007: Understanding The Human Factor In Team Building With Brian Decker
When it comes to team building, managers usually give more attention to finding the best people than the right ones. To put together a balanced and productive group of individuals, human factor must always be considered. George Randle sits down with Brian Decker, a former Green Beret who now works as the Director of Team Development at Indianapolis Colts. He shares how he focuses on the human aspect of every person rather than concentrating on skills or abilities alone. He emphasizes looking at talent in its raw form to properly nurture it and learn how it can contribute to your desired culture. Brian also delves into the right attitude of becoming an effective leader and how the values they uphold ultimately impact the entire team.
Listen to the podcast here:
About Brian Decker
Brian Decker is currently the Director of Team Development with the Indianapolis Colts. Combining his military experience with the input of the General Manager and Head Coach, he has developed a model and methods to assess the mindset of NFL prospects, using this information to onboard and develop the player approach to the game and team culture.
Brian is a career Army Special Forces Officer who retired in 2014 after achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Brian served twice in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Special Forces Officer. Brian holds an M.S. in Defense Analysis from the Naval Postgraduate School. Brian consults with numerous Department of Defense and private companies on topics related to assessment and selection, talent management, and organizational development.
Tom Lokar, Ph.D. and all things talent won’t be joining me, but I’ve got somebody more handsome, authoritative, and knowledgeable, the great Brian Decker. I’m privileged to know him and work with him. I’d like you to stick around for a little bit while we talk about selecting and hiring the best talent, and why not be in a panic.
I got to welcome Brian Decker, a former Lieutenant Colonel of the United States Army Special Forces and a huge contributor to our book, The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent. He is now the Director of Team Development at the Indianapolis Colts. Brian, I appreciate you coming on. Give our readers a heads up on how do you go from being a Green Beret to the NFL?
George, I appreciate you for having me on and providing this forum to talk about this. I’ve been lucky to work in two industries with extremely high barriers to entry where the product of the business is the talent you field. What created the opportunity to work in the NFL was my work in Special Forces, but it begins much earlier than that. If you go back in the military, your development timeline, everybody’s going to spend operational time. For me, that was on a Special Forces detachment in Iraq as an Assistant Operation Officer and a Targeting Officer. After that, you go back and return to the force. I was an instructor in the Special Forces Qualification Course and I loved to teach. I would go on after that and go to the Naval Postgraduate School, then I would return to command Special Forces Survival School.
The most important part of the job that had the most impact on me as far as creating these opportunities in the NFL was being the Commander of Assessment Selection for Special Forces. My team and I were responsible for executing the Commanding General talent Acquisition Strategy. Whenever I took over that program, the selection rate was approximately 50%. The past rate in the follow-on training was approximately 50%. Most selection programs are designed to be a reliable predictor for success. When you’re working with your partners, they’re trying to increase the efficiency of their hit rate. I’ve heard the number thrown around that it’s about $1 million to train a Green Beret over the course of anywhere from 1 to 2 years and half of those guys are missing.
It was a nominative position. I talked with General Sacolick and he gave me the job. He essentially challenged me like any other leader would be, “Take 90, 120 days, go out there, try to understand the landscape, what’s going on and come back to me with a plan.” I went there and there’s nothing to benchmark. Typically, in an organization, there are similar business units or, a peer or a competitor which you can benchmark yourself against.
In selection, there wasn’t one. There are other selection programs in the military but they’re all unique and different. They’re tight-lipped on their process. What I did was I went and pulled all the data. I had two questions. Do we have the information necessary to make good decisions and we’re just not using it well, or are there gaps in our methodology? To answer that question, I pulled all the data from all the qualification courses. The problem with it is there was no consistent language by which to talk talent.
For every client I have, that’s one of the first things I ask, “Is what am I reading consistent?” The answer is rarely yes.
