Apple Award Winning Podcast
Westpoint Military Academy is the United States oldest continuously occupied military post since 1778.
Today it’s home to over 5,000 personnel and has the responsibility for training the next generation of military leaders in the United States. Natasha Orslene served in the United States Army for 11 years and worked in their leadership development program for most of her career, culminating in serving in the United States Military Academy at West Point.
There she was able to observe some of the best leaders in the academy and notice how they listened. Not just to how they listened when lives were on the line, also how they listened in moments of groups meetings where a wide variety of opinions needed to be sought.
Together we explore the evolution of military training from volunteerism all the way through to modern professional soldiers, and what the impact is for leaders and their listening.
We look at the role of modern cyber warfare because it amplifies the importance of listening as the soldier themselves become the weapon system, the software between their ears is what will challenge the adversary. Natasha explores with me the role of listening in moments of cyber interaction as well as how you need to listen across your teams and your adversary simultaneously to ensure that you can maximize the impact of that software or what’s in between your ears while you’re sitting behind a computer.
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Podcast Episode 096: Emergency listening, how to listen when you’re doing something for the very first time
Natasha Orslene (00:11):
During this training exercise, the vehicle went off the road, they did not follow instructions. When you fall out of a military vehicle and you’re not hooked in, you’re flying out of the vehicle. All 20 individuals who were in the back of the vehicle did go flying out of the vehicle, and unfortunately it did land on one individual who, in that moment, also did not pass quickly. Within that moment, there was people thinking they knew what to do and then not actually having any clue ’cause they’re young and this was their first big exercise. And to be a part of that moment and get people to calm down and look at you, lemme tell you what to do. I’m- “I’m telling you what to do ’cause I know what to do next, and really walking them through call a nine line, which is how we get a medical evacuation in. “So go call in a nine line, you’re gonna say these things, say them in this order.” And to encourage and empower people to listen in those moments I think is what the military leader really has to work on the most throughout their whole career.
Oscar Trimboli (01:36):
Deep listening, impact beyond words. G’day, I’m Oscar Trimboli, and this is the Apple awarding-winning podcast Deep Listening, designed to move you from a distracted listener to a deep and impactful leader. Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening, yet only 2% of people have every been taught how? In each episode, we explore the five levels of listening. Communication is 50% speaking and 50% listening. Yet as a leader, you’re taught only the importance of communication from the perspective of how to speak. It’s critical you start to build some muscles for the next phase in how to listen. The cost of not listening, it’s confusion, it’s conflict, it’s projects running over schedule, it’s lost customers, it’s great employees that leave before they want to. When you implement the strategies, the tips and tactics that you’ll hear, you’ll get four hours a week back in your schedule. I wonder what you could do with an extra four hours a week.
Oscar Trimboli (02:45):
Emergency listening, how to listen when you’re doing something for the very first time. West Point Military Academy is the United States oldest continuously occupied military post since 1778. Today it’s home to over 5,000 personnel and has the responsibility for training the next generation of military leaders in the United States. Natasha Orslene served in the United States Army for 11 years and worked in their leadership development programme for most of her career, culminating in serving in the United States Military Academy at West Point. There she was able to observe some of the best leaders in the academy and notice how they listened. Not just to how they listened when lives were on the line, also how they listened in moments of groups meetings where a wide variety of opinions needed to sought.
Oscar Trimboli (03:44):
Together we explore the evolution of military training from volunteerism all the way through to modern professional soldiers, and what the impact is for leaders and their listening. We also look at the role of modern cyber warfare because it amplifies the importance of listening as the soldier themselves become the weapon system, the software between their ears is what will challenge the adversary. Natasha explores with me the role of listening in moments of cyber interaction as well as how you need to listen across your teams and your adversary simultaneously to ensure that you can maximise the impact of that software or what’s in between your ears while you’re sitting behind a computer. Let’s listen to Natasha.
Natasha Orslene (04:46):
The cost of not listening would range anywhere from you failing the people around you on your team all the way to the loss of life for the individuals, either for yourself or for someone else in your group. In training, which we do consistently, it’s really important to understand what the mission is, not only for training but also for later when we’re actually doing operations in the real life. And training is designed to be as lifelike as possible, which means the training is also very dangerous a lot of the time.
