“Especially for these VUCA situations, it isn’t straight-forward. It’s really framing the challenge up front.”–Fred Krawchuk
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Retired Colonel Fred T. Krawchuk, is a well-known and respected leadership teacher. He’s been a U.S. Army Special Forces officer and has led soldiers in a variety of infantry and special operations assignments in the United States, Europe and Latin America. A General MacArthur Leadership Award Winner and a graduate of West Point and Harvard University, he served as an Olmsted Scholar in Spain and as an Army Senior Fellow with the U.S. Department of State.
- The differences between the military/engineering approach to accomplishment versus softer approaches with different kinds of goals
- How Aikido—the martial art—has made a huge difference in Fred’s understanding of leadership
- How important trust is to being able to lead
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Hey folks, this is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back. Thanks for joining me today. Before I get started with my guest Fred Krawchuk, who we’re going to have an amazing conversation with, just let me remind you, if you haven’t heard, that I rewrote my bestselling book, “The Way of the SEAL.” Added a couple new chapters, changed things up a little bit. Improved it.
And released it also in audiobook format in my voice. So that’s pretty cool. So if you loved the first, or if you haven’t read it, “The Way of the SEAL” is about how to lead like an elite warrior in a VUCA world–Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. And the feedback on the book has been really humbling. It’s just amazing. So check it out. Go to wayoftheseal.com and you can get a free PDF workbook of all the exercises, or just go ahead to Amazon or wherever you get books, and get the new edition. The 5th anniversary edition.
And also look for the 5th anniversary edition at Audible. Which is an Amazon company if you want the audio book.
The other editions are still available, so just make sure you’re getting the right one.
Cool. I appreciate your support for that.
And furthermore, you’re probably getting tired of me saying this, but veterans need our help. There’s 22 vets on average a day committing suicide. It is really, really just an insidious problem. Post-Traumatic Stress.
The institutions are trying their best, but they’re not having much luck. And so we decided to step up this year and really do something about it on our end. So we’ve committed to doing 22 million burpees. Definitely a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. 22 million burpees.
And guess what? We’re almost halfway there. The team that’s joined me, we’ve already go 10 million burpees in the bag. And we’ve raised 150,000 dollars. So we’ve got 12 million burpees to go. I need your help to join me.
I’m committed to 100,000. I do 300 a day. I slog through them, and they’ve become just an extraordinary practice for me. And as soon as I’m done with this podcast, I’m going to crank out my 300.
Maybe Fred will join me. We’ll see.
But go to burpeesforvets.com to either pledge for me, or join a team, or to create your own team. Cause we gotta do 22 million burpees this year. And then we’re going to use that money to directly support vets in an immersion program to teach them the Unbeatable Mind mental training tools, emotional training tools. Help them find purpose. Help them develop a new ethos in life.
And then we’re also going to hook them up with 18 months of coaching support with a boat-crew. So that’s going to be very powerful.
All right. Enough on that. Burpeesforvets.com. Thanks for your support.
So today we have the great privilege and honor to talk to Colonel Fred Krawchuk. Cred…Cred… that’s a strange brain that I have. Fred is a US Army Special Forces officer, Green Beret. Who’s led soldiers throughout the Army in multiple different disciplines. Spec Ops being probably the most prominent. Also infantry positions. Europe, Latin America, AOs. He was a General MacArthur leadership award winner at West Point.
And guess what? He also went to Harvard, and was Olmstead Scholar in Spain. Army senior fellow with the State Department.
Man, he’s got a lot of bullets on his resume.
Fred is passionate about human performance, resiliency and how to deal with the most challenging of circumstances. How to get organizations and teams to break through and find some common ground when typically there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of that tunnel.
So clearly we have a lot to talk about because we have a lot of common ground. Fred, thanks for joining me today. I’m super-stoked to talk to you and to learn about your life.
Fred Krawchuk: My pleasure. Look forward to conversation. And hope whatever we talk about really can be of service to your listeners.
Mark: Yeah. I’m sure it will be.
First, thank you for your service. I know everyone listening really appreciates vets and honors the Spec Ops guys and gals who are really at the pointy edge of the spear. On the line. So appreciate that.
Fred: Likewise. I’m pretty sure all the work you’re doing with vet organizations and look forward to knocking out some burpees with you later on today.
Mark: (laughing) I look forward to that too. 300 of them. We have to get started right away. After this call.
