AUSA Leadership Forum Hears from Villanueva

AUSA Leadership Forum Hears from Villanueva

Alejandro Villanueva speaks to guests at AUSA's LANPAC
Photo by: AUSA/Jared Lieberher

From the Army to the National Football League, leadership and trust are critical to success, former Army Ranger and professional football player Alejandro Villanueva said.

Speaking May 18 at the LANPAC Leadership Forum hosted in Honolulu by the Association of the U.S. Army’s Center for Leadership, Villanueva shared his story with about 90 midgrade leaders from all three components of the U.S. Army and seven allies and partners, including Australia, Canada, Fiji, Japan, Mongolia, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.

With the theme “Building Trust and Enduring Relationships Across the Indo-Pacific,” the LANPAC Leadership Forum aims to professionally develop and inspire leaders and engage allies and partners from across the Indo-Pacific.

During the three-day forum, participants heard from Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston, had discussions with senior Army leaders, including command teams from the 11th Airborne Division and the 25th Infantry Division, and learned from experts from the William & Mary Whole of Government Center of Excellence and Deloitte.

Villanueva, who spoke on the last day of the forum, discussed 360-degree leadership.

“Leadership is the most observed and misunderstood—or least understood—concept in today’s society,” Villanueva told the group.

In his experience, physical abilities didn’t matter as much as integrity and the decisions leaders make, he said. “It’s decisions that create the leadership environment,” he said. “You’re judged by the little moments. You can be the most amazing coach in the world, but you make the wrong decision at fourth-and-one, and your reputation goes down the drain.”

In the Army, “one small decision can derail your entire career,” he said.

Using as an example the complexity of the war in Afghanistan, Villanueva said, “A lot of times, the dilemma is between your men and the mission.” Soldiers are trained to follow orders and procedures, but soldiers also often are faced with no-win situations, he said. “Building trust within your unit is the thing that matters the most,” he said.

Leadership also was critical in the NFL, Villanueva said. A former offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, Villanueva said he learned a lot from Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin and Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh.

The men had different leadership styles, but they were both effective, Villanueva said.

When he first got to the NFL, the Steelers already had a Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and a stout, experienced offensive line, Villanueva said. As a replacement after a starter got hurt, Villanueva said his coach looked at him and said, “This is how we work, don’t [mess] it up.”

“If you’ve been to the Ranger Regiment, it’s the same thing,” Villanueva said. “It’s a well-oiled machine. When you have a specific culture, when things are working because there’s a specific culture, all you have to do is fall into that culture.”