Bryan Price: Building a Curriculum Around Crucibles #5‪9‬

Warwick Fairfax

March 10, 2021

Seton Hall University students who attend the Buccino Leadership Institute discover early the value of learning and leveraging the lessons of their crucible experiences. That’s because the institute’s executive director, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Bryan Price, teaches a freshman course in which students share their most painful setbacks and failures with their classmates as a means of building confidence in themselves and camaraderie among their peers. It’s leadership authenticity Price learned as captain of the baseball team at West Point — spotlighting how vulnerability for a purpose pays big dividends in our lives and careers. And the sooner we learn our identity is not tied to what we do but rather to who we are, the better we become at the essential skills of reframing failure and not falling victim to imposter syndrome.
To learn more about Bryan Price and his leadership coaching services, visit www.topmentalgame.com

Highlights

  • His high school flirtation with a journalism career (4:48)
  • His love for playing sports (6:34)
  • The 8th grade moment that motivated him to excel on the diamond (8:32)
  • His youthful crucibles — and what they taught him about love and life (12:18)
  • The leadership lessons he learned at West Point (19:57)
  • “Mission First, People Always” (25:16)
  • Battling imposter syndrome as an Army officer (32:59)
  • Why he founded a leadership institute at Seton Hall (38:09)
  • The reason he started a crucible moments class for freshmen (40:09)
  • The critical role of vulnerability in leadership (44:17)
  • How Warwick uncoupled his identity from his crucible (50:28)
  • Bryan’s key principles for moving beyond crucibles (52:52)

Transcript

Warwick F:
Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Gary S:
In organizations, when you try to put all the ingredients together of what makes an organization successful, one of those things is trust, trust between leaders and followers, trust within in peer groups, trust with the organization. And in order to trust you, I have to know you. And if I to really know you, you have to be vulnerable and share parts of yourself that normally, you might be willing to kind of keep from others. And so when we did this class, the setup was before the class starts, I asked my students, each student to come up with between one and three crucible moments in their life, and I described them very similarly as you and Warwick did at the outset. And I had those ahead of time. And then in that class, I talked about the importance of it, just very similarly to how Warwick did, and their importance in our growth. And then I lead from the front, I share my crucible moments with the class, and I ask some of my associate faculty, my associate directors to do the same. And then we turn it over to the students to volunteer. So you don’t have to volunteer if you don’t want to. But boy, the past couple years when we’ve done this, the emotional response that we’ve gotten from students that have shared their crucible moment has been extremely powerful.

Gary S:
College course on crucibles? You bet. At Seton Hall University, Dr. Bryan Price teaches his students the power of vulnerability with a purpose of sharing some of their most painful experiences in life as a key element of the leadership skills he’s imparting to them in the classroom. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, the co-host of the show and the Communications Director for Crucible Leadership. Dr. Price also shares in this interview with Warwick the lessons on Life and Leadership he learned on the baseball diamond, at West Point as a military officer and as head of Seton Hall’s Buccino Leadership Institute. A major theme of the stories he tells and the perspective he offers, the essential roles authenticity and identity play in mustering the resilience to move beyond your crucible.

Warwick F:
Wow. Well, Bryan, thank you so much for being here. I know we’re in a bit, we’re going to talk about what you do at the Buccino Institute at Seton Hall, the Crucible Moments class, which given what we do at Crucible Leadership and Beyond the Crucible, it’s all about crucibles and critical moments. I love the fact you have a class called that. So we’ll get to that here in a bit. And you’ve had just an amazing career at West Point and teaching there and Army Aviation and a number of combat tours. But before we get into all of that, tell us a bit about growing up in Sea Girt, New Jersey and kind of what was your family like and who was like a young Bryan Price and your family and all?