Now I usually begin just by really trying to get into what drives you, and what were your formative kind of experiences. So you tell us a little bit about your early years. The influence of your parents. The influence of your community.
And what it is that led you to West Point, and maybe that experience as well. What did you learn at West Point as an 18, 19, 20, 21 year-old kid basically.
Fred: Sure. Appreciate the question. Think probably one of the biggest things that happened to me as a kid that really opened up my mind and heart really to a bigger world outside of the small town I grew up in, was really a great example from my parents.
They were working with our local church, and at that time… this is during the whole Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and this slew of refugees going to Thailand.
And anyway, my parents were involved in a local church project to help sponsor a family to come over. And I just sort of naturally got involved and got to know Tune, the eldest and all his family really. And just to hear as a young teenager hearing some really horrific stories and how this family survived and made it to the United States, just opened up my mind. “Oh, there’s a bigger world outside my idyllic little community.”
And the opportunity to be of service. So this idea of service and helping out. And something that’s stayed with me throughout my life.
And there was friendships. Tune and I are still… I was just in Michigan where I grew up, and one of Tunes kids got married… Anyway, that’s a whole podcast in and of itself.
But I think the other piece sort of related to this idea of service. Another thing that had a big impact on me growing up. I think I was probably about 16 or so, and met a young Army officer, John Miller, who had gone to West Point. And when I met him, I really didn’t have a clue about the military. But he really stood out for me. I found him to very intelligent, physically fit, confident, very comfortable in his skin.
And my 16 year old mind is like, “Oh. I wanna be like that when I grow up. And how do I do that?”
“Well, he went to West Point, so I guess I should go to West Point.”
And so fortunately, I had an opportunity to go there. Again, a bit clueless about the military, but wanting to be like this guy. And then at West Point you do these… their version of summer internship where you go out and you serve in the capacity of a lieutenant so to speak. And you’re a platoon leader. And you get a chance to try that out. Right?
And so I went to Panama and here I am with 30, 40 fit guys. And we had this mission. The mission was protect the Panama Canal. And I found out during that summer, like, “Oh, This Army thing… I think I like it.” (laughing) You know, this idea of leading a group of folks… but really co-leading. Listening, bringing the best of ideas to a plan in support of higher mission. And so you’re thinking together but this idea of doing things together physically. Wasn’t just some abstract planning.
And so just that at an early age of what does it mean to be with a high performing team, and the responsibility… in service of something bigger than me or the soldiers in the platoon. “Oh, this is my calling. This is a good place to be.”
Mark: Mm-hmm. That’s cool. I love that.
And I love this notion… I had that same kind of sense that leadership is active, it’s not static. And doing something, getting a mission accomplished and moving things around. And co-creating. That was leadership.
It wasn’t a theory or a concept or a planning session, you know?
Mark: All right, so you went through Special Forces training. Did you do that right after…? Give us a little bit about your career in the Army. How did you navigate that, and where did you serve? And what were some of the missions you undertook?
Fred: Well, sure. Well thanks to that experience at West Point–going out, like I said, in Panama–I found that I really loved working in other cultures. Being overseas.
And if you remember back in ’89, US military intervention in Panama, and after that there was… That was Operation Just Cause. And after that… And folks that know a little bit about military history know about that operation. But less people know about the operation afterwards. Operation Promote Liberty.
And I was a scout platoon leader at the time and basically your mission as a scout platoon was to go out, do reconnaissance. Check things out to help your higher level commanders and command figure out what to do. And so I and my team were sent out like literally all over the country of Panama. Just checking on things to make sure after Just Cause, continued stability. We there any pockets of resistance? Just trying to help get things back on track throughout the countryside.
So it was really fascinating missions. Working with indigenous tribes in the jungles and quite an adventure.
And during one of these adventures, ran into a US Army Special Forces team, also sort of working out in the boonies. And it sort of just dawned on me, interacting and coordinating with them. “Oh, you mean I could continue to work overseas. In sort of these austere places. With a high performing team. With a lot of responsibility.” Really is sort of bottom-up approach with a lot of autonomy. Overseas. Working with other people from different countries.
That sounded great. Sounded perfect. And so that was what led me to try out for Special Forces and again just love for Latin America at that point in my life. Went back and did a lot of work in Latin America.
To include going to jungle school in Brazil. Which was a whole ‘nother adventure of working with other people from different countries. And again, tough conditions. Finding that common ground in spite of cultural and language differences to achieve something bigger than any of us.
