How You & Your Team can Thrive in the Aftermath of Trauma w/Ken Falke, Chairman Ep#142
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Anthony: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, folks and people. My name is Anthony Taylor. And this is the Strategy & Leadership Podcast. Thanks so much for joining us. On this podcast, we interview incredibly smart people doing incredibly cool things in their communities. And I'm so excited today to speak with Ken Falke. Ken, how's it going today?
Ken: Good Anthony. How are you?
Anthony: Oh, I'm awesome. It's the end of year, our last podcast of 2021, and I'm excited to chat with you. So Ken is the Chairman of the Boulder Crest Foundation. Ken, what does the Boulder Crest Foundation do?
Ken: Well, Boulder Crest Foundation is a non-profit organization here in the United States. We're headquartered in Virginia. But we own two beautiful retreat centers, one in Virginia and one in Arizona that help men and women who are suffering with post traumatic stress disorder. And I say men and women - really combat veterans and first responders who are suffering with post traumatic stress disorders, and are frustrated with traditional mental health approaches. We have a training program at our organization that focuses on the science of something called post traumatic growth. At the highest level what that means is what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. And that's our belief - is that if you can take the time, you know, after a traumatic event to really understand what happened, you can actually become a better version of yourself with the right training. And that's what we do - we teach people how to get there.
Anthony: That's awesome. And you had your own military career, if I'm not mistaken as well, correct?
Ken: I did. I spent 21 years in the Navy and was a bomb disposal specialist and spent half my career doing traditional bomb disposal work and another half of that supporting special forces operations around the world.
Anthony: That's really, I mean, I I don't know so much about the military as in I don't have any family members that were part of it, but I can imagine that all of it is fairly stressful. And bomb disposal is probably up there with one of the higher stress parts of the military. And then you also wrote a book or you are writing your second book, correct?
Ken: Just released the second book, it's called Lead Well. The first book was called Struggle Well, which is our belief in this post traumatic growth - no matter who we are in life, we're gonna live a series of ups and downs, and how you get through those struggles, can be very rewarding. And that book was focused on really the work we do here at Boulder Crest. What we've seen is that, you know, during COVID, there's been a few surveys that have been done. There was a survey that Axios did, where they said 70% of Americans didn't like the job - hated their job, was was the term. And as part of that survey, one of the questions was, you know, has anybody checked in on you during COVID? And a very large number of bosses, three or four months into the pandemic, hadn't even checked in on to see how people were doing, you know, physically, mentally, all those things. And that's really made me think, you know, the truth is, I don't think people hate their job. I think people hate the people they work for. And that's what we were trying to really kind of come to an understanding of. Somebody asked me one day, why another leadership book? I said there's 1000s of leadership books, but most of them are inaccessible, they're complicated. And that's really what we did. This book is super short, it's 110 pages ish, you know, quarter of an inch thick centimeter thick or so. And it's really just focused on what we think are the critical skills that you have to have to be a really good leader. And that's what the books about.
Anthony: Awesome. I love that. Well, I'm very curious now that you talk about COVID and all the stuff that's been going on, you know, the idea of post traumatic growth. Because a lot of people would argue that the past year and a half or so has been extremely traumatic and, and getting back to 'normal'. So I'm really curious from a leadership and people perspective, you know, what's at the heart of post traumatic growth? And what are some of the things - building on that checking in on people, what are some of the things that people need to consider as they're helping their people move through this challenging time?
