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“A great boss is selfless.” with Jason Hartman & Debora R. Nelson

A great boss is selfless. A great boss is a person who not only serves in a position but does everything that he or she can do to learn every ounce of the job, the employees, and the organization. A great boss covers all areas because he or she understands that knowledge in all areas […]

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A great boss is selfless. A great boss is a person who not only serves in a position but does everything that he or she can do to learn every ounce of the job, the employees, and the organization. A great boss covers all areas because he or she understands that knowledge in all areas will allow him or her to identify opportunities for positive impact. One of my favorite bosses, Lieutenant Colonel Rachel O’Connell, was a subject matter expert at her job, the organization, and people. Not only was she deeply involved in every moving piece within the organization, but she also made her employees and their families a primary focus. She understood the importance of caring about the families of those that worked for and with her. With staying in tune with her people, she exceeded organizational expectations and effectively did her job. Good bosses excel in all areas selflessly.

Ihad the pleasure of interviewing Debora R. Nelson. Debora currently serves as an active duty Officer in the United States Army. When not serving her country, she motivates aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners of faith with her written and spoken word and Saturday morning Facebook Live Show, “Small Business Saturday”! Debora is a bestselling author of the “30 Week Guide to Creating Unconditional Success”. Her self-help resources derive from her life experiences and have proven that temporary situations are just that and should not deter one from being the best version of themselves. She is currently starting up a high performance and results consulting firm. Her Credentials include: A Master of Business Administration Degree, experience and capacity to manage 100+ people at one given time, seven years of Chief Executive Officer equivalent experience, vast knowledge and expertise in starting-up, resourcing, and sustaining companies/businesses and self-publishing expert.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Wow, I always surprise people with this one. After graduating from Egg Harbor Township High School in 2007, I started my adulthood at the Philadelphia Art Institute, where I studied Fashion Design. After one year of success, I still managed to be unfulfilled. I knew life had more in store for me. Following my intuition, I decided to terminate the next semester, apply to the Business Administration program at Morgan State University, and join Army ROTC (for the scholarship of course). When I initially started the program, I knew that my time in the program was short-lived.

I was offered a free one-year scholarship without commitment to the Army. I knew that my scholarly ambition would earn me an academic award and that ROTC would be history. I mean, how many high school cheerleaders join the Army? Many might ask. It was not of any interest of mine to pursue this career field. To my surprise, I loved the Morgan State University Army ROTC program. It challenged me mentally, physically, and spiritually. It pushed me above and beyond my limits in every way possible, and I loved the competitive edge. The thought of having to “earn rank” forced me to the best version of myself. As you could probably guess, I decided to commit to the Army.

I contracted my second year of college and commissioned into the Army as a second lieutenant in May of 2012. Even then, I didn’t know what was in store for me. I had no idea that I was entering into a world of personal and professional development opportunities. I went from graduating college to managing over 50 people and deployed to Afghanistan within the first six months of my career. Eight years later, I now serve as an Active Duty Captain in the United States Army and hold a Master of Business Administration degree. Let’s just say; I am so glad that I decided to listen and follow my intuition. Note to self, trust in your God-given vision.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story? I speak on behalf of myself and not the United States Army with this response. I would say that the Army and any branch of military service is unique in its diversity. Within one workplace, you have people from all backgrounds, races, ages, religions, sexual orientations, and beliefs serving towards one mission: to protect and defend all. I have met some of the most amazing people while helping and could not imagine obtaining the wealth of knowledge and strong relationships harvested over the past eight years from any other career field. I met many people six, seven, or even eight years ago, whom I keep in touch with often. I support their business ventures, follow up on their careers, and check to see how their families are holding up.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the most interesting moments of my job is one of the most challenging yet rewarding moments in my career. It was during my first term as a Company Commander, when I had 90 days to train and deploy a company-sized element (144 people) to Poland. That is right, Poland. I never in a million years thought that I would travel to Poland, let alone have 90 days to prepare over 100 other people for a mission mentally. That moment in my career changed me; I was 29 years old at the time, and the level of maturity and discipline required to handle the job correctly was immeasurable. That moment in my career showed me that whatever I do or we do as people, it isn’t just about you.

Although I didn’t know what to expect, I learned that I had to pull myself together, think, plan, and execute. It was this time in my career where I learned my actual limitations. I learned what it was like to lead. Lead people during the good, the bad, and the ugly. Pulling a group of people from their families isn’t the easiest as a leader. You wish that you could fix every marital issue, every child support and care case, and every mental instability. But I learned that we, as leaders, can do the best we can to take care of people the best way we know-how. Without taking care of the people who work with you, it is impossible to have a functional workplace. If you don’t ensure that the conditions are set for others to succeed, you can’t consider yourself successful. This assignment pushed me out of my comfort zone and set the foundation for many years.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I would have to say that the funniest mistake I made in my career was presenting a presentation to a highly intellectual Lieutenant Colonel on information that I quickly skimmed over before the meeting. It was the first significant meeting that I had as a newly commissioned officer, and I thought I could just use the excuse, “I’m new and still learning” to my defense. I briefed the wrong information, and it was downhill from there. However, I quickly learned the importance of preparation. I prepare for all meetings and take pride in being the subject matter expert of my craft. I thrive off of pressure.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

