The Biggest Lie We Tell Ourselves But The Easiest To Overcome

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Believe it or not, the Infantry isn’t all about training for war every single day. More often than I’d like happen, we are tasked with details that can take numerous Soldiers away for a day or even weeks. Soldiers become sick and can be on quarters. Soldiers can be gone for schools, or at times not have the proper number of Soldiers assigned to a unit to fill the ranks. The higher up you get in the ranks, the heavier the administration tasks become. These include numerous meetings, writing monthly or yearly performance evaluations, or being the leader in charge of a detail. These small and simple examples are prime situations that I have seen leaders use as excuses to not, for whatever reason, do their job and what they are assigned to do, myself included. It’s the excuse of “I don’t have enough time.”

     Our time is obviously one of our most precious and valuable things. We frantically and meticulously plan out every second of our day because we have to get all of these “tasks” done and accomplished. When I was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2011, I had a conversation with a village elder while out on patrol. I was young and still learning principles of being a leader and really being a professional. I knew I had a timeline to hit that day and I kept checking my watch. The elder, who wasn’t wearing a watch, asked me “Do you know why many of us don’t wear watches in Afghanistan? Because we have time.” It was amazing for this 25 year old American Soldier to be presented with this unique concept of time, when in the United States we use the excuse that we never have enough of it. Why do we have so little while another part of the world has plenty? Is this a fair conclusion? If so, what can we draw and learn from it?

     Let’s peel back the layers and talk about not having enough time. Let’s see if we can honestly say, and be confident that without a doubt, we have ruined ourselves in this country. We have so much to do that we take short cuts because time is limited. Here’s the first question I’ll present to everyone: What time do you wake up EVERY morning of every day? What disciplined routine do you have to start your day? For those who don’t believe this next statement, confirm it with the wife, but I wake up every day at 0500. Even on days I’m off work. How taboo is that in this day and age? Only old people go to bed early and wake up early, right? WRONG. People who have a purpose and a disciplined daily routine wake up early. People who say they are swamped and don’t have time should wake up early. Hopefully I don’t go into “rant mode” like I sometimes do. Let’s look at what waking up early accomplishes. 

     First off, waking up at 0430 or 0500 at the latest should be followed by a workout. You don’t want to get out of bed? Make yourself GET OUT OF BED. You don’t want to go to the gym? Make yourself GO TO THE GYM. Don’t want to lift the weight? Then LIFT THE WEIGHT. Don’t want to start hammering out that project? Guess what? HAMMER OUT THAT PROJECT. When you’re exercising and eating right and being healthy, you feel better when you arise early. When you’re awake that early, who is there to distract you and to turn your attention on other things? Maybe the kids. Just throw some cookies out and they’ll be good. You get a significant jump on the day when you wake up early. But, you have to do it every day. It has to be a disciplined effort to change your habit. DISCIPLINE EQUALS FREEDOM. When you start your daily errands, chores, or gym time late, and by late I mean like 0900, you leave the possibility of the boss keeping you later in the day to disrupt your plans. There will always be those unpredictable tasks that get thrown on. Emergencies happen. You begin getting tired and frustrated as the day goes on and you just want to go home, and any other example we can think of that disrupts our day. If you honestly assess that you don’t have enough time, that’s the simplest answer. Go find yourself an alarm clock. Find yourself. Wake up early. 

