We have to stop labeling people. Be an excellent professional and learn how to delete the adjective! In this episode, Lisa Jaster, the first female reserve soldier to graduate from the Army’s Ranger School while being 37 and a mother of two. Lisa talks about the concept of deleting the adjective. She also talks about becoming a better leader and communicating well with people. Tune in and grasp the idea of making this world a better place!
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Delete The Adjective With Lisa Jaster
Following up on the last episode, I had two amazing senior executive leaders on. Now we’re about to do the third, and so stand by to get some great information on being a great leader.
I have somebody who, I could say, you’re a colleague and a friend because you rip me all the time when you come into the office, but I have the distinct privilege. It’s weird in your professional career. When you’re a skinny kid named George, and you grow up to be a recruiter, you spend time in the Army. You never know where life’s going to take you. In this particular case, I had the great fortune to run across this crazy lady named Lisa Jaster, who, from the very beginning, has made sure that I stay humble at all times and challenges me when I need to.
In the last episode, we had these great leaders on. One of the big things is that there are always challenges. Lisa’s done this thing called Delete The Adjective. I know Lisa has books coming out. We’re going to talk about that. When I heard the phrase that Lisa was using called Delete The Adjective, I loved it. I want to get into that. How in the hell did you decide, “I’m going to go be a soldier. By the way, I’m going to give this West Point thing a shot. Yeah, there’s this little thing called Ranger School, and that sounds like a fun vacation?” Give us the synopsis of how this enters into your brain and how you got to be, at least, the foundation of the leader you are now?
My story is like everyones. It’s very weird and unique. I was living in a small town, Plymouth, Wisconsin. My father was a 1968 West Point grad. I had exposure, but I lived with my mom. My mom raised me. My paternal grandmother bought a book for $0.99 when I was in the seventh grade and sent it to me. It’s called In the Men’s House by Carol Barkalow. It’s about the first class of women to go to West Point.
Being a big personality in a small town, you’ll always feel like you have to escape. Everybody from a small town feels like they have to escape at some point in time, but this book landed in my lap simultaneously with this feeling of, “I’m too much for Plymouth.” The timing was perfect. I read this book and it sounds hard. I’ve done hard things at this point in time, but nothing that made me think I wanted to quit. Nothing that made me cry when I went to bed at night. Nothing that brought that emotion that comes only with pushing yourself to the limits.
I read this book, I’m like, “That’s it, I’m going to West Point.” When I was in seventh grade, that was 1990, 1991. We have already started experiencing all the stuff going on in the Middle East. The military was at the forefront of the news. It was in a positive light. America was very united. I’m in a small town, Wisconsin, flag-waving, lots of parades. The VFW is a downtown thing. Everything lined up, but back then, you couldn’t Google it.
I had to do real research. My mom drove me to the local mall, where I met this enlisted recruiter. He was like, “I have no idea how to get you into West Point.” It was going to the library, and student guidance counselors couldn’t help you. It ended up being a big project for me to try to even find out how to get into West Point, even with an alumnus father. The process was almost as exciting for me as the concept of going. It built in my mind.
By my junior year of high school, I got to visit West Point. I walked on the campus. One of the first things you see is the statue of Douglas MacArthur. You start walking around, and West Pointers say that most of the history we study is written about those who attended our school. That’s impactful for a high school student. I had this in my head, “I was going to do a lifetime of service.” It doesn’t mean I was going to wear a uniform until I die, but it meant that service to something higher mattered.Anyone who sticks out from a crowd has to put forth extra effort. Click To Tweet
It all started with that little nugget of reading a book. George, you and I have talked about it. We’ve talked about it in the Talent War Group, how readership is part of leadership. It all starts with that book I read in seventh grade because it literally changed my life. You get this concept from me when I go to West Point for the first time, not even accepted into the school where, “I’m home. This fits,” to answer in a very short way. Your bigger question is, how did I end up at Ranger School?
I’ve got this crazy little fact. I can’t believe I haven’t shared this with you, but this is so serendipitous. You read this book about the first women in West Point. My branch assignments officer was the third woman at West Point. I did three years in Berlin, and then I came back to what was then called the Officer Advanced Course.
