Dr. Karen Wilson-Starks worked as a Psychologist with the Army at Walter Reed, Fort Riley, and West Point. She has helped many soldiers and recruits, and I think she has some valuable insight. We also talked about her business and how she helps businesses get the right people in the right positions, and how sometimes veterans feel a little lost after losing their identity as a servicemember.
Links & Resources
- Transleadership, Inc.
- Lead Yourself First!: The Senior Leader’s Guide to Engaging Your People for Greater Performance and Impact
- The Voice Of Leadership Podcast
- Dr. Karen Wilson-Starks on Facebook
- Dr. Karen Wilson-Starks on LinkedIn
- Dr. Karen Wilson-Starks on Twitter
- Dr. Karen Wilson-Starks on Instagram
Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast, where we talk about issues affecting Veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcast. If you've already done that, thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes as soon as they come out. If you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit Drive On Podcast.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing, including our email list. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show. Hey everyone, today, my guest is Dr. Karen Wilson Starks. She's a former Army officer and psychologist at Walter Reed West Point amongst other places during her time in the Army. She's also the host of the Voice of Leadership podcast. She's the author of Lead Yourself First, the Senior Leader's Guide to Engaging Your People for Greater Performance and Impact. And we're going to be talking a bit today about her time in the Army, her work as a psychologist and some of the leadership topics that would be of interest to Veterans. So, welcome to the show. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:01:21 Okay, great. Thank you so much, Scott, for inviting me to be here today. I'm happy to be on your show and just to share a little bit about my background and what might be relevant for other people. As you mentioned, I was a psychologist in the Army and I was one of those people who came in as what they call direct commission. So, I came in straight from graduate school, went right into being a clinical psychologist for the Army. And I was in the Medical Service Corps Army Medical Department. And for those who might be familiar with the old numbers, I was a 68 S 68 Sierra. And one of my assignments was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I also served at the first infantry division at Fort Riley, Kansas, where I was the division psychologist. And I was at the military Academy at West Point where I was clinical director of the cadet counseling center. So, between those three jobs in my seven years of service, I saw a different part or a different lens on the military in every single one of those jobs, one hospital base, one kind of like your major troop assignment, combat arms, and all of that. And then of course, there's the military Academy. And while I was at the military Academy, I also met my husband. And so that was an added bonus. And he was a Field Artillery Officer.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:02:41 The recruiter didn't tell you about that bonus. That was available for you?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:02:45 No, I didn't know about that fight.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:02:47 But it was a nice perk anyway. So, that's wonderful. And it's nice to see that transition, in your career, where you were dealing with people in their pre-military career, the West Point cadets during their career at Fort Riley and then after. I mean, not all of them are necessarily after their career, but at Walter Reed, some of them are probably at that point, maybe you're getting medically discharged and that type of thing and so you're probably seeing the full circle of careers in many cases, I would imagine.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:03:30 Yeah. Maybe add something to that too, Scott, because the whole reason that I ended up in the military, because I did not come from a military family was not naturally oriented to the military. I kind of grew up in the era where it was sort of like the Vietnam years and the military wasn't very popular, as a matter of fact. And so, by the time I finished graduate school and went to active duty it was 1980. And so, 1980-1987 as a time period during which I was serving. And I wanted to go to Walter Reed because I knew people who had done medical residencies there. And I knew that Walter Reed was a medivac hospital. So any disorder, any challenge out there was going to come to Walter Reed at some point from someplace. And I figured that would be a good place for me to be, to see the whole panoply of psychology. And in fact, a lot of the people we saw who, you know, even if they were not still active duty, they were Vietnam era Vets.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:04:31 And so you're seeing a wide range of things, and that's a nice little challenge for you to see all the things that could possibly be going on because you're going to get it from all different spectrums, even from the people who serve in the Vietnam era. So that's pretty interesting. And you said that you're not coming from a military family that was not necessarily on your radar going into college and everything like that. But when we emailed back and forth a few weeks to talk about having you on the show and everything, you mentioned that you didn't really have too much trouble with that transition out of the military, but the bigger transition issue for you was that transition into the military, going from the civilian world to the military life.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:05:24 I thought that as we were talking just before we started recording here, that was a really interesting point of view. Many other people focus on that transition out of the military, it seems like that's a problem where people have struggles with their identity and things like that. But I don't think we really covered the transition from civilian to military life on this podcast anyways. And it certainly is a big transition. I know that anyone who's a Veteran knows that because we all went through it. I think it's worth taking a minute to talk about that, discuss that, if that's okay with you. What about that transition specifically was especially difficult for you and what did you end up doing to overcome that difficulty so that you could end up having your career in the military?