Mobilize a crisis team or support group — The concept of two minds are better than one, applies perfectly in a scenario where there are multiple moving parts. Within an organization, members with decision power, accessibility, and adaptive thinking should mold your crisis team. In our personal lives, family and friends collectively can contribute to decisions that best fit their needs. Allowing the collective effort process to occur is a great step towards mitigating the situation.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Miguel Rodriguez.
Miguel Rodriguez served as an Aviation Ordnance Technician/Supervisor, a Quality Assurance Safety Observer, a Collateral Duty Inspector and a Marine Corp Martial Arts Program Black Belt Instructor in the United States Marine Corps, completing three successful deployments and exceeding expectations as a qualified inspector in aviation ordnance and gun systems. Now, he is the Director of Operations and IT of LaserAway, the nation’s leader in aesthetic dermatology. This may seem like quite the change, but Miguel has been able to implement his leadership skills to help the fast-growing company meet the challenges of innovation, employee retention, market orientation, operational readiness and continuous analysis.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I grew up in Dallas, TX, and at the age of 7, my parents decided to move to California. My family explained that greater opportunities would surface by making this move for the family. My parents were able to teach me how critical thinking and adopting a determined mindset to accomplish all tasks would forever distinguish me from others.
Throughout my development, I was fortunate to have had multiple mentors. My professors in high school were amazing and inspirational, in the sense that I became motivated and curious as to what options lied beyond my high school experience. I had a close friend who had enlisted into the Marine Corps. I wasn’t sure what he had committed to but was intrigued to find out exactly how it could benefit me. Naturally, there was a competitive side instilled in me that drew me to the idea — however, I had to understand the value of group efforts with the measure of each project. During my military career, I came to learn the value of teamwork and how much more can be accomplished through a cumulative effort.
With a mindset of seeking adventure and opportunity, I absorbed the finer details of how the military could contribute to my ultimate goal of becoming a great professional. The drive to become a better version of myself was never more important to me at this moment. My parents, family, and mentors were persistent in teaching me that work ethic, consistency, and self-discipline were important skill sets to learn in life. Without this direction, I’m sure I would’ve had a different experience and wouldn’t have advanced as far as I have.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today, I continue to learn through reading, following credible pages on media, and also continued college courses. As I continue to build my knowledge base, learning from others is just as important to me. At LaserAway, I have been fortunate to be part of a crucial team that has been able to manage any declines in our overall operations caused by the global pandemic. We faced potential shutdowns of our locations and had to drastically reduce our activity at the beginning of the pandemic, but we are now thriving and continuing to grow, with plans to open new locations every month in 2021.
As the Director of IT, with the support of our leadership, I have spearheaded and implemented technology updates needed immediately to support the business, including transitioning to a remote team for consultations and growing TeleHealth, as well as steadily supporting our in-clinic teams with everything they need.
I’ve been at LaserAway for 10 years, and am proud of how innovative and agile we’ve been.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I joined the Marine Corps in 2006 as a Private First Class, completing basic training in San Diego, CA. From there, I completed my specialty training in Aviation Ordnance, assembling aerial bombs for the fighter jets.
I strived to be the most efficient and effective service member in my group, regardless of what unit I was a part of. Gradually I gained all licenses and qualifications needed to deploy and or support any mission. I volunteered to join in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) deployments. Each deployment was a minimum of 6–7 months, depending on extensions and or other circumstances.
During my military career, I’ve experienced stressful environments, constant leadership pressure, and multiple versions of being physically fatigued. At the same time, as a senior leader, I was expected to efficiently analyze and evaluate situations to make the best decisions.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
I won’t be able to capture all the interesting moments, but one impactful incident occured during my deployment to Afghanistan. We had a mission to deliver over 50 pieces of ordnance requested from command. At the beginning of this mission, my staff sergeant in charge mentioned one of our guys was devastated that a close family member had passed away. We worried that he could spiral out of control and become detrimental to our operation. We were in a position to act fast — we needed to address the issue or have him replaced. I had the responsibility to act and tended to our comrade, and through compassion and the fast decision making I learned from my training, we came together and completed our mission successfully.
