Home Concepts Concepts of Leadership Community Engagement Senior Sage Leadership: Interview with Norman Westmore

Senior Sage Leadership: Interview with Norman Westmore

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Right after college I joined Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, California, where I worked as an aeronautical flight test engineer. I was there for about eight months and was laid off when the project I was on was completed. I had aspirations of being an aeronautical engineer, but at that point after eight months I decided that going into the defense business was not a very stable career. I interviewed with companies in southern California and in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Ampex, Fiberboard, and several others. I took a job with Pacific Bell, in Los Angeles, in 1960 and worked for them for 31 ½ years. I experienced all aspects of the industry except accounting.

My career in the Bell system included an assignment at AT&T in New York and with Bell Labs in New Jersey. My education continued after I was selected for a “fast track” management development program at Pacific Bell. While I was at AT&T I participated in several different executive programs, including post-graduate executive programs at the University of Southern California and PACE University in New York. I feel my career in the Bell System was very fulfilling and successful.

4. Is there a history of community service in your family background? Briefly, how would you describe it?

My farm family was relatively poor, so there was little history of helping our community that I recall. I personally started giving back to my community when I joined a church in New Jersey in 1974.

5. What do you consider to be the major strengths and capabilities that have made you an effective community leader? Are they rooted in action, in your personal style, in your organizational, political, and personal relationships, or in something else?

Those attributes have changed. The strengths and capabilities that worked well for me in business were different than those in my community service and nonprofit work now. Different in this sense: In the business world I was very action oriented. I drove people and held them accountable for getting results. If managers didn’t perform I moved them out, one way or another. That was the culture I learned in the Bell System, and it was very internally competitive. Those who excelled rose to the top and were rewarded. Those who didn’t succeed and go up the ladder were destined to a flat career. I became pretty competitive; that was my style in the business world, and it worked well for me.

The principal attribute that has worked well for me in the nonprofit world is learning to be a good listener. I try to find out people’s strengths and then tap into them. And I’m probably much more diplomatic than I was in my corporate days. Another skill I have acquired is communicating well with groups of people and being succinct in dealing with problems without necessarily promoting my part of the agenda. The most important thing I have learned is patience, although I am still rooted in action. I tend to focus on the reason for pursuing a particular course and the outcome that is expected. I also focus on who will be responsible for taking action that is needed to complete a task. This style in my nonprofit work is rooted in my engineering background and my Bell System experience.

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