Leading Up Front – Lessons from Leaders

I learned from many leaders as I grew up through the ranks in the 9th Infantry Division, Motorized – whoo-ah (see my graduation photo from Airborne School in Fort Benning, below).  I had the pleasure to talk to General Schwarzkopf as he pumped iron at the gym (he was strong!!!)  and General Shalikashvilli (former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff) when I was Deputy Division G3, but the best leader hands down in my book was Colonel  Dolan.

Man on Parachute Jump
Picture at Ft. Benning

I first served under Colonel Dolan when he was the Commander of 3/60 Infantry as his Battalion Military Intelligence Officer (oxymoron).  I would like to relate two of the many things I learned from him with some brief stories:

  1. Be confident in your area of expertise.
  2. Lead Up Front

Be Confident, You are the Smartest Person in the Room!

Let me set the stage.  I had just had a successful command as the Platoon Leader of a Tactical Intelligence Platoon.  Although part of an Infantry Division, my platoon of Korean Linguists and military intelligence analysts were more akin to the doctor’s on MASH (the famous TV show), then the gung-ho ground soldier.   They were more Hawkeye Pierce than GI Joe.  I was now moving from being the officer of a platoon of unconventional but brilliant, Military Intelligence soldiers, to being the only non-Infantry Staff Officer for a battalion of battle hardened soldiers that just came back from a tour in the Mid-East.  And the person that I had to provide intelligence on the enemy among other things had the reputation of being the toughest one of all – Colonel Dolan.

I was in Military intelligence reason for two reasons.  The good reason is I had a reputation of being able to analyze intelligence and figure out what the other side was doing.      The not so good reason is I am not as adept with typical military tasks such as firing a weapon, so being in the infantry now was a bit intimidating.

I was about to give my first briefing with the rest of the staff to Colonel Dolan and I was nervous.  I had studied my presentation the night before and could tell you the number of people, the deployment tactics, and the weaponry of the enemy battalion down to the last detail.  I also prepared a detailed briefing book.  But when I got in front of Colonel Dolan, I became nervous and spoke too fast on those few occasions when my dialog was not punctuated by um’s and ah’s.   But worse yet, in my eyes,  I forgot one fact that I wanted to present.  Altogether, not a good start.

Colonel Dolan called me in later the day and now I was scared.  I felt certain that he found out about the one fact I missed.  Instead, he started off by saying he read my briefing packet and thought it was A+.  He then asked me a few questions that I responded to.  Relieved, I was ready to go when the boss told me he had one more thing to say.  “Lt. Grier that briefing book and the content of your briefing were excellent, but the whole time you were speaking you acted like I was going to fire you.  You are the smartest person in the room when it comes to Military Intelligence.  So let me be clear.  The only time I will fire you is if you do not act confident when you are the smartest person in the room.  Now go out and do great things.”

These words are still ingrained in my mind more than 25 years later and I try to remember them each time I need to give an important presentation.  Many of us discount how well prepared we are in our area of expertise when we need to manage up or speak to leadership.  We try to remember every detail instead of being confident in the knowledge ingrained in our mind.  The bottom line is each of us our paid to be an expert in something.  Those things that you are expert in don’t be scared of missing a fact.  Do not hug a tree and miss the forest. Be confident.  You are the smartest person in the room.

Lead Up Front

The commander of a Battalion is sometimes affectionately know as the Old Man or Woman.  That is primarily a term of endearment, believe it or not, and is based on respect for the knowledge and prowess they gained over the years.  Only secondarily is it based on age.

Colonel Dolan was the quintessential Old Man.    He proved his prowess on the battlefield where he was awarded a Silver Star. He was also old in terms of Army standards having just turned 40.  Due to this milestone, the Brigade commander made him get a physical before he could run in the Brigade run.  This did not sit well with the Old Man much to our chagrin as you will see.

The day after he got his physical, we had a report by the equivalent of the battalion HR lead that a bunch of the enlisted guys and an officer or two did not do well on the practice Army Physical Readiness Test.  The APRT is the equivalent of a java certification for a developer.  You had to pass it to do your job.