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:06:15 Yeah, thanks for asking that question, Scott, because for me being in the military was the more unusual experience as opposed to getting out of the military. And I will share this back end piece first, before I delve into the challenges when I was leaving the military. The reason I left at the time that I left is because my husband and I were getting married and he was stationed in Germany. And by that point I was still at West Point, most likely he was going to come stateside eventually. Then I was going to go overseas. And I thought, this is not really, maybe the best way to do a marriage. So that's why I decided to transition out at the time and my friends, lots of people who I knew, and they knew me in the military, they said, well, how are you going to deal with that?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:07:00 And what are you going to do? And I looked at them like they were insane. I said, are you crazy? As transitioning out is going to be much easier than transitioning in from my perspective. So let me just share a couple of pieces about that. First of all, I've always been a person who loves intellectual challenge, you know, think about it. I went to school to get a PhD and all that. So I like intellectual challenge and I was never the type who really enjoyed physical challenge necessarily. And the one thing I did do, which was unusual for my generation, I took weightlifting in high school. And I was the only girl in the class because women were not doing weightlifting at the time. That wasn't very common in general though, I was not one who enjoyed running. I didn't do running and so on.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:07:49 So battalion runs were very challenging for me when at first infantry and you've got all this huge group of people and I would always be in that group that was having to keep up. And so, I think that in my book, for example, I'll talk about some of these pieces. And I eventually emerged on this concept of run your own race, because what military people do when they're running is that they start off real fast right from the start line and with my particular body, that would guarantee that something was going to be hurting before the two miles was over. So, what I learned to do was to ignore them, start off a little bit slower at my pace and sort of buildup. And the next thing you know, I'd get to my training zone as I call it.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:08:37 And then some of those people who had started off very fast from the start line, I'd pass them. And they might be sidelined over there with something hurting, hamstring or whatever. And so, I had to learn how to run in a way that fit and worked for me. So that was one thing. The other thing going into military, I told the recruiter, there's one thing I don't want to do. And I said, and that's repelling. And the recruiter said to me, Oh, you're going to be a psychologist. You're not going to have to do repelling. Well, that wasn't true.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:09:14 I think that a lot of psychologists don't have to do repelling. However, while I was at Walter Reed, they decided to send this group of novice psychologists out to the Army confidence course. And then here we are facing the repelling day. We were going to have repelling from the towers in the morning, and then we're going to be repelling off of some Hills in the afternoon. And I thought, Oh, this was the very thing I didn't want to do. And so I tried to get myself mentally prepared, try to get psyched up for it. And so I said, well, just how bad could it be? Right. So I show up on the repelling day and the first challenge was walking up the straight ladder up the tower. You know, when you're going upstairs is normally an incline. And I hadn't prepared myself mentally for what that would feel like.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:10:02 And so I said, Oh my God, this is really worse than I thought. So that was the first shot. Then I get to the top of the wall and everything. They taught me about the gear and what to do just somehow magically left my brain. “Oh, no, I'm, can't do this.” That was the Sergeant at the top of the wall. And he said, captain Wilson. Yeah, you're going down the wall and you're rappelling down the wall. And so finally I was trying to hold my weight up, and I said, I can't hold all this weight. I'm just too heavy. And he says, well, let go of the rope. So finally, I repelled down the wall and mind you, there's the ballet master at the bottom who, if anything happens, they can just yank you in midair.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:10:54 But I forgot all of that. When I get to the bottom, I finally said, you know what? I need to conquer this. No one else in my group needed to do what I did next. But I went up to 25 foot tower several more times. Then I went to the 50 foot tower, went up that several more times until I finally got over the fear of it. So that when we were on the Hills in the afternoon, I was okay. So those were some physical challenges I had to deal with. And later I'll say later when I was at first infantry, I added another physical challenge because at the infantry division, there's not a natural and huge respect for psychology, at least not back in those days. Right. And with me being a young woman psychologist and all three of those irrelevant, if I showed up at an infantry unit, maybe I was there to discuss stress management, or God only knows what it was.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:11:51 And they would just look at me like I was insane. So I said, okay, I know they respect the expert infantryman's badge. And so I said, I'm going to go out for the expert field medical badge. And so, a lot of those guys had been in Vietnam. They knew that medics had saved their lives and so-and-so, they had respect for that. So I went out for the EFMB long story short. I was one of only a few women who actually got it that year. And that was a huge accomplishment that had both physical and also intellectual components to it, because you had to know how to do all this medical stuff along the way, too. And so, when I showed up in units, I had that badge on my uniform, they would look and say, Hmm, she doesn't look that tough, but if she did that, there's more behind the package than just what we see.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:12:43 There's more than meets the eye. Right?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:12:46 So that's one whole bucket, the physical challenge, that was the hard part. And then the second bucket that was sort of challenging too, for me, was style of leadership. I saw a lot of leadership in the military that I would describe as kind of a negatively based leadership. So, I'll give an example, while on the Army confidence course, we had to cross this river and you cross this river on this rope and you're upside down. And I don't like water challenges. I would never have joined the Navy. So, it was all this stuff where they said, if you drop your compass, if your helmet falls into, and it was a muddy, ugly river, falls down there, you're going to have to go down there and get it. And I had a helmet where the chin strap was broken. So, I knew that there was no way in the world
