102: Col. Everett Spain, West Point’s Head of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership (transcript)

November 23, 2018 by Dani Mihaleva
in Blog, Podcast

Everett Spain

Many who serve in the military become leaders in business, politics, entrepreneurship sports and many other places. Why? What does the military teach so well in leadership? I believe that lack of effective leadership is the greatest impediment to effective environmental action. That’s why I have this podcast Leadership and the Environment. If you want to improve your leadership, this conversation will tell you all you have to do. You’ll have to listen to it many times. Implementing it may take a long time but I’m not aware of any short cuts to leadership. My guest today is Colonel Everett Spain of the U.S. Army. He’s a professor at the U.S. Military Academy, that’s West Point and he’s the head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. His background is extensive. I’ll give the highlights here but you can look them up online. He served in the HQ of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg in Iraq. He was the director of the Eisenhower Leadership Development program jointly between West Point and Columbia University. He was the commanding officer of a U.S. Army Garrison in Germany where he’s responsible for over 10000 Americans. He was at the White House before that. There’s more including winning the 82nd Airborne Division’s Best Ranger Competition. He has a doctorate of Business Administration and Management from Harvard. He has an MBA from Duke and his undergrad degree is from West Point. His many medals. He’s a master parachutist. He was awarded the Soldier’s Medal Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Action Badge, Defense Meritorious Service Medal. Many others, I don’t want to give them short shrift but you can look them up. In this conversation we will cover how to learn to lead and what West Point does that you can emulate yourself. I could go on but let’s listen to Colonel Everett Spain.


Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I’m here with Colonel Everett Spain here at West Point at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. How are you doing?

Everett: I’m doing great, Josh. Thanks for coming up today.

Joshua: And I believe we should get out of the way right off the bat. You have the official statement you have to read…

Everett: Sure, sure. I’d just like to offer in addition to thanking you for interviewing me today that the opinions that I will express in this interview are Everett’s Spain’s alone and are not endorsed by the United States Military Academy, United States army or the Department Defense. Thank you.

Joshua: OK. So we met when I was up here before with General Austin and actually you know I want to get the official name of the department here because I’m going to show off here because I written down. The Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership.

And I think when people think of my podcast they hear Leadership and the Environment, they often hear environment first and they don’t often think about leadership but I think leadership is something that’s more lacking in the area of working on the environment, of cleaning things up and restoring the purity that we once had. And I want to bring leaders to the table and you are head of this department. You have an incredible background. It’ll be linked there. But I mean you teach here at West Point. You have an MBA, a DBA from Harvard. I think that the U.S. military teaches leadership and I think it’s known as very effective at doing that. You’ve been in civilian, you’ve been in military. What’s the difference between how you teach leadership here and how it’s taught elsewhere? If that’s an easy question to answer.

Everett: Sure. No. That’s a good question, John. Thanks for asking it. I think we teach leadership with a higher frequency here and in the military. And I think when we approach it in our civilian parallel institutions whether it be schools or institutions, we basically teach the same things. The army defines leadership as “influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation to accomplish a mission and improve the organization.” That’s the official army definition of leadership. And you would see that there is nothing army-specific to that definition. So our civilian colleagues are just as capable as being leaders as we are. They are incredible leaders in many respects as well. And I don’t see there being a difference. Of course, we have a different context in which we practice it at times but it’s still about influence on others and from the Army’s perspective hopefully influence for good over others.

Joshua: I think there’s a bigger difference because I feel like there’s a lot that happens here that’s not in the classroom. And when I got my MBA, I took a lot of leadership classes there were some things in school that taught me leadership outside the classroom but I… These were extracurriculars that I chose to do.

