HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Alan Fearns, a contracting officer section chief for the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, recently graduated from a prestigious leadership program for top U.S. Army Corps of Engineers executives.
The USACE Executive Leadership Development Program is the top tier of a three-tier program designed to develop results-oriented leaders with the critical skills needed to lead change in complex environments. Applicants to the yearlong course must be at the GS-13 level or above and are selected based on their potential for continued accomplishments and future success.
Fearns—a “rising star in contracting,” according to Michael Duffy, contracting division chief—retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2003 and has been a contract specialist at Huntsville Center since 2012. Fearns said he applied to the ELDP because he wanted to challenge himself and broaden his perspective.
“Most of my job as a contracting officer involves solving acquisition problems, and I had grown pretty confident in my ability to find the appropriate policy or to use my judgement to effectively solve those problems, but that put me, inappropriately, in the position of thinking I had the answer for everything,” said Fearns. “I knew that this program would challenge that thinking by exposing me to other organizations and how they operate, and I needed that challenge to take the next step as a leader.”
Participation in the ELDP typically involves a one-week resident program, a four-day workshop on Capitol Hill, a team project to produce a product of value to the assigned region, and a four-month developmental assignment outside of the participant’s current area of expertise at another district or division.
Though a large portion of this year’s program was held virtually due to restrictions on travel and in-person meetings, Fearns completed his developmental assignment in resource management at the U.S. Army Materiel Command Headquarters prior to the COVID-19 shutdown that began in March. Fearns said this assignment presented the greatest challenge during the program.
“I had to be effective for 120 days at something entirely new to me, so it was a bit of a scare, but it was exactly what I needed to grow,” he said.
For the required project, Fearns analyzed Huntsville Center data from past years’ results on the Federal Employee ViewPoint Survey, conducted interviews to define and clarify the Center’s greatest needs, and made recommendations for improvement based on his findings. He will present a final report of his findings to Huntsville Center leadership in November.
Fearns said the research process, especially the interviews with employees, taught him a lot about the relationship between motivation and compassion.
“We have so many people doing impressive things here, solving complicated problems, and what I learned is that we’re often motivated to work hard because we believe our leaders care,” he said. “Their compassion and concern for their employees is often what gets the buy-in that’s needed to accomplish great things.”