Leading and Learning with Kasey Meredith '22
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Transcript for Ep. 24 "Leading & Learning"
with Regimental Commander Kasey Meredith '22
DEREK PINKHAM, CMP, PMP: So, the first question we have is, what is your guiding principle for leadership? And what is your leadership style?
KASEY MEREDITH ’22: I would say, you know, there are so many definitions of leadership, there's textbook definitions. But if you go off of a book’s definition of what leadership is, I don't think that you're necessarily taking all types of situations into account because no situation can be a textbook situation. So, whenever I go into leadership situations, I always look to inspire people, because in times that people feel uncomfortable or times they're not doing their best, sometimes you just need to ask them if there's something going on in their lives at that point that's changing their perception of reality. So, I like to inspire people and get to know people. And that's part of my personable personality, is making sure that the people that I'm leading are cared for. Because if I'm asking something of them, and I don't know that something is going on in their lives, that could change how they're viewing a situation, then that's my fault as a leader that I don't know that. So, I always look to understand the people that I'm leading, and to inspire them. Because if they are inspired by me, then that means that they look up to me in a way that I've done something to prove myself to them. So, if I can set the standard for myself and always set the standard 24/7, and inspire them to do the same, then I feel like that's the best leadership trait is to be able to inspire those that you want to lead.
MAJ CATHERINE M. ROY: So, I have a follow-up question on that one. So, we've interviewed some folks here on this program, and they have said things like they had eyeball level leadership, or one other person said, I like to pull people aside. Is there a technique that you use for that relationship building?
MEREDITH: So, in times that I've seen maybe errors in training or things like that, I would say that I always pull people aside and talk to them on the side.
Eyeball level of leadership is something I would probably say that I do. I like to make sure that everything is running smoothly. I would say maybe that sometimes I'm I kind of micromanage in some ways, but never to the extent that it takes away from people's leadership. I put everything in words for them to understand my intention and my execution. I always want to give my leaders and my followers a reason why. Because if they don't have a reason why then they don't know what they're executing. And that's unfair to them. So, I like to say that I always do that. And I always give them an intention of the mission that we're trying to execute. And if I do see errors, it's never something that I would call out in front of anybody else. I always pull people to the side, and just, and then that turns into my personal level leadership is just talking to them seeing their perception versus my perception, and what could have happened, where spaces could be that things are different between our perceptions, and then get down to the nitty-gritty of it, and then change those errors so that it's, we better execute our mission. But I always like to pull people aside rather than, you know, telling them that they're failing in my perception whenever they're executing a mission.
PINKHAM: Right. That's great. That's great. Let's shift a little bit here. How have you prepared for your new role this year? What is on your mind as the best leadership lesson as you started the year as regimental commander?
MEREDITH: So, I feel like my leadership really started to grow rapidly when I went to OCS (Officer Candidate School) the first time. That was the summer of 2019 when I first went to OCS juniors. I feel like I honed in a lot of leadership because I really never had that big of a leadership experience up until that point and that showed me a lot. I was most likely one of the youngest people within my class besides a few others who went to training with me. That, we went to work with the enlisted members of the Marine Corps and see how they function as NCOs, and then our role as an officer how, where the difference lies in how we can better execute being officers and working with our NCOs to execute a mission. And so, that was my first insight on it. I learned a lot from that, from that experience. And then I went into my third-class year and continued on that line by picking up rank and using that rank to better my leadership and talk to the people on post that I could learn from. And then I think one of the biggest things also, going into my second-class year whenever I was a sergeant major, not only was I a sergeant major, but our roles really picked up whenever COVID came to VMI. And so, that experience in itself proved to be a lot of time commitment and I've learned, you know, how to how to handle time commitment and how to get my work done, and to also fully do my job the best that I could do, because I, I committed a lot of my time to that role. Maybe too much time sometimes. And I learned that line. I learned that line a lot. And so those are the experiences that I've had personally with leadership. And there are other ways that I've learned leadership, pushing myself to be uncomfortable by signing up for events that I wouldn't feel comfortable doing in the ways of physical fitness and ROTC events, but I wanted to try.
PINKHAM: Right. Person-level leadership.
MEREDITH: Yes sir.
PINKHAM: Yeah. Yeah. That's really cool. Who do you look to as a mentor? Do you have a support system?