Everett: Good point, Josh. You know West Point has, we call it the West Point Leadership Development System. We nickname it around here WPLDS, just for the acronym, West Point Leadership Development System and it has three domains of how we develop leaders here. One is we do individual leader development and that’s our four programs. We have an academic program [unintelligible] to another school or someone takes 40 academic courses to build two academic majors with the same rigor as most Tier 1 universities. We have a military program which you’re referring to and I’ll describe a little more in depth. It teaches not only military-industrial domain skills but also leadership. I’ll get to that in a second. We have a character program where we are one of the few places in the world that go after character development where we both have people practice character in tough situations and we also teach the roots of character and how it’s formed and how it’s applied and lens that you use when judging the multiple character issues and ethical issues in a particular situation. We also have a physical program which a lot of schools may touch upon but ours is pretty in depth. Of course, we need our folks to be strong, fast, resilient and for the challenges they might face. But that’s one domain of our three-domain leadership process. That’s once again individual leader development.

The second domain we do at West Point and most other schools can’t really do it which we call it leadership development. The ship means we’re after social capital. Leadership is interaction between two people one trying to influence the other. And so we have eight semesters at West Point like most schools do and we also have four summers where cadets are part of the summer stay at West Point and a training type environment. That’s a total of 12 periods and each of those 12 periods a cadet has a job and their job is from a followership role to a leadership role and in each of those jobs they are graded and given feedback on how they’re doing on influencing the cadets, their peers and the cadets underneath them and in accomplishing their mission either as a follower or as a leader. We call that leadership development because it’s giving them practice in being a follower and a leader and that feedback loop following those challenging experiences of how you did and what you could do better and which you should sustain creates kind of a virtuous cycle of the leader’s capacity growing over time.

And the third domain we do at West Point that’s pretty unique as well. We develop all this in what we call a culture of character growth and a culture of character growth as we have an honor system at West Point. It’s circles around our honor code “A cadet will not lie cheat or steal, don’t tolerate those who do.” That’s kind of a minimum standard for us. Of course, we aspire to higher things than that but that’s all for us. We have all kinds of mentorship programs, we have all kinds of ceremonies here that reinforce particular values along the cadet’s 4-year experience. We have feedback loops where every cadet gets 360-degree evaluation every six months and gets feedback on that so they’re growing and we have officers and staff volunteering outside of the classroom constantly as representatives on all the sporting teams and all the 120 cadet clubs. So there is always a role model around the cadets when they’re doing things to show what kind of a right looks like. And that culture of character growth enables both that individual leader development and the leadership development to produce what we aspire to be a leader of character in four years later which reaches three outcomes so that’s they live honorably, they lead honorably and they demonstrate excellence. West Point has more of a captured population so we can do those things with our population where other schools might not have that same amount of maybe ability. West Point is what I like to refer to as a total institution. We really can grab everyone’s attention and put it in a certain direction.

Joshua: This is really comprehensive. Has it always been this way or have you added things over time or have things changed?

Everett: I think you know West Point attracts type a kind of leaders to come back to it and minister of the academic and the military roles. The officers and the senior and CEOs and this type of folks tend to add more programs to it. So over time West Point gets more comprehensive and more comprehensive and a challenge for folks like myself and my teammates as we have to take strong looks at what we should stop doing to make sure that things we are doing were put enough effort in them to make them excellent. Because as you know a few robust levers on someone’s life makes all kinds of great change. But if you have a bunch of light levers, it can be disunifying and confusing and ineffective. So that’s one of our good challenges we have. We have probably too much going on.

Joshua: I live by “You have to say no a lot of good things to have a great life.” And so I guess the thing isn’t “Have you been adding things? but “Have you been replacing things over time?” and I guess it sounds like you’re continually doing that. Is that purely changing times or is it becoming more and more effective leadership training?

Everett: I graduated in 1992 so I was here in the late 80s – early 90s. And from my perspective West Point has improved overall during that time. There are of course certain things you look back on and say, “Hey, I wish this were the same way or this were the same way” but we seem to be much more comprehensive now. I don’t know if that’s a function of the wars and the operational deployments the army has been involved in that’s given the importance of developing leaders of character that are ready to serve in our foreign environments that are infinitely complex and infinitely significant in their political and military ramifications of even quick decisions by junior officers. But West Point has gotten a lot of attention the last 15-20 years. I think the quality of all the academic, the military, the physical and the character programs have all increased for that time.

