September 07, 2021

#008: How To Execute Effective Leadership & Find The Right People In Your Team With Dan Bradley

Written by George Randle and Dan Bradley

There’s nothing wrong with giving your best to achieve your leadership goals and attain success. But it’s important to remember that you’re not perfect, and most of the time, you’re going to mess up. But it’s okay. You don’t have to feel like you’re in a disaster because trying to succeed isn’t something to be miserable about. The real question is: what does success look like for you? Listen to your host George Randle discuss powerful insights with Dan Bradley. Dan has a passion for mentoring and serving veterans. His career allowed him to serve in a variety of leadership assignments, including three tours in command. In this episode, he shares the biggest decision he made throughout his life, the huge challenge of military transition, leading troops, and how you could face your fears. He dives deep into the dynamics of having the right people, how you could drive your team, build trust, and add value to the organization for sustainable growth. Learn different strategies and techniques on how you could propel your company to move forward.

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In this episode, we are going to talk about military transition, leadership in the civilian sector, why leadership is leadership and really right people, right seats, which is what seems to be on everybody’s mind. How to hire faster and better. I want you to stay tuned because we’re going to get into the dynamics of getting the right people, the right leaders that really make a difference.

About Dan Bradley

After nearly 26 years in the Marine Corps, serving in both the enlisted and officer ranks, Dan has a passion for mentoring and serving veterans. His career allowed him the opportunity to serve in a variety of leadership assignments, including three tours in command. He also served as a Military Assistant in the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense, which provided unique insights into the Department of Defense, and Wounded Warrior Policy issues.

Since retirement, Dan has worked as a consultant in the energy industry and later transitioned to the Defense Industry supporting Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic where he currently serves as the General Manager of South Carolina Operations for Centurum Information Technology.

Volunteer service has been a regular part of his life as he is currently involved in his church as well as volunteering with the Big Brothers program. For the past three years, he has volunteered with the FOCUS Marine Foundation in St. Louis, serving as a Team Leader and mentor to participants of the program. This includes regular contact and mentoring long after the program ends to enable them to make positive changes in their lives.

My special guest is the great Dan Bradley. If you guys don’t know him, eventually, you’re going to. The great thing about Dan is he’s this Air Force Academy graduate that came to Talent War Group. It’s one of those things that the minute you’re talking to somebody, you know you’ve got talent sitting in front of you. We were fortunate to represent Dan and place him with one of the many companies that come to us.

After a year on the job, I wanted to bring him on. I wanted to talk to him about the right people, the right seats. I want to talk to him about his transition. I’m too privileged. I get Mr. Dan to Zoom me. I don’t have to talk slower. I have to be a little bit more articulate. I’m an Army guy. He’s an Air Force guy. I got to make sure I’m using the proper word so he thinks this is a professional show. The Air Force does have much higher standards especially for us Army nugs. Dan, I appreciate you coming to the show. It’s good to see you.

George, it’s good to see you too. The privilege is mine. I appreciate the opportunity.

I might do something a little different because I’m a little bit fascinated. When I went to transition, Dan, it was a huge challenge. It was one of those things where as much as we talked about being courageous, facing our fears, overcoming a lot of difficulties as leaders in the military and leading troops, it was a pretty daunting thing to transition. If you would, how did you find the Air Force? Bring us through to your transition and how you landed.

How I found the Air Force was an accident. It was something I was directed to through a couple of letdowns and a couple of failures. They turned out to be the greatest things that ever happened to me. I grew up in Colorado Springs. Going through high school, I started to notice the Air Force Academy up on the hill. It’s hard to miss it. It looks like a giant silver spire sticking out of the hill. I wasn’t sure whether or not it was for me. Part of me wanted to get out of Colorado Springs. I wanted to go and try new things and go to different places.

I applied primarily to the Naval Academy and the Coast Guard Academy. I did well. I got the congressional nominations and all that stuff. I thought I was well on my way. If you’re getting into the academy, you get a thick letter in the mail. You get a nice big envelope. If you’re not getting into the academy, you get a small envelope and I got a couple of small envelopes. The Air Force Academy’s Falcon Foundation offered me a year at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. If you haven’t been to Roswell, good on you. Roswell is a great place to spend a year of your life.

I went there, brushed up on the academic pieces, improved the SAT and ACT stuff like that and built a better package to get in. In the second application, I was accepted. I went there wanting to be a pilot. I thought I had my heart set on that. After that, the first time I ever flew anything, it was a glider. It’s awesome when you have the instructor in the back of the glider who’s covering up for your mistakes and making sure you’re not about to die. The first time I was up there solo, I wasn’t super comfortable. I didn’t do great. I’m alive. I’m sure someone’s still flying that plane now so it went as well as one could hope. I realized flying wasn’t for me.

As I went through the academy, I had some fantastic peers and mentors who pushed me towards the Air Force Special Warfare community. Making that decision was the best decision I’ve probably ever made in my life because of the path that it took me down, the people that I got to connect with through it and all the opportunities that came as a result of it. It’s not just doors that opened but leadership opportunities and chances to grow.