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:13:33 I could wear that helmet upside down. It's likely to fall in the water. And so, long story short, the senior leadership handled my helmet and said, you go without the helmet and to me, it was such an accomplishment getting across the river on this rope. So, when I get back to work, I tell my boss about it. And I said, Oh yeah, we did this. We did that. And to me, this was a victory story. And he proceeds to tell me a story about, Oh yeah, he was at West Point one day and there was a woman cadet. And she had tried to cross, they had some other slide for life kind of challenge at West Point. Apparently he told me about that. And he's telling the story, I'm thinking, he's going to tell me another story of triumph. And what happens is the woman she forgets, or somehow doesn't let go, slams into the wall and dies.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:14:32 Oh, geez. I was definitely not the uplifting story you were looking for there.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:14:38 No. And I'm thinking, look, when I think about leadership, we are asking people to do really tough things and difficult things. Some things that are tough and difficult for anybody like being in a combat scenario. In my case, this was difficult for me. That's not going to be difficult for every military person, but the point is where's the positive leadership that really values that person as a member of the team. So in contrast, there was another person at the hospital who was a hospital commander, general officer. He would come around, he didn't know me from Adam, but when he would leave the work area, I felt like I was part of a valuable winning team. And that I was an important member of that team and what I was doing that mattered. And so, it was in the Army that I really got interested in leadership because prior to that, I was focused strictly on more traditional psychology, but having seen those contrasts and how you could impact people's lives one way or the other, I got really interested in leadership from that.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:15:52 That's great. And it turned a negative for you, that transition was kind of a Rocky period for you getting into the military, but then you discovered something about yourself that you didn't know was there, the leadership side of things. And that led you into new things in your post-military career, which is neat as well. I actually have a repel tower story myself from basic training. So, I'm deathly afraid of heights. Stepladders are my worst enemy; ladders, any kind, if I'm up off the ground, my legs turn to putty and I just am useless. So, I'm up on top of this repel tower in basic training, and it's about a two and a half, three stories high, and this is the first time I've ever repelled off of anything ever.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:16:50 And we're up at the top of this thing. And the drill Sergeant can definitely tell that I'm petrified of this. And so he tells me to hurry up and get over to the side of the wall and start rappelling down and everything. And so, I do get over the side and as soon as I get down a couple of feet down the wall, he looks over the edge and he yells at me. He goes, “Oh my God, you're not clipped in. Give me your hand, give me your hand.” I think I must have achieved flight that day and just flown up the wall because I was so scared and he was just messing with me. It was complete nonsense that he was telling me; I was clipped in fine. I was completely safe. There was nothing wrong. I was on the rope, the person down at the bottom had me, I wasn't going to fall or anything like that, he just wanted to mess with me. And from that day forward, like every time I ever repelled or did anything like that, I always think about how he messed with me that way and had me go down the tower.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:17:56 Let me add something because the couple of learnings that I had from that repelling experience that I think is pretty significant. And this is like three points to really have in your life. Number one, you want to have people in your life who serve in the role of the Sergeant at the top of the wall; because the job of that Sergeant at the top of the wall is to make sure that you don't go back, that you don't give up on yourself and that you keep moving forward through the challenge. And so that was his role. And so that's number one, number two, whatever the thing is that's going on, there is metaphorically, a belay master somewhere on the scene, half the belay master who can suspend you in air, who represents the safety in whatever you're doing. And that's not to say, all things are safe, all things are not safe. You're you have some safety, even in the unsafe, I'll put it that way. So that's the role of belay master. And then thirdly, just your own self and mental self would be something like that Nike thing, just do it in other words, go ahead, go through it, do it, repeat it if you need to, until you get it. Those are the three things I learned from that experience.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:19:13 Yeah, for sure. And I definitely did not repeat it, voluntarily, afterwards. I did not, like you said, go back up and you did it again and you did it again until it was comfortable enough for you to do, and then you moved on to the bigger challenge and things like that. But I totally get it.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:19:31 I didn't want to be choking on the real Hills in the afternoon. That was my motivation. It was like, you know, you better nail this because the greater challenge is coming.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:19:41 Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, that's my repel tower story. And thank you for sharing yours and how you overcame that. I like that. I think we could talk about struggles all the time, no matter what the struggle is, whether it's a fear of Heights or a fear of failing or a fear of, you know, whatever the case may be. If we don't have some sort of solutions to talk about too then, the rest of it's not really all that meaningful. So, I like that you kind of went over that too. Switching gears, a little bit, when you were working as a psychologist with the Army at Walter Reed all over the place, where you were, what did you find to be one of the issues that the Veterans in the service members and the cadets that you were working with were struggling with the most?
