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Leadership Skills the Military Can Teach Us

with Pat D'Amico

Leadership Skills the Military Can Teach Us

In this episode, Aaron Murphy chats with Pat D'Amico, a leadership expert and CEO of About-Face Development, to delve into leadership skills. Pat's military background shapes his insights, discussing stress management, self-awareness, coaching, and the value of mentorship. The conversation explores reasons for job dissatisfaction, continuous learning for leaders, remote learning tools, and highlights coaching and hiring as pivotal leadership skills. Tune in for more!


In this episode we discuss “Leadership Skills the Military Can Teach Us”

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Important Timestamps:

  • 00:00 – Introduction
  • 00:23 – Who Is Our Guest For Today?
  • 05:12 – Being Aware Of Your Emotion
  • 06:09 – Having A Mentor Is Important
  • 07:06 – Why Are People Leaving Their Jobs?
  • 07:56 – Manager’s Role in Job Losses
  • 08:30 – Lack Of Development
  • 08:53 – How To Retain People
  • 13:01 – The Importance Of Keeping Good Managers
  • 16:35 – The Adaption Of Asynchronous E-Learning
  •  18:26 – Top Three Leadership Skills Most People And Organizations Lack

Transcript of “Leadership Skills the Military Can Teach Us”

[00:00:00] AI Narrator: This is Project Management Paradise. Project Management Paradise is brought to you by Cora Systems, a worldwide leader in providing enterprise project and portfolio management solutions to global agencies such as Honeywell, Boston Scientific, PwC, and the UK’s National Health Service.

Aaron Murphy: Hello everyone. And welcome to the project management paradise podcast, your passport to project success.

I’m your host, Aaron Murphy. And today I’m joined by Pat D’Amico to discuss the topic of leadership skills that the military can teach us. Pat is a leadership expert and corporate trainer with an extraordinary background. Pat is the founder and CEO of About Face Development, a veteran owned performance improvement consulting firm.

Prior to this, Pat has over 20 years experience in the medical device and pharmaceutical industry, having worked for such companies as Medtronic, Johnson, with a large focus on the [00:01:00] area of learning and development. And Pat also holds a Master’s in Education. Pat, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

How are you today?

Pat D’Amico: I’m great, Aaron. Thanks so much for having me.

Aaron Murphy: No, thank you so much for coming on. And for anyone who mightn’t know of you, could you tell us about yourself and your background and how you ended up as an expert in the leadership field?

Pat D’Amico: Absolutely. So as with anyone our journeys are usually long and diverse.

I grew up in Buffalo, New York but at when I was finishing high school, I always admit that I was not a great high school student. So when I was finishing, my parents said, what are you going to do? And I said I’m going to go to college. And they were like that’s interesting because there’s no money to send you anywhere.

And I certainly was not, did not have grades, get a scholarship. So I ended up enlisting in the army. at the completion of high school. And from there I was able to get an army scholarship, which took me to Valley Forge Military Academy. So I spent a number of years there. And after getting commissioned an officer in the army, I went on active duty for a number of years in the army.

And then back in 1993 I ended my Time in the military and then entered corporate America. So I have spent the majority of my time. I’ve had a very fortunate career in very different functions. So I started in sales, did a lot of sales management time. I actually started and ran Johnson and Johnson’s sales recruiting department for the U S I spent some time in the medical device sector at J and J, and then eventually I was offered an opportunity to leave J and J as a VP of commercial operations for a start-up company.

So that was really interesting to have that. Going from Johnson and Johnson to a large organization, to a start-up from there. That start-up was bought by Medtronic, which is obviously the largest global manufacturer of medical device products. And I moved over there and spent about eight or nine years there.

At that point, what I expected and knew was coming I was living where I still live today. And. Medtronic, which is based in Minneapolis said, Hey, for your next role, you’ve got to move to Minneapolis. And it wasn’t something that was the right timing for myself and my family. So I decided to go out on my own as a consultant, but largely my focus, frankly, since I would say it was probably 15 or 16 has really been, my passion has been in the area of leadership and leadership development.

So I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of varied roles. I’ve worked in different functions. But the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve been heavily focused on leadership and management development.

Aaron Murphy: That’s amazing. You’ve quite a diverse career starting off in the military and then branching into corporate America, as you said.

But just to draw back on your time in the army, what skills did you learn as a platoon leader in the military that are applicable in the world of business?

Pat D’Amico: There’s certainly, there’s certainly a lot there. I think that the first that comes to mind is when I was a platoon leader, I found myself in many challenging situations during a very short period of time.

My first two years as a platoon leader we deployed to my unit deployed to Panama, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Cuba. And so when you’re deploying That [00:04:00] often back to back, your soldiers, they’re away from home, they’re very often in harm’s way. And they’re very stressed. I think one of the first things I learned was as a leader, your ability to manage your own stress, your ability to present yourself as a calm.

