AN INTERVIEW WITH ADAM MADDOCK
Sharing in adversity with the people you lead is a central key to building trust in leadership.
04:37 - How does a battlefield leadership environment differ from others?
05:06 - The nature of training for leadership performance.
07:00 - Adversity brings people together in ways nothing else does.
08:04 - What are your leadership lessons from working in the White House?
08:52 - Difference in leading peers versus subordinates.
10:24 - Adversity prepared (Adam) for the craziness that is the White House.
10:56 - "Calm is contagious."
12:13 - Observations on leading people with big egos.
12:50 - Trust is still essential.
14:21 - President Obama was a master at connecting with people.
18:23 - T-Mobile’s culture of doing what’s best for everyone.
20:32 - Adam on the essential nature of trust in leadership.
21:30 - “...what are you doing to keep your tribe safe?"
21:32 - When people are safe, they will do anything for you.
23:14 - David summary of Adam’s thoughts on trust.
24:32 - Adam "be where your people are…"
26:00 - Adam on the significance of ingratiating yourself to your followers.
Adam Maddock featured on Poets and Quants
Kellogg School of Management
T-Mobile Leaders to Executives Program
David: 00:00 Hi everybody. Welcome to the Groler Podcast. This is David Worley. One critical aspect of leadership is building trust with followers. We devote this episode to investigating this topic.
David: 00:30 On this episode of the Groler Podcast, we're pleased to welcome Adam Maddock. Adam is a graduate of the University of Maryland and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, as listeners may recognize one of the best business schools in the U.S. He spent over eight years in the U.S. Marines, a little over three of these deployed as a fire direction officer in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. In this role, he directed artillery firing operations and oversaw 130 Marines over a nine month deployment. The rest of his time was spent at bases abroad. After his service in the operating element of his deployment, he was selected to serve in the Marine Corps Honor Guard. Serving primarily as the President and First Ladies' social liaison in the White House. In this role, he bridged between the Obama's social staff and the regular White House staff and administration. Following his years in the Marines he pursued the MBA at Kellogg and then later was selected into an interesting program in the communications company T-Mobile. It's called the Leaders to Executive Program, and I find this program very interesting because it seeks to take the best and brightest out of business schools and give them a broad experience in the company that then leads them into an executive career with T-Mobile. So let's turn now to the interview with Adam Maddock.
David: 01:56 Adam, thanks for being with us.
Adam: 01:59 Hey David, happy to be here.
David: 02:01 To start, would you tell us what drew you into the Marines?
Adam: 02:05 Sure. As a kid in college getting involved with a lot of leadership roles in organizations that, you know, promoted and touted leadership and brotherhood and all these things, but they all rang hollow in a sense and rang just a little bit less than what I truly wanted. And as I looked for something greater than myself, as you know all kids in college - at least all idealists in college - try to do, the one thing that struck me was the Marine Corps. I found the Marine Corps by accident. I remember sitting on my bed one night. All my friends went out and I think it was a Friday or Saturday night and I was home. I was just wasn't feeling it. And I remember seeing an interview on TV. It was two kids, really kids that are like my age, Marines that were just coming back from combat in Iraq or from a battle in Iraq.
Adam: 03:10 It was an African American kid from New York and a white kid from Texas who by all intents of accounts, would never have met each other in their lives. Whether it's socioeconomic or just geography they never would have met each other. And the reporter asked something to the degree of, "why do you do the things you do? Why, do you protect each other?" And one of the guys looked at each other and just said, you know he do the same for me. And in that moment I was like, I knew that I wanted to lead people like that. And not wanting to be a part of civilization that brings people together and puts you in a mindset where you would say that for someone because you know, they would say the same thing for you. When you do extraordinary things and you have ordinary people doing extraordinary things because of that mindset. From from that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a Marine officer and to lead men and women to do extraordinary things. And that started me down a path of searching out and seeking out how to best do that, how to be a Marine officer.
David: 04:14 So Adam, I have never served in the military, so pardon me if I get some of my terms wrong here. But as I understand your bio, you spent nine months deployment on the ground in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan as an artillery firing officer; and you oversaw about 130 Marines. And so my question is, when you think about leadership, what lessons did you learn from the battlefield and how does a battlefield environment differ from say, a military environment where you're at a base not in combat?