I came back and then you have to go down with your dream sheet. I walk in and there she is again. I go on and go to Fort Hood, and they don’t have a job for me. It was weird. Sometimes you get stuck in a weird spot and you get these orders. You’re like, “This makes no sense.” They assigned me to the brigade plan shop as a first lieutenant promotable, and my boss selected my branch manager, the third woman to graduate from West Point. I don’t think I knew it, but that’s what resonates with me with the Delete The Adjective.
I’m not going to get us down too far down the path. She was an awesome fricking leader. She was like Colin Powell’s speechwriter for a period of time. I’m sitting there going, “I better have my act together because this person’s a rockstar.” I wanted to share that with you. She was an amazing leader in all aspects. It sucked because I’m working with her and I’m like, “You’re going to give me 25, 30 years. I am not going to hit this level at this point. It’s too good.” Let’s go on to Ranger School.
Ranger School, that same mentality of I want to challenge myself has never gone away. Ranger School, typically 23-year-olds, obviously prior to myself attending and the other eighteen women who walked through the gate the first day only males, so 23-year-old males, that’s the typical Ranger School student. It was right before my 37th birthday where this ALARACT came out. That’s the Army’s announcement process. It’s a formal document that said, “We’re thinking about having one experimental integrated ranger school class.”
I was completely uninterested, so much that I deleted the email and never thought about it again. I know you know the military, George, but some of our readers probably don’t. You have your senior enlisted. You have your enlisted and your officers. I’m on the officer’s side. The enlisted, you have your senior folks, and they are your right-hand men and women as the case may be, but they have so much experience.
They’ve stayed in the weeds their whole career, where officers are more at the strategic or management levels. My senior enlisted guy, his name was Sergeant Major Robbie Payne. To this day, he’s still a pain in my ass. I love him to death, but he reaches out to me. He’s like, “You have got to go. This is perfect for you.” I am at that stage in my life where I’m working for Shell Oil Company. I’m flying on King Air to go to my project sites. I drink coffee on the airplane. There’s a Land Cruiser waiting for me when I get there. I drive out to the site. I come back, get back on the King Air and sleep in my nice warm bed.
You didn’t mean coffee, Lisa. You had a latte on the King Air.
I am drinking black coffee, as usual. Nothing for free here. That was my life at the time. I told them, I said, “Sergeant Major, that’s great, but I like room service. I’m not sleeping out in the mud for nine weeks. It’s not where I am anymore.” He wasn’t getting anywhere talking to me. He called my husband. In the reserve, it’s a lot different than active duty. There’s less segregation and especially in the type of unit I was in. Everybody was close because it was a small unit. Sergeant Major Payne talked to my husband. My husband decided, during dinner, he was going to ask me in his way about that little seventh-grade girl who read a book and was willing to charge the world, make changes and do something hard.
At that time, in my work email signature block, I had an Einstein quote that says, “A ship is safest at the shore, but that’s not what it’s built for.” At the dinner table with our young children, my husband literally asked me about that quote and very simply said, “You were built for this baby.” All that excitement that Carol’s book started in that seventh-grade girl has stirred up again. It leads to the discussion we’re probably going to have regarding Delete The Adjective, but this is an opportunity of the lifetime.
Do I sit on my laurels and watch other people do it? Do I sit there and say, “I’ve got to try,” because if I try and fail as one of my favorite quotes, Teddy Roosevelt, “At least I will never end up with those poor and timid souls who neither nor succeeded.” At least I tried and that’s what started it and got me to Ranger School.
The first thing I want to know because I want to tee up is where you came up with the concept for Delete The Adjective? You have all these things that drove you to West Point and a successful career as an officer active. We’re going to talk about Shell Oil and the leadership stuff, but when did it dawn on you that, “I need to be talking about this. I need to be paying this forward in a way that I can impact other people like those three women that went through West Point impacted me with the book.” Where did the concept come from, and what sparked it?
Obviously, it was a progression. It wasn’t an overnight thing. It was a good friend of mine at the time who made the statement, “I wish people would delete the adjective.” I met the Chief of Staff at the president’s last State of the Union. In 2016, it was President Obama’s last State of the Union. I was invited, and all the military leadership was in a back room. I know it’s controversial now, but I met the most senior man in the Army and still, General Mark Milley.
