The Important Stuff is Not Stuff... A Reflection from Hurricane Florence

“The important stuff is not stuff,” read the text message from John Fickel or “Fish” as he is called, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and long-time family friend.  I’ve just returned to Topsail Island, North Carolina to find my house and its contents or “stuff” intact and unscathed.  Navigating flooded road closures, driving onto the island which is only open to residents due to its hurricane recovery, I’ve had time to really ponder this simple, common sense yet profound statement.  First and foremost, my heart pours out to numerous people in North and South Carolina who felt the true fury of this intense storm, one to be remembered for decades.  Florence destroyed homes and businesses but, most importantly, took precious lives.  Let the names of the fallen live on as the story and impact of this storm is sure to do.  It is people after all, which are the most important stuff, not buildings and their contents.    

Fish was always the leader in the group to offer a commonsense statement like this to refocus us on the true importance of the moment.  Amidst the chaos of a complex training event, one which would replicate the rigors of combat, he was the calm leader in the storm to help others see through the fog and friction.  Indeed, my wife and I never lost sight of what was important nearly two weeks ago when we made the decision to evacuate our home and island town.  Wresting with what to bring from a home filled with decades of treasured possessions, in our haste to depart the area, we knew it was just stuff.  We had said goodbye to each other and our possessions in a career moving frequently and being separated by training events and three combat tours wondering if we would see our household goods or each other again.  Through all this and again on the cusp of another life crucible, what mattered most was life.  Fish’s text to me, among several from concerned friends and family, was the one which stuck.  It brought me back to that hot, humid night (several in fact) when we had not eaten, slept of showered and the demands of the fictitious battlefield cemented us in place.  Fish would loosen the bonds of friction and, with a simple statement, remind the group of what was truly important. 

Florence took so much from our beloved Carolina coast.  She put our lives on pause, consumed chunks of our beautiful coastline and flooded our neighborhoods.  This we won’t soon forget.  But she did give us something.  A lesson in humanity.  While we cherish our possessions, the comfort of our surroundings and the beauty of our land, it is people which count most.  My wife and I are thankful for so much.  We embraced in our home once we learned it survived the storm, happy, knowing that it prevailed, relieved to be reunited with our possessions.  But the true meaning behind that embrace was that we were alive.  We had survived once again.  So too had our neighbors and friends.  That’s the important stuff.  Thanks Fish.

ZZZ... It does a Leader Good

Naps improve mood, alterness and performance.  Need any more than that for justificaion to slip away after lunch and catch some shut eye?  I for one love a good nap.  I only need about 20-30 minutes, a few REM cycles and I'm back in the game.  I confess as a leader I was too overcome with guilt and pride to take a 20-30 min snooze. My soldiers were working hard so what made me deserving of a break? I’d still feel too guilty if I returned to service today but the science behind the benefit of REM sleep is undeniable. I do know I am far more effective after a nap. Perhaps I could have made wiser decisions for my organization had I overcome my pride and balled up with my Army woobie for a few moments. Some leaders and organizations have cracked this simple yet important code and I’m confident that they reap the benefits.  Are you brave enought to overcome the guilt I felt?  It is hard, I know but forming a culture which embraces this short yet imporant period of recharging can make all the difference!  Consider it in your organization.  

Need to know what your priorities are? Look no further than your calendar

A mentor of mine told me that and it stuck.  Never did I look at my calendar the same again.  When assuming command or being appointed the CEO of a 5,000 person organizaiton, I knew Investing in People was going to be our top organizational priority, never to change.  My calendar needed to reflect that.  Whether you share a calendar or just make your own or even if you do not have a calendar, do some reflection and examine where you have spent most of your time.  Then ask yourself if you have it right.  If what you are doing is not aligned with the guidance you issue to your team or what you believe to be most important then you are off and your organization will suffer.  It is a simple fix if it is out of balance but it will have a positive impact on your people.  Make it Personal!  Watch me!

Introvert? Doesn't make you a bad leader or follower

Introverts get a bad wrap.  There is a lot written about introverts which you should read and study if you are one and or lead one.  Here are a few thoughts.  I knew if I had an introvert on my team and led them appropriately.  I was cautious not to demand an immediate answer.  They needed time to process and think about their response.  I knew their energy was different than mine.  My wife is an introvert, I am an extrovert.  In social settings I gain energy, she loses it.  A day full of social activity can have a negative effect.  Introverts ought to be afforded time to think away from noise, distractions and people.  This alone time can served to refuel them for tasks and events which lie ahead.  This is not a selfish act.  Quite the contrary.  It helps the organizaiton because what you get is a better leader or subordinate following their period of quiet reflection and thinking.  Introverts make great leaders and subordinates.  If ever I form a team, I want a mix of both introverts and exraverts.  Here is the key.  Know who you are and you have then lead appropriately.  Make it Personal!

Trouble Addressing Poor Performance or Misconduct?

Short video here to help you overcome your fear of addressing poor performance and or misconduct.  Most leaders are afraid to do this.  I was no different and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  Consider reversing the process.  What I mean is find a crutch or change your perspective to help you with this challenge.  Have a look.  Make it Personal!!

Chief People Officer.. nice ring to it but it is just a title

I applaud organizations who have a CPO instead of a director of Human Resources.  I'm not a human resource or human capital.  I'm not a pool of talent.  I'm Rob.  What are the practices behind "People" officer?  There ought to be people-centric policies and work environments and 'personal' leadership in organizations to support that great title.  Comment here and make it Personal!

