11 minutes

Unlock Your Capacity: Speaker Q&A with JC Glick

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JC Glick didn’t learn his leadership skills in a boardroom or MBA program. He learned them on the battlefield.

Glick’s unconventional approach to leadership has been featured in Forbes and the Huffington Post. It’s been used to strengthen cultures at Fortune 500 companies and pro-sports teams like the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers. And it’s the focal point of his groundbreaking book, A Light in the Darkness: Leadership Development for the Unknown.

During his 20+ years as an Infantry Officer and Ranger, including 11 tours of duty overseas, Glick directed the Army’s schools on leadership development, resiliency, and fitness, leading units as large as 1,500 soldiers. He’s now Co-Founder and Partner at Prodromos Leadership Team, where he’s created the “Prodromos Developmental Model,” a capacity-building system designed to develop people and leaders for the future.

We caught up with JC to learn what makes a great leader, how to navigate unknowns in business, and why we could all benefit from a new approach to company culture. Read the full Q&A below, and don’t miss JC’s talk during DIG on the ½ Shell, October 25th!

You served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, counting 11 combat tours around the world. First off, we’re incredibly impressed and grateful. How did you make the transition from Infantry Officer to leadership consultant?

About two years after retirement, I was very fortunate to have a civilian mentor who helped me find my “why.” I had no idea what I was going to do, or that being a leadership consultant was even something you could make a living doing. He encouraged me to write my first book and got me started on this path. The support from the Liberty Fellowship program also helped me through more recent transitions. At the end of the day, the “what” I’m doing may have changed, but “why” I do it is the same: I want to help people be better versions of themselves — in the military, in sports, in the corporate world, wherever.

What is one Army training principle that every civilian leader should know?

I am the wrong guy to ask! I don’t believe in “Army” ways or “Civilian” ways. I just believe in better ways to do things. I think an important principle for all leaders to know is that everything you do has to be about your people. I like to say: people > everything. It is something that we forget about — we get so mission-focused, we forget that it is people who make the mission happen. If leaders are people-focused, their people will be mission-focused.

If you could debunk one misconception about effective leadership, what would it be?

I think there are a lot of misconceptions about effective leadership. In fact my next book with Dr. Alice Atalanta, Meditations of an Army Ranger: A Warrior Philosophy for Everyone, challenges a bunch of “traditional” ideas about leadership. If I had to pick one, I’d say the notion of “leadership by example.” In today’s society, everyone is trying to “lead by example,” but there is no such thing.

You see, when you just “lead by example” no one knows they are supposed to follow you. They don’t know your vision. They don’t get any guidance. They don’t even know you are the one they should turn to for leadership.

We spend a lot of time leading by example in the country right now – in other words “taking care of our own stuff.” Because leading by example is just making sure you are doing the right thing, it doesn’t affect anyone else. In fact, it is even kind of arrogant to think that people would just look at you and think “Wow, that person is doing this – I should do that too.”

Look, I am not taking away from the idea of setting the example – it is great to do the right thing – and more people should do it – but it is not leading. Leading takes action. So, what you should want to do is set the example, AND lead.

You talk a lot about “leadership development for the unknown,” teaching executives and pro athletes how to navigate ambiguity and adversity. But “the unknown” can be scary in business — it’s why we have business plans, company handbooks and processes. How can leaders balance structure with adaptability?

I find that question scary in itself – we have business plans and handbooks, but we have absolutely no idea what tomorrow will hold – and that is the simple question that my book asks: How do you train and develop people for tomorrow when you do not know what tomorrow will hold?

You see, there is no enduring plan when nothing stays the same. The only path is to invest in developing each individual’s unique capacity, at their own pace, so people can figure out the right solutions for themselves. Plans, policies and handbooks are great – but they don’t ever address the future, all they do is address issues that have happened in the past and provide solutions that have already been figured out.  

What we need to do is teach our people how to think and act in the moment – our structures are an illusion that make us feel comfortable, but we need to be comfortable in our trust of our people.  

How do you navigate the unknown and/or high-stress situations in your professional and day-to-day life?

I just try to use the mantra of “hunt the good” – I try to see the good in every situation, embrace my fate, and learn from each moment.

I believe the stoics had it right – you have to make your life what you want it. If you see it as a huge issue, it is; if you see yourself as a victim, you are; if you think you can’t, you can’t.  Your mental preparation (mindset) is what helps you handle adversity (the unknown/high stress). That is what we learned in Ranger School, and what I saw in all my SOF tours – if you think you can, you stand a much better chance than if you think you can’t.  