Scott DeLuzio: 00:20:39 And I know that's probably sort of a tough question to talk about because not everyone's struggled with the same things and especially in the different points in their career, they're going to be dealing with different things. To that same point that I was talking about before, you know, when you, when you talk about issues, talking about the, the, the, the solutions that, that will, solve some of those things, what, what did you find to be effective in treating some of these people who came to you with one issue or another, was it, it, you know, that, that type of exposure type therapy where you just do the same thing over and over again until eventually, you know, you go down that repel tower over and over again, until eventually it just becomes sort of comfortable to you, or were there other things that you found to be particularly helpful with treating these types of people?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:21:32 Let me share a little bit about the cadets at West Point, because I think that's a very unique population. You have people who are very smart academically, people who have been in leadership roles in their high school environment, people who are a little like small town heroes, if you will. And they're used to being kind of like the big fish in the small pond, so to speak, and they get to West Point, and everybody else is just as smart as they are. In fact, they may not be even as smart as some of their peers, because selecting the elite of the elite of the people coming to West Point in that sense. And now they have to go through cadet basic training at the beginning and cadet basic training is not easy. And especially if you're used to being more of a self-starter, you're the kind of person who decides how you're going to run your own life.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:22:29 And now you're coming into this very structured environment where you're told exactly what to do when and how, and it's intended to be stressful. So one of my jobs in the summer, we ran a 24 hour operation when cadets were going through cadet basic training. I had a staff of officers that worked with me, and I also had a staff of 10 cadet, peer counselors. And so those 10 cadet, peer counselors were each responsible for a cadet basic training company. And so, they would do peer counseling onsite in the barracks at night and so on and so forth. And then if anything happened in the middle of the night and somebody was getting suicidal or whatever, and then they'd call me and I'd come in and in the morning, we'd have our case conferences. And so on. A lot of what people really deal with is how do they function when under that level of stress and that level of demand, you might not be getting enough sleep.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:23:30 You might not be getting enough food. You've got people yelling at you constantly. And there's just a lot of dynamics that are really designed to bring out any flaw that's in you, because we need to know that ahead of time before you're to be deployed somewhere and so on and so forth. And I think what people forget, and that's this you can provide on the spot frontline in the moment, support to people going through that challenge. And that was the whole purpose of having the peer cadets right there embedded in the cadet, basic training companies. And some really good people can be preserved if we just have the mindset that support is okay. Having someone to talk to, to regain and recalibrate perspective, to begin to reconnect again with your long-term goals and objectives. Why are you here? You know, what have you gone through in the past that even prepares you to be able to deal with this?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:24:38 Because they've had challenges before; they just haven't met this challenge and to be able to get perspective on that. So, I think that the counseling center, although again, people had said, well, we don't need the counseling. Yeah, you do. Because there are some people, there were people who really supported to make sure they made it through the hard out period where you couldn't leave the Academy. Because if you didn't have the hard out period, people would do like I did, they were going to bail off the tower wall early, when in fact you really could get through this. And so a lot of it is helping people to know they can get through and being the support person for them as they get through.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:25:18 Right. And that recentering their focus and their perspective on the things that are happening. Sometimes it could just be a short little conversation, a little pep talk kind of thing that gets them recalibrated and saves them from completely washing out versus going on to have a nice long career and being a good soldier at that too. You know? So, it's good that you have some sort of support network in place there for those types of things.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:25:50 And some of it too, I would say, Scott is some practical tools, like, let's say, now you're into the academic year. You made it through cadet, basic training. Now you're at the Academy you're in, you know, that new cadet, the first pass, the new cadet thing. And you're in the plebe year, which is that first year of the university. I think some students, they run into challenges and they don't have the practical skills. How do I have the right conversations here to get to different outcomes than what I'm experiencing? What kind of problem solving might make sense? And so sometimes it's just coming alongside a person, hearing the dilemma and helping them to brainstorm and identify, well, what could I do differently? And where can I find my personal agency in a scenario that where I might feel powerless.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:26:44 Yeah. And that's an important point, too, just being able to ask the right questions to people to kind of narrow down or drill down and get to the root of the issue that they're having. Sometimes, if you're asking the wrong question, you may not even be able to scratch the surface on what the problem is. Because if you can't identify what the problem is, then you're not going to be able to solve it for sure. So, we had an issue with one of our children the other day. And we were asking them all these questions and no, I wasn't doing that. I wasn't doing that. I wasn't doing that, but we didn't ask that specific thing that they were doing and they weren't volunteering up what they were specifically doing.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:27:26 So we never got to the issue until we finally asked that question that, did you do this thing. And then they finally said, yes. And so now we were able to identify what the problem was and where things could go from there. So, I think that's maybe a parenting tidbit, a little side note there, but it's the same thing with anybody, whether it's cadets at West Point, soldiers in the military, employees at a corporation; if there's a problem, if you're not asking the right questions, you're not going to get to the root of it to figure out what is actually going on.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:28:05 No, that's incredibly relevant because you have to have a good assessment. And if you come up with the wrong condition, you're going to come up with the wrong treatments.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:28:16 Sure. Yes, absolutely.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:28:20 So let's talk about some of the
