Look Me In The Eye!

Greetings GLC readers! I hope 2018 is going well as you continue to work on all those resolutions you promised yourself you would improve upon, with being a better “communicator” as your #1. If not, it should be, because as leaders, your ability to effectively communicate via any available means (social media, video, written, etc.) is critical to mission/business success!

Unfortunately, with the development of social media, we’ve forgotten to use–or get better at–the most important and influential means of communication. In layman’s terms, we’ve forgotten how to look someone in the eye and just talk to them one-on-one.

During my last Iraq deployment, I was the Deputy Commander of the U.S. special operations headquarters unit overseeing all Special Operations Forces (SOF) operations in Iraq. On 21 October 2011, then President Obama announced that the full withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel from Iraq would be accomplished by the end of that year. A no-later-than exit date of 19 December was directed, so that gave us approximately two months to plan on how we would move all the equipment and personnel out of country to meet the President’s decree. A daunting task to say the least, but in true special ops fashion, my boss looked me in the eye and said something inspirational to the effect of “Make it happen, Coach.”


I did 4 key things to make it happen:


First, I had to teach an officer on the staff with 26 yrs of military service how to “delegate.” This officer was a good friend, but he liked to get into “the weeds” too much, and get his hands dirty more than direct others what to do. This “training” took about 30 seconds, because I quickly emphasized that what I really needed him to do was get the staff onboard as quickly as possible to immediately start the tedious inventory of all the equipment accumulated after 10 years of sustained combat operations, then ultimately move that equipment and all personnel to various locations around Iraq as the 19 December date got closer.

Strategic Planning

Once he was trained, I worked with that same officer to develop a Plan of Action & Milestones (POA&M). I used this tool throughout my naval career as it provided all hands with a comprehensive checklist and timeline of critical events, the dates these events needed to be accomplished, and who on the staff was responsible for action.

Consistent Meetings

Once the POA&M was developed, I started weekly department head meetings to review and keep the staff leaders informed of the status of our withdrawal, because these folks conducted daily interactions with U.S. conventional military and U.S. State Department support units that were critical to safely moving our people and equipment around (and ultimately) out of Iraq. As 19 Dec got closer, these weekly meetings quickly became daily (and sometimes hourly) sessions as POA&M events were completed and/or changed.

Direct Communication

And finally, as needed, but usually before any major personnel/equipment move (which were many), I sat the entire staff down either in person and/or via secure video teleconferences to remote locations around Iraq, and had my Chief of Staff and the Operations folks update the staff on how the withdrawal was going, and highlight what the boss’s expectations of them were as we got closer to the 19 Dec exit date. These sit-downs were invaluable, by keeping everyone informed while affording them a venue to ask and get timely answers to any questions they might have had.

Coach’s Tip(s) For This Month:

  1. Talk to your people! Look them in the eye and tell them what you expect from them! The total withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel and equipment out of Iraq as directed by President Obama by the end of 2011 was successfully accomplished by leaders talking directly with their people, and not by sending out countless emails and/or directives for them to read (and hopefully follow).
  2. Utilize a tool such as POA&M (Plan of Action and Milestones) for any project major events, especially if it involves significant changes to the way you normally do business.

CAPT John “Coach” Havlik, USN (Ret), retired from the Navy in 2014 after 31 years of distinguished service in the Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) community. He has served on all SEAL teams on both coasts, including the famed SEAL Team SIX. Coach completed graduate studies at the Naval War College in Newport, RI, receiving an M.A. in National Security and Strategic Studies and also completed a course of instruction in Spanish at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. Coach graduated from West Virginia University with a B.S. in Business Administration and was a member of the Men’s Swim Team for 4 years. 

Coach Havlik is a Special Advisor to Giant Leap Consulting and regularly speaks about leadership and working as a team under arduous and stressful conditions.

You Might Also Like…

What Every Leader Should Be Doing

What Every Leader Should Be Doing

Every leader needs a courage zone. When we talk about courageous leadership in our workshops, we talk about the comfort zone. We all have a comfort zone and that is the place where we feel confident and capable. That is also the zone where we are not pushed to learn...

Cultivate Growth

Cultivate Growth

As we bid farewell to winter and begin to see signs of spring all around us, my thoughts naturally turn to themes of growth and renewal. This season, I'm reminded of the immense potential that lies dormant within all of us. Like a bulb buried deep in the ground,...

Why Should You Train for Courage?

Why Should You Train for Courage?

If you are wondering, “What is this courage stuff, and why should I train for courage?” I've got some answers to those questions in this post, plus at the end, I've got a free downloadable resource for you. If you want to learn about courage, you also have to learn...