Although 38 isn’t young for a young officer, I was young in my career compared to these four-star generals. I said, “Sir, it’s a pleasure to meet you. What can I do?” The Army has given me so much because even at that short period of time. It was 3, 4 months after I’d graduated from Ranger School. I had already been to DC several times. I had been able to work with the Senate Armed Services Committee.
I came in and sat in on a couple of meetings. I could already feel that I had a voice that I would have never had if the Army hadn’t allowed me to attend Ranger School. I’m standing in front of General Milley. What can I do for the military? He gives me a bunch of stuff that there was no way I was going to do, “Come active duty. You’ll be a battalion commander soon. Take an infantry battalion.” I kept looking at him, going, “Hell no, sir.” I’m a reservist with this great job at Shell with room service.
He’s saying go infantry hell, though. I know what those boys do. I’m not interested and I’m not interested in coming on active duty. His aide is standing behind him, rattling his head like one of those bobbleheads in a truck window. He’s like, “Nobody says no. Do you know who you’re talking to?” Finally, I said, “Sir, what can I do? I’m going to stay as a reservist. I love my job. I love being with my family. What do you need from me?”
He said, “Be vocal and visible because there are people like me, and then there’s a lot of people out there that feel like they can’t be what they can’t see. If they see something that looks like them doing something they want to do, there’s a path. Without that visual aid, they stop themselves.” I said, “I can do that.” Literally, later that same State of the Union experience, a newspaper article came out. It was a small line.
It wasn’t that important, but my husband was taking care of the kids. He didn’t come to DC with me. I got to invite my friend, Sue Fulton, as my guest. There’s a box that the first lady has. I was sitting with Michelle Obama, and then whoever we brought as our plus one got to sit somewhere in the West Wing and watch the State of the Union from there. It was a big deal, apparently that instead of bringing my husband, I brought this activist. Sue’s gay. She’s very active in Sparta.You have to have daily reminders and be all in enough to take away those daily distractors. Click To Tweet
I wish I could tell you her resumé. It’s insane, but she does a lot for underrepresented demographics. Somebody was talking about your lesbian friend or your gay friend. I’m like, “How about just my friend?” She’s more politically active than I am. She knew when to tell me to be quiet, “Have a glass of wine and walk around and relax. Put that glass of wine down. You’re too relaxed.” She was the perfect plus one, but she was a perfect plus one because she was Sue, not because she was my lesbian friend, Sue.
At some point in time, she was like, “I wish people would delete the adjective.” When she said that, I’m like, “I’m writing this down.” Literally, from that day on, I hashtag Delete The Adjective because she’s a good friend. She’s a good person. She isn’t a good gay friend. She isn’t a good gay person. She’s just a friend, so delete the adjective, and that’s how it evolved. General Milley is saying, “Be more public, put yourself out there.” Sue said, “There are qualities you have, and they don’t anchor themselves in your adjectives.”
It’s great to hear that story because in the last episode, I had Lisa Schreiber and Myrna Soto. I told them I was poor, so I enlisted in the Reserves so I could pay my way through school. I grew up with a very strong mom. She’s run 2,000-person, $3 billion-agencies, wicked card player, nationally ranked, highly competitive. I don’t play games with her. She will do whatever it takes to win. When I went into the military, and then my branch was co-ed by virtue of my branch. I was telling Lisa and Myrna, “I grew up in an environment where I didn’t care. I didn’t care what was under your uniform or what wasn’t under your uniform or who you were dating.”
It was none of my business and had no bearing. I said, “I grew up. It’s not that I didn’t see discrimination or people treat people of color or women or whatever their orientation was differently. I would stop it, but it never occurred in my leadership right. I was so worried that I had enough of the right people.” It’s weird to be able to do this show that I had those two. Now I have you. To me, if everybody could sit with the three of you, you wouldn’t have to do the Delete The Adjective. I better get a little bit of humility here. I wanted to jump ahead and share something that they said on my show with you.
I wanted to know about West Point, Shell, and then certainly, Ranger School. You’d love to work with them. Myrna said, “If success for men was 100%, I had to be at 115%. If somebody had a good idea, they would accept it if it was a man. I had to have this business case well thought out because it was my idea.” She goes, “I had no problem out working people. I get to a certain level,” and then she joked.