Scott DeLuzio: 00:28:28 things that you're doing right now, some of the work that you're currently doing, kind of fast forward a little bit, one of the things, from the information that you've shared with me prior to this; as you help organizations, companies get the right people in the right positions. And I think this kind of flows in with what we were just talking about. Asking the right questions and that type of thing. Because if you don't know what the problems are that your organization is having, you're not going to know the right people to hire, and you're not going to know how to get those people; but on the other side to that, I would also imagine that a lot of this requires some self-reflection to figure out what your own strengths and weaknesses are, and maybe the strengths and weaknesses of your company, and or your division or department in your company, whatever the case may be.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:29:17 and I think that that type of thinking is also very helpful for Veterans who might be finding themselves kind of in the opposite situation then you were in where they're feeling themselves a little bit lost after losing their identity as a service member in the military. That self-reflection type of thing might be pretty useful; but what are some of the things that you do now with organizations to help them on the leadership side and things like that?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:29:52 Yeah. Let me first maybe paint the big picture about what I do as a corporate consultant as I'm working in all sectors. That means I have clients that are in large, like fortune 500 corporations, usually the executive leaders, that's typically who I'm working with. I also have clients who are military. I have clients who are federal government, those who are in the nonprofit sector as well. And the advantage of seeing clients on all of those spheres, is I can see lessons that actually transfer across all of those groups. And I have examples that come from all of those different industries and groups that can be shared, and that's very valuable, and I've been doing this for about 30 years. So that's a long time and a lot of information and watching different companies and different organizations. So, I think there's basically three things I'm for the most part, helping them do. One is to create a culture.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:30:49 That's a positive leadership culture, which includes the kind of messaging that you're going to be giving to the people the way you develop them. And all of that is important. And that definitely comes from the experience that I had in the Army, where I saw what happens when you don't have positive culture. You're not going to get the best out of the person that you could. And in fact, you waste a lot of time because people have to recover sometimes from whatever traumatic thing you said to them, and that's hours that they're not working. And hours that whoever they're talking to in the workplace to recover with, that person's not working. So, getting the right culture is part of it. Another part of it is the right people too. And you want to select people not only for their skills and how it fits in with whatever that job is, how will they fit with the company culture?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:31:43 There are some people who are highly skilled at a job, but they will be toxic to your leadership culture. And if you hire that person, you're probably going to get a mass Exodus of some other people in the organization who you really want to retain. Not everybody understands that. So you're looking at what are the job needs, what are the company needs, but also what's the cultural fit. Does this person fit? So there's that piece as well. And then thirdly, I would say a lot of work, and you would understand this coming from the military background, a lot of work gets done in a team context. So a lot of what we're doing too, is resourcing those teams and giving them the tools for how to communicate, how to give feedback, how to set direction and how to collaborate with other entities and other teams so that they become high performance teams and important because the kind of work people are doing out here today is complex.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:32:44 It's fast moving, it's difficult. And if your team's not, high-performance, you're just not going to be up for the task. So that's a lot of what I'm doing. And I would just say something else too, about context. And in this sense, I work with a lot of military people and it's exciting for me because I still have an opportunity to give back to the military, even though I'm not in the military and resourcing the leaders who are going to be leading the next generations of leaders. And I'm very passionate about that. So, in my own company, Trans Leadership, which I've been running now for about 25 years, and I also have an affiliation with another organization called the Center for Creative Leadership, where I'm senior faculty over there between our two organizations, we do a lot of work.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:33:36 So sometimes the Army in the past has sent all of their one-star generals into a leadership program where they get resourced and they get prepared for what their next level job is. The Army and the Air Force in more modern times send their O6s and their E9s who are tapped for command roles and leadership roles and people who they're grooming for greater responsibility so that they get the best. In other words, what we're offering to the corporate clients, they're getting the best of that as well, so that the military has what they need for the critical mission. I also worked with people in the federal government who are actually part of national security, different organizations that are designed for that. And also organizations, both federal government and civilian that are doing things for the war fighter, whether it be different machinery or weaponry or cyber security or whatever it may be. So these are sort of like ancillary groups that are important. And then we also have some work we do with the VA, training leaders in the VA as well. So, it's been exciting for me to have the opportunity as a civilian to still connect with the military and be part of the mission. I'm just part of the mission from the side.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:34:59 Yeah. And I think it's a big part of it too, because you're directly impacting the leadership and the culture and things like that within the military, which does have a trickle-down effect. If you're dealing with the top levels in some of these organizations and then that's going to affect the next leaders down and all the way down the chain, all the way to the frontline troops and everything. So, that's a great thing that you're doing, and it's a great way to continue serving, even outside of the military. That's pretty awesome.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:35:38 I'm delighted about it and it is really a lot of fun to be able to still participate. I'll add another piece in, I don't get to do this next thing very often. And yet I think it's really important. And that is to also work with the spouse. And there was one project that I did do with the Navy. The Navy was working with their admirals the first time one-star at rural leaders and they had their spouses to be a part of this program that we designed. And in my case, I've been both an active-duty Army leader myself. And, I've also been on the spouse side. And so, having both lenses because my husband spent 23 years in the military before he retired. So, I worked with the Navy spouses and the whole intention is to bring the usually would-be wife on the spouse side and usually a husband on the active-duty side, but not always, sometimes the spouse was male. And so we worked with the civilian spouse, brought the couples together so that they could craft out their direction, their leadership vision and their purpose and how they were going to make this work as a couple and as a family while they were engaging at this high level of military service as well. I love that type of work as well. That brings out the other psychologist part of me.