In this episode of 'Pivot Factory Podcast,' we speak with U.S. Army General Robert B. Brown about innovation and leadership in the military. Brown is the commander of U.S. Army Pacific, which covers 52 percent of the world's surface. He has more than 80,000 military personnel under his command, plus thousands of civilians.
As you’ll hear, Brown has witnessed firsthand how the military has responded to disruptive forces globally, and been around some of the greatest leaders of his generation, including current Duke Men’s Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. The legendary head coach was at the helm of the United States Military Academy at West Point’s men's basketball team when Brown was enrolled. Brown also goes into great detail about the Army's efforts to combat cyber threats.
What was the most surprising thing Brown said? Brown wholeheartedly believes in the next generation of military personnel. While millennials are often maligned and portrayed unfavorably, Brown appreciates their determination and the way in which they challenge authoritative figures—generals included—to earn their trust.
Quote “When I was younger, I would trust those that were in charge of me...I mean, there was an instant trust, and they had to show me something to cause me to lose trust, and it's the exact opposite with millennials. They don't care who you are—the four-star general, it doesn't matter, CEO—you've got to work hard to earn their trust.”
The Full Story
As we embark on a second season of our namesake company podcast, we’re delighted to welcome notable guests with valuable insights about their respective fields. We kicked off Season 2 with NFL lifer Michael Lombardi, a front office executive-turned-media analyst.
Well, we’re not in the business of comparing the profile and popularity of guests—that’s for you, dear listeners—but all we can say is our latest episode includes yet another big “get,” as they say in the business.
Pivot Factory founder and CEO Michael Leadbetter had the distinct privilege of interviewing U.S. Army General Robert B. Brown for the podcast. The pair hit it off at the 2019 Global Sports Summit in Dallas earlier this summer, and decided to continue their conversation over the podwaves for broader consumption.
So, you may be thinking: “A podcast about innovation and disruption seems an unlikely destination for a decorated military general.”
Our response: Innovative ideas come from all areas, whether the financial world or public institutions. Additionally, as you’ll soon learn from Gen. Brown, instilling leadership in an organization is crucial, regardless of the institution.
But first: Remember, you can listen to each episode of the Pivot Factory Podcast by subscribing on your preferred podcast app. For now, here are highlights from Leadbetter and Gen. Brown’s discussion.
INNOVATION IN THE MILITARY
Let’s rewind a bit and reexamine the notion of having a military veteran on as a guest of a podcast about disruption. Since we predicted that our audience would themselves pose that question, we figured we’d ask for the general’s take on innovation—and, as we assumed, he had plenty to say on the topic.
“People might be saying, ‘Oh, wait a minute, the military, are they innovative?’ And I would just tell you, despite how we're portrayed, sometimes in movies, and so forth, it's...one of the most amazingly innovative organizations, because lives depend on [it],” Brown tells Leadbetter. “And I have seen firsthand, incredible innovation on the battlefield: in humanitarian assistance, disaster response to save lives, you name it. And it's really interesting because the best ideas come from the cutting edge, those closest to the problem.”
At its core, innovation is about change. So, while such firms as Google or Amazon may be credited with innovative new ideas regarding technology, that’s not all innovation is about. In a way, a significant mindset shift or a completely new way of doing business can also be considered “innovative.”
Brown points to the U.S. Army’s shift from “command and control” to “mission command,” partly in response to properly digesting and analyzing the incredible amount of information at our disposal.
Brown explains: “Mission command is building trust, so you can empower those subordinates, give them a purpose, you give them an intent, and you've got to talk about prudent risk...you have a good conversation about how much risk is acceptable, etc.”
One of the key takeaways from our conversation was how the role of a leader has changed over the course of Brown’s decorated career.
Previously, the military insisted on developing those comfortable in difficult situations. Now, the idea is to identify people who thrive in less-than-ideal circumstances.
"I have seen firsthand, incredible innovation on the battlefield: in humanitarian assistance, disaster response to save lives, you name it."
“The reality is comfort isn’t good enough anymore,” says Brown, adding that adversaries now have a tendency of taking advantage of such a mindset.
“We’ve got to have leaders that are part of trusted teams of professionals that thrive in ambiguity and chaos,” he explains.
Brown notes this has taken hold elsewhere, including in business, sports, and education.
It’s how things have evolved into what you would call these ‘disruptive times,’” he says.
A critical piece of being a leader is also understanding people under your command—something Brown has excelled at during his career. And his ability to recognize specific personality traits, especially among younger military personnel, has been crucial.
Millennials, a generation often maligned, perhaps unfairly, actually enlist for many of the same reasons as their predecessors, according to the Pentagon’s own data.
"What attracts even the millennials to military service are still largely the same reasons that attracted Generation X and the Baby Boomers to military service," Stephanie Miller, the Pentagon’s director of accessions policy, said, according to The Military Times. "It is things like education, the opportunity to travel, the opportunity to be part of a team, and meaningful work. It is those attractive points that are still relevant today as they were 50 years ago."
Brown has seen their passion for service firsthand.
“When I was younger, I would trust those that were in charge of me...I mean, there was an instant trust, and they had to show me something to cause me to lose trust, and it's the exact opposite with millennials. They don't care who you are—the four-star general, it doesn't matter, CEO—you've got to work hard to earn their trust,” Brown says. “And I think that's a good thing. You know, they don't just take it for granted. You got to prove it every single day, build that trust, and if one time you lose it, you've lost it for good.
“The other thing I would say, with millennials,” he adds, “they just have a greater sense of wanting to contribute to the world than I remember having at that age, and make a difference...And so when you get them on a team, that's making a difference. It's just unbelievable, they will take off. But it all revolves around trust.”
HONORABLE MENTION: COACH K
Brown goes into greater detail in the podcast, but it should be mentioned that one of the greatest influences in his life was Mike Krzyzewski, the legendary head coach of Duke University’s men’s basketball team, who coached Brown at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“He can form a team better than any human being on the face of the Earth,” Brown said of Krzyzewski, who he also credits with being an outstanding leader.
“I think the other thing is humility. Just watching [from afar] he remains incredibly humble. He will do anything for anybody who ever played for him, and, you know, their family, whether it was somebody who barely played at West Point or was a star at Duke, it doesn't matter,” Brown says. “He's just an amazingly humble, talented leader, [and] tremendous person. And I learned so much from him, continue to this day to learn from him.”
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The Pivot Factory Podcast is a Morey Creative Studios production.
The Pivot Factory Podcast is hosted by Michael Leadbetter, and engineered and produced by Michael Conforti, Rashed Mian and Christopher Twarowski. Jed Morey is the executive producer.