The take away from this experience was first understanding the overall outcome and how it could potentially cost us our lives. Perseverance is needed and with respect to our personal lives, this experience is a reminder of how we’re all human first. I had to process how important the outcome would be, and at the same time, process the immediate reaction from my comrade.
We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
During my experience in the military, I cannot describe every experience, but I want to recognize all service members past, present, and future — they are all heroes in my book.
While stationed in Yuma, AZ, I had a Sergeant Major of our MALS-13 unit who had only one functioning lung. He was one of the most inspirational Marines — and people — that I have ever met. During our unit runs, all departments on the base would run their best knowing the Sergeant Major was on the run — very motivating!
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
Heroism is earned in the form of acting for what is right, regardless of what is considered to be the norm. To have half the capacity of your lungs and still devote yourself to serve the military, is beyond courageous and noble of him to do. This is a prime example of the quality of mentorship all military service members need. To prevail and overcome such a challenge paves the path for future generations to follow.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
The military definitely set a foundation for my success at LaserAway. I spent my entire military career training on leadership, safety procedures, quality assurance, and specialized technical skills needed for Aviation Ordnance and gun systems. From a technical standpoint, my training consisted of studying many publications that covered mechanical, electrical, and safety procedures in great detail. At LaserAway, I was able to apply the fundamentals applicable for understanding our medical equipment. In the military, every protocol was carefully and efficiently written to maximize our outcomes. I was also able to create service and safety protocols for our team that best fit the needs of our functions.
Overall, it’s important to incorporate a disciplined mindset to accomplish what you’re tasked to do. My experience has taught me that we are capable of building an empire of knowledge and can continue to expand our operations at LaserAway.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There is one person that took part in my journey that personally impacted me the most. In the military, we meet people with different backgrounds, cultures, and personalities. We can all appreciate those characters who purposefully devote themselves to serving our country in the boldest manner possible. During my initial military training, I had the pleasure of meeting a drill instructor that had the perfect amount of motivation and discipline. Throughout my training, I was able to see precision, attention to detail, and a focused passion that allowed him to excel in every responsibility in his scope of work.
Aside from the expected deliverables of a drill instructor, closer to the graduation date, there was an opportunity to ask him for final recommendations to ensure my success going forward. He paused and said, “Regardless of what life throws at you, build yourself to be strong. Strong walls don’t collapse, remember that.” These words stuck with me through every challenge I faced personally and professionally. The motivation alone allowed me to structure my habits well and realize this would be a continuous process.
The military expects the highest level of dedication from all servicemen and servicewomen — it is the only way we can remain effective and efficient as an operation. I embraced a powerful mindset that I have used as a stepping stone in my career.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
A crisis, in my opinion, is an event with the potential to harm or endanger an individual or group whether economically or physically. An actual crisis will manifest in several forms — but regardless of the form, the key elements will always include a raw version of danger, a limited time for decision making, and some shock value.
A great example in the workplace is how LaserAway has managed our operation due to the unexpected airborne virus COVID-19. Given the constraints, the objective for us was to continue providing great service at the quality level our organization is known for. We were faced with the challenge of adapting and overcoming the restriction of physical contact with our patients. Through a collective effort from our leadership, we have implemented strict safety procedures and established an operation to continue delivering our great service.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
Given the nature of how crises surface, business owners and leaders must continuously perform risk assessments. Through constant analysis, risk should be prioritized given the amount of negative impact it may have. We accept risk only if the benefits outweigh the cost to the operation. Once they’ve identified the existing risks and their magnitude, management can account for risks and properly develop a plan.
