Marty Strong is a retired Navy SEAL officer and combat veteran. He is a consultant, speaker, the author of nine novels, and a practicing CEO.
Marty is also the author of the business leadership books; Be Nimble: How the Creative Navy SEAL Mindset Wins on the Battlefield and in Business and Be Visionary: Strategic Leadership in the Age of Optimization, set for release in December 2022.
Marty’s spent a lifetime meeting challenges head on, succeeding in three professions, anticipating crisis, and leading through chaos.
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for High Velocity radio.
Stone Payton: [00:00:15] Welcome to the High Velocity Radio show where we celebrate top performers producing better results in less time. Stone Payton here with you this afternoon. This is going to be a fantastic conversation. Please join me in welcoming to the broadcast consultant, speaker, author and retired Navy SEAL. Mr. Marty Strong. How are you, man?
Marty Strong: [00:00:37] Doing good. How are you doing?
Stone Payton: [00:00:38] Stone? I am doing well. It is such a delight to get a chance to visit with you. I know you’re a prolific author. You’ve got a new book out Be Visionary Strategic Leadership in the Age of Optimization. Tell us about this thing, man. What compelled you to put this one out?
Marty Strong: [00:00:57] Well, I wrote the first book, Being Nimble came out the first of this year that focused on leadership mechanics, mostly in kind of chaotic crisis environments. Obviously, the pandemic created that for everybody, but in normal cases, it’s companies either struggling to survive or companies that are trying to figure out how to scale and grow because they’re extremely successful. So I’ve got a lot of experience in that kind of crucible of leadership. So the first book discussed that, talked about that, and a lot of people that read that book said one of the chapters that discussed strategy and vision and kind of a vision quest for leaders could be its own book. So that kind of turned the light bulb on my head. And so I wrote a book that completely focused on creating a vision and then taking that vision and structuring it, you know, building it into an actual workable business strategy.
Stone Payton: [00:01:49] So writing as many books as you have, do they come together pretty easily for you, or do you still sometimes have a challenge with certain chapters or certain aspects of a book when you’re getting it together?
Marty Strong: [00:02:03] The fiction books come very easy, I’d say up to the first one. I think there’s nine out there now. After the first one, the the flow. I’m a stream of consciousness writer, which essentially means I have kind of a general outline theme. I have characters kind of fleshed out, and then I start seeing the movie in my head and I just try to keep up with it as I’m typing. And the more you do it, the more you practice it, the more you trust your your instincts with all of that. And sometimes the characters take me in weird places that I didn’t plan, but it works out. So that’s cathartic and fun writing. But the the business books are a little bit different, as you might assume. It’s any business book is kind of like a fancy business card, but it doesn’t just have your name and your address on it. It has pretty much all your thoughts and ideas and instincts, stupid, noble or otherwise. So you’re really kind of laying it out there and you really start to understand that when you start to actually write the chapters, you say, okay, what do I think about this? Does that sound stupid to somebody? Should I write this? What’s what I think? But is it stupid to say, you know, there’s a lot of second guessing and and the whole the business book writing process.
Stone Payton: [00:03:10] So one of the topics that you approach is disruption and managing disruption under, you know, different situations, different environments. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Marty Strong: [00:03:21] Yeah, I think I go a little bit more. I think a bolder step. I try to get people to feel comfortable mastering chaos and disruption and taking advantage of it. You know, disruption is part of the universe. You know, I spent a couple of years in high school in Oahu. You know, that that island is beautiful, but that was created by the chaos of volcanic activity and all those islands, all the islands in the Pacific, pretty much. So nature tends to destroy before it creates. And that’s kind of the normal the normal order of things. And human beings and human endeavors really aren’t any different. So it’s kind of an anathema to to think that a business. We’re even an organization that’s not profit motive, so to speak. It’s just going to stay static year after year after year. That would assume that everything around the business, everything that that feeds into the business, the customers that that receive the output or the outcomes of the business are all going to stay exactly the same. Know, you say it’s 1962 forever or it’s 1978 forever. It’s 2014 forever. And you know, that doesn’t make any sense when I say it. But it’s incredible how business managers and business leaders come out of school or mentored and trained in organizations that try to keep the status quo in place. And anything that disrupts the status quo is kind of seen as a bad thing, an enemy, and has to be crushed and mitigated and put everything’s going to be put back in its box. But in reality, that’s just the way it’s going to go. So you better get good at figuring it, figuring out, anticipating it, and then dealing with it and kind of seizing the opportunities which when things get broken up, there’s also opportunities laying all over the place for four leaders.