We had all this data. Every organization that was touching these soldiers along the line had great databases but it wasn’t integrated and wasn’t in a language that would talk to each other. One of the things I did was every time a soldier exits the qualification course, there’s an exit survey that characterizes the reason why his time in the qualification course was terminated. I read through hundreds of those and recategorize them to something that I could map to my selection methodology, in a language or a typology I could.
What I found in that study was we weren’t using the information that we had well. Specifically, we were over-indexing on things that we could easily measure, physical traits and objective measures. There was a gap where we weren’t capturing the character and the makeup of the soldier. When you think about military operations, small unit teams, it’s a social-based endeavor. The team has to work and align. They have to be very close. We went through a period of iterations in which we would test ideas.
Later on, we revamped the course. One of the things that came out of that was we weren’t valuing intelligence enough. Is it Google’s Project Oxygen where they go back to a meta-analysis of all that? We found that we needed to increase the value that we placed on intelligence, but not the crystallized or academic type of intelligence, the math or the information, but more so, that performance IQ or what they call fluid intelligence. That’s your ability to adapt to the novel demands of the environment. It’s pitcher, sequences and analogies. There’s no math in there.
We upped the value of that. We set the baseline for the physical traits where we needed them. We took it to the next level. We redesigned Team Week and that’s where you select Green Berets. That’s where you drop these people into a problem without assigning leadership and allow the chaos to force them to self-organize. The team and the cadre are selected based on that. Long story short, I learned a lot about character makeup. You call it traits, attributes, values and behaviors. They all interrelate. I learned a lot about that.
During that time, the Cleveland Browns, Mike Lombardi, Coach Stefanski and their staff came down and they wanted to know how we select Green Berets. They want to understand the methods. What tools and instruments we were using? What data we were collecting? How are we were using that information to make decisions? One of the things that they keyed in on was how we were measuring character. Long story short there, it turned into an opportunity to go work for the Browns.
This was the pitch to me. Joe Banner who was the CEO at the time of the Browns said, “Roughly, we miss on 50% of first-rounders.” It’s an arbitrary measure but it generally means they’re not having the type of anticipated impact you would have of a resource of that level. He goes, “We’re not missing because we don’t understand the objective measures of counting. We’re missing because we don’t understand the person. We’re missing because of the human factor.”
I told Joe, “Anybody who tells you that they can eliminate the human factor in any problem is being naïve.” I do believe that with good measures and methods, you can collect qualitative data that will allow you to hit a higher average. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be better than your competition. If you’re 3% to 5% better on average compounded annually, that’s going to end up being a pick or two down the line. I think you can do better than that. We’ll see if history will tell that, but I got into the NFL around assessing character and leadership.
I know you’re not with the Browns anymore and I won’t make you go through that. You’re with a team that’s on the rise now, the Colts. I’m glad you don’t play the Chiefs. I’m grateful because they started to get scary when I was watching them in 2020. When you made the transition, was it the same pitch to you? Did they think your methodologies had been proven? Were they just catching on to how important the whole person concept was when it came to building their organization?
I met Chris on a call eight months before he took the job as a general manager. Chris called me after ESPN had done an article on me and my time at Cleveland. Chris is a relationship builder. He believes in the power of people. He bets on people. We created a relationship. During that time, I would share my ideas on how I would build culture and how I would assess character. I think he liked that. He said, “If I ever get a job, I’d love to consider bringing you on.”
To be honest with you, I didn’t talk cheap. I knew Chris. I trusted Chris but I didn’t know him that well. After he got the job, we got talking again. After the draft, he brought me on. One thing that was different there was his vision for the team had character makeup and culture. That was one of his strategies to create a competitive advantage. He truly wanted to get to the locker room right. What’s made this opportunity unique for me is that I have Head Coach, Frank Reich and General Manager, Chris Ballard who both place a high priority on the character and makeup of our team, and the culture that is the residue of that.