Bryan P:
Yeah, sure. So I’m actually reporting live from Sea Girt as well, which is, if you’re not familiar, it’s a postage stamp. It’s kind of a sleepy resort town on the Jersey Shore. And the reason why it’s called Girt is because we’re surrounded by water. It’s almost like a little peninsula where you have water to my north and south. And then the Atlantic Ocean is obviously on the east here. And I’m living in the same house that I grew up in. So that’s also interesting. So I was actually born in Elizabeth, New Jersey. But then when I was less than one, my family moved down to Sea Girt. My father was a sports writer and wrote for the Staten Island Advance for 44 years. My mom was a nurse. And I grew up with two brothers, one older and one younger. And as we speak right now, they are probably within three quarters of a mile from where I’m sitting. So fantastic opportunity growing up. As I mentioned, we’re on the Jersey Shore. So my years were spent playing sports, going to school, and then we had the beach and as we say here, it’s like, our lives are other people’s vacations because people would come to our town to vacation and we get to live here. So it was awesome.

Warwick F:
Oh, that is so cool. I mean is obviously growing up in a newspaper background. You were never tempted to follow in the family business and be a sportswriter or something? Did dad ever say, “Bryan, come on. I got in at the Staten Island paper and maybe from there who knows, the Newark Star Ledger or whatever.” Did you ever think of doing that or not really?

Bryan P:
I did. In fact in high school and this might be the first that I think anyone’s ever hearing about this. While I was playing on the basketball team, I went under a different name in my local town paper and was the beat writer for our team, which it’s funny. I went under a name from my favorite baseball player, which not many people knew named Mickey Hatcher.

Warwick F:
Oh, yeah, Mickey Hatcher, yes.

Bryan P:
And I wrote for the Coast Star. And so the funny part is, is like you could imagine, the access that I had to that team was amazing in terms of the reporting, because I was on it. But I had to be careful. If you go back through those files, I don’t want to write about myself. So it was all about the team and those sorts of things.

Warwick F:
You had to be careful. If like, the team played well, but boy the coaching was really awful. We could have won that but the coach was just asleep.

Bryan P:
Exactly. Who is this Mickey Hatcher guy?

Gary S:
I’m intrigued, I’m intrigued because Mickey Hatcher was a bit of a character as I recall, baseball player. He played for the Dodgers, mostly. And he was a bit of a, I wouldn’t call him a flake, but he was a bit of a character. So why was he your favorite player?

Bryan P:
One word, hustle. If you ever saw him play, whenever he would draw base on balls, he would sprint to first base. Whenever he hit a home home run, he would sprint around the bases and kind of interesting factoid on him, only hit two home runs the entire regular season in 1989. Kirk Gibson gets hurt so he gets to play in the World Series, he gets a starting job and hits two home runs the World Series. But he was a character, but I loved him less for the character and more for his hustle. And I emulated that in my play, or at least tried to.

Warwick F:
That’s awesome. So obviously high school, you mentioned three sport athletes. So which sports were they, out of curiosity?

Bryan P:
So I played football, basketball, obviously since the beat writers aspect. And then baseball was the sport that I probably excelled in at the most.

Warwick F:
Awesome. And then I know you went on to, you were the co-captain at West Point. So that was a huge deal, baseball. And do you ever, I mean, obviously, there’s a sports writing angle. Do you ever think, “Gosh, could I be good enough to kind of get to the next level?” Would you ever toy with that about minor leagues or more?

Bryan P:
So as a kid growing up, I mean that was always the dream. But at my size, I was always undersized. So in my playing days, I was no taller than I usually say I’m 5’7 1/2″. I don’t even know if you know and that half, if I’m there yet. But I know I got the most out of my my playing days. And my co-captain, Mike Scioletti, who will probably watch this, did get drafted by the White Sox. But he turned it down to continue his army career. But I felt like I got the most out of my out of my athletic ability. I’ve no regrets.

Gary S:
And one of the things that’s probably true, as you describe your baseball career, and your physical stature in the way that you played the game and what you liked about Mickey Hatcher, I imagine the name or the adjective scrappy was assigned to you at some point. You were a scrappy ballplayer. But as we talk about overcoming crucibles and moving beyond those failures and those setbacks, and what you’re teaching to your students now, being scrappy, I’ve never thought of it in these terms, but being scrappy is a key personality element to overcoming a crucible.