     Listen I get it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I was 30 years old before I really started understanding time management and getting my mind right and getting after the things that slowed me down and stood in my way. It is a process, but it’s attainable. When you set out for a goal, whether it’s a short- or long-term goal, assign sub goals to accomplish it. We’ll use waking up early as an example. The goal is to wake up at 0500 every day and not go back to sleep. Some sub goals would be, go to bed earlier. Make your bed every every morning. Get dressed. Have a plan for your first 30 minutes awake. If we are being honest with ourselves, what productive things are we accomplishing past 9 PM when we talk about going to bed earlier? Are we harassing people on Twitter and Facebook? Are we moving down that dangerous path of YouTube videos where you looked at how to do proper pullups for your workout tomorrow and now you’re watching videos on what would happen if a rainbow entered a black hole? Are you four hours into that new TV series you started? If it’s Game of Thrones, that’s about the only exception I’d be willing to accept. Are you trying to level up on Candy Crush or whatever the new fun game? The point is, assess your nightly routines and how it’s affecting your daily routine. You wake up early. Start your day. Get your stuff done. Leave time for those hobbies that you like. Finish the day. And go to bed tired. If you aren’t going to bed absolutely exhausted to where you can’t even have a coherent conversation with your spouse or cat or whatever you have, then you missed the mark for the day.

     Keep your head on a swivel. Look around and identify what takes your time away. Assess and overcome. Life will constantly lead you on the path of least resistance. The “easy way.” That path is the voice in your head that says “Keep sleeping. You can quit. You tried your best, now just give up. Not today. That’s too hard. Cut the workout short.” Be careful on that path. I promise the enemy knows our location on this path and will lie and wait and ambush you with those thoughts and destroy you. When you allow that ambush to constantly win, everything you cut short gets put off. It piles up. You lose your discipline and you are no longer free.

     In the military, when we pack our ruck sacks for foot marches, Soldiers make it difficult on themselves by saying “Eh it’s just one thing. It’s small. It’s not that much” when talking about adding items to their packing list. There’s a saying we have that says “Ounces equals pounds.” All those little things that are light in weight by themselves will eventually turn in heavier pounds later and will affect your performance. This is so true to our time management. All those minutes we don’t allocate correctly turn into hours and can pile on and turn into days. Every second counts.

     Sun Tzu, a Chinese General in the 500s BC who is credited with the military strategy book “The Art of War,” puts the importance of time like this. “Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted…Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.” Our time management, bad habits and bad routines are the enemy. You want control of the battlefield? Want control of the day? Attack it early. Be there waiting. Take the day by surprise. Getting better every day in our lives and changing habits is a campaign. Campaigns are complex. The end state changes often. How we maneuver through this campaign needs to be modified regularly. Each battle within the campaign that is won brings you closer to winning the war. And it’s my belief that arising every day at 0500 to not only be waiting on the field of battle, but to attack the day is the first step in gaining control of our time and completely eliminating the phrase “I don’t have enough time” out of our vocabulary. That time gained then gets put into the ones that we lead. We become better. The individuals under our command reap the benefits and are better for it. Discipline…Equals…Freedom!

Book Review: “Talking to Strangers” By Malcolm Gladwell

Would you be willing to wrestle with the idea that we allow television sitcoms to affect the way we perceive individual emotional behaviors? How Neville Chamberlain from Britain had multiple meetings face to face with Hitler before the war and Hitler was able to convince Chamberlain to trust him? Or how Fidel Castrol was able to pull off one of the largest “double agent” insertion operations in CIA history? These are some of the things Malcolm Gladwell attacks in his new book Talking to Strangers.

     Something I never would have thought I would do in 33 years on this Earth is review a book. I did some online research to read up on some tips on how they are typically conducted. We’ll see what we end up with from about 10 minutes of book review education. My goal in this review is to give some insight on the material I read and how I perceived the topic before the book, and also how I regarded it after, along with how I can apply it in the future.

     Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers. He has a podcast entitled “Revisionist History” and a writer at the New Yorker. He was also named one of the 100 most influential people by Time magazine and one of Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers. I chose to read this book because I have read a few of his books in the past which were just as insightful as this one. They were titled Blink and David vs. Goliath. I also had two different people in two completely different situations use material from his book to make a point. So, I had to go grab it immediately and start on it.