Force for them really sets an example and it helps them through that period of time. Now. I certainly was not perfect I was I had just turned 22 years old when I first deployed with my platoon I was younger than the majority of them are certainly longer than any of the leaders in the platoon So I think the thing that was important was being able to step back really take a look at my own actions What am I doing?

But most importantly what am I not what could I really learn? And improve on. So those sorts of things, I think were really critical.

Aaron Murphy: Amazing. The way you were able to distil your confidence among your team probably helped them through all their times when they were worried and probably stressing out and just having a leader there to focus and.

Follow probably really helps them.

Pat D’Amico: Yeah, it does. And I think the other key here is you have to be aware of your own emotions, right? You have to have your own sounding board. I was fortunate to have a very experienced platoon sergeant who had been in the army at that point for 25 or 27 years.

I had somebody at least that I could share. You know my challenges with and we could talk through that because one of the other things and what I often see with leaders is if you bottle all that off. If you try to always be that and you don’t ever have an outlet, you’ll burn yourself out.

And I went through that time period. There was a moment in there that I found myself in the hospital because I was running myself so ragged and my commander. Came in and said, look, you’ve got to do a better job of managing your own stress because you’re bottling it all up, right?

Because you’re trying to present this strong front to your soldiers and to your service members. So

Aaron Murphy: that’s amazing. And having someone to lean on to share this experience and to share knowledge as well, I’d say it was a valuable asset to have. Absolutely. Do you believe that having a leader or a mentor like this is important for people to have within teams themselves?

Pat D’Amico: Oh, there’s no question. I’m a big proponent of mentors in any circumstance I find, in fact, too often I find that individuals. Sometimes view their boss as their mentor. And I, even when I’m doing executive coaching, even when I’m somebody’s coach, I will still encourage them. You need to have a mentor who’s, best outside your organization, who doesn’t have the political leanings, within the organization, doesn’t have that baggage to really give you a perspective that’s from outside.

So mentorship is incredibly important. Absolutely.

Aaron Murphy: And just to pivot to the extended part of your career, transitioning to corporate America, I’d imagine over the course of 20 years, you’ve seen many people come and go and leave jobs. And in your opinion, what do you think is the number one reason why people are leaving their jobs?

Pat D’Amico: There’s actually interesting data, really good data and background on this, during the Industrial Revolution, the number one people, the number one reason people left jobs was their personal safety. I had a grandfather and uncles who spent their entire working careers at Bethlehem Steel.

And, I remember listening to their stories as a kid of the fatalities that would occur actually on the job, right? You look back at the 20s, 30, 40, 000 people a year in the U. S. actually died, as employees. Now, In the mid thirties with the with the advent of laws to, that led to unions really to protect individuals, the reasons people left their job shifted immediately.

Now, the reason, number one reason people leave their jobs hasn’t changed since that time, the number one people leave, the number one reason people leave jobs is their direct manager. There is without, without question every survey that’s been taken in the last 50, 60, 70 years. The number one reason people leave jobs is their manager.

There’s also an interesting caveat to that. The number two reason people leave jobs was never even close enough to discuss until. Around five or six years ago, I think it was, LinkedIn did a pretty wide scale survey. Number one reason was still their manager, but the number two reason for all of a sudden rose to a place it was worth talking about, and the number two reason people leave jobs is a lack of development.

So if you think about those two things together the number one people, reason people leave jobs is their direct manager. The number two reason is a lack of development. There’s a lot of people leaving their jobs because their direct manager has never been developed to do that role. So it’s interesting in that manner.

Aaron Murphy: That is very interesting. And I think it’s something that’s very common in modern day as you, even back then, like some people just clash sometimes with best way to phrase it with their managers and they’ll leave an organization and it’s something that happens all the time. And what would be the best solution for companies to combat


Pat D’Amico: I think the best solution, first and foremost, is to admit that your leaders aren’t competent in leadership and management skills. And it’s an interesting challenge, right? Because when I’m talking to organizations about their leadership and management development programs, the number one excuse they use As to not having one is that we hire people who have been leaders, so they know what they’re doing.

And I use the word excuse Aaron intentionally, because even when I’m hearing it, I know they don’t believe it. I know that they’re not really believing what they’re saying. They’ll say we hire people who have managed before and they’ve been successful. And so therefore they know what they’re doing.

And that, that just, there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. In fact, when I work with usually with new clients and I do what we call a. Leadership or management diagnostic. I do a tons of interviews, individual one on one interviews, and I’ll ask leaders, and some of these folks may have been leaders for a year.