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:37:07 Yeah, for sure. And that's a really important piece of it too, because if things are falling apart at home and you have a great leader who would otherwise be leading whoever's under their command, leading them with a great efficiency and being a very effective leader and things are falling apart at home. They're probably not going to be quite as good of a leader on their job. So, that's an important piece too, especially on those higher-level positions that you're talking about there.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:37:45 And if they learn it, they can also pass that down to the next levels too.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:37:49 For sure. Yeah, absolutely. And that's why I think it's good to start at the top level, because those things tend to trickle down. Like I was saying, down several levels down the chain of command. So that's really interesting. And what about some of the lessons that service members learn, during their time in the military? From a leadership perspective, what are some of the things that, I know you talked about teamwork a little bit and stuff like that, but what are some of the things to you that you think service members after they're getting out of the service, what can they take with them and really focus on, from a leadership perspective to help them out, make that transition to the civilian world, whether it's going into a corporate position or starting a business and things like that, whatever it may be; what are some of those leadership traits and qualities that they've picked up through the military, just by virtue of having to be a leader during their time, that could help them out in their civilian positions.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:38:57 You know, this is a really important question. And it's related to maybe a piece of something that I wish that people had told me about before I went into the military. This as a psychologist, a lot of times the kind of messaging that we would get as active-duty Army people was this, don’t pay too much attention to that military school or this military education or whatever, because we were truly focused on the psychology part of it. And what I would say is this, everything that the military offers in the way of education is truly an opportunity. And I would say pay attention to the military education that's offered in the experiences that you have there, because you can leverage those on the outside when you get out. So a lot of military people, and this is why some companies even like to recruit military people, we can be very organized.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:40:01 We have a sense of, like you said, of what teamwork is all about. Being able to cast the vision to a group in a way that they get the big picture and thinking about how to resource a mission, and who's going to be doing what and how it all flows and how it all works together. I think that in military people, there's a sense of diligence that comes with military people, persistence, through some difficult situations, and you've got to be persistent anyway we know, and we've learned how to do difficult things and to do those difficult things well, and to analyze what we're learning. I still use today with my corporate clients. I use the after action review process, and I teach it to them because I think that's one of the great tools of the military is to sit down, don't just have an experience, but stop, reflect on the experience that you've had, and then figure out what went well with this that we want to carry forward.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:41:07 What are the things we would do differently and kind of like in a dispassionate way, because I think a lot of corporate people, sometimes it's all about who we're going to blame, whereas the finger going to be pointing as opposed to what's the learning opportunity, what are we going to get out of this? And how can we use it to do the next thing better? So the military does that routinely all the time. So, I think military people should be proud of what we have learned and recognize it can be repurposed for civilian life as well.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:41:43 Yeah, that's great. And I think that is something that people might struggle with coming up with on their own, but hearing those words, it makes a lot of sense that all these things can be repurposed and brought forward into the civilian world. When you're leading a team in the corporate world, you can use a lot of these same things, but like you said, the after-action reviews and everything like that, you can do that type of stuff to improve yourself and your team and make sure everyone's on the same page with everything. And that's the whole purpose of it.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:42:29 Let me add something else in there too. One of the things I think the military is really good at is anticipating what you're going to have to do, therefore training in advance to do it right. And sometimes that doesn't happen as much in the civilian sector, the planning and the preparation and the advanced training. In the military, we also know as much as you prepare, as much as you train for something, reality is going to look different, feel different and be different, just like be walking up that straight up and downstairs. I'm like, “Oh no, that's not what I thought it was going to be.” And we've also learned how to pivot in the moment and how to adjust the plan for the actual real time conditions. And I think that in civilian businesses right now, there's a lot of competition. There's a lot of need for reinvention, a lot of need for innovation. And just the ability to repurpose the plan in the moment that we got to pivot here, because conditions have changed. Military people are bringing that skill as well.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:43:36 Yeah, for sure. And especially these days with the landscape of businesses changing with the lockdowns and things that happen with the coronavirus and everything like that; if you want to stay in business, you have to pivot and you have to change how you do things to be able to open safely, with regards to the government guidelines and all that kind of stuff. And if you're just going into work doing things business as usual, you're probably not going to make it too long in that type of environment; but that's not the only thing that could happen. There's other things, new competitors and things like that. So, you're absolutely right that you do have to be able to pivot and adjust fire when necessary. So, is there anything I know you've said this a little bit before in the last little bit there, anything you wish someone would have told you before you joined the military, any advice or tips or things like that, that they would have given you?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:44:46 I don't know if there's anything new or different that I wish they had said the military is one of those experiences. You pretty much have to experience it.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:44:59 I mean, you really do.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:44:59 Have to jump in and see what it's about. I really think so. I don't know, looking back on it, I don't know what else they could have told me other than just pay attention to the education opportunities at a greater level. Like, I don't think there's anything else that I felt like, “Oh, I wish I had known such.”
