Chris Stricklin: Serving Country through Servant Leadership

Chris Stricklin (312x400)

It’s not everyday that we have an opportunity to interview tried and tested American hero’s.  We often speak of careers and leadership in the context of organizational success.  This guy’s context?  Well, the effectiveness of his leadership has lives on the line…ultimate duty to his country and fellow servicemen and women.  The work that Chris has done for our country is incredible and you must know his story as you read through this interview.  Chris is a true hero, serving country through servant leadership.  This interview was an incredible learning experience for us at

Chris R. Stricklin is a combat-proven leader, mentor and coach integrating the fields of dynamic followership, negotiations, leadership, positive change, public relations, public speaking and complex organizational change. His unique experience as a U.S.A.F. Thunderbird coupled with Pentagon-level management of critical Air Force resources valued at $840B, multiple N.A.T.O. assignments, White House and DARPA fellowships, and command-experience in the United States Air Force allow his unique synthesis of speaking, following, leading, management, negotiations, continuous improvement and positive change. Chris is also a Certified Manager with degrees in Economics, Financial Planning, Strategic Studies and Operational Art and Science. He authored a negotiation primer subsequently published and adopted as required Air Force Pentagon new action officer orientation. Chris was just placed on the board of The General Leadership Foundation as an Associate Curator and the Chief Growth Officer. He and his wife, Terri, have 4 children. (TC):  Chris, it’s an honor to speak with you. Thank you for taking the time and thank you for your service to our country! So – to kick things off, how does one develop such a career as yours, going from a student pilot to present day Chief Operating Officer of a multi-national, multi-billion dollar organization in Afghanistan and renowned leadership expert at The General Leadership Foundation?   What characteristics in you made this possible?  

Chris Stricklin (CS):  Thank you Dan & Ryan for this opportunity to discuss leadership with you. As a small town boy from Shelby, Alabama, it has been an amazing adventure to grow to this point in my development. My best advice to allow success in any career…go for it! You never know what you can achieve if you truly believe the sky is the limit. As a teenager, a magazine cutout hung on my wall and drew my attention each day. It said, simply, “Life Begins at Mach 2!” Every day I dreamed of breaking the speed of sound at the controls of a frontline Fighter aircraft. This is the spark of motivation which both gave me the courage to try and fueled my determination to achieve this goal.

Simply, to be successful, you must have the courage to begin the journey, the determination to weather the climb and the confidence to excel at the challenges along the way.

TC:  As we think about the concept of teamwork or unity, it feels like developing great teams is somewhat an art and there certainly is a fine line between good teams and great teams. How does great teamwork come about and what leadership attributes make this possible?

CS:  Great teamwork occurs when a leader lights a fire inside their individuals. True teams demonstrate both personal pride in themselves and individual ownership in their processes, products and the organization. To be a successful leader and develop a great team, you must intrinsically motivate your followers to guarantee their personal engagement. This requires a servant leader who respects their followers the way they want to be respected, values the success of their followers as much as their own and engages the team from the neck up to fuel their motivation, devotion and determination for success.

A good leader inspires others with confidence in him;

A great leader inspires them with confidence in themselves.

TC:  You authored a negotiation primer used by the Air Force pentagon new officer orientation program. For those who are seeking work, and then receiving job offers, what advice would you give on negotiating a job offer? Once hired, what is the role and importance of negotiation in the workplace?

Chris Stricklin II Chris Stricklin:  Serving Country through Servant LeadershipCS:  First, realize negotiating a job offer is not a zero-sum game…it is the foundation for the future of the relationship between you and your employer. The resulting agreement should be one which both sides are happy with, one which does not leave either party thinking the other is taking advantage of them. A truly valued employee is one who seeks payment for results, not payment merely by the hour. Look to the long term and negotiate options for growth, while others you are competing against may be focused on immediate pay-levels. This will demonstrate to your prospective employer you are dedicated to the team and to the relationship for the long-term. Once hired, realize aspects of the negotiation skill-set occur in every aspect of the office environment. From negotiating timelines for projects with your boss, to sharing workloads with your peers and, even leading those below you, these are all types of negotiations. Your success depends on your ability to interact, build relationships and negotiate successfully to move the organization forward toward the determined goal.