Commanders Guidance! Three Orders from a Veteran for Veterans

A few years ago, when I was commanding a brigade in the 101st Airborne Division, I invited one of our Vietnam veterans to speak to my officers about his experience with post combat stress.  His stories of his time as an infantry platoon leader in the jungles of Vietnam were horrific.  Even among a room full of combat veterans you could sense the shock.  My respect and admiration for him grew, especially because of his willingness to share his struggles.  What stuck with me most was that his stress truly surfaced only after his retirement from the Army when he found himself separated from his military tribe.  I use tribe as Sebastian Junger uses it in his book “Tribe, On Homecoming and Belonging” (2016) to describe the camaraderie and kinship-like bond shared by those who have experienced the trauma of combat.  I use it to describe the unexplainable bond we all feel toward each other even in our years far removed from the battlefield.  It is a relationship we share referring to each other as brother or sister even though we came from different families, served in different wars and in different units and services. 

Approaching my second year since retirement, having immersed into society, I have returned to the tribe speaking to veterans and being their champion in companies which show interest in hiring them.  I cherish my days in uniform and am deeply honored to call myself a veteran.  Leading and commanding remains in my DNA so I have this enduring desire to give orders and inspire and care for people and their families.  Indulge me for a moment if you will, or in classic military parlance, “listen up soldier!”  Speaking at a few veterans’ events recently I have narrowed my message or my “orders” down to three things.  They are my guidance to those who have served and who find themselves feeling a bit isolated, troubled in their post-military lives or suffering from mental wounds.  Here they are. 

Stay connected to the tribe

If you have not read Sebastian Junger’s book “Tribe,” I highly recommend you do.  It spoke to me and gave explanation to many of the feelings I was experiencing.  As I (and my wife) immersed back into a society it felt alien.  It felt completely opposite of the way I felt while in uniform.  In the Army, my family and I assimilated quickly at every one of the 16 bases we moved to in a 27-year career.  Soldiers and families in our new neighborhoods understood what we were going through and surrounded us with support long before getting to know us.  As soldiers we rarely, if ever, stood around and shared the horrors of our combat experiences, yet there existed this unspoken connection, as if we knew and understood the visions and memories which haunted each of us.  I never thought about it as I do now but I believe this was the magic of the tribe.  It felt healthy and while I do not require the healing effects of the tribe in each day of my life (my wife is an incredible partner and tribal member for me), I do know that I need to return now and then if only to talk about interests like motorcycles or sports.  When I am there, in my tribe, surrounded by veterans like me, that unspoken understanding and bond returns and its healing powers take over.  So here is your first order soldier!  Connect with the tribe as much or as little as you need to but keep it close as you navigate your own post-military journey. 

Your new mission: Heal!     

You dedicated your life to the missions you were given.  Whether taking a hill, reacting to an IED or even qualifying with your rifle, mission failure was never an option.  You gave your all.  To do anything less could cost lives and this was foremost on your mind.  Your buddies left and right were counting on you and to let them down was unthinkable.  There was no 9 to 5.  Nights, weekends and holidays, no matter when, the mission always came first.  While this practice and culture requires little explanation to those of us who wore camouflage and body armor, we do not look inward enough with this same devotion to mission accomplishment.  Your new mission is to heal!  Give the same fierce commitment to this mission as you did to those you received in uniform.  Create a mission statement centered on your physical and mental health and dedicate your life to it.  Write it down.  Revisit it daily or from time to time to refocus yourself.  Join a group in person or on a social media platform like Facebook which can serve as your new squad and push you to accomplish your mission, to take your own hill with everything you have. 

Expect no pity

Remember your squad leader, drill sergeant or instructor at the military school you attended who showed zero sympathy when you failed or were worn to the core by a physically demanding task?  Remember these leaders, who you probably loathed and wanted to punch in the face?  Well, they actually meant well.  While that may have seemed impossible to you to comprehend in your moment of pain, they wanted to challenge you because they knew you had more to give.  They showed no pity because they knew the enemy would not.  They treated you harshly to harden you for the rigors of life in the military and in combat.  If you sought sympathy or showed weakness they only got tougher on you until you grew stronger and more resilient.  You overcame their harshness, persevered, survived and succeeded.  Impossible to imagine perhaps but deep down they cared.  So do I.  In fact, I am here for you.  Reach out to me on Facebook or LinkedIn anytime but do not expect pity.  I’ll pull out my colonel rank and whistle and tell you to toughen up.  I’ll give you a mission to heal and I’ll be standing over you barking in your ear until I see that you accomplish your mission.  I’ll do this because I love you and know you have it in you to overcome, adapt and accomplish your mission.  If it is medical help you need, then by all means go get it and do everything they instruct you to do.  But seek no pity.  Not from me, not from the VA, not from countless Americans who want to shower you with praise, pity and money.  Stand your ground.  Be proud of your service and grateful for the outpouring of support from our citizens but let them know that “you got this.”  Even if you have a long road of healing ahead, show them that same confidence and bravery you did when you stepped on that airplane in combat gear, headed for harm’s way to protect our country. 

I’m counting on you and I am with you in your journey.  Don’t make me show up at your house with a steel pot helmet upside down full of white gloves to inspect your dedication to mission accomplishment.  Enjoy this next chapter in your life.  Sit back like I do and bask in the glory of having served your country in a time of war.  Grow that hair out.  Skip PT and sleep in.  Drink a cold beer.  Tattoo yourself and pierce your nose if you want.  Be proud of your service.  Try not to live with regret.  Look back but don’t stare.  Remember the fallen, your friends, your brothers and sisters.  Honor them by living a good life.  Honor them by following my orders.  I’m with you always.