Earlier this year, EmoryBusiness.com spent time with Major Jason “J” Waidzulis 20MBA for a timeless discussion on leadership. Today, he becomes the Army Commander of Alpha Troop, 3d Squadron, 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade. He reports, “My troop consists of four operationally independent teams with the mission to train, advise, and assist foreign nation military partners within the United States Army Pacific Command’s area of operations.”
The 2020 Goizueta Leadership Award recipient Major Jason “J” Waidzulis 20MBA believes that leadership is a dynamic trait individuals cultivate throughout a lifetime. “Leaders are shaped, not born,” he contends. Major Waidzulis serves the U.S. Army as Executive Officer 1-504th PIR, 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.
“First things first, an individual must make the decision to lead by reflecting, studying, putting into practice the principles learned, and understanding psychological frameworks as well as individual and organizational values.”
Leadership, he shares, is deliberate. “But the best leaders are adaptive, knowing how and when to effectively use each style of leadership to elicit the greatest results and team satisfaction.”
“Several types of leadership styles come to mind,” he explains. “One is a coach who encourages and brings out the best in others. One says, ‘follow me,’ and guides others through events. The other is coarse and gives a ‘do it now’ command presence.”
While each style has its merits, Waidzulis explains that individuals who exhibit a coercive leadership style may leave behind a negative impression. He points out, “One moment in time may shape someone’s perspective of a leader.”
To be a great leader, establishing trust is vital. “Treat people like family, and understand each individual’s personal and professional goals,” he says.
Part of the growth process must be spent on building and developing skill sets. “Leaders who achieve the best results are able to align individual goals to those of the organization.”
Stay Mission Ready—But Go the Extra Mile
Preparation, for the military and for business, is critical to success. However, Waidzulis notes, “The ability to remain flexible and adapt to change is equally important.”
As Chief of Staff for an Airborne Infantry Battalion (commanded by LTC Harris), Waidzulis is responsible for the unit’s operational readiness. What that means in civilian terms is that his team must maintain the capability to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours. Waidzulis’ most recent deployment put him in charge of managing the operations and sustainment of 1-504th Parachute Infantry Regiment as they secured the southern portion of Hamid Karzai International Airport to enable the evacuation of over 120,000 Americans, Allies, and Afghan Special Visa Holders from several nations in support of Operation Allies Refuge.
Readiness is ingrained in military culture, but it can be equally powerful for business. Looking back on the past two years, the world has been made aware that unexpected crises can happen without warning at any time.
“Prepare for the hardest day.”
As the Executive Officer, Waidzulis communicates the desired end state and, in straightforward terms, explains the tasks at hand. “What I don’t want to do is tell people how to do their job,” he says. “Leaders create a shared vision, and in the end, allow folks to impress you with the results.”
Though systems and processes are critical, Waidzulis says, “Each person has a unique role to play in readiness. As multiple lines of effort are executed simultaneously, we do our jobs but step up when more needs to be done.”
In a complex organization, “Advance preparation and communication of accurate information is key. Each rehearsal prepares us better for the unforeseen event. Logistics will get the job done, but identifying the point of friction in any situation, making necessary adjustments to process, and going the extra mile when needed will achieve success.”
Leaders Translate Learned Lessons for Multiple Scenarios
A career military man who came to Goizueta through the Advanced Civil Schooling program, Waidzulis valued the interaction with students in his small graduate classes and developed close professional relationships.
“Goizueta helped open my perspective to the world,” he says. “Each student draws on their unique life journeys to help build a fantastic sense of community.” Waidzulis’ experience continues today in the conversations he shares with his peers, professors, and mentors.
“When I came to Goizueta, I wanted to do more than take,” he explains of his service as president of the Goizueta Veterans’ Club. With emphasis on preparing veterans for civilian life and connecting them to career opportunities, Waidzulis piloted “Rendezbrews,” a venture that connected potential employers to the veterans in the network.
In both his personal and professional life, a skull ring gifted to Waidzulis by his father symbolizes his motto: “Earn it.” As a young man the ring stood for the experiences he shared with his dad. A self-professed motorcycle enthusiast, he says, “I’m more grit than polish.” Now when he wears his military uniform, the ring is placed prominently on his desk to remind him of the sacrifices soldiers make every day.
“There are no guarantees about tomorrow,” he states. “My ring reminds me to lead with respect and remember that trust has to be earned.”
Waidzulis values the power of his 23,000-strong Goizueta network around the world, noting of his classmates, “They shape you forever.”