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Sabato, 08 Maggio 2021
Intervista a Mr. Hotchner, già membro CIA, e a Ms. Manning - seconda parte

Intervista a Mr. Hotchner, già membro CIA, e a Ms. Manning - seconda parte

MARZO 2021

AFCEA Capitolo di Roma è lieta di poter pubblicare la seconda parte dell'intervista a Mr Hotchner, già membro della CIA, e a Ms Manning. La prima parte è stata pubblicata a novembre 2020.

Di seguito, la seconda parte dell'intervista:

Rick, in the first part of this interview, you talked about the counter-ideology component of counterterrorism, and your approach to leading officers and teams working the counterterrorism mission. Could you give us a sense of how your leadership philosophy worked in practice?

Sure. As I said earlier, my starting point was to get to know those I had the honor to lead as people as well as officers, and to share with them my belief in the philosophy of servant and inclusive leadership, and my desire to support, enable and empower them. My purpose was to establish a foundation where they felt known, understood and valued, as well as comfortable with me and my leadership style.

I used staff meetings and one-on-one meetings, both scheduled and impromptu, to advance that purpose. In addition to having an open-door policy, I engaged in what we called “management by walking around.” In other words, rather than staying in my office and making people come to me, I walked around, stopped by their desks, and engaged them, asking about what they were working on, how they and their families were doing, if they had had a good weekend, etc. I also looked for opportunities to engage members of my team on an ad hoc basis (e.g. on the way to or from the cafeteria, walking to our cars after work).

I asked for, welcomed and considered input on decisions that I had to make, and also upward feedback on how I was doing. I encouraged everyone to contribute their ideas and perspectives, actively drawing out individuals who might be reticent to speak up. When I made decisions, especially when they differed from the recommendations that I had received from those I was leading, I explained to them why I made the decision that I did, and I took responsibility for it no matter how it turned out.

As I became more senior and led increasingly large organizations, I actively used the chain of command to communicate with everyone in the organization and give them opportunities to communicate with me.
In these ways and others, I sought to create an inclusive team culture that encouraged everyone, whatever their background and outlook, to feel valued and to be fully engaged, and to speak up and contribute, as they worked individually and together to bring about mission success, take care of themselves, and take care of each other. This approach was not only important for ensuring good morale, but it also enabled us to consider more perspectives, with which we could cover each other’s blind spots, identify more ideas and potential courses of action, and avoid pitfalls. Ultimately, all of this served to maximize mission success.

What soft skills did you need to be a successful leader at the Agency?

Successfully employing the servant and inclusive leadership approaches is about focusing on people, so they can focus on the work and perform at a high level, even in the most demanding circumstances and for extended periods of time. As a result, there are a number of soft skills that are crucial to success. The following ones overlap and are mutually reinforcing:

  • emotional intelligence;
  • empathy;
  • interpersonal skills;
  • communication skills, the most important of which is active listening;
  • leadership skills;
  • the ability to promote an inclusive work environment that values all personnel and diversity of thought;
  • the ability to be resilient in the face of failure and/or adversity;
  • conflict-resolution skills;
  • and the ability to hold effective difficult conversations.

Can you give us a few anecdotes of how you leveraged them?

I can think of multiple difficult conversations that required me to draw upon a number of the soft skills I mentioned. In one case, there was an individual who was causing serious conflict in the office. Other examples were officers who were upset, because they didn’t get a job or promotion they expected. Another time, an officer was struggling in one career track and considering whether to switch to another one.

In all of these instances, I let the officer talk and, as necessary, express their emotions for as long as they needed. I listened non-judgmentally and carefully, so as to ascertain from where they were coming and the essence of what was at issue. I tried to be understanding and supportive. I asked questions, designed to get them to talk about what they thought would be the best way forward. I shared my own thoughts as well. Where necessary (e.g. with the officer who was causing serious conflict in the office), I was also clear about my expectations.

