Turns out great leaders don’t leave much to chance. They are typically methodical and expect plans to be well developed and well executed. Evolutionary leaders know to expect and plan for the unexpected as well.
Even though I was expecting it, I was still freaked out when the SWAT Team officer kicked in the door ripping the hinges off in the process.
“Get Down! Get Down! Lie Face Down!”
Three officers were in the room in a split second checking corners and “clearing” the room. I was the hostage, but they were not showing much concern for my well being, I was face down flat on the floor and sucking dust. Seconds later I heard the popping sound of gunfire in the next room and then the “All Clear” signal from the SWAT commander who was running the drill from a catwalk above. The SWAT Team was working on new strategies for managing room entries with innocent bystanders mixed in with the bad guys.
Yes, this is what I like to do with my weekends.
There is a lot to learn about human communication when you are in adrenaline pumping situations. That is when people often catch themselves—being themselves. The officer with a knee over my back helped me up and turned to go outside the training room for debriefing. The officers removed their helmets and goggles and stood in a circle with their heads down as every movement and decision was questioned. Why did one person go ahead of another? Were they sure the first room was clear? What would have happened if both teams encountered bad guys? The whole exercise took less than 45 seconds but the team was sweating and panting like they just finished a serious workout.
At the end of the briefing the sergeant said, “This was a broken play and you were slow to adapt.” There were push-ups for penance, and then more drills.
I was daydreaming about this experience while I was coaching a CFO through a Board presentation where there was good news and some bad news. He actually rehearsed his presentation with me, which is very rare, and it makes a huge difference. Most executives tell me they want to “talk through” their presentations and not actually rehearse them…big mistake. He was doing great, but we caught two or three serious trouble spots that were easily fixed in rehearsal, but would have been a nightmare in front of the Board. Then we role played some different situations and tried to integrate the core messages (efficiency without degrading service, building economies of scale) in a smooth narrative style. It was good, but our meeting ended agreeing he needed more practice, more training.
Training isn’t just a good thing to do—it is an essential element in any high performing organization. Training isn’t something you attend; it is a state of mind that demands you walk through complex situations before you even think of running. Here are some truths from teams that survive because of the way they train.
Practice Makes Permanent: When learning a new system or working with new resources it is critical that you explore the complete range of the resources the system offers. If you only engage the material at a superficial level you can “cap” your ability to learn-by-doing later when the pressure is on. This “fallacy of the minimum” is the biggest problem companies face when they roll out new resources. The typical line is, “install it and figure out how to “get by” as quickly as you can to prevent service lags.” The problem is people NEVER go back and really learn the software or system. Vendors tell me all the time, “Clients call upset because their software won’t do such and such—and I say it has always done such and such—you’re just not aware of what the software will really do!”
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast: This is an expression from the SEAL teams. SEALs recognize that you need to walk through a mission and make sure that every potential situation or response is considered before you go “live.” Attention to detail is also an important mantra in “the teams.” Walking through processes and really paying close attention to every step, every decision, allows people a chance to deeply learn and understand systems and adapt them quickly if something breaks down. Adult learners are way too quick to believe, “OK I get it” and move on to the next thing—when they really don’t understand the basics.
It’s all about the broken play: Plans fall to pieces about two microseconds after they are initiated. Yes, you need to train to the plan, and you also need to train to the broken play. This means considering contingencies, best and worst case scenarios, and “must do” elements versus “nice to do” elements. Working through the broken play can help you identify the priority elements in your plans and pitches. We expect the broken play so much that we are surprised when the plans unfold as predicted.
A Repetition Superstition: A martial arts instructor I know talks about “twenty thousand kicks” before you can even hope to have a technique “adequate.” It wasn’t a number he made up. I think he actually counts. He will begin practice a half hour earlier because he can get an extra “five hundred” kicks in—ahead of everyone else he trains with. Repetition makes a technique available to you without distraction or conscious effort. If your leadership pitches are going to be effective, they will need to flow smoothly. This means that you should practice, out loud; working through slides that you know will be cornerstones for your presentations. It means that you are not a freak if you literally rehearse what you are going to say in your five minute pitch to the CEO, the Board, or a customer. It is what professionals do.
It’s a No Brainer: Training is a part of what you do. It is a part of your culture. You are comfortable and quick to roll play, critique, and roll play again. You train for the extremes, the tough circumstances; even though you hope you never have to use those skills. You are conscious that your primary tools, your brain, your body, your presence, require maintenance and support. You would not dream of performing without rehearsing, and make no mistake, if you are following these rules, you are performing.
As the drill began again, the SWAT team went back outside to assume their positions. One man muttered “I’m roasting.” Another wiped sweat away and said, “This sucks.” Then they both smiled at each other and said, “But we love it when it sucks!” They trained for another four hours.