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I wanted to be a pilot. It wasn’t for lack of intelligence. It was for lack of effort. Until I got into the military, I didn’t appreciate the value of driving hard towards your goals. I wanted to be a pilot too. After I’d done my enlisted stint, I did the Army ROTC. I was like, “I want to fly Apaches. I want to fly.” The academics seem to hold me back. I took the second-best course of action, which is I jumped out of planes that the Air Force was flying. Back then, I thought I was indestructible. There was nothing wrong with it. At my age with arthritis in the spine and the neck, I’m thinking, “It’s not the brightest of choices.”

I’ve got a place up in Buena Vista out in Colorado. It’s an awesome place. I can’t count the number of times that I went by the Air Force Academy. I can easily see how that was calling to you to see that because it’s pretty stunning. It’s impressive. Good on you because I didn’t have the discipline to get into the Air Force Academy. I don’t think people understand the difficulty of getting to the academies. Academics and physical fitness, it’s everything all balled up in the one all the time, 24/7.

The joke is they want you to be a well-rounded candidate, physically fit. The joke was you’re so well-rounded that you’re what they’re trying to get to. It was honestly a challenge not just getting in but getting out and getting out the right way. The attrition rates are pretty high. My family would sponsor several cadets up on the hill every year when I was growing up. Some of them would make it all the way through the academy and be successful. Some of them completely unexpectedly would either choose to leave the academy or the academy would choose for them.

It’s a cool environment. It’s a great place to be from even though when you’re going through it. There are a couple of days where you’re questioning whether it’s a great place to be at. I can honestly say, the Air Force Academy gave me so much of what I have now. I met my wife at the Air Force Academy. We didn’t date while we were cadets. It’s a long story and it’s for another day. The people that you encounter and the bonds that you build going through there and how you improve as this calm, compassionate, driven leader is not by accident. It’s very much designed that way to take these 17, 18-year-old kids and put them through something that is challenging where they come out better on the other side.

When I was in ROTC, you were wearing your uniform once a week, you have normal classes and then you do a bunch of different things. By the time I got commissioned and made my heart stripe E5. What was the hardest part and tell me what do you think the biggest thing you took away from your time at the academy was?

The hardest part for me was the course load. I went to the New Mexico Military Institute. I wouldn’t have had to if I was good at Math and Science. I was good at Science in the academy and liked it so much that I took most of my classes twice. It was a real challenge to get through the place academically. I was a Humanities major. I still have a BS because of all the Math, Science and Engineering classes that you go through. I remember when I was job hunting and I would push out my resume, I would have people respond to me and say, “There’s a typo on your resume because nobody has a BS in Humanities.” When you’re applying to jobs and you pull up the list of what degrees are available for your first selection, it was never there. The academics were the tough part.

My biggest takeaway was, without a doubt, there is no perfect. Nothing you will ever do will be perfect. When you go to the academy, it’s always a high-pressure environment because everything you do from the day you step off the bus and you start your basic training to the day you throw your hat in the air, everything you do is graded, assessed, scored and then compared to your peers. The way that they select jobs, for most AFSCs, Air Force Specialty Codes, is they’ll tally all of your rankings throughout. Everything you’ve ever done there and they will say, “This person is the best cadet. This person is the worst cadet.” Everybody will fall in between.

If there are 300 slots for a pilot, which a lot of guys in the academy want to be pilots, the first person who decides they want to be a pilot, all of a sudden, there are 299 pilot slots. For whatever reason, if the first 300 won’t be pilots and you’re 301, you’re SOL. There’s always this constant pressure. You always have eyes on you. It’s accepting that whatever you’re going to do, it might be good, it might be great, it might be neither of those things but it’s sure not going to be perfect. Aiming for that is probably an unrealistic expectation from the get-go.

What did they assign you as far as the functional specialty coming out of the academy? Where did you go? How many years did you take in? Give me a brief thumbnail because when I look at it, I’m like, “This dude has done some cool stuff.” I was your run-of-the-mill Mark 1 Mod 0 NUG. I always look at people coming out of the academy and people that have been in career fields like you and I’m like, “That sounds pretty cool.” How did that come about for you?

TWP 8 | Leadership

Leadership: It was a real challenge to get through the place academically.

As a freshman and sophomore, my interest in going to the TACP, the Tactical Air Control Party community peaked. I made that my goal. It was something that I woke up to every day. No kidding, I had a note on my mirror, “How are you going to get closer to this goal? How are you going to get closer to being a TACP?” By the time junior year rolled around, I was able to apply to go to selection and I was asked to come. I was invited. About 40 people attended the selection. It was down at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. It’s a week of the most fun and you never want to have it again.

By the end of the week, we had about 20 to 25 candidates remaining. Of those 20, 25, I want to say 9 were selected to enter TACP training. I was one of the few who went into senior year knowing exactly what my career was going to be. I won’t say that benefited my senior year academics in any way. One of the biggest single points in the academy was being invited to enter a TACP training. After graduation, I went off to my first duty station at Fort Drum New York.

