Life and Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Military: “Find people who complement your weaknesses” with Jamie LaRoche

Find people who complement your weaknesses. It’s a strategy that I always use. You don’t know everything and surrounding yourself with people that can complement your strengths and weaknesses will help everybody grow and improve. Invest in your people, help them achieve their goals, and they won’t let you down. As a part of my series […]

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Find people who complement your weaknesses. It’s a strategy that I always use. You don’t know everything and surrounding yourself with people that can complement your strengths and weaknesses will help everybody grow and improve. Invest in your people, help them achieve their goals, and they won’t let you down.

As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie LaRoche. Mrs. LaRoche is Director of Operations for Hunt Military Communities (HMC), an affiliate of Hunt Companies, Inc. In this role, she is responsible for the leadership, operational and financial oversight of their assigned communities and team to achieve company goals. Mrs. LaRoche oversees a portfolio of properties in the Southeast of the U.S., which comprises 3,335 units. Mrs. LaRoche has three community directors who report directly to her. Prior to becoming the Director of Operations at Hunt, she served as the Community Director at two different site locations. Mrs. LaRoche has more than 24 years of property management, operations, leasing and construction experience for both commercial and multi-family properties. Over the course of her career, she has worked with leading real estate firms such as Pinnacle AMS Development Company, LLC, Colonial Properties, Weinstein Properties, United Dominion Realty Trust and Summit Properties. Mrs. LaRoche earned her Master’s degree in Master of Business Administration from Saint Leo University. Mrs. LaRoche retired from the United States Navy after 21 years of service.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I grew up in Greenbrier, TN, a very small, one-red-light kind of town where, at the time, the Police Chief and Fire Chief were the same person. I come from a family that has been involved in the military for generations. My grandfather served in the Navy during WWII and my dad is a Vietnam Marine veteran. In keeping with family tradition, I enlisted right out of high school, and I was serving at the same time as my two siblings. I saw the military as an opportunity to improve my life, to get an education, and to grow as a leader.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I am the Director of Operations at Hunt Military Communities (HMC), where I oversee 3,400 homes for three installations: Bolling Family Housing in Washington, D.C., Barksdale Family Housing in Shreveport, LA and Langley Family Housing in Hampton, VA. Military housing is a passion of mine and, having experienced a lot of what these families are going through myself, I understand how stressful the situation can be. Whether it’s transitioning from a different base or moving into their very first home, I play a pivotal role in guiding them through that transition and providing them with needed resources.

I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to work in an area I feel so passionate about. I’m very proud to be a part of HMC where our core values allow me to empower my employees to deliver five-star service. A large portion of my employees are military members, either retired or connected in some way, and they understand the importance of the work we do.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I had a unique military experience because I did both active duty service and reserve service. I started my military career in 1988 when I joined the Navy as a Torpedoman’s Mate. I went to A school and C school right after boot camp and my first duty station was Yorktown Naval Weapon Station in Virginia. The Navy calls job training A school. All Navy enlisted jobs have an A school, which teaches you the fundamentals of your new job. After graduation from A school, a few sailors attend C school. C school is advanced training within your job. Being chosen for C school means that you have proven that you’re qualified to be trained in an advanced area of the job.

During my time in active duty I worked on two different ships, the USS Hunley and the USS LY Spear. In 1996, I left active duty and joined the reserves. I then served in Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 10 from that time until I retired in 2009.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

One of my more interesting experiences in the military was the camaraderie I experienced when I was in Australia for a joint service exercise. The exercise was a combined effort with the Australian military, the marines, and my group in the Navy, and I was able to witness all the different branches of service working in unison and collaborating to complete this large scale operation. All the different leaders came together in one command and control environment and made a positive difference in our safety and security in a way that I had never experienced before. The takeaway for me was witnessing the collaborative effort of the joint branches and understanding really how well oiled a machine the military really is. This was also my first time out of the country and it was amazing to be able to experience a new place and a new culture.