Bryan P:
Yeah, it’s funny, Gary, when you mentioned this. We all have like different narratives that rattle around in our brain over time. And by the way, just to answer your specific question, if you go back to the media guides during those time periods, I guarantee you’re going to find the word scrappy there. So you’re spot on, you’re spot on. But I don’t necessarily classify this as a crucible moment. But it’s one of those moments that it’s so definitive in my life, and I think to your point, helped shape how I saw myself and how I wanted to perform not just in sports, but in life. And so I was in eighth grade going into high school. And I had, again multi sport athlete, we have like an advanced version of, they call it the Babe Ruth League, where I come from, so there’s Little League, and then you kind of advance to this Babe Ruth League, and I had just been voted MVP of that league. The summer was winding down, and I would go and play, one of the great things about my dad was his job as a sportswriter, was he had a fair amount of flexibility. So we could go out in the summertime and practice and play.

Bryan P:
And I remember we would go to the high school, the local high school to play and inside of high school, they had a Coke machine. So we’d go play in the summertime, it would be super hot out. We kind of walk into the school. This is pre like school shooting days where you could just like walk into the school and go use the Coke machine and the janitor was there and the janitor happened to be from a family in our town that was known for athleticism, multiple generations of top athletes, and he saw me play so he came in and he said, “I’ve seen you hitting out there with your dad.” He said, “You look pretty awesome. Pretty good.” He goes, “What grade are you in? You are going into what? Sixth grade?”, and I was about to become a freshman.

Bryan P:
And again, it doesn’t sound like much to anybody. But to me, it was my height and my stature at that time. I said right then and there, I was like, this is how people are going to perceive me whenever I walk into the room. So I’m not going to impress anybody with my I saw your Tom Brady bit the other day Warwick, which is great. No one’s going to fall in love with the scouting report just off of paper. So I felt like I had to outwork everybody in whatever organization or group that I was in, because I wasn’t going to impress you on paper.

Warwick F:
Yeah. And that’s really tough when you’re a kid, and somebody thinks that you looked good for sixth grade and you’re about to be a freshman. I mean there are some stereotypes people have when they don’t really know who you are. But anything that’s physical, it’s sort of obvious, and they size you up. And so okay, therefore, he can’t do A and B. It’s like, all Australians play tennis these days. And some of these top tennis players for guys, they’re like 6’1″, 6’2″ is kind of about the minimum. And then some of these guys are 6’4″, 6’5″. The women, it’s like 5’9″, 5’10”. You’d be hard pressed to find a woman who’s in the top 20 or the elite that’s much smaller than 5’9″, 5’10”. So if you’re a some five foot girl growing up, five foot four. I mean, you get a lot of coaches saying, “Yeah, and I’m not really seeing it.”

Bryan P:
Yeah, exactly.

Warwick F:
And it just feels so unfair. It’s like it doesn’t capture the whole Tom Brady thing, which as everybody knows, his scouting report was just kind of abysmal, not mobile.

Gary S:
Weak arm.

Warwick F:
Yeah, I mean, doesn’t throw a tight spiral. I mean, you would never draft that guy, but it misses the heart. Clearly you had a heart, passion, hustle. I want to talk a bit about before we shift to West Point and Seton Hall, everybody’s had crucibles. I think you mentioned your parents got divorced when you were young, and you lost your mom to cancer at 9/11, I mean, clearly around 9/11. That’s obviously tough. I mean, how did those things shape you? I mean some people, like parents getting divorced, you can be angry, and it’s always devastating. But some people are able to move on in some fashion, and some are not.

