Less Than Two Minutes
Years ago, I spoke to a few thousand people. I can still remember standing on that stage. Nervous does not describe how I felt. I was terrified.
Edward R. Murrow, a broadcast journalist with more than 30 years of experience, said, “the best speakers know enough to be scared…the only difference between the pros and the novices is that the pros have trained the butterflies to fly in formation.”
He was right, but it is easier said than done. I got through that speech for one reason. I practiced. I practiced a lot. I practiced so much that the words came to me. Very naturally and seemingly unrehearsed.
I have given a lot of speeches since that day and now teach a class called Platform Skills to help people with public speaking. What is the theme of this class? You guessed it: plan, prepare, and… practice. Practice is key.
Nervous or terrified like I was? Practice.
Say ah and um a lot? Practice.
There are some basic rules for public speaking, such as knowing your audience. While important, what separates good speakers from everyone else is their ability to train the butterflies. To take the rules and important lessons and make it all look effortless. This is done through practice. Lots of practice.
I can think of a lot of stories to illustrate this point but one of my favorites is that of Usain Bolt. Usain Bolt was an Olympic sprinter from Jamaica who won eight gold medals in three Olympic games. In the Olympic finals, he ran 114 seconds. That is less than 2 minutes to win eight gold medals and the millions of dollars that resulted from it.
For those 2 minutes, he practiced for 20 years.
Public speaking, sports, everything, is about the time you put into it. Success does not happen because of one day or one event; it happens because of the time you put into it to make it successful.
Consider these suggestions:
Your audience took their time to listen to you so give them what they deserve: your best. Will you still be scared? Probably. I know I was. But practice got me through it and practice can help you train your butterflies.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training
I worked in a chain of command years ago that required weekly meetings. We started every Monday morning this way. We sometimes spent all morning in these meetings. While the concept was well-intentioned, I would have few takeaways each week.
We wasted a lot of time and time is too valuable to waste. If your organization is like mine was, we were continually being asked to do more with less.
It was because of this experience that I focused on how I would efficiently utilize meetings when I was in charge.
The first thing I would consider is why I needed a meeting. As much as I appreciate face-to-face communication, email was quicker, more efficient, and most of the time, just made more sense for most of the information I needed to share. Because of this, when I did hold meetings, it held more importance.
At times however, it was the delivery that was important. I wrote about this recently in a blog called “conduit of information.” The same advice I offered there goes for meetings: You can influence whether priorities and initiatives are accepted and implemented during in person meetings and sometimes the importance of the information can get “lost” if communicated during a phone call or in an email.
When COVID happened, in-person meetings shifted entirely. As a result of COVID restrictions, face-to-face no longer necessarily meant “in the same room.” Now, video calls or conference calls were all that many of us had available for meetings.
In 2023, we appear to be moving away from COVID protocols and meeting colleagues in person is back. Even if your company has continued remote-work options, we still need to rethink each meeting and how important meetings are to achieve our goals.
Consider these suggestions for more productive meetings:
It is important to control the meeting. If things go offtrack, get them back on. If people are conducting business that does not involve the meeting, have them continue elsewhere. Take control of the meetings and make them productive. You must control the meeting.
And finally, decide who needs to be in the meeting. This sounds simple, but I could not count the number of times people were required to attend meetings that had no reason to be there. In the previously mentioned weekly meetings, everyone had to speak. Whether or not you had anything to say did not matter. Forcing someone to speak, especially when they had nothing to contribute, is a waste of time.
If you are expected to manage people and resources, be good at it. Be intentional in all that you do. Your time is your responsibility. As a manager, your ability to make time meaningful for your team is your responsibility, too. In 2023, try to be deliberate, be thoughtful about why and how you will conduct meetings.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training
You have to pretend that you know everything, that you have all the answers; you have to appear “stoic;” in command and never show your fear, uncertainty, and doubts to those you lead. Have you ever heard similar sentiments, especially when you’ve been new to a leadership role? I certainly encountered that mentality from some peers and positional leaders while serving as a young Marine Infantry Officer during the run-up to the First Persian Gulf War. I quickly learned that seldom do such extremes work if one wants to be an effective leader.
It is true that being the leader often means being in a seemingly dichotomous position, in that you must find the right balance between two sides of the same coin which appear diametrically opposed. During my training in the Marines we called it being “on the horns of a dilemma.”