I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

Serving in the military allows you to be surrounded by heroes all the time. I believe the minute someone swears into service and agrees to sacrifice so much for our freedom, they’re a hero. They give up a lot when they sign that dotted line and you realize that as soon as you’re sworn in.

I’ve been very lucky to serve with senior leaders that strive to grow the junior military members and support them through their journey. I had graduated A school as number one in my class but I had never led anybody in my life. I was promoted to Petty Officer Third Class right after A school and I had my very first military mentor take me under his wing and help me understand what a leader is. He was not in my chain of command and he had no vested interest in me, but he still took the time to make a huge difference in my career and ultimately set me up for success. To me, that is somebody being a hero. His selfless act helped me grow as a leader get promoted throughout my entire career. It’s advice I still lean on today.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

I think a hero is someone who dedicates selfless service to others. I’m surrounded by leaders every day who work tirelessly to support the growth and development of the people within HMC. I see heroes in the military every single day, and that’s one of the reasons I love my job; I get to have one foot in the door with the military and still be a part of that culture. Hunt is a great place to showcase leaders and the heroes that we have are those people who work tirelessly every day so that our military service members and their families don’t have to worry about their homes because our folks are taking care of them.

Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?

No, I don’t think so. Of course, first responders and our servicemen and women are definitely in that type of situation and they are heroes. Anyone who signs up to be in the armed services whether they are deployed or not, they’re heroic.

Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Emotional self-control
  2. When I was a junior enlisted person, I would let tears well up in my eyes way too often or get angry at minor details. But as it stands today, we’re faced with a lot of challenging situations at HMC because people live where we work. There’s a lot of emotions that go into that. Being able to show emotional self-control in my leadership style and in my communications with others has been very important in my ability to deliver good service.
  3. Be the hardest worker in the room
  4. Being in primarily a male environment in the Navy really taught me the importance of this mindset. The only way to earn respect in the Navy when you were the minority was to be the hardest worker in the room. Nobody was ever going to outwork me. I earned their respect, it took a long time and a lot of effort, but once they realized that they weren’t going to outwork me and I didn’t need their help, my life became much easier.
  5. I’ve taken this mindset with me throughout my whole career. I think that in order to earn the respect of the people that work with you and for you, they have to see that you’re working just as hard as they are. People that see you as their leader working really hard, will respect you and in turn work really hard for you.
  6. Understanding mission and objectives
  7. Beginning with the end in mind and understanding your mission is important for any leader. In the Navy, understanding what my unit’s mission was helped me make the right choices. I was faced with several decisions that put peoples’ lives at stake, but I was confident in my choices because I understood our objectives. Similarly, in housing, understanding the mission and objective of each community’s command and understanding who we serve helps us make better choices in how to provide great service to our families.
  8. Empathetic listening
  9. Empathetic listening helps you get to the root cause of a problem. This has helped me as a leader both in the military and working at HMC because when you understand what’s really affecting a person, you can provide the proper support they need. If you don’t practice empathetic listening, you’ll never know what’s really going on.
  10. Change is necessary
  11. When I was a TM3 in the Navy, I did not embrace change. I liked to follow the rules as I had learned them and stick to them. I tended to dig in my heels a little with change and I got marked on my performance review for that. My leaders told me if you’re going to be successful you have to sell the change as a positive to the people that work for you instead of digging your heels in and not being part of the solution. It was probably the best advice I’ve ever received in regards to understanding why change is so important and that a leader is expected to be part of the solution. Change is part of any organization that wants to be successful and leaders should always be evolving with it.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?

One of the things the military is good at is growing great leaders. You are given plenty of responsibility and training along the way. As you’re promoted, you’re given added training and opportunities to lead in ways that weren’t afforded to you at your previous rank. I learned so much throughout the process, as it afforded me the ability to see operations, logistics, and mentor others. As a nineteen-year-old petty officer, I was fortunate enough to watch leaders who were amazing and leaders who were developing their skills and learn from them both. That valuable opportunity allowed me to take those lessons learned and apply them to my current career.

