Nashville entrepreneurs get leadership lessons from Army Veteran and award-winning author
In her book “The Frontline Generation,” Marjorie K. Eastman explores the concept of the frontline and shares stories of leadership, grit, and grace from her time as an intelligence officer in post 9/11 armed conflict (learn more about her and why she wrote the book in our Meet the Speaker blog post).
Eastman was the guest of honor at a recent Power Surge event at Pathway WBC in Nashville. The award-winning author used a series of stories from her time in the military to share leadership insights with local business owners, including specific advice for female entrepreneurs.
Power Surge: Marjorie K. Eastman’s advice to entrepreneurs:
Ask the right questions.
“I’ve heard people ask if we’re setting women up for failure by opening up every role in the military to them,” said Eastman. “The real question should be ‘are we setting the mission up for failure by not including them?’”
Eastman shared the story of a rookie female interrogator who, in one of the most culturally oppressive cultures toward women, uncovered a massive weapon cache. “Like the Navajo Code Talkers, women play a unique role in this conflict. The Middle East culture prohibits men from speaking with women, yet clearly, we need to reach the other half of the population. We opened up 50% of the population for intel by having female interrogators. And, it was one of my female interrogators that uncovered 600 munitions that day.”
For entrepreneurs, every time you ask or are asked the question “why,” are you at the same time asking “why not?”
Eastman encouraged entrepreneurs to cling to their point of differentiation (differentiation adds value in life and business) especially as a female entrepreneur. Leverage differences, ask the right questions, and remember the Army motto “Mission first, people always.”
Embrace the suck. Make pain your purpose.
As intelligence personnel, Eastman and her unit did not have dedicated transport and often took the last seats in other units’ trucks to move from location to location. Hitchhiking was not outside the norm, and after one particularly long five-day stretch in the same gear and without showers, Eastman and her team found themselves hitching a ride with the Kentucky National Guard to get back to base when the first truck broke down.
“We were stranded in a hillside area that we knew was a prime target for ambush,” said Eastman. They were in a particularly remote area when one of the trucks in the convoy broke down. After scrambling and scrapping to get moving again with intermittent radio signal in the pitch dark of the Afghan countryside, they were moving again. Soon after though, a second truck broke down.
“We had to be resourceful and resilient to get out of that situation,” said Eastman. “Make pain your purpose. Resolve to ‘embrace the suck,’ as we say in the military. And then repeat as many times as you need to so you get unstuck. As an entrepreneur, remember that feeling of when you had to get gritty and figure out a tough situation.”
Close calls don’t discriminate. Make your life a ‘remote miss.’
Eastman recalled an instance when, mid-mission, a source informed her unit that there would be a bomb placed inside a culvert along the exact route they’d be taking the next morning. The source went so far as to give an approximate grid of where the IED would be.
As intelligence officers, Eastman and her unit once again found themselves filling available spots with another unit, and as luck would have it, they got the last two seats in the second explosive ordinance disposal vehicle.
“Everything was going as planned until someone called for an immediate security stop over the radios,” said Eastman. “We looked out the window and realize our truck was parked in front of a culvert.” The specific culvert, as it turned out, where the explosives had been planted. The wires on the IED, however, hadn’t yet been connected to the command center for detonation. “I was early this morning. I’m never early,” said Eastman. “I call that a “remote miss.”
“Read David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell,” said Eastman. In it he describes the survivors’ transformation in London after the German bombings as the “remote miss.” These people lived through a harrowing experience, overcame seemingly impossible odds, and were hardened by it.
“Courage isn’t something you’re born with to help you when tough times come,” said Eastman. “It’s something you earn by going through the toughest times.”
Her message to the Pathway WBC entrepreneurs?
“Don’t downplay what you’ve been through. You’ve had your tough times, so don’t forget the courage you’ve earned along the way,” said Eastman. “Expect the unexpected and get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Live your life with the spirit of a ‘remote miss.’”
What color is your cape?
A friend was touched by photos of the children in villages in Afghanistan that Eastman and her unit regularly worked with. “Claire asked me if she could share some Beanie Babies she’d found in her garage with those kids,” said Eastman. Claire rallied friends and family and sent more than 100 of the stuffed animals with Eastman’s unit to give to children across the Bamyan Province.
“Claire showed you don’t need a title to be a leader,” said Eastman. “We all have a sphere of influence and we’re all meant to leave our mark on the world. Stop waiting for the promotion or the title to make a difference.”
Correct misconceptions with grit and grace (and recruit man-bassadors).
“’Was your husband in the military?” is a question I’ve gotten more than once when someone notices the Bronze Star on my license plate,” said Eastman. “Everyone has misconceptions. We all have anchors. With grit and grace, you should correct those misconceptions when they arise.”
Eastman served with women in some of the most gender-oppressed cultures in the word, and saw how through their very presences and interactions, perceptions about women were changing on an individual level.
“Your very presence can help lead to a progression of thought. Be present.”
Eastman ended her presentation with an encouragement to build coalitions. “Seek out women, and men, to be part of your path. As a woman, ask those men in your life to be ‘man-bassadors’ for you to make sure you get a seat at the table,” said Eastman. “Don’t count other people out, or say ‘no’ for them. And, make sure you turn around and pay it back.
A heartfelt thank you to Marjorie K. Eastman on sharing her stories and lessons on leadership with the Pathway WBC community of entrepreneurs. You can see photos from Power Surge with Marjorie on our Facebook page.
Learn more about Marjorie K. Eastman and “The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11” at marjoriekeastman.com.