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Robert (Bo) Brabo: Value-Based Leadership and High-Performing Teams

Bo Brabo, the former Director of Human Resources at the US Army and Whitehouse Communications Agency, teaches us the value of company culture and loyalty.

In this episode of the Supermanagers podcast, Bo Brabo talks about how leadership, team culture, and everyday behaviours at work collide in the military and in the corporate world.  

Listen to this episode (or read the transcript below) to hear all about Bo’s journey that has carried him through the military, presidential offices, and the corporate world. You will also gain insights into the similarities that can be identified when teams and their leaders align their behaviours with their values.

1 Do you have a leader that you’ve learned a lot from or really admire? 

The number one person that stands out in my mind was a West Point Graduate Captain and I met him when I was stationed in Germany. He was only about 26 when I met him, and he was responsible for keeping our unit safe and keeping the mission going while we were in Iraq. 

Today, he’s a Colonel in the US Army and he’s still a great friend and mentor. The leadership he exuded from the moment I met him was astonishing and he was the first leader that I witnessed that really focused on people. He always made it clear that he was the leader, he was in charge, and he cared about his people. 

I have a perfect example. Our unit was in Kuwait was waiting to move into Iraq and nobody in our unit had ever experienced that type of war or engagement. We were in the second wave, so we had already seen what the first 9-12 months of combat was like in Iraq, and we were all on edge because it was now our turn to go so it really takes a whole other level or leadership to be able to guide people through an experience like this. 

Tony ended up finding his way to Kuwait and found his way to a military base that happened to have a Popeye’s and he literally bought fried chicken for all of us and came back and surprised us with it. It put a smile on everyone’s face, and it was an instant morale booster. He was so in tune with what was happening with his team, and it meant a lot to us at the moment. He always made it clear that we were one, strong team and we were in it together. 

2 Can you expand on receiving letters from the Chief of Staff to the President? 

I think I received about four or five different letters from the White House Chiefs of Staff while I was serving and getting a letter of gratitude really does a lot for someone, especially when it comes from someone at that level. It meant a lot that they were taking the time to sign every letter while making sure they were all worded properly. I’ve held on to every letter because it truly meant a lot to receive them on behalf of the President. 

I believe there is huge potential for corporate CEOs to do something similar. It could be as simple as writing a handwritten letter that could be mailed to their employee’s address. I could see it being really impactful for companies and their teams. 

3 How do you define or differentiate value from culture? 

I thought about this a lot before I actually wrote the book, and how to put it into words so people could understand my thought pattern and I came up with a formula that defines how value creates culture. I started by figuring out what culture is and concluded that culture is an outcome or a result of something and in reality, it’s actually a result of our behaviours and how we collectively act within an organization. 

So, I created a formula that multiplies behaviours over time by the number of employees at the company because everybody is going to produce your culture whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. Culture is truly everything and the combination of behaviour and time ends up being your values. If you want to determine if someone would be a great cultural fit at your company, you should ask questions that are based on the type of behaviours that you would want that person to emulate within your organization. 

4 Can the value of loyalty be mimicked in the corporate world? 

Being loyal to a specific company for years is gone. People don’t spend their career or whole life at a firm anymore because they are constantly looking for advancement elsewhere. I believe that you have to break down loyalty on an individual level. Even if the individual is only at your organization for a year or two, hopefully they can be loyal to you and your team within that time frame. If they are getting their job done and being participative and contributing to the overall mission, they are being loyal. 

A lot of today’s younger generation wants to find a purpose and I think that a company that has a solid mission makes it a lot easier for them to be loyal because they can be part of something they’re passionate about. Honour can be defined as living up to the values that have been established and it’s actually something that’s written in stone in the army. The whole premise of honour is living up to and fulfilling your values. 

5 Can you outline how you established your personal values? 

With physical toughness comes the need for mental toughness and resilience because you need them to be able to navigate through certain experiences through times of crisis. You have to build up a foundation in your mind or you will collapse when things get challenging. You have to have a network of mentors and a great deal of faith and family and friends that you can count on. It’s very important to be able to talk through problems with people that understand you and your goals and aspirations so they can help you through any mental challenges that you may face. 

There’s a huge sense of comradery in the military and I think it’s somewhat the same within organizations because you begin to build significant bonds. I had instances in the military where I was physically impaired, but I was able to mentally push through and focus on other people that were dependent on me. When others are depending on you to help them get through a certain situation you start to build resiliency. 

6 How do you build resiliency? 

It’s not easy work. It’s difficult and challenging but there are things that you can do to set yourself up for success. It’s important that you focus on setting yourself up for success when things are good, so you have a playbook when things get tough. 

A great example is an airline. Every airline has an emergency action plan because they are mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States. When a crisis happens, big or small, the leadership staff and their respective teams can pull out that emergency action plan and immediately understand the best course of action. They immediately have access to all of the information they need to build upon a foundation so they can get to work on averting the crisis at hand. 

Having an action plan helps you build mental strength and resilience because you have a playbook and a guide. When things are going well, you should take the time to start planning for emergencies so you can talk through your strategy before an emergency actually happens. One of the most important things that I’ve learned as a CEO is the benefit of conducting after-action reviews because they help you learn what went wrong, what went well, and what you can do better. 

7 Does the army practice meditation? 

The army is very big on risk assessments and factoring the probability of something happening versus the probability of the outcome and leaders have to determine what the outcome would be based on their own personal experience. When you perform risk assessments, you get to a point in your life of profession where you can perform the assessment really quickly in your head which helps immediately reduce your fear for whatever it is that you’re about to do and that becomes a really valuable skill. 

There are things that you can do and things that you control that help mitigate your fear. It’s all about removing negative thoughts and only processing what you can control. It’s really beneficial to hold onto what you can control and throw everything else to the side. 

8 Where can people find your book and podcast? 

People can order “From The Battlefield, To The White House, To The Boardroomon Amazon, through other bookstores, or read it on Kindle and there will be an audiobook coming soon. 

Our podcast is called the Bo and Luke show, you can listen to the podcast on your podcast app of choice. We wanted to make it easy so we created a website where everyone could go to check it out and you can find it at theboandlukeshow.com. You can also buy a signed copy of the book or buy the book that is on the podcast on the website. 

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Konstantin Tsiryulnikov

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