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Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta > About Us > News & Resources > GSGATL Newsroom > Leadership Lasts a Lifetime: Interview with Lieutenant General Susan S. Lawrence

 Leadership Lasts a Lifetime: Interview with Lieutenant General Susan S. Lawrence

By Allison B. | Lime Green Giraffe


Allison B. with LTG Lawrence

Some women who are leaders are born from leaders. Some rise to the occasion somewhere further in life, while others use skills they’ve learned throughout their lives from one of the most important organizations in the world: Girl Scouts! One of these is Lieutenant General (LTG) Susan S. Lawrence, Army Chief Information Officer/G-6 one of only a few three-star Generals in the U.S. Army and also a former Girl Scout. A highly decorated commander, she LTG. Susan S. Lawrence is our Army’s Chief Information officer (CIO). As she answered my questions from the U.S. Pentagon, I quickly got the sense of what an amazing woman and committed leader she is. So how did she get where she is today?

Born and raised in the small town of Ida Grove, Iowa, LTG Lawrence was destined for greatness, even if she didn’t know it yet. In her hometown, everyone knew everyone; no one locked cars and homes; and McDonald’s and QuickTrips were nowhere to be seen. The simple life of her small town created a nice environment to learn leadership skills early on. Being the oldest of five children, she was a role model at an early age. She also was captain of many clubs, sports teams, and organizations in her community. And she was a Girl Scout!

LTG Lawrence made Girl Scouts a part of her life for as long as possible, starting early as a Brownie Girl Scout. She did everything she could with her troop, and made many friends that she still has today. Learning leadership, outdoor skills, and community service as a Girl Scout helped her gain the characteristics that put her where she is now, WAY farther along her path of life. Some of her favorite Girl Scout memories are going camping and earning badges she proudly put on her sash. She says, “The best memories were sitting around the campfire singing songs and telling ghost stories. We sure knew how to scare each other!”

At 18, she and her closest friend from Girl Scouts decided to enlist in the military. They tried to stay together but ended up in two different branches. LTG Lawrence wanted to stay close to home in the Army, while her buddy wanted to see the world in the Air Force. The total opposite happened. Her friend was stationed only two hours away from home, while LTG Lawrence was sent to Alaska! Starting her military career as a private, LTG Lawrence says, “You definitely are at the bottom of the ladder. But just by choosing to join an organization where leading is the ultimate goal and leadership skills are required regardless of rank put leadership front and center in my life.”

Forming great leaders is what Girl Scouts is all about. Our Mission Statement is Author Allison B. with LTG Lawrence “Building girls of Courage, Confidence, and Character.” So even though she started in a small town, she believes the three C’s brought her where she is today, and can bring any girl and any woman to a place people without those characteristics can’t be: the top! LTG Lawrence agrees with all of us Girl Scouts that Courage, Confidence, and Character helps build great scouts, and that service, challenges, and kindness are the most important lessons of all.

We all know how important service is, but do you sometimes wonder why? LTG Lawrence says that, “Service teaches humility, tests your resolve, gives you an appreciation for blessings in your life, and offers an amazing opportunity to gain knowledge and an experience you wouldn’t otherwise have. Being a soldier, as I am, is a form of service.” Working at animal shelters, volunteering at soup kitchens, and tutoring someone younger are great ways to give service. LTG Lawrence reminds everyone that “Each of us needs to remember that we are part of a community. The ‘me first’ approach to life is a bad one. It impoverishes you as an individual and the larger community around you.”

