Fred Stuvek: “Discipline is the soul of your journey”

Discipline is the soul of your journey; it is one of the most important traits required for success in whatever you strive to accomplish. Discipline gives you the will to take the necessary actions to improve yourself, the courage to face your fears, and the self-control to stick to a regimen or a plan. A […]

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Discipline is the soul of your journey; it is one of the most important traits required for success in whatever you strive to accomplish. Discipline gives you the will to take the necessary actions to improve yourself, the courage to face your fears, and the self-control to stick to a regimen or a plan. A lack of discipline results in excuses and distracts you from doing what is necessary to complete the mission and be successful. In the military, the consequences can literally be the difference between life and death as if you do not carry through you jeopardize your team or unit. While the consequences are different, the same thing applies in the business world. If you don’t have the discipline to push through and the self-control to do what is required of you to do as part of the bigger picture, those lapses will result in compromised performance.

As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fred Stuvek, Jr. He is the author of two books, Don’t F*** This Up and It Starts with You. He has achieved extraordinary success in diverse realms. He has been inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame for achievements in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy, after lettering three years as quarterback for the Midshipmen. After serving as a Naval Officer, he transitioned to the business world where he has held senior leadership positions in private and public companies, both domestically and internationally. Key successes include an international medical imaging start-up that led to a successful IPO, and forming a private medical services company, which he subsequently sold. From the playing field to the war room, to the board room, Fred’s leadership and accomplishments have given him a distinct perspective and a results-oriented mindset.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was born in West Virginia and raised in southwestern Pennsylvania. It was a small, blue-collar town where many of the residents worked at one of the several coal mines in the area. We had a large family and I was the oldest of five children. My father was a schoolteacher and a coach and later my mother went to college and became a teacher as well, due largely to economic necessity. We had four seasons — football, basketball, track, and baseball. I participated in each season. When I wasn’t playing sports I was working — either baling hay, cutting grass, washing cars, or cleaning septic tanks. I was recruited by numerous colleges and universities to play football. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go to college, but after a visit to the Naval Academy I knew I belonged there and committed. This was a decision I made myself as my parents were not thrilled with me going there since the Vietnam conflict was raging. However, I knew it would make me a better person with life-long benefits with the added privilege of being able to serve my country.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I have always looked for new challenges as you need to get out of that comfort zone and challenge yourself. I tend to go in ten-year stints, it wasn’t planned, it just worked out that way. After I sold my company I spent some time trying to decide what to do next. I have a unique range of experience and success in a number of arenas — sports, military, and business — both in the public and private sector — which has given me a distinct perspective on what is necessary for success. In the back of my mind, I had always wanted to write a book based on my experience and views which would be a roadmap for someone to follow in order to be successful and fulfilled.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

Upon graduation from the Naval Academy I was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy. I served for five years as a Surface Warfare Officer. I had three deployments and was overseas about half of the time that I served. My sub-specialties or collateral duties were Communications, Intelligence, Gunnery, Flight Deck Officer, and Nuclear Weapons Officer.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

To me, it was the deployments and literally being gone. When I say gone, we were pretty much out of touch with family, loved ones, and friends. There weren’t internet connections and cell phones as the only form of communication was the FPO or Fleet Post Office, also called “snail mail”. The turnaround time on communication was about thirty days if things worked out. In other words, you would write a letter, it would take weeks to get back to CONUS (continental United States), and then weeks to catch up with you. As a result, you were always eager to hear news from back home. The excitement of getting a letter or the disappointment of not getting one whenever there was a mail call is something I will always vividly remember.

I’m 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.

The story of two Naval Academy graduates, Brendan Looney and Travis Manion, who were classmates, roommates, and close friends. Brendan was a Navy SEAL and Travis was in the Marines. They both ended up making the ultimate sacrifice for their country and their enduring bond continues to this day as they are both buried side by side in Arlington National Cemetery. Their story is chronicled in the book “Brothers Forever”. If you haven’t read the book I recommend it. The story is inspiring and staggering. The best way to honor the sacrifices made by our fallen heroes is to remember them.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

To me, a hero is someone who does something extraordinary, often times at a great sacrifice, that they would not be required to do, but do so in the interest of someone or some cause. A hero has cultivated this mentality through multiple actions that engrained in their body to always think of others before themselves. A hero is courageous, strong, noble in spirit and character, has great love, is empathetic, and willing to sacrifice themselves for a person, unit, idea, or sense of duty.

Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?

Not necessarily, the emphasis is on sacrifice, and the degree of sacrifice can vary. A single mother, who works tirelessly and puts her child’s interests ahead of hers and has the strength, conviction, sense of duty, and love for that child to endure the hardships so her child can have a better life is also a hero in my book.

Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

There is tremendous value and benefit to having military experience. It has had a lasting impact on me and I am thankful for the experience. I learned a number of lessons and values which had a direct impact on my ability to be successful in later endeavors and throughout life. Chief amongst them are:

Discipline — Discipline is the soul of your journey; it is one of the most important traits required for success in whatever you strive to accomplish. Discipline gives you the will to take the necessary actions to improve yourself, the courage to face your fears, and the self-control to stick to a regimen or a plan. A lack of discipline results in excuses and distracts you from doing what is necessary to complete the mission and be successful. In the military, the consequences can literally be the difference between life and death as if you do not carry through you jeopardize your team or unit. While the consequences are different, the same thing applies in the business world. If you don’t have the discipline to push through and the self-control to do what is required of you to do as part of the bigger picture, those lapses will result in compromised performance.

Teamwork — All teams consist of groups of individuals. While the individuals may be highly skilled and capable, team success is predicated on how the individual capabilities of the team can be harnessed so they function as a cohesive unit in the most effective and efficient manner possible. In the military, there is a lot of bonding that goes on through basic training exercises, drills, and maneuvers. Everyone has a specific role and each individual is held accountable for their work. However, the focus is on unit performance versus individual performance, with everyone having a shared sense of commitment and duty since everyone is part of a greater cause. This process and commitment results in an ethos with a set of core values and beliefs that promotes camaraderie and a sense of interdependence. Everyone has each other’s back with the character and integrity to maintain the highest standards possible in the interest of the greater good. Just like the military, life is a team sport, and those same lessons carry over.

Planning — You spend a lot of time in military training and planning. First and foremost is clarity, or in other words, a clearly defined mission. The goals and actions need to be aligned, everyone needs to understand what needs to be done, what their role is, and why it is important. The why is important since a greater understanding yields a stronger belief which reinforces the commitment. You spend a great deal of time reviewing and rehearsing the plan, while at the same time looking at three scenarios — what is the likely outcome, what is the worst case, and what is the best case. You then develop contingency plans based on these projected outcomes since things do not always go as planned and there can likely be unintended consequences that you have to deal with. Throughout this planning you are transparent and respect other people’s views and input, especially the critics, as it is only through them that you can improve. As you train and the plan evolves everyone understands their role based on various scenarios, which is of critical importance since as things unfold and if the situation deteriorates you need to ensure everyone can quickly react and adapt as circumstances dictate.

Adversity — How someone deals with adversity could be viewed as the single biggest challenge in their life. The true test of character is not how well someone behaves when things are going well, but how one responds when things don’t work out and problems occur. These adverse circumstances are valuable life lessons as you learn from them and do not make the same mistakes again. This also helps to build resiliency and develops your ability to maintain your resolve and determination through trying circumstances, adapt as required, and handle the associated stressors. In the military one is continually faced with adverse circumstances such as extended deployments, a mission that may not be unfolding according to plan, not having access to resources that may be required, operating in a sleep deprived condition, and so forth. In the military you develop the ability to see things through. You are entrusted with a mission that is of signal importance. When faced with challenges or complex circumstances it is incumbent upon you to make it work since the cost of failure can have far reaching consequences.