Joshua: One of the biggest surprises that hit me when I came here before I knew that I was going to come into place with a lot of honor and patriotism surprised me when I was emailing people after. I remember emailing someone I said, “This place is more…” I was trying to think what to write so I paused and came back to it and said, “than I expected.” And I wrote the rest of the e-mail and came back and I was like, “What did I feel? I remember warm and supportive. I would have never expected that before I came here.

Everett: West Point has you know [unintelligible] these external rating agencies like USC, Alabama or MIT and one were actually really proud of when we hear it as [unintelligible] does an annual survey and West Point is always at number one or two in the most successful professors. So my son is a new cadet or just became accepted as a cadet in the [unintelligible]

Joshua: Congratulations.

Everett: Thank you. And he came up to me the other day said, “Dad, West Point’s even more.” As a cadet he was able to see us, wife and I, he said, “Hey, Dad, Mom, West Point’s even more awesome I thought it was.” And that was pretty neat to hear. It’s just a very special place.

Joshua: What can others outside West Point learn from West Point because it’s really hard on your own to put together such a comprehensive program? Of course, there’re great leaders who never go anywhere near West Point. So it can be done. What can we learn from here? Can people access this otherwise?

Everett: Great question. So West Point is built on leader development models that we think are generally successful and imperfect and we continue to try to refine and we see feedback on how we’re doing. They’re built on a couple of theoretical underpinnings. One of them is a combination of adult learning, leadership theory, organizational theory and sociology called the Leader Growth model and Leader Growth models really three Triad’s that anyone if they apply this in any context over time can genuine build someone’s leadership capacity. And those three triads in no particular order are gaining new knowledge, and some people refer to this phase as preparing to lead. And that’s where that may be some examples maybe classroom work, maybe hearing from best practices from a leader that’s been successful, reading a book about leadership. Just kind of exposing yourself to new ideas about leadership. If you’re [unintelligible] in a certain context to be learning about that context and how leadership has succeeded or failed there in the past etc. That’s new knowledge. That’s one of the triads.

The second triad is challenging experiences. So to learn new knowledge is to actually go and try to lead. Maybe you’re a section leader, maybe you’re a leader of an individual, maybe you’re a team former, the exact role doesn’t matter as long as it’s challenging and you are required to influence others to accomplish a superordinate goal. Something that you can’t accomplish on your own. You must have people working together to accomplish. And that challenging experience will have ups and downs like all leadership roles do. You learn about yourself, you learn about others, you learn how the dynamic works between you.

Joshua: I like how you said it so glibly. In practice it is grueling. I mean the times and I’ve had that… It’s like leadership lessons are hard, very emotionally challenging.

Everett: Sometimes you know the best lessons are the ones learned the hard way. So the third part of the triad is after having this challenging experience and the learnings that happened during that is reflection phase. We call it deliberate reflection. And if you can either on your own or having a coach that cares about you, guide you through some reflection on what just happened both what went well and what did not and what caused them to go well and what caused them not to and what you can learn from that before your next experience to change your own behaviors, then you’re just anchoring down those lessons learned. And then you repeat that cycle just continuously. Learn some new knowledge, prepare to lead again. And you can do these simultaneously of course, leading a challenging experience, deliberate reflection, repeat. And then a deliberate reflection phase in addition having a challenging mentor kind of walk you through that. Another thing we found that kind of hyper powers that phase is part that triad is hand writing down kind of in a diary what you learned that day, how things went, what you learned, bad and good. We don’t know all the science behind it but we understand that to be a much more powerful way than just thinking about or talking about it.

Joshua: And are the mentors handed to them? Are they professors here? Or do they have to find them on their own?

