In this new episode, Tony Nash talks to Tyler Gordy, a decorated United States Army combat veteran and business executive, about his journey from battlefield to boardroom.
An enlisted soldier and later a commissioned Army officer through the United States Military Academy, Tyler obtained his MBA from Harvard Business School. He is the CEO of Professional Warranty Service Corporation, a provider of new home warranty products to residential construction firms.
Tyler shares how the military has shaped his life as an executive – from as simple as waking up early at 4 am, to working out and walking under the sun to set his circadian rhythm in motion. Studies show getting sunlight in your eyes first thing in the morning is vital to your mental and physical health.
Tyler also shares the importance of not checking his phone immediately after waking up. Science shows that keeping yourself moving forward, especially outside, helps generate optic flow and suppress the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for anxiety. Such movements help you become alert but not anxious, focused and not too relaxed.
This habit has also given him time to meditate and allowed him to start each day by taking care of himself before he takes care of the company and his team.
“It’s important to stay disciplined and not do that [check my emails first thing in the morning],” adding that it helps set the tone for the rest of his day.
He shares how he learned this lesson through burnout back in West Point, where he served as First Captain of the Corps of Cadets in 2010.
“By that point, I worked myself to the bone. I felt I didn’t have a ton to give that year in terms of energy. I felt like I already reached the point of burn out.”
Some leadership books have made an impact on Tyler, including The 4 Disciplines of Execution (2014) written by Sean Covey, Jim Huling, Chris McChesney.
Also referred to as 4DX, the method is a simple and repeatable formula for executing strategic priorities by following The 4 Disciplines:
Tyler says he and his team use 4DX as part of their broader operating model.
Another book that has impacted him is Stephen Covey’s Principle-Centered Leadership (1990), which highlights the importance of character and competence to gain others’ trust and be able to trust others.
“Leadership is one of those things – it’s really easy in theory but it’s really challenging in practice. But even though I’ve known about these things, I still struggle with it.”
On Listening to and Empowering People
Now as a chief executive for a publicly-traded subsidiary of Kingsway Financial (NSE:KFS) , he focuses on listening to his people and seeking feedback often.
“I listen often and that helps me really recalibrate and get on with the task… I’m just trying to learn and to trust and hear my people out.”
He, however, admits the difficulty of acting on feedback. He cites as example one feedback that the firm is doing too much stuff.
“Businesses don’t die from starvation, but from indigestion where you’re trying to take on too much. It has become critical where we’re getting to the point of burnout and we needed to adjust.”
One thing he has been working on recently is how to better empower people, which he believes starts with hiring the right people, who are competent and trustworthy.
This is a bit tricky to navigate as it is totally different from the military world, where he says those who don’t perform do not get fired, just reassigned to a different role.
“Firing people in the private sector is really challenging because you know for the most part they are good people. This is their livelihood. But it is more cruel to keep them in a position where they can’t succeed.”
On Failures and Suffering
Tyler opens up about his shortfall in his first civilian job after business school, after failing to close an acquisition deal and ending up with $50,000 debt.
This led him to his ultimate success. He joined another firm and worked his way up to the position of CEO – a daunting task for someone like him with no background of running a business.
Looking back at the last five years, he says his view on suffering greatly changed. From trying to avoid it at all costs, he now views it as an opportunity for growth and grace.
Citing the American spiritual teacher and psychologist Ram Dass, Tyler says: “Suffering is the sandpaper of our incarnation.”
“I associated suffering with pain and something I needed to avoid. And I’ve done that with pretty much most of my life. As I got a little bit older, I’ve come to recognize there’s a lot of learning, profound learning, that are centered around our suffering… I think of suffering as an opportunity to grow and to learn.”
In the end, humility is what helps him become resilient and a better leader.
“I'm trying to listen and learn and recognize that I don’t have all the answers and that lessons come from a number of different places. And just trying to stay humble and be willing and open to learn those lessons regardless of where they come.”
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