Team RWB Eagle Leader Academy (Detroit, MI)
Blog written by: Nick Billock
Not too long ago, I had the awesome fortune of heading to Detroit for what is known as an Eagle Leader Academy. It is the first step in a 3-part leadership training curriculum with Team Red, White & Blue, one of the most awesome and influential non-profits in our country. If you’ve done a road race in the past 5 or 6 years, you have most likely seen other runners with red shirts on with an Eagle on the front. That’s Team RWB. Team RWB’s mission is: To enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.
When Team RWB first began, it focused on wounded veterans but in today’s “2.0” version, it’s really about relationships, sharing life with each other through social and physical activity, and being a rich and powerful community that takes care of one another. Many have thought that you have to be a veteran to be a part of Team RWB… absolutely not! I didn’t take a poll this past weekend, but a large number were civilians, family of veterans or active military, spouses of veterans or veterans…current and prior serving. Anyone, quite literally, can be a part of Team RWB and “Wear the Eagle!”
The Eagle Leader Academy (ELA) was developed in-house by Team RWB. Instead of a “death by PowerPoint” kind of weekend, it has practical “rich” content that has a mix of classroom type of training, active team-building, planned “white space” to connect with others, and some physical activity as well. It NEVER got boring and if I’m being honest, I didn’t want it to end. It began at a restaurant in Detroit where the groundwork was set as far as purpose and mission of Team RWB and the goal of the weekend. We had dinner, then for the next 1-2 hours, people told their “story,” of their “why” (what brought them to Team RWB). Little did I know going into this weekend, but telling your story is a big part of what it means to connect with others.
But why? Why tell your story? When you are vulnerable and have the courage to tell your kstory, others can and will relate with you and perhaps, realize they aren’t alone. It’s a two-way street. Where it’s good to flesh out your story and actually know what it is, others can empathize with you, come alongside you, support you…that’s the connection point. That human element is so gone in today’s society. There is a reason I steer clear of mainstream news. There is so much finger-pointing, complaining, hate, “more for me” attitude (aka: selfishness) where as human beings, we are not meant for that! Sure, we are born selfish out of the womb but it’s a choice to remain that way. Our brains are wired in such a way that compassion and love flow freely should we DECIDE to let them. When you consider all of the division in our country and world, for so many strangers to come together in Detroit and be able to connect in such a rich way across gender lines, ethnicity, age and a plethora of religious beliefs…well, it gives hope. It’s proof that together, through community, life CAN be awesome if we simply take care of each other.
As for my chance to tell my story, I stumbled through it. I need to work on it. It’s a work in progress and maybe one day, I’ll type it down and share it. For now, I’ll continue to craft it and bring some fluency to it. I did have the honor of hearing many others’ stories, though. Time and time again, I was thankful to hear each one, allow myself to be impacted by it, and often could relate. The simple sharing of our “why” drew us closer together.
Day 2 brought us back to the “classroom” for more along with a fun team-building exercise. We had the chance to work together as teams, got thrown challenges in communication, and even got a little bit cozy at one point under some cardboard. It was a great time! One thing that really stood out to me was a discussion on: Empathy vs. Sympathy. First, watch this video.
Powerful stuff, eh?! Here’s my take: sympathy is one way. It’s your reaction to someone and your effort to throw a bandaid on it, aka: silver lining, and move on. It doesn’t really help the other person in any way. Empathy: requires heart. It’s letting the other person’s story (whatever that may be) touch you and allow yourself to feel. Another way: sympathy is just “matter of fact” and empathy stops and absorbs. Sympathy fixes….empathy listens. I continue to chew on this and am hoping it impacts my roles as a husband, father, and leader in every role I hold in life. Put down the phone, look them in the eye…and just listen.
This discussion on empathy spilled into just about every facet of the remaining weekend and honestly, it continues today as our class continues to communicate amongst ourselves privately. I have led marriage retreats and small group Bible studies before. One of my chief complaints about those is not the content. I always strive to deliver quality content but it’s the follow-through afterwards. As a leader, it’s extremely deflating to lead 20-30 couples over a marriage retreat weekend, deliver awesome life-changing content, but then have no vehicle to continue the discussion forward. It’s so easy to get home, throw the handbook on the bookshelf and return to status quo. Because of how the ELA was crafted, it sent those in attendance away with something real to chew on and apply immediately in their lives, but also the means to continue the conversation with other Eagles. It did what most training events do not.
Day 2 semi-wrapped up with a few games of bowling at a local bowling alley. It was not just fun with each other but also time to engage with region leadership one-on-one outside of the classroom’s formal setting. Again…planned “white space” that encourages relationship-building, connecting, and a whole lot of laughter/smiles mixed in. I say semi-wrapped up because the night was still young and many commandeered the majority of the hotel’s lobby furniture for more conversation into the night. For me, it was time to mentally unplug and crash. It was a very mentally-stimulating weekend! The early call to bed was awesome and needed.
The final day brought it all full circle and allowed some time for the state-specific chapters to collect together and put some action points down on paper and talk. It also allowed a chance for anyone to give shout-outs, praises, etc. to others publicly in our group. Finally, we joined together in a Yoga Nidra session. I’m very, very new to yoga and still have my reservations about it but I continue to tip my toe into it.
After a great group lunch, we said our goodbyes and headed in all directions back to where we came from. Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and even Kansas. On the way back, I listened to Joe Quinn as a guest on the awesome Eagle Nation podcast. He is the former Regional Director in NY but now the Director of Leadership Development for Team RWB. The podcast was recorded back in December 2016 before the new Eagle Leadership Academy was rolled out. It was refreshing to hear his and Team RWB’s vision after being a part of the first ELA. They totally nailed it! If you don’t listen to the Eagle Nation podcast, there is a new one every Monday morning. I can’t recommend it enough! (listen to Joe’s podcast here)
To the leaders at Team RWB, our local leadership here in the Midwest, and my fellow Eagles at ELA Detroit 2017, THANK YOU! I look forward to many more experiences and bringing the “Eagle Fire” to my local chapter and communities. Remember be real…be AUTHENTIC! EAGLE UP!