Natasha Orslene (05:27):
When we were training a group of individuals who were not gonna go out to the field, they were gonna do this a specific exercise, as we were moving along and asking different people, “So what exactly is the mission? What exactly is your role in this? What steps do you take? If this goes wrong, whatta you do? If he freaks out, whatta you do?” We go through and we really talk to each individual about the specifics, and then we roleplayed a little bit before we even get into the actual training exercise. We always say, “Repeat it back to me. Repeat that back to me.”
Natasha Orslene (06:03):
And then if… I know for myself, if I see that someone is really struggling, I do a triage, if you will, of who needs my help the most right now, but who also needs to do this so I can focus on other things? I will then still stay with them, you know, grab the radio and hand to them and say, “You’re calling that in now. These are the nine things. What were the nine things? Say those nine things.” And almost like in a training environment especially, or even in a real-life environment when things go bad, you always think you’ll know how to react, but unfortunately listening tends to be the first thing that goes out the window.
Natasha Orslene (06:41):
With leadership in the military, it’s that initial triage ’cause you will have people who just will panic. How do you get them to do things and not become either another casualty or become somebody else who’s making it harder for other people to listen?
Oscar Trimboli (06:57):
Most people imagine the military is life or death situations. Yeah, most of the time it’s not. How different is military listening and how does it show up in regular life?
Natasha Orslene (07:09):
What’s unique about the military is being in intense situations, you will find pretty quickly because people they just… they naturally respond to a emergency a certain way and you can see who zeros in and who doesn’t, and you can normally grab them and have them do small tasks and the other thing. Don’t ask them to do something big and complicated, especially if they’re not seasoned. You have to ask for small things and guide them through that slowly.
Natasha Orslene (07:43):
The commander of the academy during the COVID situation as it hit the United States, he’s a very engaging person. When he leaves his house, his lives a block away from his office, it takes him two hours to get there because he wants to talk to everybody and know how they… what- what’s going on. When we were first determining what to do for the academy when it came to COVID, how do we keep 4,500 cadets safe, he brought all the leadership together, but then he brought together people external to our organisation, whether it was the major, whether it was people from the CDC or from other units, and asked them what worked for you? How do we make this work? What I really appreciated was when he would have his weekly meeting as to, this is an update, so people would update him, and then when he would give his new guidance, he would acknowledge the people who he heard an idea from and say, “This is how we’re gonna do this because these guys walk”… “talked us through it”-
Oscar Trimboli (08:49):
Natasha Orslene (08:49):
… “And it worked for them and we’re gonna make it work here.”
Oscar Trimboli (08:53):
A powerful example of the fifth level of listening because when that commander acknowledged who he listened to, it gave power back to the room, not only does it say, “I listened to you, I acknowledge you.” It that moment, it gives permission to everybody else in the room to speak up to say what’s on their mind, to say what might be uncomfortable. I’m curious, who listened to you, Natasha?
Natasha Orslene (09:26):
Well, my mentor, uh, he’s name’s Will Rineheart, in those initial meeting a very junior person, just like a wee little (laughs) tiny soldier, and he was this big command sergeant major, the hightest rank you can be on the enlisted side, he took the time to even give me an audience and listen to what it was that I was looking to develop and how I was like where I wanted my journey to go. But not only that, but he was very active in continuing to check in, remembering where were we on the goals. He was very invested in the individual. His ability to listen and absorb things from people I though was just… it was next level.
Oscar Trimboli (10:11):
When it comes to listening in the military, a lotta people think that leaders just bark the orders at their subordinates and they do what they’re told. Is that really the case?
Natasha Orslene (10:29):
That is not, but don’t tell anyone. (laughs) It is really important to… there are times when you need to just listen and you need to just do the next right thing. And oftentimes when you see people barking orders or doing anything like that, it’s because the situation is serious and they need to get your attention, and then they’re telling you the next thing to do, the next right thing. On a typical day-to-day basis, that does not occur. Instead, it is a lot of people at all levels of leadership doing a really good job of trying to figure out what makes the people around them tick and how do we actually work on this engagement and this team connection because when those serious moments come, you need them to trust you and listen to you. And if you don’t build that trust, that listening when people are scared and they’re under a lot of pressure is not gonna happen.