Stone Payton: [00:05:00] So have you found that when it comes to to leading in crisis, that you really can apply some some structure, some some discipline, some rigor, a process for, okay, this thing is popping up. Here’s how we deal with it. And then here’s how we I don’t know. Course. Correct. If that’s the right phrase.
Marty Strong: [00:05:21] It’s absolutely something that you can apply. One of the things that does convey from leading SEALs is the SEALs and all special operators have a very quick turnaround when they do missions. And the mission is that they’re going to do are not well defined. That’s why they’re special. That’s why they’re called unconventional missions or special operations missions. So what you have to do is you have to constantly plan for the unexpected. You have to plan for Murphy to come in and disrupt whatever it is that your assumptions are. And the way you deal with that is you prepare your team and you prepare your leaders to lead a team in a way that’s very responsive and flexible and adaptable in the moment. Sure, you can put a plan together, but the weather changes. The information about where the bad guys are, changes, all kinds of things change and you have to be able to deal with that, adapt to that. And the way you do is you train everybody to have a mindset that’s comfortable with that, that adaptation, that flexible reaction. You can do the same thing in business, although it’s not done in my experience, I can count maybe one or two companies in the last 20 years that I’ve run into. They actually set the leaders down and essentially go through the equivalent of a business fire drill.
Marty Strong: [00:06:31] What do we do if this happened, what we do if our key vendor failed to supply us with materials or a key service? What do we do? If we lost our number one customer? They never even wargame this stuff out and figure out what the what the outcome would look like. And so they’re all basically. Frozen in time in their mind. So the shock of a change is even that more difficult to handle and deal with. So it’s a trainable, a trainable skill. We used to call it contingency planning. You have standard operating procedures that you teach everybody. If something bad happens, you get into a room, everybody knows what you’re going to do. You’re going to go through an assessment. What’s the information, not what you think it was, what you hope it to be. And then you start pulling all the minds together and you reinvent your reimagine. It may be one division, one product, or maybe the entire company. Same kind of thing that could have been applied at the beginning of the pandemic. But there’s a there’s some kind of a big change, like a pandemic that happens to businesses all over the United States all the time.
Stone Payton: [00:07:32] Okay. So it goes well beyond writing. You’re actually out there consulting. Talk a little bit about the work, because you are in the halls, you’re in the boardroom, you’re talking to these folks. What is that like?
Marty Strong: [00:07:45] It’s a it’s not so much therapy. It’s much, much more like medical practice, I would think. You know, the Hippocratic Oath of of organizational design. And I always kind of throw those together is, first, do no harm. And if you’re a consultant or you’re advisor, mentor, coach, whatever, whatever level of engagement you’re involved in, or in my case, I’m also the CEO of of an organization that has two operating businesses. You have to sit back and listen and gather information and assess whether the people that are telling you the information are using information that’s old, worn out. Steele challenged the source of that information input. Who are they being influenced by internally? There’s a lot of a lot of kind of diagnostic work that you do. You know, it’s not just cut measure twice, cut once. You basically sit there and really try to get your hands around. Do they understand where they are and where they’ve been and where they need to go? And once you figure all that out, the rest of it kind of shakes out based on experience and just, you know, repetitions of just like a doctor, repetitions of being in that situation. It may be a senior leadership issue or challenge. It may be a funding resources issue or challenge. It may be that what they’re doing is just not a good business model anymore. Maybe somebody has trumped them or leapfrogged them in some way and, you know, they go on to a complete gig approach and you’re still in brick and mortar with employees and and you can’t cut your your prices enough to be competitive in the market. And so people aren’t buying your products because they’re too expensive. So if you don’t completely reinvent yourself, you’re going under. So some of these things jump out when you’re talking to leaders and talking to management and companies. So it’s a lot more like being a doctor than anything.
Stone Payton: [00:09:34] Else, huh? So do you ever find that maybe executive leadership either intuitively or because of the discipline of applying their energy and effort to to learning and getting better at this kind of thing? They’re in pretty good shape. The rank and file will literally fall in line, but sometimes that those mid-levels can really, I don’t know a better way to say it, So slow it down, screw it up, misinterpret it. Do you ever find that in organizations that it’s it gets lost in the translation sometimes.