She said, “They all ended up working for me anyway, which is awesome.” Did you experience the same thing like West Point, Shell, Ranger School? First of all, you will always outwork anybody. I know that about you, and that’s a driver for your personality, but did you feel like that there was this burden on your shoulder at West Point or Ranger School or Shell to deliver the expectation on you was artificially higher?
This is one of those complicated questions because I understand that that exists because many people out there have relayed that same sentiment to me as a female or minority or, again, an underrepresented demographic. It’s important that you give that extra effort. For me, oddly enough, I saw it differently. At West Point, I stuck out as a female, which means I did have to be more precise and almost perfect in my behaviors. I also noticed that the dude with glasses, the short kid, the slightly plump guy for an academy cadet, also stuck out. Maybe this is a coping mechanism, but anyone who sticks out from a crowd has to put forth an extra effort. It’s not necessary to prove that they’re equals. It’s because they stand out.
I am a redhead. I am 5’4.5”. I had a higher voice than everyone else in my formation when I worked construction in Shell and went to offshore platforms. Everybody talked about the fact that there was a woman out there. I would create environments where I would fit in, and people would start ignoring my adjectives. If you go offshore and you’re working with a bunch of oil hands, you’re going to say stuff like, “You’re going to talk about carburetors. You’re going to bring magazines.” You’re not going to talk about world events and public affairs because they don’t care about that. They care about the muscle car that they’re building in their garage when they get back home. You’re going to find ways to connect.
I’ve always found that as soon as I can fit myself into the crowd in one version, I don’t have to change my appearance, wear manly clothes or lower my voice, but as soon as I demonstrate that there’s some connection with me and the people around me that went away. I didn’t feel like I had to work harder because I felt like I no longer stuck out because people were automatically deleting the adjective.
I don’t know if that makes sense, but it happened in Ranger School. It was a huge slap in the face. The three Black guys that were in my company of 100 people, the four guys were wearing glasses, the one guy who was 6’2” and the one guy that was chubby. Those guys and me got called out for every bad pushup. Nobody else who was between 5’7” and 6’1” White with a shaved head was called out very often because they didn’t stick out. They didn’t draw somebody’s attention to them.
I love that perspective because you are a part of the talent worker when we had our book. This occurred with you. I wanted to share this with you as a compliment. One of the premises is a book is you can’t see talent. I said, “With Myrna and Lisa and with you, rethinking that one a little bit. You’re in your presence and you see that.” I want to get into one controversial question and we can move on because it might be a simple yes or no.
When you went into the civilian sector as a senior project manager, did you have to negotiate harder for comp, or did you think that everything was flat across the board that, “I’m good to go? I’m living and working in a fair environment?” The reason I’m asking you this is because unsolicited, Lisa and Myrna, now they’re my age group, she mentioned she probably compounded, left a couple of million on the table. I thought, “Holy crap, that’s a big deal.” Did you ever have any effects of that with any civilian employer?
I read your show and I had that exact same reaction that she left all that on the table. I never even thought of negotiating. Coming out of the Army, everything is if you have this many years in service when you’re this rank, this is what you get paid. If you look across the table at somebody who’s in the same demographic as you, they get paid the exact same thing. I didn’t even realize there was anything to negotiate. I went through a recruiting company. I got 5 or 6 job offers on the table at the same time. I had about a week to choose which one I wanted, and I literally chose, “They have good benefits.”
My husband’s leaving the military, so he’s going to need benefits too, great pay, and it’s in Texas, and we want to live in Texas. That was it. I never even thought about going back and having any discussion. After leaving Shell, I only had one other full-time job where I could have negotiated, but I was going for culture. I was going to a company specifically because I wanted not the pay. I wanted the great location. I wanted the type of company that I thought I could be the most impactful in. I didn’t negotiate money, but that time I did negotiate things like days off and other perks of the job.
I never even knew it was possible. I remember when I got to the point where it was time to start progressing that, “I’m doing work 3 and 4 pay grades up. I’m not getting paid for it.” Good on the bosses, they’re getting cheap labor, and I’m working my tailbone off trying to make this happen. Oddly enough, I had this discussion with my sister, who’s looking for her second job. I made sure she didn’t make the same mistakes that Myrna did as well.
