Leadership and Mental Conditioning

Williams, Mark J.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Today we are going to be talking about mental conditioning and dynamic human solutions. We are going to be talking with Mark J. Williams. He has a great and very unique background that I think will be exciting for us here on LDN.

Have you ever dreamed of a fearless, positive life where you are in control of what matters? I think we all have. Mark J. Williams, United States Air Force retired after 24 years of operations and intelligence experience and other US agencies. He’s been on a series of missions that have included more than 200 combat hours in the F-15 TC as a veteran of Operation Desert Shield, Operations Desert Storm and as an advisor to the Department of Justice and Homeland Security.

He now is the CEO of Dynamic Human Solutions and markets creative and innovative training programs combining mindfulness skills with resilience, situational awareness and peak performance based on his long-time passion for mastering mental fitness as key to survival and long term success of any working warrior.

We are going to bring on Mark in a moment, but I think different than the other folks, Mark has been out there on the front line having to use all of this in life and death situations. For many of our listeners, it feels like life and death from the stress we have and everything else. We’ll be able to pick Mark’s brain and about some of his programs of what actually you should do in those situations that allows you to perform in the top 10%.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I know that we are always getting questions from people about why is leadership so important and what does happiness and emotional intelligence have to do with leadership? Of course, as you both know, the US Army has invested over $145 million in the comprehensive soldier fitness program that is based on the resiliency activities and research that Martin Seligman started at University of Pennsylvania. As you all listen to Mark today, keep in mind that there are so many ways that emotional intelligence and happiness impact our lives; it is certainly worth the investment.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I’m so excited to hear what Mark has to say because he is in these life and death situations in his 200 combat hours like we talked about earlier, and to know that the Army now is on the very cutting edge of having people be mentally and emotionally fit as they are physically fit. How did you meet Mark, Cathy, and then we’ll introduce him and we can start moving forward.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well, I met Mark through a couple of different friends. This is a fascinating experience for me. Specifically TC North, who is not only a friend but my co-author for my book, Fearless Leaders: Sharpen Your Focus. I was fortunate enough to actually spend a couple of days with Mark and his team. Essentially, they put me through what most of us would know as breathing and meditation techniques to create mental conditioning. Mark is going to talk about that, and as many of our listeners know, I have been spending a lot of time with our military folks and our SWAT teams, some of FBI HRT folks who are specialists in hostage negotiation and resources. I’ve been learning a lot about this in anticipation of the book, Fearless Leaders: Sharpen Your Focus, and I’ve used myself as a guinea pig in many instances. Mark is now probably laughing hysterically because after the first day and on half or so of mental conditioning, we spent a half a day of putting me in a physically, what we might call at risk, situation with his team where I actually had to defend myself physically both verbally and literally with fighting to address the mental conditioning that they had helped me understand and to be able to recover much more quickly, to be able to recover my physical and my mental wellbeing, as a results of having that mental conditioning.

I can speak from a position of experience on how powerful this is and what a practical experience for anyone whether you are going into a business project where you need mental conditioning, or something that requires physical strength.

Before we ruin the entire show by talking about my experience with Mark, I’d love to tell you a little bit about Mark. He has been an intelligence officer ranging in experience from the tactical to the strategic level including an expert advisor to several law enforcement agencies, with the Department of Justice and Homeland Security. Mark has also served as the Operations Officer of the Pacific Air Intelligence Squadron supporting and reporting directly to the Commander in Chief. That would be of course the Pacific Air Forces.

Mark is currently very excited about his endeavor as the CEO of Dynamic Human Solutions. DHS is a training program which combines mindfulness based skills with operational experience to provide tools for developing and maintaining resilience, situational awareness, and peak performance; what a powerful combination. Mark’s long-time experience in the martial arts led him to mental fitness and mindfulness training and he can tell you about that. He is also a co-adapter of the critically acclaimed off-Broadway production, “The Man Himself,” in 2006, and “Conviction,” in 2010. As you can see we have a very gifted guest today. Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark J. Williams: Thanks Cathy.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Mark, we always like to start with finding out who have been some of your key hero’s and leaders that you have learned from.

