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Lockheed Martin VP Amy Gowder: Leaders need to practice ‘active listening’

It’s critical for all leaders to develop active listening skills. Specifically for women, there’s a balancing act between just listening while still having a voice in discussions among men. I think society gives men more latitude in that regard. As women practice active listening, the opportunities to interject and drive the conversation in a meaningful […]


It’s critical for all leaders to develop active listening skills. Specifically for women, there’s a balancing act between just listening while still having a voice in discussions among men. I think society gives men more latitude in that regard. As women practice active listening, the opportunities to interject and drive the conversation in a meaningful way becomes clearer. When you accomplish this, you set yourself apart as a valuable, insightful leader. This is key in building relationships with male colleagues, building your personal brand and driving success in business.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Gowder, vice president and general manager, Training and Logistics Solutions, for Lockheed Martin’s Rotary and Mission Systems located in Orlando, Fla. In this role, she is responsible for the execution and strategic growth of Lockheed Martin’s mission readiness and sustainment programs leading more than 4,500 employees around the globe. Amy is a proven leader. In 2012, she was named a top 40 under 40 aviation executive by Aviation Week. In 2015, she was inducted into the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame and in 2016, she was appointed to the Texas Aerospace and Aviation Advisory Committee. Most recently, Amy was named one of seven Notable Women in Orlando Tech and appointed to sit on the Center for Excellence in Education (CEE) board of trustees. In this role she supports careers of excellence and leadership in science and technology, MIT’s Research Science Institute and additional CEE STEM education programs.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up I was always interested in science, math and engineering. In high school I wanted to go into the medical field, so I volunteered at local hospitals and clinics. Once I entered college, I combined those passions and pursued a Bioengineering undergraduate degree at Arizona State University. After graduation, I quickly realized my interests in the high-tech world and took a position with a consulting firm. This was a great decision because it exposed me very quickly to multiple high-tech industries leading to working with Lockheed Martin as a consultant.

I became intrigued with Lockheed Martin’s mission, passion and technology within aerospace and defense. This work was so much more sophisticated than what I was doing and began my journey to where I am today.

Within Lockheed Martin, I’ve had a very unusual path to success working in many facets of the business such as supply chain management, finance, rolling out an IT system, and now, leading a training and logistics business. I’ve had numerous cross-functional and cross-program experiences which prepared me well to become a general manager.

Can you share a story about a mistake or lesson learned when you were first starting in your career?

As a manager at only 25, I learned early on the value of humanizing the business and focusing on people. As a young leader eager to make an impact, I learned not to just jump right into conducting business at the start of a meeting. I remembered I was dealing with people and not to overlook the human element.

I learned to value appreciating people, connecting with them, to develop relationships. One of my early career mentors encouraged me to start a meeting by putting people at ease. It created stronger, lasting relationships resulting in more productive meetings and ultimately a more productive business. The bottom line — always remember to appreciate your people.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What sets Lockheed Martin apart is our core values of doing what’s right, respecting others and performing with excellence. Integrity drives all our decisions. The fact Lockheed Martin always puts our customers first, challenges the status quo and supports our people sets us apart from our competitors. We are mission focused with incredible people working on some of the world’s most complex problems.

Another differentiator is our commitment to research and innovation. Our storied history, including the iconic Skunk Works and our newly acquired legendary Sikorsky business, makes it clear innovation is the foundation for everything we do. We aim to constantly disrupt ourselves, along with the market, ensuring we are driving top-tier innovations to our customers.

Lastly, our commitment to diversity is second to none. Marilyn Hewson, our first ever woman CEO, has truly elevated our company with her commitment to diversity in the leadership ranks and across our businesses.

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

The rapid advancement of technology is changing the world. It’s up to companies like Lockheed Martin to harness what’s cutting edge and deliver it. For example, part of my organization includes human performance engineering and the science of learning. We’re building our solutions around how to maximize results based on how adults learn. We’re also developing augmented and virtual reality technologies. We’re applying data analytics around those technologies to more rapidly and effectively train everyone from fighter pilots to special operators.

