The Agile For Agilists Podcast

Leadership skills without the knife hand with former US Air Force EOD Master Sergeant Ken L. Lewis

February 7, 2023
Album cover for season 1 episode 10 of the Agile for Agilists Podcast featuring a picture of guest speaker Ken L. Lewis who is a former Airforce Explosive Ordnance Disposal Master Sergeant and John Maxwell Leadership Consultant
Agile For Agilists
Leadership skills without the knife hand with former US Air Force EOD Master Sergeant Ken L. Lewis
Each day software developers are responsible for maintaining code bases that support billions of dollars in revenue streams. When decisions need to be made it can often feel like that MacGuyver moment of choosing between the red wire, and the blue one.

In this episode, Drew is joined by former USAF Explosive Ordnance Disposal Master Sergeant turned Leadership & Performance consultant Ken Lewis to discuss the contrast and similarities to leading software teams and EOD teams who literally cut red wires.

Military culture is often associated with toughness, discipline, and always being ready to fight, but the reality is that while the military is entrenched in authority, its leadership approach is highly empathetic. Ken’s experience as a US Air Force EOD tech gives him unique insight into how we can apply high-stakes military leadership principles, with empathy and compassion into our daily lives at work and in our personal relationships. You’ll also learn about the “knife hand,” and why you probably shouldn’t use it. This episode is packed full of actionable insights you can take back to your own organization today!


S01-E10 – Drew & Ken

Drew Podwal: [00:00:00] So today on the Agile for Agile podcast, I’m really excited because on the call today is Ken Lewis who’s somebody that I met early on during Covid quarantine. Ken is a veteran former Air Force, e o d, master Sergeant, 20 years, retired, 20 years.

Ken Lewis: Correct. 20 years and nine days.

Drew Podwal: 20 years and nine days retired. We met right before you were transitioning outta the military, I was running an agile coaching workshop for veterans.

And not only were you part of it as a student, but you were like, a co-host with me all throughout it, right? Like I relied so much on you for all of your wonderful expertise and leadership qualities and technical skills and whatnot, and, you were fantastic. So thank you for that.

Ken Lewis: No thank you. I think we had two uh, lanes of specialties that complimented each other. I was very interested to learn the new agile mythology and approach, and then I had [00:01:00] my skillsets just to, and they just, I think that complimented definitely showed the power of bringing diverse minds together. Yeah.

Drew Podwal: and the thing was, and still is to this day, and that’s what a lot of this call is gonna be about. Is that I’m very much one, I’m enamored with the fact that you did 20 years and nine days of active duty in, in the military. I only did five years, right?

So I, whenever I meet somebody like yourself, I’m always like, grateful that you did the extra 16 years for me. So I didn’t have to, I say in the back of my head, but, with that comes and with the rank that you had Master Sergeant, right? Like there’s so, such a huge wealth of knowledge of leadership, right?

The military as you rise and rank. not only provides you opportunities to improve your leadership, but they, they send you to so much leadership training. You wind up with mentors along the way that take interest in you. And, I knew that you had something and still have something, really wonderful and interesting in your, [00:02:00] your viewpoint and perspective and experience about leadership.

So I’m gonna turn it over to you for a couple of seconds. Can you give a quick rundown for who you are, what you do, what your role was, in the military and, and what you’re doing now that you’re out.

Ken Lewis: Absolutely. Thank you for that. So as mentioned, my name is Ken Lewis. I retired or separated outta the military after 20 years. Uh, first was a pharmacy technician for the first seven years and then transitioned and applied to become an explosive ordnance disposal technician, which is military bomb squad.

And from there I decided that I was gonna get out at 20 years. Covid was definitely a game changer and so my thought process, a new family, uh, that had some influence in my decisions to get out. And in doing so, I decided to get down a path with. Doing leadership training and mentoring. Cause I really had a passion in mentoring, helping others, maybe in identifying areas that were weaknesses for them, [00:03:00] but maybe they weren’t really, weren’t self aware yet at the time.

So it came out, went, did my, uh, John Maxwell training and Certification, became a John Maxwell, , certified coach. And then I just went down a path of absorbing as much knowledge as I can. And initially on that, that journey, there was a lot of reflection on some of the leadership techniques that I was using or maybe incorrectly applying in my life.

So it was, applying some of the knowledge that I already had, but putting it just in a different limelight and highlighting things like, I probably wasn’t doing that as intended. But now that I’m in a position to where I am, I love talking to others about how can you maybe not repeat some of the same steps I do?

Or if you are in that pathway, what are some steps you can take just to be, increase that self-awareness and develop a roadmap on uh, how do you get out of a place if you are not, if you don’t feel like you’re acting your best self right, or that’s not the image you wish to portray anymore.

But it has to also to do with alignment.

Drew Podwal: Why should somebody care about learning more about leadership? What do they get for that? What is the company [00:04:00] get for that? What are the people and the teams that work for them get for that?

Ken Lewis: I don’t want people to get scared of the word leadership cause I believe there’s a difference between having leadership qualities and being in a leadership role. So you can have leadership qualities and it’s quite necessary at. Element. Every tier, however the organization is, it’s, it’s relevant everywhere you are cuz you have the strongest person to lead is yourself first.

Like, how do I make myself? But that doesn’t necessarily, everybody wants to sign up for the role of a senior leader or a manager. They don’t necessarily want that responsibility or the extra heartache that can sometimes come in a position where your decisions truly affect multiple people underneath you.

So just having kind of a keen or an aptitude say, Hey, I just wanna develop myself as a person. Cuz I think there’s a lot of things that I’m learning that applies to his leadership cuz leadership is all about influence. One of John Maxwell’s most famous quotes is leadership is influenced nothing more, nothing less.[00:05:00]

And if you apply. Concept to your family, to your relationships, to whomever that may be. You don’t have to be a boss, you don’t have to have direct control over somebody. And I use that term loosely. Not like, you know, manipulating or anything. But, uh, just, uh, with my kids being able to influence them down a path, being able to support an environment that’s gonna help them grow up, that this leadership, but not necessarily in a role that I’m being held accountable to a higher element, right.