I was coaching a client, African-American. You’ve been in DC. Do you know where Sidwell Friends is? Have you heard of that, where the president’s kids go to school?
That’s the school she grew up, then Dartmouth. I won’t name the second one because I don’t want people to peg who this is, but another Ivy League school for a Law degree. We were talking to compensation and she gave me the number. We were on Zoom. There was no keeping a poker face. She goes, “I take it from your expression. I’m a little bit under-compensated.” I said, “I could find you a job right now and double what you’re making.” She was floored. I see that a lot, but it’s so weird being a talent acquisition professional because if I run into somebody like you, I’m like, “I better come big or I don’t come at all because of the demands, the choices for top talent.”You have to have good reasons for whatever your goal is. Click To Tweet
You tack on top of that. It’s where diversity works in a woman or an underrepresented category in their favor. I don’t think they know it. One of my things is sharing that with them, but I want to get onto the real good leadership stuff because I’ve listened to you speak. There’s a lot of great inspiration in your story. You said something, and I may not get it right, but I want to disagree. You’re getting older like me.
One of the interesting things is when General Milley told you to be vocal about it. You’re being vocal about it and sharing that story so people can see the path. That was the statement you said, “Now people can see it.” I’m interested in what you learned because there’s a lot of people who see it and will see you and see a path but won’t believe they can do it. There’s got to be a lot of people in your world, whether it was West Point, Shell, Ranger, all across your life to go, “Lisa, I’d like to benefit from your advice, mentoring, coaching.” If you had to say, “In order to get on that path, here’s one of the things that I would communicate to any young leader and especially leaders who don’t ask or don’t drive for what they want.” That’s a hard philosophical question you can answer for everyone.
Part one is, do you want it? I’m going to use a very simple example. Before I did executive coaching, I did triathlon coaching and CrossFit coaching because physical fitness has always been a passion of mine. Still being able to deadlift in the mid-300s is a great thing. When people say, “I can’t do that,” yes, you can, but do you want it?” A lot of times, people talk about weight loss. Weight loss is the easiest example, but it is a direct correlation to that perfect job or making the amount of money you want or having the number of vacation days you want or having that second home in Colorado, or any of those things. What do you want? Why do you want it?
When you’re talking about weight loss, why do you want it? “I want to look good in a bikini.” Don’t talk to me because you’ll never do it, because you want to look good in a bikini when you’re wearing that bikini, but not when you’re in front of the pasta bar versus the salad bar. “I want to get healthy.” What does getting healthy mean? Are you on blood pressure medication that you have to take every single morning, and you want to get off that because you want to be no longer tethered to medications?
You think about that every single day. You have something to remind you and you’re motivated to do that. Weight loss is a simple example, or I want that job that makes me jump out of bed in the morning. What in your life drives you and reminds you every single day that that’s the improvement you want to make in your life? It’s more than a sticky on your mirror. It has to be something that is a deep-down internal change you want to make.
Once you figure out what that is and what your reminder is, are you able to have the self-discipline to put yourself all in? “I want to get off certain medications. I’m all in on this.” That means you go to your refrigerator and you throw out everything that you shouldn’t be having. We can get into a whole other debate about that. If you want to be an executive in your business, why do you have a TV in your bedroom or your living room and office? Is that driving you towards your goals?
Instead of having what I said, the reminders of the success you want to reach, you have reminders of your diversions and your wasted time. Get those out of there. In our household, we do it simply. We have one TV in the house that’s hooked up and another TV as a backup. They’re in two very public rooms. They’re in the same room, more or less, one’s upstairs and one’s downstairs in our great room, but on Sunday night, we put the TV away. It goes flat against the wall, and you can’t even see it from within the main body of the house.
On Friday night, we pull it out. If Wednesday night there’s a State of the Union address that you want to watch, you get to press record and watch it on Friday night. We do not pull that TV out away from the wall because Monday through Friday, I want a productive family. If we’ve got an hour, we’re eating dinner together. We’re going to go sit on the lawn and watch stars. We’re going to shoot our bows together because, for us, having a more unified family is important. TV takes away from that. That’s a different answer than you were probably expecting. From a philosophical standpoint, you have to have good reasons for whatever your goal is. It can’t be, “I want to look good in a bikini.” You have to have daily reminders and be all in enough to take away those daily distractors.