On another occasion, there were two officers who were having differences. Each of them came to me independently multiple times, trying to get me to decide in their favor. As a result, I organized a meeting where the two of them would talk through their differences with me present. I told them that, if they could not find mutually acceptable resolutions on their own, I would decide, and they might not like my decisions. In that case, with me present and, therefore, them on their best behavior, they had a constructive and productive discussion, and did find mutually acceptable resolutions.

Finally, I have an example of the positive results a leader can bring about when s/he creates an inclusive work culture. In this instance, we had about 35 people in a room – with several very senior officers present -- trying to decide whether to proceed with a particular high-risk endeavor. After an hour or so, we had all but reached a consensus that we were going to press ahead. Before that decision was final, though, the most senior officer asked once more if anyone had any objections. At that point, the most junior person in the room spoke up, expressing reservations and explaining why she was concerned. After further discussion, we decided not to proceed and it turned out to be a good thing we didn’t. If we had not had a culture of inclusion, where everyone – no matter their rank, demographic or outlook – not only felt like they could speak up, but that it was their responsibility to do so, knowing they would be heard, that officer might not have uncovered the blind spot the rest of us had, and we might have made a big mistake.

Abigail, as known, the world for almost 12 months has been almost totally absorbed by the fight against the Coronavirus: an emergency that, in addition to the devastating impact in terms of human lives, disintegration of health systems and impoverishment of the socio-economic fabric, has potential psychological consequences of varying intensity on almost all human beings. In your professional experience, you have dealt with people affected by PTS (Post-Traumatic Stress), especially soldiers returning from the front, following devastating experiences concentrated in a few months.
Could we talk, also for the pandemic and its consequences, about PTS? And how is it possible to cope with such an extensive, deep discomfort that, from the beginning of 2020 until today, still does not see a reassuring light at the end of the tunnel?

It has been a very challenging 12 consecutive months that has created huge psychological consequences for people around the globe. Stress from extended isolation from friends, family and colleagues, emotional fear, increased self-doubt and depression, rise in addictions, worry or loss of financial security, physical health decline from not engaging in nature and exercising, overwhelmed working parents teaching kids from home, grief from loved ones fighting Covid and losing those who did not beat it. The list goes on and on. All of these Covid outcomes have some level of trauma woven into each of us.
Trauma is a relative word based on each individual’s life experience. There is a spectrum of trauma from small to medium to big. Trauma can be a one-time event or repeated experiences. Trauma can include an embarrassing situation at work, conflict with a loved one, being in a car crash, losing a parent at a young age, growing up hungry in poverty, chronic health problems, a miscarriage, witnessing a friend getting shot, a natural tragedy created by flood/fire/tornado, being homeless, losing a military battle buddy in war or later to suicide, childhood abuse, domestic violence, living with someone with an addiction problem, being assaulted/raped/sexually harassed, bullied as a kid, being jilted and stood-up at the altar, a terrorist act like 9/11.
We’ve all been through some type of trauma. We all have an emotional threshold to what we can handle. And when trauma builds upon trauma, the resilience bandwidth gets shortened until one day, when no one thinks they could or would…they snap.
The key to remember is, current trauma events can trigger past trauma experiences.
Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) is when you are stuck in the trauma-triggering state. I know…I’ve been there. And it is awful. I believe PTS is a natural reaction to unnatural levels of trauma. There can be no shame, blame or judgment around it. What is no big deal to one person might be a huge fall in the pit of PTS for another. A lot depends on how many layers of trauma a person has experienced in their life and … here’s the light at the end of the tunnel … what work they have done to address each and every layer of trauma and to strengthen their life skills. Based on my personal experiences and academic education, I built a curriculum called “Purple Threads” around recognizing and unraveling past trauma. There is always a way to climb out of the dark pit and not just cope but to authentically live happily. We all deserve to be in the light of a bright new day and there are lots of paths and modalities to get there. Hope. Help. Happiness. That’s the path.