The LTG believes all girls should push themselves to do things they might normally not do, and test their limits. For her, it was when she joined the Army at 18 and when she went to college a few years later. She eventually earned her Master’s degree from the University of Georgia. Though she was afraid to start college older than everyone else, she still pushed herself to do something that, if she hadn’t done it, she couldn’t be where she is today. She explained to me just how important drive is during our interview. “For girls in your age group, I think there are many ways to stretch your boundaries. I’ve heard that some people these days won’t take a course that they think will be hard and may lower their GPA. I think that’s a terrible approach. You won’t always be perfect but I bet you’ll learn more and grow more by taking a course that is more difficult for you. It’s the same thing with sports, music and art. Our cultural emphasis on always excelling, even when we’re still kids, really is making us less talented, less interesting and less balanced. You may not be an All-American soccer or basketball player, or the next Yo-yo Ma or Jennifer Lawrence – but so what? Find your courage, and get out there and play anyway. You’ll still acquire new skills, and develop your mind and body.”

Listening to her friendly voice and knowing that she took time out of her busy schedule to talk with me, I understood that LTG Lawrence believes kindness and character go hand in hand. She sees that peer pressure and bullying are getting a lot worse, especially with all the technology that allows you to hurt people behind their backs. She believes there is nothing else in the world that is a weaker sign of character than bullying. For peer pressure, she knows it’s hard, but by standing up and just saying “No”, you can be in a much better position than if you followed someone else’s lead. Instead, lead from your heart! We all wish we could follow the Golden Rule all the time, and if we do, our kindness and generosity can get us anywhere!

A lot of us Girl Scouts are working on our Girl Scout Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards right now. LTG Lawrence believes the Girl Scout awards system is an important influence in our everyday lives. “I do believe having levels of awards is important. It helps you set goals. Everyone should set goals they want to achieve. I remember during a recent magazine interview the reporter asked me if I ever imagined I would one day be the Chief Information Officer for the United States Army. I said it was unimaginable. We all need to learn to set the unimaginable goals to work towards.”

Even though times in the Army can be tough for females, she believes women have come a long way since she joined more than 40 years ago. “Personally, I don’t feel that being a woman has negatively impacted my career. That’s not to say I haven’t encountered men who, based on my gender, didn’t think I was as smart or as capable as they. That can be disappointing and even hurtful, but all it means is that you work a little harder and maybe have to try a little harder for your opinion to be heard.”

During her exciting Army career, she has travelled the world and worked with many great leaders of top companies. She was even a commander at Georgia’s Fort Gordon near Augusta. The Lieutenant General talks to and advises the Secretary of the Army, the Defense Department Chief Information Officer, members of Congress and White House staff, and foreign governments and militaries. She says the icing on the cake, “is working with tremendous men and women who are bonded together by an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies; foreign and domestic. Additionally, it is exciting to be part of a time where information technology is key to innovative ways ahead for our Army.” She also loves that in her position, she is able to walk right into any military hospital and see the wounded warriors of our country and to top it all, everyone in the Army is looking to her for opinions and suggestions, since she is the first woman to be the Army’s Chief Information Officer.

Beyond her career, she has made one of the biggest achievements ever: living through breast cancer. While she was holding on to hope during that difficult time eight years ago, so were many others. Her friends and family were there for her during her surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. The most amazing thing is that she only missed three days of work! She says, “I truly believe my strength came from my values based in organizations like Girl Scouts.” Working through her battle with breast cancer exemplifies her commitment to her work and her love for her country!

LTG Lawrence has been thinking a lot lately about what she wants to do next. What she’s focusing on right now is her retirement on January 1, 2014. She loves her career, but now it’s time for a different dream. She says with all her military experience, there are many opportunities, like working with nonprofits or continuing with her IT background. A big thing she gave up for her career was being able to have children. Back when she enlisted, military women weren’t allowed to have children. Now, she might have the opportunity to be a parent like she’s always wanted: a foster parent. She adores children and animals. “Maybe I’ll even open up a doggie hotel, because I love pets!” she says. As you can see, this amazing woman’s service to others, no matter when or where, will never end.

So if you adopt the Girl Scout three Cs by setting goals, showing kindness, volunteering, and being fearless in the face of challenges, you can do or BE anything!

The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the interviewee and do not constitute an endorsement of any organization by the Department of Defense!

Content courtesy of GSGATL's Lime Green Giraffe