Listen, Learn, Help, Lead

“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while, he gets to know something.” In this episode, I share my strategy for taking over a new team and seeking to earn trust early. Even when our team is physically distanced, I use the framework of Listen, Learn, Help, Lead to lay a foundation of communication and collaboration so the teams can continue to succeed.


The following is an email I sent to my new teammates while I am completing my self-quarantine after returning from leave. My goal was to set an early tone of inclusion and positive motivation, even from a distance/virtual setting. I also used the approach that General James Mattis referenced in his book Call Sign: Chaos, which actually references George Washington: Listen, Learn, [Help], Lead.



        BLUF: Business as usual (aka kicking ass) for CFT, TAC, and OAC, but I’m excited for our collaboration to see where we can take J39 into 2021.

1. While the name J39 may be new, your respective teams and the great things you have accomplished isn’t new. If anything, you’ve proven your worth to the HQ to warrant a permanent position on staff. To bluntly put it, my initial goal is to catch up with all of you and Listen and Learn. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll schedule virtual sitdowns w/your respective teams to gain your insight on how you get your work done. I notionally have some experience from my previous J34 position, but I’ll take a fresh start perspective and just Listen and Learn. I’d also like to know where your teams share info and collaborate, as well as sit in on any existing battle rhythm events your teams participate in, just to get a feel of what’s going on. Nothing fancy.

2. After the Listen and Learn, I want to Help and Lead. For all of the great things you have accomplished, I’m sure there is more to where you and our J2 and J3 leadership want to head. In addition to your contributions to operations, we have an opportunity with our J39 CONOP and CONEMP, along with some of the key leadership engagement w/our new EXDIR, Mr. Foster, and the incoming COM, Maj Gen Skinner, to gain their buy-in on what our team brings to the table and how to evolve and solidify our identity within JFHQ-DODIN. I personally think this will be an easy sell, but we aren’t going to waste the opportunity either.

3. Two immediate admin things:

3.1 We will start J39 Staff Meetings next week at Tue/1300 via DCS. I’ll send the calendar invite under separate cover. I intend this meeting to be 80% ops and 20% admin. I also don’t intend to have any staff meeting slides unless youse guys really want them.

3.2 Bringing over a product I previously used, please begin to sketch out what are your current and projected priorities for January. We will consolidate and update these priorities monthly, if anything to keep track of what’s going on and what has been accomplished. We can then use this as our informal agenda for our staff meeting, thus reducing admin churn. Please have your inputs to me by next Wed.

        Listen, Learn, Help, Lead. Those aren’t my words, but rather from GEN Mattis. Pretty damn good words for J39 as well. Any questions/comments, please lmk. #CSWS

JFHQ DODIN J39 (Ops Integration)