For anyone who may not know. The Army’s structure is very similar to Corporate America. By serving in executive, managerial equivalent positions, I understand how CEOs and business leaders can quickly burnout. I highly recommend including ‘me time’ to your weekly schedule or dedicating at least one day out of the week for self-care and relaxation. I currently use Sundays as my day of rest by attending virtual church service and enjoying the rest of the day doing what I love to do! I may go to a local restaurant, road trip, hike, kayak, or go for a walk on a scenic route to reflect and enjoy myself. To be an asset to others, you must also do a factory reset for your mind, body, and soul to ensure optimal performance through rest and reflection. You will even notice that in doing this, you will most likely birth fresh ideas. Take some time to stop and smell the roses.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is the ability to make the right decision and courageous enough to deal with the consequences. Leadership is not defined by rank, position, or title but by integrity. Authentic leaders make decisions for the betterment of those around them and the organization rather than for themselves with or without eyes watching. There was a time in my career where I truly believed that I earned the title “leader.” I needed to communicate valuable information for the sake of 100 plus lives. I knew that if I said something, there was a very high chance that I could face reprisal based off of the person in which I worked for at the time. That particular person was more concerned with “looking good” than “being good.”On the other hand, I knew that if I did not say anything, there may be more significant consequences that would solely lie on me. I chose to report the issue for the safety of others, and yes, in return, I faced many challenges, but I slept well knowing that I sacrificed personal gain for the sake of others. Leaders go far and beyond for others and empower others to uphold the same standard. The goal for a leader should always be, “Will this action or decision allow me to sleep well at night?” if the answer is no, reconsider your decision.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Before major meetings, discussions, or decisions, I pray or read a random scripture from the bible that surprisingly always relates or encourages me. Prayer, for me, is the key to my success. It allows time for me to say the things I need to get off my chest, remove nerves, rebuild my confidence, and remind me of the importance of trusting God’s plan and my ability to succeed. Secondly, I often think of a quote that my mom told me as a young child, and even now, “knowledge is power.” With that quote ingrained in my mind, I genuinely believe that I am always ready for what is ahead of me through research and preparation. When I’m prepared, I feel powerful and know that whatever I bring to the table will be of quality. After prayer and preparation, I engage in a quick pep talk. Depending on if time allows, I may call my significant other to bounce my thoughts off or obtain additional motivation. I highly recommend prayer, preparation, and pep talks before a meeting, discussion, or making a huge decision. This formula has never failed me!

Okay, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

Absolutely! One of the most memorable experiences with managing teams and providing feedback was during my time as a company commander (equivalent to a CEO) during a deployment where I was understaffed. I was responsible for training and providing communications support to various units throughout Europe, but to my surprise, I lacked team chiefs, also known as team leads. Team chiefs are critical for mission success. They are typically the highest-ranking, most experienced, and have the longest time in service ranging between 5–8 years on the team.During this time, I had to train junior leaders with 1–3 years of experience to take on the team chief position, which comprised being responsible for the maintenance, life support, and 4–5 people traveling over 500 miles by vehicle throughout the unfamiliar territory in Europe. I took special care in training those new leaders in which most time was direct, quick, and repetitive measures due to the timeline in which we had to prepare. We spent early mornings and late nights training the junior soldiers to uphold responsibilities, usually done by someone with 5–8 years of experience. I coordinated training resources to teach them how to brief higher-ranking officials, develop travel routes using a map, account for thousands of dollars of equipment, procure and manage food supply, first aid training requirements, and, most of all, self-sustain. To my surprise, within 60 days, my company pushed out teams with all missions accomplished. Those junior soldiers started with 1–3 years of experience and finished with 6–8 years’ worth of knowledge. Throughout the training, there were daily meetings to give honest feedback to each team. Some days were rougher than others because let’s be honest, no one wants to know when they are not meeting an expectation. Although many were frustrated, they continued to work harder and harder every day, and we also equally celebrated and recognized their wins. I gave them something to look forward to by offering incentives for meeting training objectives or highlighting a team’s accomplishments. Feedback was as a development tool. I set the expectation high to ensure that once trained; they would be prepared to fulfill any job after thereafter and recognized as a high performer.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

It is essential to provide honest and immediate feedback as an effective leader because it is a primary development tool. It is a leader’s job to make those around you better than you found them, and the only way to do that is to learn the people in which you lead and become familiar with their strengths and weaknesses to assist with strengthening those areas. Many are often unfamiliar with their weaknesses and need someone else’s perspective to assist with identifying and fixing them. Giving honest and direct feedback takes time and care. Leaders should take the extra time to develop and invest in their employees to make the overall organization better. An organization is only as good as the people who run it. You will learn that people respect and want to work for a leader who cares enough to invest in their development. That is what separates a leader from a good leader.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Here are five suggestions to given constructive criticism to a remote employee:

1. With remote being a factor, it’s essential to set expectations and get to know your employee(s). Always give an initial counseling or welcome letter with your expectations and set quarterly professional and personal goals for your employees to accomplish. — It is a great way to set the tone. Before giving an initial counseling or welcome letter with the suggested information, make it a priority to learn a little bit about your employees. Learn enough about your employees to develop personal goals, ie. Credit hours towards a degree. Getting to know your employees display your care about their overall development and not just what they can do for the organization. You humanize your relationship, and your expectations and feedback are better received.