A higher to a board or something like that. So I think just having the skills and concept of what is a leader and how can that apply both in a work center, outside the work center and, every interaction or communication you have. I think there’s leadership qualities that can definitely come and float to the top, and then we’ll benefit you just in your relationships in general.

Drew Podwal: In thinking about the contrast between leadership and management, let’s go back to your time in the military for a second. Can you think of a couple of examples of, some military leaders that you had that, led your group, led your team using management skills [00:06:00] versus some that were using leadership skills and, and how they were different.

Ken Lewis: Absolutely. I mean, I can use myself as an example of being very task oriented like I was. I, one of my weaknesses was being a people person. It’s still something that I am trying to enhance, right? That the empathy skills and just trying to take the time to recognize the the outward mindset, which is a great book, by the way, by the Arrb Arbinger Institute, the Outward Mindset.

It will hit on some of these topics as well, but being task oriented, I was worried about the deliverables. Here’s an objective. Can we complete that objective? Here’s the mission, here’s the assignment, whatever that may be. And then you do what it takes. And there’s some scenarios where that, that is important.

Okay, at all costs, we will do this. And, but you also know the benefits, you know the risk you’re going to as, as it should be an educated thought process behind that decision and, and going that approach. But I was using that as a default [00:07:00] of, here’s a list we’re gonna accomplish them and go forth. That can kind of get in the way or does get in the way when you don’t really consider what’s going on in somebody else’s life at that time.

What impacts are bothering them at home that maybe might not allow them to put their best foot forward because they’re distracted with, with whatever. You know, there, there’s a lot of scenarios and work is just one part of those influential factors. And if you don’t take the time to change from the manager of delivering a task to a leader, Of how can I influence, to a certain result, then that’s, that’s where you can really start appearing or becoming more insincere and maybe, uh, followership is a choice.

So if anybody is in a work center underneath you, granted in a military hierarchy, quite different, but you could be in a position to where somebody is allowing you, who is giving you permission to lead them. [00:08:00] They are choosing to trust you and to follow you at any point in time they could choose not to follow you, change direction, change work environment, or just be mutinous.

Right. I’m just gonna do the opposite. I’m not gonna give him a hundred per him or her a hundred percent. And I, I think that could be the difference. If you are in the, the role of a manager all the time and you’re neglecting the human being element, then you’re probably gonna get some of that pushback because why would they do anything for you if they don’t, if you don’t care for them .

Drew Podwal: I tend to delineate it by that a manager is effective based on the possession of a title, right? I’ve got this title, and because I have this title, you listen to what it is that I’m telling you to do. Whereas a leader, Steps into a position of respect. And there’s that bidirectional trust, like you said, where they can get up and leave at any time.

And, and in the military, you can’t get up and leave at any time. But at the same time, like there are leaders that I remember in the military that I didn’t [00:09:00] just give them , my time and effort, right? But I gave them my heart and my soul, like there was, uh, uh, petty Officer Dave laken. He was , my shop supervisor, when I was stationed in Puerto Rico.

And, he took care of me, right? He really took care of me. And I took care of him too, in the way that my performance was. And, he’s somebody who I always aspired to be like as a leader. And I look to him, in many regards today. So earlier, You mentioned, that you were a pharmacy tech before you were an e o d tech. I’m wondering if you noticed the shift in leadership, approach when you shifted from being a pharmacy tech to an e o D tech.

Ken Lewis: I would say that yes, but maybe not so much. The environment changed because when I was a pharmacy tech, the stress levels always seemed high and I couldn’t really understand why it was, there was a lot of people that were disengaged. You know, disengagement is just huge. You just felt like, you know, as a pharmacy tech, [00:10:00] you usually the last person in somebody’s, uh, journey in the medical care when they’re visiting cuz they went, waited an hour to see their doctor.

Now they gotta get an x-ray in a lab and everything else, and they’re still waiting. By the time they see you, two, three hours of their day are gone by and they can’t understand why it takes another 30 minutes to put some pills in a bottle. So now, now it really seems like you’re in a position that is just thankless.

You know, there’s, there’s really high stress, but at the same time you’re trying to make sure that the dosage is correct. I don’t want anybody to get hurt, especially with infants. Those are some irreversible stakes. Granted medical errors happen, unfortunately, but it’s your job to do your ness and not let that happen.

But I, I felt that there was so much pressure on decreasing time getting them, that we really stopped to think that we were helping patients, that we were helping people, that they were, you know, how do we make them feel better and what are they experiencing? It wasn’t the one time that I was talking to a patient and I was just giving her general counseling on the medication she was getting at the time.

She started crying [00:11:00] and we went, I pulled her into another little closed door arena we used for counseling, and it was going on and she’s like, everything you’re explaining is exactly why I’m here now. She was having these, she stopped the medication that she wasn’t supposed to, which unfortunately, well, it had alter you were supposed to taper off.

It slowly come off it, and she ended up having some negative effects by going, you know, stopping abruptly. But everybody along her entire journey was making her feel bad, making her feel like, why did you do this? Da, da, da, da, and not considering that. Patient compliance is a hard thing for a lot of people, right?

Like, stop and, and think about who it is you’re helping. That that is somebody. And then the fact that she broke down crying shows you that she wasn’t proud of that outcome. That there was a lot of things in her life that was just crashing down. I didn’t see anybody step in with a mindset of, let’s help, let’s help this patient, let’s help empower these people to handle somebody.

In that scenario, how do you talk to somebody that’s, that’s in this not as an, not as a point of review from a counselor, but just as a support system. But then when I transitioned over to the e e d mindset, I [00:12:00] could feel that there was a lot more responsibility. Like I felt it that your, your involvement as a team, your input was a hundred percent necessary.

