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This episode marks the second installment of research scientist David Correll speaking with the 2021–22 MIT CTL military fellows: US Army Col. Joe Parker, Lt. Col. Brian Young, and Louisiana National Guard Lt. Col. Stephen J. Luebbert.

Today’s conversation is all about empathetic leadership. Parker, Young, and Luebbert discuss how leading teams in high-stress environments like military combat requires empathy and humility. They revisit continual process improvement, applying the "red cell" strategy, and the after-action review process. Sharing their personal stories, they portray how effective leaders listen to those around them and enthusiastically welcome positive and negative feedback to make sound decisions, foster team cohesion, and achieve peak performance.

Since 2007, MIT CTL has hosted three US military officers each year for a course of academic study that parallels the MIT ten-month Supply Chain Management master’s program. Sponsored by the United States Army War College’s Senior Service College Fellows (SSCF) program, top officers are selected to attend.

CTL Military Fellows accompany the more than 80 other global business professionals in the program’s curriculum and develop strong analytical, change management, and leadership skills. Their work includes an in-depth research project.

Transcript

Announcer:
Welcome to MIT Supply Chain Frontiers from the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics. Each episode features Center researchers and staff, or experts from the field, for in-depth conversations about business, education, and beyond. Today, Center researcher and instructor David Correll follows up with the MIT CTL Military Fellows about leadership and people management across cultures and across sectors. The views and opinions expressed in today's episode are those of the fellows only and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the United States military. Take it away Dave.

David Correll:
Thank you guys for coming back to another round of our podcast discussion. We had so many interesting insights come out of the last one we thought, as long as we have you here, we would take the time to talk with you again and get on tape, if you will, some of the many insights that have come out of that conversation. But also just our conversations in the classroom and in the hallway around CTL. One of the things that came up in that conversation that we wanted to mine further was you talked about the idea of risk management on the fly. I wonder if you all could tell us a little bit about what your military training and experience has taught you about prioritization and risk management in real time.

Steve Lubert:
Lieutenant Colonel Steve Lubert. Hey Dave, first of all, on behalf of all of us, we appreciate being invited back. We all spent a lot of time after the last podcast talking about how much we appreciated the back and forth. So on behalf of Colonel Young, and Colonel Parker, and myself, just we appreciate this second opportunity. Addressing risk management from the army's perspective. We've got two different forms, one is composite risk management, and that really pertains to how we protect soldiers and equipment when we're conducting operations. But the second form of risk management that we look at that I think is most applicable, Dave, to what you're referring to is essentially risk to mission. That is, as we go about conducting our operations in the army, constantly assessing what is the risk to success? What is the risk that will prevent us from achieving the objectives that we've established or set forth that we're going to do?

Steve Lubert:
In terms of risk management on the fly, I can only give you some examples where I've done a form of risk management on the fly. A lot of that's going to occur when we're overseas or when we're in the midst of operations and we have something that requires a change of mission, a new priority, the boss calls and says, "Hey Colonel Lubert, I know I told you to do this, or I know I told you to go north, but now I need you to go south. Take a few minutes, assess your ability to go south, and get back to me with what you need and whether or not that's feasible." When I'm presented with that kind of scenario, Dave, what I'm going to do is typically I'm going to red cell it.

Steve Lubert:
I'm going to identify some people within my team that have got the expertise or that may just be the most outspoken critic of going south, of doing something differently, and I'm going to ask them to critique the decision. I'm going to ask them to be the naysayer and we're going to discuss what are those risks to going south? How are we best prepared to go north, and how are we not prepared now to go south? If I don't have a real naysayer to play that role, what I'll usually do is turn to one of my intelligence officers. Because the assumption is that they've got the best understanding of the weather, the terrain, the enemy's capabilities, all those things that are going to play against us in that change of mission. I'll ask him to red cell my change of plans so that we ensure that we're not in an environment where everyone's just saying, "Yes, boss, that's a great idea."

Steve Lubert:
I can't have a whole bunch of people that are going out of their way to agree with me because something will get missed. That's part of how we address that. Then ultimately as they red cell my plan, as they critique the way we're going to change up our operations, what we're looking for is, okay, we've identified risks, whether it's the enemy or it's the weather, or it's the terrain. Now, you said it earlier, how do we mitigate that? We look at that from a lot of different perspectives. Can I mitigate that with personnel? In other words, do I have a really experienced person who knows how to go south? Can I move him up to the lead vehicle? Do I have somebody that's got experience where we're going that wasn't important on this mission but now suddenly is? Can I change my equipment around to mitigate risks?

Steve Lubert:
One of the things that we often forget is, can I call my next higher headquarters or one of my subordinate units to my left or right, or to the front or to the rear of me and ask them for enablers? Any kind of capability that will help to mitigate a risk. I can give you an example. When we would change routes in Iraq or Syria, what we were always concerned with was, when was the last time that that particular route or road was inspected for explosives, or IEDs, or the types of things that you've all seen in the news? If it hadn't been inspected by teams that were very capable in doing those types of route clearance, I might ask, "Hey, before we go south, I'd like to get a route clearance team to go inspect that route."