Working with 10th Mountain was awesome. They were a great bunch of dudes. I had some cool experiences out of there. I got to deploy out of there. Somewhere in the mix, I went through the entire TACP pipeline, the basic training for TACP, the initial selection process, the SERE school, all the different specialty schools. Also, the training to be a JTAC or Joint Terminal Attack Controller where you have that qualification to go overseas, put bombs on targets and bring the fight to where it needs to be brought.

After my time in Fort Drum, I went off to Fort Carson. I moved right back to Colorado and finished my career there working with the 4th Infantry and touching in with the 10th Special Forces Group. We shared a parking lot so we got some cool training opportunities with them too. I got to do pretty much everything I could ever ask for. I got a fantastic deployment. I got to travel a lot. I got married somewhere along the way. If I could go back and do any one thing differently, it was that experience where it was everything I could for.

I remember when I transitioned. My last real gig as I call it was a company commander. I was an 03. I had anywhere from 215 to 225 soldiers. I deployed twice. The army only is supposed to let you stay in those billets for eighteen months and I caught a deployment at the end and I told my boss, “I’m not getting off of this horse in midstream. If I take this company on deployment, I’m bringing them back.” I got to do a full two years.

I got out of that and I realized, “I’m not going to be able to lead again.” It was like this rock crushed me. I knew I was going to leave but it was going to be another 7, 8 years. I was going to be a Harvard Graphics or a PowerPoint Ranger. I was going to be confined to doing large-scale brigade orders, wing squadron orders and doing PowerPoint slides for the next 7, 8 years. I took a gig but then I was like, “I like leading. I’m going to try my hand in the corporate world.” How did that come about for you?

For me, there were two big considerations and one of them you had talked about. I’ll hit that one first too. For me, the most fun I had and the most reward that I got out of not being in the community was being a flight commander and a team leader. Being able to get together with the guys and get after it all day. Also, being able to go out and train, being able to go out and deploy and being able to go to support whatever unit we happen to be aligned with at the time. Having those opportunities was rewarding for me and I loved it.

Once I pinned on Captain, I found out that I wasn’t going to get those opportunities anymore, more or less put in a scheduling shop or additional support. That’s one of the things that probably lines up pretty well with the private industry side and what we’re going to talk about. I no longer felt like I was in a seat that I wanted to be in. That’s not to say that I wasn’t in a seat that the Air Force saw me succeeding in or that I needed to be in for that next step up that Air Force ladder because these things are planned.

You know as well as I do that if you don’t check the right boxes at the right point in your career, you’re not going to make the next grade. What they were doing was looking out and making sure that I had the ability to compete for the next level. At that point, I had lost my desire to go out and attain that next level because the thing that I loved and was passionate about, I wasn’t able to do anymore.

The other consideration was 100% family. My wife was also on active duty and we knew that we weren’t going to get stationed together after that assignment in Colorado. She was down the road at one of the Air Force bases in town. There are six to choose from. We sat down and had a tough decision and came to an answer that we both knew in our heads was the right one but was still a tough one to make. It’s time for us to step out and see what we can go achieve on the outside. More importantly, do that in support of being able to put down roots, have a family together and things along those lines. That’s exactly what we’ve done.

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As I tell Mike Sarraille, my co-author of the book, he’s a GWOT baby, Global War On Terror for those people who are reading. I’m a Cold War person. Allied Checkpoint Charlie was part of that. My soldiers were. I got to sit and observe in Berlin. When it came the time when I made that same decision that you did, I was comfortable making the decision but then all of a sudden, I had this wave come over me going, “What is the civilian world? Do they value the same leadership?” I don’t think I lacked any confidence about being successful in the corporate world. When I look back, I’m like, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” When you started searching for jobs and started talking to companies, what was it like for you?

I had that same wave come over me that was like, “Is this the right decision?” That wave was called COVID. In all seriousness, my wife and I were both trying to figure out what we wanted to do where we wanted to be. It was the first time in our adult lives that we had that choice and we got to go make that call. Everything up to that was like, “You’re going to be here at this time and you’re going to be doing this role for this number of years.” We sat back and we’re like, “The world is our oyster.” We started looking for the jobs we want to be in and the places we want to be.

My wife landed a job opportunity in Minneapolis with a medical device company. This was the midwinter of 2019. I kid you not. This story is 100% true. Early 2020, she was getting ready to get on a plane. It was the night prior to us going up to Minneapolis and checking out the facility, signing the job offer and things like that. I’m watching the NBA on TV. I forget what game it was but it was that game where right before tip-off, they said, “We’re not playing. Someone tested positive.” They cut the whole thing. I got that real sinking feeling that we’re not going to get on a plane tomorrow.

In the morning, we called up the company and they said, “We were about to call you about the same thing. Don’t call us. We’ll call you.” To this day, I still have not heard back. That threw a massive wrench into what we thought was a great thing because we had started to wrap our heads around the idea of being up in Minneapolis. I don’t do great in the cold. I lived in Watertown, New York, how bad could it be? It can’t be much worse.

We had started looking at houses. We had started to buy into this plan and all of a sudden, it’s gone. We had that what-are-we-doing moment. It’s like, “Can we cut it?” Unemployment started climbing. We had a conversation about whether or not this was the right time to make this jump whether we could hold off for another assignment whether we could do more time apart. In the first 3 years of our marriage, we spent at least 1.5 years or maybe full 2 years apart. I said, “We’re not going to do that. We’re going to burn the boats. We’re committing to what we’re about to do.”

