June 27


Founded in 2002, The Wright Brothers Institute (WBI) is a cutting-edge center for innovation and technology commercialization. WBI provides breakthrough solutions to US Air Force’s most complex initiatives by leveraging resident experts, unique facilities, disruptive innovation processes, and extensive networks.

WBI drives defense and commercial market solutions through exceptional innovation leadership. For example, they developed and presented an “IP 101” training class directed at Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) scientists and engineers (S&Es). The training served to educate S&Es about the purpose, importance, and procedures for patenting inventions.  The more quickly inventions and new technology become licensable, the faster that technology can transition to outside development companies and groups.

AFRL S&Es are researchers and inventors trained in technology, but they are often not well-versed in writing good patents and securing licensing deals.  Both aspects are an important part of taking research out of the lab and putting it into the hands of a manufacturer or developer.  Faster development of the technology hastens transition back to the battlefield on behalf of the warfighter.

In November of 2018, then Executive Director; Les McFawn, decided the organization could benefit by adding to its already positive culture, more emphasis on leadership. He desired to have his key leaders be more effective at leading WBI associates internally and externally. Les hoped to help his entire organization see the need for greater leadership and that everyone could be a leader, no matter what their job title might be.

The solution has been a multi-targeted approach to the development of knowledge, skills, and mindsets about effective leadership. A customized solution for WBI has included various leadership workshops for small and large teams, individual coaching, project management, 360-degree leadership assessments, and a leadership study group (book club). The primary participants are the 6-person leadership team because leadership starts at the top and a ceiling is created by senior leader’s lack of leadership effectiveness.

Breakthrough leadership development requires customization to what is happening in the organization. WBI has had to work through many significant issues; a transition between Executive Directors, then the unfortunate passing of the new Executive Director, and another transition to an interim Executive Director over approximately 18-months. To have ignored those events would have been a mistake.

Meaningful leadership training and development is often an intervention of sorts that meets the participants where they exist in the situation, they find themselves battling through. Even though they have been through a tremendous amount of change, the organization has never been stronger, and the growth opportunities have never been larger.

WBI is an ideal client because they are not looking only for leadership training, nor just a few leadership assessments or for a couple of people to receive leadership coaching (all things that I do for clients). WBI wants to change its culture and its top leadership team (not just the top leader) is willing to go first to seek feedback and develop their skills and create new habits. The leadership team is working at leading themselves better so that they can lead their teams more effectively and, in the end, lead the organization to the highest levels of success possible.

The organization is committed to reassessing its leadership effectiveness at the end of the year. To date, the new Executive Director has said he can see the difference and the improved way the leadership team interacts with one another. He has observed improvements in communication, decision-making, and problem-solving. Each team member has a unique style and has chosen to work on developing a leadership skill that is important to the organization and something their job needs more of. In general, the most important leadership competencies that are being developed at WBI are:

  • Connects the Group to the Outside World
  • Builds Relationships
  • Communicates Powerfully & Prolifically
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Drives for Results
  • Develops Strategic Perspective

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