Jim Denova: A Natural Born Leader
Jim Denova didn’t end up in print because he’s always had a passion for it; instead, he found himself in the industry because, before everything, he’s a leader.
The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native, who is now the manager of business support services for Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control (MFC) division, initially joined the aerospace company as the senior property administrator after retiring from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2004, where he served for 21 years.
“After I retired from the Marine Corps, I moved to Dallas, Texas, where my wife is from, and got on at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire control, doing pretty much what I did in the military, which was basically inventory control,” Denova explains.
Denova worked in that position for four years, and then one day he received a proposition.
“Another veteran came up to me one day and said, ‘Hey, I’m getting ready to retire and I need somebody to replace me to lead the print shop.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know anything about that.’ He said, ‘Jim, you’re a people leader. You know how to do this job. You can do this,’” Denova recalls.
So, with a little apprehension, Denova applied for the position. Today, after 15 years in the job, he manages roughly 40 people between two print centers in Dallas and Orlando, Florida, as well as technical library services, mail services, and employee services. So far, Denova says, it’s been a fantastic journey.
“I use a lot of my leadership skills and techniques that I used in the military that are not as well-known as the ones you see in the movies and TV. But it has served me very well, and the evolution has been a lot of fun,” Denova says. “I really enjoy and feed off the excitement of my people when we do something new. Enabling them to find things and do things is really rewarding for me.”
Learning the Ropes
While Denova has enjoyed his journey in the printing industry, it has come with challenges. The most difficult part, he reflects, was learning the ground rules.
“The things that are important to my people were not things that I was automatically familiar with,” he says. For example: “What ‘good’ looked like to them, what ‘good’ looked like to … our customers. That was a major thing for me.”
Besides learning the basics, Denova says his biggest challenge was learning individuals. Denova likes to refer to the saying: “The job is easy, but people are hard.”
“That’s really the truth; you have to work to empower the individual in a group setting — and in a setting like that, that’s kind of hard to do sometimes,” Denova says.
When he started, Denova’s employees averaged more than 20 years of service and experience, so he knew he wasn’t going to know as much as them right off the bat.
“I wasn’t going to outlearn them, so I didn’t try to. Instead, I tried to get an understanding of what they did,” Denova says. “But what I noticed that they didn’t have was a lot of vision and a lot of growth, because the prior leadership from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s was very top down. There wasn’t a lot of empowerment.”
A Culture Shift
Over time, Denova was able to shift the culture from one that didn’t embrace trial and error to a growth-mindset culture. He says it took time and patience, but eventually it got there.
“I’m not a zero-defect type of guy. To me, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying. It’s about how you fail and what you do. If you’re trying something and it doesn’t work, then OK, we’ll try something else,” Denova says. “So getting them to trust me and letting them know that feedback is feedback; you’re not in trouble, I’m just telling you, ‘Hey, this is what I see that happened here. Let’s try something else.’ Getting them to accept that and then to start growing was kind of tough, but we got there.”
Today, Denova says the thing he’s most proud of is changing the culture to better lift up and embrace his employees. Instead of feeling like they are just making copies, Denova says he’s worked to change that way of thinking. Instead of “I work in a print shop,” it’s “I work in a publishing center.”
“Just getting people in there to realize, ‘Hey I do more than make copies.’ And then once they did that … then building on that and changing the culture of the workplace around us so that we’re the ‘answer people’ now,” Denova says. “We have a very close relationship with our major stakeholders: our communications department, our facilities department. We do a ton of things with those two groups, and we made a concentrated effort to get closer to those.”
Denova says the in-plant holds regular meetings with its stakeholders, and he’s very proud to have jump-started that. Overall, he’s most proud of changing the culture and planting seeds to better develop working relationships. He has enjoyed watching his employees evolve and grow into leaders.
“My two managers of my publishing centers — Kirk Blomquist here in Dallas and Darnell Harris in Orlando — started off as a mail clerk and a contract worker, and in my tenure, I’ve gotten to watch them grow and turn into the leaders they are today,” Denova says, with pride.
He also points to supervisors Erica Linn and Cristin Morgan, whom he says are on the path to becoming “hellacious leaders.” Individuals like them, he says, are the future of the organization.
Denova mentions that a fundamental leadership component in the military is that you’re always an example; it’s up to you whether you’re a good one or a bad one.
“Watching them, and watching people around them pick up some of the things that they do and coaching them and growing them into these positions is just extraordinarily rewarding,” Denova says.
Even though Denova is a people person through and through, in his free time you can catch him reading, binge watching a TV series with his wife, and taking care of his new Scottie puppy, Jax, who Denova describes as a “force of nature.”
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