To maximize readiness, identifying the possible risks will allow preparation and minimize the impact of the outcome. LaserAway, for instance, has been able to focus on how to keep our patients and employees safe while remaining fully operational.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
During a crisis, leadership must establish a team of qualified personnel to handle the situation. Investing in a crisis team will allow a quicker reaction time versus being caught off guard. Time is of the essence — failure to react properly could cause irreparable harm to the business. Usually, these roles are filled by senior staff with the experience to quickly react, have the authority to make decisions, and can properly assess risk impact.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes and how we are developed mentally will prepare us for crisis readiness. In the military, we are constantly evaluated to ensure we are mentally capable of meeting our job requirements. From my experience in the military and at LaserAway, key qualities to consider are the ability to adapt to your environment, the ability to evaluate and utilize all available resources, and a strong desire to succeed.
Flexibility will allow for critical thinking outside of the normal operation. Without this ability, we risk losing time and ultimately causing greater damage. Being resourceful will allow us to maximize our opportunities to achieve our goals timely and effectively. We limit ourselves when we’re unable to outsource from the standard operation and or unable to create new resource options. In my opinion, the most important characteristic would be an undeniable drive to accomplish any goal we’ve set for ourselves. Once you have this trait, all other characteristics will fall into place and be developed through experience.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
One person comes to mind who exemplified great leadership during a crisis. Readiness and preparation will never guarantee a perfect operation and through an unforeseen event, we had equipment failure and lost control of an ordnance unit weighing approximately 500lbs during a mission. I assisted in guiding the unit out of harm’s way as best as possible and unfortunately smashed one of my fingers. My Staff Sergeant, a direct senior, needed to assess and address the current mission needs, my injury, and the operation with over 30 servicemembers to lead. Within minutes a plan was generated and he saw to transport me to our medical facilities. Our mission had a setback, however, we were able to adapt and overcome it to complete our training simulation. It is a small example of the many situations in the military and also with LaserAway.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
During the early stages of my professional development, a major setback would be having a lack of self-compassion. As a child, my parents could easily notice I was ambitious and determined to become the best version of myself. I started being self-critical to a point where I would replay different strategies and end up nowhere but frustrated. In the military, I was able to start practicing and learning healthier ways to process to allow myself the opportunity to achieve greater.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
Assess your situation
Firstly, assessing your situation and identifying what is within your means and where outsourcing or adapting is needed. At LaserAway, during COVID-19 we faced the challenges from county restrictions that are out of our control, reassuring safety for our patients, and most importantly adjusting our IT infrastructure to continue our operation remotely. All of which required an assessment to quickly address our operational needs.
Empathize with those involved
Emotionally, any crisis will shake you off your tracks, and this is when leadership is needed most. At LaserAway, our leadership was just as concerned for our employees as they were for our patients. Through effective communication and direct updates from leadership, we were able to uphold our trust and comfort in our operation.
Accept and process limitations
It is impossible to control everything involved in a crisis. It is important to come to terms and accept this fact, it will allow for a clear thought process and focus on more realistic goals.
Mobilize a crisis team or support group
The concept of two minds are better than one, applies perfectly in a scenario where there are multiple moving parts. Within an organization, members with decision power, accessibility, and adaptive thinking should mold your crisis team. In our personal lives, family and friends collectively can contribute to decisions that best fit their needs. Allowing the collective effort process to occur is a great step towards mitigating the situation.
Taking the time to self-evaluate is an absolute must, mainly because if there is an unmanaged overload of stress, we are not able to perform. A great example is during a flight, if a loss of cabin pressure was to occur we are supposed to secure ourselves before helping anyone else.
Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Even though we live in an era where technology is all around us, if I could inspire a movement it would be to value teaching social skills, emotional intelligence, and social/civic innovation. Some would argue technology is used to manipulate where others say it is used to further develop our learning processes.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I admire the work of Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor and an environmentalist. He supports organizations and promotes awareness of our climate crisis. I would enjoy a conversation about what drives his passion for acting and being an activist.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.