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The Leadership Podcast

The Leadership Podcast

Why do we do this?

We interview great leaders, review the books they read, and speak with highly influential authors who study them.

How we do this?

#1 We interview great leaders.
#2 We review the books great leaders read and write.
#3 We have fun!

Jul 5, 2017

Summary & Ideas for Action

Retired Lieutenant General Frank Kearney works with the Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point. In this discussion, he covers his military and post-military career in leadership development, and shares the wisdom of his experience in building leadership within organizations. He stresses culture, selecting leaders, training, communicating intent, and how intent is reflected back so there is clear guidance. He talks about the continual leadership training within the Army, and how those principles of training apply to the corporate world. He mentions Team Red, White & Blue and their work to help returning veterans network and stay physically active and connected in society. Listen in to learn more of how Special Forces and veterans have leadership abilities that transfer well into the civilian office.


Key Takeaways

[2:43] Frank spent 35½ years in infantry, airborne, and in Special Operations leadership. He praises the people he worked with, especially the Ranger Regiment. He learned to be a good soldier and a good leader, and he advanced to a level where he could represent the organization in the Pentagon and in Congress. Frank’s last assignment in the military was at the National Counterterrorism Center.

[4:31] When Frank left the military, he wanted to build leaders. He sought out the Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point, and asked for the opportunity to demonstrate a role as senior advisor to help stitch programs together. He is able to work with a lot of great companies in the United States, and to learn about them.

[5:59] Frank points to the cultural level of an organization as the point where team dysfunctions start. When you set up a climate of a leader development culture, then the tasks of picking the right people, training them the right way, and adapting the organization to today’s environment will all follow.

[7:00] Since 1775, the U.S. Army has processed every generation, adapting to the environment around them, and giving every young man and woman who stays past their first enlistment a leadership opportunity. The Army is always building leaders focused on mission and success, strategy, and resourcing for that strategy. The Army uses assessment, selection, and training for mission success.

[10:12] Selection for Special Operations assumes a given number of years of future service. In corporate America, employment is at-will. Frank says people stay in special units because they love the culture, the environment, the mission, and the camaraderie. They are incentivized by purpose. Corporate leaders have the job to create that climate and culture that will incentivize their teams.

[14:15] Frank says the key to culture is to understand why you are doing what you are doing. Know your mission and make your culture. The military and business share a clear vision with a clear purpose. Every organization has its purpose. Great organizations have connected teams that share camaraderie and vision. Frank talks about the purpose of Team RWB, giving veterans purpose through physical training.

[20:51] Frank serves on the Threat Reduction Advisory Committee. He speaks about the work they do. It involves the art of influencing up, using his unique counterterrorism experience to continue to serve the security of the country. People are more aware of threats because they are more broadcast. We are in no greater danger, but there is an ability to influence, alarm, and excite people beyond the existing threat.

[27:35] Frank has been fortunate to serve on a lot of teams with great men and women. He shares one team story from the invasion of Panama. The night of December 20, 1989 went off like clockwork. It was the result of years of planning, with late changes. In a coup de main, the Special Forces hit so many targets the first night that it overwhelmed the enemy. The intent had been clear, and they succeeded.

[33:10] Frank talks about laying out intent, so the team is able to act with purpose. Good strong leaders want to get in and help, but should resist. They need to train the team, so the team can plan, and brief leadership on their plan. The briefback allows leaders to coach people back within the margin of risk. The three keys to the leader development cycle are intent, briefback, and coaching within the margin of risk.

[38:03] The military is a place to give back. Millennials also want to give back to society at large. Frank sees a trend of purpose among Millennials. They want to know why they are doing things. Frank advises executives to treat them the way they want to be treated, and communicate with them in the medium in which they communicate. Leaders have a responsibility to learn how to connect with their employees.

[41:20] Intent communicates two levels down — to your direct reports, and then to their direct reports. This way, intent is communicated to every level, and vertical alignment is in place. The magic in intent is the immediate reflection back to you, “This is what I heard.” Then you validate, or correct. People do not always understand without reflecting back, and having it validated or corrected.


LinkedIn: Frank K.

Facebook. Frank Kearney