ourselves at this type of crossroad.
Do we veer off or take it on? Bold and daring?
As a ‘single shingle’ sole proprietor, the onus is on me to market my capabilities in order to find clients for training and consulting projects. Each week, month or year presents business viability questions with no (immediate) answers at times.
Can I find new clients? What repeat business might come my way?
Will my work calendar fill?
So I get busy. Through networking at events, referrals or cold calls— the impetus to pursue my livelihood in order to ‘sleep, eat and be merry,’ keeps me in a state of flutter or frustration. Ask any independent consultant and most will tell you that marketing does not rank as a favorite activity. Being put off or rejected are always risks with potential clients. As organizational budgets change, what was once a sure thing for one of my projects can quickly disappear. Training funds tend to get the hack when organizations cut back. The feast or famine nature of this business often moves me from glee to gloom. Is it courage or pure crazy? I sometimes wonder. And keep trying, because I want to.
This same type of unease is widespread in life. In today’s unsteady economy, safety and security are sometimes elusive. A sense of stability and grounding invites us to enter what we may have thought was a risk- free zone in certain careers and businesses, but volatility occasionally erupts. Organizational downsizing, an unpredictable stock market and the fervor of Mother Nature require us to face obstacles of varying proportions. We’re forced to step out into unknown territories, pushing on while constantly weighing pros and cons. Let us jump valiantly anyway.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained”, according to Chaucer, a 14th century English poet.

3 Surefire Ways to Move from Toxic to Triumphant Leadership

First, a little backstory. Recently I was involved in an enlightened conversation about toxic leadership at a professional development conference held for military officers. During the lunch break I sat with a mix of junior and senior officers—to include a newly promoted general— listening and glad to be in this discussion. What I heard? There are still many challenges for “those in charge” who don’t always get it when it comes to effective leadership. And because they don’t, wind up creating poisonous and unproductive environments for their soldiers (and themselves).
As a retired army reserve officer, former corporate manager and now leadership development consultant, this topic rested in my lane. In addition, I was attending this gathering to exhibit and sell my book, Navigating Life’s Roadways, where I address leadership issues, building on my childhood experiences as an oldest (and responsible) child of a single parent. So I’ve gleaned a lot about this area from my life and professional experiences, which is why I have a lot of passion around leadership.
The senior officers at the lunch table provided some on the spot guidance to their junior counterparts taken from their leadership stories of failures that transitioned to success. I use this approach as well, teaching leadership tenants to new and seasoned managers in client sponsored workshops based on lessons from my times of downfall that led to eventual rallying. Mainly the goal for any leader is to succeed, moving past obstacles and problems, to claim a triumph! From this experience, a personal victory narrative can take shape, one that becomes solid and surefire.
Here are three areas that I use as a launching pad for my training’s take away points for an effective leadership campaign.

1. Show up strong. Leaders need to be seen, virtually or otherwise. When I was on active duty, I spent a year stationed in Seoul Korea assigned as a unit commander. My soldiers were positioned at other bases throughout the peninsula, to include one in close proximity to the DMZ- Demilitarized Zone (on the border with North Korea). Many were taking bets on whether I would venture through the security areas to visit them in this austere setting. Responding, I went and even spent the night, rising the next morning to go running with my soldiers. This move strengthened their belief that I was concerned about who and where they were—not a leader stuck in the confines of comfort and safety in Seoul. We bonded, creating trust while I got to hear about their challenges. And I confess, conquered my own reticence to go north!
I encourage leaders to get out and about to learn and grow. In person or in space. Today’s technology can “make it so”. Don’t hide. No fear! Show up not only when something is wrong, but just to check in. Presence sends a clear message. Cross your Delaware.