Steve Lubert:
That's how I'm going to mitigate risk by reaching outside of my organization and bringing in another enabler. It could be asking for a drone to do an overflight so forth. This is composite risk management and this is risk management. A lot of it was done at the back of my vehicle. Literally doing a short halt someplace safe, establishing security, getting out a whiteboard or writing on the back of an MRE box, "Hey, change of plans. Boss wants us to go south. Why isn't this a good idea? Why can't we do it?"

Joe Parker:
Hey, Colonel Joe Parker. To build on what Steven was saying, the concept of risk is something that is taught and ingrained very early in a military career. Whether it's as a non-commissioned officer, corporal, or an E-5, or a second lieutenant, first lieutenant. In garrison, like you said, we have a composite risk management worksheet and it's very deliberate. It is low, medium, high, extreme. Everybody throughout the army, everybody throughout an organization, grows up and knows what a prudent amount of risk is that they can take at echelon or in their space. If you exceed that, it's not that we can't proceed with the mission, someone above you or someone with more responsibility, more visibility, more resources has to assume that risk. We're not a risk averse organization. We are all about accepting prudent risk because our job and our profession is inherently risky, whether it's at home in a motor pool, fixing stuff, driving a tank, flying a helicopter, or deploying into a combat zone.

Joe Parker:
But the right people who have the right resources and the right visibility have to be involved in the process so that the right decision is made. Where you see things go south is where a junior officer, a junior NCO, a junior leader sometimes takes on more risk than is appropriate or they should. They aren't able to see what's on the other side of the berm so to speak, or what's going on to their left or to their right. Whereas that higher headquarters or that adjacent headquarters has additional information that they can help them out. It's extremely serious because we are talking about risk to force, risk to mission. We're talking, literally in some cases, about people's lives and safety. It's something that's taught very early on at every school, focus in pretty much every environment that you're in. An organization that is known for having to take risk. It's one of the most important and the most consistently talked about topics and what we do on a day to day basis.

Brian Young:
Yeah, this is Brian Young. All I had to add is that when we think about risk we think about it in terms of probability and severity. Those things are often subjective assessments. In order to get a good subjective assessment on those two aspects of risk management, you cannot do that in a vacuum. A leader should not and cannot effectively do that on his or her own. Somebody once told me that good bosses want to know your answer, bad bosses want to know their answers. I think that good bosses in this context are the ones that, as Steve was saying, reach out to the team and get a diverse set of opinions on this to be able to properly assess that.

David Correll:
Thank you very much for that and that really leads to a follow-up. It was quite interesting the way you guys described red celling, or used that term to describe a way of getting new information that maybe you didn't have. I really liked how you said, Brian with the, what good bosses really want is to hear from you. Could you guys maybe describe, if I'm someone you've asked to red cell something? Well, first, could you explain a little bit about where the term comes from, but also what does it mean to do a good job playing the red cell? Then also there's got to be some tips towards doing a good job receiving the red cell and making something out of that information.

Steve Lubert:
David, I'll probably let Colonel Parker or Colonel Young speak to the doctrinal history of it. When you're the good guys, you're the blue force, everything that's your opponent we've been raised to see it in red. Red team, red cell, the enemy is the red icons on the map. It's anything that really is going to oppose or challenge your plan. It's also contextual. If I just want to know how's the enemy going to respond to my plan in a holistic way, then I'm probably going to call on my intelligence officer because he has spent hours upon hours most likely studying how that particular enemy formation fights. That's what his focus has been. So if I ask him, "How are they going to respond if I do this?" He should have a pretty good understanding. He should be able to put himself in the position of that enemy commander and red team or war game, my plan.

Steve Lubert:
The other side of that is, perhaps the challenge to my operation is artillery-based, or it's my ability to communicate with my forces. My staff wants to enable me to be successful. That means that they are going to be inclined to tell me that, "We can do whatever you ask us to do, sir," because they want to, they want to be successful, and that's what determines success for them. It's probably going to be up to me to say, let me bring somebody in that might not think the same way. If it's a communication question, I may walk across the woods to find a subject matter expert on communication who hasn't been part of this discussion.

Steve Lubert:
If it's a question of whether or not my artillery can outmatch the enemy's, I may go find my artillery support officer and bring him into that discussion and ask them, "I need you to take a look at this plan and tell me whether it's feasible. Tell me what risks I'm assuming. Tell me if this side of the tent is right and what they're telling me." Then somewhere in the middle we're going to come to a consensus as to what the real risk is and what steps or what measures we need to take to mitigate it.

Joe Parker:
Red teaming is actually defined as a structured iterative process executed by trained, educated, and practiced team members that provides commanders an independent capability to continuously challenge plans, operations, concepts, organizations, and capabilities in the context of the operational environment and from our partner's and adversary's perspective. The only reason I add that here is that red teaming or having a red cell, it's not something that we just thought up. I mean, it's a very deliberate, structured process in the context of what we do on a day to day basis. I just need someone that can give me an honest look or an honest read on what my plan looks like, what the pros and cons are, and give me a fair shake. A good leader and a good organization can pull that in context and adjust on the fly.

