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NEWS | April 4, 2018

First Sgt. uses drill sergeant lessons as new CEO

By Maj. Michelle Lunato 98th Training Division (IET)

Juggling the responsibilities of both a civilian career and a military career just got a little tougher—and more rewarding—for Army Reserve 1st Sgt. Lorraine Smith. The former drill sergeant, who is now a first sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), 108th Training Command (IET), just became the Chief Executive Officer for the Monroe County Hospital, a Navicent Health Partner, and attributes the new promotion to some skills learned while in uniform and on the trail.

The Bonaire, Georgia resident served as an Army Reserve drill sergeant for about three years, with a full year of that time on the trail at Fort Benning. While molding civilians into Soldiers, Smith said she learned through her blunders of thinking in the moment and not five to seven steps out. “I had to figure that out the hard way as a drill sergeant, and so now, in my civilian career at the hospital, I really try to always focus a few steps out, rather than what’s immediately in front of me.”

In time, she realized that she needed to be more strategic with her plans, considering third- and fourth-order effects. She also came to learn that results were mandatory, and they needed to be quick since the time frame for basic training was only about nine weeks. “You really don’t have much time to mess around in getting things done. And so those same principles apply in the hospital environment in just that speed to execution of getting things accomplished and seeing them all the way through.”

In teaching different kinds of civilians the skills to be a Soldier, Smith said learned the art of packaging information. People all learn in different ways, and respond to different techniques, said Smith. “I learned that as an Army Reserve drill sergeant that it’s not always one size fits all…At one point you have to adapt to individuals and realize, what is it that they need for them to be successful, and that may be different than what everyone else needs.”

Now, as a division headquarters first sergeant, a role in which many of the Soldiers she manages out rank her, she still has to get results. This change in environment required the Brooklyn, New York native to use different routes to get to the same destination. “It’s a different dynamic. It definitely sharpened my people skills and the way I approach things and people. It’s not about, hey, do this because I said so. It’s more about trying to figure out what motivates that person to get something done for the team.”

Whether it’s in basic training or at the division headquarters, Smith says she has learned that the presentation of information, especially new initiatives, is critical to mission success. Through these experiences and her Sigma Six Black Belt certification, she knows a lot of hard work is wasted when people don’t collaborate and present their ideas in a way that others can receive it. “As leaders, we need to explain why an initiative is important... We have to put things on the table to see, so there are no questions on why we are doing this or that.”

It was this exact attention to detail and take-charge attitude that earned Smith the promotion, according to Todd Tolbert, Monroe County chairman. “Lorraine came in with obvious leadership skills and the discipline to take, which I think was probably both her military training and her Sigma Six training, and look at what are the issues we have to resolve to be a functioning hospital and to give good quality service,” he said in an interview with The Monroe County Reporter.

Even with all her success, leadership experience and a combat tour to Iraq in 2003, Smith said she still has moments of doubts and struggles with confidence. “It’s amazing how much I second-guess myself, and I feel unsure about a lot of things I’m doing. So, that’s why I try to collaborate with other leaders or Soldiers and bounce ideas off of each other, when time permits of course.”

The ideas that people have can add a valuable outlook on an issue, especially when they come from employees/Soldiers who are not just aware of a problem, but have to operate within that problem, said Smith. “They have a completely different perspective on how problems can be solved, or even know better than us, what the problem really is.”
Collaboration and listening does not mean being soft though. The former drill sergeant openly admits she is persistent. Whether it’s via e-mails, face-to-face conversations, phone calls, texts or meetings, she is going to get things done. It’s a successful tactic she has learned over the years and knows it works from her own experiences on the receiving end. “I know I always respond to people who are persistent, because I feel like I know they are coming back – let me just get done what needs to get done for them. And that seems to have worked well for me too.”

Time management has been an invaluable skill that she has learned through her military and civilian roles as well. As the mother of a 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, this Citizen-Soldier stays at “full throttle” as she juggles her children’s piano and swimming lessons between both her busy Army Reserve and civilian roles. Fortunately, she and her husband, Brandon Smith, a U.S. Army veteran who is in a doctorate program at the University of Georgia outside of his own job, are on the same page. “Thank goodness for my husband who is completely involved in our everyday life aspects and has a demanding career himself. So we are all completely engaged at our house.” To get it all done, they started shutting off the television and cutting out little things that didn’t add value to their lives. With all the different micro-communities they are involved in—Army Reserve, medical field, school, working out, their kids’ activities, families, neighbors—they have built up a strong support system. These various groups are critical to surviving the hectic pace of multiple responsibilities. “That way, when you get into a jam, it’s not like everything is on fire,” said the mom who admits to needing help from time to time.

To save even more time, Smith and her husband do a lot of mass cooking on the weekends and limit their trips to restaurants, both of which helps them maintain a healthy lifestyle. “You have to eat left overs to survive at my house. There is no such thing as a fresh meal every night. That’s just not going to happen.”

All those little details and tweaks to daily life, free up the time to manage two very busy roles, which are more similar than many realize. In her Army Reserve role, it is all about managing Soldier readiness. In her civilian role at the hospital, it is all about managing the hospital’s readiness and productivity. Both jobs require metrics and people skills, and are surprisingly alike, said Smith. “You’d be shocked at how many similarities there are between the civilian world and the military world, especially once you start to get into the executive levels.”

The civilian and military metrics of strategic initiatives, planning forecasts and personnel readiness stats all boil down to one thing—people. “Everything I do is connected to a person, and I feel a sense of responsibility. I also feel this sense of pride, and in a lot of ways, love. I start to think, I care about this person, and I want to see them be successful.”

As a first sergeant now, she also feels the responsibility to give back. “Now, there are other Soldiers who need to see me as a mentor. I am setting an example of how maybe other females Soldiers, or other just other Soldiers, want to be one day.”

This constant drive to push and give is just something this Army Reserve Soldier does. She knows no other way. “That sort of race to improvement has always driven me to just do things better and better. And, it’s really the same standard I hold myself to, so it’s never enough in a way. I am always trying to be better, be healthier, be more in shape, be more educated, whatever.”

Of course, not everyone can successfully apply that kind of drive for results onto other people. Yet, Smith always seems to find a way, says Col. Michael Ansay, former deputy commander, 98th Training Division (IET). “She seems to have the perfect leadership personality that is steadfast and firm, but warm too. I think she could send people to be executed and make them feel good about it.”

After the hospital board met the Citizen-Soldier, they were hooked too, said Tolbert in his interview with The Monroe County Reporter. “And so someone who could fit that well into this community with that spirit, that much can-do attitude, is someone we need to make sure we keep here.”
In her new role as CEO at the hospital, Smith said she will need to pull from her military experiences just as much as she uses her civilian skills while in uniform. When combined with her personal drive, she reports, that it just all seems to work for her. “I’ve always been that type of person who likes to make things better. So whether it’s a space like my home, or turning civilians into Soldiers, or everything we do in healthcare that relates down to a patient and making life better for them, I feel like I have this inner drive to always make things better, to make myself better, to make my surroundings better, to make the people I know better, and try to push those things along. And surprisingly, people let me.”