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Be Adaptive with Second Class Cadet Paul Boucher '21


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  • Our Mission: This podcast aims to share leadership stories from our VMI Corps of Cadets and high-profile leaders who visit the Center for Leadership and Ethics (CLE) and VMI.
  • Your Hosts: Derek Pinkham, Conference Project Manager and Emily Coleman, Assistant Conference Planner
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In this episode of the podcast, we did our first virtual interview with 2nd Class Cadet Paul Boucher '21. Boucher is studying international studies and political science. He hails from Orangevale, California and plans to commission in the Army upon graduation. He has been involved in leadership positions in the Cadet Superintendent Advisory Board and the Annual Rat Challenge Event, as well as a member of the investment club. We discussed his transition to online learning, keeping up with VMI requirements while being away from post and on Pacific time, and how his experience at VMI has shaped his views on leadership. 
Our Center's mission is to enhance the VMI citizen-soldier journey with programming that educates, engages and inspires critical thinking, ethical decision-making, and leader development. The VMI Leader Journey podcast is an outreach program where our guests can share insights from their own leader's journey, and where VMI may have contributed to their personal growth. 

In this episode, we touched on the following leadership competencies taught in the mandatory course on leadership in organizations and addressed in the publication VMI Leader Journey Booklet: adaptive leadership, decision-making, communications, teamwork, and organizational behavior.

Transcript for Episode: Be Adaptive with Second Class Cadet Paul Boucher '21

SECOND CLASS CADET PAUL BOUCHER: [NEW TEASER]I would say coming into VMI, a lot of people try to prepare for what it’s gonna be like, they think they have an idea of what to expect and then the first time they walk into campus, they’re all blown away so I think the best advice I can give to rats is to just don’t have any expectations going into it and just be flexible and adaptable to what you get into there because so there’s no real way to prepare for it other than just working out and just getting ready for it so I would just say my biggest advice is just be adaptable 

EMILY COLEMAN: welcome to the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics’ Leadership Journey podcast

DEREK PINKHAM: this podcast aims to share leadership stories from our VMI Corps of Cadets and high-profile leaders who visit the Center for Leadership and Ethics and VMI post we're on this journey with you hi I’m Derek Pinkham

COLEMAN: and hey I’m Emily Coleman and we're your hosts of the podcast. Paul Boucher is currently a second-class cadet studying international studies and political science he hails from Orangevale, California

PINKHAM: he plans to commission in the army upon graduation and has been involved in leadership positions in the Cadet Superintendent Advisory Board and the Rat Challenge [Annual physical challenge event by the incoming class of cadets] as well as a member of the investment club

COLEMAN: we discussed his transition to online learning, keeping up with VMI standards while being away from post and on Pacific time, and his experience at VMI and how that has shaped his views on leadership

PINKHAM:  We spoke to Paul remotely from his home in California during the COVID 19 shutdown not once but twice as we worked out our sound issues with our first attempts at remote podcast we appreciated his willingness and flexibility to bear with us on this new adventure

COLEMAN: and without further delay, we give you Second Class Cadet Paul Boucher

PINKHAM: welcome Paul Boucher, Cadet 2nd class welcome to our first remote podcast Emily take it away

COLEMAN: all right Paul thank you for joining us we're really happy to have you here virtually we want to start off by asking you what's your background story where are you from and what led you to VMI

BOUCHER: well I'm originally from Orangevale, California International Studies and political science major I originally found VMI because coming out of high school I had pretty good grades and I was leader in a couple organizations so I really wanted a challenge going into college so I looked in the couple SMCs [senior military academies] and the academies but I was always leaning toward VMI because of its reputation and difficulty so when I first got that acceptance letter, I had a couple alumni reached out to me including a Katie Barry from the class of eighteen and [...] in the class seventeen and they told me about the school and from there I was pretty much hooked they introduced me with my dyke [a first-class cadet assigned to working with incoming matriculants on VMI standards and other support] and from there it was just matriculation bound

PINKHAM: so what were the organizations in high school that you were involved in

BOUCHER: so naturally I was JROTC [Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps] so and then I was also doing like National Honor Society, a couple of sports: cross-country and track, it's a little bit... a little bit of a good mix in there