Brian Young:
Yeah. I think the key aspect of that last part of the definition of what Joe was saying was the bad red teams will mirror image the organization that they're trying to provide a counterpoint to. When you're in a red team or you're trying to red team a situation, or maybe in the case of business, when you're trying to think about what your competitors are going to do or move to, a bad red team will always mirror image what's going on in the organization themselves instead of thinking it from the enemy's perspective.

David Correll:
Gosh, thank you guys. That really seems to me like something as academics we could learn from, making space for those counterpoints, the way that you described it. I wonder, does it ever happen that the leader takes the criticism too personally, or is that part of the training is you know not to take it that way?

Steve Lubert:
Now, I think we would all agree that you have to understand that they're doing specifically what you asked of them. That you need critical assessment. Even if we consider ourselves brilliant leaders and brilliant tacticians and whatnot, you're going to be tired, you're going to be fatigued. You're going to have all the emotional factors that a human being is expected to have when in those types of environments and under those types of conditions, and you're going to make mistakes. I've gone as long as 36 hours without sleep and had to continue to make very informed decisions based on volumes of data. If I don't have people that I trust to say, "Hey, sir, you're not looking at this the right way," then I'm going to make poor decisions, and those decisions can be incredibly costly. I can't take it personally and I have to depend on my staff and the people I invite into those decisions to help me make responsible leadership decisions.

Joe Parker:
I think it goes back to some of the previous points, the discussion of risk and the processes that we do all grounded in doctrine, all taught and retaught at every major school, every major leap from a company grade officer, to a field grade officer, to a senior leader. It's reinforced throughout our careers because of those environmental considerations. We train war time like operational environments under all those environmental conditions that Steven alluded to, sleep deprivation, under darkness, tactical scenarios, all that type of stuff. We have a deliberate risk assessment. We have a deliberate red team. We have a very specific doctrine because we have to build those sets and reps, and then we have to train it in an environment as close to the real thing as possible so that when we do find ourselves in a situation where it's game time and everything's for real, you can fall back on that experience.

Joe Parker:
A good leader, especially we've all got 20 plus years in the military now, if at this point we're not taking advice, then we are in the wrong business. If you're not listening to your subordinates, if you're not listening to your staff and at least taking that under consideration, the problem might be internal. I think Colin Powell said it best, "The second your soldiers stop bringing you their problems, you've got a problem." Paraphrasing is quote there, but the second you start hearing things that sound exactly like you and people start parroting what it is you're saying, then you might need to look internally because you're not getting a fair shake. The worst thing that can happen as a leader is just that, you've got to have the voice of dissent. You've got to have those different inputs. You've got to have that feedback to help make informed, educated decisions. Otherwise you're off the rails pretty quick.

Brian Young:
I thought about just now about Malcolm Gladwell's book where he talks, Lieutenant General Van Riper is a retired Marine Corps general. He talks about his experience with Millennium Challenge 2002 where he was running the red team for that exercise. I won't retell the story, but I think it's a good one to revisit to understand what learning organizations, adaptive organizations, how they respond to good red teaming and how inflexible organizations don't respond well.

David Correll:
That discussion takes us to talk about something that maybe people who aren't familiar with military leadership wouldn't expect to be as much a part of the conversation as it has been in our internal conversations, and that's empathy for the people that you're leading. I wonder if you all could share with us how you build teams that are cohesive, that trust one another, particularly in the very extreme situations that you're managing these folks. Like you said, you want to hear from your subordinates. What does it mean to really hear from them to take action based on what they share with you? And what kind of things do they share with you that call on your ability to be an empathetic leader?

Steve Lubert:
I'll take this. I think the best way to encapsulate it is to provide an example. That is that on my last tour in 2021, maybe one in seven to one in five of my soldiers had combat experience. I actually had a lot of soldiers with no experience whatsoever actually being in combat. Very well trained, very well committed, just inexperienced. Within about a month or so of arriving at our position we had an evening where we received a very significant enemy attack, very loud, very violent, that persisted throughout the evening/ People were injured, a contractor was killed, buildings were damaged and caught fire. It was a bad night. For me it was, well, this is Iraq. I had been there before, I had been through similar experiences. It just validated for me that I was back where I remember being at previous points in my career.

Steve Lubert:
It was scary. We fought through it. It was different for me because I was now in charge of a much larger organization, so I had greater responsibility. But it wasn't anything that I hadn't experienced before. The next morning was ultimately another work day for me. I met my sergeant major, we discussed the events of last night, and then we did what we tend to do which is battlefield circulation. That's what we refer to driving around, walking around and visiting with your various units throughout the battlefield. When we came to the unit that was closest to the events that had happened the previous night and that were involved in a lot of deterring that attack I was shocked at how traumatized they were. It stood out to me because I didn't share in that same trauma because this wasn't the first time I'd experienced an event like that.