TC:  In our country, are people’s aspirations in becoming a “leader” or joining leadership ranks declining? If so, why do you think this to be?  

CS:  Leadership is a process not a position. Leadership is not a right…it is a privilege granted by your followers. You do not have the authority, or ability, to choose whether you are a leader or not. If someone in your organization, family or town decides you are their role model then you are a leader. If you volunteer for a cause you deem important, you are a leader. If your company deems you in charge of a group of people, you are a boss. If you leave a group of people more motivated, developed, and successful than when you arrived…you are a leader.

I think our society is more motivated toward leadership than ever before and the resources to improve our leadership skills are free flowing everywhere around us. Take this blog for instance; I have the good fortune of interacting with many people whom I would not normally learn from in the military. The real-time interactions available on the internet, and the wealth of techniques, lessons and principles at our disposal is at an all time high.

What you do have control over is the journey to improve your leadership skills. Successful leaders are value-driven and base their styles on the character, morals and ideals in which they believe. They learn from every leader around them, what to-do from the good ones and what not-to-do from the bad ones. This combination of value-driven motivation and good/bad examples is what allows effective leaders to perform with the correct actions and reactions in high-stress situations.

TC:  We know that successful folks read. What are you reading these days & the best book you have read?

CS:  Interesting question with an answer that changes by the day. There are a couple of different avenues which an aspiring leader should focus on to build a definitive skillset. First, Daniel Pink’s Drive is a personal favorite. He has an interesting approach to intrinsic motivation and reveals the secrets to building a successful team. I just purchased another copy of it to re-read while in Afghanistan. Next, John Michel’s (No More) Mediocre Me: How Saying No to the Status Quo Will Propel You From Ordinary to Extraordinary explains how building an extra mile, or others-centered, mentality can help you lead more effectively and passionately. Finally, I recently had the opportunity to read James Hunter’s The Monk and The Manager before it’s upcoming summer 2014 release. Be on the lookout for this third installment in his Servant Leadership series to hit bookshelves in July where he reminds us there are not great leaders, just great teams.

TC:  You speak about positive change. Why is a change mindset so important? How might the idea of change apply to young professionals making their way in the workplace today?

CS:  Simple change is not positive. For a change to be positive, it must decrease the time required, increase efficiency, improve structure or increase simplicity. The welcome-aboard meeting with each new member of an organization should include this simple task: question everything. These two words must be a condition of employment to ensure future success and is the benefit of fresh eyes and unvarnished perspective, which is what a young professional brings. The newness of a job will wear off in 6-9 months. Before this happens and you become the ‘Old Dog,’ ask why the organization does each task the current way. This change mindset is critical to ensure the organization is poised for success in the future. Remember, yesterday may have brought you to today…but it does not guarantee tomorrow.

TC:  Why do some leaders fail at being a leader?  

CS:  Leaders fail when they think leadership is about them. The true measure of a leader is not found in an individual, but the individuals developed. Too many “leaders” value their success over that of the individuals they lead. Your primary job as a leader is to develop your replacement and put yourself out of a job!

TC:  Chris, you have a wealth of experience and a highly successful track record…What advice would you give to the young professionals (high school, college, early career), working to make their way in this world?    

CS:  Success is not about the salary you receive, it is determined by the mark you leave on the world and the success you enable in those around you. To be successful, you must find the path that is both internally rewarding for you and externally beneficial to the world around you. I see this around me everyday in airmen deployed to a war zone, away from their loved ones, putting their lives on the line for something they believe in. They do it for service, for their country, and not merely for a paycheck. The key to success is finding your calling that, at the end of the day, allows you to lay your head on the pillow and say, “I made a difference.”

Thank you for this interview. I enjoyed the discussion and interaction with both Dan & Ryan at Let’s keep the discussion going. Please feel free to tweet me @ChrisRStricklin and visit for further interaction and…Leadership Advice From America’s Most Trusted Leaders!

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 Chris Stricklin:  Serving Country through Servant Leadership

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