I remember getting mad at one team member who failed to speak his mind because he felt that, because he was much, much lower in rank and he was still new, that he didn’t have a role. No, your voice is crucial. Like your, your perspective, what you see and everything that you learned, I need that.

And I think that’s another thing where if we, you know, start talking about diversity, uh, I know it has a lot of publicity and the, the political mindset, but the diversity I appreciated was having somebody that came from a different background, different thought process, life skills, whatever those things may be, they’re gonna look at the exact same situation as you completely different.

And that’s great, but as long as when you guys make a decision and that team steps forward that everybody understands where you’re. and you make the best out of it. And I think I felt more empowered in that environment. I felt appreciated. I felt like I contributed and I was able to excel [00:13:00] more because you knew that you mattered.

There was a feeling that you mattered. So I think, no, I can’t say that, you know, this was 20 years ago in the pharmacy that I was always like that, but I’d never really felt empowered or I’d never really had that sense of pride or purpose that I had once I changed into a career field where I felt the dynamics, the importance of team dynamics, uh, it was, it was just a huge shift in alone.

And I think that has a lot to do with the leadership. Setting up that culture to say, you need to speak your mind, you matter versus do what you’re told, you know.

Drew Podwal: I want to go back to one thing you said, it’s interesting you brought up the idea that, as a pharmacy tech, everything was about speed. Your leadership was trying to convince you to figure out how to do things faster, but then you realized that there was, other needs that your patients had.

We talk about building personas for the customers, for the products that we’re developing. And it triggered an interesting thought in my mind, right? Because in that instance, your customers, the patients, they might.

Say that they want something [00:14:00] fast, right? But also not realize that they want something accurate, right? Because they’re overlooking the complexity, right? Like it’s not just filling up a a pill bottle, and even if it is just filling up a pill bottle, it’s making sure you’ve got the right pills, the right dosage.

I was thinking about when you were talking is that with e o d, from a leadership quality perspective, right? You can’t ignore the fact that because you’re asking people to go figure out how to diffuse or deal with, a very lethal object

that. They have needs as people, like, in order to get somebody to go into a scenario they need to have, a lot of safety in place. Right. But also probably a lot of downtime afterwards because I’m sure things don’t always go according to plan whereas like in the pharmacy, I would imagine that it’s very easy to overlook that, right?

Like where your leadership probably is also. Like, they [00:15:00] know that you’ve gotta be precisely accurate, with filling these prescriptions, but at the same time, you , might not necessarily see the levels of stress, the levels , of difficulty. , and, and just hear management saying, , our numbers are down, our scores are low.

We’ve gotta be faster at this, And I think it’s important to recognize that even if you’re not in a scenario where there are bombs, where there’s life on the line, not just your patients, right? Actually, I think that’s the other distinction in the pharmacy. It’s not your life that’s on the line, it’s the patient’s life that’s on the line.

And in e o d it’s the, the EEO D tech that’s their life is on the line, but that, regardless of the situation, people aren’t resources, right? To be just used as expendable resources like a printer cartridge or toner paper, or I got that backwards. Or coffee. Yeah, coffee in the coffee mess.

People are knowledge workers that we hire for their expertise. And if we want them to [00:16:00] have, greater output, greater outcomes and delight the customers that we need to treat them as such.

Ken Lewis: That’s one of the things that I started loving within, the agile world when I started learning more about how, how a Scrum team organizes and the involvement and the consideration of everybody. And then your initial impact is what’s stopping you. Like I love that. I still use that today is like, no, no, no.

What, what’s getting in your way? Because if you use that mindset even more in a leadership role, right? I shouldn’t be there to be in a position to tell you how to do it. It really should be like, okay. Uh, in fact, the first time I went to this method, it was before I started deeping diving into the, uh, agile mindset.

But it was having that purpose like, okay guys, these are our three key priorities. I wanna make sure that everybody has all the equipment they need, all the training that they need, and that we could deploy within 72 hours and stay alive. whatever decisions you need to make, those are your team members. I don’t wanna step on yours, and if you have a question and you’re gonna come [00:17:00] ask me about it, just ask yourself. I’m gonna ask you, does this support one of those three things? And if the answer is no, then really consider if that’s a new path we need to take, or could you spend your energy better?

And it, at that point, I think I started transitioning to that mindset. Not asking that question per se, but to that mindset. What do you need to be effective? What do you need to do your job? What’s getting your way? And you know, with within Agile, you start learning. There’s a way to do that with, with respecting people’s time and getting to the point, and then not including everybody, like, okay, you guys need some stuff, you need to work out.

You identified it. Great. Let me know if you need me after you to, you know, talk it out as grownups. And I think that having that, that concept of knowing when you need to lead and when you need to manage or just create an environment. And that’s another thing. I think a, a main job as a leader is to set environment.

I can’t motivate anybody to do anything. I can help to create an environment that might trigger some of their intrinsic motivators. What are they attached to? What are their purposes?

What drives them? If I get to know them for [00:18:00] that, then I can help establish that environment where they are. They now feel motivated to do it themselves. So understanding your culture and knowing when you need to. What hat do you need to wear right now? Do you need be a mentor? Do you need to be a manager or a leader? Just kind of what, what role and what’s your objective and what are you trying to do?

But it ultimately comes down to what is it that’s gonna help that person become their best selves? What’s gonna let them shine up and, actually sitting down and trying to find a way to align their personal goals with the goals of the unit at the time.

Like this is a direction we’re going at the time, but there’s no reason that you cannot also do the same thing that benefits you and us right now. Obviously, I can’t help you chase every last one of your dreams, but I can set up opportunities and if I know what it is that drives you and I know that these are some of your goals and objectives in life, then when I hear those at a, at a staff meeting or where do they meet, then I know, hey, I got a guy right for that.

Right? I can put those opportunities in front of you because now I know what’s important to you and you’re helping me with my mission with the units [00:19:00] mission. Let me help you with yours. And I think that comes down with having that. Culture set up. And just again, that what awareness of yourself and your people and, and what really is important.