Different approaches to VUCA
Mark: Right. What was the most challenging aspect of the Special Forces selection and training process? The q-course?
Fred: You know, I think what it was was sometimes navigating with… part of the training was setting out on individual missions, and then also, team missions.
And I think what was really interesting, navigating the challenge sometimes on team missions with people that were comfortable with ambiguity. Like, it’s not super-clear what we need to do here, but we’ll iterate, we’ll figure it out. We’ll keep pushing through this to get the job done.
And other folks that were really challenged with the ambiguity and really needed sort of… “I gotta know what the standard is. How am I going to pass selection? There’s gotta be a clear sort of black and white thing.”
And so trying to bring those folks along and understand that perspective was challenging. And it’s been a good lesson for me throughout I think leadership… You start… Earlier on you were talking about VUCA, right? Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. And learning during selection that you know what? Some people are comfortable with the VUCA world. And actually may prefer that.
And other people much more prefer more predictability, more stability. Not that one is better than the other, but just having an appreciation that, “Oh, there are different environments, different leadership required. And how do we bring what’s most appropriate to a situation?”
Mark: Yeah. Well said. In fact, you kind of defined a difference between a Spec Ops guy and a conventional warrior/leader.
Mark: The Spec Ops guys embrace the VUCA environment. They like it. They thrive in it. Whereas conventional minded people really don’t. It makes them nervous. They shut down a little bit. They need a little bit more predictability.
But they can plan the hell out of things. (laughing) I would never personally survive in a more conventional unit or conventional environment. But they’re both necessary, like you said.
Fred: Yeah, exactly.
Mark: That’s interesting.
Now you’ve been as a Green Beret and in some of the other positions you had–the State Department–you’ve been in super-high risk operations. Stakes were super-high. Life and death but also not just of you, but of the people that you’re working with.
What did you see in terms of the mistakes that people were making and how did you help them kind of overcome obstacles?
Fred: Well, I think a good example–and it actually is connected to what we were just talking about, in terms of really understanding your environment and what’s most appropriate. I remember for example when I was working in Iraq. I was asked to help stand-up an inter-agency task force. And for your listeners, what this is is it’s basically you’re inviting people from the State Department, Intelligence Agencies, people working in development. Other military units–both Special Ops and conventional. Really, who are the people working in Iraq to include connections with?
Obviously, Iraqi leaders who’ve got obviously a stake in what’s happening and inviting them to a collaborative platform to figure out is there ways that we can help each other work through some difficult and challenging issues.
Given that, in these complex, VUCA environments, my experience has been no one agency or no one group, or no one community has all of the resources, the knowledge, or the relationships to really tackles these messy problems. And so we all benefit by sharing perspectives, sharing resources.
And so one of the challenges we had I remember the central bank of Iraq literally burnt down. and part of our invitation from the Iraqi government was could we help bring different stakeholders to the table to figure out how we help get the central bank and support the Iraqis to get the central bank back literally, up on its feet.
So you can imagine, this is the literal construction of a bank. It’s the database that information technology infrastructure. It’s the safety. It’s the training and selection of the right people.
So very complex. Lots of moving parts. Lots of different interests in it.
And as you can imagine, you gotta be patient and persistent in trying to help bring together the right different people from lots of different backgrounds and disciplines to try to help co-create and support the Iraqis in getting the bank rebuilt.
And sometimes it is slow. But you gotta be patient. Takes time to build relationships. Takes time to build trust. It takes time to get these different pieces together.
And I remember one of the senior military folks that was also involved in this… and I was helping lead at least the military side of this task force. I remember a general coming up to me. He says, “Hey Fred, you guys seem to be going slow. But we got… if you need some more resources, you need some more money, or you need me to sort of kick people in the butt–we’ll just work longer, work harder–you’ll let me know.”
And I remember just trying to be appreciative of his support and looking for ways to help get that support. But here was an instance of here’s a complex, messy problem. By just working harder, spending more money, it’s not going to solve it. This isn’t a linear, engineering problem. This is unpredictable, messy, relationship building. Going with the flow. It didn’t require the sort of predictable, engineering like approach.
Mark: Right. More inputs aren’t going to speed up the output, right?
Mark: That’s fascinating. Interesting.
So you developed this expertise getting your hands dirty. The story of helping rebuild Iraq’s central bank being one. Murky environment. Lots of stakeholders. And I’m going to introduce a little theory here, but everyone’s at a different level of understanding, world concept. Also different needs, and motivators. I mean, the complexity is hard to even imagine. How you would bring that all together.