After that, it was getting tied in with, at the time, EF Overwatch and beginning to work through that introduction to what private industry is, the skills versus talent approach. Also, buying into what these guys at EF Overwatch were telling me was the way. The coming wave of how talent is going to be assessed. It got me hook, line and sinker. I was all about it and ready to go from the first phone call I had. From there, the rest is history. It was a fantastic experience. It was a godsend. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

I’m glad to hear that since I’m a managing partner of what was EF Overwatch, which is now Talent War Group. I want to fast forward a little bit. When I jumped into the corporate world, my first gig was a huge mismatch. I was wildly successful but it was a huge mismatch. I went through one of those veteran firms and I got blinded, to be honest with you. It’s a big-box retailer. It was a wonderful company and wildly successful. I think it’s Fortune 5 at this point if that gives it away. It was such a horrible mismatch. Meaning, I thought they wanted leaders and I thought I asked all the right questions. I remember they wanted management. They didn’t want leadership. I know the company that you went to wanted leadership. It’s why they selected you. How was it jumping into the corporate world?

Let me ask it more directly. What I found and what I’ve been telling people for a long time whether I was creating veterans programs or I’m coaching veterans. The same leadership principles that made you successful in the military are going to make you successful in the corporate world. I’m completely okay if you disagree with me but what did you find when it came to the leadership skills that you brought to the corporate world?

I agree with that. I will say there’s an asterisk in communicating those skills. Communicating those processes is a lot tougher. You have to remember, when you have someone leaving the military at age 25, they’ve probably been doing this since they were eighteen. This is what they know. They’ve grown up with this. It’s not just what they know, it’s all they know. These things come second nature especially when you’re talking to guys who have come from working on the more elite teams and especially the small teams. These things are not nice to have. These things are not, “It’s okay. We’ll get you there. We’ll teach it to you.” They can be the difference and have been the difference between who lives and who dies. You don’t get to slack on these leadership principles.

Communicating that in an effective way in the military and communicating that in an effective way in private industry are two different things. The company that I came to now placed a huge emphasis on leadership principles and they could state them. They could lay them out for you. They were that deep into it. They could tell you exactly what the concept was. The only hiccup was the application of the principles.

TWP 8 | Leadership

Leadership: You always have eyes on you, and it’s just accepting that whatever you’re going to do, it might be good. It might be great. It might be either of those things, but it’s sure not going to be perfect.

It did take not just a top-down approach and this is where we hit our stride. It was a bottom-up approach. Every single person in the company is being exposed to these leadership principles so that they know what we’re talking about, they know what we’re trying to accomplish and they know why we’re trying to accomplish it. They can buy in these principles as we’re still learning them and then no just watch us implement them but be a part of implementing them.

That is a great advertisement for the company where you’re at. I know you follow our LinkedIn content. You’re a significant contributor to a lot of the content and stuff that we do. The pandemic, pre-pandemic, I don’t even know that we’re considered post-pandemic but hiring is such a huge issue. One of the things I did this little video vignette on was top talent has choices. My previous role was the vice president of Global Talent Acquisition. I rarely ever lost candidates in the hiring process because of my recruiters. I had more trouble training my hiring managers as to, “Why should somebody work for you?” Do you think you have a much easier time finding the right people for the right seats because you know those leadership principles and can articulate them to people that may be interested in your firm?

Easy might be the wrong word for it. We made this conscious decision as a company. The leadership team of the company sat down and said, “One, we’re going to grow. Two, we’re going to grow responsibly.” Not only is the company trying to get bigger, trying to have a greater reach and not just in what we do in business but impacting the community as well. Not just are we trying to drive more revenue but we’re trying to give the right people the best opportunity to succeed not just at this company but at whatever company they end up being at.

Guys who will go into a job at age eighteen and then retire from the same company at age 60, that’s not going to be a thing in my generation. It hurts to say the word but the Millennial generation because I know the connotation that comes along with it. It’s not going to be a thing. There are going to be people bouncing from companies or chasing new opportunities or, God forbid, being laid off or fired. Understanding what success in the role looks like and being able to communicate that effectively is the single most important piece of this. If you don’t understand what success looks like in a role, there’s a 0% chance that whatever talent you’re trying to go after or whatever you are trying to snag is going to be able to be successful because they’ll never understand. If you don’t get it, they can’t get it.

That’s the line I’m going to pull out of this for advertising this podcast. I sound like a record but I feel like I’m repeating the same message over and over. If you do not know what success looks like, it’s like going to the grocery store hungry or when my wife sends me to the grocery store without a list. I’m going to come back with Double Stuf Oreos. I’m going to come back with a whole lot of things that I’m not supposed to have. If you don’t know what success looks like, you said it brilliantly. Did you feel that was in place before you got there? Do you think that’s a continually evolving thing? How do you, as a key and senior leader there, apply that to make sure that you know what success looks like and that you’re selecting the right people?

