Navy SEAL and Air Force Fighter Pilot Team Up to Inspire and Educate at the 2021 Virtual SuperShow
by Perry William Kelly
What happens when you put a master motivational speaker who used to be a Navy SEAL and a master business consultant who used to be an Air Force fighter pilot together and task them with inspiring and educating martial arts business owners? Well, no one knows because the 2021 Virtual SuperShow hasn’t happened yet. (At the event, which is scheduled for July 7-9, they will be the keynote speakers.)
One thing we do know now is that you won’t get “reel life” versions of a SEAL and a top gun — sorry, Mark Wahlberg and Tom Cruise. You will get “real life” versions of American heroes, specifically Brent Gleeson and Robert “Cujo” Teschner, both of whom have put their lives on the line for your freedom. These warriors went on to become successful businessmen and consultants, and when you sign up for the SuperShow, you’ll get a virtual ringside seat to learn some of the secrets they’ve taught top executives around the world.
I recently connected with these two gentlemen to learn more about their backgrounds and find out what they plan on addressing when they speak at the Virtual SuperShow. Let’s lock and load!
Brent Gleeson: Training
Gleeson is the founder and CEO of TakingPoint Leadership, a management consulting firm that focuses on transforming businesses and building high-performance company culture. The son of a Vietnam vet, this father of four grew up in Dallas. In high school, he was a competitive swimmer, which is a fine start for a guy who would go on to become a SEAL.
Gleeson completed his undergraduate degree in finance and economics at Southern Methodist University and seemed destined for a future in corporate America. In fact, he was working as a financial analyst for a global investment firm when his life took a slight detour.
A rugby player in college, Gleeson was looking for a way to stay in shape when a fraternity brother who had a lifelong goal of joining the Navy said he needed a partner to help him prepare for the infamous Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training course. In short order, they were lifting weights, swimming miles and running marathons.
Although he initially had no intention of joining the military, Gleeson became fascinated with the history and culture of the SEALs, as well as their hyper-focused mindset. His interest piqued, he shifted his own mindset to one that advocated living “a life of no regret and [not] being that guy who thought about doing that but didn’t.” After quitting his corporate job, he joined the Navy in 2000 with the aim of becoming a SEAL.
Gleeson sailed through the 24-week-long BUD/S training. Of the 250 people who started, only 23 graduated. In 2002, he joined SEAL Team 5, and by 2003, he began a series of deployments in Iraq. In addition to his 100-plus combat missions there, he engaged in numerous covert operations in Africa and other hot spots.
Gleeson’s plan was always to return to the business world once his military service ended. So after his discharge in 2004, he headed off to the University of San Diego, later graduating with a Master of Science degree in real estate. He also attended England’s Oxford University, where he studied English composition and criminal justice.
Brent Gleeson: Succeeding
When he entered the business world, Gleeson attacked it like he was on a SEAL mission. He founded three companies that raked in the cash before he decided to share his military and business savvy with the world. When I chatted with him, I asked how the principles he conveys to Fortune 500 companies will apply to smaller businesses like those run by the martial artists who attend the Virtual SuperShow.
“One thing that I have found — and I have owned three companies, three start-ups that have experienced rapid growth into medium-size organizations — [is that] essentially a start-up starts up as a small business,” he said. “One thing that I’ve come to realize that I’ve spent time researching and writing about is that many of the challenges that small businesses face are the same as very large organizations.
“Whether you want to become a larger business or stay a small business, it’s still about laying those critical foundations when it comes to designing a culture that achieves a specific outcome. These challenges are similar regardless of the industry — from a martial arts school to an oil and gas company.”
Brent Gleeson: Authoring
When I mentioned his best-selling book Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to an Extraordinary Life, Gleeson said that some tidbits from it will be shared with attendees at the SuperShow.
“The book in its simplest form is about resilience, mental fortitude and bouncing back from adversity — it’s a self-help book,” he said. “The content of books that I saw out there is a lot of fluff, a lot of happy self-talk — [not] a lot of very actionable content. I wanted to lean more to the grittier side, more tough-love, in-your-face, how-we-develop-people-in-the-world-of-special-operations [material].
“The first part of the book is about how we change pain and adversity into greater wisdom, greater enlightenment. You come across an obstacle in your personal [or] professional life and you sit down and reflect on the most arduous situations you’ve ever been in and the obstacle in front of you. In that moment, it might shrink into an insignificant barrier that you can easily overcome.