A style he likes to use in whatever the topic of his books, he uses real life stories that support his material. Many of the stories in his books are historical or newsworthy stories that many of us have heard before. He has, what I jokingly say, is an obsessive in-depth research and interview discipline. He will take what your brain knows about the subject and at a minimum, will make you question everything you thought you knew on that topic. He has every reference he used to acquire the information in the back of his book so you can check his work. His writing is very easy to follow. What I like most is the fact that he breaks his chapters up into sections. A chapter may be between 15-40 pages with up to seven sections to break it up. With a busy day to day life as many of us have and for those that have “shiny thing” syndrome and can’t sit for long periods reading, every few pages has a great opportunity for a stopping point.

     The introduction begins with the story of Sandra Bland and a traffic stop that occurred in 2015. What he does here is he gives the facts of the encounter. He records the dialogue between the two from the dash cam and you will eventually choose a side. Are you team cop or team Bland? What Gladwell gets after here is why would a traffic stop over not using her turn signal when changing lanes, end in her hanging herself in her cell three days later? We look at how these two STRANGERS interacted and how it could have been different. 

     One of the first “theories” that is discussed in the book is the “Default to Truth” theory. He uses the Castro example of sending in double agents and how the top intelligence agency in the world (the CIA) couldn’t detect one, but multiple spies during interview screenings and investigations. He argues that most people will default to truth when needing to choose if what’s in front of them is a truth or lie. The theory is we all have a certain threshold of “doubts” that once we can’t explain away a certain number of doubts, then we start leaning towards disbelief. So, if a husband for the last two weeks has been working odd hours and not answering calls or texts much, a wife will have doubts. She will be able to explain away most of them no matter how far-fetched. Once she can’t explain whatever her threshold of “doubts” are, she begins forcing the issue.

     I say all that not as a spoiler (hopefully), but to show you these are the building blocks in which to view every scenario in the book. Now obviously he explains all of this much more eloquently than I did, but I hope the point was framed well for you.

     The counter to the previous theory is what’s called “The Holy Fool.” These refer to the few that basically have an extreme low threshold of doubts and can see through lies much easier. THIS is where you need to pay attention. I have always considered myself a good judge of character. As an NCO in the Infantry, (and I say Infantry and not simply military because the Infantry has the largest melting pot of people in it)  I have had to discern how I make administrative recommendations to my Commander on Soldiers involved in spousal abuse, alcohol infractions, drug use, poor performance, theft, and down right Soldiers saying “I quit.” But, after going through these chapters and allowing myself to be open to what is being presented to me, I’m not the “Holy Fool” I thought I was. I think most of us, and especially men, think that we are. But that’s okay, because I can use the tools given and try and identify my threshold of doubts and techniques described in the book in later chapters to be a better leader and decision maker.

     Other stories he tackles in later chapters are the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State. He uses the TV sitcom “Friends” as an example of TV affecting the way we read strangers. He interviews the gentlemen that created the interrogation technique of “water boarding” and how they used it on one of Al Qaeda’s top men and argues how interrogation is more often counterproductive when trying to pull information from strangers. And my favorite part of the book is the very last chapter, which was the first chapter of the book, Sandra Bland and her traffic stop in Texas.

     What Gladwell does here is in the first chapter, like I stated previously, gives you the “what happened” and you decide for yourself how you interpret the situation. He then guides you through all the chapters I stated previously, and then some. After you’ve journeyed through this trip of having your eyes opened to our nature in dealing with strangers, he then brings you back to Sandra. Now, you begin to look at it through a completely new set of lenses. For me, I’m not saying whether I switched sides or not, but it definitely made me empathetic to the side that maybe I wasn’t necessarily on in the beginning. For you, it may not change you at all. But for many, I’m confident if you take it seriously and allow yourself to be humble and open to change, this book and topic will round out and polish some of those people skills and judging eyes some of us have.

