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October 05, 2023

Leadership and Culture in Physical Therapy with Navy Seal, Jeff Bull

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Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: Welcome back to the True Sports Physical Therapy Podcast. This guest needs no introduction. You guys probably already listened to the the massive career accolades of warrant officer Jeff Bull, now switched kinda into the the corporate sector. So I'm really looking forward to learning about how you apply all of your expansive military background kind of into your role today. But just to kind of get started, you've reached unbelievable levels in your career, both military and professionally. We at True Sports had the pleasure of bringing you in and talking to some of our leaders and you just sparked so much dialogue and so much conversation within the company, which is exactly what we wanted, that I'm flattered to steal another few minutes of your time and spread some of that knowledge across the world to sports PTs.

Jeff Bull: Thanks, Yoni. I appreciate it, man. It was awesome hanging out with your team and getting to spend some time with them.

Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: Okay, so a guy with your background, why do you think I brought you onto this podcast to talk to sports physical therapists? 

Jeff Bull: Yeah, man. So I imagine, like just from our interaction, right, what I found is being able to tie unrelated skill sets to... And but relating them to other specific disciplines, that it allows people to not get distracted by their preconceived notions of leadership for example, or different scenarios or situations. So me, for example, talking to a group of military guys that have been in for a while, certainly not nearly as impactful or allows their minds to kind of reach for how does that relate to my life and how does that relate to my profession. So being able to have something that's similar but abstract enough to where they have to think and close those gaps in order to make sure that it's relevant, I think is pretty powerful because then they have to be engaged. It's not just listening, do this, do that, do that, because I have no idea how to be a sports physical therapist, like, I've got nothing to contribute there.

Jeff Bull: The only thing I can contribute is my experiences and some insights I've been able to draw from what in some cases have been, some more extreme experiences are just very, different experiences. And then the individual listening have to figure that out, and what is the lesson that they could pull from it? 

Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: Yeah, well, you make that easy just in your presentation style. You make it easy to make those crossovers. So I think that's that's a great fit. I think you're uniquely suited to speak on leadership and to speak on culture. And that's why I wanna ask you, to warrant officer Jeff Bull. What is a leader? 

Jeff Bull: Man, so that's a hard question. 'Cause there's so many layers to it. Like, there's... I find it hard to provide a short definition of, what a leader is, because the leader has to be so many different things, depending on the situation, the environment and the dynamic, and all those things. And in some cases, a leader is going to be the person that's providing, specific guidance and direction says you will do, X, Y, Z. In other quick or other cases, leaders just asking provocative questions. And then trying to get people to draw their own conclusions. I think a leader is constantly assessing the team.

Jeff Bull: All right, so it'd be a combination of, I've had leaders come up to me and say, hey, 85% of what we do is confidence, and 15% is the actual, like skill. And, as I grew up in real... That was like, super impactful to me, because I just didn't, the math didn't make sense to me. I'm like, I don't know what you're talking about right now. How is that possibly true? But what I realized at the time was that leader identified that I was lacking confidence in what I was doing at the moment in order to reach my peak performance level. And so he was trying to boost, my confidence saying like, hey, man, you've got all the skills, you've done all the training, you've got the capability, you just need to believe in yourself in order to be able to execute. And he did that through, this sort of abstract way of getting me to think differently, that coming to my own conclusion, yeah, I need to boost my own confidence, somebody else that can't do that for me, I need to do it for myself, in order to perform at a higher level. So I feel like the term leader is enabling the folks around them in order to be, their most effective selves, right, for the team to accomplish a specific mission.

Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: Okay, so a leader in your eyes is an enabler.

Jeff Bull: Yeah.

Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: Is a facilitator. And it sounds like they need to be nimble.

Jeff Bull: Yeah, I would say it's certainly not all leaders are right. There's people that are in leadership positions that have their own style and way of doing business and like, hey, this is the direction we're going. And either you're on the train and you're coming, or you're gonna get left behind, right, or ran over or whatever, that situation is going to be. And in some cases, that's effective, depending on the organization, the environment, and what is needed in the moment. But, to your point being nimble, knowing when that enabling aspect is not gonna get the job done, and there needs to be a hard line, like, hey, let there be no ambiguity, this is what is going to happen. And I appreciate if you disagree, but if you do get out. That's not personally my style. But if I came to the, assessment that that was the only way to get a job done, within the timeframe that was permitted, then then that's what it's gonna be.

Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: When did you realize you were a leader? 

Jeff Bull: Man. I don't know, man.

Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: Okay.

Jeff Bull:
Yeah.0:06:49.0 Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: While you think about that, I don't know that I've thought of myself as a CEO or a leader.

Jeff Bull: Sure.

Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: Until COVID happened, at least in the professional realm. COVID happens and obviously a massive trial and tribulation to businesses across the world. And I realized that I needed to manage my business, work on my business, so that others could achieve their goals and provide great care. And I think like at that point, we flipped so many scripts like so many people did at that point, to say, we got to change the way we do this, we got to change the way we do that. We got to... How do we communicate with patients with cloth on our face? How do we do it virtually? How do we provide care virtually? How do I manage the business from a comp structure? The government could tell me to shut down tomorrow. So if that's the case, we need... We as a team, as a group needs to be nimble. I as a leader, attempted to be nimble. It's the first time I looked at the situation like, Jesus Christ, I think I'm leading this whole thing. So while I just wasted a whole bunch of time talking about myself, hopefully it gave you a chance to think that situation that you were in when you're like, Holy cow, I'm a leader. When was it Jeff? 

