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An article by David Neal (Director), The Eighth Mile Consulting

In 2017, I medically discharged from the Australian Army due to a myriad of injuries that were gained throughout my time in the Infantry Corps. This is not unusual or special in any way, in fact it is quite a regular occurrence for serving members to medically discharge due to their service caused injuries.

Where my story diverges from the norm is the way that I ultimately addressed the problem surrounding my chronic injuries, and the way in which my team and I are now trying to give our precious findings back to our Veteran community, and provide them with a solution that might help them win their battles.

Throughout my career I had dealt with my injuries in the same way nearly everyone in the service does, by popping Ibuprofen and Panadol like they are tic tac’s, overshadowed by a deep love for beer, bourbon and scotch.

 

Over time, as the number of broken bones and joints grew as did the need for stronger solutions with an emphasis on Codeine and Opiate solutions. Over time my willingness to use these drugs increased ever so gradually until they became virtually useless, but still left all the negative symptoms such as lack of concentration, dizziness, shortness of breath etc. Simply put, it was not a solution that would work long-term without having serious risks on my health and a high likelihood of developing addictions, or as a minimum a very unhealthy reliance.

When I was finally discharged, I approached my doctor to start developing sustainable longer-term solutions. I was fortunate enough to have access to some incredible medical physicians who were contemporary, understood military issues, were open minded and solution driven. After numerous discussions, the topic of medicinal cannabis was raised in its capacity as a possible solution for chronic pain. This was a bit of a shock to me after having come from a no tolerance community and having been directly responsible for kicking many people out of the Army for their use of recreational cannabis. I would be lying if I also said I was not worried about the judgement of my peers who were currently serving in the Defence force at the time, and would have very little first-hand knowledge in this space.

In any case, there wasn’t a great deal of other alternatives on the plate. I had already had all the nerves fried out of my spine and neck with very little success, with a larger number of surgeries on the way. I really didn’t have anything to lose.

I invested significant research to see if medicinal cannabis had helped other Veterans in similar situations, and it had. Veterans can be very ‘clicky’ sometimes and we often like to speak to our own before we make decisions. I was fortunate to have discussions with a large number of veterans who had also gone the black-market route, utilising recreational cannabis for its pain killing properties. Some of these individuals had experienced remarkable improvements in their physical and mental health as a result of their actions. I had seen the improvements from the outside looking in.

As it was, I was the first to go through the legal prescription process which was a little clunky due to the immaturity of the medicinal cannabis industry at the time, overshadowed by a clunky government legal approval system (TGA). But once through, I was blessed with a solution that not only turned my pain off (yes, off) but also allowed me to stay more coherent, sleep through an entire night (I couldn’t remember the last time I had done that), and generally feel better all round. This was life changing to say the least. My relationships started improving, my moods and confidence improved, and I started feeling younger again. It was a significant jump in the right direction.

The problems I had though was that it was exceptionally expensive ($400 per month, AUD), it tasted disgusting (I can deal with that) and was a difficult administration process to navigate to get there. Another issue was the type of medication one might take; a quick slip of the lips and an individual might agree to a THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) & CBD (Cannabidiol) solution as opposed to a CBD only solution, resulting in a loss of one’s driving licence. The most difficult thing was trying to have it accepted by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs who can be a very slow-moving and bureaucratic beast.

My team and I decided that something needed to be done. We needed to:

  • A. Educate other veterans about how effective this was as a solution
  • B. Warn others about the dangers associated with Codeine, Opiate and Alcohol
  • C. Provide a platform for veterans to become better educated
  • D. Provide a means for veterans to start their journey to sourcing legally approved medicinal cannabis product
  • E. Provide the best chance for veterans to have their prescriptions subsidised by the Department of Veterans Affairs
  • F. Most importantly, remove the victim persona that follows the veteran community like a plague

After a significant amount of searching, we finally met the team at MedReleaf Australia who were willing to team up with us in developing a platform that would make the product better understood, and easier to source (pending the suitability for the individual). In doing so a partnership was formed. We had also met some not so desirable companies in our journey that were clearly focused on using veterans for the sole purpose of making a ‘quick buck’. The MedReleaf Australia team were considered, caring and compassionate about providing a service where it will get best effect and provide care to the people that had fought on behalf of the country.