And me going in there with a knife hand every day, what does that do? It sends mixed signals. I can’t go in there. And, and this was like, this is one thing I kicked myself in the butt for. I would go in there, get your effing feet off the desk, da da, da. Right? But then at the same time, deep down, I truly wanted to make sure that they had their, had everything they knew needed to do their jobs right?

But that was sending mixed signals. Like I’m pretty sure I seemed like I had a, a mental health disease, you know, cause I’d be one way, one day. I wasn’t consistent with my behaviors. And people, they watch us, those that we work with, watch us. And they’re trying to decide whether or not they’re going to trust you.

Is this somebody that I can rely on or can I follow this individual? And if your behaviors don’t match your words and you’re not consistent, then they’re not gonna make an opinion that’s in your favor. They’re gonna do something that’s gonna preserve their wellbeing. And uh, I think that consistency saying, this is the person that I wanna demonstrate as a leader, and these are the actions I’m gonna take and, and walk in the [00:20:00] talk.

Drew Podwal: I remember back when I was in the Navy, and I didn’t experience this a whole lot, but, if you were experiencing a problem outside of work, right? whether it was a family problem, with your family that lives with you on base, or your family that lives back stateside or whatever that was.

 Or if you were having financial issues or medical issues or whatever it was, right? Like your shop supervisor your chief, or your top sergeant, master sergeant, right? Whatever branch you were in they were there for you. They might not specifically know the answer, right? But if you were to go to your chief or your sergeant and say I’m having problems with financially being able to put food on the table for my family at home I need some help. I know I’ve made some mistakes. They’ll sit with you to figure out like what’s going on and they’ll help directly you to the right support services on base, which isn’t gonna mean like somebody’s gonna cut you a check, right, to solve your problem, but they’ll put you [00:21:00] in touch with the people that can help you to figure out how to, get out of the hole that you’re in and that’s not something that is in like American workforce culture. Like if I show up to work and I’m having problems negotiating my rent, with my building management company, there’s nothing within HR I know that like most insurance plans now that you get through your company, give you that free access to, , a social worker to talk to them, but, , it’s not the same. I’ve called them before and it’s this checklist thing and they’re like, oh, you need to call your states whatever, and then you call your states whatever, and it’s just like some garbage program

Ken Lewis: I don’t know where that builds or where that grows from, because I know as a pharmacy tech, I was a brand new E five, brand new staff sergeant, and I was given, two individuals to, supervise at that point. And I remember doing my initial feedback with one of ’em and I was, following the checklist, going down, asking her questions, and I laid out what some of her [00:22:00] goals were.

I said, okay, yeah. Cool. At the time, and still, I guess it was very, I love just knowing resources and where to send people, or at least who to get and bring in to help the areas that I’m not a specialist in. But after that discussion, uh, within 24 hours later, I kind of gave her this. These notes that were to pick up and stuff like that, and she’s like, oh, I already called them.

I said, well then, but I’m curious. Like if you already did that, why? Why did we talk about that? She’s like, well be honest. She’s like, nobody’s ever followed through what they’ve told me they were gonna do. So she was used to having those leaders that would say, oh yeah, sure, da, da, da, da. But then not follow, even if they knew the answers or had the resources.

It was a short, it wasn’t a genuine concern. It was one of these things to where they would check a box, say what they had to say, and then move on versus actually doing what you’re supposed to do. And I don’t know if that is something that’s given or done as much as one would hope in the civilian workplace of like, yes, take care of their mind because it might not be your responsibility.

Cuz they are their own adult. They can, they can make adult big boy big girl decisions. But [00:23:00] we all hit points where we’re just overwhelmed, we’re confused. We just kind of need to somebody to come out there and, and wipe the, the haze from our glasses, right? Like, how do I get out of this fog because it’s crashing down and I don’t know, I know everything I need to do, but I just need help starting get me down a path.

And I think if you paused and did that cuz then what’s gonna have been happening, their work performance is gonna start crashing down. They’re not gonna feel confident. I mean, there’s just so many negative attributes that can happen because of something happening, happening in their personal life that you might not feel it’s your responsibility because, you know, I’m not my brother’s keeper or, or something of that ascent.

but as a human being and the respect for another that might be lost that you have an answer to. We’re not saying you have to hold their hand or change your diapers for them, but you can take the time and spend 15 minutes to better your life because what is a long term return on that? Like what is that going to bring back to you?

Yeah, you, you might have sacrificed 15 or 30 minutes to have this discussion and nothing productive was done for the organiz. , but if that [00:24:00] person becomes better because of your conversation and your resources, what is that gonna look when they, they, you know, you avoided a situation of turnover or suicide or now this person is, is the best place over because they got out of this haze and, and they’re in a position to where they are working better than they ever thought they could.

You know, just because they had to get out of the slump. And, and sometimes it’s not just that. Sometimes it’s somebody that might not, that’s a great individual, but not put in a stimulating role. So are they even in the right role in the first place? Are you tapping into the strengths? Cuz if they’re failing work performance wise, have you sat down and looked at them and be like, okay, what, what actually drives you?

Like, are you even happy with the role? All right, maybe, maybe. Okay, you, you belong on the bus, right? You’re, you’re on the bus, you belong here, but maybe you’re just not in the right seat, so let’s, let’s go over here where you can type into that energy and strength and then bam, they, they excel. but again, it’s get sitting down and having those conversations and not looking just.

With blinders on it, the results. This is what you know, ask the good questions to lead you. Like why are these results [00:25:00] happening?

Drew Podwal: Yeah. And I think that gets lost a lot in American workplace culture, right? you know, most of my career I worked for these large enterprise level organizations that were very top down heavy and, the steering committee approves a project, and a program and whatnot, and the orders are given out and everybody’s gotta march in that direction.

And, you’re in a job that, sometimes they’re not hiring you to think they’re hiring you to do, and I think that’s another aspect of leadership versus management. , a leader recognizes that the people that are working for them are going to provide them with greater insight.