Marty Strong: [00:10:08] Yes. And, you know, I could be kind of flippant and say, well, in SEAL teams, you know, we always everybody has a say. Everybody has a voice. The lowest enlisted guy can input something that becomes one of the major, major drivers of the mission plan. And that’s great. But it’s a small organization. So in big organizations, that middle layer you’re talking about, it can either be a an accelerator for for communications and insights coming from the base of the organization, the people that are actually doing the work in the trenches. Or it can be a blocking force, it can be a filter. And unfortunately, most of the time they’re blocking force or a filter because they’re either have they have senior leaders that don’t really accept new ideas well coming from below. And so they’ve learned over time it’s best not to bring up ideas. So they just kind of stifle all of that or they themselves don’t feel philosophically that anybody below their pay grade has a brain cell that’s functioning when it comes to strategy or competitive insight. And quite frankly, that’s that’s really shortsighted, because if you have 80,000 employees or you have 80 employees, they probably know a heck of a lot of ground truth that they’re out there in the market as buyers.
Marty Strong: [00:11:20] They’re out there in the market listening to people’s opinions about their company. They’re watching people buy other people’s products, the competitors products, and they know where they’re falling down. And they know when people when they have a bad perception in the marketplace. So there’s a lot of input that could be shared, kind of like a hive mentality flowing up from below. It should be galvanized and packaged and then driven up to the senior leaders by the middle layer. But that’s a transformation in communications. And quite frankly, that’s a very mature approach to leading an organization, which isn’t necessarily the way the most senior leaders and middle managers were trained. It’s not their fault. They’re just they came out of the box, whether it’s business, school or their first couple of jobs as managers. And they’re just they’re just practicing and repeating what they saw and they’re emulating that. They don’t know any difference.
Stone Payton: [00:12:08] It just yeah, it just occurs to me that if you don’t crack that code and get that mid-level trained properly, even if you have a very responsive rank and file that mid-level one, train them quicker and you can train them.
Marty Strong: [00:12:21] Right. And if you don’t, then it depends on, you know, like in higher technology organizations, the lower rank and file are extremely valuable, talented people that could migrate to someplace else if they’re not listened to, especially if they think it’s a critical insight. You know, there’s something that they can do with the gee whiz, 5000 that would make it twice as fast or twice as late. And and they’re just being ignored. So they just they just migrate. They get up and they move. Middle management, you can have people that are also open minded, more visionary, more willing to take risks, or at least throw the risks up on a whiteboard and discuss it. And then they get frustrated because senior leadership doesn’t want to hear it. So then they migrate. So one way or the other, those kinds of organizations eventually start squirting out their top talent. What I mean by top talent, I don’t mean resume talent. I’m talking about the kind of talent that can really drive creativity and an explosive growth rate for an organization, you know, creative, visionary, innovative type of minds that are willing to collaborate and work on projects together as opposed to people that love the the the stovepiped kind of organization structure and positional power and authority that they thrive on that. So, yeah, it’s a it’s a rare thing than it should be. But you can change, you can change it. It just takes time when you try to do the entire organization.
Stone Payton: [00:13:40] This must be this got to be very rewarding work. Man. What are you enjoying the most?
Marty Strong: [00:13:49] I think any time you you benefit a client or any time even my my senior direct reports, any time that I come up with an insight that they didn’t think of or that connects the dots for them, then I feel like I’ve delivered something of value. And that’s kind of what drives me. It’s not the money, it’s it’s, it’s influencing in a positive way or positive direction. And I found that the more I’ve been. Alien to the processes that I’m I’m brought into, the better or the bigger the impact I make. Because if you’re objective, it’s an asymmetrical brain coming in to a group of people that are, you know, let’s say they’re sous chefs or something and you know nothing about, you know, being a sous chef, but maybe know a whole lot about what people like in a restaurant. And they aren’t thinking that way. They’re so focused on being chefs that they don’t realize that the rest of the equation is the restaurant ambiance, the size of the restaurant, the speed of the service, you know, all those kinds of things. So even somebody who doesn’t know anything about the high technical component of a business can be a great sounding board, because as a construction general contractor, they may see something or have some skill set or knowledge base that applies that you wouldn’t apply because you just don’t think that way. And I find that’s that’s where the most rewarding part of this is. The more I try to become a generalist and a little bit more objective and try not to become an expert or a student of everything I’m looking at, actually, the more the wisdom and judgment and the life experience as applicable.
Stone Payton: [00:15:27] So as the work with a specific client evolves and this this entire effort matures, is there any analogy at all that can be drawn to, I don’t know, like muscle building? Like, does it does it build up resilience and capacity to respond? And do they do they get better over time? I would think they would with a few wins.