MEREDITH: I use a lot of the personnel on post to just talk to them. And that's, as you know, a cadet of Virginia Military Institute if you don't utilize the people who are here, you're wasting an experience because there are just so many different experiences that they have gone through, that truly just give me a piece of information each day. I learn something new each day from them. And so, like I said, I've utilized Colonel Hall and I've utilized Sergeant Major Sowers and talked to them so many different times. But also, all of the members of the Comm’s Staff (Commandant’s Staff) that I've talked to more this year that I haven't necessarily talked to before, I learned leadership from all of them. But also, my mother is my biggest support system, my family, and my brother rats, they're really my biggest support system along with my regimental staff. I mean, I, they support me in what I do and sometimes we have to talk on the side, and they give me advice, like, hey, we see it this way, maybe this could be better executed this way. And then I listen to them because I understand that not everything that I push out will is 100% perfect all the time. I know that. And so, whenever they, professionally, pull me to the side afterwards and are like, hey, look at it from this standpoint, or this situation, maybe it would work better in this way. I always, always utilize that advice. So, they're my support system. And you could also consider them a mentor because we're learning from each other. We that's what that's what this year is for learning from each other. And so, I learned from them. I learned from the Commandant’s Staff, and my mentors, but my mother, at the end of the day, sometimes I just have to call her, and I say, hey, Mom, today was rough. Give me some advice. You know? And she always is there.
PINKHAM: I was gonna ask you, is there anyone outside of VMI that that you would call a mentor? And, well, certainly your mom, but is there anyone aside from that?
MEREDITH: Once I came to Virginia Military, so I kept my ties a lot within VMI. I still speak to a lot of members of my high school, who are in professional, you know, jobs and careers that they have. And I speak to them whenever I go home, like my, the principal of my school. I've talked to him a lot since I've been home and he's been very proud of the successes that I've had and now he's the superintendent of the school. Just different teachers that I found mentors within my high school. I still find a way to talk to them, but also outside, I mean, not necessarily outside of VMI, but a lot of the female alumni who have spoken to me or just alumni in general, who may not be a colonel in the military, who just speak out to me, and tell me about their experiences while they were at VMI is always an insight as how I could do better. They always give me advice. I've had a few people email me about our parades and say, hey, maybe try this, you know, you guys would look better if you, you know, try executing this at parade. And I always take that into account. They're always so helpful. And the alum support is just amazing at VMI.
PINKHAM: Yeah. You have any follow-ups, Catherine?
ROY: I'd be interested in hearing since you've said that a lot of this has been trial and error, so to speak, that's kind of my descriptor, but you try your leadership out, you see how it goes, and then you learn you get feedback. Can you tell us about a time where you were particularly challenged and what profound lesson, perhaps, you took away from that experience?
MEREDITH: I think two things. First is whenever I was sergeant major, like I said, going into that COVID atmosphere last spring was definitely something that we weren't expecting. And it took a lot of time away from me, a cadet who had 17 and a half credits, while also being a sergeant major, I had academic stars up until that point, but that one semester was when I got my academic stars taken away from me because I didn't meet the criteria for them. But then the following spring semester, I retained the GPA that would earn me back academic stars, if I also get a 3.5 this semester, which I hope to do. Having stars up until that point, and then losing them was definitely something that I wasn't expecting. And I mean, it did, it did make me upset and that's what I said about putting too much time and emphasis into my leadership at that point. I would do it all over again if it's still meant taking my stars away, because I learned so much from that, that job in that billet that I don't regret anything from that, but I think the thing that I did learn from it, is being able to delegate more and the time commitment that I put into it, because I like to put a lot of things on myself and I'd like to see how I can work with the weight that I have on my shoulders. But sometimes I don't need to do that. And so, I learned that after after losing my stars. And so, it's something that I, you know, have started to change in my leadership being able to delegate because that then worked into this year. I came from OCS August 14th and came to VMI August 15th. So, I had not even really 24 hours in between coming back to school. And so, I came into a role that I did not practice that I had my cadre early return members already here running the school. I had my regimental sergeant major, basically, running with the Corps along with the regimental executive officer who had a lot on their plate at that point. And so, it was okay for me to sit back and say, listen, while yes, I'm the regimental commander right now, I need to give myself time to understand what you guys have gone through while I've been gone and understand that it's okay for me to not understand what's going on right now because once I start to understand and I start to let things slowly creep back onto my plate, I'll be better off not just putting everything on my plate and failing right off the bat because I put everything right now on my plate and say this is all my job, no delegation, I need to do it because I'm a regimental commander, that's wrong. Because they know how it's been executed. They know what has been going on. And so, as a leader, it's okay for me to say, hey, I don't understand right now, but please tell me so that I can understand and so that I can better execute in the future. So, I think that we played that pretty well going into the year just coming straight off of OCS and not knowing a thing about the changes that were being made. We had a lot of new members of Comm’s Staff coming in. I think, as a team, we really came together and, and delegated and made sure everyone was in the right spot at the right time and understood what needed to be understood.