We see that as a source of competitive advantage much like any other company out there. We started our culture by getting the right people on the bus. You select people who have values, beliefs and behaviors that we think are very important to the type of culture we’re trying to build. You put them into an environment where those things are prioritized. One of the things that makes us a little different, I don’t know this but I guess, is I think most organizations will talk about the importance of people. They will talk about the importance of the character, the makeup of their players and team, the attributes and all of that. I’m not sure that it’s always reflected in the decisions they make and the way they interact.
On the business side that I’ve seen, as you see those corporate values on the wall and we talked about those several times, ”People are our greatest asset.” You then see the decision-making and to your point, you don’t see them bet on people or do the things necessary. There’s one thing that I wanted to delve into because I was excited to ask you this one question. Our book, The Talent War, is a war for talent right now with all the things that are going on. You get companies that are absolutely in a panic to get people on board.
I imagined that your fans and the owners, I don’t think there’s anybody connected to the NFL who isn’t in search of the Lombardi trophy as fast as they can possibly get it. Maybe not just the Colts, but how do you keep the general managers and the coaches you’ve worked without of that panic mindset like, “We’ve got to buy talent now. We have to get everything that we need this year and make the run?” How do you help them understand, “Don’t be in a panic because every selection counts?”
Winners and losers aren’t separated by their goals. All 32 teams want the same thing. There is a difficult balance that an organization has to maintain between building for the future while remaining competitive in the present. My personal belief is that what drives that is the mindset, the beliefs, the values that the head coach and GM have before they even get there. Chris is like anybody else. He’s fiery competitive. He wants to win every game. Every coach wants to win every game but we also have to balance that with future needs because we want to be able to sustain success.
Your vision sets you out depending upon the organization and how far out your time is, but 3 to 5 years or maybe longer. You have to have this long-term vision and where you’re wanting to go, but we have to make decisions in the present. It’s that balance of what we need now and what’s better for tomorrow. A lot of that goes into the decisions you make on your roster and who’s filling those critical roles both for their development and the performance of the team.
With hiring in companies like the NFL, you can’t get everything that you want all at one time. I’ve never seen it done. I was waiting for many years. My dad used to take me out to Liberty to a place called William Jewell College. I used to stand at the fence line and watch Len Dawson throw balls if that gives you an idea. I wasn’t old enough to see the first Chief Super Bowl. I was traveling. I was in Ireland when I finally saw them win it. That’s how old I am. It was a long-time coming in. I’m satisfied for life that I got to see it.
When I watch people get draft or go through free agency, I think in the business, “How do you hire?” My question is, how involved are you in the prioritization and execution of who you build with first? Let me give you an example. They may not be connected but I watch people tell me, “George, I need you to go get this executive from this company, this rockstar who’s well-known, big reputation, much like a high-dollar free agent. We need to bring them on now,” without regard to the environment. Maybe that’s not the person we need. We don’t need a leader yet. We need the infrastructure.” Can you give us some insight about how pro football goes about saying, “It’s not just about the quarterback. Maybe the quarterback is not the first person that we get, even though we know we need one?” How do you go through that? What do we need? Is it what’s available? How do you do it?
The architect of the team is Chris. He leans heavily upon Coach Reich and his input and their philosophy. It’s a partnership, 1A, 1B. Ownership has a lot to do also with that. I wouldn’t want to talk to you about how we prioritize or what positions. It’s no secret that there are some roles on teams based on a scheme that are higher priority than others. You can see that reflected. You can almost reverse engineer that by looking at someone’s draft. I do believe that the essence of a human capital strategy or the essence of the strategy is that you’re doing some things or prioritizing some things in lieu of others.
You’re making trade-offs. I don’t think anybody realistically believes that you can get the 22 best players in the league on both sides of the ball. I think about succession planning and high-potentials and understanding developmental pathways and stuff. Where are those critical roles in your organization where you need top-level talent? Where are those quarterbacks and pass rushers at in your organization? It’s understanding where those are at. I’ve heard you all say it and it’s something that I think I picked up from Ray Farmers. When it comes to meeting that requirement, you can build it, which means you’re going to hire it and put it through some development pipeline. You can borrow it, which means you take maybe a free agent for a short period of time.
