We cannot execute the complex until we master the simple. In this episode of Veteran Led, John Berry breaks down the military’s crawl, walk, run methodology, and explains how building a strong foundation can equip businesses with the necessary resources to overcome more significant obstacles. John will discuss the ways that strong communication is an essential foundation, and share stories that highlight the achievements of effective communication in high-stress situations. By mastering soft skills like communication, teams will be empowered to navigate future complex challenges with agility.
Welcome fellow veterans. From the tip of the spear to in the rear with the gear, I went from active-duty Infantry to reserve-component logistician. I’m your host, CEO, entrepreneur, trial lawyer, and Lieutenant Colonel Retired, John Berry. The military lessons that I learned helped me grow an eight-figure business that has maintained consistent annual double-digit growth, landing on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in America every year for the past seven years, and has allowed me to continue to serve America’s heroes.
Welcome to Episode 12, Shoot, Move and Communicate: Where Teams Execute with Alignment.
Shoot, move and communicate. We cannot execute the complex until we master the simple. Thus, the military adopted the crawl, walk, run methodology. And think about it from the perspective of a live fire exercise; we’re not just running down the range, firing our weapons. It doesn’t work that way. We first learn how to hold a weapon, how to clean a weapon, how to march with a weapon. Finally, we learn how to fire a weapon. And then, once we qualify our weapons, we learn how to use them in our IMT, our Individual Movement Techniques. And pretty soon we start doing buddy rushes and then entire team movements with weapons. And eventually we get to the live fire exercise, and we can shoot, we can move, and we can communicate.
And the most difficult part of it is the communication part, right? Especially when your ears are ringing from the live fire, and you can’t hear very well, there’s smoke, you’re out of breath; communicating can be very difficult. And so, we use hand and arm signals and other ways to communicate with our team members. And a lot of times it still doesn’t work. In the After Action Review, we get together, and it turns out that someone didn’t understand a command and the whole thing fell apart.
Life is like that. Business is like that. Communication is one of the most difficult skills to master. My platoon sergeant would say, “Show, don’t tell.” But the truth is we need to both show and tell and we do that in our training with the sand tables, PowerPoint slides, even when we walk through rehearsals, we’re showing and telling at the same time, and that is one of the most effective ways to communicate. We want to make sure that people are not only listening to us, but they’re seeing what we want them to see. And if we have to take time to explain it, a lot of times if you’re explaining, you’re losing. Just show and tell.
Now, think about the live fire, go back to the live fire exercise. Even if you have functioning radios, you’re still using star clusters, smoke, chemlights, and the communication in the fog of war, even when all these communication devices are working, still gets messed up. And the communication skills, they have to be honed before the fight. We have to be able to communicate as a team, understand how our team members communicate best. Communication skills must be honed prior to the fight.
In the business world, it’s no different. In times of high stress, the message gets muddled. And as my platoon Sergeant would say, “Tell him what you’re going to say. Tell them. Then tell them what you just said, and then stomp your foot for the most important parts.” Stomp your foot to tell them the answer. You probably had that military class where the instructor would, stop, pause, and there’d be silence, and then they’d say something, or they would pause and stomp their foot to make sure you knew that that question was going to be on the test, and they just gave you the answer.
Now, if we can shoot, move, and communicate as a team, we win. However, when we fail to synchronize individual tasks and we’re not doing the blocking and tackling well, everything falls apart. Communication falls apart. And so, we think about just the basic soldiering skills that we learned. That’s what wins wars, right? It’s not all the fancy strategy. It is just doing the basics right. Shoot, move, and communicate. And as leaders, we must ensure that our team is trained, but why is it that trained teams still fail? And it usually comes from the communication.
And let me just move from the field to the boardroom. It seems to me, and I’ve noticed this, that when you get a more senior team, the senior individuals in the team generally resist change, whereas the inexperienced, more youthful team members seem to say yes to everything. And they have this youthful exuberance that they’re just going to do it. They’re going to get it done. And of course, the senior leaders sit back and say, “Yeah, but I’m not so sure we should do this.” Right? And so, there’s always this stress, this conflict, but it’s a healthy conflict where you have a tension between someone who wants to run a hundred miles an hour and someone who wants to go slow and make sure we don’t do something stupid.
Having a team of “yes men” is dangerous, right? If you’re in an echo chamber of your own voice, you’ve got a problem because you’re not getting enough feedback. You’re not getting enough alternative creative solutions. And so, you’re stuck with your own voice. And that’s one of the perils of an organization where people don’t speak up. You have to have a culture that is safe enough to allow people to present new ideas without repercussion, but more importantly, to disagree with you as a leader. And great leaders master the art of soliciting ideas and feedback.
