As the director of public affairs and outreach for the National Capital Region of Bell Helicopter—a company with more than 7,000 employees worldwide—few leaders have had such a diverse background as Jeremy Martin, whose vast portfolio of experience has shaped his view on leadership. Martin talks about that experience while often pausing to smile over memories of great moments in his career.

Fast Facts

Location: Crystal City, VA
Number of employees: 7,000+
Time in current role: 1 year

Martin’s career spans 30 years in the military, including the last 13 years in uniform as a public relations professional. That tenure included four rotations at the Pentagon, managing hundreds of employees and serving on the staff of four Secretaries of Defense—Rumsfeld, Gates, Panetta and Carter. Martin also served as the commandant of the Defense Information School, the public relations center of excellence for all services and inter-agency PR professionals. After retiring from the military, Martin served during the Obama administration as the Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and Pentagon Press Secretary. Concurrently, he served as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Community and Public Outreach, and Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

A personal commitment to leadership

Martin lists three adjectives that should describe every leader the first day they walk into a new organization: “competent,” “current” and “communicative.” He notes, however, that leadership must go beyond those three things. “A leader must be willing to sacrifice—to place the needs of the mission and the organization above self,” says Martin. “It’s a successful approach I learned from great mentors in the Army, and it has served me well over the past three years as a senior leader in the government and corporate business sectors.”

To sustain that discipline, leaders must have values that ground them. “My faith in God is what sustains me,” says Martin. “I’ve been blessed with a long and successful career—30 years as a military officer, a transition to senior executive service in a presidential administration, and now service in the corporate world of a major defense corporation. My faith has helped to sustain me in the midst of long deployments and missed family events.”

Martin is also able to maintain his focus through the strength he receives from his family. As he puts it: “I draw inspiration from my life’s ‘memory highlight reel’—the journey with my siblings, serving around the world in our military, and precious time with family members who shared and taught me so much, including my mom and late father, whom I recently lost.

“My wife, Ava, is the hero in our family,” he continues. “Long walks with her keep me grounded and focused. We talk about everything, and we are best friends! She has provided a stable environment on the home front, which has allowed our children to flourish and enabled me to fashion the type of career that has significantly enhanced our quality of life.”

Being able to share the rewards of his career with his family gives Martin “a tremendous sense of accomplishment.” Ultimately it’s this sense of purpose that fuels the sacrifice and discipline required of all leaders in high positions. In Martin’s words, “A sense of purpose gives my life meaning—the motivation for beginning each day with the tremendous responsibility of taking care of my family and executing my corporate responsibilities.”

Change-inspired leadership: People are the most crucial Bell asset

Martin believes that being a leader requires understanding that people are the most crucial component of any organization. It is critical that leaders stay in touch with all stakeholders and find a way to communicate in an authentic and focused way at all levels. Martin uses a “change-inspired leadership style” every day at Bell to coordinate and collaborate with senior leadership and junior colleagues across Bell functional areas, as well as externally to the media.

When asked how his qualifications, education and accomplishments prepared him for leadership roles, Martin explained how earning a graduate degree in strategic planning, coupled with a keen focus on applying the Department of Defense Principles of Information and Strategic Communication, resulted in an enhanced perspective on how to think about developing strategy, and how to communicate strategy with purpose, through internal communications and across an organization.

“I learned the importance of ensuring that my teams had a common operating picture in the approach to understanding challenges and developing strategies,” says Martin. “This approach is invaluable with respect to effective change management. Technology, innovation, culture: all are subject to change, but how change is managed with shared vision and buy-in is the key to growing and maintaining successful teams and organizations.”

Martin also emphasizes how mentors were instrumental in preparing him for leadership. “When I’ve made mistakes,” says Martin, “I’ve been blessed to work with highly professional and compassionate leaders who provided good mentorship.”

Resiliency and teamwork are incredibly important in today’s tumultuous business environment

A huge smile comes to Martin’s face when talking about what success means to him and how the role of sports in his life informs the idea of teamwork. Success, as Martin sees it, entails establishing a strong team, focusing on a shared mission, and finding ways to work through conflict. As he says, “Building a solid team requires a hands-on and personable approach.”

Martin, one of 11 kids, understands the value of each team member and the importance of working together. A leader is not simply the person in charge—they are on the team. Leaders are part of a network model of other leaders, a flexible model increasingly necessary due of the speed of business. This networked approach to leadership has directly translated into ensuring active communication at all levels at Bell.

Maintaining great communication channels is vital in times of crisis, and it requires resiliency and strength. During crises, Martin ensures that his team is demonstrating patience and good listening, and that they control their frustration. “[A leader] understands the importance for him and his team members to take care of themselves on all levels—physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.”

“Ultimately, leadership is about looking beyond oneself, to the team one is on, to implement change,” says Martin. “Even with so much technology, there will always be room for a leader to set the tone, to be authentic, to articulate a vision and to inspire and motivate people across the organization.”

Martin concludes with a quotation often attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, which sums up his leadership philosophy: “People don’t care what you know until they know you care.”

Interviewed by Michelle Blumenthal and Chris (DeWayne) Webb.