Oscar Trimboli (11:23):
Was there a time when you remembered that happening?
Natasha Orslene (11:23):
It was a training event, there was a certain route that was supposed to be taken, and a different route was taken. One of our vehicles ended up going off the road, and in the situation, several people were hurt and ultimately it ended up with an individual losing their life. In that moment, it was whoever was the most senior person there was now in charge barking those orders. Where it’s, “Hey, this is what’s going on. This is what I need you to do.” It becomes very double sided in the sense of as the leader I need to tell you what to do next, but I need to look at you and I need to figure out who can listen in this moment. In that situation, there were senior people there, but then a lot of the people were also very junior to the organisation, so they didn’t have those, we call them life reps, those repetitions of having done training, having been in serious situations like that before.
Natasha Orslene (12:25):
And so it was on us as the leaders to find who in that moment could connect with us, tell them what to do, see if they could actually listen in those moments, and then guide them to the next thing. And then on their end, as much as they could, and also having been on that end when I was junior myself, figuring out I just need to listen right now and it is difficult. But when we had that training event that was very eye-opening for a lot of us with how were we actually showing people how to listen, and how are we structuring training so that when these things happen, people are able to listen quickly and listen better, even if they don’t know what’s going on? Just listen to the person who does know what’s going on and can get you to the next thing.
Oscar Trimboli (13:20):
G’day, it’s Oscar. I just wanted to jump out and notice something that I see in non-military workplaces. Leaders who delegate poorly, they get frustrated, they say, “People never deliver on time because they didn’t listen the first time I said it.” This is a good example that Natasha’s just gone through. It’s a pretty intense example, yet I often say to leaders I work with, “If that task you’re delegating the very first time, you can be as clear on the outcome as you want.” But if it’s the first time they’ve done something, you’re unlikely to get the task complete in timely way, in a way that’s high quality, and in a way that’s sustainable.
Oscar Trimboli (14:19):
As leaders, when you delegate a task to somebody the first time, check have the done it before. Next, ask them to work it backwards. Ask them a simple question, “How would you approach this?” And as they discuss how they would approach it, you will very quickly understand is this something they’re doing for the very first time, or is it something that they’ve done before? Especially for those tasks that are being done the very first time, it is more important to be prescriptive to lay out specific examples, frameworks, and steps then it is to ask them open-ended questions. When you’re prescriptive on new tasks, that builds confidence for the other person, also helps them to notice their gaps, and it helps them to delivery something that will be informed but not necessarily copied, your experience.
Oscar Trimboli (15:24):
So when you’re delegating something the very first time and you kinda struggling with that with the other person, just ask them the simple question, “How would you approach this?” And they’ll step through it really carefully and slowly so that both of you can understand where the gaps are. Let’s return to Natasha where we ask how do we know the instructing officer understands that what the instruction is has been acknowledged, heard, and understood by the subordinate?
Natasha Orslene (15:58):
When people are stressed out and they’re scared, and it’s the first time, maybe, that they’ve been in a situation like that, the more senior people who are training and leading other soldiers and other individuals have a lot of real-life personal experience in what exactly it is that they’re training them on. It’s rare that you’re gonna find an individual who encounters a situation what… that they haven’t really encountered before. But there’s a first time for everything. With more senior people in identifying those folks who are able to in that moment hear what they’re saying, even just acknowledge that some people are shocked, they’re stunned, all these other things, and they are not useful in resolving the situation.
Natasha Orslene (16:48):
And so when you find those other people, unfortunately, they- they tend to fewer, I’ll use a nine line medevac, which is how we remove individuals from a dangerous situation, we call in, you know, medical, and they get them out. An individual would say, “I need you to call in a nine line medevac. Do you know how to do that?” They’ll ask me really seemingly simple questions. The person probably does, but in that moment do you? So do you know how do that? What are the nine lines? You say them with me or here’s what they are. Maybe I’ll grab a sharpie, I’ll write it on your arm, I’ll do what I need to do. But in that I’m still talking to you and not just saying, “Go call in a nine line, go luck,” and moving on the next thing.