So how did you start to make sense of all this. And I want to kind of point toward negotiation tactics, communication strategy, and spiral dynamics. Cause those have helped me. Really helped me understand how to make sense of just the mind-numbing complexity of a large project like that. That has stakeholders from different levels of development. From different cultural backgrounds. Different languages. And some of them maybe aren’t the most trustworthy in the world–or you don’t know.
So how did you start to make sense of all this? Did you reach out to study different negotiation strategies or tools? Or were you given some tools that the State Department or Special Forces were already using? Or was it a combination of both?
Fred: Yeah, I feel really fortunate. When I was doing graduate school at Harvard, I had a chance to do the negotiations program and my instructor at the time was Sheila Heen. And she’s done… she’s written some amazing books. We’re still in touch.
As a matter of fact, when I was teaching in Business School in Spain, she came out and helped us.
So I really… I think taking the negotiation course from her had a huge impact in terms of giving me a very practical framework.
Mark: And what was her kind of top-line framework? What were the key things that she was promoting?
Fred: You know, I think part of it was really spending the time to really… spend the time early on asking lots of questions and really listening. And doing the best not to try to judge or try to fit things into what you think is the best outcome. So asking a lot of questions. Trying to get underneath what people are saying and really trying to understand what do they really care about here? What’s underneath? What might be to really understand the real needs here? What are they really looking for?
So really being curious. Asking good questions. Before jumping into “let’s do this, let’s do that.”
And I think that’s… And I know you’ve written about it. But for me you can connect that to John Boyd, OODA loop. This idea of really spending the time observing and orienting, before making any decisions or taking any actions. So that really… to really try to find out what’s the possibility here of finding some common ground.
Mark: Right. I like that. Iterating your way to a whole solution. As opposed to imposing your will on someone, or having an incomplete idea of what the outcomes could be.
And I love that idea of not really… of having a vision for or an acceptable range of outcomes as opposed to a specific target that you’re shooting for, you know what I mean?
Fred: Oh absolutely. And there’s a great quote from Albert Einstein I sometimes use if I’m teaching a course on these kinds of things. And he says, “If I had one hour to solve a problem, and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask.”
Mark: (laughing) I love that.
Fred: Especially for these VUCA situations, right? There isn’t the straight-forward thing. Just framing the challenge up-front.
Mark: Now one of the things that’s influenced me dramatically in my life–and I use it as a framework for the Unbeatable Mind program–is Ken Wilber’s integral theory. And as you are aware, he was heavily influenced by the spiral dynamics. And transpersonal psychology. And developmental psychology and all that.
So it looks like you came upon this. How did you stumble upon spiral dynamics and how has that model of stage theory. Of personal or institutional development. How has that impacted your leadership and your strategic negotiating skills?
Fred: Sure. I think it has a significant impact. And I really have had a chance to get to know Don Beck over the years. And I have a lot of gratitude for his work. And so for me, the negotiations framework is really helpful.
But then as you well know, there’s such nuances in these complex situations. And so I think what Spiral Dynamics did for me was really help understand and again appreciate that you know what? Different groups are coming at these challenges from very different perspectives. Very different motivations.
And again, being careful about not judging. Having sort of this curiosity–the Zen beginner’s mind–to be really curious about what people care about. So part of the work, for example, like in Iraq for example one of the questions I had for our inter-agency task force was what are some of the alternatives to Al Qaeda?
What are some alternatives to violence here, and who’s interested in that question?
And of course, military people were very interested in that. State Department, Development people, Iraqi communities. But they had different reasons, right?
Some people were just looking for stability, or were looking for ways… “Hey, if they work with us, am I going to bolster my power here?” Or “If they work with our group…”
So part of it was looking at people… People were looking for more power. Other people were appreciating the emphasis we were putting on relationships. Other people were just looking to be more effective. And so very different motivations. And I think Spiral Dynamics offers a very practical framework to help understand what’s really motivating people. What’s their center of gravity when it comes to values?
And can you connect there?
So you might have very different values and concerns, but what Don Beck always talks about is this idea of is there a “super-ordinate” goal or overarching objective? And what… folks in the military, the importance of a shared purpose. A clear shared mission. And so getting that really clear and finding if people are signing up for that, I found a very, very effective, practical…
And I wasn’t trying to convince other people of your concerns, or why values were more important. It was like, no. Appreciating that and what was the common ground that was attractive enough to bring different people to the table.