One such dichotomy centers around the issue of vulnerability, or the ability to put ourselves out there for others to see; not the masked, idealized version of ourselves, but our true selves. The one willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers; that we are initially unsure of the correct course of action, and the one unafraid to acknowledge our fears and ask for help.
Often leaders, especially those with less experience, are not willing to show any chinks in their armor for fear of appearing vulnerable and/or less competent to those they lead. Thoughts and fears of being mocked, chastised and/or demoted or relieved of command for showing one’s humanity can prevent us from connecting more effectively with those we have the privilege to lead.
Am I saying it is alright for the leader to always express their fears, doubts, and other vulnerabilities? Or, to show them to an exaggerated degree? No, I am not. It is a delicate balancing act to express such feelings at the proper time and place, and level, to connect with someone to indicate you empathize with what they’re experiencing, and that their response is legitimate.
This fact was driven home to me twice during the first evening of the air war during the First Persian Gulf War. Up until that point, we had been training for months in the northern part of Saudi Arabia preparing to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. It was two weeks after my 24th birthday and I had only been with my platoon for roughly two weeks in Hawaii prior to deploying to the Persian Gulf. Reporting into Kaneohe Bay to become a Rifle Platoon Commander a week after Saddam invaded Kuwait, never did I imagine I would be in this circumstance half-way around the world so soon after leaving officer training in Quantico.
That evening, we watched sortie after sortie of U.S. aircraft racing north to bomb Iraqi positions. Not long after, we raced into our bunkers after Iraqi rockets began to land. It took us some time to realize that the bombs were landing several kilometers from our positions and posed no real danger to us at the time. I sat in a bunker with my Marines, one of whom was a young lance corporal who was crying. He told me he was scared. I told him I was also scared, but we were well-trained and were ready to handle any upcoming missions.
Our Company Commander then directed my platoon to deploy to a pier near the Saudi/Kuwait border. We would be leaving the relative safety of the company/battalion area to protect a special forces contingent operating from that pier. We received intelligence that a contingent of Iraqi forces was moving south to attack the pier.
As we were loading onto the trucks to leave our perimeter, it came to my attention that another of my Marines, a Private First Class, was claiming to be a Conscientious Objector and did not want to leave the battalion area. Under the chaos of these unfolding events, taking place in complete darkness, I went over to this young Marine who was previously viewed as one of the toughest in the platoon. I sat next to him in the dark and listened to him as he cried and told me that he wanted to be designated as a Conscientious Objector and to be sent home. “I can’t do this Sir,” are words forever burned into my memory.
Of all the exemplary tactical and leadership training I received in Quantico for the past year or so before the war, I was not prepared for this circumstance. I had no frame of reference or example to fall back on to guide me. I simply relied on my humanity, and told him I understood his fear as it was totally normal to feel frightened in the moment, as did I. However, we had a job to do, and I and his fellow Marines needed him to do his part now, as they were expecting me to do my job. He nodded his head and reluctantly boarded that truck shortly thereafter.
Upon reflection, not once did I feel like me admitting to my men that I too was scared in the moment that my leadership would be diminished in their eyes. I hoped seeing me go about my duties gave them the feeling that yes, the lieutenant is human; he isn’t pretending to not be scared when he is; he is not a robot who will recklessly throw our lives away. By admitting my own fears/vulnerabilities in a measured way, I believe that my Marines saw that if their leader was able to carry on under such circumstances, they too would be able to weather the storm. The power of example would not be diminished by acknowledging the reality of the situation.
I also did not look at the two Marines referenced here as anything other than human beings, expressing normal emotions in very trying circumstances. Just as a father would not look down on his son for expressing uncertainty in fearful times, neither did I to my men. They were both good Marines and continued to be so; they simply needed some reassurance during a period of incredible stress. I am glad that they felt comfortable enough to express their true feelings and vulnerabilities to me.
Peel back the belief that you, as the leader, always need to appear impervious to difficulties, and doubts. When you express the appropriate level of vulnerability at the appropriate time, you will appear stronger, not weaker, to those entrusted to your care.
- Dan Mehdi, Eagle 6 Training
They Are Worth Saving
“Why should we save them?”
Those words stuck with me.