Everett: Great questions. So part of that culture of character growth at West Point one of the domains of how we develop leaders is our mentors are available to all the cadets. There get to be a little bit of a numbers problem. You know we have 4500 cadets and about 400-500 staff in faculty. You know it’s a bit of a challenge. That’s why all cadets have upper class cadets as their mentors. But the best mentors we have on average are the staff in faculty who are from all commissioning sources, most of them are deployed in combat, those that have and have extensive life experience. And we do several things. One is we have our first year, we call it a plebe sponsorship program where every one of the 1200 plebes is assigned to a staff and faculty member around our install at West Point.

Joshua: So plebes are first years.

Everett: Plebes are first years. They are freshmen. And that relationship is a formal one and they’re expected to maybe spend a day a month with that sponsor perhaps on a Saturday, coming over their house, being in a more relaxed environment, being happy to see how an officer lives their life and be able to ask questions about the profession and about ethical and moral and academic challenges they’re having. So that’s one mentorship assignment we have.

Another one we have is during their junior year. Everyone at West Point takes a course called PL300 Military Leadership. It’s one of the few academic courses on leadership in the world. It’s a three-credit hour academic course. As part of that course at the start of it each of those cadets has to go seek a mentor at West Point and then the mentor will help them with their three-guided assignments.

Joshua: You have a lot of triad’s and three’s here.

Everett: Oh, yeah. And so like before a paper on what the cadets leadership philosophy is which is the culminating assignment in the class, they’ll take that draft paper and go talk to their mentor about and say, “Hey, here’s my leadership philosophy. Can you give me some feedback on it?” And the mentor will get the feedback on it and they’ll integrate that in their paper and prove it before they turn it down. And there’s two other cycles with the same mentor. So not only does it give them good feedback on developing as an officer, it also forms a bond that usually way outlasts that class and continues after that class is over.

Joshua: Are you in touch with your mentors from when you were here?

Everett: So we didn’t have mentors, PL300 mentors when I was a cadet. This is a good example, Josh, of an improvement has happened in the last 20 years that we put that mentorship program in. Now it’s funny you mention that because my first year back I taught here when I was a captain maybe 15 years ago for three years and during that time you know we didn’t have any mentors at all in this kind of aspect. But now this program came in maybe six years ago. So when I got here as a senior faculty and I heard about the program I went to the course director and I said, “Hey”, her name is Darcy [unintelligible], she’s a lieutenant colonel, I said, “Darcy, do you realize this course implicitly tasks 600 faculty members with a mentorship assignment every semester and that’s a lot of tasking we’re doing without really asking for their permission and kind of taxing the system that much more because they’re all really busy way beyond class?”

Joshua: And none of them has a change to get away.

Everett: Generally, they won’t. And she looked at me and she said, “You’re right.” And she said, “But they’ll love it.” And she said, “Just hang on this semester and watch and you’ll see they’ll love it.” And that’s kind of a testament to what West Point is. Even though people get asked to do way more than their share as long as it’s about something directly or indirectly involved with developing leaders of character to serve our nation, they love it.


Joshua: So I feel like someone could learn leadership at a mainstream university. They could try to learn it from the streets or you know just through life and many succeed, many don’t. And I feel like at West Point you can’t get out of here without getting… You could kind of fake your way through an MBA because it’s really tough to fail out of an MBA program even if it’s one the top ones. I don’t think you could do that here. It’s like you’re going to get… The minimum is very high. Is that right?

Everett: I think our expectations of each other are calibrated pretty high. So if we think there is a lower than average performing cadet, they are still a pretty high performing human being. And once they leave West Point, even our folks that might be considered by some to be in a lower performing end by kind of their choices throughout their four years but still good enough to graduate, they usually spread their wings and fly and are really just outstanding officers is what we found.

Joshua: I think if I were listening to this, I would think that you might be like… You have such a comprehensive understanding of the comprehensive program that I thought maybe I might take your reading off of something like this but you really know this backward and forward. I mean you live this. What’s your passion behind it, if you don’t mind my asking?

