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Cyber/Netcentric deputy director offers tips on life and work
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. - Col. Alfonso A. LaPuma, Cyber/Netcentric Directorate deputy director, speaks to members of Hanscom's Junior Force Council on July 13. Colonel LaPuma spoke about leadership and acquisition lessons learned. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rick Berry)
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Cyber/Netcentric deputy director offers tips on life and work

Posted 7/21/2011   Updated 7/21/2011 Email story   Print story


by Warren Russo
Global Command and Control System-Air Force acquisition manager

7/21/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- For the better part of an hour at Hanscom's Education and Training Center on July 13, Col. Alfonso A. LaPuma entertained 27 Junior Force Council members and guests with witty tales of his unlikely rise in the ranks of the U.S. Air Force.

"I'm the guy who couldn't hold a job," joked Colonel LaPuma, referring to his progression from operations training to weapons controller to program management.

"If you had asked my ROTC commander back at Clarkson University if I would make colonel, he'd probably still be laughing. I'm still waiting for the phone call telling me it's all been a clerical error and that I should get the heck out of here."

Currently serving as deputy director of the Cyber/Netcentric Directorate, the colonel presented his list of 19 humorous "LaPuma's Truisms," covering many aspects of government life and work. Some of his favorites:

On Email Etiquette: Colonel LaPuma strongly advocates waiting 24 hours before responding to annoying email messages, as a way of avoiding the trouble he has experienced every time he has violated that rule.

"If you get one that really torques you," he said, "be sure that you always wait at least 24 hours before responding."

On Management: "You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar ... always give people an out."

In Colonel LaPuma's view, "you want to be known in your career as the person who hands out the honey. If you always hammer people, they're just going to get demoralized, and you won't get anywhere."

On Intuition: "Trust your spider sense. If your gut is telling you that something's wrong, don't ignore it - it probably is wrong."

Spider sense can help you know facts before you can actually prove them, said the colonel.

On Defense Acquisition Boards: "Even if you have done everything correctly, you had better know the people, as it is a very personality-driven process. They expect you to know what their concerns are, and if you don't, it will work against you."

On Public Affairs: "Don't underestimate the resources needed to execute a public affairs plan. If you wait until the day before a major announcement to draft a script for senior leaders, it's way too late. Anything big or controversial needs to be worked on months in advance."

On Surprise: "Don't think it can't happen to you."

As a prime example, Colonel LaPuma referred to himself as the most unlikely colonel in the Air Force.

"On 9/11, everyone wanted to know why NORAD couldn't see inside the United States. The answer is because it was designed to watch for Russian Bear bombers," he explained. "Things will happen when you least expect them."

On Frustration: "Learn when to stop fighting at your level and kick the ball upstairs. When people appear to be unreasonable, there's usually a reason. If you find yourself facing an invincible wall, there's no shame in kicking the matter upstairs," said the colonel. "Work well with your peers if you want to get anything done."

Generationally speaking
Drawing on another one of his lists, Colonel LaPuma offered practical advice from his compendium of "Unique Lessons Learned."

Work: "Don't take it home. Leave for the day and really leave for the day."

If you constantly take work home, he said, the two parts of the day will merge and you will lose the value of the break. Doing this will actually make you less efficient, as well as less happy.

People: "There are different types of people in the workplace and since people react differently, how you communicate makes a difference."

Citing a favorite volume, "The Challenge of Leading Across Generations," by Peter Ronayne, Colonel LaPuma - who holds a degree in psychology - described some of the basic differences between traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation Xers and millennials.

The colonel described growing up as a "typical Gen-Xer latchstring kid" with no child care who came home to an empty house every day. "Today we're all helicopter parents, constantly watching over our kids."

Other items Colonel LaPuma shared:
- "If you refuse to have balance in your life, at least exercise."
- "When something goes wrong, don't just do the opposite, find the root cause."
- "Of the three - cost, schedule, performance -- politics is the most important."
- "Manage yourself and manage others, but don't give out fish sandwiches. Teach people to fish instead."
- "It's more important to make the donuts than to talk about making the donuts."
- "The psychology of the situation is usually more important than the facts."
- "Mechanics over heroics - make the process easy to understand."
- "When really lost, refog the scope." Recalling his moment of bewilderment while operating a Patriot missile battery, Colonel LaPuma said that a brief mental break can facilitate problem solving.
- "Have a tactical, operational and strategic plan. Think of the 12 key steps you need to get where you're going."

In closing, Colonel LaPuma described his four-step philosophy about goals and measures. When performance is:

- measured, performance improves.
- measured and reported, the rate of performance improves.
- measured, reported and compared, the rate of performance continues to improve.
- measured, reported, compared and rewarded, those whose performance has improved the most will improve even more.

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