As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?

Because of my unique military experience, being both active duty and on reserve, I was very lucky. My transition was a little easier than your average service member after 21 years transitioning to your first civilian job because it had only really been seven for me. I was able to lean on my support system and utilize my military experience as well as my degree in order to seek good employment when I transitioned out. The military has so many great programs to help service members grow their skills. My advice is to utilize your resources well while you’re in the military to set yourself up for success when you transition out.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am a mentor for the HMC Leadership Academy, which is in its inaugural year. This Academy is where we’re growing our leaders, much like we would do in the military. I was the battalion career counselor for my unit for 140 people. My job there was to help grow the leaders and mentor them and help them get to the next pay grade and that’s basically what I’m getting to do now at HMC.

This opportunity enables me to grow our up-and-coming leaders in the company and give them the tools to give back, not only to our servicemen and women but to the people that work for them. I’m very inspired by this opportunity and that we’re developing this program to grow future leaders.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

You always hear the cliche tohire people that are better than you, but it’s true. Find people who complement your weaknesses. It’s a strategy that I always use. You don’t know everything and surrounding yourself with people that can complement your strengths and weaknesses will help everybody grow and improve. Invest in your people, help them achieve their goals, and they won’t let you down.

What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Delegate or die, which is something I learned in the Navy. One person cannot do it all. It goes back to surrounding yourself with great people that you can trust who you can delegate responsibility and tasks to. It helps them grow in their leadership skills. Make sure they’re trained, make sure they understand the mission and vision and then empower them to do the work. That’s the only way to be successful with a large team.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people that have helped me along the way. From a military perspective, that was TM1 Thomas who mentored me and helped me achieve my goals. He taught me emotional self-control and what leaders are expected to do in the military.

I’ve been very lucky to have worked with three of the four senior directors of operations within HMC currently. All three have taken the time to mentor me and help me understand the mission and vision from their perspective, which has been so helpful. It’s important to see everyone’s perspective on the role of the organization, especially from a leadership role. They helped me understand where I fit in and where I make a positive difference.

Stacia Schuster, a senior director of operations, is someone I worked with for a long time and she is just an amazing person. I admired her ability to break down the business aspect of our company and tie in the most important part, the people we serve. You can’t be successful in our role without understanding who we serve, why we serve them, and how we can make a positive difference in their day.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We give back at HMC. Hunt Heroes Foundation is something that I’m a big part of. I have been in charge of fundraising for the past three years and I absolutely love doing it. It gives me another opportunity to give back to our military families.

We also sponsor wear blue: run to remember, Stop Soldier Suicide, give scholarship awards to military families, and we have given free bikes to children in military families. These causes are all near and dear to my heart. Serving in the military, I have lost friends, as have most people. Any time I can support a Gold Star Family or someone who has a service member in their family who may be struggling, the Hunt Heroes Foundation has afforded me the opportunity to directly give back to those people. I’m very passionate about our foundation and the fact that I get to directly contribute to the money we’re raising to do good for our service members and their families.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement I would consider the most would be something for our junior enlisted. Many of them struggle with the financial aspect of being in the military, and that’s why I think military housing is such a great option for them. They don’t have to pay out of pocket for anything and they’re living in a community that supports them well. Even if they live on base, however, they still struggle. A lot of them are still one-income families. The movement that I would like to consider is finding other resources or ways to help our junior enlisted as they’re just getting started with financial stability. I don’t know what that movement would consist of, but I know there’s a need out there.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

When I was coming up in the military a long time ago, women were only a small percentage of the ranks. It was an uphill battle for a little bit. So I constantly reminded myself that I was capable, that I was good enough. Early on, it was my first time being away from home, so I was homesick and I was, for lack of a better word, bullied a little bit for being a female in a primarily male environment. So my mantra helped me to keep going and it worked. And it still works today.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I love Katie Couric. I think that she is brave, intelligent, and I think that she is a great role model for the women of the world.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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