Ken: Yeah, I think your comment -Anthony spot on, is that we are in a very, very traumatic time in our world. I mean, it's like hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people sick, multi millions of people sick and hundreds of thousands of people dying. And there's no, like, really clarity around when it's going to end. And we as humans, do very well, when we see a start and an end to something. But when it just continues to go on, it becomes a very difficult way to lead a life. And if you bring it back to the individual, we talk about people who are dealing with trauma, and what happens to people when they're dealing with trauma. I always tell people that the life you can't live is this proverbial life of the tail wagging the dog. That every day you get up, and you have no control over it. And to me, that's the great thing about life is that we have a lot of control over what we do. But not always when it comes to our job. We have a lot of it, when it comes down to what we are going to do when, when we're going to go get our Starbucks, what time we're going to get up in the morning, what time we're going to go to bed, what we're going to watch on TV. We have a lot of control around that. We don't always have a lot of control around what we're going to do when we get to work. And that's why we thought this book was really timely is that, you know, leaders need to understand that. And that's really what we did. One of my favorite books, I went to Georgetown University, and one of the books I read there was a book called The Cathedral Within, written by a guy named Bill Shore. And Bill's definition of leadership is helping people get to a place that they can't get to on their own. And, to me, that's really what leadership is all about. Because if people didn't need you, then they wouldn't be looking for that. And you know, there's an old saying that people, in general terms, humans really crave two things: the ability to contribute, and the ability to grow. So as a leader, knowing that people want to be involved in what we're doing, which really excites me, and number two, want to grow my organization. That allows me to help them get to those places. And that's really what this book is focused on. We're in this pandemic, life is bad people don't like their jobs, what can we do to help leaders really turn their organizations around? And that's what the books really focused on - 10 principles that I think are timeless. You hear a lot of things in a lot of leadership books, oh, the millennials need you to do this. And these people need you to do that. But the truth is, leadership doesn't change. And people don't change in regards to this concept that they want to grow, and they want to contribute. Yes, they may change because, you know, marijuana in your city has legalized and they're smoking more marijuana than they were before. Maybe they changed because they want to work from home instead of go into an office and they find that working at home is better for their mental health. I mean, those types of things change, but the core principles of leadership don't. And that's what we focused on, those 10 things.
Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. You said something that I kind of want to connect the dots around it around. The work that you do at the Foundation, managing kind of the start and end, not of life, but just having managing control. And so I think where people feel out of control is where they feel like they have no impact. And like you said, you may or may not have impact to the things that are happening in your city, you may or may not have impact on what is going on with COVID, but you have a shorter locus of control when it comes to self. And I can imagine that in those times where you feel out of control is because you actually you feel out of control with the things that you can control. And so helping people regain control of their life so things stop spinning around them. And then help them take those little steps towards their personal growth. Did I get that?
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Ken: 100% I mean, I think that your thoughts are exactly aligned with what I'm saying. So like the first principle - we have 10 principles of leadership. The first one is lead yourself first. What people respect the most out of leaders is people that they admire, people that they want to be like. Not the do as I say but don't do as I do, you know, when there's two different messages coming forward. People like role models, they like congruency, they like things to be focused. And that's really what this whole concept is. And many leaders especially in the last two years or COVID, have just let themselves get out of control. And until that control comes back, you know, it's hard to get people to respect you and want to be on your mission and help you achieve your vision. It's very difficult. So, you know, I think what you said, Anthony, is spot on.
Anthony: Well, I'm gonna shift gears a little bit. So you spent 21 years in the Navy, going through challenging times - I find with most people that write great books, it's always inspired by real things. You lived it - you got to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If you think back to that career, and you think back to your training, and you think back to those challenges, what are some of the two or three biggest takeaways that shaped you as a human being not just as a family man or, somebody who's contributing to their community, but you as a human being? What are some of those lessons learned that really guide you on a day to day basis from your time in the Navy?
Ken: I tell people all the time, there's two people, three, if I include myself, really two people responsible for who I am and where I am today. And it's my father, and the US Navy, and for good or for bad, right? I mean, I saw more bad leaders in the US Navy than I saw good. And I'll go to my grave saying that, and I know, it doesn't sit well with people and leaders in the military sometimes, but the truth is, we don't do a great job - in any industry, of building great leaders. And the great leaders that do rise to the top, you know, are few and far between in the world. And and
Anthony: Sorry to distract from your point. But why do you think that is? Why do you think that the world doesn't? Why do you think the world doesn't produce great leaders from your perspective?
