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Life and Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Military: “Building a small test team and communicating the plan came effortlessly as a result of my military experience.” with Freddie Geiger and Marco Dehry

In the military, I learned how to be disciplined and work under the most difficult conditions. I served as a Verizon Wireless project leader for the initial deployment of CDMA in the Washington/Baltimore area. My WHCA experience allowed me to plan and coordinate a drive test team needed in that area. Building a small test […]


In the military, I learned how to be disciplined and work under the most difficult conditions. I served as a Verizon Wireless project leader for the initial deployment of CDMA in the Washington/Baltimore area. My WHCA experience allowed me to plan and coordinate a drive test team needed in that area. Building a small test team and communicating the plan came effortlessly as a result of my military experience. I feel fortunate for each experience from my military career that has supported my growth as a Goddard School franchisee.

As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Freddie Geiger. Freddie served more than 20 years in the U.S. military, working as a communication specialist at the White House Communication Agency for three presidential administrations and the Director of Engineering for Verizon Wireless. After leaving the military, Freddie worked with Bell Atlantic Mobile where he was able to utilize his military background to lead multiple divisions and districts to success. Now, Freddie inspires many individuals, both young and old, throughout his community of Lake Wylie, South Carolina as the franchise owner of the local Goddard School for the last 1.5 years. Freddie and his daughter, Katerina, proudly own The Goddard School of Lake Wylie where they encourage and inspire many children to learn essentials skills that will support them through their life and future careers.


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

I was born to a single mother and the oldest of five children. From an early age, I was a leader to my younger siblings, throughout childhood sports and during my first working years. I always had natural leadership qualities, which made my decision to join the military an obvious choice over my guaranteed path of playing basketball in college. My experience in the military led to many unusual and exciting life experiences that have shaped me into who I am today.

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

I am a proud owner of The Goddard School of Lake Wylie and am enjoying every minute of working with my daughter who happens to be my business partner. We always strive to be the best preschool and serve the community. Every day I am given a chance to make an impact on a child’s future and support our local families.

Throughout my life, I have been a coach, military instructor/ teacher and director of engineering. Working with people is my passion. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.” Every day in the Goddard school, I am Mr. Freddie to hundreds of children and parents. They stop by the office every morning to speak, run to me on the playground, and spend hours talking about play-based activities. Being Mr. Freddie allows me to continue to coach, teach, and lead my organization.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I have served more than 20 years in the U.S. military, working as a communication specialist at the White House Communication Agency for three presidential administrations and the Director of Engineering for Verizon Wireless.

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

The most interesting and valuable time I experienced during my military career was working with the White House Communication Agency during the “World Series Earthquake” of Oct 17, 1989. A small team of communicators was challenged to provide communication for POTUS (President of the United States) after an earthquake struck at 5 PM during rush hour. Amongst destruction and chaos, the team managed to deploy a secure voice and data system. The key to our success was teamwork, concise communication and knowing that each team member cared about the mission and the people involved.

During this event, I learned that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you cared. My team gave me 100% because they knew I cared about them just as I cared for the mission. We worked as a cohesive team. Some leaders may ask, “What comes first the mission or the people?” I firmly believe in “mission first, people always.” Take care of your people, and they will take care of the mission. I go above and beyond to make sure my teachers know I care, and that love carries over to the children and parents.

Additionally, I learned bad things would happen but what matters is how you react during the earthquake or any storm in life. Keep your composure, work as a cohesive team, and lead with unconditional love and you will find success.

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.

A hero is someone who goes above and beyond to help others in the most difficult of times, often with nothing to gain. A true act of heroism is not always recognized at the moment but manifests itself in due time. With the recent passing of George H.W. Bush, I reflected over my years at the WHCA (White House Communication Agency). George H.W. Bush was a president who cared about the whole country, and he showed it in the World Series earthquake. Immediately after the earthquake, my team was directed to prepare for a presidential arrival. President Bush arrived, met with local officials, visited the hardest hit areas, and immediately signed a relief package. Having just witnessed the destruction and devastation his presence and leadership was vital in the recovery of the city and San Francisco area.