COLEMAN:  did you carry over track or any other sports into VMI

BOUCHER: Oh, no I did not I didn’t play sports or clubs at VMI

COLEMAN: okay so what roles have you gotten involved with at VMI

BOUCHER: well currently as a rising first classmen I'm involved in a couple different organizations the first and foremost would be the CSAB where I currently serve as the operations officer I've been in that organization about two years now even though I was introduced as a fourth classmen by my dyke we were part of a pilot program for a life skills program that the CSAB had created it was essentially a program dedicated to most of skills that a lot of students complained about never being taught however it never brings it never gets brought up in school such as changing a tire, doing your taxes, how to take out a home loan, paying back your student loans, stuff like that stuff that you generally need in life but you don't really typically learn from an education institution and then I also participate in the CIG which is the Cadet Investment Group it's even though it's more focused toward ECBU [economics and business] majors it's open to all majors and you can learn about how to invest and manage an investment portfolio and then finally I also participate in Rat Challenge at the India Company level. I serve as one of the lieutenants and we oversee the planning and operations for that organization.

COLEMAN: what does the operations officer do in CSAB

BOUCHER:  so mostly I'll be helping with the planning, overseeing, and communications part of it so I'll be helping the other officers the secretary the vice president the president help run the day-to-day operations as well as run communications throughout the organization

COLEMAN: ok has has being involved with CSAB helped you in your personal leadership journey

BOUCHER: oh so far it definitely has some of the skills especially some of the team problem-solving and problem-solving based techniques that I've learned in the CSAB has already been carried over into several different aspects of my cadetship so far. I've been able to explain what we do in interviews which is always popular with [job] interviewers those types of skills as well as some of the normal academic functions at VMI I've been able to use those skills in order to more develop I can... toward academic programs

COLEMAN: has your definition of leadership changed between the time that you started at VMI as a rat to the time that you are now entering your first-class year

BOUCHER: certainly, I would say I would say when coming into VMI I would perceive leadership you know almost being more toward a boss like you know it's like someone from the top of the chain tells you what to do and it's mostly the bottom leadership carrying...  the bottom of the organization carrying it out as I progressed throughout my cadetship though and now going into my first-class year I've really seen it as more of a dynamic leadership approach. Like, a leader right now as I see it should be someone who can balance between like empathy, coaching, and also being able to draw a hard line between when to be sympathetic and when to make those hard decisions. So really, I think it's someone who's a really an adaptive leader someone who knows your organization from the bottom up but also can make the hard decisions from the top.

COLEMAN: right. so, within VMI, within each class I know that all the cadets - you all are on the same level everyone in your class you're basically on the same level of being a cadet doing your work going through whatever clubs and activities you're in how does that peer-to-peer relationship change when one of you needs to take on the role of a leader to those people that are on the same level of you, as you

BOUCHER: so, you're saying is like more like peer-to-peer leadership

COLEMAN: yeah like those peer-to-peer relationships that you have that that you know one minute you guys can be buddies and friends but the next minute one of you is essentially in command of everyone else how does that peer-to-peer relationship change? is there a common knowledge that okay you know that you're gonna be the follower in this situation or is there any like hostility towards each other or how does that relationship usually play out?

BOUCHER: I would say naturally it's always harder trying to lead peers as compared to leading people you don't know, but I'd say VMI it's sort of like a special kind of relationship when you're in the leadership position there when you're leading your BRs [Brother Rats] they kind of have like a natural understanding of what it's like as everyone has to take part of that leadership role at some point so there's always a unspoken communication between your groups that once someone takes leadership you're always going to try to help them out as the leader in order to help develop them as same you'd want for them to develop you. So, I'd say it's more of a two-way relationship when you're in that leadership position to VMI as compared to most other places and that's something I definitely like about it.

COLEMAN: great so tell me about moving through the Rat Line and becoming a cadet and how that's affected you or what it's taught you in your leadership positions

BOUCHER: okay well for me going through matriculation day that was the first time I've ever seen campus in person I've never seen being my before that so the first day matriculating was the first time seeing barracks seeing the campus and it was a pretty intimidating experience. As the ratline continued and we started seeing more sides to it, I was able to start to gain more perspectives and seeing all different types of leadership and I think that's something I continue to see throughout my cadetship. Since we don't really have specific like adult oversight we do it's really the cadets taking charge of all these different organizations including the Rat Line and that's definitely something unique to VMI because we can see not only each other develop but we could see different perspectives from across the board so I think something taking into my first-class year would be getting to experience all those different types of leadership so I've been able to develop myself as a leader.

