HEADQUARTERS, NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– Three NAVAIR employees graduated from the Department of the Navy’s Bridging the Gap leadership development program in a virtual ceremony on April 8.

Rob Lessel, Sheri Villena and Paul Wainwright were part of the program’s highly competitive graduates, who spanned across the DoN. In its eighth year, the program is intended to serve as a conduit to prepare high-potential individuals for senior leadership roles by connecting them with the necessary leadership competencies, knowledge and skills. The program focuses specifically on the Office of Personnel Management’s five executive core qualifications.

For the first time, the 12-month program, which is sponsored by the DoN’s Executive Diversity Advisory Council and Executive Management Program Office, was held entirely virtually.

“One of the biggest leadership lessons for me was a renewed understanding of the value of developing and maintaining personal connections with people,” Lessel, Engineering Group lead for the Commander, Fleet Readiness Center, Fleet Support Team, said. “While it is not a new leadership concept, it did take on new meaning in light of the virtual workplace we have adopted due to the pandemic.”

Villena, the E-2/C-2 Fleet Support Team, Air Vehicle Lead, said one way to maintain a personal connection is to be present and listen actively.

“Paying careful attention and keeping an open mind to what is being articulated has enabled me to not only diffuse high stress situations, but also bring diverse groups to collaborative solutions,” she said.

Each NAVAIR graduate aspires to grow their careers even higher and understands the importance of career planning to get there.

Villena hopes to eventually work in the Senior Executive Service at the Pentagon.

“Prior to Bridging the Gap, I had no idea what it would take to apply for a senior executive position,” she said. “This program has provided me with an in-depth knowledge of the application process and Executive Core Qualifications development. This knowledge has then allowed me to mentor employees seeking promotional opportunities.”

Lessel plans to move into an executive position within the next five years to “lead the organization and its people in addressing the Navy’s most pressing challenges, improving current readiness and closing capability gaps driven by rising peer competition,” he explained.

To get there, he refers back to something former president Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

“In the context of career development, it means that there are so many factors that come into play, some of which you cannot control, so things may not work out the way you expected, or you may end up in a position that you never imagined 10 years ago,” he said. “However, planning is crucial, because it is the process itself that drives you to evaluate your status, identify opportunities for improvement and explore future options. The bottom line is that planning prepares you to take advantage of career opportunities wherever and whenever they may arise.”

Bridging the Gap is just one avenue for the deliberate development of senior civilian leaders, recognizing the need to develop future executive talent. For more information on career development at NAVAIR, visit https://jobs.navair.navy.mil/training.

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