Since that time a significant amount of research has been invested into ensuring the currency of information in an industry that is currently flying by the seat of its pants. We have also implemented a ground up build of the ‘Releaf for Veterans’ platform which will enable veterans to simply start their journey by visiting a website. Simply put, the Releaf for Veterans platform will allow veterans to be provided with an alternate and easy to navigate solution if it is applicable to them.

In memory of the veterans we have served who struggle with physical and mental injuries due to their service, we have decided to launch the platform on 11th November (Remembrance Day).

I hope that it in some way this project will both practically and functionally help our community of veterans for which I am proud to have served with, and I owe so much to.

I am exceptionally proud of my team at The Eighth Mile Consulting for their professionalism, tenacity and dedication in delivering this project on time and on budget. Amazing work.

Thank you for reading.

My father is one of the most intelligent people I know, blessed with a highly analytical brain, and an ability to simplify the complex. He once challenged a younger version of myself, when I was massively overthinking about an issue. During one of my lengthy rants he stopped me abruptly and asked, “what is it you know?” Not paying much attention (as I hadn’t yet learnt to listen) I went on listing hundreds of pieces of what I thought were truths. He asked again, “What. Is. It. You. KNOW?” Upon further analysis it became evident that all but one or two pieces of information were assumptions, fabrications or guesses at best. This second challenge caught me off guard and has induced a healthy skepticism that has aided me to this very day.

When I stopped and thought about it, I really didn’t know anything. I had jumped to numerous conclusions based on my emotions, my perceptions of individuals (and their behaviour), and subjective observations which if had been seen or experienced by someone else would have ultimately led to very different conclusions. My father, on this day, changed the very way that I look and analyse problems. It has kept me more grounded through a combat military career, as a project manager, and as a consultant.

In 1997, Men in Black (MIB) was released, but there was one quote that really resonated with me. Kay, an experienced MIB operative is attempting to recruit Edwards and has just confirmed conclusively that humans are not alone on Earth.

Edwards: “Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.”

Kay: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the centre of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow…”

Assumptions Vs Fact

An assumption is ‘a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof”. A fact is defined as, ‘a thing that is known, or proved to be true’.

When I was in the Army, we often conducted planning in preparation for complex emerging issues, conflicts and situations all around the globe. Planning under these arrangements was often characterised by:

  • Limited planning time
  • Very restricted resources
  • Scarce information
  • A complex and confusing operating environment
  • A need to gain early momentum on whatever it was we were committing to.

Our planning methodology was commonly referred to as, ‘assumption-based planning’. In doing so, we would spend numerous iterations of planning identifying a lengthy list of assumptions. These assumptions would become the premise to whatever plans we were simultaneously developing, allowing us to get early preparation and movement. Data collectors and different organisations would push significant time and resources towards confirming whether the assumptions we were using to form the foundation of our rapidly developing plans were factual, or not. It was not uncommon for assumptions to be disproved and would suddenly change large aspects of the plan, at short notice. But when the assumptions were proven correct, it would inevitably have given us the jump on our enemy or would have allowed us to get significantly ahead of schedule.

During my time in the Army we never, I repeat, NEVER made the mistake of thinking that our assumptions were facts.

There is one key difference between the commercial industries and the Army. The Army is deliberately geared towards effectiveness and capabilities, and less towards efficiencies and cost reduction (although effort is still invested into cost reduction). This approach is what largely separates the two communities, as a business that is not continuously reducing cost is likely going to encounter significant survival problems later.