It becomes a Band-Aid while you’re trying to develop that capacity or you can buy it. When you buy top-shelf talent at a high-priority position, you’re going to pay a lot. You’re probably going to overpay because the market is high. The best organizations have that long view of success. They can anticipate their human capital needs. They see this person is going to likely move up in a year, which means it’s succession planning. How many people truly do succession planning where they’re developing a bunch of people to take on those roles? One of the metrics you could look at is how often do they go outside the organization to meet a talent need?
I wanted to bring up two things and especially for our readers because I don’t know that you’re aware of it. When I’ve done podcasts where people have invited me, there were about 5 or 6 key quotes in our book, The Talent War that stood out to me. Your particular quote about, “Experience isn’t always predictive of success,” I have driven that home like a spike through people’s hearts in every consulting engagement I’ve had.
I want to be careful because I want to be respectful of what you bring uniquely in the Colts’ process. If you were to translate what you’ve had in the Special Forces and the NFL, and you were to impart to people things that they should be looking for in the whole person, what advice would you be giving without anything that would be specific or unique to the Colts? I don’t want to go there. If you were advising people on how to pick talent, you have to talk to these people and say, “These are the people you’d bet on. This is how you bet on people.” What would you say?
I’ll answer the first question. It’s related but not exactly. There was a period of time where I was away from the game. I was dipping my toe and seeing if I could find a job in the private sector. I probably submitted 225 resumes. I got one where I got through the initial screening process, the intelligence and the personality testing, and the first interview. I could tell that they were struggling to understand what I could do. I had another gentleman called me back. He goes, “You’re never going to get a job.” He was being bluntly honest. The Cavaliers were in the playoffs at that time. He goes, “I’m going to be in Cleveland to watch the Cavaliers play. Why don’t you meet me at the Marriott by the airport and talk?”
We talked for probably 40, 50 minutes. There’s one thing where he was special. He didn’t understand anything about my experience. He didn’t understand my military and my football experience, but the one thing that he understood is how to assess talent in its raw form. He said, “Why don’t you come to do an executive apprenticeship? You’ll sit in my hip pocket. You will be a part of whatever meeting. You’ll be on every call. You do all this.” I was there for probably six weeks and they offered me a great job. I ultimately didn’t take it because I wanted to go back into football and that began to spin up.
I thought that was unique to the fact that he could see that raw talent. It’s one of those things I probably should ask him like, “What did you see in me that others didn’t?” He probably saw the range of experience versus the specificity. Most hiring processes are looking for this specific thing. They’ve got these narrow parameters that they’re looking for. They want you to essentially do the same job in the same industry at the same level. They want you to make a lateral move. That’s how they advocate their hiring process to resumes.
Where you can make a bang for your buck is that if you can understand what talent might look like in a more raw form, and then put it into a system or an environment where it’s going to develop and where you’re going to nurture it. If somebody would ask me what I’ve learned along the hallway? It’s to be very holistic in your approach. In Special Forces, there is a physical component that’s extremely important. We rated that high. That’s one part. There’s an intellectual or a cognitive component. We rated that high.
There’s also this emotional or psychological component and we rated it high. I think the fourth thing that we rated high was emotional intelligence. That fourth dimension is that emotional intelligence. It’s how those other threes interact in a team setting. Does it work in a way that achieves alignment, accomplishes a mission, does so in a harmonious way, and makes everyone else around them better? It’s being holistic in your approach. The first thing you need to do is figure out where your baselines are on your objective measures and screen those out.
That turns your field of applicants from 500 into 75. Once you’ve done those qualitative objective measures, then began to scale down. When you get toward the end, it’s going to be qualitative. Pick those people who had the values, beliefs, and have the same types of goals and behaviors that you associate with the culture of your organization. More people miss on fit once they get down that road than they do on talent.