Leadership — There is no better training grounds for leadership than military service. Leading a military unit is a complicated and rigorous process and one needs a range of tools to be effective. The kind of responsibility and accountability thrust upon you gives you the opportunity to learn to lead in a variety of arenas with a spectrum of individuals. Most of the people who join the military do so for intrinsic not extrinsic reasons, thus it is important to be proficient in those skills and areas that provide inspiration and motivation to the team. You learn to be disciplined, consistent, ethical and respectful while understanding that there is no one size fits all. Consequently, you learn what I would characterize as adaptive leadership as you understand that not every person responds in the same way, every situation has its own distinct set of challenges, and you as their leader are center stage and held accountable. Understanding this, you also demonstrate the trust you have in your unit by empowering team members, ensuring you maximize unit performance by proper alignment since the entire team is only as strong as the weakest link.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?

Absolutely and it gave me an advantage. Why? If you look at someone who is successful, more often than not, they are disciplined, as discipline is an important trait for someone to be successful in whatever you endeavor to achieve. This extends to both your personal life and your professional life as discipline is a transferrable skill that goes with you in whatever you do. We all realize that goal setting is important, as without goals, you are rudderless. However, you will never achieve those goals unless you have a regimen or process in place to achieve those goals. You drill, you practice, master the basics and continue to improve. Consequently, you have to develop the discipline, since you are not always motivated, to maintain the regimen and follow the plan to the point where your execution becomes automatic, almost second nature. This routine becomes a habit, and the development of good habits is a critical component to success, especially when encountering challenging and adverse circumstances which are not uncommon in the military, which helps you develop resiliency. And the entire time you are working with a diverse group of people, as a team, to reach your goals.

As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?

If someone is dealing with issues post-deployment or after their military service is over and they find themselves struggling the first thing to do is to ask for help. This is not an admission of weakness and there is nothing shameful in asking for and receiving help. In terms of making the transition one should strive for alignment. By alignment I am referring to transitioning to a job and career that best matches your interests and skillset. Studies have shown that matching a career with your interests and personality results in greater satisfaction and fulfillment as you are able to apply their talent and skills and find more meaning and purpose. If there is something you are interested in and you need to fill in a few gaps get the necessary training to ramp up your proficiency in this area. Individuals who are able to channel their energy and time into a venue such as this find more meaning and purpose, with less stress and better health. It is also important to attain balance. By balance I mean paying attention to both your professional and personal life, with neither one at the expense of the other. And don’t forget to continue to maintain your physical conditioning. Exercise is medicine and has a number of benefits.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, I am working on a third book. This book will be on leadership. While there are a lot of leadership books out there most of the books focus on leaders in the business world and titans of industry. However, the crucible of leadership is not in our companies but resides in areas that everyone has had a great deal of experience with, has touched all of our lives, and is where most of life’s leadership lessons are learned. Areas such as education, the military, and the sports arena come to mind first and foremost since it is here where the basic principles are imbued which can then be applied in any venue, across any platform, since if your basics are sound, you are sound. Just about anything you do or learn from a leadership perspective has its origins in these camps, with everything else being a derivation. The goal of this book is to take leadership lessons from a broad, diverse, almost eclectic group of individuals who have attained success in various arenas which I submit is more representative of what someone will experience and that will be much more relatable and relevant to them. Thus, by taking an in-depth look at various individuals who have succeeded in these arenas, their valuable lessons and insight will serve as a beacon and source of inspiration for myriad individuals who are starting their journey or need a course correction. The book will be out in the summer of 2021. I don’t have a title at this time, but certainly will by then.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

In my first book I have a chapter on leadership which delves into the characteristics and practices of effective leadership. I will expand on a few areas that I believe are critical for a leader to be effective and for his or her team to thrive. An effective leader should be true to him or herself, and not try to be something they are not. They should understand the difference between positional authority and personal authority. The leader should lead by their own personal example as the team will respond better to an individual who establishes a high degree of personal integrity through the right actions and attitude. The leader needs to communicate effectively and clearly articulate the strategy and each team members role. Accountability and trust go hand in hand. The leader needs to empower the team members and let them do their job. When developing a plan a participative process needs to be followed with critical thinking and analysis an integral part of the process. If the team members are part of the process you are able to assess the pros and cons of certain plans, including contingency plans, while at the same time securing buy-in from the team since they are part of the process. When problems occur, the emphasis should be on finding solutions, not casting blame. To the degree possible, try to use a distributive decision-making process, but once a decision is made, everyone should be in lockstep. When success occurs, humility is in order, and the leader should give credit where due. The leader should also understand there is no one size fits all as it pertains to leadership style. One person may respond to one type of motivation with the same approach demoralizing another. That is why adaptability and awareness are so important. You need to have the ability to empathize and assess what is going on and relate to that person and the team.

