by Stefanie Pidgeon
Kathy Lytle started her Army career over 30 years ago as a general supply specialist and secondary item manager for the Abrams Tank and Recovery Vehicle. She is now a board-selected product director, managing a multi-billion dollar production program and responsible for cost, schedule, performance and risk for the Stryker Brigade Combat Team with the Program Executive Office for Ground Combat Systems (GCS). You could say Lytle has found success and is now one of the Army Acquisition community’s top leaders. She would be quick to say that she didn’t get there on her own.
“My leadership throughout the years really guided me,” said Lytle. She credits her leaders from her more than 10 positions with the Army, and a few with the U.S. Marine Corps, for recognizing her potential and giving her the right advice about what she needed to do to get ahead. “My whole career, leadership guided me correctly. I knew that they would stick by their word and help me move up so that I could manage the next higher program in terms of dollar value.”
When Lytle was working for the Marine Corps, the colonel who served as her manager suggested she attend what was then known as the Advanced Program Management Course at Defense Acquisition University (DAU). She did, and the following year she moved into a systems acquisition manager position with the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command. Later in her career, after a failed job application attempt for a product director position, another boss recommended that she attend DAU’s Senior Service College Fellowship (SSCF). “As you move up and start applying for more competitive positions, what training you have, or don’t have, can be a discriminator. My competitors had attended the SSCF and I hadn’t. So I went to SSCF and was then selected for the position with the Stryker Brigade Combat Team.”
Now, as a senior leader, Lytle is in a position to guide others.
“If one of my employees gets promoted and leaves, then I’ve done my job,” she said. Lytle identifies potential in her staff and encourages them to take the path that is right for them. For example, Lytle supported Matt Kleinberg, assistant product manager, as he applied for and completed the Inspiring and Developing Excellence in Acquisition Leaders (IDEAL) program and his shadowing of Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, program executive officer for GCS. Lytle also helped Cheryl Schoeman, also an assistant product manager who is currently enrolled in the Defense Civilian Emerging Leader Program. She supported Schoeman through the application process, making sure the training was consistent with her career path and goals.
“The most important thing we do as leaders is develop our employees,” Lytle said. She added that formal training experiences broaden individuals and give them the opportunity to look at the bigger picture. “Our employees often work in their cubicles, 100% focused on a particular project. It’s good for them to step away from their job and come back with fresh eyes and new ways of doing business.”
The return on investment is good for leaders, too.
“We’re growing the Army senior leaders here, so that’s quite a responsibility. We wouldn’t send people to training if there was no return,” said Lytle. She has seen first-hand how her stellar employees return from training better than they were before. “We get more critical thinking, more of a strategic versus tactical view from those who have attended these training courses,” she said. “It’s not all book learning, but they learn from the people they meet in these courses and identify different approaches to leading.”
Lytle has advice for the next generation of Army acquisition leaders: Do your job! She emphasized the need for leaders to think about the legacy they leave behind and the next cohort of Army acquisition professionals. “Developing your employees is the most important task that you will ever do as a leader. If an employee that you have developed earns a promotion in or outside of your organization, then you have succeeded, and this is a win for the Army,” she said.
The responsibility doesn’t just rest with managers—acquisition professionals have a responsibility too, Lytle added. “People are our number one asset. If you’re new to the acquisition career field, get a mentor or maybe two mentors to help guide you to a successful career, to obtain dual acquisition certifications in your functional career field as well as in program management. Don’t be afraid to fail, to effectively communicate up, down and sideways, and take developmental opportunities for growth.”
For more information about Army acquisition education and training opportunities, go to https://asc.army.mil/web/career-development/programs/. To learn more about Lytle’s experience with the DAU SSCF, go to https://asc.army.mil/web/news-spotlight-on-success-kathy-lytle/.
Subscribe to Army AL&T News – the premier online news source for the Army Acquisition Workforce.