Make sure you hire not necessarily the best person but the right person. That’s one of those things where when you get to that process, you got to believe like, “I trust this person.” Even with the gray and the uncertainty, “I trust this person that if nothing else, they’re not going to beat themselves.” I don’t think character makeup or whatever you want to call that is a substitute for talent. Once you’ve answered the talent question, it becomes extremely important.
I would freak out an executive. My CEO in my last company would have me do somewhere between the 4th and the 5th interview for any executive. I made it a practice to interview the executive without reviewing the resume. He was like, “George, let me give you a copy of the resume.” I’m like, “No, I don’t need it. Let’s get them on my calendar.” We get them on my calendar and I would admit to the executive and say, “By the way, I purposefully didn’t read your resume.” You would watch executives get in a twist. My boss asked me one time, “Why did I do that?” I said, “Based on the processes we have, you’ve covered the table stakes.” To use your expression that we used in the book, that gate’s closed. I don’t need to revisit that gate.
Everything that I talked to the executive about his character are behavioral-based, meaning behavioral questions that elicit value-based statements, what they value, what motivates them, what’s important to them. I try to determine, is it important to them and other people? Is important for them to model? Is it both, etc.? It drives the executive nuts. They say, “Why are you asking me these ten questions if you haven’t read my resume?” I said, “Because I don’t care where you came from. I don’t care who you work for. I need to understand the fit.”
I’ve told this story before. One of the questions that I finish up with is a unique question. I was talking to this exec and some people will know who this is by the description. First of all, he has PhD in Robotics from Stanford. Second, he worked with Steve Jobs. This guy is over the moon smart. This is for a C-Suite position in this particular company. I get to the last question and I said, “Your best friends are people that I described as those people who you would trust unequivocally to erase the contents on your phone in the event of your untimely demise. Not to infer that you have anything illegal and moral or inappropriate on your phone, but these are the people with that level of trust. I’m going to run down about 30 annoying behaviors in that group. When I hit a certain behavior, everybody in the circle is pointing to you. What’s that behavior?”
What was funny about the question, this guy has got the table stakes, the brainpower and all of that. He danced around the question and started going in all kinds of different directions. I said, “Damn it, you’re not getting an offer if you don’t answer this question.” That’s how hard I had to bring him back down to Earth. He slams his hand on the table and he said, “Damn it, I’m ADHD.” I was like, “Thank you very much.” I go into the boss and I’m like, “You got to hire this guy.” He’s like, “Great. He’s going to bring the rigor and the discipline that we need to this team.” I’m like, “No, he’s not. This guy is so far over the moon. He’ll think he’s on the moon but his head is on another planet. That’s how bad he is, but he’s brilliant.” He said, “I want him. We need him.” I said, “Give me another $350,000. I’d go hire a chief of staff that’ll keep him in line because he’s the brainpower.”
It drives executives nuts but to your point, he was absolutely the raw talent. I would talk to execs and I would say, “I interviewed a lot of great people but my job was always selecting the best person for that environment.” That’s why I’m so fascinated by what you all do and how you do it. I do not want you to name names or put you on the spot, but there’s got to be some people that were high-dollar free agents that you had to have looked at and said, “It didn’t fit the environment that we were trying to build. These character attributes were not going to fit.” Do you feel like you’re in sync with the coach and the GM about everybody has to have at least these 3 or 4 attributes, values, or characteristics, and if we don’t see them, we pass? That might be a hard question.
I want to say something about that first one. I love that you’re like, “Let’s throw the resume out the door.” Here’s why. A resume tells me what you have done. It’s a historical document that captures what you have done and it’s interpreted in the most gracious form. The one thing that I’ve seen in the NFL, in Special Forces and in my reading is that what you do does not always translate when you hire somebody away from an organization. You find this organization and want to hire this star person away from them because you felt like they have a critical role. You want them to bring a piece of that back to you, but there’s so much going on in that environment.
