The Leader’s Playbook©: Planning for, and handling, Contingencies

Premeditatio malorum – The Pre-Meditation of Evils.  A Stoic approach to planning for contingencies.

“No plan survives first contact with the enemy… or Murphy”.

Combat, business, and most certainty life never seem to go the way we want them too.  When things turn for the worse the question is two-fold; how we are going to handle the situation, and what did we do in advance to prepare for it. 

What the American Fighter Pilot and Special Operations Forces do better than anyone else in the world is plan for, and handle contingencies.  Oftentimes multiple contingencies at the same time.

Tragically these lessons have been paid for oftentimes with the blood of our Brothers and Sisters.  A famous example of this was Operation Eagle Claw, the 1979 attempt by the United States to rescue our hostages held in Iran (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Eagle_Claw).

What you do in your planning efforts and how you think about, anticipate, and train for contingencies regardless of what you do in life will go a long way to ensure that Murphy does not ruin your day.

Daily ask yourself and your teams, “What specifically are we doing about the contingencies and how will we be ready for X?”.

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leader’s Playbook-13: Never miss the opportunity to be quiet and listen.

Being self-aware is something that I work hard on every day. Years ago I realized that I (and everyone else) talks too much and that we need to all be quiet and listen.

I must be an active, patient, and thoughtful listener. I must listen for understanding both with my ears and my eyes.

And, when I do make a decision to open my mouth, I need to think deliberately about what I’m going to say, how I’m going to say it, what the context is, the content of the message, the primary (and sometimes secondary audiences), the tenor and tone I’m going to take and the timing.

And as one of my former bosses once said, “Junior, never miss the opportunity to shut the #$% up”. Great advice.

The Author is currently serving as an active duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leader’s Playbook-12: “You are making a decision”

When I was a kid and was out of line my Mom used to say “You are making a decision to act this way..” Normally I was acting poorly or being a s#$t.

This simple statement, always delivered in a calm and loving voice, shut me down every time. Every time.

Thinking of her reminds me never to forget that we have a vote on how we perceive situations and how we act, or react, to them.

May I choose well.

The Author is currently serving as an active duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leader’s Playbook-11: Start with Why!

Many of you have reached out to me via DM over the last few weeks and asked “why” I am writing and posting more this year.  I really appreciate the questions. 

The “why” is quite simple.  At the end of each year, I purposefully take some quiet time write out what things in my life I want to personally improve over the coming year.  One of my major goals this year is to improve my writing effectiveness, my writing efficiency, and to support that goal, write daily.  Writing daily and hitting “send” allows this to become a habit for me and I am honored so many of you took time to let me know your thoughts.

Simon Sinek is an outstanding author and one book that had a profound impression on me is his “Start with Why.”  I first realized the value of this great book when serving as the COO of a tech startup whose primary employee base was younger professionals.  While it may take an extra minute or two, starting with why, and gaining alignment and support, while explaining the reason for doing something goes a long way with people understanding where you are coming from.

So, thank you for all your messages and kind words and to Simon Sinek, thank you for your inspiration to me and to the incredible support to the Military and the Fighter Pilot community in particular.  You are a great American doing important things to improve leadership across the country with your writing.

The Author is currently serving as an active duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leader’s Playbook-10: Wingmanship

Success in life is so much about essential choices, timing, and good fortune – especially when it comes to the people we surround ourselves with. 

I have been so blessed through these choices, some great timing, and good fortune in my life to have incredible wingmen, friends, and family.  They have made my life so much richer.  I remain so grateful for each of them and I have trusted many of them with my life multiple times. 

I have also made incorrect choices, had to adjust to bad timing and embrace misfortune.  Simply recovering from misjudged situations, motivations, or the intentions of others has contributed equally to my personal growth.

Every time I’ve had a less than optimum experience with a person or a relationship, I’ve learned something from the experience.  I didn’t ask the right questions, didn’t ask enough questions, didn’t check references, trust my gut, or I let emotions get in the way.  In retrospect, the clues were there and while these are frequently deep and painful lessons, I am wiser now and they happen with significantly less frequency.

I now think clearly and deliberately about the “wingmen” in my life.  These are without a doubt some of the most important decisions you will ever make.  Time is your most precious gift in life and choosing wisely with whom you will spend that time will make all the difference in your life.  It absolutely has for me.

Most importantly, do not ever forget that “wingmanship” is a two-way street. Deliver on your end every time – and if you don’t, own it and fix it.

The Author is currently serving as an active duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leader’s Playbook-9: “Stay Frosty…”

I spend a lot of time with the teams I get to be a part of talking about the various ways to both approach, and solve, complex and wicked problems. Remaining focused on the issue at hand versus the emotions that can surround an issue is a lot of our focus.

