Advocate for your team to your superiors. There is a saying in the military that “perception is reality”. Other leaders will view your team and base your success on how ‘squared away’ your team appears. They don’t see the improvements or the inner workings and time that you have put into your team. Sometimes you just have to report how well your team has improved using statistics. For example, 95% of my team has passed the Army Physical in the last 90 days an increase of 50% in the last year. Have integrity in your everyday business dealings, it will come back to haunt you if you sell your team short or bad mouth them to others.
As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tonja Bizor who served 8 years on Active Duty as an Army Medical Department Officer. She is currently the Owner and Certified Sleep Consultant at Tonja B’s Sleep Consulting. She utilizes evidence-based practices to help parents teach their children to sleep 12 hours through the night. She offers her families a peace of mind as they navigate sleepless nights.Visit her website at tonjabsleepconsulting.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I grew up a ‘military brat’. My dad enlisted and served on active duty in the Army for 20 years, and we traveled and lived throughout the US and in Europe. Although I remember disliking relocating every 3 years to another military post, I ended up joining the military myself after finishing my Masters degree in Clinical Psychology. I remember making family friends wherever we moved because we were never stationed close to any family. My favorite place that we lived was Baumholder, Germany. We lived in a German village, Rohrbach, and fell in love with the community. Growing up military allowed me to experience multiple cultures and languages, and I became a well rounded individual because of it.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
I am a Certified Child Sleep Consultant. I help tired, exhausted parents who have run out of ideas on how to get their child to sleep. They feel like they’re falling short as a parent and are so overwhelmed with sleep deprivation that it’s effecting their relationships, mood and professional output. I help them build their confidence and get their child sleeping so that they can rekindle time with their spouse, have better concentration at work and have household peace! I struggled with sleep deprivation with my second child and thought that there was no help available. I searched for answers with my child’s doctors/nurses and childcare providers. There was no answer until a friend told me about working with a sleep coach. One week shy of my child’s 1st birthday, I finally committed to working with a sleep coach! He slept his first 12 hour night on the 4th night of the program, and we haven’t looked back since. I just finished helping a family that had a 5 month old baby boy who would only sleep at night when he was being held and rocked. He’d wake up every couple of hours in the night and the parents were exhausted and frustrated. Once they hired me, their baby was sleeping a full 12 hour night within days! Parents were thrilled.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I commissioned into the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) in 2006 after 2 years of training in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). My first assignment was in a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) at Fort Lewis, WA. I deployed to Iraq for 12 months with this same unit. I was excited to deploy and to fully do my job in the environment that it was created for. It brought great fulfillment to me to understand my mission, my unit’s mission and my higher unit’s mission. Upon redeployment back to Fort Lewis, I was reassigned to a unit at Fort Hood, TX with my husband, who was also on active duty and deployed around the same time. I took command in a Medical Company and learned great leadership lessons. The last job that I had on active duty was in the Business Operations Division at the Army hospital at Fort Hood.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
I had numerous experiences during my service both great and not so great. The one that stands out is during my deployment to Iraq in 2009–2010. After 9/11 it seemed like everyone who joined the Armed Forces wanted to join so that they could deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, as did I. There was anticipation to serve my country and to do my part to rid the world of terrorism. As a Medical Services Officer, I didn’t realize what serving my country really meant until I deployed into a combat zone. It was the most honorable, respectful service that I had ever done. I was the Clinic OIC/ Treatment Platoon Leader for our Forward Operating Base (FOB) and as a Lieutenant or new Soldier in the Army, you really don’t understand what your duty/job is until you deploy. After serving that year in Iraq, I had the utmost respect and honor for the Infantry and for the Fallen Soldiers who didn’t get to return back with us. I learned so much about the Army and the other Forces, how we operate our missions, how we take care of the Logistics, and especially how we conduct Medical Operations on the battlefield. It was an eye opening experience, one that I’ll never forget and one that I’ll always appreciate.
I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
We heard about heroism in all kinds of scenarios. Of course we heard about the Soldiers in combat who prevented mass casualties by sacrificing themselves to save lives. Then we heard about Soldiers who stand up for others by reporting a sexual assault or during a mass shooting, get everyone to a safe hiding space to avoid the shooter.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero is a man or woman who puts another person before himself/herself. A person who opts for peace rather than conflict. A person who saves lives, not only literally, but also morally and ethically.
Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?
No, I run into what I call ‘everyday heroes’. The men and women in the Armed Forces that stand up for what is right, ethically and morally. The leader who ensures that his/her Soldiers are taken care of not only professionally, but physically and emotionally as well.
Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Be a servant leader. The last thing that you want to do as a leader is to try to look perfect in front of your superior, while exhausting your team. As a leader you should try to nurture and grow your team, this way the organization grows/matures together and you all become unstoppable assigned tasks and challenges. Don’t be the leader that makes unrealistic demands of your team, instead ask, ‘what can I do to help you accomplish your task?’ When your team is able to accomplish their individual and groups tasks, your organization will accomplish its mission/goals.