Were you always like this?
Where do you think that came from?
It’s from my mom. When we were young, she used to say, “Never say I could have, I should have, or I would have.” I was telling you the power went out. I got up at 3:30. My husband drove to Houston. He got up at 3:30 to lift before he got in the car for four hours. I got up with him. I was wide awake. The power was out in the house. I had nothing to clean. I was walking around by candlelight, and I made a conscious decision.
I said, “What could I get done right now? When’s the last time I went to bed?” I made it saying, “If I go back to sleep for 30 minutes and then get up at 4:30 instead of 3:30, what am I losing? Is it worth it? It is worth it.” I literally laid in bed smiling and I smiled. It’s living consciously. We have these stupid phones. I have three of them. They can take up 100% of my time.
Most people have more TVs than phones. Walk me through why you have three phones.
It’s funny because it is part of my efficiency. What we were already talking about is what my goals are in life. I have one phone that I use for these random apps. Apple has a monopoly on a few things. I needed an old Apple phone to do a few things. I have that one. I’ve got a physical fitness app on it, little Lisa internal things. I don’t call anybody. I don’t do anything for it. I have my Army phone and all my Army stuff stays on that phone and only that phone because I’m a reservist. That’s supposed to be a part-time job. I need to be able to put it away or it will consume my whole life. I have my phone. That’s the one I use. I even organize my life with my phones, which I know is a weird thing. It is super useful for me because I don’t spend a lot of time on silly apps because all of those apps are on one phone that I don’t carry with me.
I was getting out my notepad because you said something that I want to tie it back to leadership because you’re the first person who said it. When I asked people about motivation and change, you got to want it. There’s a lot of coaches and professionals either that share that thought with me, but nobody had shared the thought until you. Maybe I’m not talking to the right people to get rid of diversions.
For me, the worst thing is I’d love double-stuffed Oreos. I’m big on fitness. I did 90 minutes on the soccer field. I’ve got two games, so I’ll do back-to-back 90 games, which my age, I should not be doing. I go to the gym five days a week. My alarm is off at 3:45, but double stuffed Oreos look great. They taste great. I only do that distraction once every six months. As a leader, when we talked about the three phones and removing distractions, is there anything that helps you be a better leader, professional? How would you tell somebody about the distractions in your professional life? What would you tell them to get rid of to keep you more focused as a growing professional?
That’s one thing I know about you. You’re never satisfied and you’ve got to keep learning to go where you want to go. As a professional, what things did you have to learn to give away? What would you tell professionals, and especially moving to the executives, “You got to get this distraction out of your way?” Does anything come to mind?As leaders, love to preach, we love to put our message out there, but the way we want to communicate is not the way people need to hear us. You need to tailor your message to your audience. Click To Tweet
I love social media. I would never say get rid of it, but we have started failing ourselves as professionals. If you’re a casual Facebook user and you do it to look at your friends and kids pictures, that’s fine. We have started unfriending or people who think differently than us. That’s why our society is splintering so much. If it’s a professional who wants to grow, part of being a professional and a huge part of being a leader is to connect with those diverse populations.
When I talk about diversity, I don’t care about your adjective. I think more of cognitive diversity because you can be White, Black, Green, or Purple, and think like President Trump or President Biden. That’s not the diversity. The thought process is the diversity, the being a conservative or being a liberal is the diversity that we’re discussing, not a race, age, or gender. We have a bad habit of closing the doors and creating these echo chambers and living in there.
As a leader, I have to be able to connect with other people. If that’s the way you’re living, if you only want happy thoughts on your social media, then you need to reduce your social media, but you need to broaden your horizon. When you said that, you talked about getting rid of those diversions and distractions, but you also said continue to develop as a leader. Replace that time that you’re spending on those social media apps and go to something like LinkedIn and follow people who, they’re still professionals, but they don’t necessarily line up in the same political lines or the same social lines or the same economic lines as you do. Follow them and see.
Something like LinkedIn, I also have the Harvard Business Review and The Economist downloaded on my phone. I love listening to Al-Jazeera. It’s a totally different take on what we see only from our foxhole. Seeing what Europeans think about American politics will help you understand and grasp, grow, and then connect with a larger population.