Everett: Yes. So you know my grandfather was drafted in the army in World War Two and he’s from Hattiesburg, Mississippi and he stayed there his whole life after he got out of the military. But he’s a little bit older than the average army officer kind of in the upper end of what they would have ended up sending to the training sites around the country and didn’t end up overseas during that war. And he kind of ended up being my role model as a young man. I would spend summers with him when I was in high school and he would teach me woodworking. That was his craft. And I just watched him live and he was an imperfect guy but he spent a lot of time serving others. He would go around this neighborhood, kind of a gentrified neighborhood, and help all the elderly people that couldn’t take care of their house or small repairs just on his own just because he could and he was skilled. He would spend every Sunday down in the Hattiesburg city jail talking with informal relationships encouraging the inmates. And I just saw this cycle repeat itself again and again and again and very imperfectly I’ve tried to imitate him in my own life and he taught me really that to serve others is to really to be free and to live yourself. It’s not a burden. In fact, it’s a joy. And that doesn’t mean that we are completely selfish or certainly I’m not but it sure is something pretty special about public service and really in building leaders of character for our nation I couldn’t just be more delighted to be a small part of that.

Joshua: So the key word that I heard was serve and Frances Hesselbein who has been a guest here, her phrase is “To service to live.” And I think a lot of people view leadership as you know you put on blue face paint and [unintelligible] in a battle or you are the CEO that gets all the coverage. And over and over again I found that the more effective leaders that I speak to, they are always putting the other person first which I think is service. Did you know it? I mean you said you observed your grandfather. Did you discover? Did you find it? How can it become more apparent to others? I think a lot of people listening are like I want to live more.

Everett: That’s a good question. I think if we encourage people to volunteer occasionally, they’ll see that they, at least I do, that you get great joy in doing so. We all have our favorite things and our hobbies to do personally. But I think we as humans generally get great satisfaction when we see that we make some small difference in someone else’s life. And I think just by encouraging people to volunteer though if they haven’t already seen that, that comes to them very quickly when they see that a small bit of effort by them can make a huge difference in someone else’s kind of life and outlook. And I think that’s contagious.

Joshua: There’s another question on a different line. When I teach leadership and in my own personal leadership one of the big things I try to get across is that the more that you practice, the more you start developing your sensitivity to your own passions what drives you, what’s most important to you. And I have not spent time in the military so I’m not sure but I feel like ultimately, it’s you are serving the Constitution. I’m not sure. So one path it’s finding more about yourself and another it’s the Constitution is your highest value, defending it. And is there a conflict there or… Certainly the Constitution is one of them. It’s really high up there for me.

Everett: No, it’s tough. You know you really bring up what we’re trying to do at West Point. And when we go after the goals of the West Point Leadership Development System, I shared earlier we to live honorably, lead honorably and demonstrate excellence. But really those goals are rooted in the five facets of character that [unintelligible] hope and aspire that all graduates of West Point will display in abundance when they graduate. And those five facets of character are to have moral character, to have civic character, to have social character, to have performance character and have leadership character. If you don’t mind, I’ll describe those briefly.

Joshua: People listening to this can listen to it over and over again and reconstruct for themselves like how to get at West Point Leadership Training Program.

Everett: If someone can learn a little bit from West Point, even though imperfectly, he can get better at character, it’s great for our world and our nation. So the moral domain of our facet of character is things that most people are familiar with – integrity, honor, respect. You know that’s a pretty common use of the word character. The civic facet of character is things like doing more than your share is the best way to summarize it. It’s voting. It’s when you walk down the sidewalk you see a piece of trash that’s when you pick it up. It’s being a good follower when someone is trying to lead with you know and doing a reasonable job. It’s following them and helping them accomplish that goal. It’s putting other people before yourself. This is the civic portion of our facet of character.

The social facet of character is being the same person 24 hours a day. It can especially apply to our social media where it’s very easy to assume an anonymous identity and do things you wouldn’t otherwise do you know whether being involving others or yourself is just having the same character all the time and especially in how you treat other people, especially those people with no recourse for how you treat them.