And like, as you said, especially if you’ve got a diverse group of people on your team, if you allow them the time and the space to. Give feedback to speak about the impediments that they’re having, right? To say , Hey, I know that this is what the project plan says, but I feel like we’re, we’re missing an opportunity here and, and listen to them. Being a [00:26:00] leader doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to listen and then act upon everything that your team says, right? But it does mean that you have to listen, , that you have to give them the space and the time to listen. If, if somebody who’s working for you is, just talking a lot and bringing up lots of problems all the time, then as a leader, right? It’s your responsibility to sit down with them and say, Hey, look, sometimes there are things that you bring up that are great.

That we really need to hear about. And you know, other times you’re bringing up things that are important but you know, are distracting, and then other times there are things that we just really, we need to just work past, and just accept. And, a good leader will sit down and talk to him about that, a better leader will say, how can I, how can we work together to create a shared language that would allow us to work through all three buckets together in a way that allows us to have a better [00:27:00] understanding of what it is that we’re talking about and what to do with it. , getting high results still, , but maybe working faster through it.

Ken Lewis: and a suggestion box is not the answer.

 You want to have a culture of innovation and, you’re not gonna get any type of innovative ideas if people are stunted and you only have monkey turning wrenches, , because you’re doing what they’re told.

That’s not why you hire them. You hire them for the, brain power they could bring the creativity, the thought processes. So if you have people that are feeling one that they’re not heard and that their, their thoughts are always dismissed, then they’re gonna start contributing. And you’re probably gonna miss out on the next Elon Musk.

Right? The next big thing. But let’s say if you realize people are giving this,

Drew Podwal: I kind of hope that we miss out on the next Elon Musk.,

Ken Lewis: but I mean, there’s ideas that individuals have that if somebody was to act on, you’d be surprised at where that could take you. And I think that if you had multiple people, maybe an, an idea could be, Hey, how about every two weeks we’ll dedicate to a 30 minute meeting to where you guys can hash out and bring out your top three ideas as a collective, right?

And it’s not any idea is good or bad, but which one’s like the most , [00:28:00] feasible to do at the moment that aligns with our efforts and provide ’em time to at least fill heard and go forth , and feel like they’re contributing and they not saying, Hey, , this is not a great idea. This just might not be the best time for this idea.

So when they’re feeling heard, they can see that they’re contributing is on a parking lot of some sort. And then you kind of weed ’em out and just kind of go down the list one by one and see what’s actionable. , but don’t waste too much time, cuz some speed matters, right? Speed to market matters. So some could be , , one of those ideas like, crap, we should have acted on that really quick.

But maybe in a brainstorming session that would come to light and be like, that’s a great idea. We need to do that now. And see what happens from there. And again, I think there’s a theme here is , about that culture. What are you doing? , are you bringing a culture to where people feel like they can be heard?

That they have the safety and freedom to speak to their minds, that they’re not gonna be ridiculed or shamed or, or any of those. Negative attributes where they want to share their ideas. And I think that was the biggest in the military. There were so many things. I had ideas coming outta my mind left and right.

Uh, and then [00:29:00] there was, after a while they started getting turned down. I was like, okay, you started going to a black book. I was like, you could do this cheap cuz I’m in the military, or I can sell you the product for 10 times the cost when I get out . You know, um, because of some of those processes, like, oh my God, like, the answer might be so clear to one person. What? On the other side of the coin, I was in a headquarters. I don’t have the strategic view. I don’t know all the other, you know, trinkets that are currently in play. So there’s, there’s that, but nobody ever stopped to tell me whether that was applicable or not applicable. I, I, I just felt dismissed. And that’s when you start to feel disengaged and you’re like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna move on to where I can kind of feel more, um, like I can contribute to a bigger cause.

Drew Podwal: I actually, while we’re talking here, I just thought of a great brand for you. You, you brought up with the idea of a, you know, having things go into the Black book. I, I feel like your, your brand of leadership should be called cut the red wire leadership Skills from a 20 year, air Force, e o D, master Sergeant[00:30:00]

Ken Lewis: I had joked around the other day and, and it was something I just threw out there as like, you know, leadership without the knife hand. How do you motivate people without intimidating them? Because discipline is another thing in that realm. And improper use of discipline tools, discipline tools, whether it’s gonna be like, Hey, we’re gonna have a feedback or something like that.

It’s just to correct, uh, unwanted or unexpected behavior is not to try to strong arm or change somebody completely. And I think we get to a point where sometimes discipline. knife hand approach and stuff like that. , and for those not military, maybe you’ve heard of the knife hand, but it’s that do as I say, don’t think do what you’re told .

It is just kinda that very direct in your face approach, which, you know, sometimes it has it

Drew Podwal: I was gonna ask you about that because I’ve never heard of the knife hand. I’m all like, all I’m thinking about is like Captain Kirk, like on an alien planet, like, you know, doing battle with a knife in his hand, but,

Ken Lewis: there are some, some, uh, individuals in the military that are just killer with their knife hand. Like you just [00:31:00] know the type of professional in the military they are. Or you can see somebody coming at you like this, like, I’m not gonna take you serious. Like, what is that? What are you trying to do?

 It’s a different approach to where that, that doesn’t, that doesn’t work long term.

Drew Podwal: You reminded me that when I was , in the Navy, , I learned that when, whenever you’re walking somewhere, whether it’s, cross the ship to another deck, to another work center or whatever it is, Always walk with a, a rag in your back pocket and a stack of papers in your left hand and nobody will bother you.

because, cuz you look like you’re walking with a purpose.

Ken Lewis: I, back in the day, for me, when I was in the medical group, it was a blue folder. It could be nothing in there. But if I walked around with a sense of urgency, like I wanted something, nobody’s, I, I, nobody messed with me. Because why? If you just looked like you were on a mission Nope,

Drew Podwal: Yeah. Whenever the,

uh, the ship smoking, like, on, on an aircraft carrier, right. For the smokers, , there’s a tiny, probably 24 foot by like 12 foot area off the side of the ship. That’s the smoking [00:32:00] deck. And the smoking light would be turned on or turned off, right? And this, comes from, , early days of, of the Navy.