Steve Lubert:
So I walk in with a cup of coffee and my sergeant major walks in and we're in a very different environment than we were prepared for. We were dealing with a lot of soldiers that had a lot of trauma and you could tell, were shook up. They weren't telling jokes and they weren't ready to jump at the next mission and so forth. We had to immediately acknowledge that. To immediately ask ourselves, how do we reprioritize our day to acknowledge that these soldiers have got needs that have to be met right now in order for them to be able to continue to do what we need them to do for the next 10 months, 11 months, for the next 24 hours? As a commander I had a pretty busy day on my schedule so I needed to make a decision right then to acknowledge that those soldiers needed chaplains and unit ministry teams, they needed trauma specialists that we travel with.

Steve Lubert:
They needed to talk to their battle buddies that might be in another unit, but that's their best friend. My sergeant major and I needed to understand that everything else we had could probably take a step back or be pushed to the right so that we could focus on those soldiers. Because if we hadn't I think we would have lost the ability to relate to those soldiers and for those soldiers to relate to us. We had built up a lot of trust and a lot of respect with our soldiers. But I think if we had walked away from that or if we had just said, "Hey, brush it off and go get on your post," I think all of a sudden we would have lost that ability for that soldier to believe that their boss and their sergeant major could relate to what they were going through.

Steve Lubert:
So instead what we needed to do was address their needs, demonstrate to them that we went through all this. We went through these same types of experiences when we were there earlier, and it was scary, and it was shocking. We took steps like we were going to take over the next 24 hours or so, or the next several days if needed to get those soldiers back where they needed to be. But that was certainly probably the biggest example I have of when I really acknowledged that addressing those emotional needs and acknowledging what my soldiers required from me really stood out to me.

Brian Young:
First of all, thanks for sharing Steve. That was an awesome example. I think the applicability to leaders and managers across both military and corporate organizations is just that trauma is much more prevalent than we think it is. For example, one in five or one in six females are the victims of sexual assault during the course of their lifetime. One in 33 men are victims of the same sort of crime. We have many people in the military and also in our organizations in the corporate world that come from extreme poverty backgrounds or from some sort of other trauma, you name it. It is out there and the chances is when you're looking across your factory floor, you're looking across your formation in the military, that there is a high percentage of folks that have and are carrying with them traumatic experiences through their life.

Brian Young:
If they haven't already, life will eventually catch up with us all and we'll have to face hardships and work through them. I think one of our jobs and responsibilities as leaders is to be informed and be effective in helping people, first of all if they're in crisis to work through that with them in an empathetic way. But also understanding that a subordinate's first response or maybe their poor performance on a certain task maybe, could be perhaps grounded in some sort of trauma response. Those soldiers that are in Steve's formation, they get out of the military and they go do something else. If that trauma is unresolved, or it could be a person in a civilian company that goes through some sort of civilian trauma. We don't have to combat experience to be survivors of traumatic experiences, that we can respond in an empathetic way in that moment.

Brian Young:
I think every manager should read The Body Keeps a Score by Bessel van der Kolk, one of the leading experts in terms of understanding how early childhood trauma especially affects neuroanatomy as you grow older. Trauma is treatable but [inaudible 00:22:47] face as managers, a lot of experiences with people that have that that are unresolved. I'm not advocating we be amateur psychologists as managers or leaders, that's not what I'm advocating. But I'm just saying that what we do need to know is that a certain response or an emotional response to a certain task or an event could be embedded in some sort of trauma response from something earlier. One of the lead questions I get, "How do I be a good manager, how to develop a style."

Brian Young:
I think the answer that I always fall back on is understanding yourself too. If you as a leader, there's no shame. We've made a lot of good progress in the military on this. We've still got aways to go but I think we've come a long ways in terms of their not being shame to, "Hey, it's okay to not be okay, but don't stay there. Find help and find healing in that moment so you can be a better leader to yourself and others."

Joe Parker:
The military in general is a cross-section of society. We come from every walk of life, highly educated, poor, rich, you name it. With that diverse workforce, you have to adapt your leadership style, whether it's to a brand new, private, like Steven was saying, that's going to combat for the first time, or someone that's dealing with trauma that might be triggered based on a scenario that we have to go through in a military training event. My little anecdote's a little bit different. Usually two to three times a year the army has block leave period. So usually in the summer and around the holiday season we all take off for a week or two and get to relax a little bit. I was out stationed out in California and I was visiting my in-laws and I got a call from my sergeant major, "Hey sir."

Joe Parker:
This is literally eight hours after I had signed out on leave. I had just got to their house and I'm already receiving phone calls of, "Hey sir, we've got a soldier who's in jail in this town. We've got someone who's been in an accident here. We've got someone who's got another..." immediately I'm in react mode. I'm calling their first lines. I'm calling their company commanders. I'm calling their first sergeants. We're making contacts with whoever. We're trying to get as much information because every time there's an incident we have to set up an incident report. We have to talk to our higher headquarters. My first probably two or three hours at my in-law's house was me on the phone with sheriffs' departments and my sergeant major.

