Last Friday morning, Leaders Connect gathered at Zingerman’s Roadhouse to honor our Veteran’s and learn some leadership lessons from four esteemed military officers: Eric Fretz, Len Haidl, Demond Johnson, and Skip Walton. Each told us stories about their time in the service including their missions, and deployments. Along with these stories came lessons in leadership that we can apply to our personal and professional lives.
Eric Fretz, who served 20 years in the Navy, with a very memorable deployment in Iraq, started off with a quote by John Paul Jones, “If you would be perfectly obeyed, seek first to be perfectly esteemed“. Eric believes that if people are inspired by you, they will do the right thing for you. For example, as a senior officer, he was made aware of a subordinate who was getting into a lot of trouble on the base. Due to his unruly behavior, the cadet was ordered to stay on base and not take leave. He came to Eric to ask permission to leave the base for his wedding which was scheduled to take place on Christmas Eve. Eric had asked this cadet’s immediate supervisor to accompany him to his wedding. The supervisor responded to Eric, “Are you asking me or telling me?” Immediately, Eric understood just how much this cadet had angered the members of the team. Eric knew that he should not ask this supervisor to do something that he was not willing to do himself. Eric decided he would accompany the cadet to the wedding, which interfered with Eric’s own family’s plans. The message conveyed to Eric’s team was that if Eric was willing to make this sacrifice for the most undisciplined and least respected person on the team, what would he not do for the others.
Other memorable quotes by Eric include:
- Get a hold of their asses and their hearts will follow
- You can communicate your vision to inspire people to follow you
- If you are doing leadership right, it should make you uncomfortable
Len Haidl is second in command for the University of Michigan’s ROTC program. According to Len, a leader should make sure everyone knows the purpose of the mission and how their goals link to the organization. Len shared an instance when he was at a loss to encourage and motivate a young sailor whose job was to clean the ship, specifically to clean Len’s room and facilities. Len’s was one of a small group of pilots on the ship. The mission had been going very well, and Len was very excited and encouraged by the positive energy on the ship until he came across the person who was cleaning his room. Len saw a man with much less excitement about the mission and who seemed slumped in his posture. Len asked him why he seemed so down when the mission was going so successfully. The man responded that he only cleans Len’s toilet. Len wanted to find a way to motivate and encourage the man that he was a vital part of the mission. Len had learned that a few of the pilots had gotten sick and that if more pilots fall ill the mission could be compromised. Len immediately went to the sailor who was cleaning and told him that the better he does his job of cleaning the healthier the ship remains, increasing the likelihood of the mission’s success. A few weeks later, Len noticed the sailor had a better posture and improved attitude because his job now had meaning.
Len also shared a story about one of his mottoes, “Who’s on your poster?” A short version of the story is that when Len was working a desk job at the Pentagon in Washington DC, he would often get overwhelmed and discouraged with the bureaucracy of the job. However, outside his office was a poster of Marines on a mission in a far off country. This poster reminded him of why he comes to work. He now hangs a poster of his ROTC students in his office to remind himself that it is all about them. A picture truly is worth a thousand words. Click here to watch to Len’s Ted Talk about ” Who’s on Your Poster”.
Demond Johnson retired in 2012 from the US Army and opened a fitness training business called A2fitnesspros, which focuses on traumatic brain and spine injuries. He told us the importance of always being prepared to adjust fire. He asks, “When the if turns to when, are you fully prepared?” Demond continues to operate by the military acronym METL, Mission Essential Task List, which means everyone from the top to the bottom should know about the mission. Mistakes can cost you so get to know everyone across the board by taking time to set up meetings or just sitting to chat. He says a leader should Be, Know, and Do what you expect of others.
Skip Walton, who has had two deployments with the Navy Reserves, told us how real leaders “stay in their lane” while trusting their subordinates will take the information they are given and carry out the task. He says we all work for someone else. It is important to know and communicate “who you work with and who you work for.” A leader should effectively communicate their understanding of the mission and let their subordinates get to work. When ancillary tasks would arise during a mission, a good leader takes on that task so as to not pile on to their subordinates. Everyone has a role in the success of a mission.
Skip also advises that earning trust is important to leadership. He advises to “never be a senior with a secret“. Be as transparent as you can be, and communicate often and effectively. This is especially important in the modern military where joint task forces are becoming the norm. Skip recommend three questions to answer when faced with merging military cultures:
- What do I know?
- Who needs to know?
- Have I told them?
I would like to take the time to thank these great military leaders, not only for taking the time to share their lessons at the Leaders Connect Breakfast, but also for their service to our country and the sacrifices they have made.