The smoking light was on, right? It meant that you can go smoke and it was off. You can’t smoke. And it’s because you could see somebody lighting a lighter across the sea at night and an enemy ship would see that, right? , but we would do these drills and they would, close the smoking section for hours, many, many hours, like six hours or more at times.

And, then the smoking light would turn back on and there would be like a half an hour long line or, and even more times to go smoke and shoulder to shoulder. And it was just so gross out there and I’m so glad I’m not a smoker anymore. But, um, um, but yeah, I remember like, you know, wanting a cigarette and grabbing a rag, grabbing a stack of paper and walking with the smoking deck.

Some, nobody would ask me to do something on the way to the smoking deck, but

Ken Lewis: Kia extensive urgency, right? Just look like you have sense of urgency. You’re on a mission and you’re good to go. But hopefully it is truly, every now and then you actually do have a sense of urgency and [00:33:00] working towards something. But hey, sometimes those tricks come in handy cuz you just need a moment for a little bit of “woosah”.

Drew Podwal: So, I wanna talk about John Maxwell, cuz I really admittedly don’t know anything about John Maxwell. So can you give me a, a quick primer on maybe who he was and, what his insights were and, what you’re doing with John Maxwell Leadership Training.

Ken Lewis: Absolutely. And I knew of John Maxwell in the military. As you know, the leadership guru, you know, you, you read a lot of his text. The five Levels of Leadership, leadership, the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, 17 Laws of Teamwork. He just has all these different concepts the theme within. The the Maxwell community is that he wants to add value to people that value others and add value to them.

So it’s not just enough to, uh, add, like, I’m gonna try to add value to, to your listeners and, and to whomever I might speak to, but also how can I help them add value to [00:34:00] somebody else? How can I give them maybe, Bit of information. And when I, he’s one of those individuals when, you know, you hear him speak or you’re in the same room, that I feel that he genuinely means it.

He really truly believes in making leaders that care for humanity in general. And to spread that knowledge and to develop everyone around you at all levels, regardless of who you are, all the way down to whatever you might think is a, the lowest form of, work professional, you know, career field out there to the highest form.

And it’s everybody is still a human being and has a quality that they can give. And we shouldn’t stunt that growth on anybody. And matter of fact, so this quote that I have is my favorite one that he has up here is, success is how well I have done for myself. It’s all, that’s all about me. Significance is how well I have done for myself and others.

So is what I’m doing be is significant to the world. So my contributing. Am I benefiting myself and am I helping you in this [00:35:00] space? But greatness is how well I have inspired others to do well for themselves and for others, which is the same thing. So he strives to reach for greatness to where he is building a community that wants to help the next generation and the next generation.

Not just, I wanna become a better leader. I want to help you become a better leader, but I want to help you become a leader to help the next person become a better leader or a better person, uh, even if it’s not leadership. So he is, uh, I think that’s a lot of the, the trainings I just have just absorbed over the last two years.

A lot of the concepts were not brand new, but labeling ’em in a certain way has helped me kind of explain them differently, attach certain principles to my life differently, and just kind of have a, a different level of respect or understanding, I guess you could say, on how this can. Contribute. Whether, again, whether you’re a leader or just a, a parent, a father, a spouse, you know, or, or whomever or cu a customer, just because you are in a building, [00:36:00] paying for a service doesn’t give you the right to act like an a-hole.

You know, that’s still another human being you’re talking to who probably doesn’t have any influence on whatever decision they’re enforcing. Right?

Drew Podwal: a script. Yeah.

Ken Lewis: So, you know, treat everybody with dignity and respect them. And I think if you stop and study a lot of his words, you’ll, you’ll pull a lot of that, of how do I connect, how do I become a better influencer?

And, and just relationships. Relationships matter.

Drew Podwal: I, I love that. Uh, success. What is it? Success, significance, and greatness. I think that’s a great way of framing it. I don’t know if you were aware of this, but I, I took a leadership course for about a year, uh, about two years ago, um, through ipec Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching.

And it focuses on what’s called, , core Energy Coaching, , which was created by a guy named Bruce D. Schneider. , the cool thing that I really like about it, what I’ve learned from it, , is that, , all throughout life we’re exchanging energy. right? , we are radiating energy and we’re absorbing [00:37:00] energy, , with others, right?

You and I are exchanging energy throughout this conversation and that, , to be truly powerful and influential is to be very conscious of your own energy, of how you’re exchanging it with others. , we talk about it’s a catabolic and anabolic energy, right? , catabolic energy is energy. That, kind of like a negative emotional attractor, right?

Whereas with anabolic energy is energy that creates more energy, and that to be aware of the type of energy that you are radiating, and it sounds a little hippy-dippy, like you’re shaking the tambourine, but, but to be aware of your mood, right? might be another way to put it. , and.

Helps you to then, pivot, reframe, and redirect that energy. And it’s really done wonders. I’ve been using that in my agile coaching as well. So in, in my book of isms from, uh, core Energy Coaching, it’s absolute passion is the [00:38:00] highest form of consciousness is one I love.

And then one that I really love is life offers neither problems nor challenges, only opportunities. and life is a perfect adventure. A game that cannot be won or lost, only played. And that was the one that really had the most impact on me, right? Because I was taking everything so seriously, right?

And when I started to realize that life is just a game, right? We’re playing a game with other people and we get to play the game over and over again, , every 24 hours, right? , that, uh, every morning I get to choose who I want to be, who I wanna show up as, , that, every day I get to, at the end of the day experience, uh, a mini retrospective.

What went well today? What didn’t go well today? What can I do differently tomorrow, right? Uh, what can I take from that? You know, I feel like American corporate culture, does not embrace these ideas at all. Right? Like, they don’t wanna [00:39:00] bring that into the workplace. They don’t wanna bring the, the shaking of the tambourine, but the value of the organizations that do, right?

