MJ (Interpeter) & Chris Kolenda

Americans commemorate September 11th in their own ways. I spent the day at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, which houses roughly 13,000 Afghan refugees. A former interpreter from one of my units, MJ, is there with his family.

MJ served in one of the most remote outposts of Afghanistan. In such areas, interpreter turnover can be very high. Some take leave and don’t return; others get reassigned to more peaceful areas and larger bases closer to their families.

MJ stayed with his company for the full 15 months. I asked MJ why he stuck it out.  “I respected Captain Page and the company. They took good care of me, and we were making a difference.” What had been one of the most violent areas in Afghanistan in 2007 was one of the more peaceful a year later.

More Americans than ever are leaving their jobs for different employers or careers. Employee turnover, which can range from 50% to 200% of the employee’s annual salary, is one of the highest costs any company faces. For solopreneurs, turnover in your partners and subcontractors results in lost momentum, increased rework, higher expenses, and a greater risk of things falling through the cracks.

MJ provides insight on how to retain your top talent. Gain buy-in by letting people know what you need them to do and why, and having them figure out how. Set clear expectations and hold people accountable. Treat them well and make sure they’ve got the resources and support they need to be successful. Captain John Page did that for his company, which kept MJ on the team. MJ’s support and understanding helped save American lives and change Afghan lives for the better.  

MJ and his family of 8 left Afghanistan with only the clothes on their backs. The conditions in refugee camps, even ones like Fort McCoy, are difficult. MJ never complained. He’s grateful to have a chance to build a new life for his family and wants to open an Afghan restaurant.

Imagine that you must travel for a work assignment. The Uber driver arrives at your house, and you get in the car with your luggage. You arrive at the airport, drop your bags with a skycap, greet the flight attendant, and say hello to the pilot. You settle in for a flight, having granted trust to people you likely have never met—the driver, skycap, pilot. Do you know who did the maintenance checks on the plane? My friend and colleague John O’Grady, COL, US Army (Ret), creates an insightful paradox, “We trust these people with our lives and often those of our families, without a second thought. Yet, in our most important and intimate relationships, we withhold trust. With our work colleagues, those whom we inherently rely on for success, we say, ‘You must earn my trust.'”


Perhaps the socialization of trust has been wrong. What if we granted the same level of trust to the people closest to us as we do to the drivers and pilots in our lives? Imagine having high trust relationships that start with “you have my trust, and it can only be eroded or lost” rather than a “trust must be earned” mentality. The buy-in and responsibility felt by the newly trusted employee go through the roof! So, too, does their commitment to maintaining that trust. Here are a few steps towards cultivating a culture of trust:

· Set clear expectations
· Instead of only talking about trust at the beginning of a relationship, and then again only if it is broken or lost, make trust part of your team’s everyday conversations
· Use the space between those conversations to talk about how employees are demonstrating behavior that aligns with your expectations
· When you think there may be a trust issue arising, approach it from a position of authentic curiosity instead of being accusatory; find the underlying reasons for the issue and collaboratively address them
· Maintain trust behaviors and a trusted environment before it becomes broken; be proactive

Cultivating a culture of trust is like any leader’s action: it is a choice. To create work environments where trust flourishes, we need to understand how trust works; the ways it is given, built, maintained; and how it becomes lost or broken. We can then teach ourselves how to act and react in ways that help cultivate trust, even in the most challenging situations. 

Earlier this year, my friend and former colleague Aaron told me he was sick. He never said the word cancer, but his treatment and prognosis revealed the battle he was fighting. He said Miracle Max would have to pull off a big one. COVID complicated visits, so his family and friends had to support him from a distance. He was finally released from the hospital and is now at home but with regular trips for treatments and check-ups. As you might imagine, he received offers of help and support. I want to share what I learned from his response to his prognosis, acceptance of help, and the gifts he shares.

Aaron and I got to know each other through the shared experience of building a new Team in a new organization, creating processes, and contending with toxic leadership. He is retired Air Force; I am retired Army. He likes hard rock; I prefer classic R & B and Latin music. He studied electrical engineering; I studied behavioral sciences. Our oppositeness became our strength. We leveraged each other’s ideas. We got to know what makes each other tick, and we built the best Team in the organization.  