The one thing I would say is to make the assumption right off the bat. What they were able to do is not necessarily going to translate because it was dependent upon a lot of complex interdependencies. Some of which you can’t unravel. When you look at a great team, you might see the guy who’s the leading scorer, but do you truly understand the role that those around him have in contributing to success? When you pluck that person out of that environment, away from that structure, that culture, from everything that’s designed to create success, it’s not fair to assume that it will be a one-for-one exchange to your organization.
I don’t think what necessarily translates, but I do believe how does. They will use the same behavioral strategies. They’re going to bring the same values, beliefs and behaviors that they had in that organization. If you go back and you can disaggregate their success and say, “Look at their values, behaviors, beliefs,” and you can see how those contribute to that. You can expect them to bring that same system with them to your organization. If they have the sufficient level of talent to go along with that, and you feel like that’s going to be a good fit for what you’re doing, then pull the trigger. Don’t think that because Player X had 1,500 yards receiving last year, you bring him into your team and he’s going to have 1,500 yards receiving. We’re all smarter than that.
I would love to believe that a lot more people are smarter than that. The evidence in my experience tells me otherwise, unfortunately.
If you want a good case study on it, there’s a great book called Chasing Stars. What they tried to look at was the portability of talent and performance. They study investment banking where you have this superstar in one firm gets hired away. How often is he able to then repeat that success on another firm? Long story short, he’s not able to do it. That tells you that when you look at those outcomes, there’s a lot more going on than what he’s contributing to that. If you look at it and you identify a true need and approach to how you’re approaching it as an organization, and you find the talent and the guy who does it the way in which you want to bring, that’s a different question.
They debunk the myth of the portability of performance. I would even tell you that even with the portability of talent, talent will take on a different form based on the environment in which it’s at. In football, we have a scheme. Organizations have some equivalent as to how they approach their work and scheme matters. Every scheme is going to highlight talent in a different way. What was the second part of that?
I have written down three of your quotes. If we do a second version of The Talent War, you’re going to have a lot more quotes. I’ve spent several years trying to explain to executives and I didn’t have the benefit of your research and experiences. For me, it was intuitive. It was accidental to get in. Nobody goes from enlisted to an officer and then says, “I want to be a recruiter,” as I’ve told people. It was an accident that I ended up in HR, but I found that it clicked for me. I’ve spent years trying to tell executives that portability of performance is a myth. It may work. Don’t get me wrong and especially, it works really bad.
I don’t think you guys have this problem in the NFL. I’ve never seen it. If I’m wrong, correct me. One of the things that I had talked about in previous episodes was the dark side of employee referrals, nepotism. You don’t have that in Special Forces, Navy SEALs. You do have it amongst the executive ranks in companies, “I’ve worked with so-and-so in this company and I’m going to plop them over here because they’re going to fix all of this.” I’ve told executives for several years that it doesn’t work that way.
Now, because we wrote the book and had your contributions, I started using the analogies at the NFL site. There’s a top draft choice that went to one team. It didn’t turn out as they expected. It goes to another team and takes off and vice versa. They were great in that particular system. They go to another system, to your point. Whatever talent or attributes were needed, they don’t fit in that scheme. The second part of the question is dicey and we can pass by it, but has there ever been one of those high–dollars marquee free agents that you looked at and then passed on, without naming them?
One of the reasons that I ask and I can name it because it’s in the news and it’s my team. It’s was crazy that we got Frank Clark. I grew up in the days of Derrick Thomas and I was thinking, “We got Frank Clark. This is great.” We won the Super Bowl. He’s great and now he’s been arrested for a felony, automatic weapons possession out in LA. I’m like, “Is this guy going to be here this season?” Is there ever been a high–dollar free agent where you guys looked at, and when you learned about that person, you were like, “This doesn’t fit the character, the mold, and it doesn’t align with what we’re trying to build values–wise with the team that we’re going to fill in 2021 and years to come?