The performance aspect of character is referred to a lot by sports coaches. And for example, you’ll see a coach interviewed after game and they will say, “My girls or my guys hung in there till the end and they showed great character. They never quit.” They did show great character, they showed performance character. They had grit. They had resilience. We need those traits in the military as well we need those in all civilian industries as well. But that’s performance character and its [unintelligible] to separate that from moral character. Not that they’re perfectly isolated because it’s more useful to be able to talk to them in the facets that they are.

And the last one we expect West Pointers to have is a leadership character and what that means is a West Pointer is not OK if they just take care of those four for themselves, four their assets. We expect them to be a positive influence on other people’s character and in the groups that are around them character. If someone is showing deep character flaws and it has influence on the world around them, we expect the West Pointer to intervene and do something about it and that’s why the leadership facet of character is so important for us at West Point. To have true character as an officer it means you have character and take responsibility for a larger organization as well.

Joshua: I feel like this really resonates with something I keep learning over and over again that people who do org charts, hierarchy when they draw hierarchy there’s always the top person at the top. And the more I lead, I’m imperfect as well, I always find that I have it upside down like that’s the person has to support everybody else and everyone else is above them. And you talked about the people who can least help themselves are the people that we serve the most. It seems to work pretty well to the extent I do and I forget it all the time. It seems really deeply inculcated here. You talked a lot about character and I was also thinking about vision because this podcast’s the vision is to change culture. A lot of people feel like, “I want to do something but if everyone else doesn’t, what difference does it make what I do?” which lacks meaning, lacks purpose. And do people here get to have a vision of their own beyond supporting the military? How do they develop a vision?

Everett: So in our course Military Leadership, the course we teach to all juniors, the academic course of leadership I referred to earlier we have a few lessons on assessing and changing culture. And we also have a lesson on transformational leadership. If you think about it, if you transform something, you’re really changing its culture whether it be a person or an organization. And in the transformational leadership lesson we see that there are transformational leader behaviors. And this was a [unintelligible] type theory from many years ago. Our two authors of the original theories and [unintelligible] as well contributed. But three of those are transformational leader behaviors you just referred to. So one is to develop and communicate a vision. So that’s something we teach people to do here. And we give them practice in doing it within the context of their organization. And we at West Point we have 4000 former cadets split in the 36 different groups gold companies and we pick company commanders for those groups that are seniors that they have to develop and communicate a vision for their organization there. And you’ll see them to be very different which is they do get practice and they get to develop their own vision. But this is in the context of the organization that they have.

Two other ones of those that I think are very interesting and help you change a culture that kind of reflect West Point is develop individualized consideration for your subordinates is one of the transformational leader behaviors. What that means is as much as you can and get to know each person individually because even though they meet a few levels down in the organizational chart from you there are still humans of equal value as any other human including yourself with hopes and dreams of their own and they’re beginning to know them on a personal level can help you lead them better personally and professionally. It also gives them the [unintelligible] and the respect that they know that their leader cares about them which is very true. And one that kind of goes in parallel with that show individualized consideration is to have high expectations and confidence in your followers and that’s one of the transformational behaviors as well. And I love that pairing with show individualized concern having high expectations and confidence means I expect the world of you and I know you can do it but I’m going to care deeply about you as you go forth to do it. And those two things together seem to be some magic combined with when you have the developed [unintelligible] vision and accomplishing whatever you’re trying to change to.

Joshua: So it’s really focused on the people that you are directly with, the community that you’re directly with and I guess that as the cadets move on and become officers and rise, then that group gets bigger and bigger. Well, actually the direct people they work with become also higher and higher level. I want to switch over to talk about the environment. I am not sure how much you personally interact with environmental issues here. Is there a military view on the environment or do you personally have one?

Everett: It’s interesting you know of course like I mentioned before I don’t speak for the U.S. Army or DOD at West Point on this but I had the privilege of serving as a garrison commander from 2009-2011 in Schweinfurt, Germany and what a way to describe that role is a kind of a cross between an appointed mayor and a city manager for army population of about 10000 Americans in Schweinfurt, Germany. And it was really a special time and one of my responsibilities directly was our environment and our recycling. You know an American taken to Germany is a little bit of a culture shock on just recycling because in most places in America especially that time 10 years ago all our trash went into one bin. In Germany there’s like six different bins you know and it’s a big cultural change and that’s how to think about trash recycling waste. And we had a pretty progressive political appointee in the army, assistant secretary for insulations environment at the time and she came over to Schweinfurt and encouraged us and the other insulations to go towards a net zero type…

Joshua: Ten years ago?