The day of the Brigade run arrived bright and early.  I liked Brigade runs, normally (this was in the days when I myself was not an old man).  The only hard thing is that being an MI officer and the only non-Infantry officer on the staff I got the duties that the Infantry staff officers did not want.  In this case, I had “fall out” monitoring duty.  This meant I had to circle around the four companies in our battalion (each with about 150 people) the whole time we were running.  I had to report to the Old Man how the companies were hanging.  Usually this was not too hard because I was many pounds lighter then and a great deal faster.  Also, Colonel Dolan kept a steady pace and he usually was not so fast.

But today was a different story.  A perfect storm had hit with Colonel Dolan’s physical and the report of soldiers being out of shape.  The old man was out to prove a point.  He began at a brisk pace and proceeded from there.  On my first lap around the battalion, the Captain  of C Company yelled out, “Hey, Don what is the Old Man doing?”  I said, “I don’t know but let me check”.

As I ran around the battalion, some of the more out of shape soldiers were getting winded.  I myself was breathing hard especially since I was running double the distance.  Back at the front of the battalion, I told the Old Man that several of the company commanders had asked what was going on.  All he said with a face of sheer determination was “The Go Devils (our nickname) are meant  to go fast”.

So on a subsequent lap around the battalion  as I was gasping for breath, I told Captain Gerras that I did not know what the Old Man was doing.  He yelled to me “Tell him to slow down, a quarter of the battalion is falling out”.  I yelled back, “Sir, you are welcome to tell him.  I am just trying to make it back around.”

I made it back up front just as we were nearing the gate of the parade field.  Now custom is you stay in formation behind the battalion in front of you.  Not today.  Colonel Dolan decided to pass the Second Battalion!  He yelled Go Devils Coming Through and he passed Second Battalion in a dead sprint.  Colonel Dolan asked me how the battalion did.  I told him one gasp at a time “Not …..(Gasp) ….all ….made….. it, but ….there …… will…… not……. be………anyone…..failing…… the ……. APRT … any …. time … soon. “

And those gasping words rang true.  The Battalion got the point and for weeks all the soldiers could talk about was how fast the Old Man had sprinted. And he still had it!

The lesson in leadership is that sometimes the Old Man or Woman has to show the team how it is done.  In the Army, being fit is a work necessity.  Colonel Dolan showed the team how it was done.   He led by example.  This does not mean that every time when a team member needs an extra boost to complete a task, the leader has to do it for them.  No! What it means is that at some critical junctures it is important that the Old Man or Woman lead the way and show the prowess that got them to the position in the first place.  It is not enough to manage a spreadsheet.  You need to lead up front and pass the competition.  Go Accenture!  Lead the way!

Why and Why Not? – Two Key Questions for Weight Loss

When losing weight, you must answer a series of questions and make choices on a daily basis.  Examples:

Should I eat that cheeseburger? No

Should I track the cheeseburger that I was not supposed to eat?  Yes so I can keep my habit and know where I stand.

Should I get up and go to the gym at 5 AM?  Of course, etc. etc.

These are the type of granular questions that you must answer each day as you proceed on your weight loss journey.  Besides these day to day questions however, there are more fundamental questions that will drive you as you change your habits and get healthy.  Chiefly these – Why and Why Not?

My Weight Watcher’s lead has a saying:  “You must keep your why nearby!”.  What this means is you should have a compelling reason that drives you as you make the daily difficult choices to get better.   Indeed, you need motivation when you begin waking up at 5 am for a walk or turning away from your daily cheeseburger,

My “whys” have changed over time.  When I first started out, I had two Whys:

  1. Treat and improve my health condition brought on by my weight gain.
  2. Lose sufficient weight prior to my 30th West Point reunion so I did not look totally out of place.

To keep my Why Nearby, I made the following Vision Board with reminders of my motivation to move forward.  It was on my phone so I could look at it instead of a Quarter Pounder.

vision board

 

The pictures all relate to my two Whys.  At the top is my Class Motto, then clockwise are the following:

  1. A picture of my parents who supported me through West Point and also both had a health problem which I inherited
  2. A picture of me and a West Point classmate when I was peak weight
  3. Closer to the reunion with the new workout  clothes my youngest gave me.
  4. My family which I wanted to get healthy so I could stay around
  5. My Firstie picture
  6. My company mates from C-1.