The loudest voice should not always be the voice that carries the vote. In other words, you as the leader are usually the loudest voice in the room. You’re probably the most passionate, but I don’t want my conviction to sway someone, right? If it’s only my conviction, and, rather than my logic or my reasoning or data, we’ve got a problem because we’re making a decision as a group based on one person’s perspective.
And so, as a leader, I encourage all subordinate team members to challenge my thinking, to challenge what I say. And look, we’re a meritocracy, which means the best ideas win. Sometimes I’m wrong, right? But as a leader, I need to communicate that that’s okay. And I just can’t say, “Hey, it’s okay to disagree with me,” and then just rip people apart with a knife hand during meetings, which I do sometimes. I have to be able to sit back and say, “Okay, thank you for your feedback.” And sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. But the dangerous position I put myself in when I become hyper-aggressive about pushing my agenda, and not listening, and not really communicating with the team, is that I know that my staff, it’s kind of like a division staff. You know that the G6 knows way more about COMMO than the division commander is ever going to know, right? G2 is going to know way more about Intel than the division commander is ever going to know. So, the commander needs to listen to the team, especially in their areas of expertise.
And if we want to get their best thinking, we have to get them to communicate with us. And so, I know that if I start shutting down my staff, and shutting down their ideas, I’m never going to get those ideas and I’m going to fail as a leader, and I’m not going to grow as a leader because they’re not going to mentor me. I mean, your mentorship comes from your subject matter experts on your team who can help you work through problems. And when you shut them down, because you don’t communicate that their ideas are valuable, you find yourself in a bad place.
And, I know, some of you that served on staffs are saying, “Yeah, right. But what about the good idea fairy, John?” And we all know about the good idea fairy; you’re in a meeting and all of a sudden, the staff officers start coming up with all these great ideas, especially about tasks that we should be doing so long as they don’t have to do it. And so, the good idea fairy flies in the room, and everybody’s talking about stuff that has nothing to do with the mission, and fortunately, that crusty old leader sitting there sees the good idea fairy and crushes it, right? And says, “No. We’re not doing that.”
And in fact, usually the crusty old leader sits through the entire meeting, right? Just like this, they’ve got their hands in their head, it’s like they have a migraine, or they’re sleeping or something, and you can feel the energy, you can feel that negative energy in the room. And a lot of times I’m like, man, the crusty old leader has got to go because they’re sucking the energy out of the room, this is completely negative. But we have to ask ourselves, “Well, don’t we want to communicate with a crusty old leader who has the experience?” You know what’s better, the resistance of the crusty, or rusty, attitude? Or the can-do attitude of the inexperienced person?
I think back to this book I read, and it was given to me by an executive of a Fortune 100 company, and it was called, “Six Thinking Hats” by some guy named Edward De Bono. And the thought was this, is that in a meeting where we really want to communicate in a way that gets our best thinking, we assign different hats. So, a white hat is facts. Black hat, that’s your crusty old guy who urges caution. And green is more about creativity, and anyway, there’s six different colored hats and the point is, everyone takes on a different role, so you can switch the hat and have a different role. But the point is this, you need all of those different perspectives communicating with you. And as a team, if we don’t communicate in a way where everybody feels like they have a voice at a table, like I said, they’re going to shut down, but more importantly, I mean, let’s face it, if they have nothing of value to contribute, does it really a matter if they shut down? Well, probably not. But then my question to you is, why are they a leader and why are they in the meeting?
But what if you shut down the person that has the answer, right? Or more importantly, it’s contagious. Tiny heart syndrome is contagious, where people just kind of shut down. And once you start shutting people down, it’s going to shut other people down. And so, you run into a situation where you’ve now shut down your G6, who’s talking through the COMMO plan. Well, now, the G6 is pretty close with the G4, the logistics guy, and logistics says, “You know, yeah, I really don’t want to say anything either because I just saw how the G6 got beat down by the commander, so the less I talk in this meeting, probably the better.” Then pretty soon the meetings are going pretty fast because nobody’s giving any input.