As a teenager I remember first reading a book about Apollo 13. Apollo 13, Commanded by legendary Astronaut Jim Lovell, was the supposed to be the second moon landing. Not long after beginning the long journey to the Moon, Apollo 13 had a major in-flight emergency which immediately put the crews lives at risk. At that time, this was the most significant challenge NASA had ever faced during a flight.

Mission Control in Houston was instantly thrown into a confusing and chaotic situation which required immediate, and precise decisions, in order to save the crew. In what became a seminal learning point for me, legendary Flight Director Gene Kranz, while leading his team through the chaos of the initial reactions, paused, thought, and told his team… “work the problem people… work the problem.” And they did… and over the next few days managed to make thousands of correct decisions which resulted in Apollo 13 safely looping around the back side of the Moon and returning safely to Earth with all three crew members aboard.

I’ve adapted the concept that Flight Director Kranz took, as well as many other famous leaders in our history, and boiled it down to two simple words.. “Stay Frosty”. When it gets crazy… keep your calm about you… and “stay frosty.”

I hope this approach helps you as much as it has helped me and others in our business.

Also check out Mr. Kranz’s book “Failure is not an option”. It is a great read.

The Author is currently serving as an active duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leader’s Playbook-8: Listen, Process, Understand

Earlier in my career I had the opportunity to attend the USAF Fighter Weapons School.  If you envision TOPGUN… but without the volleyball, the bar scenes, the motorcycles, and you make it longer… you’d get the idea.

The air combat phase is one of the toughest. It starts with 1v1 air combat and ultimately progress to 4 or 8 good guys (Blue) versus a lot of adversary aircraft (Red). One of our rides ended up with 8 Blue versus 24+ Red. The enemy can regenerate after flying back over their territory and coming back alive to give the blue side a very complex and dynamic problem testing both our tactics, weapons employment plans and discipline.. and our perhaps most importantly our communications skills.

As you can imagine the radios are very busy during a complex dynamic fight.  Pilots and weapons controllers must listen closely, process what they are hearing, and understand it… all while flying the jet, running the sensors, making decisions on whether to shoot or not… at night on night vision googles.  Everyone must make deliberate and thoughtful decisions to be clear, concise, and correct when we do key the microphone and say something on the radio. There is no room for error here… None. Oh by the way… be calm when you do key the microphone.

As complex as everything sounds in the scenario above, one could make the case that with the advent of advanced technologies and communications systems, today’s leaders are challenged with much of the same things we are.  Everyone, especially todays leaders must be able to communicate effectively, and efficiently in the fast-moving worlds of life and business.

Great communicators take the time to listen, process, and understand what it is they are hearing. They are intent on putting things aside when their team comes to them… and listening (and most importantly hearing) what is being said… processing the information by being present in the conversation and seeking to understand the perspectives of the team member who is communicating with them. They are also thoughtful and deliberate in what method they communicate with their team and what and how they say it.

I think about communications a lot.  I can always be a better communicator. 

As a technique I’d spend some time thinking about your approach to communication. Do you listen (hear), process, and understand what is being shared or said to you? Do you take the time to be thoughtful and deliberate in being clear, concise, and correct in your communication with those important stakeholders in your life?  Are you present?

BTW, to my Navy and TOPGUN buddies… you know I love you.

The Author is currently serving as an active duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leader’s Playbook-7: Daily Rituals

Earlier in my life, I was all over the place in terms of deliberately developing what a successful and sustainable daily ritual might look like.

Three years ago while serving in a very high-tempo military job I made the decision to change this. I set out to put some deep and deliberate thought and design into what works for me and what would sustain my optimal level of performance over time. I wish I’d done this in my teens. It has sustained me while in very high-pressure jobs both at home and while deployed.

So here it is:

  • 4:15 AM: Alarm / Wakeup
  • 4:30-5:15 AM: Bullet Proof Coffee. Read the following:
    • Daily devotional, Bible study,”Strength for Service”, “The Daily Stoic”, Morning reflection.
  • 5:15-5:30 AM: Daily Journal
  • 5:30-6:30 AM: Workout / physical training (Weights, Cardio, Yoga)
  • 6:30-7:00 AM: Bloomberg News or a Podcast while prepping for work / Protein shake
  • 7:00 AM: Arrive at work
  • 7:00-6:00 PM: Work (My departure times vary)
  • 8:30 PM: Nightly shutdown, reflection, and meditation.
  • ~9:00 PM: Sleep (67 degrees, dark room)

I work out 6 days a week and take Sunday’s off.

I wish I’d done this years ago and hope that you will develop a Daily Ritual that works for you.

I also recommend you check out the book “Daily Rituals: How artists work” by Mason Currey. It was an entertaining read.

Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.