2. Know your strengths and assets as well as liabilities and limitations. Leadership is a personality business as much as it is a skill set. The confidence to put your whole self into this work is important. By building on what you know you do well —which can be based on your track record of favorable results in addition to feedback from others—can get some good momentum in queue with your team or staff. Yet understanding your “dark side,’ those habits or perspectives that can result in actions that get you off course, ranks as critical. We all have these blind spots or misguided intentions that can create toxic situations.
Another area to consider in discovering tools for your leadership potential develops from answering the question: do you value what comes with leadership? As an oldest child, I was given instructions by my mother on how to take charge when she wasn’t there. I came to value responsibility, strength and at times a liability. I’m very much aware of this. My direct report siblings have pointed it out.
In my leadership development work, I use 360 assessments with clients that allow them to get statistical and narrative data on how their direct reports, peers and next level managers view them. It’s often very illuminating and scary, but in follow up coaching sessions, each person often sees how valuable this tool is in helping them understand the power of perception. I encourage them to do informal chats to find out “the word on the street” about them, in terms of how their staff takes in their style of leading. If the report back isn’t favorable, then the question to the leader is: What damage control measures are you willing to take? And who could help you? Having allies in leadership helps balance out our liabilities and limitations. It can be a colleague or direct report who has an attribute or skill that enhances the effectiveness of one of our tasks such from facilitating a meeting or insight on some challenge.
Rightly know your personal constitution. Get others to sign on and fill in the gaps to ensure a good battle strategy. Win!

3. Ensure complex situations get the right amount of attention.
Too often leaders dust off issues that really are serious as trivial. Instead these problems have layers of stuff that need to be waded through. This era of tweets, microwave, or solve the crime in 60 minute television approaches to reconciling tough matters has led to impatience with the processes that are often necessary to get enduring solutions. Instead the issues continue to surface. How do we put them under and out of the way?
I worked for Mobil Oil as an operations supervisor shortly after I left active duty. The company hired me to improve delivery performance for a distribution team of 28 gasoline tank truck drivers and facility personnel, gambling on the fact that my army leadership experiences would prove helpful in this production environment. I dug in—first by riding with each of the drivers on a delivery. Another goal here was for the drivers to get acquainted with the drivers and dispel the outsider, army bossy myth, they had of me, while I got to know them too. What I discovered were all sorts of operational and personality issues, around which drivers milked the run, took more time than needed for a trip, bullied their way into having all of the overtime as well as excessive teasing and joking that left some feeling offended. Next I poured over the trip reports and other documents to validate my observations and explore maintenance or other support factors that may have contributed to the low productivity numbers. More trips with discussions followed to include one on one’s with the facility team. I learned about the organization’s mission from them, and then applied other strategies from my external, new to the situation stance. The result, performance indicators on deliveries and support went up within 2 months. The drivers also taught me how to drive their 18 wheelers (although not out of the parking lot), but a sure sign they trusted me. I was in!
Time and attention—one can’t underestimate these concepts in bringing mastery to a problem, whether it’s a new or longstanding condition.

Leadership is demanding and rewarding. Jumbled and straight-forward. Responsible and accountable in action. A swamp or a summit. What’s a big reality check for most of us is that we do bring knowledge of leadership from man of our life experiences whether it’s military service, career positions, volunteer or community endeavors, even parenting. Ultimately, the question is where we stand now in using these skills and how do we transition sure and steady when needed from toxic to triumphant!


Leadership Tools from the Peanut Field: A Southern Woman’s History, Legacy and Lessons


The leaders: My late mother and granmother

My hometown of Waverly Virginia sits adjacent to an area known as the “Peanut Capital of the World.”  Many businesses and jobs were based on the growth as well as the extraction of this crop in the 1940′s through1960′s, especially the few jobs available for poor black folks.  My late grandmother, mother and uncles were a part of this enterprise, chopping in the peanut fields during the summer.  Though I missed out on that character building and labor intensive experience, they’ve shared enough stories about the hot sun, low pay and long days to give me a feel for that erstwhile endeavor.  All day long they slowly chopped and tended, hoes or other tools saddled on their backs. With straw hats pulled down tight for shade, and water jars close by to quench the steady thirst, they met the physical and physiological challenges of working the land.