I never talk about individual players or individual decisions, but I don’t believe we would have the culture we have now at the Colts if Chris and Coach didn’t prioritize certain aspects of a player’s makeup. I don’t think we would be where we’re at. Both in the draft and free agency, let’s not be negative. These guys jump out as being our kind of guys. These guys exemplify what we stand for it. I’ll give you a great example of our team. We picked up DeForest Buckner in 2020 in free agency. He is an outstanding player. He is one of the best at his position, but he’s even a better person. He’s a better man and father. He’s all of that. He’s a leader. He does everything the right way.
That sends a great message to your organization, your fans and to your locker room when you go out and buy one of those top-dollar free agents, but he exemplifies everything we stand for. He is a leader in our locker room. If we go a long way, which we think we have a chance, DeForest is going to be crucial in his leading in the team in general and specifically, his position.
I don’t want to stretch this over. That led me onto something else. I would imagine somebody like him is even more critical when you’re drafting and bringing in what I can legitimately call. I have kids older and they wouldn’t qualify for the draft. My kids are older than what you’re drafting now. That’s got to be like 3X, 4X more important to have a person of his character and a good person, man, father, player, everything across the board when you’re making bets on 22-year-olds.
I can’t talk enough about this. I can’t brag enough about this. You’re in a good position when your best players are also your best people. When your best players, with the way they perform on the field, are your best people. The business equivalent is when your leaders are the highest of character people, the way they approach, they set the bar and the example. They exemplify your values. That’s the thing I’m probably most proud of being a part of. It’s being a part of a process where we have built a team where our best players are our best people. You don’t have these inconsistencies between what we say is important and what we’re tolerating.
I am not going to ask you for predictions. You know who I think is going to go to the Super Bowl from the AFC. I’m going to say that much. If the Chiefs don’t go, I want the Colts and I will be full force behind them. The last point that you bring up is a great segue into what you and I are collaborating on. It’s a complete gift to me because we’ve got you, Rich Diviney, Mike Sarraille, Tom Lokar, and folks, we’re writing a second book. Tell them all about the mind-bending conversations. You can give your 30-second speech on the mind-bending conversations we’ve been in.
This is a great opportunity for me to be a part of something bigger than myself. To sit down and collaborate with you on something. We’re talking character, leadership, culture, and development. This is my life’s work. One of the great things I found in these initial stages of sitting down with you all is that it forces you to consolidate your ideas in a way in which you can make that accessible to a broader audience. We’re making thousands of little decisions all the time. For example, when we were sitting and talking about leadership. It got me excited because we all know what leadership is. We know what it is when we see it.
I was like, “What is it?” When we sat down and we said, “Let’s think about leadership. It’s like a stool. There are three parts to it.” If you don’t have all three, then something’s going to be off-balance. You may have something but it may not be a leader. The first thing that we come up with is that they have to have character. Leaders have to be persons of character. You assess that by looking at their motivations, intentions, values, behaviors or how are they doing this? Are they doing this in a way that serves the greater good, organization, shareholders or people, or is this someone who, “Yes, he’s achieving results in this quarter but he’s doing so only under his own banner?” We’ve all been around it.
One of the things I’ve seen that leaders will struggle with is if the people they are leading don’t trust their motivations and intentions. That’s what separates a leader from a manager. A leader draws his power from the people he leads. A manager is relying upon the roles, the duties, and those authorities that are passed down to him. One is character. Another thing that I’ve got excited about is we know that leaders are competent. They’re intelligent. They’re problem solvers. Individually and collectively, they can lead their team to solve problems.
They have a vast understanding of their activity. They see patterns and opportunities. They see a future that others may not see. They see opportunities others don’t see. The second one is competence. The third thing and I know we’re still toying around it, but leadership is still in a can if you can’t communicate it. You’ve got to be able to communicate it. That’s one of the things that I’ve always held. No matter what I’ve talked about leadership, I’ve always had one thing. You’re not talking about leadership if you’re not covering the word influence.