In light of the picture defined with the previous question, we imagine that the effects of this situation are already, at least partially, visible in your daily work in training.
From your experience, and taking into account a picture that is unfortunately constantly evolving and may differ according to specific realities, is it already possible to define and identify post-pandemic behavioral categories for different types of individuals, especially in the professional field, and where the answer is affirmative, what are the approaches adopted in this regard?

I believe post-pandemic unhealthy behaviors are or will be the same as pre-pandemic but as we predicted, are greatly heightened. Lockdowns, isolation, facial communication cues hidden behind masks and increased overall stress and fear have significantly impacted our emotional wellbeing. The good news is because of the pandemic, we are much more aware that our emotions, mental health and level of life stessors directly impact our behaviors and wellbeing.
Covid has been a global experience which can unite us in a mission to create healthier lives and deeper relationships. I believe people are people regardless of where in the world we live or the education and job we have. We crave for emotional belonging, acceptance and love, a purposeful job or mission in life, and for our physical safety and needs to be met. These human needs are being threatened in reality or in our thinking with fear looming around the corner.
There is a pattern to trauma outcomes. I call it the “Adverse Spiral.” Think of a spiral staircase going down. Starting at the top, there is stress, unworthiness, depression, addiction, cycles of abuse, PTS and at the very bottom is suicide. The first step we tend to ignore. Really, who ISN’T stressed these days?! So, we easily and without noticing slide down. Then, the Purple Threads come out in our thinking and believing of limiting Personal Thoughts and we start to feel unworthy, which from my work shows up as “not good enough.” No one wants to feel they aren’t good enough, so they don’t tell anyone for fear others will confirm their unworthiness and so they slide down the next step to depression. No one wants to feel depressed, so they start an addiction to feel something positive (lively after wine, gambling or risky behavior of driving a motorcycle too fast) or numb out and feel less (drugs, tv binging). The slipping and falling down the next step continue. But the great news is it’s a staircase which means it can be climbed back up!
I teach people how to create a deep self-awareness of your brain and body which is giving us warning signs all the time. With that insight, then how to communicate with others to get the help, support and life skills you need and deserve to move up to the top. A big key is removing shame, blame, judgment and isolation both externally from others and even harder, the farther you go down the Adverse Spiral, people hear their internal voice of shame, blame, judgment and self-isolation. The really amazing part is preventing the Adverse Spiral and creating healthy behaviors is 100% teachable! You ask about the professional world, they have the power to make awareness of this pattern, support mental health life skills and teach soft skills within their organization. It’s my goal to keep that driving forward because in my experience, I witness employees then telling their spouse, their children, their friends and their neighbors about how to prevent the Adverse Spiral and have thriving lives. That’s how we help the world heal faster and stay stronger.

In our previous interview, we mentioned the soft skill concept, which is strictly connected to the hard power dimension. This is true in politics and economics, both at a domestic and international level; soft and hard power are used by world powers to influence geopolitical assets and scenarios. However, coming to a smaller dimension, each of us in our daily lives combines soft skills and "hard" power.
Can you give us your overview on how these two concepts are combined in social life and how these toolboxes are used in your professional activity, especially in working with national security agencies?

My amazing colleague and co-instructor Rick Hotchner can answer questions that are way above my pay grade, including those pertaining to geopolitical assets! Most simply put, soft skills are the necessary skills to know yourself and know and relate well to others. For all of our clients, including national security agencies, we help people learn how to not react to situations, because that means they are being guided and manipulated by their personal triggers and past traumas. We teach individuals and teams to be purposeful and how to respond with self-regulation, emotional intelligence, excellent communication skills, and leadership that’s effective, engaging and empowering. The tools we teach are professional and personal skills, because whatever job we have, we will always take ourselves into that role and at the end of the day or the end of the career, we will always take ourselves back home. Life is often very hard and without the right skills, it’s even harder. I believe we all want to live a great journey of passion, purpose and promise for the future and for me, that’s possible with soft skills for hard power.