The Value of the Military Reserve Mindset

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By Dan Coughlin

Recently I had breakfast with a friend of mine named Dave Rogers.

Dave just returned from Afghanistan, serving with the United Sates Air Force Reserve. He shared with me how he enjoyed the experience serving in the war zone. “It was extremely challenging,” Dave shared, “but I was thrilled to put all of my training into practice and to dedicate intense effort towards our mission.”

For Dave, and more than a million others in the United States Military Reserve and the National Guard, they will do their job just one weekend per month, two weeks per year, and every few years they will deploy for several months at a time.

What’s remarkable is that these service members have just a few days a year to learn their job and to stay proficient in their job before deploying to war. There, they’re expected to be just as proficient at their job as someone who does the role on a full-time basis.

Dave understands how strange that may sound from the outside, for someone to excel in their job while only performing their job for a relatively short amount of time. However, Dave insists, “The model works very well.” The key, he explained, is the in-depth focus on training for those few days. Then, when serving overseas, all of that training is put into practice.

The results, Dave says, are astounding, with a part-time workforce able to maintain proficiency at their job in just a fraction of the time.

Applying this Approach to Our Work

All of us are busy in our work. We move from one thing to another and weeks, months, and years slide by. Are we better at what we’re doing today than we were five years ago? What is causing us to get better?

As I listened to Dave it struck me that the Air Force Reserve approach is a magnificent way to keep raising the performance bar. Two days a month and two weeks a year of intense learning can greatly improve anyone’s performance level in almost anything.

Imagine you want to be a better leader in your organization. Or a better collaborator, or a better guide, or a better manager, or a …

Every thirty days set aside two solid days to improve your knowledge and capability to deliver better value in that given area. Don’t do any of your normal day-to-day work. Just dedicate yourself to learning and improving in that area. Then the next month do the same thing. And the month after that and the month after that. And then for two solid weeks a year completely immerse yourself in that given topic both in terms of learning and in terms of doing.

The more I thought about what Dave was teaching me, the more excited I became. Imagine if you used this approach to become a better leader year after year for four years. And then on the fourth year you stepped into an incredibly meaningful situation for 100 days where you could apply everything you learned in those two-day and two-week learning segments on leadership.

The Value of Consistent, Focused, and Intense Learning

I think this is a great model for learning and improving performance in a significant way.

We’re all busy, too busy to focus every day on intense learning on a given topic. But we could carve out one weekend a month to really improve at something. And then we could dedicate ourselves for two weeks a year to really learning about that topic and improving our performance in that area. And then we could supplement our learning with reading and applying what we’ve learned in small situations during the rest of the year. And then we can work toward a really important 100-day project every four years. By doing so we can prepare ourselves to be able to work effectively with people who work on that topic every day on a full-time basis.


What topic do you want to commit yourself to improving at this year?

What will you do during your two days a month and two weeks a year to really improve in that area?

What will you do every four years to really apply what you’ve learned?

Go to Your Family Reunions

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From the time I was a one-year-old until I was 17 I went to family reunions every year. That was on top of attending many other family gatherings each year on both my mom’s and my dad’s side of the family.

At 18 I determined I was too cool for family reunions. Wow, that was a mistake. When my oldest child, Sarah, was born I was 36, and I decided it was time to start attending family reunions again.

I met with people whom I had no memory of meeting earlier in life. And other people I met with whom I did remember, but we hadn’t talked in twenty years. A lot happens in twenty years.

I’m now 55, and I cherish these reunions. Each year I dive into conversations with as many people as I can. They are my link to my past, present, and future.

One cousin named Angell did a very angel-like thing for me. She sent me pictures of family reunions in the 1950s through the early 2000s. I saw pictures of my dad’s parents whom I have no recollection of meeting. I saw pictures of me growing up and some of my siblings as they grew up. I saw pictures of my parents when they were in their 20s.

I engaged in conversations with cousins to understand the relationships between our parents, and how decisions that were made many decades ago affected individual lives to this day. My family is scattered across the U.S., but there are common links that help to piece together the puzzles of our lives.

Uncovering the Basis of Your Values

I define values as the beliefs you consider to be so important that they drive your decisions and behaviors on a consistent basis.

Those beliefs came from somewhere. They didn’t just bubble up one day and take over your life. Go to your family reunions and listen to people. As you do so, you will start to see patterns of beliefs, and you will understand what helped to form you. Ask about your grandparents and their parents. Ask about your aunts and uncles. Ask why people did what they did.

Beliefs will start to emerge about the importance of family, education, physical well-being, integrity, hard work, laughter, humor, community, and what makes good choices. You might agree or disagree with the beliefs you hear, but at least you’ll understand to a certain degree where your way of thinking originated.

Go to your family weddings and funerals and reunions. Stay connected as much as you can to the network of people who influenced you and who influenced the people who influenced you. Your extended family carries within it a great deal of the beliefs that affected you in your lifetime.

Making an effort to understand that configuration of influences can really help you to become even more effective in the future. You can decide which beliefs to keep using, to stop using, and to start using. It’s like stepping into a time machine to understand what got you to where you are today and where it will take you in the future.

Plus it’s a lot of fun to relive memories from the past and make new memories for the future.