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The Champion Forum Podcast

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Thank you for listening to The Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher! In today’s special Veterans Day episode, I interview Mike Hertzendorf, who spent 29 years in the US Army as a special operations aviator. As a veteran, Mike knows the value of leadership and has faced situations that put not only his own life at risk but also the life of all of his team members. When everything was on the line, Mike learned the value of relationship building, selflessness, and kindness. Today, we’ll explore what it means to be a truly effective leader and learn from some of Mike’s leadership experiences in the heat of battle.

What is effective leadership?

Effective leaders can take unstructured, complex, chaotic problems, boil them down to their simplest, most executable part, help their team see the problem the same way, then motivate and lead the team through the execution. They have to be able to see into the depths of a problem without getting caught up in the details that are not important.

Q: Why do you think it is hard for leaders to determine the most important part of their problem? How do you stay focused when you are facing many different details? How does that help you find more specific solutions?

Deposit into Relationships

The mission must come first, but you have to balance that with the people. When I was faced with my greatest leadership challenges, I pulled in the smart people I trusted and had a relationship with. They challenged me on my assumptions, and together, we decided on the best plan. Never devalue building relationships and showing other people that you are willing to take risks for them ahead of risks for yourself.

“You don’t have to have all the answers, but you do have to find them.”

Selflessness is Key

The hallmark of special ops is great, motivated people who are working together selflessly. It’s never about you; it’s about your place on the team and the needs of the customer.

Some of my biggest missions showed me that I was doing all the right things, but I had to let go of the meritocracy. I had to have humility and care more about others than myself. I had to be confident. I had to be kind. Selfish people cannot build a positive culture. People do not buy into the organization; they buy into the people. Selfish people cannot create a good culture.

Q: What does a selfish leader look like? How do you show selflessness as a team leader, employee, or family member? Do you think selflessness looks different in each context? Why or why not?

Leadership in Business

What structures the military is that they focus on leadership, but I have not seen the same focus in the corporate world. While you are strategizing for your company, you have to remember leadership development, teaching, coaching, mentoring, and counseling. When you have a strong leadership culture, nothing will hold you back from the leadership mission.

What would you wish you knew about leadership before you began?

Leaders have to inspire other people to greatness. What does it take to inspire someone? I think it takes trust. You can define trust in many ways, but I would say motivation, reliability, competence, and integrity. You have to do what you say you are going to do consistently and for the right reasons. When you do, you will inspire people, and then they will build your culture.

Q: How did your leader earn your trust? Has a leader ever done anything that hurt your trust in them? How did the relationship recover?

Application Activities

  1. This week, take the time to show three of your employees or fellow-team members how much you care about them. Write a thank you card, take them out for coffee, or help them out with a project. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If you are tempted to think this is a waste of time, remember that your culture will determine your long-term success. Don’t neglect what is important for what feels urgent.

  2. As you prepare to close out 2020, evaluate how well you strategized for your long-term success. What programs did you put in place to help your employees develop? Were you able to stick with your development plan during the COVID-19 pandemic? Or did you change your plans when you were in crisis? Take some time to re-group and re-strategize for the upcoming year.

  3. Think about Mike’s definition of an effective leader. Using his definition, walk through a problem that your team has had trouble tackling.

    1. What is the problem? Be as specific as possible.

    2. What is one executable step you can take to solve that problem?

    3. How can you help your team see the problem the same way?

    4. How can you motivate your team through the execution?

Connect with Mike

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