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

I believe heroes are not defined by influence or title, for example, my hero is and has always been my mother. My mom goes above and beyond each day to help me and others even when she is struggling through her days. Yes, she has been a hero in my eyes since I was young, but even now when I am setting an example for daughter, I realize the efforts and lengths my mother went to in order to provide my siblings and I with the right foundations to succeed.

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

No! I believe that someone might be called an angel as well as a hero in a life or death situation. I was driving through Pennsylvania in a blizzard, when my truck spun out of control, crossed the medium and stopped facing traffic head-on. When my vehicle came to a stop, this tall gentleman was standing by the driver’s door. He asked if I was okay and proceeded to talk me through recovering my car and moving it to a safe location. After I calmed down, I turned to thank the gentleman, and he had disappeared. I was truly amazed at how fast he appeared and disappeared. He was my guardian angel at that moment — he had nothing to gain by stopping, and he wanted nothing in return for his support of a stranger. Hero yes, but also an angel I never thanked. Heroes and angels appear and disappear every day to help those in need.

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.)

You can be the smartest person in the world but remember “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.” There is a balance between what comes first the people or the mission. You must balance both and lead with compassion.

· Example: I coach middle school girls’ basketball. You can be the best at drawing up plays X’ and O’s, and the girls can execute the play perfectly. As a leader, your influence can push them beyond just hitting basic drills. With the right empathy towards players, they will give more than 100% thus working together to win the game. We have won more games because my players played for me, the coach, and went above and beyond just executing the play. We went from 2–13 in year one to 13–3 in year two. Fundamentals played a key role, but the team dynamic was key as well. When we fall, we raise together!

Be a flexible leader. Lead by example!

· Honest and integrity are the two best examples. Model what honesty and integrity look like in a leader. If you consistently do the right thing and display the utmost integrity, your team will emulate your behavior. When I was with Verizon, cell coverage was our main concern. When a disaster would strike, our number one priority was to maintain coverage and restore any outage. The 2002 Central Plains ice storm was a major winter storm that affected the midwest, causing significant damage across the region, especially in the Kansas metropolitan area. Downed trees blocked access to cell sites, so Verizon cell technicians were out around the clock clearing trees, hauling fuel and working hard to restore critical cell phone coverage. Verizon was among the first carrier to deploy emergency generators at cell sites. Cell technicians were surprised when the executive director and I — a new director — jumped into a vehicle and went to restore cell sites. We spent hours running between the command center and cell sites, hauling fuel for emergency generators and clearing out trees. Word spread quickly about all our efforts, and ultimately my natural actions elevated my status as a leader.

Embrace diversity and cultural difference in people.

· Example: Our collective differences make us stronger so it is important to know your people, their strength and weakness. One day during a staff meeting at Verizon, a cell technician explained how two people could be uncomfortable and less affected in the same scenario. The tech said, “I was born and raised in the country. I am totally comfortable with nature, the wild and working in the woods.” I was curious about the purpose of this conversation as it was out of context in our meeting. He continued and explained that his coworker is a city dweller and he is afraid of the woods, so it would make more sense to switch their territories. I never thought about it that way, but the simple change made both employees happier.

Be a good coach! Know when to provide guidance and seek guidance.

· Not every problem or scenario should follow a top-down solution. Simply asking your people what works best will generate a brain-storming session with various solutions and more buy-in. I have found success within my previous careers and currently at The Goddard School with this mindset.

See it, believe it and achieve it through teamwork.

· Inspire, excite, and visualize. At the beginning of the year, at The Goddard School we set KPI (key performance indicators), and then throughout the year have check-ins. At these check-ins, I challenge the team to see our success and reach higher to elevate our location even further.