What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

That you shouldn’t manage them, you should lead them. With every degree of separation there is a degree of uncertainty. With a larger team, devoid of the chance for frequent interaction and feedback, the issue of communication and empowerment looms even larger. When communicating, clarity and conciseness become even more important. Ensure, as you best you can, everything is crystal clear, without any ambiguity. As it pertains to empowerment, the leader needs to identify and empower other leaders within the unit or group who will handle the day to day execution of the plan. With this empowerment also comes accountability, and each person is held accountable for performing. Avoid the urge to micro-manage which can erode the trust between the leader and other unit leaders, and those under his or her command.

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 about that?

Notwithstanding my parents, teachers, and coaches, when I look back there was a seminal event precipitated by one individual — Frank Gansz. The backstory is my senior year in high school. I was fortunate to have been recruited by a number of colleges and universities to play football, and as I said earlier, I was having a hard time making up my mind. One evening in January, after basketball practice, I headed over to the car wash where I was working. Upon arrival, I was informed Coach Gansz had called a couple of times, was waiting on the phone, and wanted to talk to me. I had met Coach Gansz on a recruiting trip to Colgate and vividly recalled him since he was a very dynamic and impressive individual. I picked up the phone and Coach Gansz informed me he was now an Assistant Coach at the Naval Academy. He said he wanted me to visit Annapolis. While I had been contacted by all three service academies, I didn’t really know much about them other than the Army-Navy game and had never seriously considered going to one. I told Coach I wasn’t interested. I thanked him for the offer and started to say good-bye. Coach Ganz then asked me “Do you trust me”? I replied, “Yes sir”. He then said “Fred, you belong at the Naval Academy. I want you to visit. I would say trust me on this, but you already do. I’ll set it up and see you there.” He then said good-bye and hung up. In fairly short order a trip was set up and I visited the Naval Academy. I was hooked, the place resonated with me. I was convinced the place would make me a better person, believed in what they were about, plus I would get to serve my country. I told Coach Gansz “You were right, I’m in”. I shook his hand and returned home.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Anything I have ever done has been based on two principles. Firstly, something that I believed in that was a good fit; and secondly, something that brought benefit and value. In the military, I staunchly believed in what I was doing and the institution itself, while at the same time I was providing a service to our country and its citizens. I opted for healthcare because it was an opportunity to help deliver high-quality products and services to those in need. I am now writing my books because I believe in the principles and process I have outlined. It is proven, it works, and hopefully can be of benefit and value to someone who needs a roadmap or further guidance to become successful and fulfilled.

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. 🙂

While not a novel idea, a requirement for compulsory national service for every citizen. It could either be in the form of volunteering for military service or opting to serve in a non-military program, either in the public or private sector. Other countries have these requirements in place and it has been a win-win for them. This program would help foster a sense of unity and purpose; bring diverse groups together; engender greater understanding and respect; provide a potential path for employment, and be a valuable learning and growing experience for our young people.

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

Your success in life is based on your mindset, habits, and decisions you make. First and foremost is your mindset. You need to have the mindset of a warrior, not a worrier, knowing that you and your team are capable of doing anything. “Aut viam inveniam aut faciam” which is in Latin and translates to “I will either find a way or make one” is my favorite.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 if we tag them 🙂

Sylvester Stallone. He is the embodiment of the traits and values that I admire. If you look at my first book and the factors I outlined for success, he has those in spades. He believed in himself and what he was about; his commitment never faltered; he persevered through adverse circumstances; and he has been consistent and unwavering in his value system. His roles, which are versatile, exemplify this. He walks the talk and has a lot of heart.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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