Joe Parker:
We're tag teaming it and we're trying to figure everything out. y mother-in-law goes, "What are you doing? You're not trained to do any of that. You're not a sociologist. You're not a criminal justice major." I was like, me being me, I'm like, well, at this point, I've got a minor in all of it because every soldier is a different story. Every soldier is a different background. Every scenario presents itself differently. There is no singular perspective. There is no singular answer. Steven hit the nail on the head, you've got to treat everybody according to how they are within that scenario. Brian hit the nail in the head when it was, "Hey, as a leader I have to understand when I am within, , my left and right. Limits of being able to address this situation appropriately, or I need to punch it up to someone who's better trained.

Brian Young:
Yeah. I think it comes back down to really basically just knowing your people. Taking the time and having the personal curiosity to know them, to learn about them, to ask about what motivates them, what their pet peeves are, what they... to really have a strong feedback loop and to listen more than you talk when you interact with your subordinates and peers and to really... I think that is probably the number one recipe for high functioning organizations, because out of that knowledge you're going to take away from that what you can do to apply to better lead that team. There's a way like, like Joe was saying. There is a learned art to it. There's a way to interact with people differently based on what motivates them while at the same time, holding everyone to the same standard and moving the organization forward. We're not saying that one person has one standard and another person has another standard. No, there's one standard of excellence that we're all aspiring to, but because of people's backgrounds, because of people's, we are human beings and this is an inevitably a human endeavor that we're doing, that we have to know people and know our teams in order to lead them appropriately.

David Correll:
Gosh, thank you very much for that guys. I think I can speak for a lot of our civilian listeners When I say that your discussion just now probably really opened up a lot of our minds to what is on the minds of military leaders as you all are making decisions and leading teams. I heard two themes from what you described, one, the training that you've received and the experiences that you've had have led you to take seriously listening to your critics, and in fact even inviting criticism. The second one, listening to your subordinate staff about things that they're concerned with even outside of the mission at hand. If one of the points we take away is, all right, there's two listening goals, what do you do to make sure you do something with that information? What sort of steps or actions do you take or does your training suggest you take so that, you spent all this valuable time listening but now you've got to do something with the data that you gathered. How do you get there?

Joe Parker:
We wouldn't be the army if we didn't have a process. We have a very, very deliberate process called the after action review, so AAR process. Steven I'm sure has had plenty of them. The AAR process, it's a very deliberate process where we take a look at what was supposed to happen, why something happened. We then dive into what worked, what didn't work, we talk about why. Then we talk about what we would do differently next time. In the form that we do this, we've got structured and unstructured, like data. We've got structured and unstructured AAR. It could be as simple as what we would call a green book, which is where I've got my little green notebook that the army issues and I've taken notes after observing a unit do something or an organization do something.

Joe Parker:
I grab a couple of folks, and we would call it, "Hey, let's go for a walk in the desert." I think Jonathan Burns calls it, go walk by the river. Where I just take some leaders and say, "Hey, let's talk about what just happened. Tell me, what were you thinking?" I usually let the person that I'm AAR-ing informally run me through their thought process. Then we take him on this journey, "Hey, did you think about this? Have you thought about that?" That's more of a one-on-one leader to leader. On a more deliberate AAR, we'll bring in maps, graphs, charts, data, and actually show folks what they did versus what they thought they were doing. You go in a room, you throw up a couple of slides, it's deliberate so we usually have three or four main topics that we've identified that we want to talk about and you let folks talk.

Joe Parker:
There's generally not rank in those, in those discussions. Everyone's allowed to be very candid. It's important that you do it as close to the last action as possible because you want to have everything fresh in your mind. Sometimes because it's so quick, folks are tired, they're still coming off the adrenaline high, tempers sometimes flare a little bit but you get honest feedback. We're there to orchestrate it and make sure that everything stays deliberate. But the process is one of the most powerful things we do because there's nothing that's off limits. It provides everyone in the room the opportunity to say, "Hey sir, we addressed this back in the planning process but we decided back then to do this. Here was a direct result of that." That's the type of discussions, very candid and it takes mature folks at every level to take that feedback. Thick skins, nothing's personal, it's for the good of the organization. How do we move things forward? Love the AAR process. It's continuous, it's deliberate, and it's how good organizations get better or get to great because you accept that honest feedback about your performance and what you've done.

Brian Young:
Yeah. I mean, the two things that make the United States army the preeminent land force is the AAR process, the after action review process in the non-commissioned officer corp, so the sergeants, the command sergeant majors, the backbone of the army that makes things run. The AAR process is such a crucial pillar of that for all the reasons that Joe laid out. That we are able as a hierarchical organization to hopefully get into a room after an operation or after we practice and rehearse things, which again, going back to the beginning of this podcast, rehearsals are one way that we buy down risk. But going after those rehearsals, after the practicing of those operations that we can come into a room and in a way shed rank for a bit and speak to each other honestly as teammates and come out of there after we've said our piece and be a better organization for it.

