“Hey Scott, can you help us understand the Millennials? I don’t understand them. They don’t get it. They don’t get where we’re coming from.” If I had a dime for every time a senior leader has asked me that question, I would be the richest dude in the state of Florida. I can’t tell you how many times people say, “Help me understand the Millennials. Help me figure out the Millennials.” “Could we do some training on understanding the Millennials?”

My question to them is always this,

“Well, how about you have a Millennial teach it?”

“No, no, no, no. We just need somebody that understands them.”

This is a common thing. I see it all the time, and it’s not just with Millennials and old farts like me. It’s actually in all kinds of in-group and out-group dynamics. You always have this going on. You have these in-groups, these out-groups, and you have these disparate trust gaps. The Millennial gap is a common one that I see.

As I travel around the country doing speaking and training on relationships, human connections and all the skills that we use as Green Berets, what I’m seeing is there’s a real disparity between senior leaders and the folks in the trenches that are doing the heavy lifting. There are big trust gaps, whether it’s in commercial banking, whether it’s in mortgages, whether it’s in steel companies, you name it, trust gaps are everywhere.

As trust erodes around the country, and it is eroding at an epic rate below the surface, no one’s looking at it and it is certainly happening inside our businesses. Here’s the tip that I would give you and it’s the name of today’s topic: Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be. How simple is that? I will tell
you, that is a timeless age old adage from U.S. Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, that you will not see in just about any other elite force. You won’t see Seals meeting them where they are or Rangers meeting them where they are. They’re great guys but they have a mission to do.

Special Forces, because we’re 12 dudes and that’s it, have to go in rough places and stay for a long time and mobilize people from the inside out to stand on their own. We have to meet people where they are, not where we want them to be. We’re so outnumbered and outgunned.

Isn’t that true in your life? Isn’t that true in your community? Isn’t that true in your business? If you try to jam people from the top down or the outside in and compel them or coerce them to move in the direction that you want them to move, “because I said so dammit,” with the erosion of trust the way it is today… You are on the path of the dinosaur as a leader.

It fully explains the trust gaps that we have between senior leaders and the folks doing the lifting in the trenches. It’s a universal dilemma. What I’m telling you is, meet people where they are, not where you want them to be. I realize that in some ways that’s counterintuitive. That’s not what we’re taught in a lot of leadership circles. It’s not what we’re lead to believe in corporate, and certainly not in the military. We put our hands on our hips and and we say, “because I said so,” the same way we do with our kids. I guess there is a time and place for that coercive approach but very rarely.

Most of the time, I’ve found even in life and death situations, that if people follow you because they choose to not because they have to, they’ll run through walls for you. They’ll achieve things bigger than life for you. They’ll give their lives, in some cases, for you if you believe enough in them. Why is that not possible
when time and money is involved? Why? Humans are all wired the same way. We’re all built around social grouping, empathy, and reciprocity. I know, I’ve studied it my entire adult life. We just choose not to do it. We choose to take the transactional approach to a Western society that is above the water line. They ignore 990,000 years of social programming.

What I’m telling you right now, you can take this to the bank, you can put this in play in your life, meet people where they are, not where you want them to be. How do you do that? I’m going to give you three things that you could do today, right now. Walk out your door, put into play, and you’ll see a shift.

First thing is embrace local realities. By the way, they’re all in my book “Game Changers”. The context of my book was Green Berets and other special operators going into tribal areas that were trust depleted and inspiring skeptical villagers to stand on their own and fight back against the Taliban who had their foot on the collective throats of these villages. Everything I’m telling you that we did in life and death works in time and money. The first thing is embrace local realities. In the cover picture of my book, that’s a team leader there. He’s got a beard. He’s in indigenous clothing. He’s sitting in a circle of a tribal jirga. He has no agenda, no PowerPoint. He understands the value of long form communication, and physical connection, and story, and status. He’s working within those realities. He’s not trying to force it by wearing his body armor and Velcro, looking like RoboCop.

The same is true in your world. Are you distancing yourself from your people by wearing your invisible ‘executive body armor’? If you’re a senior leader, are you trooping the line, as we say in the military, “Going down the floor to check on the folks?

If not, you have no clue of what their micro realities are. They’re not going to tell you a damn thing. They’re not going to share anything with you other than what they have to share with you to get you the hell out of their sight. Appreciate, embrace local realities for what they are. To do that, you’ve got to want to do that. You’ve got to lean in. You’ve got to actively listen. You have to make human connections. There is a skill to that. You need to appreciate the local realities and ask questions to gain insight to those local realities because you want to know. That’s the first step.

