May 18

Remain Open to the Possibilities

Retired senior military leaders in transition often find it helpful to consider key drivers that may affect second career choices. Is it that sense of purpose, a greater work-life balance, a time to recommit to family or a geographic commitment that may shape what happens next?
These were just some of the factors that played into retired Rear Admiral Mary Landry’s decision-making process before she accepted a position in the Senior Executive Service in the U.S. Coast Guard.
VSB: After a long career in the U.S. Coast Guard, how did it feel to return as a member of the Senior Executive Service several months later? Were there any surprises?
Landry: Returning to the Senior Executive Service less than a year after military retirement is not something I had planned ahead of time. I had a very specific reason for retiring. I had promised our daughter that I would attend every ice hockey game of her senior year playing for Brown University. My husband and I had both missed events in our children’s lives because of the demands of our military career, and I was determined to have this last opportunity.
When the Coast Guard called about the posting of this new SES position, I did the math of how long the hiring process might take and knew I could make it through hockey season. So I guess my surprise was that I was back at work in less than a year. What also surprised me was how different it is to be a civilian because there is more of a sense of permanence as opposed to the military where you transfer every two to four years. It is not to say that you may not move as a civilian, but you have a little more control of your destiny.
VSB: What advice would you share with others contemplating entry into the Senior Executive Service?
Landry: I strongly encourage other retired military members to consider the Senior Executive Service. It is the same “purposeful” work and gives you a chance to be part of a team of professionals committed to public service. I am not trying to sound trite here. If you are someone who enjoys a sense of purpose and can be patient with certain aspects of the bureaucracy, such as restricted budgets and the length of time it sometimes takes to gain consensus on policy or regulation, you will be glad you came back.  It is a very easy transition because you already understand how government works and you can hit the deck running.
VSB: How can women coming up the ranks in the military or in federal government best prepare themselves for senior leadership positions?
Landry: The best way for women to prepare themselves for senior leadership in the military and federal government is to continue to seek out positions of greater responsibility and to not underestimate themselves. Sometimes women are their own worst enemy when it comes to judging their own qualifications and believing they can do the job. Also, if for some reason they end up in a position that is less career enhancing, they should look for additional responsibilities such as volunteering for a collateral duty project.
My husband and I literally agreed to alternate tours and take turns with our assignments. His tour had first preference on one assignment and mine, the next. If the other person could also find a career enhancing assignment, then it was a bonus, but each of us had to be flexible. I remember thinking I would never make O5 when I followed Mark to a command tour. I volunteered for additional duties and the next thing you know, my unit reorganized and I became the most junior department head because what I volunteered to do became part of the reorganization and I moved up with it.
I would also suggest that women focus on what I would call “optionality”. Don’t look at any situation as an “end all” to advancing. Keep your nose to the grindstone and make the best of the given situation. Leave yourself open to any possibility that may be just around the corner. If you let a situation drag you down and lose sight of the rewards that come with executive leadership, you sell yourself short as a contender. Whatever current challenge you are experiencing feeds into that richness of experience that makes you a better leader, rather than disqualifying you.
VSB: If you knew earlier in your career what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
Landry: I love this question, but I have to say that I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. I have been blessed with a wonderful family, a rich career, and very good health. I would just offer the advice “know thyself”. Each person is different and you really need to understand who you are. There is no single right way to do things or to find balance in life, it is all about knowing what works for you. The earlier you learn that, the better chance you have of traveling the journey without a lot of regrets.
Retired USCG Rear Admiral Mary Landry is a member of the Senior Executive Service and holds the position of Director of Incident Management and Preparedness at the U.S. Coast Guard. As a Flag Officer, Landry served as Director of Governmental and Public Affairs and as District Commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District. In that capacity, she served as Federal On-Scene Coordinator in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

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