Adam: 04:54 Yeah, it's a great question and the reality is the only reason you're successful in a combat environment is from what you do prior to being in a combat environment.
David: 05:06 Interesting.
Adam: 05:06 My favorite quote that I use to this day is that people don't rise to the occasion, they fall to their level of training.
David: 05:15 Ah, interesting.
Adam: 05:18 Yeah, it's something that we took to heart and I don't remember where I heard it. At some point I think one of my leaders, or one of my peers, said it. And the Marine Corps, you know, one of the differences between the Marine Corps and the other services is that we don't have a ton of funding. We don't have planes like the Air Force, or ships like the Navy, or a lot of the equipment like the Army, just based on funding.
Adam: 05:42 So we only win because of our people. And the people are the heaviest investment that we make. And part of being a leader in the Marines is how do you have super tough, super realistic training at home, so when you get into a combat environment, it's almost second nature. You know, it's almost, you're reacting to your training instead of rising to the occasion. And so to me, that lesson has carried through and permeated all aspects of my life post Marine Corps. You know, before you get into the "action" how are you preparing for it? How are you training? How are you preparing your people? How are you training your people to be successful and setting them up? And at the same time, when you're in a combat environment, the trust that is built through adversity is second to none. You cannot replicate that, and it's such a fascinating experience.
Adam: 06:41 And people, you know, people say that that's not unique to the military or the Marine Corps or combat. When they're stuck in a natural disaster. Or pilots when they have to do emergency landings and teams come together, like adversity or even like group projects in a smaller scale in a business. When you go through adversity, shared adversity at all levels, it really challenges people. It brings teams together in ways that you cannot simulate in any sort of training. And that part is uniquely powerful. That differs of course, you know, with whatever environment you're in from a combat environment to a training to, you know, a business. But being able to work through and have shared adversity as an incredible equalizer and an incredible trust builder.
David: 07:31 So it's interesting to me, Adam, that you know, you spent over six years in the Marines, a portion of that you are literally overseeing mortar shells, you know, flying miles downrange from you that if they're on target they're going to be effective and if not, there are going to be devastating consequences for a lot of people. And then you transitioned from that role to then being in your White House role. And so how do you see your training having served you in such a different environment like the White House?
Adam: 08:12 Yeah, the role that you're referring to at the White House was unbelievable; a humbling experience. And it was part of a broader role as the Marine Corps honor guard, if you will, stationed in Washington DC at Eighth and I street in DC. Unbelievable experience to be able to represent the Marines that served in combat the Marines that lost their lives or [were] injured across all generations. To be able to honor them at the Marine barracks in DC and perform that function. And then part of that ancillary duty was to be selected as one of the White House social aids for President Obama and the First Lady. And really the leadership challenge in that regard was no longer am I leading Marines in that case I'm leading peers. Each service has their own selection and we're all the same rank and we're all a vast degree of experiences.
Adam: 09:08 But none of that really matters at that point. You know, you're expected to lead your peers through influence and expected to lead your peers through, you know, your work. I think a lot of the times it's a crutch to rely on rank. And then you see a lot of people identify themselves as leaders who really just lead based on their rank and it's not really leadership. So that exposes that at the White House. You're all captains, so you're all leading each other to the same goal. At the same time, you often have to lead up as well in that role. Like you're leading people outside the military hierarchy. And you're leading civilian staff either the Obama's staff or the White House staff and you'd have to advise and lead up as well. Which was uniquely interesting.
Adam: 09:55 And I think what really prepared me for that role is, and the White House is a hectic place, it is controlled chaos at best and it's a well oiled machine; at least when I was there. And, it is chaotic and it's easy to get frustrated and, you know, working through the President's ever changing schedule, which goes down to the second, which is just wild to say the least, but, where I was uniquely prepared for that, you know, coming from multiple deployment roles was that sort of adversity and frustration was, this part is easy. You know, this was an easy part. Based on just the tough realistic training we go through. And then the realization of that training in a combat role. This stuff was, you know, looking at the grand scheme of things, this is a wonderful thing. I'll take this adversity and frustration any day.