We often talked about him selling his big house, but there were a few projects that he wanted to complete before putting it up for sale. His prognosis changed his priorities. He sent an email to family and friends with things he wanted to be done to the house. Each task was in prioritized order with dimensions, materials on hand, and colors. Section two of the email was tool availability, section three was material acquisition, four was visitor plans, and finally, accommodations. It was typical Aaron, organized and detailed enough to know what was needed to get the job done.

I responded to the email telling him when I planned to come over to work on the house. He kindly declined. You see, Aaron is a car guy owning a 1972 AMC Javelin, 1973 Pontiac Firebird, and a 2007 Pontiac Solstice, all with car covers, along with a late-model ninja motorcycle and a newer truck. I claim to be a shade tree mechanic, so we often shared our car-oriented escapades. When I offered to work on the house, his priority, he said “Nah, I need your help with the cars.”

For the past month, I have spent every Monday working on the cars in what I now call the Bloody Knuckles Garage (BKG). On my drive home after the first Monday, I thought, here is a man fighting cancer yet showing humanness (trust, respect, and empathy) and sharing his grace by wanting me to do something he knows I enjoy. I cherish walking into the dark garage, opening the garage door so that the sunlight comes in, putting on my music, removing the car cover, and starting the job of the day. The tasks are clear with what to do, but not how to do it. The timeline is mine, and I have discovered a new level of patience. I have found myself in uncomfortable positions like being wedged between the floorboard and the dash. I am doing repairs I have never done before. When he is home, and I go into the house, I give him an update and tell him what is next. He nods and tells me, “go for it, I trust you.” I treasure our conversations and experiences.

Whether you are a Mid-Leader, a CEO or senior executive, or an early career professional, here are lessons from my friend Aaron and my time, so far, at the BKG:

· Trust is bonding

· Perspective and patience are revealing

· The diversity of people, thought, and experiences of your Team is a superpower

· Give them the tools, tell them what to do but not how to do it & watch them shine

· Learning & development can happen anywhere when you allow them to happen

· Multiply your experiences and create the same for your Team

· Being uncomfortable is when growth happens

· Do it afraid

· People matter more than anything

Please extend good wishes, positive vibes, and prayers for my friend Aaron. The more, the better. He is a stand-up guy. Trust me, we are better because he is among us.

Leading the Middle
Are you hippo-like with a large mouth and little ears? Are you aggressive and searching for prey?
Or are you more elephant-like with a little mouth and large ears? Are you intelligent, friendly, and others like having you around? Ever notice how they use their trunk to lift others or nudge something along?
How does your Team see you? The chances are that you are a little bit of both.  
Think about the last time you grew impatient, was accusatory, and chose not to listen. Hippo.
Instead, be patient, curious, and listen. Elephant. Use those big ears for good.
Pause and think before talking, ask clarifying questions, and focus on what the other person is saying; create dialogue.
You are strong and powerful but know how and when to use it for the common good.
Lift others more and nudge those who need a push.
Listen more, talk less.
Thanks to Antonio Rodríguez Martínez for the conversation and inspiration!

Attitude and Skills
There is a tale of a boss who is unhappy with the work of his employees. Is it their attitude or lack of skill? He looks in the mirror, struggling to figure it out. Frustrated and at his wit’s end, he decides that he will hold a gun to their heads and tell them, “get it done!” If they do the work, then it is clear that their attitude is the problem. If they say, “well, shoot me because I can’t do it,” then it is a skills problem. Too easy, right?
While the story is extreme, fostering the right attitude and providing the right talent and skills is leader business. It might be the most important aspect of business and Teams. It starts with you and your attitude. Here are few ways to improve the attitude and skills of your Team, while doing the same for yourself:     
1. Make sure everyone knows that their work is essential. Create buy-in by discussing the thinking behind and the importance of your vision and mission, goals, values, and strategy.
·        Get people involved in defining them
·        Take the time to answer questions and challenges
·        When someone asks why it means they care
2. Get your employees the training, resources, and guidance to do their jobs well.
·        If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well; if it’s not worth doing well, it’s probably not worth doing
·        Set up your employees for success
·        Align work with people’s natural inclinations (see our PROM Servant Leader archetypes https://lnkd.in/gxgeRQA3
 for a simple way to start)
·        People who report using their natural strengths each day are 2X to 3X more productive than their peers
3. Let people know that you appreciate who they are and what they do.
·        Coach people to be the best versions of themselves (see our PROM Servant Leader archetypes https://lnkd.in/gxgeRQA3
 a simple way to start)
·        Do not subconsciously try to turn them into clones of you. Nothing says, “I don’t appreciate you,” quite like efforts to turn people into a mini-me or suggestions that they hide their identities. Instead, help them contribute as their best and most authentic selves.
·        Take special care to ensure that your most vulnerable employees feel the safety and confidence that they can contribute as their best and most authentic selves
·        Your most vulnerable employees tend to be those who look, think, or act differently than the majority
·        Recognize people’s contributions in ways that they want to be recognized
Look in the mirror. Do you see opportunity because of the attitude you foster and the skills you provide?

