Take Command -- How To Be A First Responder In Business (Interview With Author Jake Wood)

October 14 brings a powerful new book full of leadership lessons for "how to be a first responder in business."

Jake Wood, author of, Take Command, weaves together hard-learned lessons in leadership and teamwork from his experiences in college football, as a former Marine sniper and as cofounder and CEO of Team Rubicon -- a disaster relief organization that unites military veterans with first responders deployed to areas hit by natural disasters.

"While most of our jobs don't involve leading a tour of Marines through an ambush, or rushing into a relief zone just decimated by a hurricane, in today's fast-paced, hyper-competitive business environment, we are ALL on the front lines, says Wood.  "And we can all benefit from a strategic way to approach problems and decisions," he adds.

That approach includes:

  • Being prepared
  • Making decisions
  • Acting

In his book, Wood teaches readers how to:

  • have clarity of mind and purpose when chaos is all around you
  • act when others are paralyzed
  • operate at peak performance under risk
  • adapt in the face of the unexpected
  • deliver in the clutch
In other words, how to accept responsibility, how to handle pressure, how to manage fear, how to build a team, and how to get the job done.  

And, how to be prepared -- physically, mentally and emotionally.

This week, Wood, answered questions about his book, the lessons he teaches, and the remarkable work of Team Rubicon.

Operation:  Starting Gun in Moore, OK, Summer 2013
Photo By:  Kirk Jackson, Team Rubicon

1.  What leadership skills did you learn playing football that then served you well as a Marine?

Wood:  Football taught me a lot about the power of understanding roles.  My coach, Barry Alvarez, used to yell "know your role." It was important on a team consisting of everything from All Americans to water-boys to communicate each person's importance and impact.

When people know how they're supposed to contribute, and what their contribution means, then they are much more likely to contribute effectively.  This isn't always easy to accomplish.  Take me for instance.  I came to Wisconsin on a full athletic scholarship and fully expected to become a starter and, hopefully, an NFL draft pick.  A few surgeries later I found my role relegated to that of a back up and mentor to a rising star.  It was a tough pill to swallow, but I clearly understood that my role as a leader from the rear and as a mentor helped contribute to the success of the team.

Additionally, Coach Alvarez used to always talk about "controlling the controllables."  In a football game, as in life, there are always going to be circumstances and events beyond your control.  If you don't have a firm grasp of yourself, it's easy to have those moments create a negative impact on your ability to succeed.  However, if you only focus on that which you control - be it your preparation the week before the game, or your attitude in the huddle - then you become a master of your own output, and that primes you for success.

2.  For some, achieving peak physical, mental and emotional (soul) preparation can be difficult.  Which one is most important if you have to prioritize one?

Wood:  I'd never recommend one over another, but I do think that physical preparation is the easiest to manipulate and control.

No matter one's starting point for physical stamina or fitness, there are clear steps (sometimes literally) that can be taken for incremental improvement.  Physical preparation in the business world is less about becoming a Navy SEAL and more about learning how to set goals, overcome challenges, and get in the habit of incremental improvement.  From this one can gain the self confidence and discipline needed to address the other two areas.

3.  Why do so many leaders and companies struggle with being transparent?

Wood:  I think it boils down to fear.  They ask, "if I make this information readily available then someone might be able to formulate their own opinion about X."  Weak leaders and unhealthy organizations fear decentralized power and intellectually empowered small-unit leaders because they're difficult to "control."  But if you have established a strong organizational culture and have clearly articulated the vision and strategies of the organization then there's nothing to fear.

4.  To take command, you must prepare, analyze, decide and act.  In your encounters with business and organizations where do many of them often fall short and why might that be?

Wood:  That's a tough question.  Frankly, it is probably pretty evenly split between those who have an impulse toward action but regularly fail to prepare and analyze; and those that over prepare and analyze to the point where they're too paralyzed to make a decision.

I think that seeing decision making and action as a cyclical process that begins (and ultimately ends) with preparation and analysis forces leaders to find a good rhythm that has them constantly moving through the loop.  Having a frank conversation with those in your organization about the danger of analysis without action, and of action without analysis, is a good start.

When we talk about this at Team Rubicon, we've boiled it down into four things that we value in our employees, the first three of which are relevant here: See shit that needs to get done, Get shit done, and Thrive when shit hits the fan.  If you are that person just described then you'll be a good fit for us.

5.  Of the 50 missions Team Rubicon has been involved in, which one has been the most rewarding for you and why?

Wood:  It's certainly tough.  I don't think I'll ever see another event like Haiti from the perspective that I did--that is, boots on the ground within days of the event.  It was an event of biblical proportions, and of course launched our organization.  However, I really look back on our first domestic mission in Tuscaloosa, AL as a turning point, both for our organization and for me personally.  It took place about three weeks after my sniper partner, Clay Hunt, took his own life.  Having the ability to find my own purpose and center that soon after his tragic suicide really proved helpful.

Plus, while on that mission we leaned in the middle of the night that bin Laden had been killed.  It was a bittersweet moment that seemed to bring some closure to many of the veterans around the campfire that night.  It certainly did for me.

Jake Wood is cofounder and CEO of Team Rubicon and a former Marine sniper with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been profiled by Forbes, People, and on CNN and has been named a 2012 CNN Hero and awarded the 2011 GQ Better Men Better World Award.

Team Rubicon (TR) is a disaster relief organization that unites military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response team to areas hit by natural disasters.  TR is widely recognized for its organizational efficiency and ability to be one of the first to reach the most devastated, remote, and need areas.  Since, 2010, Team Rubicon has been instrumental in over 50 missions ranging from South Sudan and Haiti, to Joplin, Missouri and Hurricane Sandy.


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