COLEMAN: what advice, if any, would you give to incoming rats as they go through the Rat Line and maybe some things that they should be open to just some advice for them

BOUCHER: I would say coming into VMI a lot of people try to prepare for what it's gonna be like they think they have an idea of what to expect and then the first time they walk into campus they're all blown away so I think the best advice I can give to rats is just don't have any expectations going into it and just be flexible and adaptable to what you get into there because it's going to be hard emotionally, mentally, and physically so there's no real way to prepare for it other than just working out and then just getting ready for it so I would just say my biggest advice is just be adaptable

PINKHAM: great so speaking of adaptability how has your transition to virtual classes gone and and and how does that change your routine from you know being in barracks, being with your other BRs, interacting daily that way

BOUCHER: I'll definitely say this online transition has definitely been done in the VMI way. VMI hasn't had a lot of online infrastructure so the transition was definitely a new experience both for the cadets and the professors I believe. I say one of the most challenging parts of this has been since they don't really have an understanding of what this is supposed to look like neither do we so it's both us trying to figure out at the same time but I definitely think it's a VMI in the way that it's been an adaptable experience like we try figure it as we go but also having taken that full experience with us like we still do PT [physical training exercise] here on our own, we could still do like the army workouts or RTC workouts, all of our classes are just in a different format than in most cases I've been lucky enough not to have synchronous classes all my classes have been asynchronous so I've been able to complete them on my own schedule but it's still similar to VMI in the fact that you have to maintain your own academic success you have to be able to keep on top of your schedule be on top of your assignments and still complete everything and in a rapid, but also like complete manner

PINKHAM: so, are you in contact with your BRs and for, you said “I[ndia] Company” right, are you are you in contact with you know the… you're the superior structure there

BOUCHER: ah I'd say at this point not right now it's mostly the end of the year going into next year will be more of the talking like leadership structures and all that but right now like all our BRs are keeping in contact most of us are in the same situation so we kind of have an idea of what we're all doing right now but it's it's definitely been an experience but we've all been able to share the same… we've all had the same journey this far so it still feels like the same thing even going into online transition

COLEMAN: so are you all still, like, motivating each other

BOUCHER: um I would say we're still pretty much motivating each other like… yeah, people still definitely keep in contact and we definitely have to connect with each other for assignments so academically it still feels like we're in contact but uh I'd say for just a normal life we're kind of missing out on like just to see each other throughout barracks and like around campus stuff like that so some of the like the day-to-day interactions are gone but we're still definitely keeping in contact

COLEMAN: how are you staying motivated to keep up with the honor code as you would normally do if you're at barracks versus now that you have to keep up with it virtually

BOUCHER: we're just as motivated here as we would be there I feel like because it's something at VMI it's special to us because we take pride in our honor system so it's more of something that we have we're motivated to stay on top of it because we when we get out of this experience at the end it's one thing to say like oh yeah you know I beat the system but it's a different thing to say I was honorable the entire way through and when I got to the end my cadetship I could say everything I've done was in my own work so it's like I got through on my own merit as rather to… it's something we definitely take pride in at VMI

PINKHAM: right

COLEMAN: right that's great especially through a hard time like this

BOUCHER: certainly

COLEMAN: and so tell me what does leadership mean to you

BOUCHER: I would say it's mostly just being an adaptable leader I think you have to be both empathetic and sympathetic but also know when to draw a hard line and start being like more of a coach, you know, more more of a coach or a boss you have to be able to make the hard decisions but also continue to be relatable toward the members of your groups you have to be able to be a charismatic leader

PINKHAM: thanks Paul I really appreciate it in this grand experiment we're all kind of doing

BOUCHER: certainly, glad to be here

COLEMAN: The Center for Leadership and Ethics would like to thank the following: Cadet Caleb Minus - class of 20 for the intro and backing music. Find more of his musical stylings on his Instagram page @mynusofficial that's at M-Y-N-U-S official. Colonel David Gray, United States Army, retired, Director of the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics, and of course as always, our podcast guests.

PINKHAM: Find this podcast and other CLE programming information on the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics’ website and try our YouTube channel. Follow the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics on Facebook, Twitter,  LinkedIn, and  Instagram accounts. See you next episode of The Journey. Thanks for tuning in.

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