Since my transition from the Army to the commercial sector, I have observed a common mistake for businesses to make sweeping generalisations and assumptions and use them as the basis for an organisation’s overarching strategy. This can be very dangerous! It’s okay to use assumptions, provided there is adequate time invested in proving, or disproving them later.

Misinformation Is Worse Than No Information.

In today’s world we are constantly barraged with information. Information that directly disagrees with other reputable sources. Technology in all its forms has now saturated our brains with so much content that it can be very confusing where to turn, who to listen to, and which medium to approach.

If I could invite you to consider one thing; Misinformation is so much worse than no information. Conclusively knowing we do not yet have factual information about a topic affords you the opportunity to conduct targeted analysis in order to prove or disprove assumptions. Misinformation on the other hand, only offers the opportunity to run down rat warrens, poorly invest resources, and waste time.

Misinformation itself is often manifested by our own personal biases, our aversion to collecting accurate and contemporary data, our available sources of data collection.

“Before the invention of printing press, the problem was, lack of information, and now due to the rise of social media, it is too much information – the former leads to mental starvation and the latter to mental obesity.”

Abhijit Naskar

My recommendation to those teams conducting strategy planning is to spend the time confirming the following:

  • What do we conclusively know?
  • What don’t we know?
  • What do we need to know more about?
  • What assumptions can we make at an early stage in order to get things moving?
  • How do we scale or rate the assumptions?
  • How will we prove or disprove these assumptions later? By when? For what purpose?

This should provide an opportunity to streamline your data collection and ensure that you are only collecting information that you need, and not wasting time and resources unnecessarily.

These are some of the lessons I have taken with me in my current capacity as a Director at The Eighth Mile Consulting

We hear a lot of positive stories, and the ‘how to’ of successful leadership scenarios. This is not one of those. Let me tell you about the time when I got it completely wrong.

I thought as a junior officer I knew the intricacies of leadership and command. I didn’t know at the time how much I had left to learn, and still do to this day. Specific to this incident, was my lack of E.Q. understanding of stressor impacts, and conflict resolution skills.

Do not mistake my lack of experience for a lack of willingness to do good. I cared about my team, their families, their prospects and life goals but, the in-depth knowledge of how they all interconnected to either support or undermine the team was limited. Retrospectively, I believe that in this instance, I subscribed too heavily towards a ‘mission’ first mentality, at the expense of the team.

The Scenario.

For the purposes of this article let’s call the other person Bill.

On return from an Army exercise, a piece of very important equipment couldn’t be located. It was Bill’s responsibility. He was in a position of leadership at the time, and not being able to find it meant that my team was still working, when the rest of the unit had been home for hours. A terrible outcome for the soldiers and their families desperately craving to be reunited.

In this instance, I was unaware of the life stressors occurring in Bill’s life. Bill was always so cool, calm and collected at every turn that, it never occurred to me that his life was literally burning down around him. I had known Bill prior to us working together and he had a reputation for being a strong, fit, competent and professional man. However, I was focused on preparing the team for operations, fixing the overt issues and working on ensuring the team was at a ‘high performance’ level. I was thinking about the group as a whole and did not make the crucial connection of the group being made up of individuals.

Once the item was found, in his kit, I was livid. I counselled the person in a fashion completely contrary to my character. There are no excuses. Stress from a pending deployment, embarrassment from the counselling I received from my commander or even the disappointment that my team had missed out on even more time with their families, were no reasons for my behaviour. 

My counselling of Bill was aggressively vocal. It was completely uncharacteristic of me and shameful. An interaction that wasn’t lost on my team. Bill also did not take it very well and it had a lasting impact on him. It took time to gain the trust of my team back.

Lesson 1 – Provide clear vision and intent, the mission will happen.

If I had looked after Bill, provided a clear vision and intent, I would have enabled him to a way to tell me what was going on outside of work. Then, I could have worked with him to fix it and ultimately, set the conditions for him to succeed. Instead, I undermined his faith in me as a leader.

Lesson 2 – Stick to your values.