I looked at this each day and made it to my first goal!  But I still had a way to go to get to my suggested weight for my height.  That is when I moved to my next critical question “Why Not?”.

Your Why Not is to do something that you would never have thought to do.  It needs to be big to push you forward.  My Why Not was to perform a Kennedy Walk.

A Kennedy Walk  was implemented by President Kennedy to inspire fitness in the military.  The requirement is to walk 50 miles in 20 or less hours.  Since I had begun to be able to walk 3 miles comfortably, so as Bobby Kennedy said Some say WHY, I said WHY NOT! (As aside, Bobby Kennedy was the first one to do a Kennedy Walk in his suit and loafers no less!)  With this Why Not, I began walking daily and 10 to 20 miles every weekend (with a beer or two thrown in).  Then in November 2016, I completed the walk in 17 hours.  Here is the picture of me finishing.

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One last thing before I close.  A Why Not can also be a Why.  That was indeed my case here.  The impetus for this walk was to honor and raise money for vets and in particular a colleague that was killed in Afghanistan.  I thought of him and all that support our country.

So there you have it Know your Why and Say Why Not!

A Penny A Minute, A Lifetime of Lessons

One of the greatest influences on my life was from my first employer, Captain Barber and the town I grew up in Crosswicks, NJ.  Both taught me lessons that I follow today both in my career and as I strive to live a healthy life.  These lessons on fairness, honest business dealings, and how to live a healthy life I honor and try to follow each day.

Captain John Ronald Barber was born in 1891 in the town of Fairmont, Minnesota and died in 1980 in the town of Crosswicks, NJ.  He was  a Captain in the Navy where he served as a dental surgeon.  I have included a picture of his name from the Naval records of 1914 below.   I include this tidbit of knowledge both to honor his service, but as an Army guy because I learned so much from a Navy Captain!

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I met him in Crosswicks when I was 11 years old after reading a local advertisement for help maintaining his property and gardens.   I answered the ad because I wanted to buy a Sears 10 Speed Bike.  Little did I know that beyond getting money for the bike, I would get so much more!

I walked up to the door of his house and cranked his door bell (more on that later).  At the time, Captain Barber was approaching his 80’s but still was the epitome of health.  I asked him about the ad and we began to settle on the contractual arrangement.  I can still remember the words of our deal as they were yesterday.  Captain Barber said, “I will pay you a penny a minute, a penny a minute I say.  You should pay me a penny a minute for all the lessons you will learn”.  Little did I know at the time how true those words were!

The next day, I started a 2+ years working relationship with Captain Barber for 60 cents an hour.  Sounds like not a lot for those younger than 50 but that was a good amount of money in the day and I soon earned enough money to get that Sears Bike (I have to admit I am sad to see the fiscal issues with Sears currently).  Here are the lessons that I learned from this great man.