For me, it’s exciting a defense company is focusing on marrying learning concepts with gaming technology while making helicopters, fighter jets, and complex IT systems. The end goal is to bring the best tech to the U.S. military and our allies to defend our citizens in an increasingly dangerous world.

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

It’s critical for all leaders to develop active listening skills. Specifically for women, there’s a balancing act between just listening while still having a voice in discussions among men. I think society gives men more latitude in that regard. As women practice active listening, the opportunities to interject and drive the conversation in a meaningful way becomes clearer. When you accomplish this, you set yourself apart as a valuable, insightful leader. This is key in building relationships with male colleagues, building your personal brand and driving success in business.

I concentrate on doing this in my meetings. Recently, I led a discussion where I had to ease my way into raising a difficult topic. I purposely engaged others in the room. In doing so, I made a direct connection to those who raised previous points on the issue connecting to their thoughts and emotions. In this way, I drew others in who were not actively contributing, showing I valued their beliefs and experiences. Having more of the team engaged made a difficult topic more productive to discuss. Women who use these skills, very purposefully, can separate themselves among their peers.

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

The rubber meets the road with your first line leaders and they are the biggest levers you can pull in a large organization. Mindfully delegating and connecting to them is key to pulsing your culture, identifying underlying issues and developing the next generation of leaders.

One major element I focus on is interpersonal communication. Leaders need to personally and frequently communicate with employees in new and meaningful ways. Recently, I’ve embraced technology to communicate better with our “millennial” population. I’ve made myself much more accessible to the larger workforce than previously in my career. This is hard with a busy schedule, but essential to good leadership.

Our team adapted executive communications methods preferred by these employees and our data shows positive effects. We’re now using video messages, versus long “manifesto documents” to drive more memorable, sociable conversations around subjects like our business strategy. A critical element is being approachable and adding humor where appropriate. A leader who can occasionally poke fun at themselves in a professional way, comes across as open, honest and a leader you want to follow.

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?

In my early days there were a couple of leaders who gave me opportunities to lead projects resulting in higher visibility. Whenever I took initiatives in areas outside of my scope, these mentors encouraged and enabled me to succeed, which always led to bigger and better things.

There are leaders in Lockheed Martin who propelled me to where I am today. They empowered me to chase new and challenging opportunities. I think any good leader has a duty to support, encourage and enable young talent to push the envelope and do bigger things.

The biggest fatal flaw any leader can have is a belief, “I did it all myself.” Fortunately, I had tremendous support early in my career allowing me to take risks and make mistakes. I’d like to believe I’m doing the same for the young leaders in my organization.

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

As a woman in my position, I sometimes underestimate what impact I have on people. I receive tons of positive feedback when I spend time talking to young professionals explaining my career path. I follow that by giving them my thoughts, advice and counsel, helping them shape their career. I try my best to encourage people looking to me as a mentor, especially women, to realize their full potential.

Often overlooked, I make it a priority involve myself in our community and STEM initiatives. By spending time with young students, I learn about their aspirations to pursue science, technology, engineering or math careers. I view my mission as giving them confidence to go after careers in these areas they may think unobtainable. It’s very gratifying years later, to hear from a student who actually did pursue an aerospace career.

What are your “4 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Look at the Big Picture: Constantly ask yourself, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?” What is the outcome your business is looking for and the key issues your customers are experiencing? Looking at the big picture allows you to elevate the conversation and keep efforts focused on the end goal.

2. Take Initiative: Take initiative in all you do. If you see a problem, take the initiative to jump in and help your team. Leaders actively work through difficult problems and improve the process, instead of around them, are those who are noticed.

3. Active Listening: Every good leader needs to listen to what is and isn’t being said as they form judgements. The key to good decision making is asking good questions. Listen, then speak. There is a reason we have two ears and only one mouth!

4. People: Take time to invest in your people. You can’t be successful without them, so make mentoring them while building a lasting relationship a top priority.

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

“Use the system to beat the system” — In very large organizations, decision making can become bureaucratic and linear. In this arena however, there’s tremendous opportunity to find ways to reach across the organization to get outside your team to solve complex problems. It’s rare to encounter an issue someone on your larger team hasn’t dealt previously. It’s a leader’s goal to sort through this maze to find a solution taking your organization to heights never reached before.

Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!

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