Paul Dillon: “Take care of you”

“Without the ability to be selfless, to put the needs and wants of others before your own, you will never get people to follow you to a place where they wouldn’t go to by themselves.” — Paul Dillon In this interview in the series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crises and how to adapt and […]

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“Without the ability to be selfless, to put the needs and wants of others before your own, you will never get people to follow you to a place where they wouldn’t go to by themselves.” — Paul Dillon

In this interview in the series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crises and how to adapt and overcome from a business owner that is building his organization with Veterans and Military Family Members. 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 recently had the pleasure of interviewing Paul A. Dillon. Paul A. Dillon is a Certified Management Consultant with more than 45 years of experience in the professional services industry. A U.S. Army Reserve veteran, he served in Vietnam as a 1st Lieutenant and was awarded 2 Bronze Star Medals. Paul is currently an Accenture Visiting Professor of the Practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, where he created and teaches a graduate-level course on veteran issues

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve upon my graduation from college in 1967. I received a delay for my active duty to attend graduate school, from which I graduated in 1969 and entered Federal Service. From 1969 to 1970, I served as a special staff officer and instructor at the U.S. Army Aviation School, Fort Rucker, Alabama, where I taught a method of instruction course — essentially, a course that taught instructor pilots how to teach pilots how to fly — and, performed research studies in human factors engineering and man/machine interface systems design. I was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in 1970, and subsequently served a tour of duty with the 165th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade, which was attached to Headquarters, U.S. Army, Vietnam. Our responsibilities were to manage the Army’s air traffic control system and to negotiate air traffic control facility land use and airspace agreements with the Vietnamese Government. My decorations include two Bronze Star Medals. I am a graduate of the U.S. Army Transportation Officers School. I was honorably discharged from Federal Service in 1971 and assigned to the Individual Ready Reserves for a six-year period.

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

The best leadership training in the world is the training that is given to commissioned officers, and senior non-commissioned officers, in the Armed Forces of the United States. As young Army officers, we were taught to take care of our troops first, if you want them to follow you. An officer has to convince the people under his or her command that they have their best interests in mind, while they are accomplishing the mission. An officer doesn’t eat until all of his or her troops have eaten. An officer is the last to sleep and walks the perimeter of the camp to ensure that their troops are safe and sound. An officer doesn’t change into a dry pair of socks until he or she is satisfied that their troops are dry and warm. Otherwise, the troops just aren’t going to follow you to places where they wouldn’t go by themselves.

And, as I’ve said before, that’s the best definition of leadership that I have ever encountered. A leader is someone who people will follow to a place where they wouldn’t go by themselves.

“Duty, Honor, Country” — the motto of an Army officer. Simple words — but, their meaning can have a profound impact on a business career. Every company would do well to follow this type of training.

Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us?

There were many instances of individual heroism that I witnessed during my term of active duty service in Vietnam. But, as I indicated in an article that I wrote for Crain’s Chicago Business in 1988 on my Vietnam war experience, I believe that anyone who served in Vietnam was a hero of sorts. As I stated in the article, “There weren’t many of us who wanted to leave family and friends, go half way around the globe, and fight in a war that many believe was misguided and misunderstood, with the good possibility of being killed or wounded in the process.”

All of us who served in the Vietnam war were heroes in that regard.

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

Is the mother who takes a job were she can work from home so that she can lovingly tend to her autistic son, the father who works two or three jobs to support his family, the child who tutors a classmate in a difficult subject, the teenager who volunteers at the local food bank, the cop who walks a dangerous beat, or the doctor or nurse who cares for a patient under difficult circumstances any less of a hero than a soldier operating in a theater of war?

Look around you. Heroes are everywhere.

No, I mean really look around you. The next time that you’re in a conversation with someone, peer deeply into their eyes. You will find out a lot about them. “The eyes are the window to the soul”, a phrase variously attributed to St. Matthew, DaVinci and Shakespeare. Whoever originally said this, they’re right.

And, listen…really listen. Pay close attention to not only what a person says, but to how they say it. Is there fear in their voice…hope…hatred…excitement?

Look deeply into a person’s eyes…and listen intently to how a person speaks…and, they will reveal individual acts of heroism in their lives that are beyond imagination.

Heroes are all around us. We just need to be sensitive enough to discover them.

We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?

For issues of crisis management, I turn to my good friend and former colleague, Geary W. Sikich, who is the founder of a crisis management firm called Logical Management Systems, and who is an acknowledged international expert on this subject. I have been privileged to be an occasional advisor to Geary’s firm over the years.
Geary defines a crisis as, “A disruptive event (a crisis) can be defined as any unplanned event, occurrence, or sequence of events that has a specific undesirable consequence.”

That’s the best definition of a crisis that I have ever found. I couldn’t agree with him more.

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

Geary Sikich, my friend who is the international crisis management expert, says that, before a crisis strikes, an organization needs to be prepared to quickly identify the event that might happen, determine its level of severity and the consequences for the organization, and then establish a minimum level of functionality that the organization can obtain in order to sustain itself during the time of the crisis. Thought also needs to be given to how a plan might be formed to restore services in a timely fashion.

