Maj. Gen. Marilyn Quagliotti: Leading by pitching in

Ask Maj. Gen. Marilyn Quagliotti about learning to lead, and she’ll talk numbers, which is fitting for someone who runs the day-to-day business operations of one of the Defense Department’s largest agencies.

“I’ve had a typical military career, so that means I’ve had many leadership positions along the way, and I would describe them in terms of numbers of people led,” said Quagliotti, vice director of the Defense Information Systems Agency. Quagliotti, who joined the Army after graduating from Louisiana State University in 1975, said her leadership experience expanded as she commanded ever larger organizations.

She put it this way: “You’re a platoon leader at 23, so you have about 60 people working for you. And then you’re a company commander at 26 or 27, and you’ve got 150 people. In your late 30s or 40s, you’re a battalion commander, and you’ve got 400 people. And then in your late 40s, you’re a brigade commander with about 1,100 people. After that, you command the signal command, which has two brigades and about 3,300 people.”

Now as DISA’s second in command, Quagliotti works with 8,000 to 10,000 people, depending on how many contractors the agency hires.

Although the numbers under her command grew, one thing stayed the same: “You have to have a set of values that you live by or that you are going use as your guideposts,” she said, citing integrity, selflessness, loyalty, competence, decision-making ability and teamwork as the values that she most values.

Another way Quagliotti leads at DISA is through personal involvement. For example, she issued personal letters asking vendors to improve the accuracy and timeliness of their bills — an action that helped boost financial accountability within the agency.

“From a vendor’s point of view, when they’re going to have to apply their own resources to solving a problem, I think they’re less likely to do it if they get a letter from someone lower in the organization than from the vice director,” she said. “In one particular case, we got great response [from the vendor], and we were able to clear up all the issues and problems we had. That was a good outcome.”

She sees that pitching-in strategy as an integral part of a team effort. “A leader’s role is really to help people be successful in achieving what they’re supposed to achieve,” she said.

To that end, Quagliotti directed corrective actions that resulted in the closure of 130 audit recommendations and left DISA better prepared to support the war on terrorism.

Quagliotti has the toughness it takes to be a leader, said DISA Director Lt. Gen. Charles Croom. “She’s a bold, get-on-with-business leader,” he said. “She’s a very, very aggressive leader.”

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