2. Advocate for your team to your superiors. There is a saying in the military that “perception is reality”. Other leaders will view your team and base your success on how ‘squared away’ your team appears. They don’t see the improvements or the inner workings and time that you have put into your team. Sometimes you just have to report how well your team has improved using statistics. For example, 95% of my team has passed the Army Physical in the last 90 days an increase of 50% in the last year. Have integrity in your everyday business dealings, it will come back to haunt you if you sell your team short or bad mouth them to others.
3. Practice what you preach. If you are going to tell your team that they must be in peak physical condition and meet Army height/weight standards, then make sure that you are also meeting the standards. If you are expecting your team to work hard for you and put their all into it, make sure that you are also doing your best to lead them to greatness.
4. Take time off with your own family. Oftentimes as an Army Officer or leader, we are the last ones to take a vacation, leave the office early or even call in sick when we are feeling awful. It is important to realize that if you aren’t taking care of yourself physically and emotionally, it will take a negative toll on your team. It’s like that expression, ‘you can’t give on an empty tank’.
5. Know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. I cannot stress this enough! In the Army, you are ‘issued’ a team. You cannot and will not pick your team members! Instead of complaining about ‘so and so’ weaknesses, find out his/her strengths and build on that. As a leader everyone doesn’t come ‘ready made’. Even those team members that arrive to your organization, highly motivated and understands their tasks and excels at it, have started out not knowing anything at one point. They were fortunate enough to be lead by a leader who cultivated their weaknesses into strengths and their strengths into greatness. Be the leader that grows their team instead of the leader who is known for trading team members until he/she finds the ‘winning team’, it’s just unrealistic.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?
Absolutely yes! As a Military Officer, you are given numerous responsibilities and it’s your job to figure out how to juggle everything and be an expert and a professional at everything. With the numerous responsibilities, you are rarely given a ‘how to ‘ or continuity book on how to tackle the tasks. You must rely on the team that you are given and figure out your team’s weaknesses and strengths. You must be prepared to brief at any time on any topic to the junior ranks in your formation AND to your superiors. Having this military background set me up for success with starting and running my own business. As a business owner, I get to wear many hats: marketing, social media marketing, accounting, book keeping, logistics, sales executive, and the list goes on. The challenges and stress of operating my own business is motivating for me to keep going. I feel that the military has prepared me for this challenging lifestyle.
As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?
When I came back from deployment to Iraq in 2010, I came back a different person with new priorities. My new priorities are to live each day to the fullest, spend quality time with my family and to fulfill my purpose in life by helping others. I specifically struggle with emotional difficulties and some physical difficulties, but I have found ways to cope. One way that I cope is that I meditate and I self reflect. During my self reflection, I do a mental scan to evaluate where I have pain, whether it’s emotional or physical. Then I will do a self check and review how to remediate the pain or discomfort. Whether it’s to see my medical doctor, therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc. The importance of being self aware is that you can reach out for help early before the symptoms get overwhelming. Starting and running my own business has made me feel like I have purpose again and fulfillment in expressing my voice in this platform.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am working on increasing my publicity of sleep advocacy. I’m trying to get onto television, podcasts and magazines to discuss the importance and benefits of sleep. Sleep deprivation negatively effects a persons physical and emotional health, quality of life and safety.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
I would advise leaders to embrace their team’s strengths and weaknesses. Each individual member of a team usually has a unique gift to contribute to an organization. Find out what each member’s gifts are and grow your team. A leader must shape and mold their team into a cohesive unit. It is also important to hold your team accountable, everyone has a piece of the puzzle.
What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
As the leader of a large team, it would be a great idea to delegate to sub leaders in your organization and have ways to communicate your goals/vision/mission effectively. If your subordinates know what success of the organization look like and how they can contribute, they will be more likely to share in that vision knowing that they have a key role in its success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I became a single parent in 2003 when I gave birth to my first child. I was a junior in college and I didn’t know how I was going to finish college, but I was determined to continue. My parents stepped in and helped me to not only finish undergrad, but also graduate school. My parents helped take care of my son during my officer training and during my deployment to Iraq. I was truly able to focus on accomplishing my goals because my parents carried some of the burden for me. I would not be where I am today without their support.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Having the military experiences in my life has allowed me to share my perspectives with others. When I help a mother who has been struggling with getting her child to sleep, the emotional agony that she feels, the overwhelm and frustration from being sleep deprived. It brings me great joy to alleviate mothers of this turmoil and spread sleep in a household.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am a self proclaimed sleep advocate and as such, I would love to inspire people to get the appropriate amount of sleep for their own health and well being. Prolonged sleep deprivation has detrimental side effects that can be completely prevented. Part of my platform is to educate the public on sleep benefits and sleep deprivation risks.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans”. Allen Saunders
I am a planner. I am organized and I’m always making decisions based on what I thought I should do with my life. Whether it was planning for a 4.0 GPA or when I would get married and have children, I’d always experience life which wasn’t to plan. Learning that life does not always go according to plan, really helps relieve pressure when things don’t go well.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Condoleezza Rice. She came from humble beginnings and ended up in one of the top positions in the US politics. As a teenage African American female, I looked up to Condoleezza Rice as someone who worked hard to get to a position of stature and she blazed trails as an African American female and female in the title of Secretary of State.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.