So as a leader, communicating, right? Shoot, move, and communicate. If you can’t communicate, you can’t shoot and move as an organization. In the business world, the shooting and moving is the buying, the selling, the marketing, the delivering the product. But you’ve got to communicate as a team together to get all that done. Sometimes when we shut down the senior people in the room and say, “This is going to happen, it’s going to go forward.” And believe me, I speak from experience. I’ve done this. And I’ve paid dearly for it. Where I shot down the senior guys and said, “No, no, no. We’re doing this.” And you know who I gave my attention to? The team members who were like supercharged to make this project happen. The problem was, they didn’t have the experience to make it happen. And so, they thought they did, but it was like, we were running backwards in the wrong direction. And so not only were we not making progress, but we couldn’t even see the obstacles ahead of us because our head was looking the wrong way.
And we got crushed, and I made a horrible decision, huge financial ramifications. And look, it’s happened to me in just about every area, whether it’s been a marketing campaign, an IT product, a software that we were going to install, much larger projects involving buildings and things that were expensive. And at the end of the day, I should have made sure the team was communicating, but instead I wanted the result so bad that I just started shutting people down. I said “No. We are getting there and we’re getting there in 90 days.” And at this point it’s like, you’re either with me or against me. And as a leader when you feel that way, I feel that way often, you’re failing because now what you’re doing is you’re shutting down the communication. Those that oppose you, that minority voice that’s going to oppose you, may be the smartest voice in the room.
You have to understand that a business can’t sustain excellence consistently in every aspect of the business. And so the natural course of business growth is that something will break, either systems or people, and you’ll need a short term fix to develop the long term solution. And so, if everything has to be excellent all the time, nothing will ever be excellent in the long term because you won’t invest in saying, “You know what? We’ve got a great, great operational arm, but our finance department is substandard.” And if you can’t be honest about that, then what happens is, you just start lowering everything to the, oh, well, if our substandard finance department, to us, is excellent, even though we know outside it’s not excellent, then we just start lowering everything else to that level.
But as a leader, we need to communicate that when we say, “Nothing less than excellence will do,” we have to decide whether it is, we will never compromise anything less than excellent? Or whether we’re more communicating about what is our priority of excellence, what are we going to build to become excellent first, so that we can add any other layers? And as I said before, in business, nothing is ever 100 percent excellent. You may have great people, but your facilities may need work. Your finance may be phenomenal, but your marketing is horrible.
I had this conversation with one of our team members who was a former senior noncommissioned officer, and now working on my team, and we got into it, and I said, “No, look. You know, it’s excellence or nothing, right? We want the best and we want it now. And we’re going to make this happen.” And he just looked at me and said, “Sir, do you want it done now? Or do you want it done right?” That is the summation of excellence. We can’t have it all right now, and we as leaders have to decide where we will be excellent now and how we will build on that. And we have to communicate to our team, right? Because to the team, it’s excellence or nothing. Then, if they’re not excellent, they’re not going to be forthcoming about it. They’re not going to communicate with you.
And I think one of the most difficult things about communication is that we have to understand that if we don’t allow our team members to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said, even if it makes us look stupid as leaders, we’re going to lose, right? And so sometimes you’ve got to pop that green star cluster, sometimes you’ve got to break the IR Chem light, you’ve got to find ways to communicate and maybe it’s not your primary means of communication. That wasn’t what you intended, but it’s a secondary means, sometimes it’s a back channel, sometimes it’s a way to get the message across. But the point is this, communication in any organization is difficult.
In the military, it is shoot, move, communicate. We get those three things aligned, we are the best, right? Once we can do shoot, move and communicate, we can do anything. No one can stop us. We’re going to accomplish every mission. But as a civilian, if you think you can execute in other areas, and you can, if you can’t communicate as a team, and especially as a leadership team, you will fail.
After Action Review: Number 1. Repetition is the mother of communication. Tell them what you’re gonna say, tell them, then tell them what you said, and stomp your foot for the most important information. Number 2. Don’t just show, show and tell. Number 3. Communication is a skill that takes time to develop.
Now for the Three Down: Number 1. Leaders often fail to elicit diverse thinking in meetings because they are the loudest voice in the room. Number 2. If your team does not have a member who is the brakes of the organization, you’re going off the cliff. Number 3. If everyone on a team always agrees with you, you need to find some new leaders.
Thank you for joining us today on Veteran Led, where we pursue our mission of promoting veteran leadership in business, strengthening the veteran community, and getting veterans all of the benefits that they earned. If you know a leader who should be on the Veteran Led podcast, report to our online community by searching @veteranled on your favorite social channels and posting in the comments. We want to hear how your military challenges prepared you to lead your industry or community, and we will let the world know. And of course, hit subscribe and join me next time on Veteran Led.
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