I miss being overseas and being able to see BBC World News. I can still get it on the app and stuff like that, but the viewpoint outside of our foxhole is different. Was it General Powell that had his ten rules of leadership?
I remember working at a gas station and doing all the research I could possibly do on Colin Powell because, for whatever reason, he was probably one of the most influential leaders when I was a high school student. I couldn’t absorb enough about that, but I don’t remember if he was the ten rules.
It was him that’s the ten rules, but irrelevant. If you had to come up with top 3 or 5 leadership tips that have kept you grounded, growing, succeeding, thinking differently, what three things would you want to pass along to aspiring leaders or leaders in roles for them to get better? What would come from you after all the great things that you’ve done in work?
I have my three Cs. Luckily for me, as a battalion commander and a reserve, I give these kinds of talks. Otherwise, you would have stumped me on that one. It’s usually hard to come up with three points, but I do talk with my junior leaders and my company commanders about the three Cs. The first one is Competency. You have to have a baseline of competency. I’ve worked construction for 21 plus or minus years in the military, within Shell being on the front-end engineering and design side with MNS Engineering firm. I’ve done something with construction since I was 22 years old. I can tinker and build little things. I’m building a little concrete pad in the backyard. I don’t know how to do much, but I have a base level of competency in that, but I’m a project manager. I have a high level of competency in project management, which I’ve transitioned to IT on previous projects.
I’ve done project management in a bunch of non-construction in financial arenas. My core competency is project management. You have to have competency as a leader so that you can walk into the room and at least know when people are BS-ing you. The next thing is Communication. We, as leaders, especially as we ascend in the ranks, love to preach. We love to put our message out there, but we do not want to communicate the way people need to hear us.
If you are a good leader, you need to tailor your message to your audience. If you have an audience that fits a certain demographic, you need to figure out a way to connect to them in such a way that they can hear you. I cannot talk to my nine-year-old daughter the same way that I talked to my thirteen-year-old son and get the same reaction. If it’s that simple at home, imagine being a corporate leader. I’ve got over 1,200 civilian and military full-time and part-time employees in my reserve battalion. I do that one week in a month, two weeks out of a year. How I communicate is important. I can’t blast something out to almost 1,300 people and expect them to all hear the same thing. Communication is critical.
My third point is the division between a good leader and a good worker because competency and communication are standard across the board, but as a leader, Consistency. If I were a college teacher, I’d be stomping my foot and hitting the blackboard with the eraser because consistency is key. You cannot be an emotional leader. I cannot express enough how frustrating it is to have someone when they’re in your presence, face-to-face. They’re easy to communicate.
When they’re gone and you follow what you think they’d want you to do, had they been there, they’re mad. If you have the leader that one day, they want you to do X, Y, and Z. The next day, they’re focused on A, B, C, or they’re emotional. They get mad about certain things. They don’t get mad. If you’re trying to figure out what your leader wants you to do, you can’t follow them. You’re putting out fires. As a leader, you need to be consistent.
Sometimes when people make decisions for you because you’re not available. You’re in a meeting. You maybe take one of those vacations that we as leaders almost never take. You leave your phone in the hotel room. Your employees or your junior leaders make a decision without you. It’s along the right route, compliment them on the fact that they tried to do what they thought you would like, but without being a consistent leader, you can’t build your followers into leaders.
Two final questions for you. I’m not going to try to stump you. You’ve had an amazing career. You have even better things in front of you. You and I both know there are moments in my military career where I’m like, “I’m very grateful I did not grow up in the era of social media.” Let’s say you were to go back and tell your twenty-year-old self as you were graduating from West Point. If you could take what you’ve learned to date and go back to that person as they graduated, what three things would you try that you wish you had learned earlier, or that would have made your career more successful, easier, or more enjoyable? What would you tell that person?
The most important thing I would tell my younger self is to get comfortable with failure and enjoy it. There are a few things that I’ve done in my life, again, that I would not have wanted on social media, but I’m so glad they happened. At the time, I remember praying, wishing, and hoping that I found a genie in a bottle so I could turn back time, but I succeeded where I am because I had those failures. Some of them isn’t even the impact of the failure in the overall scheme of things.