2. Schedule a quarterly meeting with your employee(s) to go over the expectations and goals set. Having a list of expectations and goals previously discussed speaks for itself. It’s either they are meeting the expectations, or they aren’t making it easier for open conversation. During this time, it’s critical to discuss action plans to either sustain or fix performance. During this time, honest feedback is useful because you’ve already built repour and established clear expectations from the beginning. Quarterly meetings allow you to identify patterns; for example, if you have someone who consistently outperforms every quarter and unexpectedly tanks a quarter, it will help you identify the causes of sudden change. Examples of those factors could be family issues, an overwhelmed schedule, or even issues within the workplace. You will most likely be able to assist with getting your employee back on track at a much quicker rate. This step is especially important for remote employees.

3. Confirm email content tone. Feedback is only as impactful as the words used in an email. If you chose to provide feedback via email, be careful of the terms and tone used. I recommend using Grammarly (www.grammarly.com) to validate the tone of your email if you discover difficulties with this step.

4. Consider providing constructive criticism using a virtual space instead of via email. Although remote, video, or telephone conferences are equally efficient if not better than written feedback. This way, you can make sure that your message is received the way you intend it and encourages open discussion. Video conference is becoming a way of life. It humanizes the work environment. I recommend Microsoft Teams for virtual conferences. This application is excellent for both civilian and government organizations.

5. Prompt employees with a questionnaire to ensure the feedback was received in its entirety. Implementing a few questions like asking for a quarterly action plan to meet performance objectives will ensure effective communication. There is nothing worse than sending feedback and issues arising due to the lack of effective communication in the virtual space. The questionnaire doesn’t have to be lengthy as long as you ask questions that assist you with confirming a mutual understanding that should be good enough. Keep it short and concise.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you, much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

As previously mentioned, providing feedback via email can lead to more challenges than solutions. If you would prefer to send feedback via email instead of a video or telephone conference, I suggest the following:

1. Review, review, review! Review your email and read it aloud to yourself. Reading your email aloud can often give you a good idea of how someone else would perceive it.

2. Obtain another perspective. Have someone else review your email before sending it. There are some instances where our judgment could be off on wording; it’s okay to get someone else’s opinion.

3. Schedule a follow-up call to discuss the email to ensure it was received and reciprocated the way that you intended to allow an opportunity to identify and address miscommunication.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

I believe the more feedback, the better, but there are several effective ways of providing feedback and critique. As mentioned, the quarterly evaluations allow at a minimum of one touchpoint, depending on how busy the workplace is. Still, it is highly encouraged that you give other means of feedback and critique. After an important meeting or project is an excellent opportunity to promote your employees to keep up the good work or to highlight areas to improve. Immediate feedback is encouraged because some employees need a “pick me up” while others may need to be aware of areas to improve. Encouragement and correction should always happen in the moment, otherwise it may not be as effective.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

A great boss is selfless. A great boss is a person who not only serves in a position but does everything that he or she can do to learn every ounce of the job, the employees, and the organization. A great boss covers all areas because he or she understands that knowledge in all areas will allow him or her to identify opportunities for positive impact. One of my favorite bosses, Lieutenant Colonel Rachel O’Connell, was a subject matter expert at her job, the organization, and people. Not only was she deeply involved in every moving piece within the organization, but she also made her employees and their families a primary focus. She understood the importance of caring about the families of those that worked for and with her. With staying in tune with her people, she exceeded organizational expectations and effectively did her job. Good bosses excel in all areas selflessly.

You are a person of significant 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. 🙂

If I could inspire one movement, I would love to start virtual campuses that develop, educate, and empower aspiring entrepreneurs into entrepreneurs for their families’ legacy. I genuinely believe that we were all put on this earth to serve a purpose and that many of us have brilliant ideas but zero financial support, lack confidence, and don’t know where to start. I am on a mission to build a generation of entrepreneurs to pour back into the economy and develop more financially excelling bloodlines.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Philippians 4: 13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Whenever I face challenges, setbacks, or moments of uncertainty, I often refer to this scripture. This scripture has helped me through many difficulties in life and my career by reminding me that I can and will get through all things. Since referring back to this quote and seeing miracles throughout my life, I have faith in knowing that my current challenge is no different than the past and that I will come out victorious. This very scripture led to me writing my first bestselling book.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am currently in the start-up phase for my new high performance and results consulting for small business owners. Send all inquiries to [email protected] until my website launch scheduled for September 1, 2020.

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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