ROY: So, would you say that you spent a lot of time observing and getting debriefed? Or how did you take a backseat role while you got spun up?
MEREDITH: Well, one time, I know that I genuinely had to brief the cadre early return members about the plans for the upcoming year and it was day two, I believe, something like that.
ROY: The deep end of the pool!
MEREDITH: So, I professionally told everyone I said, hey, everyone knows that I've been gone. I haven't even had my phone for a month while at OCS. And so, while I'm sitting up here briefing you all, I do have expectations. But at the same time and I'm still learning too. So, my regimental sergeant major, my regimental executive officer have put in a lot of time, and have put in a lot of effort to make things run and I could never, you know, tell them how much I appreciate the efforts that they have put in while I've been gone and so, they've done a lot of this work. Also, I'm still learning. But once I'm slowly getting back into this role starting to get used to it, you can still come to me with any questions that you have, but just give me the benefit of the doubt for these few days while we start to gather everything and put them in the right places. And it takes, I think, it takes a little bit of, you know, being humble to be able to go up and say I don't understand, because I'm supposed to understand, but it would be wrong of me to go up and pretend, like, I knew what was going on when I didn't.
PINKHAM: So, how do you feel a month in or so?
MEREDITH: I feel a lot better.
PINKHAM: Do you ever feel like you're 100% in the know of everything? In control of everything?
MEREDITH: I feel like I definitely know what's going on, you know, at the times I need to and like I said a lot, we, there's a lot of delegation, there's a lot of team building because there's so many different organizations that work together. I don't need to understand everything that's going on, I need to understand what's going on with the regimental system and that's what I'm doing. So, I know that I'm on top of the things that need to be done. And I know that my other organizations are as well. So, maybe I don't know every single detail of VMI, but that's for a reason. I'm not the head of every single organization. Just the regimental side, which I feel like I'm on top of now.
ROY: So, we talk a lot here about how VMI has purposefully pitted the class system up against the regimental system. Can you talk to that a little bit or explain that for maybe some audience members who don't know anything about VMI?
MEREDITH: So, there, for example, a glaring example of what would be a difference between the regimental system and the class system is while you have the privilege through your class system of being improperly dressed on stoop (floor), say, without a robe. Your proper dress is supposed to be a full set of gym dykes (gym outfit or uniform). So, gym dyke top, gym dyke bottom, running shoes, white socks, right? That's a full appearance for gym dyke. For class, I would be in my, my white class like shirt and trousers. I would have my belt on, my cover on. Your privilege from a class side is if you were on your respective stoop, you are allowed to be, you know, shirt untucked, you're allowed to have maybe a white shirt on (vs. gray t-shirt) with gym dyke if you're going to bathroom because you have the privilege. You've earned that as a class. So, that would be one of the glaring issues is that while it's a boneable (punishable) offense within the regimental side, it's not a an offense within the general committee (class year structure). However, the relationship between the regimental commander and the class president, as much effort as you put into it will be where the, that line starts to draw in and there's really not that big of a space between the two because they should work in unison. And so, as much effort as you put into it will be more unifying.
PINKHAM: Nice. Do you want to have anything else?
ROY: Well, any other thoughts that you have? Some things, that, advice that you might have for other cadets who are seeking either rank or to possibly fill your shoes one day? What might you say to them in terms of good practices, things they should do?
MEREDITH: I think that trying for every single opportunity that's given to you at VMI is something that you should do no matter what it is. If it's through your ROTC staff, if it's through the ranking system, if it's through any side organizations, you should always sign up for anything that comes through email. Your email is just the epitome of trying to find anything you can sign yourself up for a VMI. And they's just the difference between VMI and other institutions - is just the amount of opportunity to lead yourself, whether it's leading others or leading yourself. So, in many different ways, I've pushed myself into physical events that maybe I didn't think I could complete. And through the military aspect right now, I'm the president of Semper Fi society, I'm the regimental commander, and I also work in Cocke Hall. And so, I have a job here, I have a job on the regimental side, and then I'm the president of Semper Fi Society. I envision a resume in my head at all times. And it's just something that I can always put down on it is that I was able to juggle three things as a regimental commander. And so, if you ever feel uncomfortable, or that you can't do something like that, just try it out to begin with and if it gets too hectic, then maybe you can start to lessen your load. But don't ever think that there are too many things on your plate until you feel that there are too many things in your plate. Don't over assume before you get into different roles because whenever I looked at what I was doing this coming year, I definitely reconsidered maybe not having a job and not testing it out, but then I tried it out and I was able to get a lot done within that time that I was working shifts that doesn't just pertain to the gym. So, there are a lot of things that you can do. And it's just managing your, your time schedule and doing things like that to work within this, this load that you're putting on yourself. But if you don't give yourself a load on your shoulders, and you have time to take naps throughout the day, and you have time to just do what you find yourself bored throughout the day, then you need to find something to do at VMI because it offers so much.
