Life and Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Military: “Be open to any ideas from any source; Your role as the leader is not to be the source of all ideas but be the cultivator of an environment where people are safe and can develop ideas.” with Dr. Kent Bradley and Marco Dehry
Be open to any ideas from any source. Your role as the leader is not to be the source of all ideas but be the cultivator of an environment where people are safe and can develop ideas. (again — I have many examples of this in my career. People may think that the Army is a very strict hierarchy where it is all about rank. That is far from the truth. It was very common to have vigorous debate on issues in a staff meeting. The difference is that once a decision is made we knew how to close ranks and all support the decision. If there is a point of distinction when I compare it to the corporate world, it would be that the process did not require 100% consensus but rather a process that allowed all to have a say and then a keen understanding that in most situations there may not be a right answer, but the best answer based on an assessment of the tradeoffs.)
As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Kent Bradley (M.D., MPH, MBA), a retired Army Colonel and graduate of the United States Military Academy. He is the vice president of Medical Affairs and Nutrition Education at Herbalife Nutrition and chairman of the Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board. He and his team are responsible for developing educational tools and learning platforms for distributors to ensure they receive ongoing training to deliver a best-in-class customer experience tailored to each individual’s needs. Prior to joining Herbalife Nutrition, Dr. Bradley held senior executive roles in the public and private sector. He is the former President of Safeway Health. He also served as the Chief Medical Officer for Safeway, a company with $44 billion in annual revenue and 185,000 employees. Dr. Bradley serves on numerous boards, including the Board of Directors for CommonSpirit Health — one of the largest healthcare systems in the United States with revenue of over $33 billion, and the Board of Directors of Concentra Health — the largest occupational health provider in the U.S. with over 400 clinics. He is actively involved in multiple community health and wellbeing initiatives and founded Core Communities, a nonprofit supporting healthy communities, by creating compelling content that encourages conversations on important issues. He has served as a strategic advisor to multiple health technology companies with a special focus on consumer engagement. Dr. Bradley is a retired Army Colonel, graduate of the United States Military Academy and has a Master in Public Health from the University of Minnesota, an executive Master of Business Administration from the University of Denver, and his medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland. He is board certified in Public Health and Preventive Medicine and holds a certificate in Corporate Governance from INSEAD.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I grew up in the military, the youngest of four boys, born in an Army hospital in Japan to a Japanese mother and an Irish-American father. My father enlisted in the Army and ended up making it a 30-year career. By the time I was 18, I had lived in 9 different apartments or houses on three continents. You could say I experienced what it would be like once I became an adult!
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
I was brought up with a deep understanding of the importance of service to something beyond yourself…service to your family, your community, your nation. My work today is simply an extension of that call to serve.
I am part of a team that is focused on amplifying and scaling the impact of our Herbalife Nutrition Independent Distributors who are serving as community health and wellbeing change agents.
As a child and later as an adult who worked, while in the military, in local villages globally, I saw the powerful link between education and training and improved health and wellbeing. This is beyond simply knowledge but also what I call know — how…the essence of applied learning that translated to tangible benefits for the individual.
We are developing education and training content as well as building a state-of-the-art learning platform that integrates the science of learning and behavior change. I recall back in 1993 working in rural villages in Central and South America to deliver education and training to local leaders to help improve the health of their community. This program was called, Donde No Hay Doctor — “where there is no doctor”. We used burlap material and paintings to simply educate on important health topics. Today we have apps and videos, but the concept is the same. Only now, we have these leaders in the form of Independent Herbalife Distributors who are serving in over 94 countries. I think that is simply amazing!
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
Upon graduation from the United States Military Academy, I attended Medical School and began my residency training in Family Medicine. Even while in medical school I was very interested in global and rural health. I crafted my own electives so that I could experience health delivery in a small rural town in Minnesota and a village in Pakistan. I decided to leave my Family Medicine residency to get my master’s in public health and become board certified in Preventive Medicine and Public Health.