Bryan P:
Those two moments kind of stick out for me the most in the sense that as a kid, all you know is you’re a nuclear family. And when there’s a divorce, that can really shake up a lot of families. And in my case, it did, because my dad moved out of the house, but also my older brother went to go live with him, too. So it wasn’t just one person moving out, it was two people. But one of the things that I tell people in terms of why I felt like it was impactful to me was because I saw what love was like, and so my dad literally tried to find the closest place to our house where he can move, and again, a resort town, so it’s not like there’s a ton of apartment complexes around here. It’s mostly residential houses. And so he found an apartment that was four blocks away. And so I had the opportunity growing up, even though my parents were divorced, to see both of those individuals almost on a daily basis, to make it as normal for us as possible.

Bryan P:
And I think when you look at leadership, and putting others in front of your own interests, I saw my dad do that, because it wasn’t the greatest appartment that he was in, but it was close to us. And that was more important to him than having some type of great place to live. So that was kind of telling. The second one was, as you mentioned, so I ended up losing my mom in October of 2001. And that was also right around the time of September 11. In fact, when I found out, my mom had been sick for that year prior, but it really started to elevate in September. She was supposed to go into her first bout of chemotherapy on the morning of September 11.

Bryan P:
And so when I actually got home from physical training, I was at Fort Hood as a lieutenant as a platoon leader at that time, and so we just got done from our morning physical training, I come home and my mom is calling and I knew that she was supposed to be going into her chemo that day. So she says, “Turn on the TV.” We talked about it. Turn on the TV. And obviously, that was after the first plane had hit and then I was on the phone with her for the second plane.

Bryan P:
The hospitals had actually called her to tell her that her chemotherapy was going to be canceled that morning because our area’s hospitals were preparing for the triage. We’re close enough to New York City where they felt like they were going to be feeling the effects of of this tragedy. And so less than probably three and a half weeks later, she was gone. So everything accelerated very quickly. I know there’s lots of people out there that have lost loved ones at various ages. For me at that time, it’s tough. You never want to see your parents in pain. And it’s just kind of a wake up call. And maybe the silver lining out of all that is when you do experience that pain and personal loss, I think you look at the world differently. It’s kind of like somebody proverbial shaking you out of your rut and the lifestyle that you’re in. And it shakes you to say like this thing we have here called life is short, and you have to take advantage of it. And so I took both of those lessons from the divorce, but also from losing my mom, and hopefully trying to make that impact, that life of significance that you talk about in your fantastic book. And I think that even though no one wants to go through those tragedies, those things can serve a purpose in your life, if you’re open to it.

Warwick F:
Yeah. I mean, it’s such a good point. That makes you think, well, every day is precious. You have obviously married and I think you mentioned earlier, you have a daughter and you said one kid?

Bryan P:
Yep, she was so perfect. Why bother?

Warwick F:
Well said, but it makes you value every hour every day, with your family, with students. Yeah, you go through a crucible, as we say, and you can either, which is understandable, wallow in them, hide under the covers, and be bitter and angry, either at the world or at yourself, if it’s through your own mistake. And setbacks can be one of varieties. Or you can say, “Yeah, this is pretty awful. But how am I going to move forward? How am I going to maybe use this in some way?” Obviously, you have empathy for people that have gone through those sorts of things. And just, yeah the silver lining I think with your dad, that’s sort of a remarkable story that irrespective of how the divorce happened, the fact that he was so dedicated to his family, that he was so close and spent so much time with you, that was something that it’s like, even when bad things happen, what’s important to you in life, you don’t let that go. And that probably was an incredibly invaluable life lesson that you learned from your dad’s actions. It’s often we learn as much or more from people’s actions than their words, right? His life, the way he modeled love and putting family first in that situation was, it was remarkable, really. I mean, a lot of dads wouldn’t do that. They’d say, “Okay, I’m out of here. And off I go.” But not your dad.

