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Social Media links for Chris!!
The Traverse Long Look
The Traverse Snapshot
The Leadership Podcast Leadership Lessons From Sarajevo to Timbuktu
Mentors for Military Podcast Green Beret Helps You Find Your True North
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I use the Birkman method as a foundation for the clients that I work with and, I'd like to provide not only the assessment but also the conversation that comes with the results of the tool afterwards.
Daniella Young: Hi, welcome to the cavnessHR Culture Podcast. I'm your host, Daniella Young. Our guest today is Chris Schmitt. Chris, are you ready to be great today?
Chris Schmitt: Right on.
Daniella Young: Chris recently retired from 30 years of active duty service in the United States Army, 20 years as a special forces Green Beret. Since retiring, he has successfully founded his own company, Azimuth Consulting Group, to capture the lessons learned from special forces in combat and seamlessly transition them to the corporate sector. Chris speaks on his experiences as a career Green Beret, and how kindness was the most effective weapon in his kit bag. He conducts face to face executive coaching and advising with leaders from Fortune 500 companies and international non-profits. Additionally, he facilitates leadership workshops and leads a wilderness-based leadership development trek, called The Traverse. Which we will hear more about today. Chris, can you tell me a little bit about something that is super exciting that you are working on right now?
Chris Schmitt: Well, the Traverse is super exciting to me. But, one of the things that are really filling my bucket right now is a trust workshop that we're doing with a local coffee company. They just experienced a reorganization and through the reorganization, trust began to wobble. To help rebuild that, and watch not only communication and performance improve. But also watch the stock price skyrocket, is pretty exciting.
Daniella Young: So you are helping everybody be happier, and the company make more money.
Chris Schmitt: That's the idea.
Daniella Young: That's awesome. Can you talk about, we mentioned a little bit about your 30 years of experience in the US military. Can you talk a little bit about how that experience developed you, and how that is informing what you do today when you are coaching Fortune 500 companies and CEOs and executive leaders?
Chris Schmitt: Well, being a leader is hard. Having been a leader gives me the perspective and mental models that I can help share with leaders that I coach. But also having that experience of starting as an E1 Private at the bottom of the pyramid and working my way through. Gives me tons of perspective that I can help share with my clients and help them think about different ways to put in their own experience to allow ... to drive behavior. I believe that behavior is a function of perspective and experience, and that experience doesn't necessarily. That movie that's playing in your mind when you are listening to someone, doesn't necessarily have to be just your own movie. It could be someone else's mental model. I think that's the key of coaching, is to provide mental models and be a thought partner. So that the leaders that I work with, can maybe take a little bit of what's mine, translate it themselves into their own context, and be able to create content and conduct which drives their own success.
Daniella Young: That's so interesting. I think a lot of times we think of coaches or consultants as telling people what to do. But even though you have this amazing amount of experience. What you are really doing is helping leaders develop the context to come to their own conclusions and their own implementations.
Chris Schmitt: Absolutely. Research will show that action happens when it's self-awareness, and it's self-discovery. If it's advised 100%, or even given, it's a lot harder to put that into action.
Daniella Young: Right on. For most of our ... many of our listeners who might not understand the exact structure of the military, it is actually fairly rare to have 1) 30 years straight experience, and 2) someone who has gone from the lowest level of enlisted, the way that Chris did, up through the officer ranks. So really, very wide, wide perspective, that you are bringing to the table.
Chris Schmitt: What I think is neat about my journey, was that my journey wasn't intended to enlist. I had out of high school applied to West Point but didn't get accepted. But when I didn't get accepted, I still believed that that was my destination. I just needed to change maybe the distance and maybe change the azimuth of where I was starting from. I believe that an additional journey made my military experience richer. It's fun to be able to now look back on some of my journaling, or think about things that I thought from a context of a 17 year old Private. Versus a, 46-year-old Lieutenant Colonel, or now at 50 as a consultant. Thinking about all of those different perspectives, those dots on the map. As just different starting points to create a mental model to successfully go to where you want to go.
Daniella Young: So tell us a little bit more about Azimuth, and essentially the concept that you have for Azimuth and how you employ that in your teaching.
Chris Schmitt: Yeah, absolutely. No, I think that it's part of special operations vernacular, to say "Hey, I need an azimuth check on this." What you are saying is, "Well, I need to understand your leadership vision." So, if one of my ... one of the team leaders, or one of the ... a leader within the organization came to me while I was the J3, the operations officer of a special operations taskforce. As they would come up to me and say, "Hey, sir, I need an Azimuth check." What they are asking is, "What is your vision?" Because ultimately, if you are using your compass, and you are following an azimuth of 22 degrees, and you're moving several kilometers, or several miles, on that azimuth to get from point A to point B. You are off by only five degrees, you are not going to end up in the place that you wanted to. Well, that same thing is true with a corporate organization. If their vision is to move out and accomplish these things, but they are compromising a little bit of integrity. Or compromising a little bit of the things that are their values. Well, they are not going to end up in the spot that they thought. As a consequence, the idea of azimuth allows me to talk about trust, authenticity, creativity, in a real authentic, kind of, basic way. Ultimately I really like the idea of the compass rose, and the compass analogy, and the journey. As being part of the discussion when we are just talking about leadership, from a corporate sense.
