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“Life and Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Military”, with Mark Drinko of The Goddard School

Heroes have integrity. They do the right thing when it isn’t popular or when no one is looking. Heroes treat everyone the way that they would like to be treated. Heroes are role models to young people. Heroes make the world a better place to live in. As a part of my series about “Life and […]

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Heroes have integrity. They do the right thing when it isn’t popular or when no one is looking. Heroes treat everyone the way that they would like to be treated. Heroes are role models to young people. Heroes make the world a better place to live in.

As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Drinko, owner of The Goddard School located in Franklin, TN. Mark Drinko is the on-site owner of The Goddard School, an early childhood facility located in Franklin, TN. Mark‘s previous work experience is in banking and insurance, most recently working for Travelers Corp. Mark and his wife, Tammy, live in Franklin, TN, just outside of Nashville, with their two children, Jackson and Cooper. Mark is an Army veteran and served in the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Desert Storm.


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

I grew up in Maple Heights, Ohio, a blue-collar suburb on the lower east side of Cleveland. We had a large family! I was the second youngest of seven children living in a three-bedroom, 1,400-square-foot home with one bathroom. There wasn’t enough money for extra things when I was younger, but we did have wonderful parents who were present.

Personal responsibility was a priority in my family. I don’t remember a time when my parents checked my homework or asked about my grades, but six of us earned four-year degrees. Five of my siblings went on to earn advanced degrees. My mother even went back to school in her late 40’s to earn her bachelor’s degree.

Early in my childhood, I learned that my actions have an impact on everyone around me. In a large family, you can’t turn around without getting in someone’s way. Whether it was dinner or a television show, we had to compromise to move forward.

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

I am the on-site owner of The Goddard School franchise location in Franklin (South). Initially, I had planned on running the business behind the scenes rather than acting as onsite owner, but this position has been the most rewarding experience of my career. Children are remarkably adept at discerning authenticity in adults. They also like to have fun! If you show them you care, your efforts are rewarded tenfold by the children!

We are in the people business at Goddard. Our teachers and the curriculum are the products we sell to our prospective families. There are no shortcuts in hiring, training, and providing a positive work environment.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I enlisted in the Army at 19 years old to pay for college. The Army offered additional college funds on top of the G.I. Bill, which the other branches of the service did not.

After graduation from basic training at Fort Benning, I was assigned to the 101st Airborne in Fort Campbell, KY. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend a lot of time on the base. We were deployed for 15 of the last 18 months and I served in various missions. We had the pleasure of spending time in West Point, NY, Fort Chaffee, AR, and the Middle East.

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

Our unit spent the summer of 1990 training the cadets infantry tactics in West Point, NY. Our company together in open barracks and it was enjoyable to explore New York and have fun on the weekends. In August, as we were preparing to leave, we saw the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on television. There were a few comments made jokingly about going to the fight. Little did we know, three weeks later, we would be standing in an airport hangar in Saudi Arabia as part of the coalition force.

The 101st spent seven months in Saudi Arabia and Iraq during the war, which was much shorter then we could have ever anticipated. We arrived in Saudi Arabia when the temperatures were 120 degrees or hotter during the day. Then, some nights, temperatures were 26 degrees.

Succeeding in stressful situations requires you to keep focusing on the things that are within your control. You don’t have much of a say on how long you will be there, but you can take responsibility for your training and preparation each day.

I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience?

I saw plenty of examples of heroic activity while serving. In my opinion, a hero reacts quickly and successfully in stressful situations. They are selfless and make your unit better. A hero reacts without thinking about personal risk to help someone.

While on a three-day rotation off the front line, someone in our unit was seriously injured during a live training. Several heroes jumped into action with immediate first aid. They stabilized the injured soldier and got him the help he needed to survive and recover from a critical injury.

How would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

It is normal for people to be paralyzed with fear in serious situations. Heroes can slow stressful situations down and take the necessary actions to move and succeed. It is just as important to have effective leadership when the situation is most challenging, and the consequences are the greatest. Heroes have the discipline to be prepared and the will power to fight through adversity.

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

Not at all. There are heroes all around us! Heroes have integrity. They do the right thing when it isn’t popular or when no one is looking. Heroes treat everyone the way that they would like to be treated. Heroes are role models to young people. Heroes make the world a better place to live in.

Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”?

The military teaches responsibility and the ability to adapt and overcome adverse situations. The plan never goes as it is supposed to. Creative and critical thinking are enhanced when you need to complete a mission and do not have the resources to do so. Teams are built and valued from the time you enter basic training until your last roll call. Teams with strong leadership outpace the efforts of individuals.

The military also teaches you discipline to stay the course and complete your mission. Having discipline means that there are no excuses. Army training is often difficult because we train in adverse weather conditions with fatigue and no sleep. These situations require you to stay focused and to maximize your preparation. Successful people in the workplace forego the easy route to better their chances of success. Goddard, for example, is committed to ensuring the proper preparation for students’ academic and social success. We also make sure to hire strong leaders at Goddard that can lead our students toward a successful future.

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

Businesses need to constantly improve to stay ahead of their competition. They need people who have the discipline to get the work done in stressful environments.

Leaders get the most out of their people and the military builds leaders of diverse work groups.

As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over?

Young veterans face crisis situations while they serve in the military and return to civilian life. They don’t feel like they fit in, and I was one of them. My enlistment ended while I was serving in Desert Storm and I was released from the Army 30 days after I returned. Four months later I was enrolled in college, and I was not successful. I spent five years drifting between my schooling and a small business before I finally moved out of state and started over.

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

Great employees come from different backgrounds. They don’t look, act, or speak the same, and their resumes are different. I try to focus my hiring on the best candidate for the job, and not the best interviewee. My advice would be to ensure you’re hiring someone who is passionate about the position they’re applying for and who has the experience needed to add value to your team.

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

It is more fulfilling to keep your workers happy so that they will stay. Make your workplace an environment worthwhile to come to each day. In the end, people want to know that you care and will fight for them! The little things go a long way to show appreciation.

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?

I was lucky to have parents who played an active role throughout my childhood. They went to school programs and sports, and they acted as moral and ethical examples for me and my siblings.

I also have a hero friend who was by my side from basic training through the college years. He would give you the shirt off his back if you asked. His name is Eric Bishop and he is getting a kidney transplant this month. Best of luck to you, Eric. I hope to see you soon, my friend.

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. 🙂

We have an epidemic of college loan debt in the United States. There are many careers that pay well and don’t require a college degree.

I would love to start a military program that works with soldiers to advance their opportunity for success in the civilian world. They would begin their training within the military and move to a university or directly to a private company after their enlistment.

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

“It’s never too late to change your life for the better. You don’t have to take huge steps to change your life. Making even the smallest changes to your daily routine can make a big difference to your life.” 
 ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

As we get older some hills look too big to climb, and we begin to stop trying. We need to keep going one step at a time.

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

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click here to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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