Bryan P:
He completely put his kids at the forefront and put his entire life, including social life on the back burner. Another kind of interesting thing is, again I mentioned the small town. And so my brothers and I, we would play sports all the time. And my dad, again given his schedule, was willing to be able to go out whenever we wanted to go practice. And so looking through the eyes of our 2021 lens back then, I’m sure there are tons of people in my town that thought my dad was crazy, and maybe demanding that we would go out and play. But the beautiful part is, I can’t remember one instance in my entire life, where my dad kicked me on the couch and said, “Hey, Bryan, you got to get out and practice, let’s go.” It was always us asking my dad. And he was like, okay, and going into the sports crazed world that we are today, and I have a daughter, obviously played sports, we talked about that earlier, that was also a gift for me of whenever my dad wanted to play with me, he was available. He was never the one putting guilt or pushing me to get out and practice. So that was another life lesson.

Warwick F:
And now I’ll shift here to West Point. But just to kind of talk about this for one more beat, what your dad modeled for you, I’m sure that you model for your daughter. Your daughter, you mentioned earlier is like an elite athlete on the top team for 12 year olds in the country. She’s obviously one of the top 12 year old girls in the country. Well, a lot of dads in those circumstances would be like, “You got to train, you got to do this, you got to do that. You could be in the U.S. women’s team, you could be the Olympics.”, and I strongly suspect that you encourage and support. But you’re not saying, “It’s 5 a.m. You’re working out, are you?” You’re probably not that dad.

Bryan P:
If my wife was listening to this right now, she would say, “Bryan, you better be taking your own medicine.” And so I have to fight that impulse in order to do that. And I’ll just be honest, while I think I am not bad in that regard. I feel like my dad was better, and it’s something to kind of shoot for for sure.

Warwick F:
Yeah. So I want to hear about the Buccino Institute. But tell us a bit about West Point, because obviously, and afterwards, you played on the baseball team, co-captain and I think there was some important lessons you learned about teamwork probably throughout your whole career, but I’m guessing that might have been the capstone of it. What did you really learn about yourself, about teamwork just by playing on the baseball team there?

Bryan P:
Yeah, well, I think just to expand it even further, the entire experience at West Point for those of you that are not familiar, it’s essentially a 47 month leadership laboratory. And so from the moment that you arrive to the moment that you leave, you are consistently learning about yourself all the way. And one aspect of that leadership model which is pertinent to this conversation, is that it’s designed to make you fail at something. And the way they do it is very interesting, because they give you so much work to do, that no one can possibly do it in a 24 hour period. And so you have to, at a very early age, kind of manage your expectations of what tasks are you going to do well, and what tasks are you just not going to.

Bryan P:
So for example, the differences between cleaning your room, studying for your chemistry exam, and shining your shoes for inspection the next day, and you have 45 minutes before lights are out, you got to figure out how to manage that. The other thing I’ll say is, no matter how skilled you are, no matter what an athlete you are, or how academically adept you are, there’s going to be something that you fail at. For example, you have to go off the 10 meter platform in the pool. And so there’s lots of people, I don’t know if you’ve ever gone off a 10 meter platform before, but even if you’re not scared of heights, that can be a significant emotional event. For another kid, it might be chemistry. For another kid, it might be on the marksmanship range.

Bryan P:
So what West Point teaches you, and I think the baseball team as well is, even when you do fail, you have to pick yourself back up, and then move forward. And I think that’s an especially important lesson for leaders, because I think all too often, there’s this streak of perfectionism in our society where leaders have to do everything perfect. And when you think about it, the most impactful leaders probably in your lifetime were ones that were authentic, and authentic people are vulnerable. And it’s okay to admit if you’re not great at something, or if you failed at something, and then move forward. And so that’s one lesson that I think West Point does a great job of teaching.

Warwick F:
I mean, that’s so great, because so often in society, you see people that won’t admit their failures, that will not apologize and double down, triple down, what have you. But I imagine in your army experience, like in any organization, there are good leaders, bad leaders, and so so leaders. It’s just part of being human. Were you able to observe leaders that were able to admit that they made mistakes and were wrong, and maybe you were right, others were right. Did you have modeled for you leaders that you think these are folks are actually doing it right?