Jeff Bull: Yeah, so I don't know if there's a specific situation other than I realized, how I presented or carried myself was, I think, noticed by by others. And in the Navy, there's always an opportunity, there's an expectation of you grow as a leader. So, as an enlisted person, you go through different blocks of training. And for this one was particular as an E-5, where you're beginning to come up in sort of like lower middle management, position. And one of my peers who I had gone through buds and training with he was in the same class. And it was one of those things where you had to go to and, check the box for two weeks or whatever. And then you could be promoted and move up from there. And I remember one of the the instructors asking if like my dad or my family has, had a legacy of like being from the SEAL teams or something like that. And I was like, No, why? My dad was actually in the Peace Corp. And I wondered why they said that.

Jeff Bull: And I quote, compared to, the other guys in this class, like they seem really excited, about what they're doing. And they're, they're like, Oh, this is, we get to do all these amazing things. And I was just very sort of nonchalant about it. And just like, Yeah, like, it's the same thing that you're doing. It's just different. And, I'm still in the Navy, getting trained, like doing that stuff. It's not that big of a deal. And they're like, Oh, well, you just come across, very differently than some of the other the other folks. And I think that, time I kind of realized, like, okay, how you behave in a different environment, people are going to look at you one way or the other. So they're either going to look at you as like, super excitable, or, this is fresh and new, or they're going to look at you like, Oh, you seem like you have a little bit of wisdom, or experience about you, and so on. And so I think, after that, I've started to pay attention more, right, in regards to how I carried myself and how I interacted with people, how I leveraged my background and that sort of thing, kinda tied to the COVID thing. I had retired in '18.

Jeff Bull: And then, kind of reached this point, where I was leading the operations of McChrystal Group out of Alexandria, which is a small consulting firm under Stan McChrystal, a four star general. And when COVID hit, I actually felt good again about because there's action that needed to happen, change that needed to happen. And so I wasn't in an environment where it was just like rinse and repeat, this is the way we've always done things and go suddenly it was like high stakes. There's a lot of stress, you had to do something because if you did nothing, you were not gonna survive. And suddenly I felt alive again. Like I was operating and that was actually my wheelhouse. And, I've talked to plenty of people, since then, where a lot of folks were really in a bad space, it was super stressful, nobody knew what was going on.

Jeff Bull: And they didn't enjoy it. But like, for me, I was like, Oh, man, I this is the environment that I thrive in. So I think, as my career progressed, the more stress that I was under, the better I was able able to focus, when I find that when things are calm, and there's just not a lot of things to do, and it's just like things are moving along, that's where I struggle, because I'm looking for action to take. And a lot of times, that's not the right answer. If things are working, sometimes you just need to not mess with them.

Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: Yeah. And I think that's a skill in and of itself. I hear you describing a very calm individual. And it makes me think about a conversation I had with you. I don't know if we were in freezing cold water, or if we were in really hot water. But at some point, I asked you how it was that you were able to complete some of the deep water skills that they asked you to do in training. And I was asking specifically about some type of not tying endeavor that transpires way underwater. And I said, I would freak the hell out. Like in that instance, I would freak the hell out. And you said, you learn that the quicker you freak out, the poorer your performance will be. And so trying to find this level of calm amongst the storm or amongst the pressure is the secret. Easier said than done. How do you stay so calm in the face of pressure? 

Jeff Bull: Yeah, I feel like it's a muscle, right, that you develop, and then you begin to see when it needs to be turned on. And to me, to be honest with you, I think sometimes I'm looking for an opportunity to turn that on because it is sort of my Zen, space, my comfortable space. And I can't get there if there isn't external stressors that are kind of, at play, which is probably a shortcoming of mine. And I'm working on that meditate... Like doing doing all the things. But I don't find that comes easily to me if I don't have a lot going on, which... So, I do think that muscle, it takes so much brain power and so much effort that in order to focus to be able to calm yourself. So like when you're underwater and you need to breathe, there's so much going on. Co2 build up in your lungs, your muscles are burning, your lungs are burning, your body's trying to take a breath, you can't because you're underwater.

Jeff Bull: And so you have to like mentally overcome and control what you can, with some level of faith that you will get an opportunity to breathe if you wait long enough. And when you get the opportunity, you can't mess that up. Because if you're in the ocean, for example, there's waves coming, if there's helicopters, overhead, while you're still waiting to catch a breath, and there's spray, coming in your face at the same time, like, you've got to... You have to wait for the right moment. And when you want it, that's isn't necessarily when it's going to come. But when you need it, it will be there. And so I think, to some degree, like the faith, aspect of it, of just like, hey, wait for the right time. And if you're constantly and you're assessing and you're looking and you're like, okay, the right time is going to come. And then when you see it, boom, you got to take that moment.

Dr. Yoni Rosenblatt: Okay, so first of all, I felt like I was just about to pass out when you were describing that. So now that I didn't pass out when you were describing that, apply that, that ability to stay calm, that ability to constantly assess and wait for your opportunity and seize it when it's there. How does that show up? In corporate America? How does that show up in my everyday as a sports physical therapist? 


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