I was reading an article about naloxone and fentanyl. The comments section was alive. Beyond the normal trolls and general nonsense that we have come to expect from social media, what struck me were the number of people who lacked any compassion. Very few of the comments expressed empathy.
Many people view those that use drugs as outcasts. People that make bad decisions. I understand the stigma. I was like that before. When I was a young police officer and later a new DEA Special Agent, I felt the same way. I asked the same question: Why can’t they just… stop?
I used to feel the same way about domestic violence. When I was first dispatched to domestic violence calls as an inexperienced police officer, I did not understand what I was seeing. During 99% of the calls that I went on, the abused wife or girlfriend would put on Oscar-worthy performances questioning why the police were even at their house. I can vividly remember a wife that was practically fighting us as we arrested her husband and when his back was turned to her, she mouthed “thank you” as tears rolled down her face. I left asking myself why. Why can’t she just… leave?
What was happening? How could I help? I began learning about abuse. About the cycle of domestic violence. About power. About control. I learned as much as I could to better prepare myself and better respond. If I was going to help people, I needed to know how.
Now, I am not suggesting domestic violence and drug addiction are the same. But I realized that I had to also learn how to approach this. How to better understand addiction and dependency.
If I was going to help people, I needed to know how.
What I learned is that most people do not want to be addicted to drugs. That getting high and needing a drug are two different things.
I also learned that addiction is a disease. When you use drugs, your brain is fighting to find balance, to keep you safe, and ultimately you get to the point that you think you need drugs just to survive. I have met people that use fentanyl multiple times a day to, as they say, function.
Another young man, when talking about his addiction, acknowledged he made poor decisions but now he was suffering every day. He asked, “do you think I want this?”
I think for the most part, society does not care. We question why we would want to help people that choose to use drugs. I hear it all the time: They made their bed, now they can sleep in it.
Opioids, specifically fentanyl, have certainly made this more complicated. Casual and experimental drug use has changed. The entire drug landscape has. Stories of people dying from first time or experimental drug use, especially younger people using counterfeit drugs, have become daily news.
Did these people deserve it? No, I do not think so.
Now would be a good time to clarify something in case you are wondering. I had no problem arresting drug traffickers. In fact, I miss it. The mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration is noble, it matters, and I am proud of the work I did there to make our communities safer.
My empathy does not negate these feelings. And it also does not mean I approve of their behavior.
Empathy is an ability to understand another’s situation or feelings.
By learning more about addiction, I was more prepared to help people. Or at least, better understand them.
This opened doors. I learned these people are used to being judged, criticized, thrown aside. When I removed my judgement, it allowed me to communicate. To try to understand. The more I was able to communicate, the greater the trust. It is not perfect. I still struggle to understand. But I am trying.
Because yes, they are worth saving.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training
Conduit of Information
I teach a course called, “Leading from the Front Line.” In it, I facilitate a discussion on things first line supervisors should do.
One of those things is to be a conduit of information.
Conduit. A means of transmitting or distributing information.
This goes beyond simple communication and transparency. I wrote about that recently.
This is more about how to be a conduit of information and how important it is to the success of your team. It is all about your delivery. Your buy in and your attitude.
It is everything. Depending on what kind of influence you have with your subordinates, you can make or break a message. Your attitude will influence how the information is received.
Case in point. Years ago, I worked for a toxic boss that was given an assignment from their superior, and we were told it came down from the very top of the division.
“This is stupid,” he said. “But we don’t have any choice, figure it out.”
I did not respect this person, so his delivery meant little to me. If he did have any influence, I know I would have been equally skeptical of the assignment.
Now it was my time to share this information with my group. The people that would do the actual work.
How would my group receive the information if I delivered it with the same disdain it was delivered to me?
You influence whether priorities and initiatives are accepted and implemented. Especially if you are liked and truly have personal power. Not positional power because you are the boss, but personal power because people like you. You should be a leader, not a boss.
There are two lessons here. One, be the type of person that yields influence. Influence because of who you are not because of the position you hold in the organization. And two, be deliberate with your delivery because how you give the message matters. If you have number one (influence), the people you are talking to will model your behavior and attitude.
It is your responsibility to translate the organizational vision, policies, and general information, and it is your responsibility to ensure everyone knows what they must do to achieve these goals.
Be that leader. No matter the assignment. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training