Mark J. Williams: Well, as I look back on my life the key influence for me certainly from my youth, was my father. Really, my father put in our family and within his children the interest in growing yourself and really achieving maximum capacity that you have as a human being. Really putting yourself out there in a fearless way and trying to do as much as you can to develop yourself as much as you can, through the course of your life. That innate curiosity was a real gift that he passed along to us. He was my first and fairly my strongest influence in my life.

After that, in my Air Force career I had a really powerful mentor, his name was J.B. Kelk. JB was my flight leader during the Gulf War. He and I flew together and we had the good opportunity of being one of the first four ships that went across the border during the first night of the Iraq war. During that first night, we would like to think that it was a carefully planned and executed operation but the truth of the matter is that, yah, there was a lot of good planning in place but there was a lot of chaos. JB was such a phenomenal flight lead and he was one of the best F15 drivers in the Air Force.

The example that he set for me in terms of how high he set the bar in terms of his own expectations of his own skill set, really showed me what being a professional means. For us, that night, what it meant was as we pushed across the border that first night where the migs were wrapped up with the friendly’s—in the middle of that chaos JB got the first air-to-air kill to war. His capacity to do that in the middle of that type of situation was really a phenomenal example for me in terms of what a human being can achieve in terms of mastery.

After that I’ve been doing the martial arts so much of my life and I had one particular teacher, a master, who was a really a phenomenal guide to me. What was so amazing about this particular martial arts teacher in Akido, was the presence that he had in terms of how constantly centered he was in everything he did in life. That is actually what started opening my eyes to, hmmm, maybe there’s something that this gentleman has in terms of developing your mental capacity and having that expand across all of your life—that there is something that I can learn there. He was really my first great mentor in terms of really stepping into the mental conditioning.

Then on the heal of that there’s a great military thinker that’s called John Boyd, who developed something called the OODA Loop, which stands for Observe – Orient – Decide – Act. His thinking really tied together for me a lot of the questions in terms of how is it that we move through the world  and why is it so important for us to have a really clear picture of things that are happening in our lives so that we can make the best choices and make the best decisions as we move.

So those four people in my life were the ones that really shaped my thinking and kind of the way that I try to move through the world, sometimes better than others, but certainly the way that I want to hold myself up to the standard that I hold myself to and the way that I try to move through the world. So it’s really those four folks.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Very powerful Mark, and your father was a military man as well?

Mark J. Williams: That’s correct. My father was a military guy and a pilot as well. I think there is something about being a pilot that when you are in the cockpit and just what is required of being in the cockpit; the attention to detail then also the commitment that is required to really be present there. That is something that my father brought into his life and that is something that he really tried inculcate in us. Yah, I really thank him for that.

Dr. Relly Nadler: It’s so admirable just the amount of focus. I know that we want to talk about that sense of focus; even for people who are listening. You have so many stresses during the day and things that can pull you away, so we can really learn from highly trained folks like Mark and his program to put to your day.

How would you define mental conditioning, Mark? Why is that skill so critical today for leaders?

Mark J. Williams: Mental conditioning is really just like we have physical conditioning to develop our bodies and fitness in the body, mental conditioning is a program that develops that same fitness but now with the mind. We talked about the pilots ability to really stay focused. A lot of us have an innate ability to stay focused but all that not withstanding, you don’t see a whole lot of programs to actually develop mental fitness. So what ends up happening, certainly for example in the old days of pilot training, was there would be a self-selection process that happens. People that had the natural ability to focus and to have what we called situational awareness which is basically the ability to build a big picture in your head that objectifies what you see in front of you so that you can track a lot of moving parts; were self-selected in the past through a training program where if you couldn’t do that you were just washed out, as we used to say in pilot training.

What the mental conditioning training does, that we have put together, is now rather than depending on whether you have the innate capacity to do that whether you were born with it, now what we actually have is a series of exercises that can develop those same levels of focus and attention and situational awareness within people. So just like you have a physical fitness program to develop, say, your quads, glutes, or your biceps or whatever it may be, now we have specific mental conditioning exercises that do a couple of things. First, they’ll help you reduce stress and the thing is if your nervous system is not in order and well regulated than your mind cannot possibly be focused and concentrated and be situationally aware.

Our exercises first help you regulate and modulate your nervous system and then on the heels of that then you’ll start developing the attention control and focus and the ability to have situational awareness.

Find out all about the programs that Mark has at Dynamic Human Solutions; listen to the complete interview above.


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