It’s my emotional changes when I fail. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I relish my failures. I love my failures. I look forward to my failures. I don’t think you can understand that at twenty, but finding ways to fail and being comfortable with it and holding onto it and trying to fail more would probably have led me to where I am now a lot earlier, being comfortable with that failure.
I’ve read something, and it was if you considered yourself a failure, every time you had to redo something, then a marathon is 26.1 miles of failure and only 0.1 mile of success. It takes those 26.1 miles of failure of every step to get to that final step where you cross the finish line. Being happy with failures is what gets you to the finish line. If you don’t sit in that failure world and enjoy it, then you will never get to the finish line. For me, I wish I had learned earlier to fail boldly.
Somebody had asked me and I said, “For me, it was ego.” I didn’t go to West Point. When I came out, I was overcompensating. When I went to Berlin, 80% of our officer core was West Point. I had this inferiority complex. If I had a failure, I wanted to sweep that under the rug, throw a tarp or a GP medium on it. I didn’t want anybody to see it. That was all ego-based. I’m going to close out with a simple question. What is next for Lisa? What should we look forward to? We talked about the book, but we’ll close out with what’s next for you. What do you hope to be doing?Get comfortable with failure and enjoy it. If you don’t, then you will never get to the finish line. Click To Tweet
You mentioned the book, which is complicated and fun. My son, after he had a football game and we talked about the book. He read most of it, and then he didn’t understand who’s the audience. Who are you trying to reach out to? You and I talked about General Milley and trying to use my voice. My path forward is all about how to use that voice. I’ve done construction management, project management, program management since 2000.
I love it, but I have a voice now, which I didn’t have before when I was career planning and looking at my long-term life. Now, what I see as my benefit to society, the mark in the sand that I’m going to leave behind, is going to be, how can I positively influence others to push themselves? How can I get the 30-somethings or the 40-somethings who have gone through their checklist? The only thing that’s remaining is done.
Speaking to a thirteen-year-old helped me because he’s in eighth grade, so he’s going to graduate middle school. He’s going to graduate high school and college. He’s going to get married. He’s going to get his first job and house, get married, have babies, and then die. What is there between me? “I love my house. I love my life, my wife, my kids, and I’m retiring.” Those are the people I want to reach out to. To make a short story long, because that’s the only way I know how to do it, the goal of the book.
I’ve done keynote speaking for a while. I want to do more to get into the weeds within the company, whether that’s some advisory role and a little bit more that I’ll put out to the wider group, but also with regards to executive and professional coaching. I have my first couple of clients doing that now. Helping people see that it’s not get married, have kids, buy a house and die. There are hopefully 40, 50 years in there that we can add to society.
It’s not just, “I’m going to go to work, come home, watch TV, go to bed, rinse and repeat.” That’s the way ahead. My goal is to try to help more people see how every day can be a great day and adding value and always pushing for the next goal, even if it’s going to Ranger School when you’re old enough to be the mother of half of your classmates.
That’s what I feel like sometimes at the Talent War Group looking around. That’s a great note to close on. I look forward to seeing you accomplish it all. Hopefully getting to help in any way that I can. It’s a personal and professional pleasure to work with you to learn from you and certainly a gift to have you on. You’re probably going to have to come back at some point. I hope the power stays on. I look forward to talking again soon.
Same here. Thanks, George.
- episode – Excelling Beyond The Glass Ceiling – No adjectives Needed With Lisa Schreiber and Myrna Soto (previous episode)
- Lisa Jaster
- In the Men’s House
About Lisa Jaster
Lisa Jaster graduated from the West Point Academy with a BS in Civil Engineering and was commissioned as an active duty engineer officer. During 2003, Lisa deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a company executive officer, later serving as the battalion operations construction officer. She attended the Army Engineer Officer Advanced Course at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, and earned her MS in Civil Engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 2004.
After leaving the Active Army, Lisa was employed by Shell Oil Company for 12 years. From April to October 2015, she took a six-month leave of absence and attended Army Ranger School, being one of three females that graduated from the first integrated Ranger School course.
Lisa is married to a fellow reserve officer and has two children. She lives an active lifestyle competing in anything from ultra trail runs to CrossFit competitions. She loves martial arts training, specifically Jiu-Jitsu, and is always looking for the next challenge to tackle.