Scott DeLuzio: 00:45:20 Okay. Yeah, no, that's fair. What about the military culture? I know you said back then, especially when you were young, you were a psychologist, and those things were kind of just working against you. There was a culture back then that you were kind of fighting against almost swimming upstream against some of that culture. What do you wish was, or maybe is different with the military culture in general?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:45:49 And this is really the thing that strikes me about this as more about the psychology part of my identity. And what I would say is this, I wish that the military would emphasize what I would call psychology strong is military strong. And I think that having a culture that encourages the use of psychological services and where the military even would hold up examples of people who may have been in combat they've come back with PTSD or whatever has happened to them and how psychology helped them. And they tend not to tell those stories and to also tell the stories about people who didn't get help, and maybe some of the outcomes in those situations, the way I look at it, psychologists are a resource in the military, and I would love to see them used better and more effectively, because we really could save a whole lot more lives, save a lot more marriages and also save just the quality of life for people.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:47:08 If they knew that it was something valuable. And so I'd love to see that culture shift, because back in my day, psychologists and psychology was, Ooh, we don't need that. People had the mindset, they didn't need it. So, I'll say to you, Scott, one of the things I really appreciate about what you're doing is you see that there's that void, you see that there's that need, and you are bringing people to your show who have left military service may have some struggles and have some difficulties. And they come back to tell the story of what resources and tools they use to come back to health. That to me, is a service. And I would love to see that service take place internally to the military to a greater extent.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:48:00 Yeah. And that's what was going to say, I didn't want to cut you off as you were talking there, but I was thinking to myself, you're preaching to the choir here. That is definitely something that I wish would change. I wish it was different. When I was in the military 10 ish years ago. It probably was different than when you were in the military, but it was definitely not a strong push towards going to use the mental health services and things like that. It was kind of like, go check the box that you met with this person and then move on and go do your job and that type of thing.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:48:42 And I really do wish that more people, like you said, highlighted the wins from people who went to go talk to the mental health professionals that we had available to us, and then also, point out some of the struggles and stuff that people went through, who didn't go there, and talk to whoever they needed to talk to and get the help that they needed. I've done that on this podcast, that's really the whole gist of the show is, I want to talk to people who have had some real-life struggles, whether it was depression, PTSD, homelessness, drug, or alcohol abuse, any of those types of things.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:49:32 And there's a number of others that I'm sure I'm missing some, but, you know, talk about those things. And then, how did you pull yourself out of that? Also, on the flip side, I've also had people, I've had the mother of a soldier who committed suicide, he didn't get the help that he needed, at the time that he needed it. And it didn't fall through with all the things that were necessarily available to him. And so, we talk about that too, and we highlight all the negatives and show some of the realities of this could be a possible outcome if you don't take this type of stuff seriously. I'm really fortunate that people are willing to share their stories and come out and talk about this type of stuff. So, I think you hit the nail on the head there, and I don't think I could have said it better. I think that was awesome. And it's really important.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:50:28 Scott, what would it be like if a soldier hears from a leader that he respects some story about how their mental game, and I know I was just talking about mental health, I'm talking about mental toughness, I'm talking about resilience, I'm talking about all those things. What's taken to a next level by availing him or herself of the resources. That would just be powerful, but people don't talk about that. And so therefore it remains stigmatized on some level.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:50:58 Yeah, for sure. And I think it's definitely gotten better over the years, but there's still some work to be done. We've scratched the surface a bit if you will, but there's still probably some work that needs to be done there. So, do you have any other reflections or thoughts or any other tips or advice that maybe would be beneficial to the audience?