Bryan P:
Oh, 100%. I mean, on average, I don’t care what profession you’re in, you’re going to run into leaders that are good and bad in every profession. And so one of the things that West Point also teaches you is consider yourself kind of carrying, they call it a kit bag, but good lessons, bad lessons, put them in that bag, and reserve for later. But when it comes to servant leadership, which is the kind of model that we try to espouse at Seton Hall, is definitely espoused in the military. I feel so blessed and fortunate to have had leaders in my orbit, in my network that are some of the best people on the planet. And of course, you can see those things come out in crisis moments, because you’re in the military, whether you’re in combat or when the stakes are high, that’s when you really see people’s true colors. And to see people that you really trust, respect, and look up to, it’s been awesome. So yeah.

Warwick F:
I mean, it occurs to me in the military, if you’ve got some stubborn colonel, general that doesn’t want to admit failure, I mean bad things can happen to them. I’m not really a military student. But yeah, I think maybe World War One, you had them fighting 19th century battles with full frontal assault against machine guns, which was insanity. It was never going to work and thousands or maybe millions of people die, but general after general, whether it’s, I don’t know, French, German, British, maybe Americans later, they just kept with the same battle plan. And it’s like, this is idiotic, but nobody wants to admit that they’re wrong or that they’re clueless. And they haven’t been trained in tactics for what was then modern warfare. They’ve been trained in 19th century cavalry charge tactics when they were in their 20s. It’s just mind blowing. How could you keep doing the same thing and wasting enormous numbers of lives? You just have to think a little bit of arrogance, a little bit of, well, I don’t want to admit that I don’t know what to do here. I haven’t been trained to deal with this situation. What do we do?

Bryan P:
I think one of the phrases that helps manage that kind of aspect of it, and by the way, in the military, we’re probably one of the most hierarchical organizations that there are. There is a rank structure. But I do believe that they in certain aspects of the military, they do respect you to speak truth to power, and especially in the planning stage. But once the decision has been made, then it’s execute. But there’s a phrase that I think I gravitated towards when I was in the military, but one that I think is also applicable to whatever profession that you’re in. And its mission first, people always. And so, sometimes when you’re in the military, you get asked, saw the helicopter pilot. So what if you get to go take this very dangerous mission, maybe behind enemy lines, where you might have a high likelihood of some of your folks not coming back? And so they say, “Well, do you do the mission? Or being the leader, do you take care of your folks, and you not do the mission?” And you do both. You accomplish the mission, but you also take care of your people. So mission first, people always is kind of a nice catchphrase that I think is also applicable in business and sports and whatever profession that you’re exploring.

Warwick F:
Absolutely. So after West Point, obviously you became an Army helicopter pilot, did that for a number of years before going to Stanford. So before we get into sort of the Stanford and then combating terrorism center, were there are any key lessons you learned by being a helicopter pilot in Iraq, Afghanistan, and just all of that with sort of life leadership lessons you learned from that period?

Bryan P:
Yeah, I think both of them offered kind of their own different lessons. But as I mentioned earlier, when you are in those situations, you learn a lot about yourself, both good and bad, and maybe some things that you’re not super proud of about your own leadership. But I think so when I was in Afghanistan, for example, as a company commander, I had 106 people that were underneath my charge. And having that sense of care, love, devotion for those people, I don’t know, when I talk to people about, actually this is an interesting thing that we do with our students at Seton Hall, which is on their first day in our program, I ask all the students to take out a piece of paper and fill out and say, “What is your definition of leadership?” And when they do that, they can’t use Google, I don’t give them any primer, I collect all the answers. And then I put it into a word cloud.