Some of them may be, have been leaders for 10 or 15 years. And I say, how many formal leadership. Or management development programs. Have you participated in the large majority? And we’ll say, I’ve never had that. And so it’s this problems perpetuating itself, right? As people move through jobs, you’re like they were a leader here.

I’m going to make them a leader here. They know what they’re doing. And the reality is it’s just not the case.

Aaron Murphy: Absolutely. And probably the company cultures as well will be totally clashing and there mightn’t be the right fit for that position. And it could be just adding more gas to the fire, really.

Pat D’Amico: It does, and the other thing to keep in mind, too, is not only the admittance of it, but also the understanding that leadership and management development is a lifelong journey, right?

There is no finish line. It has to be a continuous process. And the organizations that take it on, that see it as a check the box, typically fail as well. We know we need this. And that’s the other interesting thing I’ll share, Aaron, is Any major survey of senior executives, when they’re asked, what is your organization really need?

They’ll always put management and leadership development at the very top of that list. Those same surveys will ask, what are you doing poorly? And leadership and management development is always at the top of that list. So it’s we know we need to do it, but we’re not doing it. And too often what will happen is organizational say, okay, we’re missing this, we know it’s a gap, here’s a program.

We’re going to bring our leaders in for a day or two days, and we’ve checked the box. And the reality is, you can’t develop competence in that manner. You really have to do it over time, and it’s got to be continuous and long term.

Aaron Murphy: Amazing. And I suppose the more knowledge you have, the more applicable it becomes to the role then, essentially.

Absolutely. Fantastic. And when it comes to implementing the leadership programs for the learning and development, what is the biggest challenge that you’ve seen when it comes to implementing it within a company?

Pat D’Amico: I think the biggest challenge is, I mentioned one, is the willingness to admit. The willingness to [00:12:00] admit, but I think the other thing is senior, the senior executives, the senior team, the senior leaders have to be bought in and have to drive its need, right?

That’s, with any learning development program, I don’t care whether it’s, functional, operational skills based, whatever that is you have to have senior leader. Support for it and you have to have them driving it. That’s really one of the keys to it. And the other one is it has to be budgeted for the, this is interesting as well or most organizations that I deal with, most of the client base that I deal with, they do a tremendous job of training their employees on how to do their day to day jobs, right?

I work with a lot of medical device companies. They do a lot of clinical training and that will happen because it’s an absolute necessity, but leadership management development is often one of those things that’s we need to do that, but they don’t feel they see an immediate return on investment, which is incredible because.

The lack of good leadership drives people to leave their jobs. And the biggest downside of that lack of leadership is losing folks you want to retain and the cost of losing an employee. That, that number is massive. We estimate it to be somewhere in the 220 to 250, 000 range for a lot of our clients.

It’s not only the loss of revenue. That occurs, it’s the cost of training them, retraining somebody else. So the costs are astronomical. So when folks are like it’s hard to put an ROI, a leadership management training, I’m like, actually, it’s easy to put a cost on that. If you retain one individual employee that you didn’t want, that you didn’t want to lose, and as a result of their leader.

Getting better at retaining them of being a better leader and a better manager, you may pay for the entire program for a year, depending on your size. So it’s interesting in that, that, they view it as where’s the ROI if the ROI is really so apparent.

Aaron Murphy: It’s playing the long game, really.

It’s not in the short term. It’s something that does play out and it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. You have to keep on track. And did you find that when delivering these Leadership programs. Is it better to do them online or face to face or have they both got their pros and their cons?

Pat D’Amico: Yes.

And yes, what’s interesting is that the thinking on this has really changed and I think we learned a tremendous amount. During the pandemic on this topic in our area of delivering, programs when the pandemic first hit everyone was a captive audience at home.

Nobody was going anywhere. And so right away, organizations were like, we’ve got to deliver programs remotely. And we initially started delivering some of these multi day programs completely remotely initially. The reaction from clients was, Oh my gosh, we’re never going to go back to live training. That was based on they could see the costs that they were saving, right?

There was no travel, there’s no hotels, there was none of that going on. That love affair lasted about two to three months, at which point employees and their leaders started saying, you know what? We can’t do this, right? These multi day programs are not great, but at the same time, that was happening.

The tools themselves were advancing incredibly fast. This tool we’re using today, like zoom teams, all of those things began to get a lot better at delivering. Now pandemic began to fade. What we realized in learning development space was, Hey, wait a minute, we’ve discovered potentially a solution to what we have seen as learnings greatest challenge, which is reinforcement and pull through, right?

So for years, our biggest challenge is we bring folks in for live training, which for a multi day program where you’re really trying to get practice and things like that is, is absolutely superior to doing it remotely. You bring them in for a couple of days, but the challenge is folks leave. They take that wonderful binder, they put it on the shelf, and they never look at it again.

