Dear Bank of Prairie Village Community~
Probably to no one’s surprise, March provided fewer sunny warm days than hoped. Add the Basketball Tournament’s disappointments and it’s a relief March is behind us.
The interminable overcast March days, however, makes April’s sunny ones all the more sweet. The Prairie Village Tulip and Dogwood Trees appear heading toward full bloom.
During one of those dreary March overcast days, I attended a leadership seminar presented by a former US Navy Seal Team Officer and current business executive, J. Willink.
Mr. Willink was recommended to me by a young Lockton producer, Mr. Nick Vignatelli. I’ve watched Mr. Vignatelli mature from an All-American Rockhust High School Swimmer to an effective KU Phi Delt Rush Chairman, launch a successful Lockton career- and into fatherhood. Accordingly, I decided to heed Vignatelli’s recommendation and look up J. Willink.
I noted Mr. Willink has written several well- received books, including Extreme Ownership, The Dichotomy of Leadership, Leadership Strategy & Tactics and Discipline Equals Freedom.
More research on Mr. Willink, revealed an impressive resume. Joining the Navy as an enlisted man after high school, Willink passed the Seal Training program and served as a platoon combat radio operator in the Seal Teams.
Identified as officer material after his first four years’ operating combat radios, the Seal Teams required Willink to attend college to become a Navy Seal Officer.
Things became interesting when I discovered, at the University of San Diego, Mr. Willink, majored in English Literature with an emphasis on Shakespeare ~graduating with a 4.0.
I tired, unsuccessfully, to visualize this hyper- intensive, rock-solid, gravel-voiced Navy Commando sitting in a English Lit classroom amongst laid-back San Diego college students.
What I found fascinating was his reasoning in selecting his English Literature major. (I’m sure the Navy did not care what degree he earned as long as they could check off their Officer college degree prerequisite and promote him. Personally, I’d have found the easiest major with the least required homework.)
In response to this question, Mr. Willink stated, he majored in English Lit as he believed one of the most important attributes of a combat leader was the ability to effectively and precisely communicate one’s thoughts both verbally and in writing. The more frenetic the combat chaos, the more critical the precise wording in response. “Lives held in the balance of such effective precision.”
Sitting in my seat I did a quick calculation. This Willink guy, spent four college years majoring in English Lit, just to prepare himself for the possible day-- perhaps years off-- when he needed to give a few well-chosen, crisp, precise orders~ as machine gun bullets and rocket grenades propelled at his troops.
I admitted to myself, this seemed like very extreme preparation. I also conceded such obsessive preparation would be exactly what I’d want from my commanding officer if someone were aiming a rocket grenade at me.
A second executive in the seminar asked Willink why he focused Shakespeare. Again, his response was fascinating. Willink stated the second key combat leadership attribute was to fully understand the nature and motivation of those above and below him.
Such understanding was critical for good working relationships up and down the command chain. This understanding, in turn, requires keen human nature insight. Willink emphasized William Shakespeare as the timeless genius in understanding through the spoken word human natures’ intricacies and complexities. “From what better source can one learn?”
I sat speechless listening to this guy, looking like a professional wrestler, effortless quoting long passages from Macbeth, Henry V, and Julies Caesar underscoring Shakespeare’s unique insight. Again, I noted he took extreme preparation to a new level.
Needless to say, once given combat command Mr. Willink proved most effective. He led Navy Seal Combat Task Force Bruiser to retake the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Chris Kyle, who wrote the book American Sniper was his lead sharpshooter.
On returning to the United States, Willink took command of all West Coast Seal Training. His philosophy was to push trainees to the absolute limits of overwhelming stress and irretractable conflicting priority challenges.
In such stress filled mental states, he sought to ensure his trainees reflexively and consistently implemented a series of logical decision-making protocols and maxims in battlefield like scenarios.
I silently felt sorry for his trainees-- and what this Willink guy could do on their psyche.
I am sure trainees under Willink’s regime would happily march into any actual battlefield scenario as an alternatively to such mind grueling Willink training. (Perhaps this was his ultimate objective.)