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

In the military, I learned how to be disciplined and work under the most difficult conditions. I served as a Verizon Wireless project leader for the initial deployment of CDMA in the Washington/Baltimore area. My WHCA experience allowed me to plan and coordinate a drive test team needed in that area. Building a small test team and communicating the plan came effortlessly as a result of my military experience. I feel fortunate for each experience from my military career that has supported my growth as a Goddard School franchisee.

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?

I joined the military during my senior year in high school. Although I had many deployments throughout my career, nothing scared me more than leaving the military. After 21 years of service, I was nervous about retirement and the lack of routine — I knew nothing about negotiating terms for employment and often discounted my military experience. I was privileged that Bell Atlantic Mobile took a chance on me and am forever grateful for Bell Atlantic’s support and all other companies that are hiring military veterans. Do not discount your military experience, training, leadership, and professionalism — it is hard to realize how much experience the military provides when re-entering civilian life, but it will shine through eventually.

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

Yes — through my Goddard School franchise, I am working with the local school districts to develop an internship program to augment the early childhood development classes taught at the high school and college levels. Students who are passionate about early learning and a play-based philosophy will find success and passion in The Goddard School curriculum and will further their interest in a potential career path. This program heightens the awareness of the need for educators in the preschool and gives young adults hands-on experience.

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

The impact of a team is the sum of each team member’s strength and weakness. When you help team members identify their strengths and assign tasks that maximize a his/her skills or strengths, as a leader you will help them to become a productive team player. To prepare your team completely, provide resources that help to identify areas of weakness and avoid assignments that employees are not equipped to perform. Developing a career plan that is actionable, attainable, and strengthens the team and utilizes your employee’s strengths will help to show your team that you believe in them and want them to succeed. Finally, let them know you care — they don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care! This all goes back to knowing what comes first: the people of the mission. Mission first, People Always!

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

Embrace people’s experience — a mom (i.e. having or taking care of a child) degree is probably as meaningful as a formal degree. Never discount other’s experience and what they can bring to the table. Always create a vision, share the vision and ensure your team fully supports it. When communicating this vision or anything, be a clear and concise communicator. Throughout different situations and plans it is important to take the appropriate leadership position, whether that be by as the coach and providing guidance; as the player and rolling up your sleeves to do work; or as a bench warmer that cheers the team on from the sidelines. Be flexible and know when to be tough, caring, or passive in your style. Finally, always lead by example.

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?

Richard Dolson was my director of System Performance in Verizon Wireless. He saw something in me and push me to go above and beyond. During various career development discussions, he would take time to evaluate my performance and more importantly provided a career map. He provided me with the road map to become a director in two years with details around getting a degree, doing diverse assignments, and cross-training. He even went about and beyond and talked to me about financial planning and how to invest in the stock market. He cared and showed it every day. Two years later, I got a call to go out to Kansas to become the director of Operations. To drive your path, seek a mentor and be a mentor to others.

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

Every day, I get 100 “Hello Mr. Freddie” and the joy of serving my community. It feels great to employ teachers, coach girls’ basketball, and be a franchise owner for The Goddard School. Being a coach and Mr. Freddie is an honor and privilege never taken for granted. I always remember to show people that I care and give them the tools to grow to new levels.

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. 🙂

I would love to inspire a movement to drive home the true meaning that all men are created equal. This type of movement would lead to a worldwide campaign to stamp out poverty by reducing the percent of GDP spent on the military.

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

One of my favorite life lesson quotes is a play on sports from hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky: “You will miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” In life, you must be ready and willing to take the big shot. Failure is a possibility, but it’s the fear of failure that gives meaning to success. If you never take the shot, you can never experience the joy of success. So, take the shot.

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 🙂

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Mark Cuban. He doesn’t look, dress, or act like a billionaire, and is humble and down to earth. I would love to understand his mindset and approach to taking different business risk. His work ethic is astounding and the lack of fear of failure is impressive. I am most impressed on how he takes the big shot, rebounds on a miss with the next big shot.

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

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