My response at the time did not align with my values (accountability and service). Where was my service to this man and how was I being accountable to him? It was my job to protect him and ensure that his faith in me as a leader was paramount.

Lesson 3 – Find space between the stimulus and the reaction. (Bram Connelly in his Warrior U podcast, Episode 01: KC Finnegan – USSF Major, he explains this well.

When the incident occurred, I should have taken the time to analyse and decipher the variables and considerations. The equipment had been found, that was a positive. While the team was the only one left, they were together and all unified in their search. This was uncharacteristic of him, what is wrong? If I had taken the time to absorb all the variables, I may have found out something that could have prevented a greater impact on Bill later.

Lesson 4 – Make the best decision you can with the information you have.

At the time, with the information I had, this was not the best decision I could make. I knew this man extremely well and I knew it was out of character. Instead of confirming information, I sought to transfer anxiety from my Commander to him.

Lesson 5 – Know your people, they are not their behaviours.

I didn’t find out until later that the interaction had a long term and devastating impact on him. It impacted his Afghan deployment and contributed to some long-term issues. To his credit, he reached out. He explained how the incident had impacted him and it was something that he had never really let go. I had no idea that the interaction had hurt him. It hadn’t registered to me as something that would have. 

Lesson 6 – If you are wrong in your approach, own it, TRY TO MAKE IT RIGHT!!

After he told me the impact the event had on him, I was gutted. So, I did the only thing I could and owned my mistake. There was an explanation of my thought process at the time and how with the benefit of hindsight and experience, I would have done things differently. Now, I am doing what I can to make it right. I keep in contact with him regularly and it is a constant reminder to stick to my values.

Dave and I have unpacked this a hundred times so that we can learn from it and never make these mistakes again. So, feel free to take a free one from my error. We use our experiences and lessons like these at The Eighth Mile Consulting because it keeps us accountable to ourselves and the good people we work with.

Dont be a jerk and never underestimate the impact your actions have on other people.

Our experiences over the last decade and specifically, transitioning from the military into the corporate world has given David Neal and I some perspectives on characterising leadership.

  1. It is not easy and requires constant development
  2. It is lonely and the results rest on you
  3. It is not about you
  4. Be accountable

It Is Not Easy And Requires Constant Development

Leadership is not a nine to five ‘job.’ It requires constant evolution to remain relevant. The leader you were when you began the journey is not the leader you should be today. The lessons learnt, from failure and successes, will shape your leadership style and effectiveness. When you shift roles, projects and teams, the dynamic changes and the personalities change. Therefore, your approach must change. You cannot succeed if you do not continually develop. You will lack the tools to be adaptable in changing environments.

It Is Lonely And The Results Rest On You 

Poor leadership sees a need to lay blame upon others for failure, inability to gain results, poor performance or unmotivated teams. Subject matter experts may be involved in planning and preparation, tech experts may execute the practical and technical delivery but you own the outcome. A leader needs to maintain relevance in teams, actively fight to accept responsibility, and provide a means to buffer other members of the team from unnecessary business friction and white noise.  

It Is Not About You

Your co-workers are more important than you. This might seem confronting to some. If you genuinely care about your people, open yourself up to professional feedback on your performance from them. Your staff and peers will influence your projects when you are not present. By building rapport and loyalty, your team will protect your interests and the interests of the team. Many managers have been compromised by their employees applying ‘malicious compliance’. Meaning, they will abide by the literal directions provided by a manager knowing it will cause issues later.

Strong leaders fight for raises for their staff, not themselves. The outputs of the team will determine whether a leader is deserving of progression. Never forget the team that achieved the delivery. Especially those that surged, stayed late, put their own and their family’s needs aside to deliver an output that would ultimately reflect favourably on you. 

If you are unable to lead you have three options:

  1. Get out of the way and find a better leader 
  2. Become a better leader
  3. Create/Mentor a better leader

A useful explanation can be found in this article, “It’s All About The Humans: Effecting Change Management” by David Neal.

