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Episode 39

Episode 39: It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This: The Best Lesson the Military Teaches


Your network is your net worth. In this episode of Veteran Led, John Berry discusses the importance of intentional relationship-building and shares methods of finding and building rapport with the military grade leaders you want in your network. John discusses how to create trust and camaraderie by being helpful and inviting, and warns against communication styles that turn off potential partners. The returns on investing in key relationships are worth the effort year over year. 


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 back to Veteran Led. In this episode, I’ll talk about the best lesson the military teaches us. When I think about this lesson, I think of the old Milwaukee beer slogan. It doesn’t get any better than this. And when you served, you’ve probably had one of those, it doesn’t get any better than this moments.

And it was a special moment because of the people who brought you the opportunity and the people who you shared that experience with. I can remember vividly over 20 years ago, we were in Austin, Texas at a hail and farewell. I was on my way out the door and there were a bunch of new lieutenants who had showed up at the unit.

One of those new lieutenants had been there for less than 24 hours. He looked alone and lost, and so we invited him to go with us down to 6th Street after the Hail and Farewell. And at one of the bars, he said, Hey guys, I’m staying at my uncle’s cabin on LBJ Lake. If you want, you can come over tomorrow.

We just met Jay, but he seemed like a great guy, and so we decided to go to the cabin. Well, when we showed up the next day around noon, it wasn’t a cabin. It was a huge house on the lake. There were six jet skis, two boats, a stock bar, a humidor, and this huge pit where they were both grilling and smoking meat.

So this looked like it was gonna be a great day. And we were there for a couple hours riding jet skis, hanging out, people started fishing, and Jay said, Hey, I know I told y’all guys when you came here that everybody could have their own room tonight. Well, that’s not true anymore because my cousin’s coming.

And he just stopped talking. So we’re like, oh, your cousin’s coming.  And then about an hour later, his cousin who was on the University of Texas women’s lacrosse team shows up with the rest of the lacrosse team. And we ended up having an amazing day, an amazing night. In fact, we didn’t even leave Austin until about three in the morning on Sunday or Monday to get back for PT.

So it was just one of those amazing experiences. And it was all because we took the time to be kind to someone who was new to our organization. And he returned that kindness tenfold and gave us one of the most amazing experiences I can think of in the Austin area. Now, I also experienced this when I came back from my first deployment.

We were talking about where we’re going to go on block leave and I said, well, I’m going to go to Germany to the Oktoberfest. One of my squad leaders said, you know, my wife’s from Germany and her father, Jürgen, is a phenomenal guy. I got to introduce you to my father in law. So we talked over the phone and then I went to a travel agent.

Back then, you did not book online. You actually had to go to travel agents. And I said, I need to get to Munich. And the travel agent said, well, unfortunately, the closest flight is Frankfurt. So I flew into Frankfurt, took a train to Munich, met up with Jürgen. He showed me around, took me to great restaurants, and showed me how to enjoy the Oktoberfest.

It’s a wonderful experience, and I wouldn’t have had that experience had it not been for my squad leader reaching out to his father in law, and then that father in law telling me I was like a son to him because I served in the military.  And then I can remember one of my favorite times in ranger school was when we’re in the mountain phase and we had a, an air force combat controller in our squad and he got busted doing something and they took away all of his tobacco products.

It was one of those infractions where they probably should have kicked him out, but because he’s air force, I think they cut him some slack. So I had given my, my ranger buddy all my tobacco cause I didn’t want to use it. I was getting dehydrated from the dip. I didn’t want to use it. And I had a couple of cans left and I said, look, man, I know how much you need it here.

You just have one of mine. He said, Bro, I will hook you up when we get into Florida. So we were supposed to jump into camp right near Eglin Air Force Base, and this combat controller had a lot of friends in Eglin. About a day or two after we got there, he came up to me and said, Hey, check your rucksack. I went in my rucksack, I dug in, and there was this foil package, you open up the foil, and there were six oatmeal scotchy cookies.

Now, this was great because I’d already lost over 35 pounds at this point. I was emaciated, and these cookies were the best cookies I ever had. And so that, that moment of kindness paid back tenfold. Another time I experienced this was on my first deployment. Now, we were under General Order No. 1, which meant no alcohol and a lot of other activities were prohibited.

However, we could have cigars, so my father was sending over boxes of cigars, and I would share the boxes of cigars with my unit, but I would also take them on patrol and share them with my Bosnian and Serbian counterparts. And at first, they kind of laughed, and they started calling me Tito. And Tito was, of course, the former dictator of Yugoslavia, but they smoked the cigars and they liked it.

And we developed great relationship and great rapport. And it made my job over there a lot easier because I was able to develop rapport with my counterparts. And it made the deployment a lot more fun. This military lesson on relationship building transfers to the civilian world as well. I believe that we’re only one relationship away from changing our business.

