6 Ways to Adopt a Leadership Mindset: A Conversation with Former Green Beret Scott Mann

Jan. 30, 2018 By Dave Nelson, Founder of Milestone Mind

The Green Beret Method for Building Relationships in Your Professional Life

Scott Mann is a master at building relationships in high stakes situations.
As a Green Beret in the United States Army, Scott forged bonds and solved problems using values and leadership skills, and moved people around the world to stand up for themselves.
Scott honed his problem-solving abilities during long deployments in places where trust was absent, conflict was rampant, and he had seconds to make real connections with local communities using his head, heart, and hands.
His secret? Scott was able to restore trust in places where human connections didn’t seem possible.
Now Scott teaches corporate leaders and their teams the same relationship-building techniques that drove so many of his successful combat operations. He brings his skills to company boardrooms and conference rooms, where trusted leadership is more valuable – and more vulnerable – than ever.
I was honored to talk to Scott recently on our podcast, and now I’m thrilled to be able to give you six of his top suggestions for adopting a leadership mindset and becoming the strongest leader you can be – no matter what your current situation looks like.

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1. Adopt a “rooftop leadership” approach.

The core of Scott’s philosophy is teaching people to become “rooftop leaders.”
When Scott and his fellow Green Berets made an initial connection with local community members in Afghanistan, he would encourage people by letting them know they could stand on their own again, despite decades of trauma and hardship. The Green Berets would let the local villagers know that the soldiers were there to help the community stand up against outsiders and get their villages back.
Then, Scott and his team would have to follow through on that promise by going up to the rooftop and fighting. Scott says:
“There was almost no trust in these communities….for us, or for each other. It started with an initial connection of what's possible, and then ultimately it was through action and deeds that showed our commitment in blood to help these folks stand on their own. And incrementally, it worked over time.”
To become a rooftop leader, you must not only be willing to follow through on your commitments to the people you’re trying to lead, but you also need to have a crystal clear vision of a better world that doesn't yet exist.

2. Meet people where they are.

To be an effective leader, you must meet people where they are, not where you want them to be.
Whether you’re going into an Afghan village, working with teenage kids, or trying to lead your associates and employees, you must understand exactly where people are at right now, and meet them there.
Understand the problems people are struggling with today, so you can start to build trust and connect with people on a human level. Don’t stand outside the problem you’re trying to address – immerse yourself in it, so you can understand exactly what’s going on and start to grow from that point.

3. Cultivate a “bottom-up” leadership style.

A lot of leaders take on a “top-down” leadership style. They stand up high, put their hands on their hips, and say, “We’re doing it this way because I said so, dammit.”
This approach is coercive, says Scott. If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem you face is going to look like a nail – and that’s what got us into the mess we’re in today, where trust has eroded in our society.
Instead, Scott recommends a “bottom-up” leadership style. That means connecting with people locally, working from the inside out, and rising with them as they succeed.
Focus on building relationships first, and connecting with individual people. Inspire people to make changes because they want to, not because they’re being coerced to.
We follow leaders we trust – so establishing that trust in a bottom-up way should always be your first priority.

4. Think about three separate leadership avatars.

When you’re a leader, you need to be a combination of three very different avatars: Jason Bourne, Lawrence of Arabia, and the guy from the Verizon commercials.
As Jason Bourne, you need to be able to swing a big stick when the time comes. That can mean literally or figuratively, depending on what line of work you're in. You have to be tough, do what's hard, and be ready to defend your values.
You also need to be Lawrence of Arabia, and harness the power of bottom-up leadership. Lawrence went into the Middle East in 1917 and built relationships with tribesmen all over the Ottoman Empire. He focused on connection with people by telling a story about the freedom of Akaba (the city by the sea). He mobilized people through relationships, language, and culture. Through this important work, Lawrence of Arabia – just one man – helped overthrow the Ottomans and allowed the west to focus on the war in Europe.
Then finally, you need to be the man on the Verizon commercial who walks around saying, "Can you hear me now? Good. Can you hear me now? Good." If people can’t hear you, they won’t be able to connect with you – so make sure you’re constantly checking in like the man on the commercials.
Scott says today's leader has to be a combination of all of three of these avatars. Whether you're a Green Beret or not, this is what’s required of today’s leaders.

5. Leave tracks in this world.

After a dire life-threatening prognosis a few years ago, Scott’s dad told him:
“I know you're scared, but it's okay. I've left my tracks in this world."
The “tracks” his father was talking about are the indelible impressions that all of us are capable of leaving in the world – the kind of impressions that truly serve the people who follow us.
We’re here to do something bigger than ourselves, and the more clear you are on the tracks you want to leave in the world, the more action you can take toward the future you long to create.
Scott suggests a powerful exercise that he does with his corporate leadership clients:
Think about your last day on earth, and picture the person who is holding your hand in your last moments. Say that person’s name out loud, or write it down.
Then picture that person fifteen years after your death. He or she is having coffee with someone that you’ve never met. That new person asks about you, and inquires about what you were like when you were alive.
The person who held your hand during your last breath now has the chance to talk about the tracks you left behind. What would that person say?

6. Invite struggle in your life.

The human endeavor is a story of struggle. Human beings release oxytocin into our bodies – that’s the trust hormone – when we watch other people struggle.
People trust and follow you when they understand your struggle – and it’s critical that you remember this when you’re trying to lead people, especially people who don’t want to be led.
Our society today has taken struggle out of everything – but when you take away the scars and the miles that are necessary to grow as person and as a leader, you remove the ability to grow from those challenges. You take away the opportunity for people to connect with you.
Without the struggle, it’s like watching Rocky knock out Apollo Creed at the beginning of the movie, and for the rest of the movie all you see are consistent knockouts. It wouldn’t be a very good movie, right? We all enjoy watching the struggle.
Scott’s not saying you need to incessantly pursue misery your whole life, of course, but there is a lot of merit in structured struggle for your personal development as a leader.

How to Connect with SCott Mann

Want to find out more about rooftop leadership, and learn more from Scott Mann?

Check out his book, Game Changer: Going Local to Defeat Violent Extremists, his website, RooftopLeadership.com, and his TED talk from TEDx Santa Barbara.

Ready to reach new personal or professional peaks in your life, no mater how ambitious?
Begin Milestone Mind today.


Listen to my entire conversation with Scott here.

Additional Resources

The Milestone Mind Institute

People often times struggle identifying what their values actually are as they get older, but it is critical you do this.

Let us help you by getting you started with the Milestone Mind Institute for free.



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