Adam: 10:51 And so that prepared me to then lead my peers in that regard. "Calm is contagious." It's a mantra I say a lot and try to act on a lot. If you're calm as a leader people see that and people follow that. And it's a very contagious reaction. And the flip side, if you're not calm that is also very contagious; almost probably more so. And so being able to be that calm in that setting, spreads, and you get to deescalate potentially very frustrating situations. Which you know, also can be incredibly impactful at a national level, at a global level. Because you're in situations with global leaders, politicians and heads of state that are at the White House and you're there representing the best of what our nation has to offer. And potentially have some global impacts. But to be able to have that calm, reassuring nature was helpful for me?
David: 11:45 So, I hadn't thought about this before you talking, but I would imagine that being in the White House you're surrounded by a lot of people with, you know, some pretty serious egos. And I'm not referring to the actual President or First Lady there. I'm talking about the staff. I mean, you know, a lot of these folks are very accomplished people themselves. And I'm wondering what are your observations about trying to work with colleagues in a place like the White House where you have a lot of people who are quite used to getting what they want when they want it?
Speaker 2: 12:25 Yeah. You know, I would say the ego game there was, you could tell it was high. Fortunately, I didn't have to, on a firsthand basis, deal with that a lot. And again, it's all about the relationships you built. Like the relationships you build with those, you know there are key players and then you work with a lot, that's big, and that's huge. And really like just seeing how politicians interact with each other and seeing how the different staffs where, you know, there are egos who interact with one another, taught me a lot about what it means to build trust. And you know, part of the reason we don't like politicians in general is that we don't trust them and they don't align, they try to align with us rationally about things they feel about policy and all these things. They say what we want to hear, but we don't trust them emotionally.
David: 13:15 Sure.
Adam: 13:16 You know, they don't hit us on that emotional level where you feel in your gut where you just trust them. You know, you feel it, you know, in that old part of your brain, that lizard part of your brain, that limbic part where you just, you don't have words for it, you just trust them. We don't feel that with politics. And I could feel that in the White House for sure. And learning that and seeing that and being okay, I don't want to be like this, you know, helped a lot too. To see what not to do is oftentimes a great learning experience as well. And for me staying above the fray and never engaging in that sort of ego battle, it was awesome.
Adam: 13:47 And I think what really showed this and clarified this for me was President Obama. My role is not a political role, which I loved. I'm not a very political person and especially in the military, the military is not a political branch. And being able to observe him and how he stayed above the fray in a place that was full of egos, at least inwardly, was fascinating. And you know what I learned from him, specifically, is that you're the President of United States, that's the biggest title you can ever have, the leader of the free world.
David: 14:21 Sure.
Adam: 14:21 And he would make the effort, and almost effortless effort, to greet everyone he met. He had the innate capacity to remember names and details and dates and people's kids names. And he would stop and greet staff along the way along the routes we would walk around. He would shake people's hand, he would know things about them, the capacity for memory it was unbelievable. And it really brought home to me that, okay, this is someone with a great title. He doesn't need to also carry a big stick. You know, the title he has carries a lot of weight. So it doesn't have to have that bravado that comes with it because the title brings that with you.
David: 15:07 Hmmm.
Adam: 15:07 And it was very disarming to be able to have that empathy. And to be able to have that relationship building that he had brought with him along with that gravitas of the title. And it was a humbling experience just to be in his presence for that. And that's something, you know, I look back at my time in the Marine Corps before that and have definitely looked forward to my time as a civilian, and you know, whatever title I have carries a lot of weight, so I don't need to have that extra oomph behind it. I can flex some of those other critical muscles like empathy, and relate, and relationship building along with that. And that was a huge learning point for me and something I'll never forget.
David: 15:47 That's an interesting point. I hadn't thought about the way in which someone's title enables them to be able to move in a room or in a sphere with a lot more ease. And not needing to, you know, make their own way by their persona or their interactions. An excellent point there, Adam. When you think back to rounding out your military time and looking forward, you pursued an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Most listeners will recognize that as being one of the very best business schools in North America. So congratulations on being a Kellogg Grad.
Adam: 16:30 Thank you; appreciate it.
David: 16:32 And, you told me that you were very intentional about looking for your next step and you looked at a variety of different options and you landed in this very interesting program with the communications company T-Mobile, that is, as I understand it, basically, their executive development program. And, if I have it right, they take the best and the brightest out of business schools. They give them a significant amount of front line experience in all aspects of the business, hoping that they ultimately launch several really good executives for the company. Is that an accurate representation of the program and what would you add to that?