            The deed owner of these peanut fields assigned each chopper a section of rows as part of their daily workload, of which none were exactly alike. Some rows were longer than others. Other crops were tougher to uproot. My mother told me they often looked up and saw what lay ahead and thought, “you sure got a long and tough row to hoe.”  Tiring and overwhelming feelings engulfed them at that point. Uncertainty of the future and resignation to this temporary lot rested in their minds. The magnitude and demands could be easily discouraging.
            In spite of the nature of their work, my grandmother, mother and uncles toiled on faithfully.  Because employment options were limited, they “had to do what they had to do.” Bills had to be paid and food bought, so life’s chores must be done.  They often worked side by side and shouted words of encouragement grounded in our Southern dialect to each other.  “Keep chopping’ chile.”  “Things gon’ get better.”  “Ain’t nothing wrong with hard work.” “There’s a bright side somewhere.” And through all of this, they additionally found ways to humor each other by teasing each other’s chopping techniques while “staying their course”. Ownership of themselves focused their steps and stoops. They weren’t legal deed owners at the time, but they worked the land to meet family responsibilities; and this effort got their best.
            Pearl Parker, my maternal grandmother, as a more experienced chopper often gave her children tips on what to do to conquer those difficult rows. She knew the strategy was in how you worked the tools. “If you dig your hoe in this way, or angle it slightly, this tough crop can be uprooted.” Attitude and pacing were important to my grandmother too. “Take a look at the row as you approach it and lay out your plan. “Don’t let this stuff be the boss of you.” “Use some of those tools in your pocket to loosen up the soil a bit.” Years of working and living had provided her with some common sense proven ways to cope and yielded words of advice in rough times.  In spite of a seemingly powerless situation, she took ownership. My grandmother was a role model, a leader.
Dealing with the overwhelming nature of life and its enterprises then or today along with its demands requires good leadership. The right tools and skills are essential, to lead yourself and others. Encouragement and validation can come from unlikely places while keeping us chopping away at our own challenges.  Good role models are needed and when you don’t have one, you cut a mold based on what life’s lessons have taught you. Each situation or row of our journey in this land is different and calls for a combination of abilities, resources and strategies. Also we must not be afraid to give voice to ourselves, confidently articulate our merits, and to share our stories of success.
            The landowner of the peanut fields probably never told my grandmother she’d done a good job. He probably wasn’t aware of how she led and motivated her children. But she knew her best was being done for her family and children, so she kept chopping anyway. And so do I.

Virginia Native Pens Message of Inspiration for the Roadways of Life



With my late Uncle Horace at a booksigning in Sep 2011

In the writing of “Navigating Life’s Roadways” Deborah L. Parker, born and raised on Route 606 in Waverly, invites you to share the stories of her motivational memoir filled with “Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey”. The triumphs and setbacks of faith, career, family, health, and relationships are creatively presented in her narratives as she reveals the many twisting paths and roads of her personal voyage from Sussex County to points beyond.
Deborah is the daughter of the late Mary Parker Brown, a strong and determined woman whom who she credits as her major life influence, who with commitment juggled the demands as a single parent of four children. They all resided on Beaver Dam Road with the extended family of her late wise grandparents, Joseph E. and Pearl C. Parker. Deborah is also the oldest niece of the late Honorable and CSM (Ret) Harris L. Parker, whom she referred to as a wonderful blend of the humor and wisdom of her late grandparents.
Putting that determination and wisdom on display, Deborah takes readers from her single parent family, civil rights era upbringing and weaves together her road map of pursuits as an army officer, corporate manager and entrepreneur while bringing in her personal downfalls along the way. With a metaphorical poignancy that provides a moving message, Deborah shows us an appreciation for how our own bumpy roads often lead to unexpected yet richly rewarding destinations. And it all began in the humbleness and history of her rural upbringing.
Growing up in Waverly during the 1950’s through 1970’s presented challenges and comforts for Deborah. Pre-civil rights era realities around racial access to economic and education issues loomed as potential barriers to her success. She notes seeing an outdoor bathroom at a gas station down the street from her childhood home with a “whites only” sign. Her own family’s house had no indoor plumbing or heating, instead as Deborah states in her book, “we used the elements of wood and water in their rawest state to sustain our necessities.” But she drew comfort from the support of her extended family, church and school communities. Playing in the woods adjacent to her home (and getting lost at times) even provided insights that Deborah draws on in the stories in her book. Faith for better days pushed her forward. She was an active member of Liberty Baptist Church in her youth and still makes periodic visits to this foundational piece of her life. The value of “home training” on discipline, gratitude and manners enforced by her family provided her with key common sense outlooks. Starting her formal education at Annie B. Jackson Elementary school, Deborah witnessed the turbulent school integration years, attending Waverly High in a transition year before graduating from Sussex Central High in 1973. Using the gifts of this blended learning environment, Deborah went on to attend the College of William and Mary and receive a B.A. in Sociology in 1977.
All of these experiences were very instructional for Deborah. “Life’s roads, paths or journeys are often paved with the travails and triumphs of a barrage of daily evolving circumstances, she reminds us. Sometimes we don’t know the directions or map to our true north. Is there an IPS (Internal Positioning System) to guide us?” she asks. As Deborah reflects back on the defining moments of her life, of which the loss of her mother and a cancer battle rank high, she spiritually and succinctly finds lessons and a guided hand that supported her adventures all along. In that same sense of timing, Deborah views her mother as a “spiritual co-author” since she crafted this book while grieving her passing in 2010, also seeing this accomplishment as a gift from God.
Deborah now owns of The DPJ Training Group, a motivational speaking, leadership and personal development firm specializing in seminars and coaching on career, diversity, management and communications topics. She has authored articles on life strategies, business and community issues for publications such as the Alexandria Old Town Crier, Washington Afro-American Newspaper, Metro Herald and Arizona’s Black Executive Magazine.
In addition to her William and Mary degree, Deborah holds a M.A. in Human Resource Development from George Mason University. She is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army Reserve and graduated Command and General Staff College. Her professional career also spans corporate stints in operations and learning management for companies such as Philip Morris, ExxonMobil and Booz Allen Hamilton. Deborah currently resides in Leesburg, VA where she is involved in the Loudoun County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Chamber of Commerce, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Herndon, and the Metro Washington DC Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development.
Continuing to tally the many lessons from her earlier years in Waverly, education, travel and family, Deborah plans to write more books in the future to include one about the influence of her late Uncle Harris.
“Navigating Life’s Roadways: Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey” was published in July 2011 is available at: amazon.com or you may contact Deborah at: dlparker6@verizon.net for informaiton on mailings of autographed copies.