It’s something that evolves all the time. Anytime that you bring on a new individual or anytime you open up a new role and even start advertising that you’re hiring for that position, what the right team dynamic is and what the right person for any given seat might be is going to shift. It might not be this earth-shattering shift where you have to rethink the whole position to fit in a company or whatever. It’s going to adjust.

If you have a company of twenty people and that company grows to a company of 50 or 100 people, what was the right person for that twenty-person company is highly unlikely to be the right person for that 50 or 100-person company. That’s nothing against that person. The nature of the game has changed quickly. It’s probably never in my life changed as quickly as it did in 2020 while we’re trying to start being more conscious about not only who we’re going after but why we’re going after them. How we’re advertising these jobs and what ways we’re advertising them so we’re making sure we reach the people we want to reach. It’s constantly evolving. It’s a moving target. If it was still, it would be boring so I guess that’s a good thing.

It has been my experience and one of the things that we coach is exactly the point. You have to know what success looks like. I hate to say it and you remember training with automatic weapons. You always get that Private, that Airman that’s out there that spray and prays, that’s rattling off and pulling the trigger and won’t let go and letting rounds go downrange. I found that with hiring managers, “Let’s put everything we can in the job description. Let’s post this in as many places as we can and screen as many people as we can until, ‘I’ve got a good feeling. What the heck? Let’s give this one a shot.’” It sounds like you guys are a whole lot more methodical and purposeful in how you go to market and how you select. What have you learned when doing this for your company and seeing the candidates come in the door, pandemic, post-pandemic, etc.?

Stop me if this takes the question too far off the rails.

I never worry about that, Dan.

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When you’re talking about putting the right person in the right seats around the company or anything like that, the first thing through my mind isn’t how we hire. It’s how we are going to retain. You talked about that spray and pray. You don’t know what that round is going to hit but it’s going to hit something. The likelihood of it hitting something bad seems to be a whole lot higher than the likelihood of it hitting exactly what you would like it to hit. If it does, it’s not because you’re a good shot, you got lucky.

The most important thing to me is making sure that you do have those people that are solid contributors to the team, those people that wake up every day and look forward to going in the office and grinding. Also, who puts aside whatever might be a limiting factor or a restrictor in their ability to get up and go crush that day. If you have those people already on your team, it doesn’t matter how good you’re hiring if that guy or girl is getting ready to leave. Number one has to be, “I need that person in that chair and progressing up the company. I need him to be maximized in his potential for as long as I can.

I’m glad you took it that way. I interviewed on this podcast, who I call my evil twin, Karen Clark. We were colleagues and peers at my previous company. We were talking about the retention aspect. You brought up a great point. You’ve given me a new topic that’s going to go on the list of things. It’s retention. Hiring doesn’t matter if you’re not retaining the good people that you have.

You know that even though you invest in them, some of them are going to want to grow faster. They’re going to want to be promoted. They’re going to be capable or have the potential to be promoted faster. Those people in my team, they’d always get a reference for me and I would say, “Help me find your replacement.” Let’s talk about that for a second. Let’s go off the rails. What do you think is most important when it comes to retention? What things do you zero in on? What things do you think are important as a leader to drive retention higher?

If we’re going off the rails, we’re going off the rails. I’ll take us back. The TACP community, for the entire time I was in it, was a “critically man career field,” which means that you have solo manning that it’s getting to the point where it may start to impact mission readiness. Retention was this huge deal. I remember group wing commanders going around to all the squadrons and talking to primarily junior officers to try to get their take on why people aren’t staying.

Keep in mind, this is a career field that people dedicate years and years to get considered for. No one ends up in that community by accident like, “I can’t find another job. I’ll go be TACP.” Those are people who have the drive. If they’re there, they have the capability. They’re competent in not just their fitness, their mental acuity but they’re supposed to be there. They’re intentionally making the decision to leave. One of the things that kept coming up in these conversations was stuff about lifestyle. George, are you familiar with the term dwell time?

No. That’s a new one for me. Go for it.

Dwell time is a measure that the Air Force at least use. I don’t know if they use it anymore. It’s the health of a unit based on how much time you’re spending either at your home station and going home every night or somewhere else you are typically deployed. A dwell time of 1 to 1 would mean that for every night, I’m at my home station, I’m spending one night somewhere else. Don’t quote me on this but it sounds right. The Air Force standard dwell time is 3 to 1. We had dudes in our unit and across all the units in the community who, for years and years, would have 0.6 to 1 dwell times. They were gone. They said, “If we’re going to be operating at this capacity then I need there to be more considerations for how I’m spending my time with my family. I need to be able to say no to some training opportunities.” It’s stuff like that.

The Air Force took that feedback and came back and offered a bonus. It’s called an SRB. To be fair, it’s not a small bonus. It’s a considerable amount of money. Across all the career fields in 2021, it’s $55 million combined. It’s a small community. Everybody seems to know everybody else. Not one time in the discussion of, “Am I going to stay or am I going to go,” did SRB come up. To put that in private industry terms, people were asking for benefits, the company offered salary and it was a quick no. Especially with the next generation, Millennials, I was following that. For the Gen X-ers who are starting to get into private industries, salary isn’t so much the name of the game. Is it Gen X or Gen Z that comes up?

