When it comes to taking on the challenge of being a leader at VA, Lelia Jackson credits much of her success to working with and for supportive leaders.
“I’m honored and humbled when I’m asked to lead major change initiatives,” said Jackson, director of the Veterans Health Administration’s Assault and Harassment Prevention Office. “It says a lot to me that the leaders I work with trust in my abilities.”
Jackson recently sat down with VA Careers to discuss her work, highlighting the diverse nature of her service and what led her to a career at VA.
Part of something bigger
For Jackson, service and the military have long been a part of her life. A Marine Corps Veteran, Jackson grew up in what she described as a “small, South Carolina town,” and saw military service as a chance to continue her education and be a part of something bigger than herself.
The choice may have seemed natural, given that her father was a World War II Veteran. However, Jackson noted that he often spoke of his service as part of the segregated Army, rather than of the war itself.
“He was very proud of his service despite the fact that he faced racial disparities during his time in the military,” Jackson shared.
Jackson credits her decision to join the Marine Corps as one of the best decisions in her professional life.
“The Marine Corps instilled in me a set of core values, and those are the principles I still live my life by,” she explained. “I’m proud of my service and proud that I can continue to serve with my work here at VA.”
A career at VA
Jackson’s path to VA came after leaving active duty. She worked for a time as a contractor, a government-adjacent position that saw her working with the Department of Defense at U.S. Northern Command, as well as the Marine Corps. So, when the opportunity to work at VA came up, she went through the application process and began the first of many important positions at VA.
“I had a chance to learn from some great leaders,” she said of her first position in the Office of Enterprise Integration (OEI), where she was able to work on major initiatives such as developing VA’s core values. “We were doing fun, new and innovative work, and I really enjoyed that experience.”
She continued, “Continuous learning is very important to me. I was a chief warrant officer in the Marine Corps, so we were the subject-matter experts. That was a position I always wanted to be in. I enjoyed being a change agent and taking care of Marines.”
That drive to learn has coupled nicely with the values that the Marine Corps instilled in Jackson. She says she believes in working hard, listening to priorities, and delivering results. Combined with a warm and positive attitude, Jackson has always been willing to take on a new challenge, which has led her to many leadership opportunities at VA.
She’s helped stand up new offices and initiatives and participated in partnerships that have led to a greater understanding of what VA can accomplish. A recent turn in the White House Leadership Development Program, where Jackson was one of the first VA employees to participate, allowed her to work across government and see interactions at a much higher level. She credits the experience as being invaluable to her ongoing work with VA.
“It was a wonderful experience,” she said. “I’m so grateful that VA allowed me to participate in that year-long fellowship.”
A mission that matters
Upon returning from the fellowship, Jackson was asked to stand up the new Assault and Harassment Prevention Office. She feels the work aligns with her values and sense of duty to Veterans.
“I wanted to do something important,” Jackson explained. “Something that was impactful, complex and important to the administration.”
She again credits VA leadership for recognizing her abilities, but also for listening to her and offering an opportunity where she feels she can make a difference. Even after her long and impressive career, she said she is still learning from her leadership and those around her the lessons that can make her a better leader.
“That’s what we all want, right?” she asked. “We want to feel valued in our work and add value to our workplace. If we can do those things, it’s a win-win. Our goal is to help Veterans, and the things that we do are important. If we recognize that, and work toward that goal, it’s a win-win.”
Work at VA
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