Mark: I have like 2 questions that will help us. First is I don’t want to assume that all the listeners know what Spiral Dynamics is. So since you have such a deep background working with it, is there a way you can give us kind of like the 1 minute, thousand mile view of the stages and how they play out?
And then the 2nd is did you… maybe answer the 2nd first, did you used this tool just as a personal awareness tool? Or were you like laying out the diagram and saying, “Hey, this person is coming from magenta. And this person’s coming from red or blue.” In terms of the stage colors.
Fred: No I mean, definitely having an appreciation for those stage colors, and sort of applying it…
Mark: But not using it as a team tool, where you’re like, “Okay, this is what we gotta do.” This tribal leader is over here, this one’s over there. That would have been too cloogy probably, huh?
Fred: Yeah. As a matter of fact I remember because Don Beck would ask me to come to some of his conferences to speak. And someone asked me that question. It was like, “Hey, how do people in the military respond when you’re teaching them Spiral Dynamics?”
I said, “No, I never taught Spiral Dynamics. Using the principles and applying it and people found it helpful because it was…
So it’s the sort of big picture, snapshot of Spiral Dynamics… I think for me it’s one way to think about it as at a very basic level, what do people care about? And how, why does their aperture for what they see is important.
So you saw some tribes for example it was really about close to home. My family, my tribe. And that was good, that was fine.
So this very close to home, family tribe and then other stakeholders had a different perspective. Yes, of course, tribe, family… communities were important but also connections with other stakeholders in terms of throughout Iraq or throughout the region. So what was important to them in terms of relationships, there was this wider circle. And at sort of the strategic level, as we built our network over time… it was even sometimes global. Connecting with people in Washington, DC or other regional embassies. Because of the perspective, the concerns were wider. Not that it made them better or worse in any sense. It’s just a different perspective in terms of what was important. And I think it’s just an appreciation of sort of a local level, or regional and even strategic.
And you could go higher and higher in terms of what’s the bigger impact globally in terms of environment… And it just depends on how willing and open are you to see the interdependence between different actors and the system in which you’re working. So I think that’s maybe one way to think about it.
Mark: Yeah, I think that’s very helpful. I mean, you’re describing almost ego-, ethno- and world-centric kind of stages of growth but also when it comes to… doesn’t have to be a growth. You could have someone who’s very ethnocentric but in a position of power where they have to think more globally.
And so sometimes they have to be nudged. They’re still going to have their kind of shadow ethnocentrism kind of guiding their decisions in the background. You have to be aware of that too.
Mark: It is pretty fascinating.
So what else? To me, one of the things that’s fascinating to me in my work is this idea that in the West we’ve been taught that your brain and your body are separate. As a lifetime martial artist and yoga developer/teacher and practitioner. And long-time meditator. I’ve started to begin to sense… Not begin to sense. I’ve had a strong sense for a long time but now begin to fervently believe that the body is the mind. The body… the mind goes so far beyond the brain. And we know the heart-mind and the belly-mind and all that. But what I’ve started to sense is that the way you communicate, the way you perceive the world, the way you act in the world is really body-mind. It’s all one thing. And we call that kind of the realm of somatics. And it’s starting to get a lot of credibility and a lot of the Special Forces guys have been involved in really cutting edge research on that. Like at the Strozzi Institute, and the Trojan Horse Program or the Green Berets getting involved in working with Aikido up in Washington State at Fort Hood?
Fred: Fort Lewis.
Mark: Fort Lewis. Yeah, that’s right. Thank you.
So what’s your take on the role of understanding somatics and body-mind awareness in negotiation and how does that fit into your kind of model for life and leadership.
Fred: It’s a great question and it’s also one of these things that’s really had a huge impact on me personally and professionally. And I’ve had a chance to share it with others.
So, yeah, Richard Strozzi-Heckler who runs Strozzi Institute wrote this book “In Search of the Warrior Spirit,” which details…
Mark: I remember that years ago. It was phenomenal.
Fred: Yeah. And a buddy of mine handed it to me literally as I was finishing up Special Forces training. And I just fell in love with the book. I liked it so much that… this was pre-internet days and I had to figure out how to get hold of this guy. So I cold called Richard… this is like 25 plus years ago now… cold called him and say, “Hey Richard. I went to West Point. Just finished Special Forces training. Loved your book. Can I come train with you?”
And I feel very fortunate. He said, “You know people usually pay me for this, but I’m sure we can work something out.”