“I talk about temptation and putting better restraints on ourselves so that we can not only avoid temptation but also eliminate it from our lives by putting up better lane makers, better definitions of what we want out of this short life. I talk about discipline and accountability. Research shows that people who are more disciplined and hold themselves more accountable are happier and more fulfilled and may achieve more of the goals they set.
“I close the book with a chapter that is entitled ‘We Are All Going to Die, So Get Up Off Your Ass and Execute!’ — meaning we don’t really know when this short life is going to come to an end. Basically, I call it your own personal exit strategy, if you will, defining what winning looks like for your own personal life and working backward from there.”
Brent Gleeson: Believing
For the past five years, Gleeson has written for Forbes magazine. In a recent column, he outlined the merits of having core values in an organization. I asked why core values are so important and what steps can be taken to ensure they’re embraced by all members of a team.
“If high-performing business organizations, sports teams and even the world of special operations have manifestos of core values, why would we not have that for ourselves or our families?” he replied. “When you think about guiding principles and core values and what those supporting behaviors are, you can drill down into how [to] hold yourself accountable. Core values also help you make better decisions and define what you are willing to do and what you are absolutely not willing to do.”
When it comes to key steps, he noted that core values have to be authentic. “The way those values become authentic, there are a couple of things,” he said. “One is that hopefully anybody who is a leader of people in a company, team or organization lives by those values on and off the battlefield. [A second] way is to deeply ingrain them in your culture by talking about them all the time — from how you [hire] new talent to how you develop your people, how you recognize and reward achievement in your organization, how you use those values in a coaching moment — when you are mentoring others.”
In Embrace the Suck, Gleeson points out that the most resilient people often help others when they need to relieve stress and boost their efficacy. Gleeson himself has helped raise millions of dollars for the SEAL Family Foundation, which prompted me to ask if all martial artists should be doing such things during these unprecedented times.
“Research shows that altruism and giving back can be powerful for overcoming your most personal struggles with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress,” he said. “When we make it about someone else, something else or a cause greater than ourselves, we stop wallowing in our own misery. Not to make giving back seem like a selfish endeavor, [but] that type of behavior is deeply rewarding [and] deeply healing. And you discover that someone else has always got it worse than you do.”
That led us to the COVID pandemic and a recent article in which he mentions a popular SEAL saying: Calm is contagious. He said this means that in times of crisis, we should develop a plan of action based on what we can control and then deprioritize what we can’t. In the article, he wrote that when business slows down, it’s time to concentrate on planning, human resources, strategy and other aspects that might have been pushed aside.
“Now is the time to focus on the brand, focus on marketing — getting word out about what the business does,” he said. “Research shows, especially back in 2008 when the housing market imploded and the recession soon followed, that businesses large or small that focused on their brand, focused on content generation and focused on marketing came out stronger with greater market share than competitors who didn’t.”
I wondered if Gleeson had any last words of advice for school owners who attend the Virtual SuperShow. “Don’t just wander around,” he said. “Go in with a plan as to what is going to impact your business the most, a plan with your top three goals of what you want to walk away with, goals that are actionable. What key learnings can you extract that can move the needle on your business [so you get] a return on your investment?”
Robert Teschner: Helping
Teschner heads an international consulting firm called VMax Group, which teaches businesses how to thrive by cultivating accountable leadership and team spirit. The father of five currently lives in St. Louis but grew up in an Air Force family that was stationed around the world.
Regarding his background, Teschner said his life changed when he watched Top Gun on a military base with a bunch of F-4 and F-16 fighter pilots. By the time the end credits rolled, he’d realized that this was what he wanted to do. One could argue, however, that his family’s military roots might have had something to do with his calling.
His grandfather trained as a fighter pilot in World War II, and his father served in Vietnam and won the Bronze Star for, as Teschner put it, “volunteering to be in the backseat of anything that flew in harm’s way — because he didn’t fly himself.” His father, originally an Air Force intelligence officer, later went to law school and became a judge advocate general.
When Teschner graduated from high school, the Air Force was cutting back, and that caused him to conclude that the U.S. Air Force Academy would be his best bet for becoming a fighter pilot. After four years of what he calls “outstanding leadership training,” he graduated near the top of his class with an advanced degree in operational art and science, as well as one in national security strategy.