Steve Lubert:
The biggest takeaway from this after action review process, and Dave it gets back to how do we translate all this into process improvement or into action? Is AAR's end with essentially approves or sustains three... because everybody tends to think and remember in threes. I can always recall that it was three improves and three sustains. A good observer controller like Colonel Parker or Colonel Young will ask everyone for that input. They'll want the lowest ranking individual to tell us something that we need to improve upon. They'll want me perhaps, as the highest ranking individual, to tell them something that I really want to sustain, and they'll capture that data for me, or I'll have a note taker that's capturing those improves and sustains. In the end what you end up with is those sustains are actions, or policies, or processes, or techniques that we want to codify into something like a standard operating procedure, an SOP.

Steve Lubert:
We want to codify it in a manual. We want capture it as a way of doing business that we want to continue. Then we'll refine that process. Those improves, I'm not doing my job and I'm not making the best of that AAR process if I don't look at every single one of those improves and identify who is the action officer or NCO that's going to be responsible for that improve? What references do we want them to refer to when addressing that improvement? What do they need in terms of resources to address that improvement? And what are we looking at in terms of a timeline for addressing that improvement? Is it something where, "Hey, before you eat tomorrow night, I want feedback on my desk as to how we're going to make that improvement." Or is it something that, "Hey, three months down the line we've got another opportunity to do an exercise of this scope and I want to see this improvement demonstrated successfully the next time we go and exercise."

Steve Lubert:
I'm going to provide that guidance as to the resources, the action officer, the team that I'm going to assign to that particular improvement. Then really it holds me responsible for making sure that there's touch points along the way to see that that improvement is not just being captured on a whiteboard or in somebody's notebook and then it's never looked at again when we walk away from that AAR process. But that it actually those sustains are captured as SOPs and those improvements are captured with a way forward to ensure that we do in fact improve. Because what we don't want is six months down the line we're in combat and something that should have been improved on that was identified by somebody like a Colonel Young or a Colonel Parker never got fixed and now it cost somebody their life.

Brian Young:
I felt like we talked a lot about very military things, but I'm wondering what you took away from it that translates out into the business world or into corporate life. What resonates and how does that... what stood out to you and what maybe we didn't translate well or doesn't translate at all?

Speaker 1:
Let me jump in because something happened globally to humans and we went through a pandemic together. Now every mother, every child, every father, every brother has an experience of trauma, and loneliness, and fear, and uncertainty in their lives. I felt like the kind of teaching that you have from the military could be useful to all of us because it's not based on psychology, it's based on the touchy feely wokeness, but you're really using it in actual situations. I felt like there's some aha moment that people could have there with like, "Oh yeah, I've been through trauma."

Steve Lubert:
Just to give you the example. When my wife catches me becoming unresponsive or not watching the movie or so forth, and she says, "Where are you at?" My go to is I go back and I reassess every tactical situation that I was in where someone got lost or injured and I reassess. I live through that moment. I mean, it's not, I'm sure people would call it traumatic, but at this point it's a constant learning process. I put myself back into all of those factors that I was aware of at that particular moment. Where was the enemy? Where was I? Where were my soldiers? What was the status of this, that, and the other? What could I have done differently that may have prevented somebody from being lost or being injured?

Steve Lubert:
That's an AAR process that goes on inside my brain probably for the rest of my life. I think that speaks to exactly what you were just saying is, that is the nature of this particular business so I think we have to take it very seriously. I think that's also why the army invested, because when I came home obviously I had issues, when I came home the first time. But the army invested in retaining me, in recalibrating me and addressing those concerns because what they don't want is they don't want to lose that experience. They don't want to lose somebody that does think about at night, "How can I do it better the next time?" And just have that person leave the military because they've classified them as having some form of trauma and that they're not good to the military anymore.

Steve Lubert:
Instead the military said, "No, Steve, you just survived a year over in Iraq and we want you to stay in and we want you to be recalibrated and we need all that experience for the next 20 years because we don't know how long we're in this for." I'm glad they made that decision and I'm glad people supported me to go and get help so I could one day end up at MIT and be a lieutenant colonel. Because I probably could have gotten out if people hadn't said, "Stay in and continue to contribute and we'll make you healthy."

Brian Young:
I think that's the power, Steve and being a trauma-informed leader is what you're doing there, is you're being vulnerable in those moments to your team. Because when you are vulnerable as a leader you set an environment where it is, hey, that you are not a invulnerable Superman, or an invulnerable person, or even a cold person that doesn't want to talk about emotions. You set the example and set an environment for the rest of the formation that it's okay to have feelings and to face them and to talk about them. Because you're going to get better and stronger as a unit. You're sending the message, this is not about me, this is about you and us.

Steve Lubert:
Right. Yep, absolutely.

Joe Parker:
But I do think it's interesting with everything going on in the workforce right now, folks switching jobs so rapidly. The guy from, I can't remember what the company was, where he fired all of his folks over the Zoom call. Whether it's uninformed, uneducated leaders who are all very smart, because they wouldn't be in the positions they were, or successful in some way, shape, or form. It's the we, not me. That's a completely different mindset than honestly even the army I came in 20 years ago We have the force we have. We have congressionally mandated [inaudible 00:38:58], it takes a long time to recruit talent. It's even harder nowadays to retain talent. There's a lot of things out there for folks to do. If folks aren't being taken care of, that's not just an army thing, they're going to find something else to do. We can't screw it up as leaders.