  1. How to stay healthy – Captain Barber was an organic gardener and follower of homeopathic medicine way before both were in vogue.  He lived to be 88 and was still trimming his tress in his eighties! When I started on my weight loss journey where I lost over 170 lbs I remembered some of the lessons from Captain Barber.  Chiefly these three:
    • A varied, vegetarian lifestyle is a key component of health and maintaining your weight.  Captain Barber grew all assortments of vegetables in his garden.  He had the standards in his 1+ acre garden – tomatoes, corn, strawberries; but also some not so ordinary like asparagus, rutabagas, grapes (for wine), and castor beans (more on this later).  He ate many of these items from his garden on a daily basis.  The first time I ate asparagus was at Captain Barber’s table.  When I began my weight loss journey this became one of my key staples!
    • Captain Barber was an organic farmer.  He had a large compost pile that I was required to turn on a weekly basis with a pitchfork.  I had to climb a ladder to get into the compost pile that was staked out by large tree logs he had harnessed together.  In addition, there was no weed and feed in his garden.  On the contrary, I and he got on our knees and pulled out the weeds.  I used to be terrified to do the strawberries because sometimes the weeds and young strawberries.
    • The way to stay healthy is to be active.  I did not work in the garden alone.  Each day. Captain Barber would be out and about tending to his garden.  I still remember in amazement as he got up in a tree and trimmed down branches.
    • Homeopathic Medicine.  I do not recall Captain Barber being sick.  He not only ate well but made his own medicine and essential oils.  I remember tending his Castor bean plants and he took a teaspoon of Castor oil as well as other oils daily.  He was  the first person that I knew who used homeopathic medicine.
  2. Be fair in your business dealings.  Captain Barber set a fair wage (for the time) and settled with you on a daily basis.  He asked you to prepare the invoice before leaving and calculated the work down to the quarter of hour.  You then had to calculate you wages at 60 cents an hour.  He was fair but stuck to his guns.  I remembered one time when my brother who also worked for Captain Barber tried to give himself a raise.  Instead of 60 cents he used 90 cents.  He handed in his invoice and Captain Barber said it did not seem right.  My brother said he deserved a raise.  Here is the rest of the conversation.   Brother – I need a raise.  Captain Barber (feigning hearing loss) – A blaze.  Yes the sun was a blazing out there!  Brother – No Captain Barber, I want a raise!  Captain Barber –  You want praise.  Well you done well my son!  Brother – No Captain Barber – a raise, I want a raise.  Captain Barber – Oh a raise.  No you can’t have one.  We agreed on 60 cents.  It actually went on a bit longer than that but you get the picture.  Captain Barber made a fair deal and you could not pull one over one on him.
  3. Do it the easy way!  Captain Barber was always driving us to improve.  He would look at how you were doing something and offer suggestions on how to do things more efficient.  One time I was raking the leaves.  Captain Barber came by and said let me show you the easy way!  He then showed me a different way to hold the rake that was more efficient for him.  Although I did not adopt it exactly, I swapped up the way I did the rake and co-opted some of the information that Captain Barber gave.  What was great about Captain Barber was he saw how I modified his style and also adopted my technique.  Unlike others more senior, he was willing to learn as well as teach even at Eighty.
  4. When it rains, take care of the Troops!  I was hired to help Captain Barber with his garden but sometimes like life it inevitably rains.  Instead of sending me home without the money I wanted for my bike or missing an opportunity, he would teach me something useful that would also help him.  One thing that he taught me is how to correctly polish silverware.  We polished his silverware when it suddenly rained hard.  How did this come handy?  When I was at West Point, I had to polish my belt buckle and the my parade brass.  I may not have been a great shoe shiner but I never got a demerit on my brass.  In addition, he also taught me how to tie navy knots and paid me for the opportunity.  He could have sent me home when it rained but he taught me something!
  5. Share your life.  One of the greatest honors that I ever received is when Captain Barber invited me to a horse show.  He loved horses and for that day instead of working in the garden, he took me to a horse show in Central Jersey.  It was quite an experience and he treated me to lunch.  In so doing, he rewarded me for my hard work but more importantly, he allowed me into his life and to understand what he loved and held dear.
  6. Have Fun!  Now back to the hand cranked door bell.  I knew Captain Barber as my boss, a mentor and a hero.  My friends who did not work with him knew him as  the popcorn chef on Halloween.  In Crosswicks, we had the greatest Halloweens and holidays in general.  On Halloween, we would go to Mrs. Bumbera’s cauldron to get hot cider, the Caldwell’s  to get scared out of our wits by their haunted house, the Community House for the annual costume contest, and Captain Barber’s house for organic popcorn.  Here is the ritual.  You would knock on the door and he would come out in a big chef hat and say “Crank the bell, crank the bell”  and close the door.  You would then crank the bell, and he would come back out with his chef’s hat and say do you want one scoop or two scoops of popcorn (it was organic!).  Most people would say two scoops that he would then promptly dump directly in your Halloween bag. Then with a twinkle in his eye, he would say do you want butter!  For the uninitiated, they soon get a ladle of butter in their bag!  He had a sense of humor and I do suppose that was a hold out to his Minnesotan roots (married into Minnesotan family, they put butter on everything).

I listed six lessons and a few corollaries that I learned from the amazing Captain Barber – the first organic farmer I knew, an Octogenarian that climbed trees, an honest business partner, and a mentor for life.  These are just a small sample.  It is important for the young to learn from the old and an 11 year old to earn money for his bike and lessons for life.

