How I Lead: Working With the Government’s Best, Trying to Prevent the Worst
A DHS counterterrorism official describes leading from the front.
Peter Brost is an intelligence operations specialist and the Tactics and Targets Team Lead for the Terrorist Targets and Tactics Branch, Homeland Counterterrorism Division, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, DHS.
What is the best leadership lesson you've learned?
Lead from the front. I know it may sound cliché, but it is something that, while I served in the Army, we often stated and I believe it summarizes leadership concisely. Be the example that you would like others to emulate. Think of others before yourself, stand up for your team when necessary and support their efforts. Try to develop your subordinates into someone that YOU would want to work for.
How did you get to where you are today?
When I attended Rutgers University in New Jersey, I recall many of the New York TV stations went dark during the first attack against the World Trade Center in 1993. It was around then that I knew I wanted to focus on a career in counterterrorism.
I joined the Army shortly after graduation and, after leaving the service in 2004, joined the Department of Homeland Security. I have been part of the DHS mission ever since.
What leadership lessons do you try to convey to your team?
Integrity is of course the number one lesson. The best leaders are those whom mentors, peers and subordinates can trust. Other lessons that I hope I project are the value of honor, professionalism, and respect of others.
What do you do after work for fun or to relax?
I enjoy running, swimming, hiking, and spending time with family and friends. I have also recently joined the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire Department, as a way to give back to the community. I am currently training to be an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) but I hope to be qualified for firefighting duty by the end of summer 2014.
Describe your average day in 10 words or less.
Working with the government’s best, trying to prevent the worst.
What strengths do you bring your organization?
I hope I bring many of the leadership qualities that I appreciate: integrity, honor, professionalism, and dedication.
What is your weakness and how do you compensate for it?
I believe that I may not always fully communicate my intentions accurately and clearly. I tend to be verbose and may not always precisely request what I would like others to accomplish. I try to compensate for this by asking my mentors, peers and subordinates if they understand what I am trying to convey. I may even ask them to repeat back what they think I am requesting they accomplish. This helps me to recognize if I have clearly stated my intentions and helps to improve my communication skills.
What is your strategy for interactions with your supervisor?
Again citing a lesson I learned in the military, NEVER approach a supervisor with only a problem. Always approach him or her with both a problem and your suggestion for a solution. Supervisors count on their subordinates to think through situations and develop ways to overcome obstacles. This does not insinuate that your suggested solution will always be the accepted one but it does provide the supervisor something to consider and adjust, if necessary.
What career accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
I am proud of every career accomplishment because I believe that each was achieved through hard work, dedication, perseverance and in some cases, a little bit of luck. My completion of military language training, officer candidate school and other military endeavors are all sources of pride for me. It was not because I was the best or most recognized. Instead, I am most proud that I was able to begin and complete something that was a goal to me.
My DHS accomplishments also are a source of pride. I believe everyone appreciates being recognized by mentors, peers, and subordinates. The small number of awards and certificates that I have accumulated are reminders that, although leadership may not be able to provide recognition for everyone’s hard work all of the time, they do recognize the extraordinary effort that we provide and seek to offer recognition when they can.
How do you involve your employees to ensure everyone is on board with a new idea?
Team meetings, general discussions and “brainstorming” sessions are all ways that my team and I communicate ideas. Allowing everyone to voice their opinions and suggestions in a non-attributable environment accomplishes primarily two goals: It permits employees to be both a part of the development and the implementation of an idea.
I believe that when employees are included in the beginning, they feel most connected to the proposed concept or idea. The key is that managers should both acknowledge and, when able, attempt to accommodate employees’ suggestions.
What is your latest goal or ambition and how do you plan to go about achieving it?
I have recently joined the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire Department and I hope to be a certified fire fighter by the end of next summer. To accomplish this goal, I have enrolled in the part-time Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training course and I hope to complete the Montgomery County Fire Academy by Sept. 2014. I also volunteer one night a week at the Kensington, Maryland Fire Station, assisting the trained medical and firefighting personnel on emergency calls.
What is the most important thing you have learned in your career?
To always listen. We often strive to have our opinions heard but we sometimes also neglect the importance of listening. Employees want supervisors and managers to listen to their concerns and suggestions. Peers often want us to listen, so we can assist by possibly providing feedback or by acknowledging their views. Superiors want us to listen because it is important that we understand and complete their taskings right the first time.
What motivates you?
The hope of making a difference. It may be at the local community level, by assisting someone who has called “911,” or at the strategic level, by providing quality analysis to our senior federal officials, who will be able to make more informed and substantiated decisions.
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