I give this book a 5/5 rating for its easy to read and follow format and interesting subjects. I was always looking forward to the next chapter. Many books I tend to give up on, but I couldn’t wait to get home each evening from work and read. If we take the business of leading seriously, this book is a great one to dive into. We owe it to the people that we lead to give them the best of ourselves. Leading isn’t necessarily hard. It’s applying yourself to learn the principles of leading and removing the selfish desires that we all have and put our people before us. It’s not an academic process to get certified. It’s our ability to try and learn and understand people. To put effort into it. It’s asking them EVERY DAY “How are you?” Show them that you care. It’s how we understand what makes each of our students, Soldiers, kids, and employees either break down or get fired up. It’s putting them first. Putting ourselves last. Fighting for them when needed. If it isn’t us doing all this…then who? Are we so tired and worn out that we say “others can do it?” Are we so burnt out that we cut corners? Because when we fail to lead, we put the burden on others. For me personally, my biggest fear is it gets put onto my kids, that my kids will have to deal with my “cut corners and lack of leading” in their adult life. Ultimately, they will have their own set of trials. I just don’t want them having to fix mine. If you choose to pick up this book in the future, please come back and let me know what you think. Whether everything is counter to what I think, that’s fine. It will make for good discussion and personal growth and understanding.

Thank You & Acknowledgements

I think up front I need to thank and acknowledge ALL the individuals in my life that have shaped me to be who I am today. Those are the family, friends, coaches, and leaders throughout my childhood and my time in the military. Every one of these people, whether they know it or not, helped shape and define the intricacies of my growth as a man.

Obviously, first I need to give the glory to God. I think most people who knew me when I was younger still can’t believe the transformation God made in my life. It’s amazing to see the path defined and the pieces connected that brought me to where I am today. I am truly blessed.

To my mom, Leanne. You were given what some would deem an almost impossible task of raising two boys and two girls on your own once dad died. I’ve always said that your purpose on earth, given by God, was to be charged to raise the youth within your bubble of influence. Not only did you raise us four, but the immeasurable number of kids within this community that you’ve had interaction with. All of our friends and the children you mentor and love on in school have felt the impact of your motherly love and you can’t be thanked enough. I love you.

To Mammaw, Pappaw, and Vicki. You three together shaped what a perfect childhood should look like outside of an immediate family. At 33 years old, I still smile and reflect on all the trips to Noah’s Ark Animal Farm, the Apple Festival, King’s Island, all the home and away high school football game trips we made to watch the Ironman, the countless times I called to get a ride ANYWHERE in town, ya’ll were available for that. Every New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Trick or Treat, Thanksgiving, and Christmas that always built up an enormous feeling of excitement because I knew y’all would go “all out” for us kids. Thank you and love you all.

To the Humphreys family. My gosh, I wish I knew elaborate words to describe the impact your family made not only on me as an individual but to my ENTIRE family. The phrase “was like a second family” isn’t enough. You are family. From being my coach in football to hosting those WWF wrestling parties as kids. You allowed me to stay at your house weeks at a time, disciplining me when needed. Most importantly, being an additional rock for me when dad died. Your family, like mom, has not only affected me but our entire town. You all are a blessing to everyone you encounter and I’m truly thankful for each and every one of you.

To my high school football coaches, Coach Layton, Wolford, Taylor, and Morgan. You were another layer of mentorship I needed during my rowdy days, as some would call it. I made a lot of dumb decisions that you showed sternness toward, the disappointment tactic that always worked, and also empowered me to be better than what I was doing. You were a part of the best times in my life as a high schooler, playing high school football. My kids now get the privilege of me getting to be my own version of Al Bundy’s “four touchdowns in one game.” The only difference is they get the “game winning touchdown catch at Withrow” speech.

To my first leader in the military that gave me my foundational military frame, SSG Ryan Richmond. You understood the basics of leading and saw the potential to work with me as a young Soldier and to groom me to be a leader in the military. How you worked with me and taught me as a young Soldier in Germany and Iraq fostered the same things I did for my Soldiers when I became an NCO. Even though you are no longer serving, your guidance and mentorship still bleeds throughout the military as I have passed on the same principles. Thank you.