Adam: 17:19 Yeah, I think that's pretty accurate. And it's the goal is to create the next generation of leaders from outside the company. You know, when I started this journey, I knew nothing about T-Mobile. It's a fascinating company with an incredible internal hiring rate. And so as they've grown and become a serious threat to the AT&T and Verizons of the world, they realize they need to bring in outside talent as well. But they value so greatly that homegrown frontline experience, most of their executives and most of their senior leadership team is from [within] the company. [They} started off as frontline sales reps, or in customer care taking phone calls and grew within the company. And so they value that. You know, they put a high premium on experience and a high premium on being able to relate to the frontline.
Adam: 18:07 And I fell in love with that almost immediately because that's what exactly the Marine Corp values. You know, how can you make decisions at a level but understand the impact it has on the individual Marine. It's the same mindset here. Which is awesome. And the best part about is that they understand that what's best for the front line is oftentimes what's best for the customer, which is what's best for the company's overall health. You know, so those things align. You don't see that in a lot of companies, at least in action, you see it in talk.
David: 18:36 Sure. You know, when I talk with people it's always interesting what themes and words they gravitate to when they're answering questions. And you know, Adam, thus far you've talked about being drawn to the Marine Corps via kind of the brotherhood, sisterhood, sort of extraordinary bonding across difference, that you saw. And then you talked about trust building on the battlefield and trust building in other aspects of military life. And then as we moved to the conversation about the White House, you talked about the importance of being calm and how that's contagious and the role of ego, or lack thereof, in terms of interacting with other people. As you kind of bring that together, in your experience on the ground at T-Mobile, in what ways do you see those leadership lessons translating to a T-Mobile situation? And in what ways do you see real distinctions between different contexts?
Adam: 19:40 Yeah, absolutely, that's something I have had some introspection on recently as well as thinking about my journey and tying it all together. The reality is that the lesson, the core function of leadership, is the same. In terms of across all industry, across all job titles, military or not military, for everyone. And I'm a huge Simon Sinek fan. I've been drawn to him from very early on. He's gravitated towards the military, specifically the Marines, and has drawn a lot of his lessons from that. And what I've really drawn from him is the biological nature of leadership. You know, it's from earliest evolutionary stages of how we formed into social animals and banded together. And, you know, the only way that that social structure worked was through trust. And, I could trust that I'm going to go to sleep and you're going to wake me when there's danger or not bash me in the head with a rock. You know, that's how we formed and survived.
Adam: 20:43 Like we weren't the fastest. We weren't the strongest. We weren't the smartest at that time. We formed together socially. And that only works because of trust. And leaders were born, this hierarchy was born, because we were bigger, faster, like the leader became that figurehead because they're bigger, faster and stronger. The group was okay putting him on a pedestal. As long as they kept that social contract of, "okay, when danger comes, you're going to be the first to protect us." And that social contract permeates to this day. You know, back then the danger was Saber Toothed Tigers or other tribes on the battlefield, it's very literal danger. And in the business world, it's layoffs or competitors entering the market, or a bad performance review. All these dangers that we see, it's like you as a leader, what are you doing to keep your tribe safe?
Adam: 21:32 And what I've learned very, very clearly and very viscerally is that if you prepare and keep your tribe safe and your people safe, and they have a feeling of safety, that they will do anything for you. They will advance your vision. They will stay late. They will sacrifice time from things that they normally love to do to enhance your vision and push it forward. And it's been an unbelievable learning experience to be able to see that both, like you mentioned before, you know in combat and in noncombat roles and then here in the civilian world at a place like T-Mobile; it has been amazing. And safety means different things, you know, it doesn't just mean coddling and hugs and kisses. It means tough, accurate, tough, realistic training. It means giving people new ways of thinking, not just new ideas. You know, teaching them how to look at situations differently, discipline when necessary.
Adam: 22:27 You know, and it's like all these things. Like safety to me is, and one thing Simon says a lot all the time, being a leader is like being a parent. You want more for your kids and you want more for your staff just like more than you could do yourself. You want to give them opportunities that you didn't have. You want to prepare them for things that maybe you weren't prepared for. You need to discipline them when necessary. Reward them when they do good things. And all to give them, you know, a better chance than you had. And it's really no different as a leader here at T-Mobile or anywhere else. And that to me has been a fascinating learning experience and one that, I know permeates through all levels of business or leadership titles, or if you lead 3 people or 3000, it doesn't matter.
