SMDC chief focuses on respect, kindness to achieve mission

Kendal Cunningham serves as the Capability Development Integration Directorate Integration Cell Supervisor for the Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

Does rank or status determine how successful a person is? Some may think so, but according to one Space and Missile Defense Command leader, it does not.

Kendal Cunningham, the integration synchronization chief for the Space and Missile Defense Command Center of Excellence’s Capability Development Integration Division, says success can be measured by the Golden Rule – treating others the way one would want to be treated.

“People think the higher they are in rank is what makes them successful,” Cunningham said. “In actuality, the higher you get, the less important your rank is; it’s your ability to work with others and how you treat people and interact with them that really makes you successful.”

Cunningham, a retired colonel, decided to join the Army after his brother, who served as his role model, enlisted in the Air Force. He wanted a way out of small town life, but he did not know the Army would become a 30-year career, turning into a civilian career after retirement.

“I wanted to serve my country, but I didn’t know it’d be for that long,” he said. “I got in the Army and started having so much fun, next thing I knew it’d been 30 years. I had some thoughts about going to law school but ended up on a different path.”

Cunningham first came to SMDC in 2006 where he served as the deputy chief of staff G-3 Operations and then chief of staff until he retired in 2010. After retirement Cunningham began his civilian career at Army Materiel Command, first serving as a senior strategic planner, then as the deputy chief technology officer.

He returned to SMDC in 2017, and found that many of his former co-workers were still at the command.

“There are people I’ve come to know, some now maybe 10-plus years, who are still here, and they’re still doing great things for the command,” he said. “It’s always good to work with good people.”

Since returning to SMDC, Cunningham has taken an active role helping his co-workers and staff members become more successful in their everyday lives and careers by teaching them what he has learned about being successful.

“I really take pleasure in seeing the people who work for me be successful. And I try to help them reach that success,” he said.

Cunningham said his years of military service taught him that collaborating on projects can be difficult, but the way to success is working together and leaning in when others need help.

“Because I know that if I come to you, you’ll help me; and you know if you need something from me, I’ll do what I can to help you,” he said. “The little old lady in tennis shoes can say no for various reasons, but if you treat her with respect and dignity, it’ll go a long way.”

Cunningham said his experiences during his career gave him a fresh perspective on the way people view success in a person’s career and life and that the best way to measure success is the way someone treats others, because people never forget the way they are treated.

“I just think we’re losing the respect we have for each other,” he said. “One of the things I tell my people here in the integration office is when you’re trying to do your job remember that everybody works for somebody. What makes you successful is how you treat people. How you answer a tasker or support others in need is how they will react when you are in need.”

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