Ken: You know, I always tell people that humans are a byproduct and the sum of their training. And that training starts when we're born, obviously, but it really doesn't start to settle into you're about five or six years old. So remember, every experience you have with somebody, whether it's a father, grandfather, whatever, is going to be imprinted in your leadership styles, your professional leaders and managers. And I think what ends up happening is that there, in most cases, is more bad examples than good examples. And until we see those good examples, when we're older, and we're working for somebody, or we end up with a great family, where those things start to come together, then it becomes an understanding of, oh, I can't do that, or I can do that. And this is what's gonna make me the person I am. Secondly, I think although experience is critical, when it comes to true, high quality leadership, I don't think it's enough. I think you need academic reinforcement on leadership. Now, I'm not saying you have to go to college and take a degree or a class on leadership, what I'm saying is, you better be better well read on the subject then the guy next to you if you want to shine. And that, to me, is where a lot of people - military is a great example of this, where they get a lot of hands on experience, dealing with these leadership issues, but they don't ever kind of summarize it academically and put a wrapper around it. It doesn't close - and I think the ones that do, you know, the Jack Welch's of the world, the guy that ran Ford, Alan Malloy, you know, these people that you look up to and go Oh, wow. That's amazing. And even some of the current people running some of the biggest businesses in this world have a reputation of being assholes. So how do we bring it all together and become that package? And it's hard. It's hard for a lot of reasons. You know, you're running a multi billion dollar company and it's like, the last thing you're worried about, maybe necessarily on on the day your stock prices are tanking, is Johnny working down on the assembly line. And that's why you know, all of this structure and everything is so important. And I think why there's such a disconnect.
Anthony: Yeah, so interesting. I mean, I'm still curious about the positive experiences that you had, you mentioned, you know, your father, grandfather, and then the Navy. But what I heard out of that is like, why are people bad leaders, and it's not necessarily that they're bad leaders, it's that they're put in leadership positions without sufficient training. And what I heard you say was training, like on the on the ground training, like practical training, and then reading skill development training. I joke or I say all the time, it's like basketball, Michael Jordan and I both play basketball. Well, he played a lot more, but he's also got way better coaches. So it's technically the same sport. But we're playing a way different game. And where I think people are challenged, especially CEOs, as they're developing their leadership teams, is they're so busy doing all of those things that you talked about, that they don't have enough time, energy bandwidth, prioritization, of coaching their leaders around them. They potentially or possibly assume that they've been put in leadership positions, therefore, they must be good leaders. And I don't think that that's accurate, even ones that are great leaders, I believe the great ones recognize the limit of their greatness, and that there's no ceiling. And I think the really great organizations that we have, are the ones that are continually reinforcing and building back into their people. So Ken, you developed into a great leader, the Navy helped, what are some of the things that they put you through that supported your leadership?
Ken: Well, I think going back to my definition, or Bill Shore's definition of leadership, helping people get to a place they can't get through on their own, I go back, and I look at individuals, right? I mean, the military is fairly easy to navigate, because the bureaucracy is so intense, that you know what it takes to go from rank A to B, to C, to D, all that stuff is pretty clear, cut and dry. It's not always that way, in corporate America. You know, I'm running a nonprofit now, but I ran two for-profit companies, before I retired and got into this business. So I mean, I've got a pretty long career in both for and nonprofit leadership. So we really want to stay focused, I think on this whole concept of can I work with a person who understands that I am here and I want to grow and I want to contribute to this organization? What can I do to bring out the best in that individual? And I had a couple people in the Navy that did that to me. I mean, they put me to the test. I mentioned that I was a bomb disposal guy and they say, I'm not sure I 100% agree with it because I'm trained in it, but they say it's the most dangerous job in the world. And in that stress you learn to deal with. But the other stuff you don't. The family stuff the deployments the long time away from home. The wife having a baby, a miscarriage, you know, whatever these issues are, that all make up the complexities of life. Great leaders understand that and know how to navigate it. Bad leaders tend to outsource it right? You come to work in the morning, you're feeling bad, you had an argument with your wife, you misbehave, you throw a cup of coffee and you ruin your keyboard. Rather than somebody come in and sit down with you and have a conversation about how you're doing, it's go see HR. When leadership starts to get outsourced, and people don't take real, real interest and attention on the people that are there, then it becomes an organization that just doesn't thrive. And I never had that problem. I saw a lot of bad leaders. But for some reason in my military career, my Navy career, I was blessed to have some some really great leaders and people that helped me get places that I never would have been able to get on my own.