He commenced active duty in 1995 as a second lieutenant and began his pilot training in Wichita Falls, Texas. He graduated first in his class, which gave him the chance to select the aircraft he would fly. He chose the F-15C, a tried-and-true design that focuses on air superiority.
His career saw him log nearly 2,000 hours of flight time with service in Iraq in support of the United Nations. He also provided air support for troops and bombers engaged in various missions.
Teschner attended the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, as a student, then became an instructor there. Before he retired as a full colonel, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. It came as a complete surprise because a month earlier, he’d been cleared to fly F-22 Raptors. The diagnosis led to a number of surgeries, removal of his lower colon and years of recovery. He attributes his survival to the training he received in the military, which prepared him to maintain a strong attitude, to win no matter what and to do whatever needs to be done.
Robert Teschner: Writing
After retiring from the military, he used his experience to launch a company and write a best-selling book titled Debrief to Win: How America’s Top Guns Practice Accountable Leadership … and How You Can, Too!
Teschner’s “accountable leadership” and “debrief” process avoids wasting time by having teams focus on things that truly matter. This enables them to figure out how to duplicate success the next time and avoid making the same mistakes. He said businesses can benefit because his program accelerates the learning of new hires and gets them “mission ready” more quickly. He noted that a meta-analysis conducted by Tannenbaum and Cerasoli found that if companies follow his process, individual and team performance improves an average of 20 to 25 percent.
I asked how he plans to present his process to the SuperShow audience. “If you study teamwork, you quickly find out that accountability is absolutely essential to teamwork done well,” he said. “Every one of these small [martial arts] businesses has a small team that they are harnessing to go forward. That teamwork requires accountability … regardless of the size of the team.”
Teschner said he has other intel in store for school owners at the Virtual SuperShow. “I will touch on what I learned from the very first days at the Air Force Academy: Teamwork is a full-contact sport that we have to take seriously, prepare for, think about [and] organize to do. It doesn’t just happen. You can’t just bring a bunch of people in a room and tell them, ‘Go get ’em!’
“From there, I will discuss what accountability does for us and that it is not about making people feel bad or feeling blamed or shamed for having done something wrong. Really, it’s about bringing out the best of our team members — looking for tomorrow as being better than today was, celebrating the micro-victories even in the midst of a failure, and learning constantly.”
I wondered if his debrief process required any tweaking during the pandemic. “The only thing that I have noticed in coaching clients is that if you are meeting in person and wearing masks, it is hard for folks to know, ‘Hey, am I getting across to you?’”
It’s tough to gauge whether you’re getting through to others without being able to see anything except their eyes, he added. “It may be confusing for people to understand what the real tone is. And tone is important for every member of the team, especially if we are dissecting a failure, so the mood remains positive and upbeat. This is easily mitigated by transitioning to virtual.”
Robert Teschner: Surviving
Teschner said he draws on his bout with cancer to convey advice for the tough times in which we live: “I did a talk recently for a cancer benefit, and they asked me to use one word to describe my journey with cancer. I said the way I view it is as a war. That has two immediate implications.
“Number one, in a war, we don’t win all battles. So the key for your side in a war is to bounce back after a loss, knowing that it is a succession of many battles and their victories that will ultimately lead to victory. So you may not do well today, but you can if pick yourself up and bounce back tomorrow.”
The second implication is that no one goes into battle alone, he said. “I’ve always been part of a team. And for those who feel they are by themselves, it’s a natural feeling — but they’re not. The pandemic is an example because it has put us on a wartime footing no matter where we are on the planet. As much as we have been isolated, we have to seek more than normal to build our teams. That is the choice with cancer, other challenges in life and the pandemic.”
Brent Gleeson and Robert Teschner: Further Learning
If you wish to learn more of the wisdom these two warrior-scholars routinely share with clients, make plans to be part of the 2021 Virtual SuperShow. As worthy of attention as their keynotes are sure to be, these accomplished veterans are just the tip of the iceberg that is the SuperShow. For more information on the other nine-tenths, visit masupershow.com.
Perry William Kelly has a sixth-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu and is an instructor in four other martial arts. He’s the former national coordinator for use of force for the Correctional Service of Canada. In 2017 he was a karate gold medalist at the World Police and Fire Games, and in 2018 he received the Joe Lewis Eternal Warrior Award. His website is perrywkelly.com.
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