Brian Young:
Dave, I'm curious what your thoughts are on any of this. Not necessarily that one but whatever.

David Correll:
Gosh, as you've been saying, so many things. One that's jumping out at me the most, and I don't know if this is the most helpful one, but is that so when you were talking about taking the criticism from the red team and delivering the criticism to the red team, I was thinking that requires an inner strength to not take things personally. You described that the leadership observes who can do that and who can't. Then the same thing I was thinking, Brian, when you were commenting on, when Steven was sharing the personal story, I was also struck by the way you shared it, Steven, in that like a lot of people can't describe their own personal emotional experiences without getting emotional. So then I was thinking, all right, well, how did he get there?

David Correll:
And I thought, you nailed Brian you said, he wasn't sharing it in a self-serving way, it was a, this is something that I'm bringing out and it serves this broader goal. I guess that's what's really struck me is how, if those of us who don't have the experience and the training that you guys have want to be able to do the things that you're doing, how do we get into that stronger and more selfless mindset that allows us to take criticism and give criticism impersonally and also share emotion. Impersonally isn't the right word, but I don't know if what I'm getting at is coming across. To be able to do it in a way that's towards a bigger goal and not emotionally charged. I've been really impressed by you guys with that. How do you teach that?

Brian Young:
Yeah, it's almost an inverse logic that I would imagine in corporate environments. It happens in the military too, where you want to be successful personally, but at the same time the best way to make that happen is to make your team successful and those around you successful and forget about your own ego and forget about yourself or your progression or the next job or whatever it is. Those things will come as long as you focus on the here and now and focus on making those around you successful. Most importantly the team functioning and high performing. That's really hard for people to let go of. I mean, it's been hard for me in some instances. I'm not perfect in any way fashion form, but on the teams that I've been on or led that have produced have been those ones where we are focusing together on the way forward not just on individuals' best performances in there.

David Correll:
That paradox that I really liked the way you said that if we could just, even pointing out that, "Hey, that's a paradox. I bet you feel it, don't feel bad about it, but what we're trying to get you to is you're probably emotionally starting here. There's a lot of benefit if you can get yourself to here." An example I thought of was, Yosi was trying to deliver criticism to someone and that person was taking it real personally and emotionally and zoning out. Yosi said, "Just assume that we already like you and think you're doing a good job. This is just to get you better."

Brian Young:
Exactly.

David Correll:
Which just flustered the person more. They didn't know how to process it and I was thinking, gosh, this [inaudible 00:42:50] we're deciding if you're getting into heaven or not. It's, maybe you didn't see this angle on this thing and now it's clear to us.

Steve Lubert:
I decided when I took my last command that I was going to take every opportunity to explain the why. In doing so expose myself, if necessary, or my staff, to criticism if we weren't able to convey that to every unit, every soldier that we went and visited with. What I told the squadron, which is an organization of anywhere from about five to 600, what I told them is that, I will do this so long as the opportunity presents itself. Understand that the army, I'm under no obligation as your commander to explain why. I'm choosing to explain why when the opportunity presents itself. So long as you understand that if I say, "Take the hill and take it now and don't call me until you've taken it," you're going to move out without question. I got lots of yes sirs and Roger sirs. On only one or two occasions do I think it ever had to come down to that.

Steve Lubert:
But before then I invested in going to every unit, particularly when missions were either very complicated or hard for the soldier to understand, very demanding, more so than usual. Put them in a position where they weren't going to be able to go home or spend time with their families or so forth, or it was very inherently risky and the loss of life was high. We would go and explain the why and open ourselves up to questions from the organizations to make sure that we were conveying that responsibly. I think that paid huge dividends because I think when it came to those occasions where we had to ask them to do something without explanation, they knew that we were probably acting in the best interest of the organization, of the mission, and of those soldiers.

Steve Lubert:
Furthermore, as you guys know, probably way better than us, when everybody's on board everything is much more smooth. So if everybody knows why they're staying up late, why they're working hard, why they're doing whatever it is we're asking of them as leaders, that buy-in just pays off as better morale, better productivity, a [inaudible 00:45:05] sense of purpose, all that good stuff. It turned out being really worth our efforts to convey the why even if it meant that sometimes they came back and said, "Sir, we appreciate you sharing that, but it still doesn't make any sense to us."

David Correll:
The other thing I was thinking, and thank you, Brian for opening the floodgates. I would fear if I said, "Let me try to do the red celling of things." That someone who wasn't trained in what it was for would just use it as an opportunity to complain. Would be like, "Oh well, it's because you never liked me," or something like that. I was like, "Well, that's not helpful."

Joe Parker:
Well, so that's why during like the AAR process, so our job as OCS we moderate. Now, when you're red teaming and as a commander, you're not going to have an OC there to red team it. But that's where the role of the sergeant major or somebody like a trusted agent is there to help moderate things. "Here's what we saw as the OCs and here's where the disconnect was." There's different levels, different ways, different methodologies. But again, I go back to the emotional intelligence piece. I go back to folks that have been given some sort of instruction or understanding on how to deal with their emotions in a professional manner and understanding that not everything is personal and not everything is directed towards you or not everything is about you.

