This week’s show features Col. Thomas Williams. He’s a Ph.D. with the Medical Crops of the US Army War College. He’s the Director of Leadership Feedback program, which is similar to the organization and leadership development programs in corporate America.
Dr. Cathy Greenbreg: Col. Williams is a terrific gentleman with an impeccable record in the military and impeccable publications in the areas of health and wellness in developing leaders for the US Army War College. Today we are going to explore the leadership traits that are necessary for success in today’s VUCA environment. “V” meaning Volatile, “U” meaning Uncertain, “C” meaning Chaotic, and “A” meaning ambiguous. The military uses the terms VUCA environments to describe those environments in a theater of war that are, well, perhaps a little bit more uncertain than we usually understand them to be.
As we know, often in today’s organization environments, we walk in to an environment daily that is changing and often we are uncertain about what is going on in business, and so the term VUCA can be applied to both a theater of war or a theater of business.
He’s been with the US Army War College, which is one of the nation’s most prestigious institutes of its kind to develop leaders for VUCA environments for quite some time. He is the Medical Service Crops Director serving the Army Physical Fitness Research Institute, and he’s also the Director of the Leadership Feedback Program of the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. What that means is that he’s responsible for all of the health, wellness, psychological, emotional, and physical well-being of any officers who were brought into the US Army War College.
He’s formerly the Chair of the Department of Psychology, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., and subsequently served as the Command Psychologist in the 902nd Military Intelligence Group in Fort Mean, Maryland, supporting strategic counter-intelligence and counter-espionage programs world-wide. I cannot emphasize enough the world-wide part.
Col. Williams consulted to the CIA’s Damage Assessment team of former FBI agents and convicted spy Robert Hanson, and he has supported Special Operations command including Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Often, I will email Dr. Williams and I will ask him if he would like to participate with me in many different venues and sometimes I get a message right back telling me his somewhere in the world doing something that I don’t want to know about, or he doesn’t respond for weeks at a time, and then he’ll come back and say that he was unable to respond until he was back on US soil.
This is a gentleman who often will disappear and reappear for the purposes of serving the US government leaders, and most importantly the health and well-being of our future military.
Tom, tell us a little bit about yourself and who may have influenced you as a leader?
Col. Thomas Williams: I’m very happy to join you today. A little bit about myself: I’m a Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist who is a graduate of the Army War College, and was put in this position primarily because it was required for someone who could focus on helping to motivate and help War College students develop self-awareness with regard to that complex interplay between leadership, health and fitness.
I can tell you, it’s an easy one to ask who may have influenced me in the past as a leader, and it had to begin with my very first influence with a Sr. enlisted who was my first platoon leader and Vietnam Vet who exemplified how to take care of those with whom you are a leader of. I walked up to him as a young second Lieutenant and told him I knew what I needed to know from the books, but I needed to know about people and what he could teach me, he smiled and put his arm around me and said, sir, I’m going to take care of you, and he did. He inspired me to become a better leader.
The other strategic influence was a Major General that I worked with, was a true visionary who, when he was a student at the Army War College in ’67, went to Israel and post-conflict, studied their procedures, and then brought to the US Army the Far Forward Care Concept that basically provided a new sense of direction for the Army and how they were going to provide medical treatment. He basically was an innovator, a bold leader who could anticipate what needed to be done and then did it.
Dr. Relly Nadler: Tom, we always love hearing that from folks just about who the people are that influence you, because I think we all incorporate some of that. I am sure you have with your leadership style.
How did you become the Army’s executive in charge of leadership health and wellness? What was the track that led you there?
Col. Thomas Williams: Well, as often is the case, in the Army you are given many different challenges. Probably the one impetus that brought me to this position was the fact that I was an Army War College graduate and was a clinical psychologist. The position at the War College had been without a clinical psychologist for a period of time and they wanted to reenergize part of that component.
Basically, that is what brought me here and that the background that I had had working in various operational activities had allowed me to perhaps better understand some of the demands that were being placed on some of our leaders in the operational environment and a short time after getting here I actually deployed with one of our special forces units and supported them in an operational theater. In that case you get to see directly, what the stresses are on a senior leader and then try to put in place programs to help them mitigate some of those stresses and help them better prepare to meet the demands of operating in a war zone.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: We have had another commander on our show, in a prior program, Lt. Don Kester, who is head of the SWAT team on one of the largest borders here in Arizona, and he talked a lot about exercises and scenario planning, Col. Williams. Can you talk a little bit about what you might be doing to influence the outcomes that you desire in the US Army War College’s Program for Leadership?
Col. Thomas Williams: Sure. What we have is kind of a multi-component kind of program. As students come in, we offer to them, and about 90% of them volunteer to participate in a comprehensive assessment of their leadership, health, and well-being.
From that we offer them basically a maximal treadmill to determine and assess what their aerobic capacity is to endure on any kind of athletic activity. We also access their strength, their nutritional status, their flexibility, as well as monitor them for any kind of energy history that may make them more prone to injuries in the future and to access their medical history to see how those attributes or potential vulnerabilities could play a role in making them more susceptible to something in the future.
We leverage that with a 360 leadership assessment, a comprehensive leadership assessment that is based on strategic leadership attributes. With that, look at the underpinning of personality attributes using a measure that will allow us to look at 30 different facets of their personality.
With this comprehensive look, we are able to look at not only how they approach life with regard to their health and their fitness, but how they approach life with regard to their leadership and how these elements all come together to help them become a more effective leader.
Or in some cases, to help them identify where the blind spots may be that is in essence helping them to reach their full potential.
Join us for the rest of the interview. You can listen above!