Amy S. Courter served as the National Commander of the Civil Air Patrol
, a federally chartered nonprofit corporation and the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force headquartered at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. from 2007-2011.
Her primary duty was to lead CAP's 61,000-plus volunteers in fulfillment of the organization's three congressionally chartered missions: emergency services, cadet programs, and aerospace education, as well as CAP's increasing role in America's homeland security.
As CAP's commander, Courter served as a Major General (2-star), the highest ranking CAP officer, and the first female to have attained that distinction in the 69 years of CAP's history. Maj. Gen. Courter was also a member of the CAP Board of Governors, and led the CAP National Executive Committee and CAP National Board – CAP's governing and advisory bodies.
Prior to serving as national commander in 2008, Maj. Gen. Courter also held the positions of national vice commander, and national chief of staff. She joined CAP's Michigan Wing in 1979 and served as commander of the wing from 1999 to 2002.
Courter currently serves as president of the Michigan chapter of Women in Defense
, a non-profit professional networking and development organization for women and men who further national defense and security.
Since 2006, Courter has worked in the healthcare, not-for-profit and the manufacturing arenas. She has been selected to positions on numerous boards, serving both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. She was elected to vice president of the International Air Cadet Exchange Association's governing board in 2010. Most recently, Courter joined VisionIT as its chief information officer, while also continuing to share her expertise through her instruction with Inforum's Center for Leadership
, among other endeavors.
Courter's background includes 20 years of leadership at Valassis, a 2.3 billion-dollar public marketing services corporation. First as a manager, and last as vice president of information technology, Courter set strategy and oversaw all information technology (IT) operations and projects, leading her team to a record of over 95% of all projects being completed on time and on budget.
Courter attended Kalamazoo College, earning a bachelor of arts degree with majors in psychology and education, and secondary teaching certification in psychology, computer science, and mathematics, as well as coaching certifications in volleyball and field hockey. She studied abroad in Strasbourg, France, totally immersed at the Université de Strasbourg during her junior year of college, all her courses being taught in French. Courter is a native of Flint, Mich., and a graduate of Swartz Creek High School.
The defense industry has very recently seen a number of women raised into positions of prominence in large defense organizations – General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin come to mind immediately – as significant positions were filled by women in 2012. While it may not be a tsunami-sized wave, it is certainly a rise in the tide. I am reminded of JFK's paraphrase from the New England Council that "A rising tide lifts all boats" which illuminates the premise that improvements in an economy will have positive impact more generally on that economy, too. The idea that one should look at the macro indicators to understand trends that may apply throughout is a good way to find early indicators of change.
It's great to have a positive trend line; we have many women in Michigan in key defense industry leadership positions. For example, Janet Iwanski is engineering product manager for Abrams Tanks for General Dynamics Land Systems
(GDLS). She and GDLS played key roles in forming the Women In Defense Michigan Chapter. In Janet's words, "Women in Defense Michigan started as a perceived need internal to GDLS, where women could mentor and support each other. The idea was extended to the local defense community by hosting a program to assess interest. That first program in September of 2007, where Dr. Grace Bochenek spoke on the history of women in the military, was so well received and attended that WID-MI was launched!"
Today, Iwanski serves as an advisor to WID-Michigan, helping us grow to more than 500 members in four short years. Dr. Bochenek, formerly of GDLS, is now the director for the US ARMY Tank Automotive Research Development Engineering Center
Two additional, incredible examples are women who have received recognition from WID-Michigan: Ms. Monica Emerson and Ms. Janet Bean. Emerson received the 2011 WID-Michigan Excellence in Leadership Award. She has been U.S. Navy diversity officer since August 2009, and is principal adviser to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve operations. Bean recently retired from a 27-year career in defense at the Detroit Arsenal
, including her last four as executive director of Tacom's Integrated Logistics Support Center.
As women have access to more opportunity in large defense organizations and government, it helps to raise the awareness of the benefits women bring to the team. Across the supply chain we see that in medium and small businesses, women have increasingly more opportunities. While perhaps you didn't anticipate it, Michigan is a great place for women in the defense industry as evidenced by my examples shared above!
To be successful in leadership roles – defense industry or otherwise, one has to be both technically competent in their field as well as competent in leadership. A trend is beginning to be better understood that, at times, we may be more successful if we think one way and lead another way.
As an information technology professional, I need to think logically and structurally when I see an opportunity or a challenge that I need to conquer using technology. However, to motivate a team to tackle a larger technology problem, it is far more effective to lead by alignment of the motivations – to get the team to drive their solution in the right direction and for all the right reasons.