Anthony: Yeah, I hear that. One of the words that I think you almost said but held back was the word accountability. And really making sure that you're taking accountability, not just for oneself, because I think, as you had mentioned, the first principle for your book is leading oneself, but also accountability for your own responsibilities. You have accountability to your people. It's never more true than than in the military, you have to watch out for everybody. But the other thing that I thought was such gold is the fact that it's complex. It's not easy. It's not clear, it's not specific. And as a leader, if you're expecting it to be like a formula, I think you're gonna set yourself up to fail. One example is blended work and home, and added layers and layers and layers and layers of complexity, which I think exasperates the problems. But recognizing as a leader that maybe what you got to do is more than you thought and that it's complex, and it's messy and good leaders manage through that. Is that fair to say, Ken?
Ken: I think it's very fair to say. I think the difference between managers and leaders. Managers know there's a process, if there's an input and an output. But with humans, that's not the case, humans bring a complex level of complexity that the average manager doesn't. And that's why these leadership programs and education is so important, because it's one thing to manage people manage expectations, and all the things that happen on a daily basis, at every level and size of company, but you've got to be out there doing it too. Out of 10 principles in my book, number eight is hold yourself and others accountable. Accountability is huge. If it doesn't start with me, right, if I just become this leader, you know, do as I say, not as I do, and I don't become somebody's role model, what somebody inspires to be, whether that's at the father level of leadership, or the corporate level within the leadership, then other people are gonna just flow through the fluff of the system. And people want to be held accountable. They don't know it until they are. And accountability isn't always negative, right? I mean, it's how do you pat somebody on the back when it's the right time to pat them on the back? Or if they did something wrong? How do you make an educational training process out of that? I mean, people appreciate the feedback and feedback is a big part of employee satisfaction. So I think I think accountability's, although it's number eight on my list, my list isn't necessarily an order of priority. It's way up at the top of what's important.
Anthony: Yeah, I get that. So we have leadership programs, it's built within our strategic planning process. One of the reasons I think that the military does create great leaders, whether you're pro or not pro military, is that it's a system. It's a structure. It's regimented, and it's a framework. And so for senior leaders, if you're a CEO, if you're running a company, if you're just dripping leadership, as I say, randomly sporadic, doing leadership stuff, people can't count on anything. In fact, it creates chaos because I don't know when this is coming, I cannot count on it. Whereas the military has built such a regimented system with training, how you build your routines, how you build your day, that everything has leadership wrapped around it. It's the system of the military is rooted in leadership. And it comes out in multiple layers. And I think that's one of the really cool, systemic things that has done well, in terms of building and developing people. How could you build train and develop hundreds of thousands of people at scale without enough systems? Me not being a military guy, is that accurate from my perspective?