There was a magnetic draw towards working in the field instead of a hospital, which resulted in my serving as a military health advisor (what we call in the Army a “Surgeon”) with multiple units and involved in many deployments. I found myself in Panama during Operation Nimrod Dancer, Just Cause, and even Operation Safe Haven. I went in to support activities in Honduras and Bolivia. I supported Cobra Gold exercises to support local village outreach twice, and was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of the transition from Implementation Force (IFOR) to SFOR. I went to Rwanda and Uganda as part of a Civil Affairs element in Operation Support Hope. Later in my career I deployed as the Deputy Commander of the 30th Medical Brigade (Forward) in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Along the way I served in various other assignments and locations.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
Well I have what I think are quite a few interesting stories! I believe for the purpose of the topic of leadership I will share this early experience in my career. It is a bit multi-layered with many other lessons but I will try to keep it brief. In 1994 the world witnessed the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of individuals in Rwanda. In the aftermath of this war there was a humanitarian crisis as fleeing refugees suffered disease and starvation. I went in with a small team of civil affairs specialists to help coordinate the interaction with non-governmental organizations to support the relief effort. I was selected not because I was a physician, but because I was a leader who was trained to support these types of operations. During the deployment, known as Operation Support Hope a request came in asking for support to host a high-level Japanese contingent to see what we were doing. No one wanted to take on the request and so it was essentially ignored. In the midst of an operation you get many requests which we saw as distractions and if they were viewed as non-essential and not a direct order we ignored them. This one was different. It was not an order, simply a request, with the logic that from the bigger picture there was a desire for the Japanese government to become more involved in military support of humanitarian operations. I took on the request and became the internal champion to make it work. It required a lot of coordination for flights, clearances, and essentially selling of the idea to make it work. I went with the Japanese contingent as we flew them to various locations. Later, the Japanese government would announce their willingness to become more involved and I received a personal letter of thanks from the action officer for this undertaking, an officer by the name of Wesley Clark. There were many lessons from this deployment, but this specific situation taught me the importance of finding at least one person who believes in what you are trying to do and has the tenacity to be the champion. Without such a person you run the risk of having great ideas never have a chance to become a reality.
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.
I believe heroes are all around us. There are individuals who face their fears and act despite the possible pain it may cause them. I saw heroes every day. Whole units moving forward in the face of gunfire or the possibility of an improvised explosive device. Iraqi physicians willing to assist us despite the risk of being targeted by individuals back in their towns. I recall one Iraqi physician in particular who volunteered to help us understand the infrastructure and develop a strategy for how we might support the community. Unfortunately, he later was killed by individuals not happy with his involvement. There are countless other examples I have witnesses of individuals who acted despite the risk or fear.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero is anyone who acts to achieve a higher purpose despite their fear and where action puts them in risk of losing something of value to them (their job, friends, and even their life).
Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?
Absolutely not. Often heroism in the corporate sector involves speaking truth to power. Individuals who speak up to point out something that may cause them to lose their job yet needs to be said based on the best interest of the organization.
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. Leadership is a contact sport. You cannot lead by putting out emails, memos, or delivering a very good business plan. Leadership is about having such an impact on a person that they choose to follow you even if they did not have to, based on their job or other compelling reason. To have that sort of an impact you must be authentic and trustworthy which means that people must feel that they know you. (example: when I was a major I was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina and made the medical advisor — called the Surgeon — for the operation. We had a convoy that was staging in Taszar, Hungary and during the early morning I decided to go out to check on them. As I walked the line of vehicles I would stop and say hi and ask how people were doing. The two-star general in charge of the transportation unit was also walking the line in those early morning hours. He noticed me from my time in a previous unit when he was a Colonel. He ran over to me and embraced me. Here he was still walking the line, checking on how people were doing despite being in charge of so many units. Walking the line, making contact with people doing the work day to day. Being present in the lives you lead never ends and is one of the great privileges of being a leader.)
2. When in doubt, take the harder right instead of the easier wrong. We have many temptations in life. Leaders always understand that the road of integrity is the road that must be taken, regardless of the cost. (example: as a young doctor I was in the field with a unit when I had a soldier arrive who I was concerned might be having an issue that was beyond our abilities. The unit commander thought he was faking it and was trying to get out of his duties. I stood my ground and redeployed the Soldier. During our command meeting this battalion commander spoke up against my judgement. Fortunately, I also had a more senior leader, the commander of the battalion commander, who then set everyone straight and said something I will never forget. We all are responsible to make judgement calls, I would never expect the doctor to question your judgement in infantry tactics, I will never tolerate you questioning the judgement of my doctor. That ended any future issues.)
3. Eat last. This speaks to the mindset of a leader to serve others and make sure the needs of those who you are privileged to lead are met before your own. (this is ingrained in you the first time you enter the halls of West Point. I remember deploying into combat operations in Panama. It was a very long series of events where we finally had a chance to take a break. The commander and I were close friends and I saw him check on each Soldier making sure they had water and food. Everyone was exhausted, but he did not appear tired. After checking on everyone he went to an area where he could be alone, and I saw him collapse. I quietly went over to him and made sure he was okay. He was fine, he just needed rest too but not until all of those he led had been taken care of.)
4. Connect the dots. Leaders have a way of helping individuals create meaning for what they are doing. They communicate clearly and often to help bring purpose to each person’s role which fosters higher engagement. (I was assigned as the Division Surgeon for an infantry unit when Sept 11th, 2001 occurred. I never forget how the commanding general immediately brought the leadership team together and began, even then, to prepare us for what might lay ahead and continued to communicate. We had a sign put over the command center which said — “who else needs to know” as a reminder that what we talked about had to be communicated down the line to every soldier so we all understood why we were doing what we were doing.)