And so that led me on an incredible sort of parallel journey in my military career of this idea of appreciating the ideas of Aikido and embodiment. And how does that relate to leadership?
And so this idea of we know from biology that when things we get stressed out, or really difficult things are in front of us, we all have the tendency, this idea of either fight or flee, or do we freeze? Or are there opportunities sort of to blend?
And I think in a very practical way, training with Richard over the years really helped provide some very simple but powerful ways to help people see how are they showing up in this situation?
And I would literally do this as a sort of performance counselling with my team leaders. For example, when I was a company commander. It’s like trying to see them and we would do… introduce blending exercises and wet -work one on one, just to help them see how they’re showing up. Because again….
Mark: Were those… sorry to interrupt, were those exercises physical like you would see on an Aikido mat, or were they kind of like mental? Showing how ideas can blend and energy can either be bypassed or merged and blended?
Fred: Well, I’m sure no surprise to you… big believer in experiential learning. And Special OPs is all about embodiment. And I think leadership in general is really about embodiment.
And so we would do simple exercises to help my team leaders appreciate… “When it’s a tough situation, I’m willing to stand up and fight for my team.” And that can be super-appropriate.
But then also can we expand our toolkit. Can we expand our responses? Because sometimes it might be better to sort of back off. This isn’t worth the fight here.
Or do I need to learn how to coordinate? And I was very fortunate at the time, we were getting our teams ready to do work in the Balkans. And I had a very proficient martial artist who was a team leader. And so we worked together sort of bringing these somatic exercises along with very practical combatives kind of training to do scenarios. To get people ready for very different kind of scenarios their going to run into in the Balkans. Cause you know what? You may need to show up with force, or you may need to show up as a negotiator. Or may need to show up as a community leader.
What was the appropriate response? And when we did our final validation of getting teams ready, it was really clear the teams that had really sort of tried to include all these different things–how better they were in the final validation. Cause we would throw very different scenarios, that sometimes you needed to point your weapon. Other times you needed to put the gun away, and sit down at the table.
So I found that the somatic piece to be very practical. At a tactical level.
And I would… there’s another exercise from the Aikido tradition called Randori, which is really you’re dealing with multiple attackers. And you can do that in the big martial sense or you can do it low-key but still helping people understand how to keep their balance when things are rapidly changing around them.
And here I am now doing that at the tactical level with teams. And now here I am in Afghanistan, at a much higher level of command and having on my team some military people, but also even academics and other civilians. And just noticing the messiness and the fast-changing environment of Afghanistan it was like, “How do I help this team–the staff element–that I’m responsible for just to understand how to keep their balance in this very stressful, fast-moving… so even at the corporate level of the military, introducing some very simple–again, embodied, just the theory of it–how can you stay centered? And knowing your center of gravity? And appreciating what does it feel like when you’re off balance? What do I need to bring myself on balance? And doing sort of simple examples with the team of Randori of dealing with multiple changes around them, but still trying to keep their ground. Knowing what’s important to help keep their balance.
Mark: I love that.
Fred: Yeah. It reminds me… there’s a wonderful story around this from the founder of Aikido–Morihei Ueshiba–and he… So here he is doing this training. He’s sparring with a very accomplished fighter. Students are watching. And one of the students says to the master “Hey, you never lose your balance. What’s your secret?”
And Ueshiba replies, “No, no, no. You’re actually wrong. It’s not that I’m not losing my balance. I’m constantly losing my balance. My skill lies in my ability to regain it.”
So it’s not like we’re rigidly trying to control something. No, we’re going to come off balance, but are we aware of that in ourselves, but also watching our teams. What do we need to help get them back on track?
Aikido and Negotiation
Mark: one of the things that I want the listeners to really appreciate is, you and I have studied this stuff for years. I studied Aikido for a year and then Ninjutsu which included Aki-jujutsu… and all these concepts start to become imbued or embodied. But for a leader today you don’t have to join yet another martial arts studio, or any studio for that matter. You can learn these principles in simple kind of drills. And contextualize them for leading.
Which the martial arts teacher isn’t necessarily going to do. That’s why I love what Strozzi’s up to. Strozzi Institute.
And also we do that with our Unbeatable Mind. We have spot-drills which kind of demonstrate different awareness levels and demonstrate how you can tap into energy of yourself and your teammates to kind of get a feel for whether they’re friend or foe or where they’re at.
So does that ring true to you? That you can learn these principles with some simple drills that can be practiced either daily or episodically?