Bryan P:
And for the past three years running, I’ve done this and the one word that comes out above any other is others. And if I had to use any one word to define leadership, that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about others. And if there’s one thing that leading in combat or being in the military taught me is the importance of others. And so that type of servant leadership style is kind of in our DNA. And it’s what we’re also trying to do with our folks at Seton Hall. One quick side story, I go from being responsible for 106 people in Afghanistan, weapon on me every single day, flying all over the country, I get back. And then within weeks, I’m in Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, which is one of the most beautiful places on the face of the planet. And I went from that environment in Afghanistan to Stanford where I was only responsible for myself. And in my first meeting with the graduate school people there, I said, “I’m here to see so and so.”, and she’s like, “Oh yeah, we’ll bring her right out.” And she walks out. And she’s barefoot and her dog is accompanying her. And I was like, it’s like culture shock, but two very high performing organizations, going from the military to Stanford. Again, I feel just very blessed that I had the opportunity to kind of learn in these really interesting leadership laboratories.

Warwick F:
And before you got to Seton Hall, you spent a number of years at the West Point Combating Center. But I think you mentioned when you first applied to teach there, it didn’t work out. But what was that like? I mean, it obviously worked out eventually. What was that like? Was that like, how could it not work out? I mean, I think I’m pretty qualified. I mean, what was going on?

Bryan P:
Yeah, this was really interesting. So I did my first tour there. So I went to Stanford. And after I got the Ph.D., I then started working at West Point in the Department of Social Sciences. And then I went to Iraq, I deployed to Iraq. When I went to go, there was a job opportunity that opened back up to become a permanent professor. So West Point is a mix of rotating faculty that will rotate every couple of years, and then a small segment that is kind of permanent faculty. So a permanent faculty job opened up and I applied to it and I thought I was relatively qualified for it. And I went and I interviewed and I thought I crushed the interview. And I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody this story either. So this is twofer here, Gary and Warwick.

Gary S:
Wow, we got exclusive here on Beyond the Crucible.

Bryan P:
So I’ve already given up my pet name of Mickey Hatcher out there. The second one is in the military, I don’t want to say the real army, but you don’t wear your dress uniform. It’s not like the movies. You turn on the movies and they’re wearing their dress uniform to go eat breakfast every day. That’s not happening. You were in your kind of fatigues, your battle dress uniform. And so for this opportunity at West Point, I had to wear my dress uniform. Well, the Army’s got this crazy thing every couple years where they’ll change up uniforms, and ribbons and all this stuff. And so when I went to go do this interview, I thought I did very well. But a couple weeks later, I get a phone call, it says, “Hey, you were not selected for this position. And oh, by the way, we noticed that your uniform, your deployment stripes were on the wrong sleeve.”

Bryan P:
And to me, when you talk about when you walk into the room, that’s what people see, this is something that was not super important to me, probably should have been. But I had taken my uniform to the military complex where I was stationed at, for them to put all the proper accoutrement and all that stuff on there. Well, the woman made a mistake and I didn’t catch it. And so I don’t know if that was the reason why I was not selected. But it was the only piece of feedback that I had gotten. And that was tough to swallow. I don’t know if that qualifies as a crucible moment. But that was one where I was like that was tough to swallow.

Warwick F:
Because you’d be thinking, “Seriously? I hope there was a better reason than I’ve got my, I’m not lying about my deployment. It’s not like I put on a ribbon I didn’t deserve, which to the military would be a serious deal, which I don’t think any right thinking person would ever do. But putting it on the wrong sleeve. I mean, my gosh, think of a better reason.” And there may have been a better one, but humanly speaking, it’s easy to go there and say, “Seriously?”

Bryan P:
But that’s never been my mentality Warwick. If anything, I was turning all that inward on me. My thing wasn’t, I can’t believe they would only focus on that. My thing was just beating myself up over. How could I have not? I should have checked that. I should have, and in the preparation for it, so I don’t fault them for it. But it was one of those where it’s like, “Man, I thought that was great opportunity.” And as it turned out, life is weird how it turns out, an even better opportunity opened up with the Combating Terrorism Center.