Natasha Orslene (17:37):
Also in those moments, as leaders we’re showing them how to care for others down the road, showing them how much attention they need to give to people who are trying to listen, and maybe it’s just taking a minute to get through. So there’s the, “Are you able to do this? Do you know how to do this? What exactly are we going to be doing, and let’s walk through that together,” and we make sure you understand that. And then in a situation like that, as serious as that, I’m going to stay with them, they’re going to be close to me or next to me while they’re actually carrying that out. So if they need additional instruction, the leader is then able to guide them to that next piece.
Natasha Orslene (18:17):
What we always want as just people who want to be heard is that somebody says, “Yes, I understand you, you want me to call in this, and I’m going to do this for this result. I’m going to go do that now.” But in those types of situations, it’s really important to acknowledge that they do not maybe have the capacity to do that, watching for how they’re listening and intaking information, and being as patient as is reasonable for the situation is really the way to walk through that, but to not expect it to be how it would be if we were all safely in a classroom together.
Oscar Trimboli (18:52):
Natasha, in that very moment where I’m the leader and I am trying to notice are they available and can they hear me, what am I noticing for the people who are listening, and more importantly what am I noticing for the people who aren’t?
Natasha Orslene (19:09):
I’ll start with the people who are not, and those are folks who tend to look dazed, they look confused about what’s going on, they’re overly upset, although sometimes you can reel in an overly upset person, but they’re just not able to process the situation as it is in that moment. The people who are then able to be good listeners and then be contributors to solving the problem or resolving the situation are already looking for something to do. They are actively going over to people who they believe are injured. They’re approaching someone who is the leader to try to see if they can get further direction. Even if they don’t know what to do, they are looking for something to do. In identifying those people and then not losing track of the ones who are not able to listen right now, that’s how you would determine in that situation who would be the most viable listener.
Oscar Trimboli (20:11):
Like any large system, the military needs to evolve. How has it evolved in the world of cyber warfare?
Natasha Orslene (20:20):
When I first joined the military, I got to be a part of the Cyber Corps, and we had some wonderful leaders, and one of the leaders who really stood out to me, her whole thing was as we were structuring, how do we build this, what does this look like, she wanted to hear from every single person in the room. And at the time, I was very junior, and she was very serious, she was general officer. And in doing that, she listened to every person, she would not parrot it but should let you know h… while she was receiving that information, but then later she would give credit to the people who their ideas or, you know, what their thoughts, how that led her to the decisions. At the all these different levels and in all these different situations, whether it’s extreme and it’s serious, or it’s whether we’re literally sitting in a room as safe as could be, there’s a lot of listening at all different levels, and military leaders trying to make that better every day.
Natasha Orslene (21:19):
What was really interesting about working with that specific general officer was not only was she able to get great information, people more willingly gave it to her. In a hierarchy like the military, you get caught in these places where they say, “When you go in that room, don’t say this. Don’t say this to this type of officer.” A lot of information is almost too filtered. But with that, she would acknowledge, not matter how you said it… everyone was respectful, of course, not matter how you said it or how the information was presented, her initial acknowledgment of being able to like s- skillfully paraphrase it back was not only telling us that in that moment she was listening to everything we were saying, she was also watching what we were doing ’cause she would say things like, “It seems like you feel this way about it.” And you’re like, “Oh, okay. I didn’t say that but she could tell that I wasn’t 100% on that idea.”
Natasha Orslene (22:21):
It was great to be acknowledged just as a contributor. She made you really feel like you were a peer, and you then wanted to not only have great information to give her, but great information to contribute to the group. And then later as this corps was being built, it really empowered a lot of people. Those initial people who came in, I think, were able to go really far in the military, not only ’cause they learned great habits, but because she empowered them and gave them this confidence of your ideas are valid, and they’re useful, and they’re useful right now. Keep those coming and keep saying those things.
Oscar Trimboli (23:00):
You did such a good job of describing the way the general officer was listening. I’m sensing she was listening in a very immersive way. Equally, I’m sensing she’s not their scribbling down furious notes at every word that’s coming out of people’s mouths.
Natasha Orslene (23:20):
It was really interesting how even in other moments when her general’s aide was not with her, she would still recall things about the conversation that you guys had earlier, it could even be something about your family. Like, she was always very interested in people holistically as well, which was another aspect of this person really cares about me, she’s noticing my body language, she’s listening to my words. In these moments, in these rooms, everybody was very engaged because she was so engaged. She was listening and then there was the empowerment for some the pressure for others to remain good listeners throughout. And it was also inclusive in this way where she would call on people, not in a calling them out kind of way, but in a, “What are your thoughts?” Like, “I haven’t heard your voice in this room yet. What do you think about this? What else”… You know, “Whatever, you say, there’s not wrong answers here.” And people were then further empowered to use their voices in those rooms.