Whether that be in Special Forces, in football, in the corporate world, the first step is the behaviors that you display. Are you modeling? You’re communicating non-verbally the way you go about things, the way you handle yourself and your approach. That’s the initial part. Secondly, do you have the ability to communicate effectively? That’s when it gets into style. If you think about combat and football, what’s the thing that differentiates the greatest of leaders? I feel like they can provide hope in very difficult situations. That can be a difficult quarter, a game, a firefight, whatever it is. What they do is they have that ability to influence. They are a multiplier. That’s a short example. I love what we’re doing around leadership. We’re going to get into that development piece, and then leaders in their role in culture and culture development. This is an exciting opportunity.
I’m going to do a quick call out as we close out to Mike Sarraille. He’s like my brother. He’s talking to me about The Talent War and writing the book. He’s naming off all these people we can talk to. The more that we got into it, it forced us to crystallize things. I thought we did a good job with The Talent War. I’m very proud of it. I learned how to crystallize my thoughts. I think we brought something to the public that’s exceptional. I do. I’m very proud of the work. Although I hate our work because, by the time we got done editing, you ended up hating your book. You were tired of reading it. I already warned you. Mike and I have warned you when you get to the audiobook portion, that’s the most brutal thing you’re ever going to do.
Team Week will look joyful at that point when you’re standing and having to talk perfectly. I’m super excited about this book because we are writing something that I wish I had as I decided to become an officer. The one big thing that we talk about is the legacy of leadership and how important that is. I know we’re going to produce something that I can hand to people and say, “This is going to make your journey better, easier, impact and influence more people.”
I’m going to ask you the very same question that I got asked on another show. If you could go back and tell your twenty-year-old self something, I think what we’re writing, when somebody asked me that question, I’m saying, “Read this book.” That’s what I would tell my twenty-year-old self is to read what we’re writing and know the concepts that I’m learning from you, Rich, Mike and Tom, and what we’re putting together. I’m so humbled by it. I’m going to close out with that question because you’ve had a great career. I’m honored and humbled that you came on the show. If you had anything that you would tell your twenty-year-old self, any idea what it might be?
I wrote a little manifesto when I was twenty. I don’t want to say manifesto, but I wrote these four words down. Those are the ones you keep on paper. They’re in books. I wrote desire, discipline, determination and perseverance. At that level, you’re an individual contributor at that point. You’re very tactical in your nature. I felt like those were the guides. Those were the things I thought were important to me. What I would say is I would have learned a little quicker that it’s not about what you can do, but it’s what you can bring out in others. I learned that lesson quickly.
If you say like my leadership playbook, number one is to develop the capacity of those around you. Empower them, engage them, give them resources, a vision, and get out of the way. I would do better in Math in school. There was an opportunity to get into a PhD program. My friend, who is super good at Math, went on to get his PhD from Florida Tech in I/O Psychology. I’m not going to lie. I’m a little bit envious, but I also know not to jump into a pool that is too shallow. My Math skills, I understand. I appreciate and I get it. I would do a little bit better in math.
I knew I was going on active duty and I went to my Math teacher. I said, “If I pass this test, I promise I’ll never use Math unsupervised again. Let me get to active duty.” That’s how bad it was. I have a son that graduated with honors in Mechanical Engineering. He’s a project manager for 3D printing and building the machines that do the 3D printing. I remember in college. He said, “Dad, I need your help with this.” Google could not even help me with that stuff. I’d love to tell myself to go back and start with Math a whole lot earlier. Brian, I can’t thank you enough. This is truly one of the best interviews I’ve ever done. I continue to learn from you on this show and when we’re on our weekly calls for the book. I’m honored, privileged to be friends and colleagues. Thank you for making the time.
My wish to you and everybody in the Colts organization is a great season, a healthy winning season. I’ll say I’d like to see the Chiefs and the Colts in the AFC Championship. Thank you so much. For all the Talent Warriors out there, thank you for tuning in. We’ve got a number of episodes. We had the privilege of learning from Brian Decker with some great advice coming your way. We look forward to seeing you again on the next episode.
- Brian Decker – LinkedIn
- The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent
- Chasing Stars