In a leadership diversity study by a partnership of BusinessWeek
and the Hay Group a couple years ago, the company's female executives were significantly more likely than their male counterparts to coach and develop others and to create more committed, collaborative, inclusive – and ultimately more effective – teams. I believe that this does not say that "women are better leaders" but rather it says that diverse teams stand a better chance of having all the necessary skill sets to be the most effective.
Now, combine the topic "Women in the Michigan Defense Industry" with my last statement of all the necessary skill sets. There needs to be a pipeline – not a gender-biased network – of girls and women who develop the STEM skills of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics – as well as the balancing skills of leadership and management. Leaders are made, and they can't be made if they're not on the production line.
Women In Defense – Michigan Chapter
has many initiatives to support girls and women as they develop the skills necessary for the defense and security industries. Our events are attended by a nearly evenly represented mix of women and men. Join us. Help us build an ever stronger Michigan Defense Community!
"Math – yuck!" "Technology – what?" "Science – why do I need to know that?" Any of this sound familiar? If you have the good fortune to be around young people, you may have heard these lines before. However, there are many reasons that STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – are a global imperative. From a universal perspective, many enhancements to our way of life have come through these disciplines. Nationally, it is important for our economy and our security to have the skills, including the reasoning skills, which are inherent in these disciplines. Personally, everyone should be able to follow their passions – and very personally to me, my passions are heavily involved in STEM. STEM has served me well.
There could be a bit of "the chicken and the egg" problem when we consider that girls choose to not be involved in STEM subjects in their schooling, and similarly women are incredibly under-represented in STEM career fields. I suppose it makes sense – how would a person develop passions – or even interests, for that matter – if they don't have any experience on the topic? We don't know what we don't know. For me, wow, I can't even imagine what my life would have been like without the opportunities I have had in the STEM area.
As I speak to audiences – whether locally or globally, I receive questions about why I pursued the information technology (IT) career field. I can assure you that my answer is not "so that I could be one of the only women at the top levels!" I pursued it because knowledge of IT allows me to make a larger impact on organizations – I can instill processes and systems that accelerate growth while improving the customer experience. Perhaps the ability to leverage technology intrigues me as much as, although very differently from, the ability to leverage leadership to compel and propel teams to achieve more.
Even if you don't choose a STEM subject for your career field, take the opportunity to inspire the younger generation. I was fortunate to be encouraged into the fields of computer science and mathematics by a teacher when I was 13 years old – and he found me a scholarship to explore those talents. Today, my success in multiple organizations can be attributed to my exploration and education in STEM.
There are many organizations that provide access to STEM subjects to youth – I think one of the best is Women In Defense – Michigan Chapter
(WID-MI), and the organization that I currently chair, which creates connections between schools and industry to provide access to STEM through fun and interactive experiences for girls. Find your passions and follow them!
"Soft Skills" – how can those be of significant importance to my career? I need to be technically competent. I need to have confidence to stand my ground and the communication skills to let people know what I know – I get that, but other soft skills – really? Isn't that what people fall back on and use when they aren't strong technically? Or when they are leading people who have different skill sets from their own? Leaders need to be strong and forceful, right? Leaders get more out of people when they boss them around, don't you think? Leaders shouldn't show their soft side – that would make them vulnerable.
Are you nodding your head in agreement just about now? Well, then, I hope to change your mind. I emphatically disagree with my tongue-in-cheek assertions in the paragraph above. I know from experience the incredible force multiplier it is when you are well skilled in the "soft skills", or the ability to work the people side of the equation.
This might be surprising, given my position as a 2-star major general and the national commander of the Civil Air Patrol
, the all-civilian United States Air Force Auxiliary. In this position, I led 61,000 civilians on serious missions across the nation and Puerto Rico for four years. The team carried out our congressionally-chartered missions of emergency services, cadet programs, and aerospace education. In my "Command and Control" environment, I had over 500 aircraft and 1,000 vehicles under my command. At its core, though, my work was to align the needs of the nation with the motivators that would incite my team to get the job done. My people skills were never more important!
I recently read the book CIO Edge
by Waller, Hollenbeck and Rubenstruck. In it, many CIOs of Fortune 500 companies share their insights and their stories of their success in their technical fields – their success in leading by putting people first.
The best way to lead is to serve your team. Being a servant leader means to invert the organizational triangle – flipping over the normally "pointy top" of the triangular organization chart to instead depict the leader at the very bottom of the triangle. The leader "holds up" their followers – providing them with the resources that they need to be successful – while also holding them accountable.
Both organizationally as well as personally, my teams have thrived because I put people first. It is important to not only use and model the best skills, but also to expect it from others.