“Errol, I pay a guy with a quarter of your credentials a boat load of money to get his thoughts on leadership,” said a friend of mine when I told him I had become frustrated with the FBI’s culture but felt I couldn’t leave because it was too late to start a new career at my age.
“Wait, that’s a thing? People get paid to talk about leadership?” I responded.
I had no idea this market even existed.
There are very few people in the world who have the leadership credentials I do: Naval Academy graduate, Naval Surface Warfare officer (aka, ship driver), Naval Special Warfare officer (aka, Navy SEAL), FBI special agent, FBI SWAT operator, decorated combat veteran, entrepreneur and business owner, etc.
Here’s the thing, though: It took me about six years to be able to write or say these things after I started my leadership consulting business, “Ice Cold Leader.” I knew I had the credentials and experience in leadership to truly impact people’s lives, but I struggled to get myself to tell first-hand stories that supported my leadership philosophy.
“Errol, we need to hear more about you and your experiences,” I would hear constantly from friends and clients. My response in those early days was generally the same, “The leadership philosophy I created and present stands on its own. People don’t need to hear my stories. That’s not how we do business.”
“How who does business?” is the question I would get in response and the question you are likely asking yourself. Navy SEALs pride themselves on being quiet professionals. Do your work, do it better than anybody else, and move on. The work will speak for itself, nobody has to hear from you. That’s how we did business in the SEAL Teams and it’s how I continued to do business as an FBI special agent, SWAT operator, and combat veteran.
The idea of talking about my work repulsed me. It simply wasn’t who I was. It took a long time for me to be comfortable with the idea that sharing my stories was a part of helping people become better versions of themselves. I’m still not terribly comfortable with this aspect of my work, but it is important, and I do it with great enthusiasm because I see the positive impact it has on people.
We have a lot of amazing quiet professionals right here in the valley. People who go about the business of doing important work without making a lot of noise about it. We have our nonprofits like Smiling Goat Ranch that help children with autism and veterans suffering with PTSD. We have Colorado Extreme that provides free youth hockey to the valley with an emphasis on bringing diversity to the sport.
We have our first responders, men and women who generally only come to mind when you need them the most. We have our trail fixers who maintain the trails that feed our active local culture. We have our volunteer coaches and camp counselors who take time out of their busy schedules to ensure our children have sports to play and activities to help them grow into productive young adults.
We see the fruits of the labor of these quiet professionals, but don’t ever hear too much from them directly about the work they do or the sacrifices they make for us. We do, however, hear a lot from others as it relates to these professionals.
This is the other group of people that I don’t have a name for. We all know them because we hear them all the time. The people who seem to have nothing but time to complain about the work others do. These people are the opposite of the quiet professional and possess the ability to undo the good work of others by simply spreading seeds of negativity wherever they go.
We can all be quiet professionals. Even if it just means being quiet and deciding not to take gratuitous shots at people for their efforts. This does not mean that people cannot be criticized. But how often, with what tone, and with what motive is the criticism being done? This is the question we should ask ourselves if we desire to be quiet professionals.
In the SEAL Teams we simply did our work with pride and moved on, very much like the local quiet professionals I mentioned earlier. We also kept our gratuitous and negative opinions about others to ourselves.
We did this for a couple of reasons. First, because it was simply the right thing to do. Second, because we have felt the sting of unfair and vindictive criticism from that other group I spoke about and decided it was an ugly look we didn’t want to be a part of.
So, the next time you hear someone vindictively or gratuitously complain about the trail fixer, the volunteer coach, the first responder, or really anyone, ask yourself a couple of questions. Are you joining in and adding to the negativity? Or are you being a quiet professional? Someone who promotes an atmosphere of peace, understanding, and compassion.
Give it some thought because we can all be quiet professionals and make our beloved valley better in our own way.
Errol Doebler is a former Navy SEAL platoon commander, FBI terrorism investigator and founder of his leadership consulting firm, “Ice Cold Leader.” He can be contacted at Hello@Icecoldleader.com