What sort of lessons do you think are learned when former Green Berets and senior business executives are mashed together in an introspective leadership and teamwork journey through the deserts near Moab, Utah?
Some great lessons were learned, to be sure. Three nights under brilliant desert stars and four days of conversation, climbing, and hiking. Two Former Green Berets in transition out of the military, three successful business leaders, a world-class climbing guide, and Jan Rutherford, the leader of this adventure.
These lessons didn’t hit me quickly. They’ve been developing and simmering for over 72 hours since landing in the flat expanses of Northern Indiana. The lessons weren’t really lessons I would have expected, either. This trip was on a slow burn timer and the lessons have kept coming.
The one word that echoed in my head continuously when trying to put my finger on what this trip meant? Team.
Hard lessons are hard earned, and often reminders of lessons in the past. These lessons all centered around the team concept and I was reminded of why I love being on a team, and why I truly need to be on a team.
Here are six of those lessons…
1. Your ego is in the way of your learning
After volunteering to take lead on the first leg of the hike of this movement, I received my distance and direction, plus some additional guidance about the path. I did what I had done a thousand times before: one foot ahead of the other and start moving.
Keep in mind… there was no time limit on this. It was a chance to enjoy the scenery, engage in conversation, etc. But I had devolved into my natural instinct and moved out at a “Green Beret pace”, because that’s what I was used to AND it’s what I instinctively assumed everyone else expected it as well.
After being reminded that there was no ‘time sensitive objectives’, Jan went a step further and reminded me that my ego was to blame (not in those diplomatic terms, mind you). It was an excellent and timely reminder. I relaxed immediately and realized what I had been doing. I appreciated the scenery the rest of the trip.
2. Simple offerings go a long way
In his sage wisdom, Rob brought a bag of Swedish Fish that he freely offered the group after dinner. For anyone who has ever spent a stretch of days without access to cooked meals, you know the distinct joy that comes when a bit of candy appears unexpectedly. It reminded me of how small, relatively simple things can add tremendous value to systems even as dynamic as teams. This was a great example of rapport building, made even better by the fact that it wasn’t a calculated decision, but a simple desire to share something good with the team.
3. Answering questions can be cathartic
As a general rule, Green Berets are not typically willing to talk about themselves. Fortunately, both Brian and I quickly understood the magnitude of the opportunity that had been afforded to us: sell our Brotherhood to verified Captains of industry. When seen in this light, it was not only a pleasure to answer the questions honestly, but it was a duty for the others who weren’t there.
4. On becoming ‘That Guy’
On our second night in the desert after a relatively long hike and climb, I recognized some starting signs of dehydration (despite drinking 4+ liters of water… that will teach me for getting out of shape). I was content to blame the altitude since I’m a lifelong flat-lander from Indiana, but I digress. By the end of the night, I was struggling to keep my head from throbbing. After facing the temptation to suffer in silence, I decided to put myself in the wholly vulnerable (and unfamiliar) position of asking for help. I needed water… and Motrin. Immediately, offers came from around our starlit camp for shares of their water. The entire team quickly offered to provide what they could. A half a liter of water mixed with some Skratch, and 800mg of Motrin later, I woke up feeling great and continued to move on with no issues.
In hindsight, I recognized my hypersensitivity and awareness of making mistakes. I consider dehydration a dangerous mistake on my part, regardless of variables, and this was no exception. In attempting to explain this to the team, it was one of the first times I allowed myself to be vulnerable about the topic in what was a group of strangers less than two days prior.
Days later, it hit me that my tendency to leave bits of gear lying around was the real source of my anxiety. It was something that became a running joke within the team, because I basically left things lying around in each of the camp sites. Despite my outwardly jovial nature when my stray gear was pointed out, this sort of mistake could lead to catastrophic results in the universe I came from. The physical ‘failure’ of dehydration was just icing on the real cake of anxiety created from years of living in a world where minor mistakes often led to death or injury.
While I still see value in the pursuit of perfection, this team reminded me that stressing over perceptions and the past distracts from the lessons available in the present.
5. Playing the fool
How valuable is a sense of humor? Growing up, I don’t remember being considered or even attempting to be a class clown. I think I was probably more annoying in high school than anything. I don’t remember a time where I could entertain a crowd. This changed after some time on a Special Forces detachment. If you can’t give and receive some jabs and respond quick on your fight, the jokes get closer to home until the weak spot is found.
Until my time in the Crucible with this team, I never had the space to look at this dynamic and examine it with more than a passing interest. I began to recognize that I like seeing my team happy and in a good mood. I seek for ways to interject humor in nearly all dealings, or at least seek forms of entertainment that everyone can get into. Whether this is valued depends on the team and the situation. This team had a sense of humor. Great fit.
6. I miss the Team Room
The “Team Room” is a mystical place for me. At first, an unreal place that I would likely never see the inside of. Then a place where I was certain to be thrown out of. Eventually, it became the office or where I kept all my stuff. Now that I look back, that was where I really grew up and what I am now had a lot to do with the lessons I learned in the handful of “team rooms” in my life.
I miss the being in ‘that’ team room a great deal, but this was yet another of the many reminders that I have had over the years: I can find that same level of camaraderie outside the military just as well.
At the top of the private sector, the business may be different (less explosions, etc.) but the relationships are the same. Solid concentrations of high-performing, self-initiated professionals who understand instinctively how to amplify the efforts of any team they walk into. This was one of those teams.
Countless thanks to both Western Union and the Green Beret Foundation, and Jan Rutherford for making this invaluable trip a possibility for me. Equally big thanks and love to my wife and in-laws for their support of me going to this!
Blake Miles | is a nine year military veteran who served as an Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Operational Detachment engineer and intelligence analyst while deployed to Iraq. Following his time in active duty, he served as an enlisted personnel recruiter for the Illinois Army National Guard, and a later was a regular contributor to SOFREP.com.
After separating from the military, he began working towards a degree at the College of Lake Country in Illinois. While attending classes, he volunteered to manage social media outlets for the Green Beret Foundation, a non-profit charity devoted to on supporting wounded and killed Special Forces soldiers and their families. He recently graduated with a Bachelors in General Studies from Indiana University.
He is most recently led the Next Ridgeline, a new program within the Green Beret Foundation aimed at building a coalition of networks and resources to facilitate the transition of Green Berets into professions that maximize their talents and capabilities. He is currently pursuing training in programming through a scholarship from GeneralAssemb.ly.