Ken: It's very accurate. And I think, what's separate, Harvard University, their leadership publications say that leaders have three great qualities. A high level of intelligence and not mental level, somebody smart, right, you don't want to work for a dummy. A high level of technical expertise, right. It's hard to work on automotives, if you haven't grown up in that field and understand them. And this is why a lot of CEOs that get parachuted into companies don't do very well with people because they're not ingrained in the industry. And the third level of expertise that great leaders have is a high level of emotional intelligence. Now, this is where the military fails. So the military has to the tee, dotted every 'i' when it comes to technical expertise. And intelligence, we recruit the best. I mean, every officer that goes into the US military has a college degree, many of them, by their sixth year in the military have multiple master's degrees, driving nuclear submarines and in charge of nuclear weapons. I mean, we've got that part down. But why there's only so many good leaders and so many more bad leaders in the military is because we really have never addressed this emotional intelligence stuff. I think the military, in some some manners thinks that it's soft. And I don't think it is, I think it's relevant. You know, there used to be a saying, in the Navy. If you came to work with a problem with your wife, one of the chiefs would say, Oh, your wife didn't come in your seabag, your bag all your equipment comes in. Well no, she didn't Chief, but you know, I am married, and I've got these problems, and I needed the extra day off to resolve them or whatever. I need an hour off to resolve them. But you know that the typical answer as I grew up in the Navy was she didn't come in your seabag. And people say, don't bring your personal problems at work. But how do you separate that? Right? How do you get in the car in the morning and not be thinking about your daughter, showing up to work? And I think that emotional intelligence is what really separates good and great leaders. In the Navy, we would say great leaders would would get titled. A sailor, sailor, soldier, you know, those people that get an illustrious title are very far and few between.
Anthony: Yeah, well, it's very interesting. You solved the great resignation. I assert that the bad managers have low EQ, really a simplification. But let's say that's the case. And in a world over the past 18 months to a year, that is required - it didn't matter if you had the technical skills, if it's an EQ problem, if you have low EQ, you cannot solve a problem that requires high EQ. And so all of these people that are quitting, all these people that are unhappy with their jobs, because they're coming to the table with EQ problems, and the bad managers are trying to solve it with anything that's been brought in the sea bag. And then it's causing dissonance. It's causing disruption. People are like, well, I can't, I've got bigger problems then my work right now, and you're not helping me solve them. So I need to go find somewhere that is, and that might be working for yourself, because then you bring back that accountability and solving it your own way. So thanks for solving the great resignation, Ken, that was great.
Ken: Well, I don't know that it solves it because that. The reverse of that is somebody with a high IQ that doesn't have the high technical expertise and intelligence. I mean, you can end up with a really, really squishy leader who's just a nice guy or gal, but but doesn't have the technical expertise that you need to achieve your vision and mission of your organization. It's all got to work together. If you're going to solve it, that's it. But you're right, I mean, when you think of when you look at that Axios survey, and you think about 70% of Americans hating their job, who haven't five months into a pandemic haven't even been asked how they're doing. Everybody's struggling a bit, the amount of people that can handle their struggles? Well, that number is very limited.
Anthony: I get that. Well, I think the key thing is that you don't have to do it alone. And I think it's as you had mentioned, it's a skill that one can develop. So if there's something you take away - over the next months and weeks, develop your capacity to manage change, your capacity to lead and capacity to lead yourself. So, Ken, where can people get a hold of you? Where can people get your book? And where can they learn more about what you're working on?
Ken: Yeah, I'm pretty accessible on all social media - on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. TimFalke. And you can find our organization at bouldercrest.org. And the books on Amazon - Struggle Well and Lead Well are both on Amazon. So enjoy them. So definitely not here to sell books. But that's where they're at if you want them. But thank you, Anthony, for a great interview and happy holidays.
Anthony: Likewise. Well I can sell your book, pick up Ken's book, Struggle Well & Lead Well. I think that as a leader, there's no limit to what we're capable of. And I found that when I read great books, all I need is one or two little things, it's not gonna make a difference to me. It's when you read that thing. You have a conversation with somebody else, and it makes a difference with them. And that's how you have a lasting impact as a leader and that's how you're successful as a leader. So thank you, Ken. It's been a pleasure chatting with you today. Happy holidays as well.
So my guest today, Ken Falke, who is the Chairman of the Boulder Crest Foundation. There's nothing wrong with struggling folks. It's in fact, the only thing you do as a human being is struggle. It's, you know, being the right kind of person to support people with it. So Ken, thank you for bringing that to the table today. Thanks for sharing your experience. My name is Anthony Taylor. This has been the Strategy & Leadership Podcast. Thanks so much for watching. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time - take care.