As I wrapped up my stay in Colorado, resilience kept revealing itself. I treasure my talks with my 91-year dad who attributes his resilience to habits of walking, laughing, and worrying less. I spent time in my old neighborhood where I first developed a sense of Team and it has served me well. I’ve been fortunate to have been on some great athletic Teams, Army Teams, national security Teams, and leadership Teams. While resilience starts with the individual, its greatest impact is on the Team.
My friend and colleague Christopher Kolenda, Ph.D. developed some very useful ways to Build Team Resilience:

1. Encourage good personal habits (sleep, eating, exercise, relationships).

2. Sustain your organizational rhythm – predictability is like a stabilizer that keeps your Team centered and focused.

3. Emphasize meaningful routines so that people quickly recover a sense of normalcy and control when disaster strikes or things begin falling apart.

4. Celebrate wins – rack up small wins to build confidence and momentum.

5. Use mini-resets to regain focus – review goals, actions steps, what’s missing, in-stride adjustments. Ready. Go.

6. Coach people to be the best versions of themselves – people stick with you when they know you appreciate them as people and their contributions.

7. Ownership – no one ever washed a rental car. Create ownership in success (the mission and vision; game-plan). People are not on the Team; they are the Team. People will bounce back when they have a stake in the success.

8. Challenge – empower people to make decisions; underwrite their mistakes. Coach them to learn. Build good judgment and resilience when the stakes are low, so those qualities are present when the stakes are high.

9. Talk about good and bad events. No blame-game. What happened, why did it happen? Get the facts and agreement on the facts. What can we learn?

10. Morale is more important than mood – Mood=sugar donut, Morale=your Team’s level of confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline.
Lastly, set up your emerging leaders and employees for success. Get them the training, resources, and guidance to do their jobs well. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  



The Biden administration has been stubbornly tone-deaf about the outrage and disappointment that many Americans feel about the disintegration of the Afghan government and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan after we spent 20 years and over $2 trillion, suffering over 2300 US service members killed in action and thousands wounded.

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The President has been steadfast in his decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan and has defended it fiercely as the meltdown unfolded. The generals talk about working with the Taliban to help American citizens get out of the country. Diplomats whisper about recognizing a new Taliban-heavy government.

Many Americans are furious about all of it, and the administration’s explanations and rationalizations seem to dig the hole deeper. Unless the administration acknowledges the emotions of so many Americans, they’ll be unable to rally them for the difficult choices ahead.

As an expert business owner, you face tough choices all of the time. The stakes are different, but the emotions are genuine: fear about starting or growing your business, anger at a partner that let you down, joy at gaining a new client and supporter, anxiety about investing in yourself, joy at seeing your clients get to new heights.

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Emotions affect your judgment. People mostly make decisions based on emotion and then rationalize the decision after the fact. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman shows how this process can lead to major errors.

Here’s what to do when you’re facing a challenging decision.

1. Label the emotion that you feel: anger, sadness, joy, contentment, surprise, fear, confusion, among others.

2. Identify the circumstances that are driving each emotion.

3. Develop options to get to your goals.

4. Decide which one is best and act on it.

Creating space between emotion and action, in action:

I’m concerned that an investment in my business won’t pay off (fear of wasting time and money). The best way to reach my goals and shorten my path to success is by getting the right support. Here are ways to do that: A, B, C.

Which one has the best potential payoff at the lowest risk?

BOOM! You got this!

What’s your top takeaway? Please share your thoughts!