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:51:22 Yeah. Let me put it this way. I'll say this trauma is not normal. Okay. And combat trauma, and particularly various different kinds of combat atrocities and so on and so forth. These experiences and scenarios are not the experiences of everyday life. And because it's not normal, meaning that everybody's not experiencing this as they're going down the street, you have to think about the fact that the response has to go above and beyond the norm in order to get to the healing. And the healing is important because whatever you experience in life, including trauma, you're experiencing it, not just for yourself to get something out of it, you're experiencing it because you're going to help somebody else down the line and you can't help that somebody else, unless you first get some healing. And that healing is essential because it takes the experiences and minds from those experiences.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:52:43 But I'll call the unique perspectives that you're going to have, because we all know you're not going to be the same on the other side of trauma and being different is okay, so long as the difference is healthy, and you can use it to help the next guy along the way. So that's one point. The other thing I would say is what I've seen over the years, whether it's military or otherwise, the people who do less well are the people who are isolated. It's the people who go inside and are focused solely on themselves. Recently, I was just doing a podcast about Hanukkah. And we were talking about the fact that in my guests and I were talking about the fact that in this season of 2020 have so much darkness, you know, the Hanukkah lights bringing hope and if you are doing well now at some point, the whole purpose is to reach out to other people, reach out to them.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:53:45 And even, even if you're not doing well, don't stay isolate yourself, reach out and say, okay, I've got an extra crust of bread. I can help this person with that. Maybe I don't have an extra glass of water right now, but I got the extra bread. I can use that to help someone else. We are designed to be in community and to be helpful to others. So, when we move away from that, we spiral downward. So, I'd say, reach out and touch somebody else so to speak and be a value to them. And then I would say this, what you have learned along the way you can leverage it for the greater good, just like you're doing right now, what you're doing is you've learned some things and you're leveraging it for the greater good.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:54:36 So people should look for those opportunities. And what is that greater purpose in what they're doing? And then the last thing I would say is this, well, I'd say sometimes you have to go through some things to get to the other side. And it's the going through it that allows the lessons to solidify in a way that's usable and allows the healing to occur. And so often people try to avoid things which keeps them stuck and absent the healing. And as you're going through, I would remind people to remember the power and significance of what I'm going to call spiritual strength. And I'm given example from Psalm 23 in the Bible. There's a section in Psalm 23 is the fourth verse. It says, yea, though, I walk through the Valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff. They comfort me. And that's just to remind us that we don't have to go through it alone. We've got human health and we've got supernatural, spiritual help. We just have to access it.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:56:02 That's awesome. I like that twist at the end with the spiritual side of things too. You're absolutely right with all of that. And I think we need to embrace some of the hardships and learn from them and not let them get us down. And I think you hit the nail on the head there.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:56:26 I'm not suggesting that people have to, so to speak, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to do this. You need to bring in resources to get it done, you know? And so this is not one of those kinds of speeches. It's like, no, reach out, get the resources, go through the healing and be awesome on the other end.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:56:48 And it's just like anything in the military, you're not a D the Army of one that they advertise. You're on a team and you're working together towards a goal and with anything else in life, if you're not a plumber and you have a backed-up sink or something, you're going to call somebody else to get help. If you're not a mechanic and you don't know how to fix the rattling sound in your car, you're going to go to a mechanic and get it fixed and have someone who knows what they're talking about and know what they're doing, look at it and fix it. I think with our mental health and with a lot of other things in life, if we try to do things on our own, we're going to end up struggling and unnecessarily.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:57:37 And for a long time, when you don't have to make it your whole life.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:57:41 Right. Yeah. And sometimes we get stubborn and we want to figure it out. We want to do these things on our own. But that's not always the best way to do it. I'm all for trying to figure out your situation, try to figure things out on your own if you can. But if you're struggling for a significant period of time, you probably need to just raise your hand and say, yeah, I need that help. And get the help that you need.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:58:11 I kind of liked the old Army saying, “Be all that you can be,” because that's really what we're talking about. We're talking about taking the steps, taking the actions to resource yourself, to be all that you can be, and that's really going to make the world better because you'll serve better and you'll add value better.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:58:33 Absolutely. Well, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you today. You've dropped a lot of great information, great things to think about and take away from this episode. I'm really glad that you came on and shared with us today. I also want to give you the opportunity to let people know where they can go to get in touch with you, to find out more about what you do, find out your book and everything else that you do.
Karen Wilson Starks: 00:59:02 Thank you so much. And it's been a real pleasure and a delight to be here with you too. And Scott, I really appreciate what you're doing. And I think that it's an incredible value that you're adding back to the community as well. So people can find me, they can find [email protected] My website. They can also subscribe to the voice of leadership podcast comes out twice a week, new episodes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And then on the other days, we run episodes from our archives. And then the other thing that I would say is, that they can find my book on Amazon. And the book is called Lead Yourself First, the senior leader's guide to engaging your people for greater performance and impact. And mostly in that book will be some of the kinds of stories that I've shared here today, and the lessons that I've learned from my life and how I leverage those for clients.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:59:59 And all of this stuff that you talked about today will be linked up in the show notes. So, anyone who's looking to get access to this information, visit the website, get the book and all that type stuff, we'll have links to all that and you can grab it all there. Thank you again for joining us and for this conversation, I really do appreciate it.
Karen Wilson Starks: And thank you too.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:00:29 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcasts. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website, DriveOnPodcast.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @DriveOnPodcast.