I think it’s Gen Z. I’m still trying to figure out my own generation. I fall on that cusp. It’s like astrological signs. I’m somewhere between Baby Boomer and Gen X. I don’t know what they call me. I have gray on my whiskers so I consider myself a Boomer.

TWP 8 | Leadership

Leadership: The path that took you down is not a waste because you will connect with people, and opportunities will be thrown your way.

I don’t know what the reality of the whole thing is when it comes to the generational gaps. With the younger people where we will classify “young talent,” I think compensation is going to take a backseat to benefit some lifestyle considerations both in acquisition and retention.

Karen and I were talking about that. As Mike and I describe it in the books, if you’re not in the ballpark in compensation, you’re going to struggle. It’s getting further and further away from the top two slots. That’s the number 1 consideration. When Karen and I were talking, It’s like, “How are you investing in your people? How are you making sure that your critical players, your high potentials?” Even those what we call five-box. If you’ve ever done the nine-box exercise, you’re smack dab in the middle. Those are the people with moderate potential, moderate performance but they’re grinders. You need that core, that middle of the bell curve as you say. How do you retain those people? Let me ask you this. If you’re not looking at comps, what’s successful for your company in making sure that you retain great people?

My role is I’m the sales director. Take this with a grain of salt because I’ve spent exactly zero days in my life in an HR seat. They take more of a sales-minded approach to how they’re going to sell employees and prospects on staying with the company. All that sales is identifying a problem that a prospect has, figuring out a way to solve it that adds value and communicating it effectively and quickly enough for them to understand, “This is the solution I need.” Let’s take “young talent”, the mid-20s to mid-30s and say, “What are some problems that the generation is facing that are important that an effective HR leader could solve?”

You and Karen talked about this one statistic, 52% of gainfully employed people are looking for another job. This is not just young talent. This is across the board. Remote work attracts talent. You’ve put out a podcast before where you’re talking about, “I don’t know about remote work. I don’t know about the mindset. I don’t know if it’s effective.” There are fair considerations in that. Remote work does attract talent. We’ve already said that 52% of employed people are looking for new jobs. There are other data out there that says 42% of employees, the last number I saw, would rather quit their jobs and go back to a full-time office setting.

To pull the generational gap again, 63% of Millennial and Gen Z workers prefer a hybrid setting. The talent that’s going to be most sought after in coming years, overwhelmingly, wants to have the flexibility to the point that it’s no longer optional. It’s factual. It’s a data-driven conclusion. Sorry to say that whatever an organization’s opinion on that might be, it’s irrelevant. I would much rather face the problem of having to go find a leader who can effectively drive their team in a remote setting than have to go find more people because all my talent is left to remote settings. To rephrase that data, if you’re going to hold the hard line that you won’t offer flexibility, one, you’re going to lose half your team. Two, 2/3 of the talent pool that you’re going to search through another place, those team members aren’t even interested in what you have to offer. That’s not an ultimatum.

I’m in agreement with you. A few episodes ago, we were talking about the ability to break bread with people, the ability to be social. Tom was a big proponent to the degree that you can bring people back into the office. I loved it but I always had a long leash for people being able to work remotely. I don’t care if you’re sitting on the beach in St. Croix. If you’re productive, you’re contributing, you’re collaborative and we have a mantra of teamwork, ownership, humility. If you’ve got those things, “Go work from the moon or whatever floats your boat.”

When I was talking to Karen, she says, “You’re going to have to approach this from a flex perspective.” Have you found that to be challenging? Do you find it a whole lot easier? Is it an adjustment for you? One of the things that I love about military leaders and one of the hundreds of reasons I’ve shared with companies that veterans are a great bet is that whether we’re managing remote or managing in person or managing and leading in the flex environment, we know how to do it. That’s a struggle. A lot of people are worried about the flex environment and being able to manage and still drive results. Has it been a challenge for you?

It has. I will say that the industry that I’m in makes remote work hard because it’s construction. You have to have guys on the ground doing the job. For them to go out and spend a whole day in the hot sun doing real tough work and then come back and see that everybody else is on their laptops sets a difficult standard to try to explain. There’s that challenge piece to it. There are people who have gained the ability to lead in about any setting. That’s not something that’s necessarily cocky or egotistical to say because it was acquired through failure and failure before you figured out what works. The biggest component to all that is 100% trust.

On my deployment to Iraq, I remember getting into Baghdad and trying to figure out where all these different dislocated teams were, who they were working with and what their mission set was. There were guys I had never met. I still understood that they had the TACP patch on their shoulder. I still understood that they knew how to do their job. I trusted them to make good decisions. If they’re on my team, if they have been vetted to the point where they’re good to be here then I trust their decision-making process. My job is no longer to micromanage them. My job is to enable them. Trust is the key component and that’s hard to build. If you can get past that trust piece, everything else will fall into place. It won’t fall into place effortlessly but that’s the first domino to get the others to fall.