And for some of us, we’re only one relationship away from changing our lives. I can think back to a trade show I was at about eight years ago where I met this vendor and we didn’t talk about business, he didn’t try to sell me, we talked about leadership, we talked about the things we had in common, we built rapport, and a few months later I realized that I needed his service and so I reached out and that resulted in a six year relationship with him.

where I spent almost a million dollars with this vendor. And it was because the vendor got to know me and wanted to establish a relationship to decide if we got along before he was going to pitch me on his product. And it worked. And that is still a great relationship today. I’ve also seen opportunities for these relationships.

It’s in peer business groups. Several years ago I was in a peer group with a woman named Jen and we’re in this group for a short period of time. And then several years later I ran into her in another peer group and she had changed so much and become so successful in her business that I was blown away.

And then when we linked back up, she would just start sharing everything with the group. Everything that she knew. And she would say, Hey, you guys should try this, or you guys should do this. And she ended up developing a great public speaking career and really growing her business. But she was such a giver.

And I think there’s a book called Bob Berg called the go giver. And it talks about really taking that initiative to go out and give and help people. And she was a master at that and built. A very successful business because she was so giving, not just to her clients, but to her peers. There are those of us that want to keep secrets and don’t want to tell people things don’t want our competitors to know, but she freely just gave all the information, knowing that it would come back to her.

By following Jen’s example and generously sharing with others, I received a referral on what became one of the biggest cases of my career. There was this former prosecutor who was at Jerry Spence’s trial lawyer’s college with me. We’d worked together for three weeks, and he let me know that he was starting off on his own.

He didn’t really know much about private practice, so he would call me and ask me about which website vendor to choose, which case management software he should be working with, and what comp structure would be right for his team. I really enjoyed helping him and talking with him, and when he had this big case, I’m the person he called, and he called me because he trusted me, because he knew me.

And so these relationships can not only make you feel good about helping somebody else, but they can also be financially lucrative. This raises the question, where do you meet the people with whom you want to have relationships? And the answer is, you have to be intentional about it.  I can remember a chaplain who used to tell us as lieutenants that we needed to stop looking for our partners at bars and go to the activities and events where the people that we wanted to be with would be in attendance.

And when he, and we said, oh yeah, right chaplain, you want us all to go to church, right? And he said, well, yeah, but not necessarily. What I’m talking about is you guys are runners, you’re athletes. So why aren’t you looking for partners at 5Ks and marathons and running events or athletic events where you can meet someone who’s interested in the same stuff you are?

Look, if you want to be with a barfly, that’s your own business, but as a chaplain, I’m here to care about your well being, your mental health, and I want to make sure that you are making good decisions. And the way I can do this to guide you and the best wisdom I have for you is that if you want to find people that you want to be with, Look for people who do the things that you like to do, the healthy activities, not going to bars, but doing the things that you do that build a better life for you, and you will find a better partner.

Matt Chaplin was absolutely right. Several years later, I was at a symposium for veterans, and there were several speakers, and one of the speakers was a former mayor. And a veteran asked a question about network building and the mayor said, look, let me tell you the secret to building a strong network and building strong relationships outside the military.

He said, if you like to golf, go golfing with people. If you like to fish, go fishing. Go fishing with people. But here’s where this gets all messed up. If you like to golf, don’t go fishing with a group just because you’re trying to get referrals or you’re trying to get into that network. It will never work.

You will not be happy. You won’t have a good time. But if you like to fish and you go fishing with like minded individuals who are having a good time together, you will get referrals. You will develop business partnerships and you will develop amazing relationships because you will have found like minded individuals who you enjoy doing the same thing with.

who are also goal oriented, just like you. In the same vein of that advice, some of the best advice I received from one of my military mentors was, live your avatar’s life. And what he meant by that was now that you’re a civilian, you have an avatar. You have a certain person that you want to be a partner with, or that you want to be a client.

Figure out what they’re doing. Where are they going to eat? Where are they buying their clothes? Where do they go to sporting events? What do they do as hobbies? And you go to those places. You live that life because it will be fun for you. If you’re living the same life, your avatar, but they will know, like, and trust you because you are like them.

So you don’t have to suffer when you try to network or build a network or build key relationships. In fact, it should come easy. You should be living the life you want to live, frequenting the places you want to frequent, and that individual should be there. And so if you want to be a winner in life, you’re not going to be eating at McDonald’s every day.

So you can’t expect to find your avatar at McDonald’s or at the bar every night. Your avatar is not at the bar every night drinking. Your avatar is out there hustling, doing the things that need to be done to run a successful business and have a successful family. And so, That advice I received, live your avatar’s life, live your hero’s life, live the life of the person that you want to be your client or your business partner, and you will find that individual because they will be doing those things.

