Our second Virtual Briefing held yesterday featured a highly useful conversation with Snehal Antani and Chief Sergeant Major (CSM) DJ Blake, Command Senior Enlisted Officer for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at the U.S. Department of Defense.

Snehal is Co-Founder & CEO of Horizon3.ai, a cyber security startup focused on AI-enabled red teaming. Prior to starting Horizon3, Snehal served as CTO for the U.S. Department of Defense, responsible for transforming the technology capabilities of the command to include cybersecurity, advanced R&D, AI, and data analytics.

DJ has served nearly 30 years in the military, with over 25 years of experience in Special Operations, culminating in his role as Command Senior Enlisted Officer for the JSOC.

Both Snehal and DJ emphasized the need for calm, cool, constructive and courageous leadership during times of extreme crisis. Both accentuated the need for training and continuous self-evaluation. Here is Snehal’s list of 10 critical questions that leaders must ask themselves during a crisis:

1. Are you a dictator, or an enabler?

2. Is your team waiting on your decisions, or are they empowered to move out? 

3. Are you panicked and interrogating, or steadfast and asking thoughtful questions?

4. Is your intent clear, or ambiguous?

5. Are you seeking blame, or continuously improving?

6. Do you allow disagreement to fester?

7. Who are decision owners versus advisors?

8. Do you have a battle rhythm to keep the team synchronized and minimize drift?

9. Could you deal with multiple dilemmas at once?

10. Do you and your organization train like you fight?

“As a leader, you’re expected to have the answers, but you’re not going to,” Snehal says. “How do you balance being that sturdy individual within the organization, while knowing that you don’t know all of the answers?”

Snehal observes that leadership failures occur when the leader acts as a dictator instead of an enabler.  On the other hand, “In every successful response to crisis that I observed or was part of, the leader acted as an enabler.  This was reiterated during my time as a part of my DoD stint, working with Special Operations Command and learning how the most cycle-tested people in the world, handled and managed a crisis.”

From Snehal’s perspective, it’s essential not to lose sight of the human dimension during a crisis. “It’s all about the people … making sure your people and their families are safe,” he says.

DJ echoes Snehal’s focus on maintaining the human perspective and keeping lines of communication open. “Empowering your folks is incredibly important, because … the most important piece of information you need may be coming from somewhere inside the organization that you just never saw or didn’t have normal contact with,” DJ says.

DJ’s insight on this point is incredibly valuable.  I also find DJ’s list of five key organizing principles extremely useful:

1. Emotional excellence is critical during crisis.

2. Create a common sense of purpose through flat communications.

3. Create unity of effort.

4. Know your solid leaders.

5. Empowerment builds commitment and dedication.

DJ also emphasized the importance of understanding the fundamental difference between “listening to understand” and “listening to respond.” Even good leaders have “a strong desire to immediately make decisions,” DJ says. But those quick decisions may not be the right decisions to make.

“Listening to understand a situation and getting perspective from the folks around you is incredibly important,” he says. “Listening to understand” allows the flow of critical information that leaders at every level need to make the best possible decisions.

Both Snehal and DJ offered actionable advice that was direct, unambiguous, reassuring and based on their long years of experience. From my perspective, this type of counsel is infinitely valuable during difficult times such as these.

Our virtual discussions around leading courageously in times of crisis continues this Thursday, March 26 featuring rock-star technology executives including Nicole Eagan, CEO, Darktrace; Brian A. Hoyt, CIO, Unity Technologies; Ralph Loura, SVP, CIO, Lumentum; Harry Moseley, Global CIO, Zoom; Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO, Nutanix; Steve Phillpott, Western Digital; Bhavin Shah, CEO & Founder, Moveworks; and Angela Yochem, EVP, Chief Digital & Technology Officer, Novant Health. You won’t want to miss this event!

Click here to sign up.

Meanwhile, stay dialed in to our Virtual Briefing series by clicking here.

Be well, be safe and we look forward to connecting with you soon.