That brings a few rounds to the note that I wrote. The lesson that you said is it’s never going to be perfect. When it comes to retention, the right people and the right seats, I know we’re always striving for perfection. When you approach retention, when you approach leadership, the relationships, building trust in the corporate world and you know you can’t be perfect, what do you think it is that you’re striving for most? What do you keep foremost in mind when you are leading people? That’s a loaded and tough question but I had to ask.

Without a doubt, there is no perfect. Nothing you will ever do will be perfect. Click To Tweet

The tough answer to that tough question is how do we get less bad at what we’re doing now? That’s phrased very intentionally. I’m not trying to say, “Let’s go out and be great now. Let’s go and be perfect now.” I’m not trying to set a standard where if we had a rough week or we got off a rough project and we’ve got some work to do to get back to level, I’m not going to go out and set the standard that I want everybody clicking on all cylinders on day one. I’m going to go out and set the standard, “This is where we’re at. I’m looking for a 5% better day. I’m looking for us to be less bad.”

The phrase that we said way too often in the TACP community was, “I need you to suck a little bit less. Not a lot, just a little bit less.” First of all, it was a little bit fun. That humor opens people up to have more of an honest conversation and take a more honest look at what their performance has been. More importantly, it’s all a process and there’s no end to this process. If there is no perfect, it’s not something you’re ever going to reach. First and foremost, if your goal is perfect, you need a new goal. You’re not chasing something unattainable. There’s no route on how much more good or less bad it can be. It’s taking small incremental steps to get better at what you do every single day until you are where you want to be.

That’s a great point. It harkens me back to a book that I bought for three different teams that I’ve led. The book is called Raving Fans. The author is Ken Blanchard. He’s the guy who wrote The One Minute Manager. To your point, he said, “One of the best ways to get raving fans as clients, as customers, was to do 1% over what the client expects on a continuous basis. Don’t wow them. Don’t blow them away. It’s 1% greater than their expectations.” To your point, 2% to 5% better than we did yesterday.

I’ve always loved that. Don’t shoot for the moon. I know there are a lot of clichés, shoot-for-the-moon-land-in-the-stars stuff. I don’t subscribe to that. I’m like, “How did we do yesterday? Are we 5% better?” Now that your feet are entrenched in the corporate world, what do you think are the most important lessons that you’ve learned as a leader in the corporate world in your first year? I know that’s a little bit of a loaded question. What are the big a-has for you?

The first real a-ha moment I had was shadowing on my first sales call with a member of my team. To be completely fair, I already said earlier that I don’t have any science, tech or math background. I’m not that good with numbers. I’m not that good with technology. I’m not that good with pretty much anything that you would expect a construction worker or a construction team to be good at. I go on this call and I was completely lost in the sauce. I had no idea what they were talking about for equipment. I had no idea what they were talking about with pull plans or change orders. I’ve never even heard the term change order before. I took a backseat and observed.

When we walked out, I must have had this overwhelmed look on my face. The guy who I was with said, “What we did, that’s not the value you bring. That was a talk with someone who’s technically minded. Your value is with people who want to be expressed what the value our company brings is. I don’t need you to go tell them, ‘Here’s a 500 horsepower, 10-megawatt, whatever.’” I don’t know. I’m not going to add value to the team doing that. I’m going to add value by communicating and establishing a presence and building that client relationship.

Number one is if you’re going into a job or going into a project thinking that you know exactly what you’re supposed to do there and you’re probably setting yourself up for a little bit of a hiccup or disappointment or a minor failure. I had such a huge vision of what the sales call was going to be like. I thought I knew exactly what we were going to go and say. It had it scripted out. I was ready to go and it didn’t play out that way. I set myself up for failure because I didn’t understand my role. Understand what your role is and capitalize on it. For me, that was the single biggest thing I ever learned.

I remember I came crashing down to Earth transitioning from the military into my first job. Some of that is because I had muddy boots most of the time. I was very much used to the muddy boots, downrange style of leadership that didn’t fit. I was reintroduced when I transitioned into humility and listening. You’re right, understanding what my role was and building those critical relationships. We’ve gone on for almost an hour, Dan. You’ve had a ton of gems. As a senior leader, if you had to give two pieces of advice, we’ll close out with your two best pieces of advice, retention, right people and right seats. What would you tell other leaders out there that will help them be more successful in getting the talent that they need to propel their company forward? I’m going to give you the last word on it and then I’m going to close us and bring us home.

One, understand that the game has changed a whole lot quicker. Part of that change is the wave of shifting expectations is starting to build. It’s not resting. It’s not on a downswing. It’s getting started. Agility is going to be important in understanding exactly what your employees are looking for and exactly what the candidate pool or the talent pool that’s out there want because they do have the opportunity to name their price.

There is a huge disparity between the number of jobs that are available and the number of people who are actively seeking jobs. For the people who are seeking jobs, the ball is in their court. They get to play it however they want. Have a great understanding of exactly what appeals to who you’re trying to get to. Number two is an aggressive sales mindset. Aggressive and sales probably don’t appeal to a lot of people. They might be more attuned to listening to an HR or a podcast along these lines but let me explain. Sales is taking action and solving problems. Aggressive is not rude. It’s not in your face. It’s having a bias for action where other people don’t.