David Correll:
Do you guys think that you were team-oriented people before you joined the military or did your military training experience make you team goal-oriented people?

Steve Lubert:
I mean, I grew up in only child but the difference [inaudible 00:46:52]-

Joe Parker:
So no.

Steve Lubert:
So right. It was all about some Steve Lubert. But what I do remember more than anything else is watching my dad lead. My dad was an air force officer, he went on to be a general. I watched him go through his various levels of command as we grew up as a family. But I spent so much time watching him and watching the way people responded to him. I watched him make mistakes in leadership that I probably, even as a young adult, knew right then, "Yeah, he could have probably worded that better." But I also saw the things that he did right that created teams and led to followership and made people want to achieve things because it was important to him. I think I probably went into the military having watched military teams and organizations be successful and having watched my dad be a leader. I'm sure that influenced me as a young leader and I probably built upon that as I progressed through the ranks.

Joe Parker:
I would say just coming into the army as a logistician, you're not the tip of the sphere. Our success completely is dependent upon how well we support other people. There's very few opportunities for it to be about you. Again, my job, my focus is I got to make sure Steven has everything he needs. I have to make Steven the best Steven he can be. The team concept is ingrained in what we do in our field. If people come in and they don't have that ingrained in them early on, they will not be successful in the army as a logistician.

Brian Young:
Yeah. My parents were both youngest children in their families. I think my dad was the youngest of three, my mom was the youngest of three, which is the best combination for a successful loving marriage. Because they're used to serving their older siblings and then it just translates into, I think they've been married for like 40 plus years now. It was definitely modeled for me. I think I got exposed to some of it through team sports and through scouting. I don't think it was really solidified in my own personality until the military though. I think that was where I got to live it out more day to day. It was ingrained in me and taught to me through example from others really, through leaders that [inaudible 00:49:20]. I've had an amazing string of fantastic leaders throughout my military career. I mean, it's just unbelievable. People talk about toxic leaders and I have no doubt that they have crossed paths and been victims of that, so to speak throughout their careers. But that has not been my case. I've had amazing leaders throughout my military career that have just I've learned so much from, and hopefully, and tried to frankly emulate and copy.

David Correll:
Yeah. When you say it and thinking about the other side of the empathetic leadership thing I was thinking too, outside of academia but other places I've worked. Yeah, the weight of a kind gesture and a listening ear from someone a couple rungs above you is huge. I think maybe sometimes the people do it because they know it has that effect, but sometimes they don't even realize the effect when someone's several rungs above you spends a little time on your problems it has to morale and to commitment and to all that.

Brian Young:
Yeah. I think too when leaders take a gamble on you or meet you where you're at in a moment of crisis in your life, you will take a bullet for them from that moment on. You will do whatever it takes to serve that organization and that person. I mean, sometimes that's they've let you go for... meaning they've allowed you to go take some personal leave to take care of some things, or maybe you're you had a parent that was sick or whatever. They've taken a hit and the rest of the organization has had to pick up the slack in your absence. But when you come back from that what I found is that the leadership been sympathetic or empathetic in that moment, man, I will do whatever it takes to make them successful.

Joe Parker:
Guarantee you we could all rattle off three to five folks that if we got a phone call at two o'clock in the morning that said, "Be here at this time, don't ask questions," would all jump because of scenarios like that. It's not overly complex and it's not hard. It's just people being good people.

Brian Young:
I think one of the best examples or one of the best advice I got was from one of my [inaudible 00:51:42] instructors. It was, he told us, "Someday the army's going to tap us on the shoulder and we're going to be done with this." Or the army's going to be done with us probably maybe before we were done with the army, ready to be done with the army. That happens in corporate environments all the time too I imagine. At that moment, what's going to be your legacy? I mean, we're all going to move on from whatever endeavor we're currently in. When people think about you or you look back at your legacy in your last days, what's it going to be? Is it going to be one that was just driving everyone and driving everyone out? Or is it going to be one that was building people up and making others successful?

David Correll:
Gosh, thank you so much guys for your time, for the stories, the personal stories too that you've shared with us and your insights. Thank you for your service to our country historically and going forward, and thank you for your conversation today. I know, I think it's going to make me a better leader just for being able to listen to it and probably everyone else who listens to the podcast too. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

Steve Lubert:
Thanks Dave. We really appreciate it and we've enjoyed every moment with you, your team, and the other students and graduates at MIT and CTL.

Brian Young:
Thanks, Dave.

Joe Parker:
Thank you.

Speaker 1:
All right everyone, thank you for listening. I hope you've enjoyed this edition of MIT Supply Chain Frontiers. My name is Arthur Grau, communications officer for the Center, and I invite you to visit us anytime at ctl.mit.edu, or search for MIT Supply Chain Frontiers on your favorite listening platform. Until next time.