Around the Table is a three-question interview series from the Make Room email newsletter. Each edition features a conversation with a peer in the national security community to learn about their expertise and experience in the sector.
James Osyf is a principal at Lockheed Martin Studies & Analysis, a commander in the Navy Reserve, and the vice president of Out in National Security (ONS). The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Navy, or ONS.
What advice do you have for people early in their careers?
First, seek as many diverse experiences as you can. Some of the best advice I received from mentors along the way is to prioritize development opportunities over title advancement. New roles should be challenging and stretch your capabilities, expanding your skillset and preparing you for even greater adventures ahead. Don’t skimp on building a rock-solid foundation for the future.
Second, who you work for and with is often as important as the contours of any potential role’s responsibilities. Teammates matter, and the connections you make early on create a long-lasting network of capability that both propels you and can be relied upon to solve significant challenges you confront in later years. Further, there is no greater benefit to a rising professional than to experience superior leadership firsthand. Take care to understand the intricacies of leadership successes as well failures and how different styles motivate, inspire, and deliver.
Lastly, be active managers of your career. You have no better advocate than yourself, and it’s easy to be consumed with the daily mission, or for mentors and peers to lose lock on your personal growth objectives. Take the time needed for self-care and strive for a continued sense of purpose and fulfillment. Be ambitious, be kind, and enjoy the ride!
What did you take away from your time as a CNAS Shawn Brimley Next Generation National Security Fellow? How has your leadership in Out in National Security contributed to your career in national security?
My fellow Next Gen-ers are absolute rockstars! I readily admit to still being in awe of them and suffered from more than a bit of “imposter syndrome” when we first engaged. The Next Gen program is an incredible forum that celebrates and further develops achievers across the political spectrum and the broad national security ecosystem. Our time together not only reinforced my belief in the strength realized from diversity of perspective and experience but also the power resulting from building community. More than anything, it instilled in me a sense of hope for the future having met so many wonderful friends dedicated to our common cause.
My affiliation with Out in National Security grew from that same drive to build community, celebrate diversity, and empower marginalized contributors. I believe that mentorship and talent cultivation is an obligation for those that have prospered during their careers and unlocking and nurturing the full potential of the next generation of LGBTQIA+ national security practitioners benefit us all. This work never fails to surprise or reward me, primarily through the new relationships made with exceptional people determined to make a positive impact on the world.
How does your Navy experience impact your private sector career?
I can honestly reveal that when serving on active duty I never thought I would choose a private sector career anchored in the defense industrial base. That perspective was largely born from a relatively ignorant understanding of industry and how the larger defense ecosystem collaboratively functions. I’m grateful that my initial misconceptions were corrected and that I’ve benefited immensely from this stage of my professional life.
While incentives can sometimes be misaligned between the private and public sectors, the commonality in culture and cause allowed for a relatively smooth transition. The understanding of Pentagon policy and acquisition processes that my time in uniform offered remains extremely helpful as industry evolves to innovate for greatest effect and deliver capability to the warfighter at a more rapid pace. The Navy also instilled a strong adherence to the tradition of service and ethical conduct, which underpins the work I undertake each day.
But the largest impact that my Navy experience provides is the continued growth in my understanding and execution of leadership. I’ve had the opportunity to continue my uniformed service as a Navy reservist, first supporting the undersea rescue mission and now operations at the National Military Command Center. My journey from junior officer to senior officer at commands large and small has emphasized that people remain the most significant resource or input to any problem. And regardless of the scope of activity I’m undertaking in any aspect of my professional life, returning to that first principle —caring for your team—leads to the greatest success.
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