TWP 8 | Leadership

Leadership: The part of that change is the shifting expectations. Agility is going to be important in understanding exactly what your employees are looking for.

If you’re thinking those two things affect and you can do them when they’re expected to be heard. You can do them without sounding overly preachy, sounding too assertive or dominating like that bad sales guy that calls you on the phone when you’re in the middle of dinner and wants to talk to you about your car’s extended warranty or whatever. Without sounding like that person, if you can do those two things effectively then people are going to be attracted to you.

Part of that is figuring out how to get to them in the first place. They’re in different places. They congregate in different places than they used to. I’m not talking about a physical congregation. I’m not talking about them getting drinks in different bars but your talent is based on what you’re looking for, understand where they are, understand what it feels to them and understand how they want to be communicated with. Capitalize on those three things and reel them in.

Dan, we’re punching up an hour. These things go fast. There are probably 100 other things that we chat about. I want to leave you with a couple of things. First of all, my gratitude for finding EF Overwatch and the Talent War Group. Number two, for kicking ass, taking names and being another great example of veteran leaders out there in the corporate world demonstrating that leadership is leadership and making a difference and power in the economy. Lastly, for taking the time out of your busy day to come on the show. I’m grateful. There are tons of gems. This was great. I really appreciate it.

That goes both ways. I got to thank you for the same three things. I’ve joked that the house I’m in and where I’m at and where we’re living, this is all the Talent War’s house. My wife doesn’t think it’s funny. I know that we wouldn’t be in the position we are if it wasn’t for you, Mike and the rest of the team just absolutely crushing it. I’m grateful for the opportunity. When they reached out to me and said, “Do you want to be on this?” I was like, “Done. Tell me when. I’m not going to pass on that.”

We may do it again. For the record so you feel better, Dan, I know but it has taken me at least a decade to realize that I don’t need my wife’s validation on that front. She thinks she’s funny. She doesn’t think I’m funny. I don’t know what that is. My kids think I’m funny so I think that helps.

Lauren and I respect him so I hope my kid thinks I’m funny. I have a little girl. If I can’t make her laugh then my world is going to turn upside down.

That’s awesome. Congrats. I am now a proud grandfather. I’ll give you some advice right back. Somebody told it to me. I had no idea how blindingly fast. I call her Tigger because she would fall out of her crib. I remember her hitting the floor and she didn’t just hit once, she hit 2 or 3 times. She was like a rock skipping across the floor. I started calling her Tigger for that. Now I have a grandson from her. Her husband, in the summer, plays soccer with me. He’s a great guy named Michael. It goes by in the blink of an eye.

I would tell you to enjoy every single second of it, even the destruction of the house. The only other thing I’d tell you is to start saving for college now because I don’t think that the college tuition bubble is ever going to pop. If there are any university administrators out there, you have to get your collective stuff together. It’s getting too expensive to attend college. Those degrees are becoming less and less worth the paper they’re printed on. That’s my two cents as a recruiting professional.

Dan, it’s good to have you. I’m going to close this out and bring us home. Thank you again very much for your time. All the Talent War readers, we appreciate you. We hope that you share this show. If you have any ideas for topics, by all means send them along. We thank you for following. This is going to be the home of all things talent. With that, it’s Dan and George. We are out.

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About the author

George Randle
Managing Partner & Co-Director of Talent Advisory | View Bio | More From the Author

George Randle is an experienced talent executive, veteran, coach, mentor, and leader known for selecting, building, and reorganizing teams to reach their full business potential. George has 20+ years of Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 global Human Resources and Talent Acquisition experience building elite teams. George began his professional life by enlisting in the US Army Reserves.  While serving in the USAR, he received his bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University and was commissioned an officer. His career assignments included Berlin, US CENTCOM, and III Corps with deployments to Africa (Somalia and Kenya), Central America, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Following his successful military career, George transitioned to the corporate world, experiencing many of the same challenges the Military and Veterans face today. These challenges along with the recognition that building elite teams are his true passion, George ultimately transitioned to the Human Resources and Talent Acquisition function. He later went on to create one of the largest and most successful Veteran Hiring Programs for a Global Fortune 50 firm. Collectively, the teams George has built have hired over 85,000 professionals, including over 2000 executives. He is also a Hogan (HPI, HDS, and MVPI) Leadership Assessment Certified coach.

George currently resides in Austin, Texas, and is the co-author of the best-selling book, “The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent” and the Host of "The Talent War" Podcast.

Dan Bradley
View Bio | More From the Author

After graduating from the Air Force Academy, Dan served for over five years as an officer in the elite Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) community. He served both as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) and as a Task Force Advisor on a 2018 deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. His expertise in selecting, developing, and leading effective small teams stems from his experiences as an Air Force Special Warfare Officer, both in training and in combat.
Dan partnered with the Talent War Group (formerly EF Overwatch) in 2019 and now works as the Director of Sales for Kahn Mechanical Contractors in Dallas, Texas. Dan holds a Master of Arts degree in Strategic Leadership from Saint Bonaventure University. He is passionate about mental health advocacy for the veteran community.

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