One of my great friends, Tony Blauer says it best: “If you are in a fight with one other person, and you doubt yourself, you are outnumbered.” So, too, in life.

Is there one characteristic that all great soldiers, athletes, and leaders have in common?

I believe that there are four characteristics that all “great” individuals have – great being subjective, since you can be a great athlete and a horrible teammate, or a great soldier and not a good person.

My thought is that all great leaders have humility, loyalty, curiosity and empathy.  You have to have the humility to not have it “your way,” you have to be loyal to your people before yourself, you have to be curious and ask more questions than give answers, and you need to have the empathy to put yourself in others’ shoes.

Company culture has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years. What does the concept mean to you, and how do you approach it differently in your work?

The best organizations in the world have deliberate cultures that are tangible – actually written down for reference: the Rangers have the Ranger Creed, the Navy SEALs have the Navy SEAL Creed, the Army has the Soldier’s Creed.

To have a strong culture, you have to understand what guides your organization and the people in it.

If you asked any businessperson today what aligns employees in an organization, they will tell you a mission statement. Ask that same person what gets them there, they will tell you a vision statement. The problem – now, and in the future – is that mission and vision statements won’t be enough to get organization to the next level of greatness. Today’s workforce needs meaning and purpose to drive to goals – money will not be enough.

Leaders need something that allows them to go beyond the policies, procedures and metrics. They need more than a document of company core values. Leaders need a culture statement — a clear and concise roadmap that shares who you are as an organization and how you should make decisions, operate and lead. This deliberate document is the foundation of your mission, vision, and day-to-day operations. It allows you to recruit effectively and grow intentionally. 

At Prodromos Leadership Team, we approach culture very differently and make it a very real thing with techniques used by military Special Operations. We involve people from all levels in your organization to help shape the internal ideas of an “ideal culture.” This culture creation has worked for professional football and basketball teams, universities, Fortune 100 companies and countless others. PLT’s patented techniques get the absolute best from your people and makes your organization as successful as the best units in the military.

Whether you’re leading an early-stage startup or a Fortune 500 company, what are 2-3 strategies that can help create a high-performance culture?

First, you need a deliberate culture. How can you function effectively before you know who you are and how you want to behave? This has to be as clear and foundational as your mission statement.  

Next, you have to trust your people right away – they shouldn’t have to “earn it.” You have to believe that they can operate within your guidance and intent.  

Finally, you have to let them explore and innovate – which means you not only have to underwrite failure, you have to celebrate it to a certain extent. I am working on a new innovation model right now (The Prodromos Innovation Model) that highlights failure as a key step. You want to grow and get better; your people have to feel secure.

You recently developed a capacity-building system called the “Prodromos Developmental Model.” Without giving away your secret sauce, explain what “capacity-building” means and a quick overview of what your model entails.

The spirit of the Prodromos Developmental Model is encapsulated in the words inscribed on a skull found in a chapel built on Mount Athos in the 1700s: “Ce sunt eu, vei fi si tu.  Ce esti tu, am fost si eu.” In English: “What I am, you will be too. What you are, I’ve been myself.”

The quote is a reference to mortality, but it is also a significant allusion to mentorship and the transference of knowledge from the prodromoi to the rest of us.  Alexander the Great’s prodromoi did not just charge ahead; they paved the way for his army. The Prodromos Model goes one step further, as the goal is not simply to imitate those at the forefront, but to learn and grow together. We might re-write the words on the skull this way: “What I am, you will be too – and hopefully, even more.”

The Prodromos Model focuses on bringing the best to each individual. If we want to build organizations, teams and classes that aren’t flummoxed by change, then we need to move away from developmental models that treat people as passive executors of defined steps or answers.  When nothing stays the same, the only viable strategy is to invest in developing people and organizations, at their pace and tempo, who can figure out the right solutions as the context changes.

What’s one key takeaway we can expect to learn from your upcoming DIG talk?

Wow, I hope everyone takes away something.  But, I guess I hope that everyone comes away thinking about their leadership – whether they agree with anything I say or not, whether they “learn” anything or not — I hope they spend some time thinking about leadership, questioning their assumptions, and thinking about how they could be better.  

Want tangible strategies to become a better leader, strengthen your culture, and prepare your company for an ever-changing future? Join us for JC Glick’s inspiring keynote during DIG on the ½ Shell, October 25th!