Everett: Ten years ago. And type culture where “Hey, we produce no waste in that.” And how do we get there and to become more energy conservation, etc. So some of things I was working on back then was, ”Hey, let’s keep our windows shut in the winter time” and creating incentives for soldiers to do that so the heat doesn’t go out the window. Keeping in place clean and giving people awards for recycling. If you did more recycling than the others, you need to recognize them and recognize that excellence. And just take care of an environment at a fundamental level by picking up things around you. We organize community clean-ups regularly and just try to show that we are stewards of what we are given and we should take good care of that and that includes both our government level and then our world level. We were given this water, we were given this energy, let’s be stewards of it.

Joshua: And you took that on yourself? It was because of the context of Germany or you might have done that anyway?

Everett: You know that’s a great question, Josh. It’s kind of like any situation there’s lots of factors coming in to influence us at the time. And you know my dad was a small businessman growing up and once we were cleaning up trash in his yard, we were asleep and I think it must have been late fall where we were raking this, sweeping this. He had two houses that were combined together formed his office so to speak and as we were cleaning this place up, I saw him walk across the street and it was kind of in a rougher neighborhood of town and the place to cross the street had like a chain-link security fence around, that kind of thing of someone’s home. And he bent over and started picking up these two piles of broken glass just on his own. And I walked over to him I said, “Hey, dad. What are you doing?” And he said, “Someone broke some beer bottles out here. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the guy that lived here.” And so, “Why are you doing it?” He goes, “Why not? Why not pick it up for my friend? It’s the right thing to do.” He picked it up, spent a few minutes cleaning it up, swept it up and then walked back over finished his yard. And that made a big impression on me that hey, we’re responsible for everything around us whether it’s officially ours or not to make a good impact. So I’ve been trying to do the same though imperfectly.

Joshua: I feel like that’s… I mean deeply in the army in West Point and especially yourself of taking responsibility, serving others, it doesn’t matter if others see you or not. It’s what you’re doing. It’s integrity.

Everett: I would I add a caveat to what you just said. It doesn’t matter if someone sees you or not with… I think we’re all subject to others’ approval including myself and that’s valuable to all of us and I think I’d be naive if I tried to frame myself otherwise. So I like to say at least for me character is a team sport. So I need friends in my life to encourage me to keep doing the right thing, hold me accountable, ask me tough questions because I also think that character is not what… We can look at character in a lot of different ways. A lot of people look at older folks and leaders as kind of having arrived at character but all you need to do is look in the news for a little bit to see a few examples of leaders in senior levels that have made poor character decisions and none of us including myself are immune from those type of things in our lives. And so I see all of us as having a character that inside of us, the magic kind of a tank inside our core that has some level of character in it. And I see myself at least, and other people maybe some, we need to fill that up and keep that inflow going because that has links and those gaps are constantly leaking. And I have to pour stuff in through friends holding me accountable myself, reading things that encourage me to have stronger character, etc. faster than it leaks out consistently so I can make sure when that stressful moment hits, I’ll do the right thing or when a tired moment hits, I’ll be able to do the right thing.

