By Rob Starr, Big4.com Content Manager
The fact that Linda Singh has risen to a position of both prominence and leadership in any single career would qualify her as leader worthy of special notice. Add to that the fact she is both a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army National Guard and a managing director at Accenture Federal Services, two separate careers paths either of which would be challenging enough to take up anyone’s full focus, and her story becomes all the more extraordinary.
However, there’s even more to the story that qualifies with the best Horatio Alger classics. Singh
is also a high school dropout and former runaway who served two years in Afghanistan. She recently took some time from her busy schedule which includes work with Accenture’s Military Employee Resource Group and that company’s employee driven African American Employee Resource Group to talk with us at Big4.com.
Not surprisingly because she has one so strong, Singh started our conversation by talking about the foundation that has allowed her to simultaneously reach career heights and give back by way of leadership and direction.
“The biggest piece of that foundation is growing up in a rural area and not being in a very diverse environment,” she says, adding that when she finally wound up in the DC area, the scope of her perceptions were rounded out.
“I would have to say that making that move into a metropolitan area where I was exposed to a
lot more diversity has really helped to bring my thinking along.”
She was honored recently by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families with a Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) award, naming her as a role model for women in the military and veterans. She is also the first woman and first African American appointed as the Assistant Adjutant General for the Maryland Army National Guard.
It’s this blend of personal and military experiences that laid the foundation for her interest in and work with diversity. However, she was also quick to point out that while the popular perception of the military as an organization following that lead is true, there is still work that needs to be done in the upper echelons.
“If you really think about it, we don’t necessarily have the right representation at the most senior levels even today,” she said, adding the corporate world mirrors the deficit in accurately representing the wide variety of people working under the management umbrella. That’s not to say the needed thrusts in diversity are being ignored, according to Singh.
“We’re all still trying to move toward the right direction in terms of diversity and trying to make sure we have the right representation,” she said, pointing out that doesn’t mean corrections need to take place in terms of promotions based on numbers alone.
“We need to ensure individuals are getting the opportunity to be able to take on the right roles, the right responsibilities, in order to be successful.”
She draws the line to diversity mining untapped human resources and gives us an example of how she highlights this concept with her leaders in the military and the recent work in Afghanistan.
“Trying to turn around an old world society takes diversity of thought, capability and people to bring all of those things together into what I call a finely tuned engine,” she says. Singh goes on to say she has s noticed a need to bring those military techniques implemented to win over the hearts and minds of people abroad to America and its young people.
“When I think about the military, or any government agency, we don’t consider them to be a business even though they really are,” she says adding the need for inclusion in both arenas is important to cultivate efficiency. Of course, there’s also a common need to have good leaders at the helm and Singh talked next about what she considered to be the most important characteristics there.
“They have to be transparent,” she said. “Without that openness, they can’t be approachable.” Other attributes mentioned included being a good mentor and coach to people from all walks of life.
“When you are in a mentoring relationship as a coach, you can sometimes gain more perspective than when you are being mentored yourself. Listen to others about their challenges, really helps you to reflect on your own perspective. This to me, is a win-win.”
Inner strength and poise were bundled together for the last two traits and Singh says believing in yourself is a critical ingredient to gain respect from others. She also spent some time on the importance of making sure veterans transition smoothly into the civilian workforce. One of the stumbling blocks is the clear expectations and goals present in the military that are more nebulous in the corporate world.
“We also need to go to a holistic view of healing for our veterans,” she said, using the example of female veterans whose experiences can be quite different from their male counterparts.
“I think we look at it now as looking after the veteran, but there’s an individual that’s underneath — whether it’s a male or female.”
Given her background and how she’s become a sterling example of what the three pronged approach to inclusion (diversity of thought, diversity of capability and diversity of people) can accomplish, it’s no wonder Singh is positive about the future of the work that needs to be done.
“I think ultimately we’ll get to where we need to go, but it takes everyone taking action on that front.”
For the proper motivation, no one needs to look any further than this successful woman who has beaten the odds and now dedicates her professional life to blazing the trail for others. She closed with some characteristically humble words when we asked about what she wanted her legacy to be.
“When I really think about it, it comes down to getting people action oriented. If I can use my sphere of influence to get someone to do something in terms of helping someone else, I feel my legacy speaks beyond anything that mere words could.”