Fred: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, just very recently–within the last week or two–I was in Spain teaching a business executive education at IESE business school. Which is not as well known in the States, but Financial Times has rated it the last couple of years the top executive education program for business folks. It’s a well-regarded, really sound program and I had the opportunity to co-design a new course around adaptive leadership. How to build adaptive organizations.
And what we’re talking about, I think, is so fundamental and can be so helpful. So I included as a daily practice we’d start off the day doing very simple but as you know, very effective sort of like breathing exercises. Or some very simple awareness. Just to help people understand that there were very simple–very simple but powerful techniques to help them appreciate when they were off balance, and what they could do to help calm themselves down.
And make it very practical. Why would you do Box Breathing, for example? Well, if you’re getting ready for a difficult conversation with someone, or you’re getting ready to give a briefing or run an important meeting. What are some ways that you might be able just feel more centered, feel more grounded, feel more confident?
Doesn’t have to be really complicated kinds of things. So simple movement. And we would do very simple things with partners. What does it mean to… you want to take a stand? Or you got a new initiative. What does it feel to be resisted?
And are you comfortable resisting things? Cause sometimes we know we need to say no. And some people are more comfortable with that or not.
Or here’s someone coming at you with a request. Is it most appropriate to respond now? Or is this something where, you know what? I need to disengage. Or is this an opportunity?
And so yeah, I think there’s… and we would do this. We would talk about it but working in partners, simple movement, simple breathing exercises. Again, to get people to sense that in their bodies that this is something real and something…
And I remember sharing with the group last week… in the military, you might be on a patrol for example. And you’re really using all of your senses. To pay attention, to be sensitive to the environment. And doing that over time, you build this intuition.
And so in the business context, well you have all these senses available. And it’s giving you great information so why not tap into it? And here are some simple ways to do that.
So yeah, absolutely agree with you that there’s some really simple and yet very powerful things that you can put into practice that can be incredibly valuable. Especially in a VUCA situation.
Mark: Right. Absolutely.
We are coming kind of to the end of our timeline here. But I wanted to talk about trust. Because that’s such a big issue in teams and as a leader. You first have to be trustworthy in order to expect you’re going to have trust from someone else. But also you know, you have to be vulnerable and open to trusting someone. But verify, of course, that what they say has some veracity to it.
So how did you… what do you think about developing trust in a leader? How do you approach that?
Fred: I’m really glad we’re sort of going towards closing… cause I think it’s such an important issue. And I think that’s been… to be up-front, I think that’s been one of my interesting learning edges, having transitioned out of a world where trust and dependability was so important.
And in some ways really appreciating that and taking that for granted. And not always seeing that in other projects in other domains.
Mark: Oh, absolutely.
Fred: And so I think in the military we talk about this idea of “I’ve got your back. You can depend on me.” And how critical that is. And it’s not always whether you like someone or you get along. As a matter of fact, I remember working in Afghanistan and one of my colleagues and I–we didn’t necessarily get along. Didn’t necessarily like each other. We didn’t hang out.
But we both had important tasks and functions, and if one of us had to travel to a different part of the country, or whatever, we had to be able to cover down on each other. And take care of each other–take care of our concerns. In support of a shared mission.
And there was never any doubt that we could depend on each other. Even though we didn’t necessarily like each other. And so I think this piece… to make it really concrete… do I honor my words with my actions? Can people count on me?
As a matter of fact we had this discussion last week with this group of business executives. And I remember asking the question of like, who do you depend on? And really getting clear about that, because I think we depend on more people and systems than we might realize, and being clear who’s really depending on me. And when we do something… we make a mistake, we break trust or we’re not as dependable–do we go back and try to make the repair? Make the amends? Fix things? Get back on track?
And you know, there’s been really interesting research around this integrity, trust–that’s really such a critical part of performance. And if there isn’t that trust, there is this lack of dependability that teams are actually much less effective. And I don’t know if you had a chance–I’m sure you have–think Sebastian Junger and one of his latest books “Tribe” talks about this importance of trust and dependability and a healthy tribe. And how…
I think that’s really… Stan McChrystal talks about this in his book “Team of Teams.” But I think this is an ethos shared throughout much of the military, especially much of Special Operations world. You know, if you’ve got this shared sense of purpose that people have really got skin in the game… People are competent in their roles, and there is a sense of trust and how to build that trust.
