Meet the Mentor is an in-depth interview with an ACP Mentor that seeks to learn his or her personal perspective on life, leadership and mentoring.
Richard "Tabasco" Tedesco, Col, USAF (Retired) is an Information Technology and Security Solutions Capture Management Principal at Lockheed Martin Corporation. Before he worked at Lockheed, he had a distinguished 27-year career in the Air Force, serving as both an enlisted member and as an officer.
Q. We're intrigued by your nickname "Tabasco." What's the story behind that?
To let the truth be known, I was not assigned my callsign. I adopted it myself. Based on my last name, my wife was called “Tabasco” while she worked in Civil Engineering at Laughlin AFB, TX. Well, when I got to my first fighter squadron, the 79th Tactical Fighter Squadron (the “Tigers”) at RAF Upper Heyford, UK, I stole her nickname and made it my own - and it has lasted through the ages.
As they say - behind a successful military person is a spouse with a great nickname (and all the love and strength it takes to be a military partner).
Q. When you first enlisted in the Air Force at age 18, how did you envision your future? Did you see yourself where you are now?
Wow, great question. I joined the USAF at age 18 because I didn’t want to go to school or become a policeman. That was a nearsighted view. I never imagined I would go back to school, get a bachelors and two masters (thanks USAF), fly jets, travel all over the world, work with the greatest folks ever, lead the most patriotic individuals you would ever want to meet, have years of responsible positions in the military and industry - and have the best family anyone could imagine.
How did I envision my future when I joined the USAF? To be honest, I didn’t think of my future back then and was just thinking about survival. But thanks to mentors and those closest to me, I was able to be successful in many, many ways.
Q. What are some of the challenges you faced when you retired from the Air Force and entered the civilian workplace?
My greatest challenge when I transitioned was to settle into a civilian career path that met the passion I had when I was in the USAF. I made the decision, initially, to go into careers that I didn’t know or experience in the past - I wanted a change. That was not a good decision in my case, as there were enough challenges and emotion about a military transition to civilian life anyway without adding a complete career direction change into the mix.
The second challenge I had was understanding the leadership styles of those outside the military. It took me a while to adjust - I wouldn’t say change - but I never lost the leadership skills the military provides at all levels.
Keys to Successful Mentorship:
Q. How would you say your mentoring style has evolved over the past few years?
The aspect of mentoring that has most evolved throughout the years is my ability to listen. When I first started mentoring, I so wanted to impart my “wisdom” on those around me - well, this is not mentorship. It is lecturing. So, I’ve worked hard on listening - and I’m sure my mentees will tell you that I still have work to do in this area.
Q. You just finished your yearlong mentorship with a veteran Protégé in California, conducted long-distance over three time zones. What's your advice for keeping a long-distance mentorship on-track and moving forward?
The key is mutual respect for each other’s schedules and being diligent about finding the time. Both of us made a sincere commitment to the program, so working through the schedules was not a problem. There is nothing like taking the time, without distractions, to talk with purpose. We set our goals, kept reviewing them, adjusted as needed, and, still today, continue to discuss.
Rich's Professional Advice:
Q. Was there ever a time when you made a mistake or committed a faux pas in a professional setting? How did you recover?
My array of professional faux pas is too long to list - can I skip this question? Seriously, if a professional (and especially a leader) is going to be successful, you have to put yourself out there and accept that you will make mistakes. On one occasion, I was the capture manager during a very intense proposal for a customer. The proposal involved a lot of individuals, time and money. I made the mistake of not putting proper cost controls in place, and we overran the budget. This was not a trivial thing; other budgets had to be cut to cover my faux pas.
It was an unfortunate happening and a major mistake - and there is no way to act but to put everything out in the open so it could be solved. I fessed up as soon as the overage was known and laid out the facts as I knew them. I also trusted my leaders to make the best business decision based on the information I provided them (and they did).
Professionally, I learned from my mistake and found ways for it not to happen again. Then, I stayed focused on the mission, and I pressed on to make other wonderful things happen. Faux pas come at a price you have to accept at the time, but don’t let them change your passion and your goals.
Q. As both a military and industry professional yourself, what would you say are some of the qualities that make particularly great leaders?
I have to go back to the word “passion.” A passionate professional will do whatever it takes to lead those around him and make the organization successful. A leader will also recognize that the mission cannot be accomplished alone - it can only be done with the people around them.
I developed my leadership credo when I was a middle manager (20 years ago) and refined it over time. And, like many leaders before me, my leadership credo is designed not only to impress upon my subordinates a way to think within an organization, but also to use myself to decide how I will act during difficult situations.
Tabasco’s Leadership Credo:
Mission, Mission, Mission (sometimes becomes #1)
Mess up, Fess up
Always the Truth
If you are smart enough to identify a problem, then you are smart enough to identify a fix
If below your comfort level, take action to move your comfort level up
Be as you want your peers to be
Be proactive as well as reactive
ACP would like to thank 'Tabasco' and Lockheed Martin for providing this interview. To learn more about ACP's Veteran Mentoring Program that Tabasco and Lockheed help to make possible, click here.