Last night when I researched a bit more on Captain Barber, I found out that he was born and buried in Minnesota.  It all makes sense now why I connected with him and my father in law Cal Hoehn.  When you are close to the earth, you are close to life and all that makes us human.  In honor of Captain Barber, I left the below virtual flower and remembrance.  Captain Barber I forget you not!  Let us remember those mentors and our hometowns that painted out futures.

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The Power of Gender Diversity

On the morning of July 7, 1976, 119 women joined the Corps of Cadets, establishing the first class of females at The United States Military Academy at West Point.  It was one of the smartest moves that the United States Military Academy ever made! The impact of that class and those early pioneers such as my classmates that joined in 1981 have left this key institution stronger, smarter and more devoted to mission.  In 2017,  West Point appointed the first African-American female First Captain following in the footsteps set before her.  Congratulations Cadet Simone Askew pictured below with a further description in this link Go Army!first captain

 

I am not saying that everything is perfect in USMA and the Army with regards to gender diversity, but the improvements on the Academy and the Army have been immense. I would like to touch upon two things that impacted me directly.  First, with the switch of USMA to a coed institution, a lot of the destructive, hazing and other institutional practices born of machismo and nothing more were transformed or eliminated.  That does not mean the Academy got easier.  To the contrary, the practices and the rituals became more purpose-built to mold modern military officers.  The focus went from purely physical feats of bravado to those of mental and physical endurance.  The second thing was that there was an infusion of female officers as tactical officers and professors.  Indeed, two of the four tactical officers that I served under while at the Academy where female – Captain Sasarak and Captain Hayes.  Captain Sasarak was a terror on inspections, an awesome role model, and helped me get a coveted assignment to Korea for my Junior Summer.  Captain Hayes could leave us all in the dust carrying a 70 lbs. ruck on her slight frame.  They brought a female perspective, shorn of the false bravado, but ever the bit as tough and demanding as any male Army officer.  They both shaped me in a positive manner for my role as an Army officer.  I salute and thank both of them!

If you want to read more on the Power that Diversity brings read these related blogs.

The Power of Diversity – A True Game Changer

Life Lessons – Diversity of Cultures and a Legacy of Service

Honoring Veterans and Leading in the New IT

One of the greatest lessons that I have learned from Weight Watchers is “to keep your Why, nearby!”  I had a very specific “Why” in 2016 that helped to propel me and others to better health and service.  In August of that year, in honor of one of my former Army colleagues,  I and others from Accenture decided to do a walk to raise money for Veterans.  But this was not your normal fun run or walk.  To honor the huge sacrifice of all Veterans lost in battle, the only fitting tribute was a Kennedy Walk.

John F. Kennedy introduced this 50 mile walk in 20 hours.  People still do it every year along the Potomac.  My company Accenture sponsored the walk to support the Merivis Foundation and the young Marines of the Capital Area.  The icon that you see on my blog is me at the end of the first Kennedy Walk.  The picture below is of some of the participants for the most recent walk on Veterans Day, 2017  (this year I switched it up and did 200 pushups instead of 5O miles).

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Here is the introduction on why we had the walk.  The picture of John Kennedy was given to me on my 20th birthday from my roommate at the Academy.

 

If you are a Veteran or further interested in donating, here is a link to Merivis Foundation that trains Veterans for positions in IT.

http://merivisfoundation.org/

 

 

Life Lessons – Diversity of Cultures and a Legacy of Service

This is first of three stories alluded to in my recent blog here The Power of Diversity

When the topic of Diversity comes up, most people do not immediately think of the US Army or its Service Academy, West Point, but I do.  I cannot say my childhood was totally lacking in diversity, but I really begun to appreciate the perspectives brought by different cultures and ethnicities while a cadet.   What united my fellow cadets was love of freedom and country.  What made us collectively stronger was the melding of the ideas and perspectives from our different backgrounds and cultures.
One of my good friends at the academy and to this day is Peter Vu.  Peter was a fellow member of the C-1 Cobras, my company at West Point.  (A company is like a fraternity except with none of the parties but all of the service projects!).  Peter and our fellow classmate Jean Nguyen were the first two Vietnamese Americans ever to graduate from West Point.  Peter  as a child escaped through Laos from the war in Vietnam and immigrated to the US.  I learned and am still learning many lessons from Peter.  One of the most important is the art of quiet endurance.  When we were at Airborne School together, Peter could take the intense yelling of the instructors and stand the hours in the “front lean and rest” (aka Plank position) while the rest of us secretly fumed.  He could go and endure, quietly driving through the obstacle.
I also remember meeting his family on a visit to New York and the closeness they shared.  It was also my first introduction to Pho and Hung’s love for all food.  Unfortunately I tried to replicate it without his metabolism.  I also learned the art of self-deprecating humor from Peter (something I do not practice enough).  He had to endure many hardships and overcome many obstacles as an immigrant to the US and these experiences he passed on.  Most importantly, he brought the perspective that all power must be tempered by compassion, tolerance and fairness.  Below is a posting that I have kept about Peter’s graduation and a picture from Airborne School.