Waiting the Army Way: Lessons for Business and Life on Patience

“He that can have Patience, can have what he will-” Benjamin Franklin


As a 2LT in 1979

How do we pace and position ourselves to wait?
My time in the Army taught me a bit about this. The “Hurry up and wait” mantra proved to be an enduring life lesson for me as an entrepreneur and author. See my story below excerpted from my book, Navigating Life’s Roadways: Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey about one of those times of waiting.
However long the night, the dawn will break.” African proverb

The nights were dark and cold— I longed to be in my bunk. But tonight I was on guard duty, another requirement in Army basic training. My route was synchronized: Walk the perimeter, stop at the barricades, turn and move in the other direction. Weapon on the ready—constantly carrying this M16 rifle made it feel even heavier, tiring me even more than the day’s busyness already had.
It didn’t matter, I had to go on to finish the shift— my general orders were clear:
“I will guard anything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.”
Other lines I had memorized to state if challenged: “Halt! Who goes there? Advance to be recognized.” I was to be firm and brave, alert for whatever came. Hmm, hmm. Once the approaching person was properly identified, they could pass on by. Then I’d keep walking— programmed for situational awareness.
My shift would be over at 7a.m. Once the sun arched over the horizon I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would be released from this assignment.
I had to keep telling myself to stay on task—there was a reason for this too. If I wanted to be an officer, this was one of the steps. Pull the duty for the privilege to get a commission to be a leader.
Waiting tests our patience, particularly when we’re just ready for situations to be over, or for news to come, or for something we want to come to fruition. I’d also learned a lot about waiting from my family—for opportunity, laws to change, and a better day.
Maybe some life orders can help.
“You will have what you’re supposed to have when you’re supposed to have it,” are words I would constantly say to my ‘ready to be grown’ nephew during his teen years.
He wanted to know when he could have my car or if he could be a part of my business— asking me all of this when he was 15. Even though now he is an adult, I will periodically utter that statement to him to emphasize the delayed gratification concept imbedded in our faith: “Wait for the appointed time.”
I make sure I say those same words to myself, particularly when I’m at a halt—an unwelcome slow period in business or my social life. Life challenges me then. Staying in motion while singing phrases from a few of my favorite gospel songs give me weapons of praise:
“Lord, help me to hold out until my change comes…”
“He’s an on time God…”
“Just wait on the Lord and be of good courage…”
It’s important for me to believe that a Master Order exists and new life construction is on the way. Encouraged, I know God is in charge—my heavy load-bearer.
Stay on guard, shout down that big wall and let it tumble away. Then we’re ready for a new assignment—a change at the right time.

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over it became a Butterfly.”