Be Accountable

Team decisions are your decisions. Own them and deliver the outcomes. Team decisions are your responsibility. If something fails, it is your failure (not your team’s failure). If you fail, learn from it and evolve. If it succeeds, it is your team’s success and make sure they are recognised for it. In the long-term, you may benefit from the team’s success but your personal recognition must not be your primary focus. 

Summary

These are our observations and in no way are they a sequenced road map to succeeding. That is your responsibility as a leader to find, and shape. David and I are passionate about leadership and investing in teams. We believe that people make a team, and teams make an organisation. 

A good leader can lead anyone. A good leader also knows how to be led.

We welcome any feedback on our ideas. We are continually evolving our leadership styles as well. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

As leaders and managers, it is our responsibility to find credible information which assists practical and informed decision-making. Unfortunately, decisions often have to be made without all the necessary information available. A decision maker in these circumstances will often leverage from their previous experience, the business risks associated with the decision, and levels of authority bestowed upon them, to name a few.

From my own experiences I have often seen many people very uncomfortable making decisions without ‘all’ the information. This often takes the form of indecision, where business or situational opportunities are missed – often being capitalised on by a competitor or more flexible/adaptable team.

In the military the term ’fog of war’, originally coined by Carl von Clausewitz (military strategist) is often utilised to explain uncertainty during war, and addresses the complexities with gathering accurate and timely information. The metaphor is often used to explain to commanders the importance of making decisions with what little information one has; a very important feature of war, particularly in the pursuit of maintaining momentum towards a goal or end-state.

So why are some people so uncomfortable with making decisions in the absence of ‘all’ the information? The answer it seems is simple; people do not want to make the wrong decision – this is understandable without additional context. They also presume that there is such a thing as a ‘perfect decision’. What if I told you there is no such thing as a ‘perfect decision’, and that the need to maintain momentum should be, in most cases, a stronger driving force. This is not to be confused with making rash or ill-considered decisions, as this can be equally damaging and frustrating to co-workers.

I would argue that that the purveyors of the 80% in time, as compared to the 100% too late rule are often those that excel in competitive markets, and generally maintain momentum towards project success.

Sir Richard Branson once said,

“There’s no such thing as perfect decision making – only hindsight can determine whether you made the ‘right call.’”

Branson placed greater emphasis on gathering accurate information in order to answer specific questions of fact, which would later either confirm or deny a decision to move forward. Too often people appear to be gathering information without a good understanding as to what decision it will influence. In these instances, people are most certainly busy, but unfortunately they are often collecting the wrong information. Quantity in this context does not ensure quality.

So what can leader and managers do to ensure they are assisting their teams with collecting the right information?

  1. Categorise your questions of fact – Determine what one must know/must have vs what is nice to know/nice to have. In some cases a metric or means of measuring the data will assist in knowing when it has been successfully gathered upon. Greater emphasis should be placed on answering the questions which will determine go/no go criteria for the project.
  2. Ask the right questions to the right stakeholders – Too often we are not engaging with the right people, nor asking the correct questions. When engaging with SMEs ensure that your question: is used to drive a specific decision on your end, and is asked in the correct language or vernacular (note: words have different meanings to different organisations). Don’t assume everyone speaks the same technical language -Engineers vs Project Managers is a recurring theme in many industries.
  3. Streamline data collection towards specific questions, which will confirm or deny a specific decision to be made – Effective Project Managers are those that can adequately define the Project Scope and ensure the project remains orientated towards a measurable end-state. If people are collecting information that does not target a specific decision, stop collecting it.  
  4. Sequence your data collection to align towards project milestones – Note: you often do not need all the information at that point in time. Some information will only become relevant later. If you wait for all the information you can miss critical opportunities as the project evolves.

In summary, if you have enough information to make a reasonably informed decision – make it! Nirvana is never reached in the pursuit for the perfect decision.

 We have taken many of these lessons and incorporated them into The Eighth Mile Consulting.