Oscar Trimboli (24:26):
If any organisation had an excuse to have their laptops up permanently, it’s cyber warfare. Again, I could be wrong, Natasha. I’m sensing that laptop lids were down.
Natasha Orslene (24:42):
Absolutely, and I think with her style of leadership, it was very much like that. And I’ll be honest, that was one of the first… she was one of the first people who taught me the importance of when you’re in it and you’re just listening, you would be amazed that when you’re actually listing, you don’t need to take so many notes ’cause you’re not disconnected, you’re completely connected. And before that, I was a furious note scribbler. But I will say that after working with her as a leader and in those different types of situations, to this day I am not a big note taker either. If it’s something important I need to remember later, I’ll write it down after. But in that, when you’re listening to someone, people get so worried that they’re gonna miss something, and you do the minute you look down and you break that connection. Just stay connected, you’ll hear a lot more.
Oscar Trimboli (25:41):
Cyber is a once in a century change to warfare, much like tanks changed warfare or planes change warfare. How has cyber changed the way of thinking in the military?
Natasha Orslene (25:57):
In a hierarchy like the military, you can kind of get caught in these cycles of that’s how we’ve always done it, not that we necessarily like to operate that way, but we- we get complacent and we get too comfortable with kind of the way things are or the ways things kinda should be. And with cyber, we needed to build something completely new, and that’s why she was also the right leader for that because she was engaging in a new way. I have been in many other rooms where, that were not cyber, where they had a tone of notes, and laptops, and all these other things out, and to each their own, but those rooms were never as engaged as hers.
Oscar Trimboli (26:39):
As an organisation and a system, how has the way leaders, uh, listen in the military necessitated evolving over time?
Natasha Orslene (26:50):
The evolution of listening can actually be very specifically traced. When the military first started, it was necessary to just tell people what to do. When people would join the army 200 years ago, they were not joining and going through a training process and then becoming what’s called soldierized. They didn’t have that process, it was just important… they were there to serve… maybe they were literally there to serve for a month and the training was nonexistent, it was a different type of environment. But it didn’t require as much listening on both sides, “Just tell what to do and then I can go and execute that thing.” And then as it started to evolve, specifically when we got around World War I and World War II, it was a little bit more of trying to un… help people understand like in a training environment, there needs to be more training so that people when they’re under pressure, when they’re under stress, they know how to listen, they know how to follow through with something that they’re told. And then even more we’ve kind of evolved into the really helping people understand the why because then when they can understand the intent, I can not only give less direction, I can not only say less things, but also they’re able to be autonomous if they need to be.
Natasha Orslene (28:12):
As we evolve with technology, we need a new type of not only leader, but we need a new type of solider across the board. No matter what job they’re doing, we just need a different type of soldier. And that person deserves to understand more of the picture. Previously it was just, “Here’s your”… “This is you lane, stay in it, that’s all you need to know.” But now they’re really working to make sure that people understand the military and other jobs more holistically because it’s that collaboration that’s so much more important.
Oscar Trimboli (28:47):
Natasha, as warfares evolve from hardware, guns, tanks, planes, towards software and people are guiding that software, people become the weapons, people become the weapon system. When it comes to effective cyber warfare leadership and creating the warriors in modern warfare, what do the cyber warriors, how are they listening differently?
Natasha Orslene (29:21):
They’re learning how to be better listeners, and previously with tanks and with weapons, there were guns and things like that, it was learning the route steps of how to do use this weapon system. But when an individual, when their brain is the weapon system and they’re… they are using these tools but the tools can only do what they have the capacity themselves, it’s a different type of listening that they really to not only understand those hardware pieces, they also need to understand more things of how does the adversary think, what kind of information am I taking in on my end for like is moral, legal, ethical, ’cause that’s always first, and how am I going to craft this in a way that I could spend years on this or weeks on this and it could be used one time?
