Monthly Archives: October 2014

Adapt to the culture

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Last week we introduced the DARE framework as a guide for military veterans transitioning into a civilian job. As a reminder:

D: Define success
A: Adapt to the culture
R: Recognize your strengths
E: Engage with others

We also elaborated on the first aspect of the framework – defining success –especially the idea of having conversations with various stakeholders to define, communicate, and measure your (the veteran’s) success as you transition (as well as your success beyond the transition) into the civilian workplace.

This week I’d like to discuss the “A” in DARE – Adapt to the culture. Most veterans will recognize terms like intelligence preparation of the battlefield or battlespace, cultural awareness, and information environment. To one degree or another, these terms have culture as an aspect of analyzing, training, or understanding a foreign or adversarial environment. Just like you learned about cultural norms and language before you were deployed or stationed overseas, you should take the time to learn and adapt to the culture of the organization of which you are becoming an employee.

Organizational culture can be very obvious in certain areas. Standards like dress code (shirt and tie or dress; or jeans and flip flops?), work hours (0800 on the dot or do folks wander in anywhere from 6am-ish to 10-ish?), and work location (is telecommuting an acceptable option?) are some of the more obvious aspects of the workplace culture. If these things aren’t obvious in your workplace then you shoulDiverse businesspeopledn’t be shy about asking about them (this goes back to last week’s discussion about communication and defining success).

Other aspects of organizational culture may be less obvious. Take time to take note of these cultural distinctions (or, again, ask questions). Some examples are:

– Do people call their boss, Mr. or Ms.? Do they address them, sir or ma’am? Does everyone use first names?
– Are employees called employees? Staff? Team members? Associates?
– Are terms like subordinate and superior used or are they frowned upon?
– Are people generally expected to do just do as they are told? Or is debate and conversation welcome (or even expected)?
– Is there a strong culture of teamwork and collaboration? Or do individuals, teams, or groups fend for themselves?

These are just a very few examples. The point is that it will serve you well to learn and adapt to the culture of your organization. You’ll fit in faster which is generally a good thing (granted, sometimes it’s good to stick out but that’s a different conversation). The other aspect of learning and adapting to the culture is to get a sense of whether the organization is a good fit for you. If there are aspects of the culture that you are unable or unwilling to adapt to then you should consider the long-term implications of this. The implications may be a minor hiccup or nuisance; or the implications may be that this isn’t the place for you (it’s not a good fit).

In wrapping up this post I’d like to end with a brief discussion about one more aspect of culture that will affect your transition from the military to the civilian world. Namely understanding how the military culture you’re used to affects your behavior in the workplace and the perceptionsACU w flag (and perhaps some misconceptions) of others about you. A few things to consider in this regard:

– Be aware that in some organizations giving and taking orders is not part of the culture; it may viewed as harsh and unprofessional
– Quick decision-making may not be the norm; rather the organization’s leaders may prefer to take their time with decisions and may make decisions by consensus (I admit this was one of the aspects of organizational culture to which I had trouble adapting)
– Some organizations may be very hierarchical (like the military) but others may not
– Calling people “sir” or “ma’am” may be too deferential in some organizations
– Some people in your organization may have little or no exposure to the military prior to meeting you … so take into account they may have accurate and inaccurate perceptions of the military and of you

In sum, I believe it will benefit you greatly to take time to observe, learn, and adapt to your organization’s distinct culture. But … this doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t bring your own strengths and experiences to the table. After all, the culture to which you’re adapting became that way because of the people that shaped it year after year. In other words, you’re not just adapting blindly and throwing away the distinct characteristics you bring to your new organization based on previous life and professional experiences. Join me in my next post and we’ll talk more about the “R” in DARE – Recognizing your strengths.

Thanks for your time and I hope this has been useful.

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

First image courtesy of Ambro/

Second image courtesy of taliesin/

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Do you DARE?

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If you read my introductory post you know that one of the “other” topics I’ve considered chatting about in this blog is veterans transitioning from the military into the civilian workplace. I’d like to begin that discussion in today’s post with the intent of sharing some thoughts on this topic in my next several posts.

Why do I feel compelled to write about this? 1) I am an Army veteran and would like to share lessons learned with my fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms. 2) My transition into private industry over a decade ago was a fairly smooth one … some of that was blind luck, some of that was circumstance, and some of that was a little more deliberate. 3) I’ve also assisted veterans of different ranks make the transition into our firm. I certainly don’t have all the answers but think I have a few useful observations and recommendations on the matter.Bald Eagle

But why write about transitioning military veterans in a leadership blog? The connection to leadership is two-fold. For the veterans, their leadership (and other) experiences and skills gained in the military can aid their transition and performance in the civilian world. For the leader that’s hiring and working with veterans, their leadership approach has a significant impact on the success of a veteran’s transition and that veteran’s contribution to the organization.

There are many aspects of veteran transition … education and training, finding a job, transitioning into the job, and performing successfully in the job (and others I’m sure). My focus today and in subsequent blogs is the veteran who has accepted a job offer and is now faced with the task of transitioning into a new work environment and culture.

As you may have noted in my most recent post, I tend to over-simplify matters. True to form, I offer the acronym – DARE – as a framework for what I believe are the essential elements for successful transition. One could easily argue these are essential for anyone’s transition into a new job … and I agree … but I’ll offer a few nuances distinct to veterans as I elaborate on the four main elements. Here goes:

D: Define success

A: Adapt to the culture

R: Recognize your strengths

E: Engage with others

So let’s start with the “D” in DARE. What does it mean for a transitioning veteran to define success? In short, it means understanding what success means to you (the veteran), to your colleagues, your clients or customers, and to your supervisor(s) … and having a conversation (this is key) about those understandings that results in:

  1. A common view of success
  2. A few goals or objectives intended to make you successful (a word of caution here – you can easily go overboard with a laundry list of goals).
  3. How to measure whether or not you’re meeting the goals or objectives intended to make you successful.
  4. A plan for how often you will review progress against your goals or objectives.