5. Know where you are going. To lead is a great honor so you better know where you are leading folks. Know where you are going, have a clarity of vision. (When I deployed to Rwanda the leadership there communicated clearly the scope of the mission as a short-term deployment to create the environment to allow others — mainly the many nongovernmental organizations — to do their job. His clarity of the vision prevented what is called mission creep…where you begin to do things beyond the core reason for your presence. This allowed us to not expand the scope of our involvement and to safely, and relatively quickly, complete our mission.
6. Bonus — and one that supersedes all else — Be open to any ideas from any source. Your role as the leader is not to be the source of all ideas but be the cultivator of an environment where people are safe and can develop ideas. (again — I have many examples of this in my career. People may think that the Army is a very strict hierarchy where it is all about rank. That is far from the truth. It was very common to have vigorous debate on issues in a staff meeting. The difference is that once a decision is made we knew how to close ranks and all support the decision. If there is a point of distinction when I compare it to the corporate world, it would be that the process did not require 100% consensus but rather a process that allowed all to have a say and then a keen understanding that in most situations there may not be a right answer, but the best answer based on an assessment of the tradeoffs.)
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?
Absolutely. I also am keen to understand how the organization makes decisions, how they are able to effectively work through complex issues, and most importantly, how to serve and grow the many individuals that are doing the really difficult work of making any idea come to life in the grind of day to day realities.
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?
The only struggle I had was being able to sleep when I initially returned from some of my deployments. You are hypervigilant and sometimes that is hard to turn off. I have treated my work through the lens of my military experience where there are times when you must “turn it on” and work as if you are on a deployment. However, we all need our “R&R” time — rest and relaxation that allows us to decompress. The other way we are able to adjust is through connecting with those who have had a shared experience. We are not meant to be lone rangers so social connections and opportunities to talk to others who understand what you have been through is also very helpful.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Currently, my team and I are in the final stages of publishing a book on the art of coaching for wellness. The goal of the book is to help make better coaches that will drive positive behavior change with their clients.
The book examines the traits, techniques and successful experiences of Herbalife Nutrition distributors. Herbalife Nutrition distributors take on the role of being personal wellness coaches for their clients, recommending products and creating a supportive environment that will help their customers meet health goals.
Wellness coaching can often be more challenging and therefore require different techniques. The good news is that these core principles can be operationalized into specific skills and techniques that are based on science that a coach can use to empower their clients. We are helping coaches learn skills like effort-based praise, appreciative inquiry, enhancing self-efficacy, recognizing cues, creating implementation intention to name just a few!
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Listen and Act! These two go hand-in-hand, for if you listen to your team but take no action to correct or reward, your team will not be successful. If you act without listening to your team, you won’t necessarily meet their needs, and once again not meet their full potential.
What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Remember that the larger the organization the greater the need for creating clarity on where you are going (vision), how you are to get there (your strategy) and why you are going there (your purpose). Your role becomes aligning folks to the three items above and getting their full engagement.
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?
Before I ever joined the military, I was in a tough situation where my Dad had left our family and I was living with my Mom. I had several individuals who came alongside me who were my football coaches and they provided me an example of servant leadership, but also helped me not play the role of the victim but the author of the future I wanted to have. In essence, I came to appreciate that my past did not have to define my future.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to use my knowledge and experience to serve on numerous boards, including the Board of Directors for CommonSpirit Health — one of the largest healthcare systems in the United States, and the Board of Directors of Concentra Health — the largest occupational health provider in the U.S. with over 400 clinics, as well as am actively involved in multiple community health and wellbeing initiatives.
But what I am most proud of is having founded Core Communities, a nonprofit supporting healthy communities, by creating compelling content that encourages conversations on important issues.
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 love that while I was on the Board of Dignity Health we started a campaign called Hello Humankindness which continues in our new combined organization, CommonSpirit Health. If there is a movement that should be spread like wildfire it is the power of daily acts of kindness that we can each freely give. By doing this, perhaps we may restore our own humanity in a world where we appear to struggle with common decency and humaneness to our fellow man.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This quote comes from Teddy Roosevelt, “people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This saying has reminded me that I am not my resume. In day-to-day life people do not read your written bio, they witness your bio by how you act and you must earn the right to be viewed as a leader.
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 :-).
Wow…can I have two? The first would be former President Barack Obama. I would love to gain his insight on a lot of things but really tap into his early days of being a community organizer. The second would be Jeff Bezos to understand his ultimate objectives with the fairly newly formed partnership between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan to focus on healthcare. At the same time, it would be an opportunity for me to provide my own thoughts on how we might endeavor to improve the health and happiness for all.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.