Natasha Orslene (30:19):
It’s really a different type of listening in that I’m listening to the environment and what can actually solve the problem right now. When I think so much of listening in the past was, yes, we’re setting… we’re listening, “right now,” but ultimately we’re trying to get this 5, 10, 50-year plan. Whereas now it’s like the truth could change in the next five minutes, how am I taking in this information now so that I can actually be effective in my job right now?
Oscar Trimboli (31:01):
Look, I need to help myself, I work a lot of software engineers in my life, and the lone hacker, eating pizza, drinking Coke or coffee, is a really outdated stereotype. Great software developers and great cyber warriors need to listen vertically and horizontally. They need to listen in a focused way to the code, but they also need to listen in a networked way. They need to listen horizontally across the system and outside of the system to the ecosystems that it interacts with. Natasha, what do you notice with highly productive, highly effective cyber warriors and the way they listen horizontally?
Natasha Orslene (31:53):
With anything technology, it evolves so quickly and there are so many different facets you will never be an expert at all of those things. Yeah, that would really be impossible. You get a little bit of knowledge here and there, but with a lot of things that people do in these different teams, you need to have a depth of knowledge, and you can’t have that depth in all things. When these teams come together, they’re very good at listening to each other to accomplish what they need to accomplish because they have skills that person doesn’t have, but we still have this shared end goal of needing to accomplish something. And there’s a good amount of listening, and I think there’s also a good amount of not having as much ego in the sense of this is what I can do and these are my strengths and this is what I’m adding, and that’s great because without that, it also wouldn’t work.
Natasha Orslene (32:46):
Well, we’re all slices on this pie here and we need a whole pie at the end. So a lotta listening to each other and because we have to be thinking in such new and diverse ways every day, it’s not only your team you’re listening to, you wanna get a lot of additional input as well, even if it’s from someone who you wouldn’t normally expect to maybe a great depth of knowledge on something. If you’re listening to people at all levels and you’re listening to people across all different types of expertise. Someone’s gonna say something that could trigger something in your brain to be like, “This is the way we solve that problem.” It’s not that listening to the team, but also looking outside and listening for what else could potentially be helpful to us.
Oscar Trimboli (33:33):
Natasha changed my mind as it relates to listening vertically and horizontally. How do you listen up and down through the chain of command as well as how do you listen across the network? How do you listen to not only what’s happening inside your system, how do you listen to your adversary? What will I do differently in my listening as a result of speaking to Natasha? Number one, make sure I understand if the other person is capable of undertaking task, and second, ask them to play back how they’re going to approach it. And when I do, to listen carefully, not just to what they say but also how they say it and how they feel about it as Natasha’s head of cyber command did so well when it comes to her listening.
Oscar Trimboli (34:33):
Before we finish, were you a little confused with, uh, jargon, the term nine line medevac? In the show notes we have listed out the nine steps in the nine line medevac, and just stay a little longer, notice how well Natasha was listening to me when she mentioned the term nine line medevac. Have a bit of fun and Natasha spends a moment debriefing me at the end of the conversation about what she noticed in the way I was listening to her. I’m Oscar Trimboli and I’m on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the world, and you’ve given me the greatest gift of all, today you’ve listened to me. Thanks for listening.
Natasha Orslene (35:31):
Oscar, I saw there was a little confusion when I said, “Nine line medevac.” And that’s a military term, there are nine different lines that you say line one and you’re telling people your location, you’re telling them what kind of injuries there are, what kind of evacuation that the individual needs. What is the situation? How quickly do I need you here? Where am I exactly? And I’m calling in like [inaudible 00:35:57] coordinates.
Oscar Trimboli (36:00):
I’m curios about what you noticed in my listening, Natasha, during our conversation.
Natasha Orslene (36:07):
I appreciate that I can read, you know, how your interacting with the story by your facial expressions. So I very much appreciate that because sometimes, you know, you start to talk about something and someone’s just like, they have a look like, “Oh, please stop.” (laughs) I would say you’re listening very well and- and you are… that your facial expressions are being a very good guide for how far did it go with stories. So it’s your eyebrows, they definitely go up, yes. Not that much but some. (laughs) And then also, yes, your smile, and then when you… I can tell when you’re looking for just a little bit more, your head kinda goes to the side a little bit. That’s when I know to kinda keep going down like that… with that story.