Marty Strong: [00:15:50] It’s. The difficulty. And why it’s easier and say a special operations group or an elite say an elite athletics group. You. You keep the team together for a long enough time that the team gels and the team starts operating in the way that you’re trying to get them to operate, that they’ve optimized their skills and their communications and their their collective body of movement across whatever the playing field is or the business marketplace, etc.. But in most companies, especially bigger companies, there’s quite a revolving door, especially nowadays. So the the lament of people that focus on training internally in corporations is, you know, is it even worth putting any money into anybody? Because every year we’re losing 25% of the people and and we can monetize how much money we put into them and they just walk across the street to our competitor. And so now there’s a dampening of of focus on investing on people and companies across the country because they realize that people are leaving. Well, I already told you why. You know, one reason they leave is because training is nice and training is wonderful to get. But if nobody’s going to listen to your ideas, you’re going to you’re going you’re going to leave. So there’s a lot of things you got to do to make an organization coherent. It’s got to be fun to be a part of. It’s got to be exciting. People got to get sucked into the excitement in a forward looking way. Not just these are the rules. This is the way we’ve always done it, you know, traditions, etc.. And then you have to challenge all those brain cells. You’ve got to challenge middle management and all the technical support. What do you guys thinking? What are you guys seeing? What do you guys what do you guys suggest about this? It’s an engagement approach as opposed to issuing directives. Follow the OR chart and an email interaction which is impersonal and really, really tough to grow morale and culture through an email.
Stone Payton: [00:17:47] Yeah. Say a little more about the structure of this book and what I’m really headed with this is maybe some counsel from you on how we can get the most out of it.
Marty Strong: [00:18:00] So be visionary is set up in a way that kind of walks you through. First. An understanding of your own, I guess, the baggage that you’re carrying around. Some of the stuff that I’ve already alluded to, you are a creature of habit and you are a reflection of of the training or the exposure you’ve had to becoming a leader. And it may it may be flawed, it may not be flawed, it may be perfect based on that static risk mitigation kind of model like I outlined earlier. And and this is kind of holding the mirror up in the first part of the book. What do you do? How are you doing it? And why aren’t you opening your mind? Why are you why did you buy into this KPI approach to running running the world? Do you ever just look out over the horizon and wonder, What are we to look like in 24 months? I talk a lot about that. It’s kind of a self awareness, self evaluation. Steering them to a point where you can’t lead an organization creatively in a visionary way unless you fix yourself first as a leader and then the rest of the book kind of starts walking through. What do you do when you when you have an idea? How do you how do you look out to the horizon? What does it feel like? What are you looking for? What are you looking for? Threats.
Marty Strong: [00:19:19] But you’re also looking for opportunities. Then how do you prepare for it? So the mechanics are in there. Eventually, you get to the point where you’re you have what I call the dream team in the book, the people that are very excited about, you know, crazy ideas and all that. Then you have the other group, kind of the naysayers. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it group. And instead of saying, Well, they’re just not getting on board, you use them to actually be that hard stone that you that you sharpen the idea against. You basically let the creative people flesh out the vision into an actual strategic concept, and you let the other kind of naysayer people punch holes in it because that’s a good thing, right? It makes it stronger, it makes it more resilient. Then I talk to how you go and you pitch it to the senior people, the the the resource agents that have to fund the crazy idea and how that pitch session goes and all that. So it’s kind of like a primer walking you through. First self, self awareness, self assessment and what you have to kind of how you have to clear your mind to be intellectual and have intellectual humility, to get intellectual curiosity and then to achieve intellectual creativity. That’s kind of the three step process. Once you can do that, then how do you get an organization to do that?
Stone Payton: [00:20:30] All right, man, let’s make sure that we leave our listeners with some coordinates. I want them to be able to get their hands on this book if they’d like to reach out and have a conversation with you or someone on your team. I just want to make it easy for them to get connected. Whatever you feel like is appropriate. Website LinkedIn. I just want to make sure they can get connected and continue to to follow your work.
Marty Strong: [00:20:52] Sure. So Marty Strong Be Nimble is my author website. There’s links to both my novels and being able to my first business book and and be visionary. Be Visionary is available on Amazon right now and presale and then it comes out one January 23. And then you can also just Google Marty Strong. I think the first ten or 11 pages are all my books, articles, podcasts, all kinds of different things about me. So. Those are the ways.
Stone Payton: [00:21:22] All right. Well, Marty, it has been an absolute delight having you on the show this afternoon. It’s been informative, inspiring. I sincerely appreciate you investing the time to visit with us when you’re doing good and important work. And we we sure appreciate you.
Marty Strong: [00:21:40] Well, thanks for having me, Stone.
Stone Payton: [00:21:41] All right. Until next time, this is Stone Payton for our guest today, Marty Strong and everyone here at the Business Radio X family saying we’ll see you in the fast lane.