Daniella Young: It's so interesting, the idea of journey, right? Because we hear a lot about, know your mission, know your values, essentially know your start point. We hear a lot of know your endpoint and know your goal. But one of the things I heard you say in there was, what are the checkpoints, right? This is the azimuth check, what are the checkpoints that leaders can set up along their journey so that they are making sure they are not getting off course. They are all well intentioned, right, when they start off. But how are they making sure they are not getting off course. It sounds like you really help them to sort of set up this journey.
Chris Schmitt: The ability to check in, that we all seek feedback. That's actually one of my big concepts that I'm geeking out on right now, is that kindness can be translated into effective leadership in three ways.
Chris Schmitt: It's making sure that you connect with your team. It's not just about networking, but it's connecting. It's taking the time to chat with people. It's taking time to understand the organization. It's maybe leadership by walking around. Kindness is also recognition. One of the greatest bits of recognition that I ever received, was that I had a boss write me a thank you on a yellow sticky and stuck it on my computer in my office. I came back from accomplishing this big event, the fact that he took the time to write a little personal note, that really super resonated with me. We seek feedback in the hugest way. That little bit of recognition really mattered, and I kept it for years. That stayed, that moved from one journal to the next. The last thing that, here is the Pacific Northwest, we often look at negative feedback as something that's super negative. We are not terribly candid, but I think candid corrections are kind. To tell someone, "Hey, that's not exactly what I am looking for", "That's not exactly what we need to get accomplished", or "That's not exactly the direction that we need to be going". To give that kind of feedback, I think the three of those equate to good leadership. So, making connections, ensuring that you give recognition, and giving candid corrections. I think, all those things are kind and they're good leadership.
Daniella Young: There's the kindness that you talk about. So, it all plays in.
Chris Schmitt: Right.
Daniella Young: Chris, I love this quote that you have, that "As a special operations leader, kindness was the most effective weapon in your kit bag." Can you explain, first what is a kit bag and secondly, how kindness was a weapon you used as a leader?
Chris Schmitt: Right on. Well, so, when you deploy, you have a ... you don't actually deploy with a suitcase, you deploy with a kit bag. The kit bag that comes to mind for me is a parachute bag. In that kit bag, having kindness as one of the tools I found gave me access. Gave me the opportunity to have conversations, to go back to that idea of connections, recognition, and candid conversations, we all seek feedback. By being kind, I was able to sit down with the commander of the Malian Special Forces that we are helping develop and stop by just to have tea one day. He didn't know that I was even in country. I stopped by to see him, and mostly because I like him, and I was maybe being kind. But the bottom line is, by stopping by to give him some feedback, and tell him how good his troops were doing, and also give some, maybe some candid feedback, and having that connection he said "Hey Chris, I appreciate so much of what you are doing, this afternoon I want you to chat with the President because he wants to say thanks." That opened a whole opportunity for us to talk about opening training facilities in the northern part of country, which was ultimately used to defeat Al-Qaeda. So very cool. If you're just being ... if you are just doing your job and not employing kindness, you don't get that access. You don't get that opportunity, and that opportunity really changed ... changed the situation and ultimately made us successful, in our attempts to keep the influence of Al-Qaeda out of North Africa.
Daniella Young: You mentioned earlier, Chris, when we were chatting that special operations, special forces, has a bunch of different missions. But one of the things you guys really do is teaching. Teaching abroad, teaching your own people, and it sounds like that was something you were really involved in.
Chris Schmitt: I think that that sharing, and having that connection, starts in the team room with each team. Everybody on the team is cross-trained. That creates a culture of sharing. Of sharing not only your network but sharing the things that you know. That becomes contagious. Whether it's during a mission, working with your partner force. With the country team in that country, with even people in the community. Now translating that into the corporate sense, that sharing of what you know is something that allows me to be my best self. I really like ... I'm really at my best when I can be in the role of coach, advisor, teacher, friend. If I can do that as my next career, because that's what I did in my last career, that's good. That's really, really good.
Daniella Young: Chris, tell us about the Traverse. This is a very exciting thing that you do, that we've alluded to. Tell us more about it.