And once you do them, they become part of a habit or routine. You’ll run into people. And it’s true. You know, the thing we learned in the military, right? When you go out on a mission, you never come back the same way every time because you don’t want to get ambushed by the enemy. Well, in the civilian role, it’s different.

You want to have part of a routine. That way you will run into these individuals either at the gym in the morning. or where you go to lunch, or where your kids are playing activities, or at your church, or at your spouse’s activities. But these are where the opportunities and the relationships are found is in doing the right thing, doing it repetitively, and most importantly, doing those things that you love to do and meeting like minded individuals who also enjoy them.

When you start putting those relationships first, your net worth really does become your net worth because those relationships are where the deals are born. That is where the opportunity is born. And when you build strong relationships with people you enjoy being with, you are your best self, and they’re having fun being with you, they’re enjoying being with you, and they want to spend more time with you.

But you already know this. If you ask your fellow veterans what they miss most about the military, most of them will tell you the people. They miss serving with great people. But I’ll tell you just because you got out of the military doesn’t mean there aren’t any great people you can continue to serve with.

In fact, there are several veterans you can hire, you can network with, and you can develop key relationships with. But you have to do it the right way. I learned this the hard way and I’ve, there are some things that I’ve gone on to regret. Number one is, At times, I’ve been unnecessarily harsh with individuals where deals fell through or vendors failed where I should have just ended it on good terms, where I should have taken the high road and I failed to do that.

Another way was that in the very beginning, when I would meet someone, I would talk about my business all the time, my goals and my aspirations, because I was so excited about it. The problem was I was. boring them to death. People don’t want to hear you talk about yourself. In fact, they want to hear about themselves.

And one of the best things you can do to develop relationships is to shut up or ask questions. Let the other individual talk, hear what they have to say. And if you ask questions, you can be the most interesting person in the room because people love to talk about themselves. They love to talk about their pursuits, but if you’re hogging all the time, talking and running your mouth.

You’re never going to give the other person a chance to speak and you’re never going to give yourself a chance to really know them to decide whether this is someone you want to develop a relationship with. And I was horrible about this in the beginning, just because I was so excited about our mission and what we were doing.

And while I absolutely believe it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you ask. When you do talk, talk about your losses. Now there’s a value to being vulnerable, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. What I’m getting at is most leaders. Know what it feels like to win. And when all the leaders are sitting around talking about their wins, everybody’s just bragging.

But when you can talk about your losses and your lessons learned, you can teach a cheap lesson to another leader. The leader can say, Oh man, I was going to do that. Thank you for sharing that with me. Now you’re being humble instead of bragging, you’re being humble because you’re talking about a mistake you made, a loss, something you didn’t do well, and a lesson you learned, and that is providing value to that other person.

And so that’s going to develop a relationship. Number one, because they’re thinking, Oh, this. This guy isn’t just arrogant. This is someone who’s honest, down to earth, and is willing to share experiences with me. This is absolutely someone I want to work with in the future. This is someone I want to learn from.

And of course you know the polar opposite of this, because you experienced it in the military, right? I didn’t want the battalion master gunner to tell me how great he was and how much he knew about the weapons system. I wanted him To teach me how to use the weapon system. And there’s a big difference there in the military.

We’ve been around those individuals who love to brag about what they do, but who failed to teach us, who have all the capacity in the world to teach us important lessons, but instead of teaching us would rather tell us how great they are. Don’t be one of those people. Be a leader at all times. And when you’re a leader and you’re sharing your experiences, you’re helping others, and you’re being generous with your information and not hoarding it, you will develop key relationships.

And those key relationships are the things that will move you forward. And that is the greatest lesson I learned in the military, is that key relationships are the secret to fun, to happiness, but more importantly, to success. Let’s go to the After Action Review.

After Action Review:

  1. Seek out military grade relationships. Seek out relationships with people that you like, and you respect, and you want to spend more time with. Now, when I say military grade relationships, military grade is good in relationships. We know that when truck companies advertise military grade, we know it’s garbage.
  2. Be helpful and inviting. The best way to attract helpful and inviting people into your life is to be a helpful, inviting person to everyone else.
  3. Go where your avatar is located, live the life you want to live, and you will meet the people that you want to meet along the way.

Three Down:

  1. End all business relationships on good terms. If it’s someone leaving the organization, they should want to be a proud alumni of your organization. If it’s a vendor, you should still have a good relationship with them. If it’s anybody else, understand that things do not have to end on bad terms just because one party failed, or things didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to.
  2. Stop talking about yourself. If you want to establish a good relationship, ask good questions and listen. 
  3. Stop bragging about your wins and start talking about your losses and the lessons you learned along the way and share that knowledge.

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.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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