The organizations that out there, that truly get leadership over management principles, that are asking their employees, what can we do to help you to do your job better, those are the ones that are really excelling,

Ken Lewis: I think there’s also a lot of people are really stuck on metrics. How do I measure that? Or it doesn’t really, how does that contribute to the bottom line? So I look at the hard facts, those tangible events versus, you know, there are things intangible, like how do you have establishing a culture that ultimately indirectly support all those ROIs, the, you know, on your O K R metrics or your balance scoreboard or whatever metrics system you use.

They, they ultimately are, they only get achieved by those people. So having to, you know, having a mechanism to measure that, whether it could be simply simple as a liker scale, like do you feel valued in your work center? You know, like, do you [00:40:00] feel valued? Ask that on a daily basis. How are you valuing others?

What do you do? Uh, what do you do as an individual? What do you do? As a, as a department company, organization to value others and to serve others. If you’re, if you’re in a business world, you’re ultimately cor creating a product or service to serve others to solve a problem that they have or, you know, to provide some kind of service.

But in doing so, what intangible benefit are they gaining?

Drew Podwal: A lot of the companies that I work with, at the boots on the ground level, What I hear a lot of is that they don’t understand what the mission is, what the corporate vision is, they feel so disconnected, right? Like they know what they’re working on right at that moment. But they don’t understand what the North Star is, beyond that.

And, , I work with leadership and I’ll find that, that middle layer, right? They’re not able to provide that to the boots on the ground because they’re not getting that from up and above either. And, there’s a huge problem where, where I think that [00:41:00] companies feel like they’re not allowed to say, we don’t know,

and so people make stuff up and they do like a song and a tap dance around things and whatnot. But the other thing too is it’s okay to get that answer from downstream. Right. find out who knows the customer best, get lots of different, viewpoints for who knows the customer best, and start to create that North Star I, I really like OKRs. Have you come across OKRs versus KPIs yet?

Ken Lewis: It’s still an area where I’m trying to develop

Drew Podwal: well, okay, so can, can I give you a quick primer real quick? And, uh,

Ken Lewis: Absolutely.

Drew Podwal: I’m gonna try to do it using an e o d, , analogy, right? So from a KPI perspective, right? Your KPIs in an e o D unit, , might be, , the hours of training provided, right? it might be the time to get to the location. It could be, the number of, of devices safely, dealt with, I don’t know, rendered safe. Thank you. Now from an O K R perspective, you’re thinking about the [00:42:00] outcome that you’re looking to achieve, right? So like with the k p, it’s, did this happen or didn’t happen?

Right? Like we’ve got an a, a metric that we’re measuring all right? , at the micro level, right? Did it happen or didn’t it happen? Whereas from an O K R perspective, an objective that you might have for a, an E O D unit, might be that, the e o D unit is a strong team.

That, performs its job with confidence and safety, expediently, right? So that when it goes out into the fields to do its missions that it is able to, have successful missions at a high rate, and, with a high degree of safety, And then the key results, right? The key results that you look at usually is KPIs, right?

Might be things like how does the team feel from a standpoint of safety, how confident are they with working with one another? , how tightly, [00:43:00] knit are they with one another? , , are they improving their time to , the location? , is their rendered safe rate, , growing, , and things like that, right? And these are things that from a KPI perspective, usually you’re measuring kpi p i every quarter, or every, half year or at the end of the year. Whereas with the K right, you’re constantly reflecting on it, right?

Are we trending in this direction or we not trending in this direction? If we’re not trending in the direction that we want it to go, at the rate that we want to improve, then we ask ourselves, all right, what other initiatives should we put in place so that we’re continually striving towards improvement at a regular rate whereas like I would imagine that. in an e O D unit, there’s a very like cookie cutter recipe for all that all e o D units provide for how often they do training, what training they do, how much downtime they get, [00:44:00] right? And that if, if they’re providing those things, then the expectation is that the KPI P should be good, right?

And if the KPI is, then let’s review it at the end of the quarter or the end of the year, or whatever that might be, and figure out what’s wrong with our training, what’s wrong with our, our downtime, or things like that.

Ken Lewis: I think there also could be a difference on. On on two different PERS perspective. I have one. When you start looking at the reportable results within the military is that because of our mission set, we had to meet certain objections. How many trained, uh, team leaders do we have in that that area? How many trained team members do we have and how many people are still in training progressing?

And will they meet this in a certain timeline? But that was more from. Uh, national readiness perspective. That way we as a country can ma say that yes, we can maintain this level of readiness that, you know, the geniuses Congress can’t, has already stated that we have to be [00:45:00] prepared to this level. So the training and all that then kind of goes down here, say, in order to meet the objectives given to us under the Mission National Military Strategy and so forth, that this is kind of how we’re gonna do that.

And then split it up between domains. This is what the, the different services will do, what different mission sets and so forth. And a lot of that is definitely gonna be filtered top down in the KPIs, I think is, will be much more appropriate for it. That in a top down, because we don’t have the entire picture and you know, they don’t necessarily need our input at the time of how are we gonna do it.

They’re not telling us how they’re saying this is what we need to have done. Which from my understanding, , please correct me if I’m wrong on this with the OKRs, that’s kinda like the more cascading evolution to where they do want input from the bottom of, Hey, this is some of the things we’re gonna do, but now as it your particular unit or you as a person, how can you help?

What, what things and what are you gonna measure yourself against? Like, I’m not gonna, like, this is what we, our organization is gonna do and this is how I’m gonna measure the organization now how are you gonna help me do that? Like, tell me how you can contribute and [00:46:00] then kind of like cascade that whole line of, of reporting and metrics down to the very bottom level

Drew Podwal: Yeah. Well think about it like this. KPI is, um, you define a target and you either hit the target or you didn’t hit the target. , right? Where the way that OKRs are designed is in such a way where you’re improving the way that you’re hitting the target, right? You’re improving the precision and accuracy of hitting the target and also, observing whether or not the target itself needs to be adjusted, right?