Chris Schmitt: So, the Traverse is a four day, three night trek through Montana. What I love about what we just talked about, about being my best self. If I really think about when I'm at my best, I'm working with other people and I'm outside. There is probably an element of talking about leadership that's wrapped in with all that. That's what we do in the Traverse. We launch from a hanger in Butte, Montana, called the Peak. Rod, who owns the Peak, is a retired special operations guy himself. It smells and feels like a team room. To bring corporate executives into that spot, lay out all their kit, work through the orders process, launch as one leader and four executives. The leaders themselves, are all retired special operations soldiers or officers. Launch into the Rocky Mountains, and move each day as a separate group. Each of these four or five man teams move through the mountains to a desired location where my logistics team has the base camp set up. Each day we have a different theme to stimulate the conversation. Those themes are perspective, action and commitment. It's fun, the perspective part I like, it's because you come up to this mountain lake and you have this beautiful mountain up in front of you. Your perspective can be "Wow, that's amazing, I really want to get out on top of that. I really, the work that it will require to get there will be awesome". Or, you can be all, "Woe is me" when you realize that you have to climb that mountain to get there.
Chris Schmitt: That experience, first the ability to unplug, you know, we are in southern Montana, there is no cell coverage. The ability to unplug for four days, the ability to work with other extraordinary leaders. The ability to be in this peak experience, wilderness environment is awesome. What's really fun is to watch the participants bond. They are all exceptional people, they all work super hard to impress everybody else. They work super hard to impress everybody else. They work super hard despite being tired, despite being maybe not as comfortable as they normally are. Watch them excel, and then upon the completion, see how strong the bond has become. I've watched this process work to a point that a leader a week or two afterwards has recounted that he was walking through the grocery store and said that, "You know, I was walking through the grocery store and I was looking up over the aisle to try to find the rest of the group,. Then realized that I was no longer out in the wilderness." But the bond had become so great, that was something that was subconsciously in the back of his brain. I based my project at Columbia University in an executive coaching program that I did, on the neural science of what happens during these kinds of peak experiences. It's super fun to see that the neural science backs up what we intuitively already know as an outdoors person. As a special forces guy, who has done a lot of this stuff out in the wilderness, of how important it is to connect. How important it is to be in that majestic environment and have that kind of experience.
Daniella Young: I just love that. As veterans, I can say, from my own, sort of, combat patrolling experience, we talk about that, right? That there's this camaraderie, there is this thing that you learn. This thing that you get out of being involved in those situations. That is really hard to replicate. We all know that veterans bring these sorts of skills and experiences to the workplace. Now you are sort of creating that environment for these leaders who might be civilians who have never been in service right? They can come, and they can participate, in this very interesting, camaraderie, bond, nature, and then also getting out there and sort of thinking about the really hard problems that a lot of times we don't really put into perspective.
Chris Schmitt: I think it's interesting to think about what I just thought, about as you were saying, is that. I wonder if, I mean I'm really excited about bringing folks into that environment and to have that experience. But I think I do it a lot for myself, because I really love that whole thing, the whole Traverse.
Daniella Young: Well, do what you love. You heard it here. So, Chris, I think you are providing some kind of a gift for our listeners that are interested, is that correct?
Chris Schmitt: Right on. So I think that I already said that I think that self-awareness is key to being a successful leader. One of the tools that I use for self-awareness is the assessment called the Birkman method. The Birkman looks at, not only our usual behavior. But also it addresses your needs. When your needs aren't being met, the Birkman also shows the stress behavior you show when your needs aren't being met. I use the Birkman method as a foundation for the clients that I work with and, I'd like to provide not only the assessment but also the conversation that comes with the results of the tool afterwards.
Daniella Young: So an assessment, and a free consultation with you it sounds like.
Chris Schmitt: Absolutely, a conversation.
Daniella Young: A great conversation with a lot of values. So, Chris, the best way to get in contact with you, to take advantage of this, or get on the Traverse or anything else that our listeners might want to do.
Chris Schmitt: Well, I think that the best way to find me, is Azimuth Consulting Group is on Facebook. Azimuth Consulting Group and Christopher Schmitt are on LinkedIn in order to get some validation of maybe who I am, and my own background. Ultimately, the Traverse information, or the Traverse. If you seek more information, email@example.com is a great way to connect.
Daniella Young: we will have all of those links and more on our show notes, which will tell you how to get in contact with this amazing leader for the future. Our show notes will all be available at www.cavnessHRblog.com. Chris, what is one last 20 second bit of advice that you have for our listeners?
Chris Schmitt: I think own your choices. Take charge. Be unapologetic about who you are, and move out, being your best self.
Daniella Young: Own your choices, be your best self, and move out. I love it. So thank you so much, Chris, for joining us today, and remember to be great today.