To the most interesting one in my military career and the one I have to be careful because I could write for days on, Christopher Janis. Where to begin? The plan’s to keep it simple and to the point because I know you’ll be a regular contributor to this blog and I’m sure everyone will see your character and wisdom through your posts. And if you didn’t plan on that, I just put you on the spot and you now have to do it.

Thank you for being what I needed to be observing as I was a young NCO at Fort Campbell: a man, warrior, and the combat leader. We didn’t call you Captain America for nothing. You took what SSG Richmond did as the foundation and you constructed the frame and all the necessary parts to construct the house. I picked your brain as much as I could because I knew if I could emulate you, I’d be a better man for it. We had some wild times at Fort Campbell and it’s funny seeing how we know how the rest of the story plays out.

Thank you for following God’s pull while we were at Fort Polk together. Without you once again leading in a way you never thought you’d be leading, it’s hard telling what my life would be like now. I asked myself “If God can change a man like this, what great things could he do for me and my life?” For the sake of not going into my testimony, thank you for your leadership, mentorship, and most importantly your friendship. So thankful to get to be a part of the Janis family and hope God blesses you all for a long time.

To the most awesome husband and wife duo I know, Robert and Sheyenne Dukes. As a twenty something year old father and husband looking for answers on life while stationed in Louisiana, God sent Chris and then you into my life. I’m sure I’ll tell the story in the future, but this story starts with a knock on the door and a bag of cookies. Robert, who would’ve thought that five second interaction we had one Saturday in February would’ve produced the friendship and spiritual leadership that we have today? Thank you for being the example of a mature man AND a man of God for me to try and mirror. You have been instrumental in my development as a man and like I have mentioned prior to this of individuals affecting our community, thank you for affecting God’s kingdom. Our family loves you guys and can’t wait to visit each other soon.

To Chuck, Debbie, and Holli, thank you for being the best in-laws I could ask for. Who would’ve thought all those years in high school as a young and dumb kid would’ve produced a marriage of 14 years, four grandchildren and four nieces and nephews? Such great memories and even though we all went through hard times, we stuck together as a family and overcame. You allowed me to not have the distraction of a “dysfunctional” family (even though I’m sure we’d question that haha) and could focus on other things in life. Thanks for being the best and most importantly thank you for giving the best part of my life, your daughter/sister and my wife Cassidy.

And lastly, to my wife Cassidy. I’m not going to be able to do this justice. I can’t imagine a more perfect and complete story as what we have went through since we started dating back in 2001. Knowing what would happen to our family in 2012 at Fort Polk, God started cultivating his plan back in October of 2001. You were my earthly savior that showed the ultimate patience, love, and optimism in our relationship while I lived in my “rowdy Randy” days. I don’t show or say it enough, but thank you for loving me and saving me. As I watch you parent our kids and tackling the difficult task of homeschooling three kids, you are absolutely knocking it out of the park. With the chaos of the military moving us around often and taking me away at times, you provide normalcy and memories like I had as a child that they will be grateful for years down the road. I love you so much and you are the luckiest girl in the world to find someone like me lol.

I know I have missed some and I’m sorry. Just know that God has used everyone perfectly in my life and other’s life. 1 Corinthians 3:6 says “I (Paul) planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” Everyone had a step in the growth of myself and of course others. I think a simple point and common factor with everyone mentioned above is this. Everyone was “there.” Everyone “made themselves available.” They all fostered an environment where I knew they were there when I needed them and I knew I had love and support.

If you are in charge of another human’s life, whether it’s your child, friends of people with a child, subordinates in a job, or just people in general, don’t forsake or dismiss the power of just being there and being available. This takes a little of putting yourself out there and letting it be known and establishing that environment. But a lot of what developed me as man and leader today were the ones that established themselves as a person of great character, morals and values. I was just able to observe their actions and demeanor and I knew I had them in my back pocket to pick their brain for their wisdom and insight.