David: 23:11 That's such good advice. Thank you Adam. So you know, I hear you say again and again that relational trust, that connection with people, to be able to build that rapport has been one of the key elements that has carried you. Whether we're talking about lobbing shells in the Helmand Province or whether we're talking about the White House or T-Mobile, that's a common strand. Is there anything else you want to add for our listeners in terms of insight into leadership or trust building that you've recognized?
Adam: 23:44 Yeah, really, I think that the biggest piece to my success, and from early on, stepping in front of of a new platoon, you know, I'm a college Grad, I went to officer candidate school, became a Marine Corps officer. And then you step in front of a group of people that maybe have three or four deployments under their belt, didn't go to college and all they see is a new officer, new leader, super green, [who is] going to do things by the book. You know, all the stereotypical things you can think of a new officer. And it's how do you show them the value you can have? How do you show them that you're going to keep them safe? You know, how do you show them things that they don't even know that they need yet? But they absolutely do need. Like that sense of safety and a sense of belonging. That sense of identity.
Adam: 24:25 And to me that the biggest and the easiest thing to do, which is also the hardest, is just to be where they are. You know, be where your people are, sharing that adversity. And that's when it's something that's hard for a lot of leaders to do, mainly based on ego and mainly based on what they think their job title entitles them to do. One of the biggest myths I squash is that people think when they get promoted that that means they work less. When you get promoted to your level of responsibility, your level of workload should be increased.
David: 24:56 Sure.
Adam: 24:57 That's just the burden of leadership. And it's a great burden. That's one you should welcome. And like, I remember my first days as a green new lieutenant in front of my Marines, I did everything they did. I went down to the motor pool and washed cars and went down and cleaned weapons in the armory and got up early to go PT with them. And so they could see that my title meant nothing compared to what I thought they needed. And I needed to know the adversity they go through and the struggle. Because, how can I make a decision that potentially puts their lives in danger if I'm not willing to do something that they would do?
Adam: 25:31 And it goes to the same thing, that translates perfectly here at T-Mobile. You know my rotation here at the frontline Customer Care Center in Oregon is one of, there's 850 frontline employees that take calls from all of T-Mobile's customers up and down the West Coast. How do I relate to them? You know, by [being] in their communities or I'm in their teams. I sit next to them while they're on calls. And I stay late and I close with them at 9:00. Or I'm up here early at 6:50 when they get here. You know, ingratiate yourself with people in going through the adversity they go through. A leader at any level, (1) buys you almost immediate trust. And (2), it allows you to make decisions based on exactly what they need and not what you think they need.
David: 26:12 Hmm. That's such a good reminder.
Adam: 26:14 Yeah, definitely; so that's that.
David: 26:18 Adam, thank you so much for being with us. It's been fantastic to hear about your different experiences and just the critical element of trust in leadership.
Adam: 26:28 Absolutely. Yeah, it was a fun little path down memory lane here. I appreciate you.
David: 26:34 Thanks.
Adam: 26:35 You got it.
David: 26:37 That was our interview with Adam Maddock. I learned a lot about trust. About how trust plays a role in military operations, whether you're in combat lobbing artillery or whether you're on the ground in a call center somewhere, sitting side-by-side someone doing their job. So thank you Adam for your wisdom and expertise and [for] teaching us more about trust in leadership.
David: 27:01 If you liked this show, dislike this show, [or] want to hear other things, please contact me and let me know. You can do so by clicking the contact us button at the top of the Groler website page. I'd love to interact with you. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the show; your perspectives and find out how I can serve you better.
David: 27:20 If you're new to the podcast you can find out more about Groler at our website. That's G R O L E R dot com. On the website, you'll find show notes for this episode along with the full transcript and an array of other episodes that you may benefit from engaging. You may want to consider subscribing to our show. You can do so via the iTunes store or via your particular podcast App. And you can also be assured that you will never miss a new episode by subscribing to our mailing list at the Groler website. Groler exists to help leaders learn and grow. So keep learning, keep growing, keep leading. Until next time, I'm David Worley.