When you hear the tanks coming down the road, it’s probably a little too late to prepare for war.

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and its usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, whats the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?

I can only say what I do when I find myself in a crisis situation. I laser-focus on the situation, shutting out the rest of the world. Then, I immediately try to brake the situation down into manageable tasks — and, prioritize those tasks in their order of importance. I then act on those tasks without hesitation, all the while trying to seek as much information as possible regarding the situation at hand. If my “plan of attack” — so to speak — isn’t working, I immediately try to pivot to a plan that does — an operational technique that we learned as Army officers.

Sikich, in one of his articles, refers to a method for operating in a crisis situation that was championed by a U.S. Air Force officer for pilots to use when they encounter a crisis in flight: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

An inner calmness, a strong sense of self, integrity, decisiveness, good judgment, the ability to execute your crisis management plan, and confidence in your own competence, among others.

When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Those are the qualities possessed by most great leaders: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower (when he was Supreme Allied Commander during World War II), Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King, Jr., to name but a few. Interestingly, I have found these traits in most of the officer corps in the Armed Forces of the United States.

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?

There have been too many setbacks to mention. But, what I have learned from those setbacks is:

Be flexible! And, don’t take no for an answer. If you meet with rejection, get up, brush yourself off, and try again. There is always more that one way to skin the proverbial cat.

The concept of emotional resilience has always intrigued me. Why is it that some people can bounce back from an awful situation, while others succumb to utter defeat?


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.

When it comes to questions of mental health, I have learned not to “practice without a license”, as my friends who are psychologists and psychiatrists say. Here are five steps that anyone can take to improve their emotional well-being, as stated by Give an Hour, a well-respected mental health service organization:

  1. Take care of you. Eat, sleep and be active. We don’t often think about how important these basic activities are to our mental health — but they are critical!
  2. Get checkups. We get check-ups for our physical health and for our teeth. We even take our cars in for check-ups. It’s time to take responsibility and get check-ups for our emotional well-being. Talk with your doctor, a counselor, a faith-based leader… and your family and friends to make sure you are doing well emotionally.
  3. Engage and connect wisely. Pay attention to your relationships. We can’t be healthy if our relationships are not.
  4. Be active, meditate, garden, dance, love, cook, sing
  5. Learn the Five Signs of emotional suffering (Personality Change, Agitated, Withdrawn, Poor Self-Care, Hopelessness). And if you see them in someone you love, reach out, connect and offer to be of help.

Another good source of information on mental health issues is The Kennedy Forum, and its Illinois affiliate, The Kennedy Forum Illinois. (Full disclosure: I am privileged to represent our nation’s veteran community on The Kennedy Forum, and to serve on the Leadership Council of the Kennedy Forum Illinois).

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I don’t think that these two things will “inspire a movement” (so to speak) — and, that’s not why I’m mentioning them. But, they are critically important, nevertheless — and, I wish that people understood them more, took them to heart — and, most important, put them into practice:

We are all brothers and sisters. At the time of this writing, the coronavirus is still raging around the world. If we haven’t learned from this tragic pandemic that we are all one people — with common interests, traveling together through space and time on this fragile planet — no matter our race, religion, creed, or national origin — then we never will.

Put away your petty prejudices and juvenile political squabbling. They have no place here.

We are all God’s children, created in His image and likeness.

All of us.

Yes, I’m looking at you. You are, indeed, my brother and sister. And, we need to treat people that 

Those of us who have served in a war zone understand all too well the fleeting nature of human life. We who have witnessed death at a relatively early age — I was 26 years old when I served as a U.S. Army Reserve 1st Lieutenant in Vietnam — never forget the experience. It unalterably changes your life forever.

If we have one life on this Earth, and it is, indeed, fleeting and temporary, then we should devote that life to the betterment of our fellow man — and woman. We should live for others.

That great Jesuit philosopher and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin — I’m betraying my Jesuit education here — says that we reach our Omega Point — our ultimate rendezvous with God— through others. All of mankind’s works should be done Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam — for the greater glory of God.

The mere accumulation of material goods will never bring us true happiness. It can only be found through service to others.

No one has ever figured out how to hook up a u-haul to a hearse.

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?

That’s a tough one, as I have been extremely fortunate in my career to get to know — and, work along with — many important people in business, government, academia — and, by virtue of my more than 14 years of experience serving as the supervisor of elections to the National Radio Hall of Fame, and to the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for the Emmy Awards — the media.

The person that I would really like to have a conversation with is Dr. Deborah L. Brix, who is leading the U.S. government response to the coronavirus epidemic as the Coronavirus Response Coordinator. A former U.S. Army Colonel, Ambassador (Dr.) Brix served as the Assistant Chief of the Hospital Immunology Service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, among her many other prestigious appointments. It would be interesting to get her viewpoint on the state of the epidemic today — and, how to protect all of us from the scourge of these horrific epidemics in the future.

It would be a fascinating discussion.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best way to follow me online is through my LinkedIn account, which I update regularly. Here’s the link:

If someone wants to contact me directly, here’s my email address:

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

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