When asked what he does to relax, Mr. Willink stated he liked to practice Martial Arts two to three hours a day. I found no surprise here. I could just see this guy hammering away some poor soul in a boxing cage. Surprisingly, Mr. Willink also mentioned surfing and guitar jamming as additional relaxation outlets.
It was perhaps the last day’s questions, having the greatest impact on me.
When asked, how he maintained his high energy level, Willink said, he persevered in the memory of the troops he did not bring back. “Constantly striving for unrequited excellence honored their memory.”
Willink then added almost as an afterthought, one quick way he energized himself, was going out of his way to make other people happy.
Willink noted whenever he felt down or sluggish, he’d find a way to authentically compliment someone not expecting it. Surprised about its impact on both the receiver and the giver he now made it his standard practice.
For example, if he went into a 7/Eleven or Quick Trip Store , he’d always make an effort to smile and engage the checkout clerk- sincerely asking him or her how they were doing and how their day was going. He does this with all the building janitors, sidewalk cleaners, bathroom custodians and anyone he feels works hard but is seldom noticed.
Willink noted how a sincere and authentic interest in someone feeling low, unnoticed or underappreciated seemingly brightens their day which, in turn, makes him feel happy and reenergized.
At this point, I sat dumbstruck. I could only imagine this Navy Commando recruiting poster Drill Sargent, marching up to the counter, looking some meek, harried checkout cashier squarely in the eye, breaking into a smile and asking if they were having a good day.
I thought back to Willink’s Shakespeare quotes on human nature, and then understood perhaps for the first time their insight. By giving of yourself-- you give to yourself. At this point I felt the seminar well worth my time and financial investment.
On the surface, this guy appears obsessive, hardnosed and wrapped tight. With bugling muscles, close cropped crewcut and rock-set jaw, Mr.Willink must initially give off the vibe of wanting to crush anyone looking crossed eyed at him. I imagine not even the most harden bar- fighting outlaw motorcycle gang member would want to get wise guy with Willink.
However, because he exudes confidence, and self- discipline, Mr. Willink need not put forth any false bravado or tough act. This in turn gives him the freedom to be authentic and genuinely offer a sincere empathetic smile without telegraphing weak or awkwardness.
I thought this an important lesson. The dreariness of March, the miserable basketball tourney, our long winter --and the Covid situation has undoubtedly taken a toll on our “smile bank”.
Our masks at first glance seemingly preclude the pre pandemic. encouraging smiles and friendly nods we so often treasured but often took for granted throughout the pedestrian day.
In our masked environs, warmly acknowledging another’s presence seems almost unnatural. Customary head nods and good afternoon smiles are now no longer practiced ~ and seemingly just another courtesy abandoned to the pandemic’s toll.
We currently walk the sidewalk, through the grocery store, and around the shopping center looking straight ahead from behind our masks~ attempting to studiously avoiding making eye contact and with only the barest nods of acknowledgment.
With the onset of the Tulip Buds and the Dogwood Flowers, lets again go forth again putting a smile under our masks as we encounter others.
We have worn the masks long enough to know if someone is smiling from beneath.
Perhaps the next passerby is needing an encouraging smile~ even if mask covered. If giving a friendly smile can reenergize and make Mr. Willink happy, imagine what it could do for you and others.
Together, lets enjoy Spring’s flowering buds, warm Southern Breezes and the reemergence of “Masked Smiles”.
Let’s bring back our pre Covid energy~one smile at time ~ and yes, let’s forget about the Basketball season behind us~ and focus on the Baseball season before us.
~Thank you for giving us this opportunity to be your bank and bankers~
“The Bank of Prairie Village ~ Home of Blue Lion Banking”~ cited March 2020 by the Kansas City Business Journal as one of the “Safest Banks in Kansas City for Your Money.”
Our Outside Deposit Drop Vault is located on the south rear side our building and underneath our jutting Blue Lion sign. ~ Now Located on newly named “Fox Lane”.
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