But now that we understood how good these tools were, we realized, hey, there, there is an opportunity to utilize these for that needed reinforcement and pull through that we haven’t been able to do in the past. And it’s, now it gets really interesting because 30 years ago with the advent of e learning, right?

Which started in the university setting and was very quickly, not only adopted, but advanced significantly in the private sector, e learning became what everybody was about, right? Asynchronous. You can do it anytime, anywhere that works for you. What’s incredible is. Post pandemic, we’re seeing far more desire for synchronous reinforcement training.

So instead of the e learning, do it whenever you want. It’s a let’s get together once a week. Let’s get together twice a month and let’s share best practices. And there’s a sweet spot of timing to that we’ve learned. You know that, 90 minutes has become generally the accepted time. I know for us and for myself, I try to limit it to 60.

I think 60 is enough time to get folks on zoom or on teams and really have them sharing. But we’ve advanced. I think we’re 10 to 20 years ahead of where we would have been with this technology’s value had we not gone through the pandemic. So still a proponent of live training but these tools and the remote aspect has really given us a whole new way to reinforce and address a problem that we frankly weren’t addressing well prior to.

Aaron Murphy: Amazing. It was like the pandemic kind of diluted the solution and it got you ready and more focused on what needed to be delivered.

Pat D’Amico: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s been a huge advance in, in, from my perspective in learning and development and really, and ensuring skill development over time.

Aaron Murphy: And just to draw on your 20 years of experience, what would be maybe the top three leadership skills that you personally think a lot of people or a lot of organizations are maybe lacking?

Pat D’Amico: I spent I, I did a project where I spent nearly nine months looking at all of the research that had been done.

On leadership and management development programs. It was fascinating, right? Because you had the industry side, you had the academic side, you had the hybrid, you had, there’s an incredible, actually incredible amount of meta analyses on this data, but it was over a 50 year time period. And from there, we in our organization, and for me we 20 most critical leadership and management competencies.

What’s interesting is the ones that I would personally. Tell you are important are also the ones that I hear are at the top of the list. So when I put a list of 20 competencies in front of an in front of a leadership team in an organization There are a couple that immediately race to the top. I’m like, which are the two priorities you want to hit first?

The top two are always the same first and foremost is coaching and developing people I think it’s probably the single most important skill that a leader and a manager needs you need to be able to Observe your employees and the work they’re doing. You need to evaluate their work. You need to be able to effectively coach them to be more successful.

Because at the end of the day, as a leader, your success is [00:19:00] predicated on your team’s success, right? It’s when I’m training new leaders, or I should say even potential leaders, I will always say, look, if you are that person who likes getting the recognition yourself, if you are the person who likes being up on that stage, that being a leader may not be for you.

As a leader, you have to be. You have to be more jazzed by seeing your people succeed, right? And their success is the only thing that guarantees yours as a leader. So your ability to coach them is really critical. So that’s absolutely number one. Number two, I think just interviewing and hiring skills, it is absolutely a candidate’s market right now.

Organizations are challenged to find folks that, that are qualified, that they, find what they’re looking for. So your ability to evaluate that individual’s true competency versus just glossing over is incredibly important. So those are really the two things that I think are important now.

For me, as somebody who lives and breathes leadership every day, I think the other one I would share with share is your ability to develop yourself, right? You have to be self aware. You have to be willing to step back. And I think when I’m executive coaching, this is one of the biggest challenges I see because executives days move so quickly from crisis to crisis and these big decisions they make.

And so a lot of times I’m really trying to get them to focus and say, you need to take time. Thank you. Without distraction to really think about, what’s happened this week. What are the decisions I’ve made? What went well? What didn’t you have to be willing to do that? Self developed have that self awareness to do that self development because ultimately that w that’s what makes you most valuable, right?

To your team, your ability to say, Hey, I did this. I want to repeat this. This didn’t go well. Do I know what I would do differently? And if I don’t, do I have a mentor, somebody I’m willing to reach out to that can give me some insight?

[00:20:53] Aaron Murphy: That’s amazing, Pat, that is fantastic. And the last question I have for you today is, just following up from all of  this, it’s been amazing hearing all the tips, everything you’ve said so far.

If anyone would like to reach out and maybe book some time with yourself and your company to further develop their learning and development within organizations, Where’s the best place to reach you?

[00:21:15] Pat D’Amico: As always, there’s a number of places, but, via email at, Pat at AboutFaceDev, but my website,, or my business number, which is 484 408 0500.

[00:21:30] Aaron Murphy: That’s fantastic, Pat. Thank you so much for your time today, and hope to have you on the podcast again in the future.

[00:21:36] Pat D’Amico: Aaron, thank you. It’s such a pleasure.

Show Notes

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