I think those are just so, so, so critical. And I’ve noticed on some project post-military, “Oh, this is a great mission. A really cool project. Really competent people.” But if that trust piece is missing, or that’s not an explicit part of the conversation are clear expectations about what do we mean about trust and how are we going to build it? I’m just appreciating more and more how important… I would say just absolutely critical that is.
Mark: Yeah, I’d agree.
So I mean trustworthiness and trust bond expose themselves pretty quickly when you embark on any worthy mission or project. But how would the listener a) be aware whether they’re not trustworthy. And that self-awareness of that gap would then lead to wanting to close that gap.
So that leads to the b). Is what can they do to close the gap? What can they do to train trustworthiness or develop trustworthiness?
Fred: So I can hearken back to my West Point days. As a young cadet you had to memorize things. And some things you thought were silly, but other things stayed with you over time. And there’s a great quote from General MacArthur. And it’s around this notion of duty, honor and country. And he said in a speech at West Point, he says, “Duty, honor, country. Those 3 held words, reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points to build courage when courage seems to fail. To regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith. To create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
And so, to think about duty. You know… Am I clear about what’s really important to me? What’s important to my family? What are the responsibilities that I take seriously?
Again, this idea… who’s depending on me? And do I take those obligations seriously or not? And to me in that there’s a sense of care. Do I genuinely care about the folks around me? Am I taking visible, clear actions to take care of folks? To really take care of those… again, it’s not abstract. It’s action oriented.
And then honor. What does that mean to me? Is trust–building trust–important? Am I having explicit conversations with the people I work with about “How are we going to do this?” So it’s not abstract. It’s not philosophical conversation.
And having that openness like “hey if things aren’t clear. Or if you feel…” I’m not giving people the opportunity to give you feedback. Which isn’t always easy, but can people come talk to you? And are you making those efforts? Not just waiting for people to come to the door, but going out and asking people?
So duty, honor, country. Country. What is that higher purpose? And is it clear? Whether it’s your organizational mission, your team mission, your community mission… whatever it is, is there something bigger than you or I that we’re signed up for? That there’s skin in the game here? And are we clear about that?
And I just… I think having explicit conversations about that. And then also talking with each other. Okay, when we make mistakes or we feel like trust or we’re not honoring our words with our actions. How do we clean up the mess?
And giving people opportunity to do that. Again, these are things I would recommend folks to consider.
Mark: I agree. And we’re kind of pointing back toward that aligning narrative that McChrystal talks about. Having the daily conversation about those values, and about trust, and about the mission and what the outcomes are and also in a sense, the brief and the debrief. If there’s behavior that wasn’t in alignment with that narrative then to have the capacity to call people out in a way that is going to help them improve.
Fred: Exactly. And that it’s not personal. It’s in support of a bigger mission. And that we all care about each other. We don’t want to let each other down. And we don’t want to let down the mission.
So how can I improve and creating that environment where people… People look forward to that debrief. And it’s not about blame, it’s not about… It’s about being on this path of mastery. Being on this path of growth. Being on this path of service in support of something bigger than you and I.
Mark: Hooyah. Well said. And we’ll call it a wrap there. There’s not much more to say on that subject at this point in time. Since anything we do say will take us down another 30 minute rabbit hole.
It’s been an honor to talk to you Fred. I really appreciate your time. Look forward to meeting you in person someday and maybe doing some training together or learning from you.
Fred: Likewise. It’s been a great conversation and I do look forward to seeing you on the path.
Mark: Yeah. Likewise. Thanks again.
All right, folks, that was Fred Krawchuk and what an unbelievable conversation. Holy Cow. Thank you so much Fred. I am super-stoked that we had that conversation. It’s really, really important to consider this idea of trust and also understanding different points of view, stages of development. All of this stuff we cover in the Unbeatable Mind program.
And also embodied leadership. That’s going to be a big part of some of the discussions and my thought and research in the future is how we really embody leadership, and look at our body as a brain. And our whole mind. At a 5th plateau. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about there, then check out Unbeatable Mind online academy. Or my book “Unbeatable Mind,” or “The Way of the SEAL,” where I start to get into those concepts.
And we’re going to continue to explore more and more as time goes on here.
Anyways, having said all that, thanks again for listening to Unbeatable Mind podcast. I appreciate you’re on the journey with me. It’s super-cool to have such great support and great people like you who are really caring about developing themselves. Unlocking their 20x potential. Serving powerfully from a world-centric point of view and making a difference in the world. Couldn’t do it without you. Thanks again.