So, like, think about the times that you sat in a training session that you were gonna have to give your team. More training afterwards, right? That the syllabus covered , the bullet points that the federal government needed you , to hit. But that, in order for them to be safe out in the field, you know, we’ve got, master Sergeant Ken Lewis’s, additional hours that we’re gonna meet next Thursday , to go over these things.

And [00:47:00] like from an O K R perspective like that happens as well, except that it gets fed back. So this way the training program can evolve as well, right? And that other people across the United States and other E O D units can benefit from, your observance of the gap in the training program and what you know, because your boots on the ground for what your team needs in order , to be safe and, , and render objects safe,

Ken Lewis: I think that elaborates to the idea of the importance of having a development program, uh, an effective development program for you people in an organization. You know, for that example specifically is how do you, empower somebody to give ’em the right tools and resources better at their job? And then how do you measure if that is the right tools and resources?

Are they’re actually improving and is your approach correct or not? And how do you adjust course if necessary? Do you make that decision on your own? Do you get feedback from those, the metrics themselves speak to it that, hey, this is working or not working.

Drew Podwal: There’s a lot of [00:48:00] managers out there right now who can’t understand this idea of leadership, right? Like, how will I know that my employees will get the work that I need them to get done if I don’t tell ’em exactly how to do the job the way I want it done?

So with your experience with John Maxwell and being in the military, what would you say to those leaders out there who are feeling that way to maybe get them to try wearing a leadership hat a little bit?

Ken Lewis: first would be asking yourself, do you need to have that much con control on the deliverable, on the outcome? Like by, do you trust them enough to do it? And why don’t you trust them? Do you trust ’em because they’re not skilled? Okay, well then that’s your fault as a leader, , help them become skilled in that craft.

Do you have an issue with delegating? If you do have an issue with delegating again, your problem, what are you gonna do about that? , I know when I was trying To be more diligent in delegating. There were two things that I did, I printed off the room yet, decision making [00:49:00] model. It says, how important is the decision you’re gonna make, the quality of that? Is it very important to the organization or is it not that important? Do you need the input from other people? And then it kind of helps you decide, okay, is this a decision I’m gonna make on my own?

Is this a decision that I’m going to maybe just bring in a couple people to get their consult? Do I need to sit down with a team , and talk it out? , do I need to bring in the entire group and talk it out? Is this a decision that I make by myself? Do I just hear them out and make a decision? Or we can come up to a consensus or how does that work?

But it’s just kind of a tool thing to say, if you’re trying to become somebody that can be better with delegating, , See at what, decisions really need to be handled. Cuz there’s probably a lot of decisions that does not need to stop at you, especially if time is not of the essence and it’s not one of those critical life altering decisions you have time to talk about at your next morning meeting or, or something like that to present it up.

Drew Podwal: Yeah, I would take that one step further to say that if you’re gonna set up this kind of experiment, and I love that, right? Like, find something that’s low risk, find something that, that you feel comfortable and confident and [00:50:00] somebody who you could delegate it to, I think it’s a great way of, running a leadership experiment to see how that could work for you, right?

And at the same time, , I think your team will love that, , but I also think it’s important to ask, not just that day, right, but check in from time to time, what can I do to help you to make sure that this has the, the right outcome, that we’re looking to achieve.

So well look, I know you gotta get going and I wanna be respectful of your time. I know we, we started about two hours ago, , ahead of the call,

 Is there any last licks, any last thing that you wanna.

Ken Lewis: Just, The number one thing you can do in your journey of leadership is really, really try the self-awareness, ask the right questions. And if you don’t know where to start, then there are some good topics on, on servant leadership that would be a great focal point. Uh, in fact, I have a little checklist, uh, if you go to ken l leader, there’s checklist that, what are some things you can ask about yourself?

Like how do [00:51:00] you, is it a strength or struggle of, uh, and again, it’s all subjective. How do you feel about your level of self-awareness? Do you feel you gotta grasp on that? Well, how curious are you about others? Do you listen well? And, are you coachable, teachable, things like that. But then an organization, are you empowering your people?

Are you recruiting the right people? Are your mechanisms in place? Are you resourcing the right way? So it could be, just a checklist to think about where do you wanna identify some gaps and then pick one area to improve and then just go from there. But know that any type of those things, it’s not, I mean, I’m still developing it, right?

There’s so many things as I go down this path where I kind of, uh, like, man, I, I thought I was doing well and didn’t. So don’t beat yourself up. Realize that it might not have been the person you wanted to portray and, just keep developing and then pass that information onto the next person.

it is truly, that’s the only way, cuz it’s gotta be a culture thing. And, , you can only do that if you know where to, to look. And you gotta look inward and be brutally honest with yourself. , we have a, a fault of measuring ourself maybe a little bit higher than we truly are. So just be brutally honest and ask where’s, what’s your greatest [00:52:00] struggles?

And, and what can you do to, to minimize that struggle?

it gets that participation and involvement from those below and from those above. And they could be used in a non-agile setting,

Drew Podwal: Amazing. Well, Ken, thank you so much for joining and I really appreciate it and we’ll catch up again soon.

Ken Lewis: Yeah. Thank you. And thank you for everything again. Thank you for, The knowledge you shared upon me, just in the whole agile mindset. I mean, it has been great and it’s, it has helped me, uh, as far as my leadership perspectives, because it’s given me tools that I can do to not be so prescriptive

Drew Podwal: I knew that you had something and still have something, really wonderful and interesting in your, your viewpoint and perspective and experience about leadership. Like I relied so much on you for all of your wonderful expertise and leadership qualities and technical skills and whatnot, and, you were fantastic. So thank you for that.

Ken Lewis: Absolutely. Appreciate you, brother, and, uh, we’ll talk soon. All right, chow.


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