Psalms 46:10 tells us “Be still, and know that I am God.” Not that anyone can be on God’s level obviously, but if we can strive to establish relationships with others as leaders that others feel comfort and confidence that they can be still and calm because they know we are there for them, that’s some of the easiest leadership principles we can start with. Always self check your character, values and morals. Once you damage those, it’s extremely difficult to repair those that you’ve hurt.

I challenge everyone to take a look within and ask yourself if you are that leader that makes yourself available? Have you fostered an environment that allows others to seek your wisdom and insight? Whether your bubble of influence is large or small, your bubble is the most important thing for the ones that are inside it. If you have people inside that bubble, they should be one of the most important things in your life.

“An Army of deer led by a lion is more to be feared than an Army of lions led by a deer.”

-Chabrias 410-375 B.C.

The “Who, What, and Why?”

WHO

I am not a professional writer. I was an average high school student in a small town in Ohio. I was an athlete and a social butterfly that liked to be the life of the party. I joined the Army in 2005 as an Infantryman with the expectations of doing 20 years of service flying around foreign countries free to kill all the “bad dudes” I could. I expected to be part of different teams, but never expected to lead any.

At the time of creating this blog, I have 14 years of service and have served as a Fire Team leader, Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, an Observer/Coach Trainer, Senior Drill Sergeant, and a Security Forces Advisor Instructor. I married my high school sweetheart and have three kids, ages 12, 8, 4 with one on the way. I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior in 2012 (even though at times my actions don’t show it). Our first family dog, Zoey, just passed away after her 5th move and 14 years with us. I have lived all over the United States, to include Alaska and overseas in Germany. I have spent 15 months in Iraq in Baghdad and Mosul. I also spent 12 months in Kandahar, Afghanistan along the Arghandab River Valley. I spent my teenage years without my father, who died of a sudden heart attack. I also lived a life of alcohol abuse through my mid to upper twenties. Never did I imagine an immature and selfish jock from a simple town in southern Ohio could have lived this life of extreme growth. I have developed leadership principles that I didn’t think were possible for a kid like me to learn.

WHAT

It has been weighing on my heart now for almost 10 months (January 2019) to begin a “leadership” blog. I want to share what’s happened in my life and what I’ve learned so that even one person could glean some knowledge or be provoked to better themselves. Topics I’d like to cover here are:

  • Anything/Everything leadership related that we can grow from together
  • Books and reading material that I’ve read that help shape a leader’s mind
  • A periodic Drill Sergeant story from my time on the trail that will give a laugh
  • Tips, techniques, and philosophies on how I’ve handled certain situations
  • And just periodic thoughts and conversations that I would love your view and takes on to grow from one another

I’m sure there will be topics I write about and have views on that you will not agree with. That’s perfectly fine and in fact, encouraged. I obviously don’t know everything and there are tons of ways to handle a situation. Your thoughts and comments are welcomed, but just know I don’t have the time or energy for in-depth debates and arguments. We will make our points and stances and let the community decide their path.

WHY

I enjoy reading material from strong and popular military figures, spiritual leaders, and anyone with material that is designed to make me think and better myself. I’ve had the thought that “What if readers are overwhelmed and view these leader’s accomplishments as impossible for themselves?” My goal is to be that average individual that goes through the daily grind like everyone else yet be relevant. I want to hopefully connect with an audience to share how I tackle certain subjects and areas where leadership is welcomed and necessary.

“Discovering Leadership” is the chosen title of my blog because even at this point, I’m still discovering who I am as a leader and adapting constantly to the certain situations that require a particular leader. Hopefully with a community of “leader driven” minds, we can learn and grow from each other and foster a positive environment to advance leaders in a world where it is more necessary as ever before to stand strong and lead this world as it should be.