Joshua: This really fits in. I mean it’s a part of life. It’s not like a casual thing that you kind of do and because I think a lot of people look at environmental things just like, “Yeah. Environment is very important but I to get ahead.” I feel like it’s not different. It’s hard not to quote Vincent [unintelligible], “It’s not a sometimes-thing, it’s an all-the-time thing.” Well, actually so there’s something that I do on the podcast that might fit in with what you’re talking about which I ask people at their option to take on a challenge to do something by their values that they’re not already doing, ideally something environmental. And I wonder if you would be willing to take on a personal challenge. And before you say yes or no, there’s a few things that I would say. It doesn’t have to fix all the world’s problems all by itself overnight but it can’t be just knowledge or awareness. It has to be something with behavior with a measurable difference and something you’re not already doing. Oh, and you can’t be telling other people what to do. We’ve got a lot of people doing that already. So I [unintelligible], if you want to but if you are up for it… A lot of people have something in the back of their mind like, “I’ve been meaning to do X or Y?” Is this something you are willing to take on and then talk about afterward?

Everett: I always love challenges you know. So I absolutely am. I guess we just have to find something that fits.

Joshua: We go back and forth a couple of times to figure out what it might be. I mean you talked about several things, some stories from your grandfather, your father, in Germany and different things. Is there anything that comes to mind?

Everett: I think I’m in the [unintelligible] to have something that meets the criteria that you’re asking for. And I’ll ask some friends as well. I’ve got some good ones to ask.

Joshua: And one of the things I point out is that a lot of people think, “It’s got to be important or big.” One of the things I’ve learned of all the people I’ve interviewed on the podcast is that increasingly I’m seeing it more as skills that you develop rather than how important the first thing is that you do. And the best way I know to learn skills is to start practicing them and generally with small things and then you develop it and then it’s almost inevitable that when you master the skills you take on the next thing because you want to, because you want to lift heavier weights, because you want to play more challenging pieces on the piano, you want to express yourself more.

But I want to push a little bit to see if anything comes to mind because often the first thing that comes to mind is often for people something that really matters to them. And I also want to give listeners the chance to hear that it usually doesn’t come right away but it also doesn’t take that long either. And so I wonder if there’s anything around in your life that comes to mind. By the way, a lot of people think global warming is like the first thing to think of but there’s litter, there’s pollution, there’s resources, there’s… You know the person I just spoke to it’s the last person I interviewed is composting and he’s been meaning to make compost for a while and it just happened. So there’s lots of different areas that are environmental that aren’t necessarily what a lot of people think global warming because that’s what makes the news most although I think plastics is getting pretty big now too in terms of front page coverage.

Everett: What if it was something small but really measurable like bringing in a recycled water bottle every day instead of plastic water bottles?

Joshua: Yeah. Several people have done that and I’m very… How do I put it? It’s not impressed or amazed but something happens when they start putting attention to something that they didn’t put attention to before. And this all began with my avoiding food packaging. Now you said recyclable but I think you meant reusable. So that totally fits the bill. About how long do you think it would take before you did it to talk about it before you felt… Like one day is probably not enough for you to…

Everett: No, maybe a month.

Joshua: Ok. Can I talk to you in a month to hear how it goes?

Everett: That would be a treat.

Joshua: A treat. I’m glad to…. Actually, that’s something that I think a lot of people feel like changing behavior for the environment is like a burden. And I’m glad you said treat because I think hopefully people listening think, “Oh, I want a treat too.” So I’d like to close with a couple of questions. Is there anything I didn’t think to ask that is worth bringing up? And the other is anything you want to say directly to listeners that I didn’t think to bring up? Or you can combine them into one question.

Everett: Yeah. Good question. No, I don’t think so. But the listeners, I just thank you for caring about leader development and caring about the environment. Those are very special, both are very related. And you know just keep making a difference one day at a time.

Joshua: Well, Colonel Everett Spain, thank you very much.

Everett: Thank you, Josh.


You’ll find few people more calm, gracious, friendly, patient and helpful than Colonel Spain. I’d say that on a personal level but professionally too. I don’t see him separating the two in his life. Second, notice how he did what many do. Possibly you if you choose to act on your values when others don’t. It’s hard to do that sometimes but that’s what leaders do. He went from thinking and saying he couldn’t come up with anything to finding something meaningful and enjoyable and looking forward to him and feeling gratitude for it. I have no doubt that he will over-deliver on that commitment, that he’ll do more than expected, learn more than expected and find it more fun and meaningful.

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