US flagAbove I noted that “having a conversation” is key. Just like a successful relationship, the key to a successful transition and work experience is communication. Communication makes it more likely that you and your supervisor, clients/customers, and colleagues are “on the same sheet of music.” It also makes it more likely that anyone involved, but especially the transitioning veteran, will identify early if he or she is not meeting the agreed upon definition of success. If all parties are communicating effectively on a routine basis then the transitioning veteran should only have to make minor course corrections as opposed to major shifts in behaviors and attitudes (unless the job “fit” is just a mismatch … but even then with good communication you will realize this sooner rather than later).

A final note before I wrap up this post. I’ve been out of the military for about ten years but I suspect the phenomenon of inflated evaluations stills exists. For many transitioning veterans, your first civilian job evaluation may be much more frank and less “walk on water” than you’re used to. This may not be the case in all industries but it can be a rude awakening if you’re not prepared for it. This is all the reason more for you, the veteran, to define success (and how that success will be measured) early in your transition.

That’s it for now. Next time I’ll elaborate on the “A” in the DARE framework: Adapt to the culture. Would love for others to join this conversation and share their experiences.

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

First image courtesy of AcrylicArtist/

Second image courtesy of pippalou/

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Don’t worry, you’ve been hijacked

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I’ve been accused of over simplifying things. It’s a fair criticism but often helps me put what I perceive to be an insurmountable or overwhelming issue into context. That brief moment of simplicity and clarity can buy me enough time to take a deep breath, relax, and realize that maybe things aren’t as bad as I originally thought … and then I can focus on dealing with the problem at hand and coming up with a solution.

I’ve also found this approach helps me interact with colleagues in a more patient and thoughtful manner. There’s nothing like a boss who blows up at bad news to discourage you from ever sharing bad news again … and that’s obviously not a good leadership climate especially if we’re trying to lead with mercy.

With all that said, here’s a very simple (I warned you) flow chart that helps me put problems in perspective.

It’s clearly not rocket science but it’s amazing how we can lose perspective when the stress of the day takes over. The reality is, however, that we can indeed lose perspective. And that reality is indeed science … not rocket science but neurological science. In cases of high stress we can lose the ability of higher order thinking or reasoning. This is known as an amygdala hijack.

The amygdalae are part of the brain responsible for processing threats. If you’ve ever heard of Stressed manfight or flight (some literature includes freeze) as threat responses, it’s the amygdalae that dictate this response. Once the hijack occurs it is extremely difficult to do anything other than address the threat. When faced with a physical threat, this is a good thing. But in our day to day lives we encounter stressors that often aren’t physical threats … but upon reaching a certain threshold of stress our body can react to the threat in the same fashion resulting in an inability to think or speak (either not being able to utter a coherent sentence; or saying some things you later regret) in a manner that might be expected in an environment like the workplace (especially if you’re a leader charged with making a decision).

So what does my simple sketch have to do with an amygdala hijack? Well, it might actually help you avoid it! Experts believe that through experience and self-awareness you can actually train yourself to feel the hijack coming on (or perhaps more accurately, know the stressors in your life that might trigger a hijack) … and if you can predict the hijack you might be able to stop it. [1] And for me, mentally walking myself through the simple flow chart above buys me the time to gain perspective and (hopefully) avoid being hijacked.

So as Bobby McFerrin would say, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

Second image courtesy of Master/

[1] Palmer W. and Crawford J (2013). Leadership Embodiment: How the Way We Sit and Stand Can Change the Way We Think and Speak. CreateSpace.

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Tough love

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Often when discussing merciful or compassionate leadership the conversation turns to taking care of our people. This is certainly a worthy topic and is one we as leaders must navigate thoughtfully. In my early experiences as a young leader and as someone who has mentored and coached other leaders, one of the common mistakes of an inexperienced leader is believing that “taking care of my people” means shielding them from tough love and simply giving them what they want. Sometimes it is an innocent and well-intended practice of an inexperienced leader. Other times it is an excuse, even for a more experienced leader, to avoid conflict and difficult conversations. For me, it was a little bit of both. I’d like to share an analogy to illustrate tough love while still being a merciful leader.
For many years I have practiced and studied (unfortunately more study than practice recently) the Japanese martial art, Aikido. Aikido is primarily an art of self-defense where the practitioner rarely initiates an attack. Rather, in Aikido you defend yourself by redirecting your opponent’s energy or otherwise using it against him or her, resulting in hip throws, joint locks or manipulation, and other interesting techniques. The attack ideally ends with the attacker in a precarious situation such as a joint lock where the defender could easily inflict more pain or even permanent damage. This, however, is where Aikido differs from other martial arts. In the case of Aikido the defender applies only enough force and pain to control and hopefully deescalate the situation. Students of Aikido feel a great responsibility to not hurt their attacker (or partner in a training situation) any more than necessary. I offer my experience with Aikido as an example analogous to practicing tough love within the framework of leading with mercy.

As we lead with mercy there will be times where we have to inflict some figurative pain. In the world of leadership this “pain” comes in the form of communicating and maintaining standards, correcting and disciplining poor behavior or practices, but always allowing for room to experience and learn from mistakes. Just as the Aikidoist feels responsible for the well-being of the attacker, we as the leader are responsible for the well-being and development of our people even when inflicting some tough love.

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

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