ROY: Yeah, I forget who said it, but some famous person says the struggle is the path.
ROY: In other words, where you have your weaknesses, that's the direction in which you need to be going.
PINKHAM: The obstacle is the way.
MEREDITH: If I can, you know, have a tight schedule that entire day to the point that I go, you know, I put my head on my pillow and I think wow, this is the first time I'm even like taking a breath in my room and I complain to my roommates, oh my gosh, my day was so hectic. I get to complain about it. So, it means that I did something productive throughout the day. So, that's always, you know, you can always look at it like that. Give yourself a reason to tough things out and have a reason to complain at the end of the day because it just means you're being productive.
PINKHAM: Spoken like a true Marine.
MEREDITH: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
ROY: To two more questions very quickly. One is as a regimental current commander; do you also have a rat?
MEREDITH: Yes, I do.
ROY: Can you talk a little bit about that rat-dyke relationship?
MEREDITH: So, the rat-dyke relationship is mostly trying to find a rat, obviously, that fits your, what you want in a rat. So, I wanted a rat who was from my company, in Marine ROTC, had the same dreams and goals as I did. And I found an exact, exact replica of myself within the rat class. So, that's my rat. And she's in Echo Company. Like I said, She's, she's in the Marine Corps ROTC. And so, my relationship with her is to show her exactly what I've been telling this entire podcast is how I've looked at VMI and the perception that I've garnered throughout the years, and what has gotten to gotten me to this professional standpoint, and how I can better inspire her to do the same. And for her to reach for every opportunity at VMI that it offers, because anything less than that is just not, you know, what you signed up for. And so, we have a really, we have a really strong relationship and a really professional relationship. And she has a lot of goals for herself that inspire me, you know. It's not, it's not just me inspiring her. It's also vice versa, you know. I remember one time I was in my room, like I said, long day, didn't know if I had time to go for a run, and then she came into my room and she goes, hey, do you wanna go for a run? And I said you know what? That's it exactly, you know you came in here and you're getting me out there again, you know?
PINKHAM: The motivation you needed.
MEREDITH: You can always fit something within your schedule. And, you know, she she reminded me of that, she reminded me of that. So that's, that's the relationship that I wanted out of out of my rat.
ROY: My last question is about the Annual Leadership Conference. Have you attended one of our Center’s leadership conferences?
MEREDITH: So, last spring, there was a leadership conference with Major General Wins that I attended. And that was, that was amazing. The guest speaker that we had that day had given me a book, and it was, what… I believe the book title was, what would you do? Something along those lines.
ROY: Oh, was it, um, General Neal's book?
MEREDITH: Yes. Oh, yeah.
PINKHAM & ROY [together]: So ‘What now, lieutenant?’
PINKHAM: Which is a fantastic book.
ROY: It is good.
MEREDITH: So, that that was amazing. He, he gave me his book. And I love when people give me leadership books. That's probably my favorite thing because I love to just pile up a bookcase full of leadership books. And so that leadership conference was really I love listening to speakers I love. Like I said, hearing the experiences of those who have experienced a lot. And so, listening to him speak was was amazing. And so, I enjoyed the leadership conferences, and that was the last one I attended last spring.
PINKHAM: Yeah, we had a good lineup of speakers for that Ben Freakley, for me, was really great on that one. The, he was the former soccer coach at VMI.
MEREDITH: Yes, sir.
ROY: Okay, that's pretty much all I had.
PINKHAM: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much for coming.
MEREDITH: Thank you so much.
PINKHAM: Yes. You know, it's really, you're inspiring me right now. Like, yeah, this is so cool. So, we love doing this and talking to cadets and, and, and, and folks as inspiring as you. So, thanks for coming.
MEREDITH: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Transcribed by Otter.ai, edited by Maj. Catherine M. Roy