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What can we learn about leadership from rescuing refugees?


Last week, we had an interview with Kori Cheverie discussing using Leadership 2.0 to win an Olympic Gold Medal in Beijing.  This week, we’re upping the stakes even further to learn how we can use Leadership 2.0 strategies to save lives.  


This week on the Leadership Launchpad Project podcast, former CIA officer turned leadership coach, Gwen Cooper, joined us to tell us an incredible story of using Leadership 2.0 strategies to rescue refugees from Afghanistan in 2021.  You can find the interview on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts and more.


I wanted to highlight 3 leadership lessons that we can apply to our businesses that lead to a successful extraction operation.


  1. Using Your Network.  Gwen had been volunteering to support refugees who were living in the US and, when the military was withdrawing, she wanted to help.  She went through the regular channels and was roadblocked, then she turned to her network.  Gwen used to be a CIA officer and even though she last worked there in 2008, she reached out to a contact she had never met.  It turned out that he was able to help her.


Takeaways: Networking is a powerful tool and so much is accessible through finding the right person with the right knowledge.  Who is a super connector in your business?  Who is a super connector in your network?  Who are the people who know the right people to ask for every question?  How can you use your network to grow your business, bring in more expertise and grow your impact?  Who is someone you’d love to connect with and how can you get to this person?

  • Building Connection Remotely.  In this operation, trust was needed otherwise the operation would have failed and people would have died.  Just like many of you, Gwen had a remote team.  She had part of her team stationed in Afghanistan as well as the refugees that they were trying to rescue.  She had never met these people face-to-face nor would that have been possible.  She didn’t give up, she leaned in and built trust & rapport.  She deliberately focused on listening, a skill that we don’t use enough, using people’s names and recognizing their contributions.


Takeaways: Even if your team is remote, how can you create moments of connection?  How can you build rapport & trust?  How deliberate are you in ensuring that you’re living in alignment with your values, your words and your actions?  

  • Building Team Flow.  During the interview, Gwen talks about how her team would let ideas fly, iterate, and how the operation was the only thing that mattered to the team.  Egos seemingly disappeared and everyone was locked in on the task.  They achieved the flow state:


The flow state is marked by our ability to reach our highest levels of performance.  It can be achieved both individually & in a team environment.  Flow state is characterized by being an optimal level of stress between boredom and anxiety where people are locked in on a task.


To take it further, as a leader, if we can unlock flow state in our teams, we are setting them up to reach their peak levels of performance.  From Psychology Today


Last year, a study (Reinero et al., 2020) found that inter-brain synchrony among teammates could predict their collective performance. Notably, the researchers found that when brain activity became synchronized (inter-brain synchrony) among a group of players, they were more likely to achieve peak performance than if teammates’ brain waves didn’t harmonize.


Takeaways: How can you trigger flow state in your teams?  How can you challenge them to the right level and tip the scales to achieve peak performance?  How can you learn to calibrate their state so you know when stress is too little or too much?


There were so many more incredible lessons to learn from Gwen’s experience in rescuing Afghan refugees so check out the interview!


How are you going to apply these 2.0 Leadership Mindset lessons to your business?


Click here for the best, research-backed, 2.0 Leadership Mindset strategies that will build you into a high-impact leader who turns their teams into happy high performers that achieve their goals. Rather than traditional leadership coaching,  Elite High Performance blends neuroscience, mindset coaching, high-performance leadership strategies with cutting-edge technology & data to provide a clear path to building a high-performing team – or to turn around an under-performing team. It’s the same way professional sports teams combine high-performance coaching, technology and analytics to build a winning sports team.

– Coach Rob

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