 

Peter has spread the legacy of Vietnamese leading and serving in our country.  He has been a sponsor of numerous cadets all in the service to our country.  Below is a recent picture of Peter and a new batch of the Long Grey Line.  Thank you Peter for the lessons learned in leadership and bringing the best and brightest to serve our country!  We are better together when we blend our unique perspectives and talents to a higher purpose!

peter

 

Forward to F.I.T – The Tale of Pam *2

Forward to F.I.T
First posted  on March 2016
This was a great week on my fitness journey – especially in terms of fitness. I broke a personal record for a single day on my FITBIT – 22,117 steps or 10.43 miles. Not quite back up to a half Marathon but close! And a lot better than the half mile which was all I could really do back at the start of 2015. For this blog, I would like to discuss three things that helped me to move Forward to F.I.T (more about this acronym later).
On January 1, 2015, I knew something had to change. I was at my peak weight and had a key event that I wanted to attend – my 30th Reunion at West Point. Everyone wants to look their best for a Reunion, but this is an imperative when meeting a group of former and current Military Officers. So I had a vision and goal to get fit by August 2015.
The first thing that I did was create a Vision Board. I learned this trick from Weight Watchers. They have confirmed studies that show people who visualize their goals have a better chance to realize them. So I created a Vision Board shown below.

vision board

In this Vision Board was pictures of my classmates both in the past and recent. My class motto – For Excellence We Strive, 85! (Now, you know my approximate age). And a few pictures of me reaching for my goal – note the cool retro headband my youngest gave me for my last Birthday. I looked at the Vision Board each day along with the goals assigned. It was on my phone (BTW it is called HayHouseVB on IOS – there are others).
The next tool of the trade is I joined a gym – LifeTime Fitness (Austin North). I always loved group exercise (hold over from Army morning PT). The only problem was I was not in shape for strenuous exercise. So I did the only thing I could. I did Water Aerobics every Saturday. For those just easing back into exercise it is the best thing. It is easy on your joints but can give a great workout. My instructor was a lady named Pam and she helped me to start to realize my Vision outlined on the Vision board. More about Pam later.
Soon, I could get out of the pool and do more strenuous exercise on the land. Not a huge leap yet – Elliptical training and walking with my Fitbit. One activity on the Fitbit – the Challenges – really helped me up my game. I love competition and the challenges allow you compete against others. Below, I show the challenge I won this week on the Fitbit – this is my first victory. For you with Fitbits, I recommend you get some friends and participate in some challenges. It will cause you to do some crazy things (yes competitors, I walked around in circles from 11:45 to Midnight to win. Woke up the wife and Boots the dog!) Here is a screen print of the challenge for those of you interested in jumping into one).

fitbit

Now to the conclusion and back to Pam and the acronym F.I.T. Using the above mentioned tools, I was able to go to my Reunion and hold my own with my classmates. Below is a picture of me at the Army Football game at the Reunion (Beat Navy – please one of these years!). I also got to meet Pam again this week in her other class Functional Integrated Training (F.I.T)  at LifeTime Fitness (Austin North). This is my gym’s rendition of P90X or Insanity – one hour of heart pumping; butt thumping; muscle aching; legs quaking exercise. When I was done and a puddle of sweat was on the floor, Pam came up to me and said I recognize from somewhere but you look a different. Is this really your first class, here? I said yes but I was the guy that used to have problems making arm circles in your Water Aerobics class. See the Vision; be the Vision!

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