Pulse news magazine

Volume 28, February 2020

Trust and teamwork are everything

In this Virtual Mentoring session, we talk with Deb Norton, vice president of F-35 Solutions, about what to consider when making career decisions, the different meanings of work/life balance, and the one characteristic essential to being a great leader.

A virtual mentoring session with Deb Norton

What's it like to be mentored by our leaders? It's impossible for every one of us to sit down with members of our leadership team, so we're conducting virtual mentoring sessions with them to pass along wisdom and lessons from the people who have ascended to Electronic Systems' highest level positions.

In this session, we talk with Deb Norton, vice president of F-35 Solutions, about what to consider when making career decisions, the different meanings of work/life balance, and the one characteristic essential to being a great leader.

Can you tell me a little bit about your career path so far?

When I was getting ready to go to college, I wasn't sure what my path would be. My dad was a scientist – a physicist for the U.S. Air Force – and he encouraged me to develop my talents in math and science. I took some mechanical engineering classes, and I found them interesting. After graduating, my first job was managing the production and development of 30mm ammunition for Apache helicopters for the U.S. Army. It was then I discovered a passion for the manufacturing side — seeing how products were made and how the pieces fit together. Determining how to go from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, at the right cost and highest quality, was very exciting to me. From there I went to General Electric Aerospace and then Lockheed Martin, which led me to BAE Systems. Two major programs I've been very fortunate to support are the Common Missile Warning System – or CMWS – and F-35.

What are the most important lessons you've learned over your career?

I grew up in a small town surrounded by the same 60 students for most of my early education, into high school. As I started to see more of the world in college, I realized the diversity of talents, skills, and perspectives that exist, and the value of having such a broad spectrum of ideas and backgrounds around me to draw from. In life, it allows you to grow by learning from others' experiences and hearing their stories. In business, it enables much better decision-making and creates a stronger team.

The other lesson is the importance of being a trusted leader. There's a video by writer and speaker Simon Sinek that summarizes this quite nicely. Working with the Navy Seals, he asked how they pick team members, and they said it all came down to trust. They would rather have a moderate or even possibly a low performer (relatively speaking – we are talking about Navy Seals) with high trust, over a high performer with low trust. The same applies to leaders.

"Be the person your team can count on when times are challenging. There are so many measurements for performance, but how do you measure integrity? It's about the decisions we make every day and how we treat those around us." 

- Deb Norton, Vice President of F-35 Solutions

What is your advice for those who want to progress to higher positions within the company?

When I was an early career professional the way it was structured was, if you performed well in your role, you'd be tapped for the next position. I think in today's environment you not only need to perform well, but you also need to be proactive about your own development. That doesn't always mean changing jobs every two years. Instead of thinking about what you're going to do next, think about whether you're still growing in your current position. Are you still learning and being challenged? Are you still finding opportunities that make you uncomfortable? If the answer is yes, stay and continue to learn. If the answer is no, you need to start thinking about what's next. When I first started leading F-35, I had a lot of production experience, but the development aspect was newer to me. Regardless, I approached the assignment head-on and am so glad I did. Also, you should enjoy your work. Naturally, if you like what you're doing, you'll do it better.

What advice can you share about work/life balance?

When I first came to BAE Systems, I had small children. At the time, I managed the microwave area, and due to daycare schedules I needed to leave at the same time each day. For years, I felt guilty for doing this. So now, what I tell my team is that I want them to come to work and give it their best, but I never want them to leave here in the evening feeling guilty. With the technology we have now, staying connected if required is very easy, but there are still challenges. Work/life balance means something different for each person, and it's important to define what is right for you. The result? You'll be happier and more productive.

Why is our mission, We Protect Those Who Protect Us®, important?

It keeps us motivated to always go the extra mile. When I was supporting CMWS, the Gulf War had just happened and we had a surge in demand for our products. It was an uphill climb, but we were able to ramp production to meet the needs of our warfighters and bring them home safely. And with F-35, again it's all about protecting our service members, and our EW systems are right at the heart of that. The warfighters are going into harm's way for us, so it's a privilege to be able to give back to them. I feel truly blessed to be part of the F-35 family.

By Kelly Hussey, Communications, Hudson, New Hampshire