The second step is understand the human arena. The human arena that is your business, inside your business. Who are the relevant players inside there? What do you know about them? Do you know their origin story? Do you even know their backstory? Have you ever asked to hear it? Do you know what makes them tick? Do you know what keeps them up at night? Have you ever mapped out the social networks inside your business, and the relationships, and the tensions that exist there? If you’re trying to move into a new customer base, have you done that? Have you looked at the relevant players that are out there, your avatars and the relationship that exist there, and the tensions that exist there?

Just taking the time to understand who the connectors are in your relevant arena, who the champions are, the people with influence, the tensions that exist. What is the erosion of trust inside your business? Have you ever tried to assess this? It can be measured. Trust can actually be measured in time, and money, and transaction cost. What is the erosion of trust in your business, inside your human domain? With that on the other side, what is the level of conflict that is persistent there? Is conflict the default mechanism down on the floor? Is conflict the default mechanism down in sales? Is conflict the default mechanism between sales and acquisitions? How about the new company you just took on? Where is trust eroding and conflict high? Understand the human domain. Appreciate the human domain. Understand the local realities that are there. That’s your first two steps.

The final one is, who are your resilient leaders? It says it right here in my book, Game Changers, man, I’ve got paragraph after paragraph of how we learned the hard way in these villages. The resilient leader is not always the first white beard dude that walks up to you and says, “Hi, I’m in charge.” A lot of times that’s the guy you’ve got to watch. A lot of times that’s the guy who’s taking the microphone who’s actually an amateur. This is true in any organization, any social dynamic this happens. The true resilient leaders, the leaders without titles, the leaders who people look up to and follow, they’re usually the guy or gal who are not the first to walk up to you. They’re kind of off to the side doing their thing, taking it all in. They’re the ones that don’t need to step up and get in the sunlight, because they’re already leading. They know where they stand.

Are you trying to find them? Are you trying to seek them out? Do you honor them? If you do, if you establish relationships with the resilient leaders, the leaders who lead when nobody’s looking, that’s when your company, your organization can exponentially extend its value, and its stability, and its resilience to weather storms. Those are the people you want in your patrol, in your tribe, in your board meetings. You want to seek them out, because they are influencers. They’re not going to come up and tell you that, you’ve got to earnestly do that. By embracing local realities, working the human domain, you’ll start to find your
resilient leaders.

Again, they’re the leaders without titles a lot of times. If you blink, you’ll miss them. If you’re thin slicing, you’ll miss them. If you’re walking around with your hands on your hips, “Checking all troops,” you’re not going to see a damn thing. Those are the three steps I will tell you. Now, if you do that, here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to start to see human connections occur. You’re going to start to see some level of trust build. It’s incremental, but the speed of trust is actually faster than you think and it’s all built around relationships. Relationships are your greatest off book asset. Are you measuring your relationships?

Meet them where they are, not where they want to be. If you do that as those relationships start to grow, here’s where you will know things are starting to shift. You will start to see reciprocity. You’ll start to see people in your sphere want to do things for your company, want to tell the company’s story, want to stay a little later, want to do that extra work, want to work a little harder because of pride in the mission, because of shared struggle and shared experience. Pretty soon that reciprocity turns to loyalty. This isn’t theory, guys. I’ve seen this over and over and over in the most dangerous places on earth where life and death was at stake.

I’m telling you right now, with time and money it works just as well. You do that by getting surrounded on purpose. Immerse yourself in the problem. Don’t just stand on the side and admire it, there’s enough people doing that. Immerse yourself in the problem. Get surrounded on purpose. Meet people where they are, not where
you want them to be.

Pick up a copy of “Game Changers”. Check it out, or just stay tuned in our tribe and you’ll learn how to do this. It is a very powerful thing, and .00000005% of the American population ever tries this approach. The ones who do, they’re the ones that are going to crush it in this trust depleted era.

The very next thing I want you to do, look at your organization. Where’s the trust gap? Focus there. Go right to it. Meet them where they are not where you want them to be. Appreciate the local realities. Learn to read the human terrain. Look for those resilient leaders, and you’ll find yourself surrounded on purpose and
leading from the inside out.

Until next time, I’ll see you on the high ground.


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