Warwick F:
Yeah, and then I want to get to Seton Hall. Is there anything you want to say that’s relevant to this conversation about your time at the Combat Terrorism Center, about learning about yourself and leadership? There’s probably, you’ve been through a lot so I don’t want to skip anything before we get to Seton Hall.

Bryan P:
I think the only thing I would say there is it was a very different leadership experience, because my team was all civilians. There were civilian researchers. And so leading a different type of individual, and then the other component of that opportunity was we did research that was in high demand for senior leaders in our military, as Gary mentioned in the intro. And so there I was as a major and then a lieutenant colonel, having to present information to Secretary of Defense, the CIA Director. I testified in front of Congress. In all those moments, those are like, you’ve heard of the imposter syndrome. I was battling that in severe ways. But what I learned about leadership there, I think, which is pertinent to this discussion, is someone told me one time when I came out of a meeting with my first, I think it was a four star general meeting that I had presented at, and I came out and my boss at the time said, “How did you think that went?” I said, “It went well.”, and he pulled me aside. He said, “You know, Bryan, the best leaders that are out there, you can tell by the proportion by which they speak in a meeting and the proportion by which they listen.”

Bryan P:
And by golly if I didn’t kind of think of that every time I was in a room with a senior leader, and to see how they operated, that’s a pretty doggone good heuristic for senior leaders is how much are they in transmit mode versus how much are they listening and taking in information. It was powerful.

Warwick F:
Well, that is a good that’s a very good lesson. So what made you decide to leave West Point and the Combating Terrorism Center and found the Buccino Institute at Seton Hall? Because if you’re a West Point person, a lot of West Point people will be like, “Okay, maybe I missed out on that full time faculty thing, but I kind of want to be here forever.” You’re West Point sort of for life. It’s funny as some listeners know, I’ve never been in the military and I’m from Australia, but I live in Annapolis, which is the home of that other place. I notice that you put in the bio on Seton Hall, it says West Point, the world’s premier leadership development institution. It may well be. I don’t know what the Navy folks think but that’s another story. But so what made you want to leave West Point and found the Buccino Institute at Seton Hall? Because that’s a huge decision.

Bryan P:
Yeah, it was. Thankfully, it was made for me by my wife. So I had always told my wife that if she would kind of follow me around for my first 20 years in the army, by the way, that’s what the time you can become eligible for a pension in the military. And I said, “Once I hit 20 years, then you can kind of get full veto power over whether I stay or go.” I thought she had forgotten about that. But apparently not, she didn’t. So that was the decision. But to me, the decision was like I had spent the bulk of my professional career going after and studying bad leaders and terrorist group leaders. So I wrote a book called Targeting Top Terrorists, which was published by Columbia University Press. And so that was my dissertation. That was my research. But that could be really depressing Warwick. And I wanted, I loved leadership, and I felt like what a great way instead of studying and going after bad leadership, can I help develop the next generation of good leaders? And so it was a tough decision, because I love my West Point team and my Combating Terrorism Center team. But it was a easy decision from a professional and a gratification.

Warwick F:
And as you look back, you’re probably gratified you made that decision, maybe gratified, because if you got full tenure at West Point, that would have been a lot tougher decision, it might have been, to leave.

Bryan P:
Yeah, no, I mean, so I could have stayed at West Point until I retired.

Warwick F:
So that wasn’t an issue. But it’s interesting, yeah. But shifting from studying bad leaders as you put it, I’ve never thought about it that way to hopefully instilling young leaders who will become good leaders, one of the most terrible things is if you study “bad or evil leaders.”, that they might be using good leadership tactics. So it’s like using good leadership tactics for bad or for evil. That’s got to be the ultimate depressing thing. It’s one thing if they’re hopeless, but when they’re not hopeless, and unfortunately, some evil people, some leaders of poor character, they understand a bit about how to motivate people.

Bryan P:
I think so. You’re exactly right. Osama bin Laden, for however evil you think he is, and sign me up for the person that thinks he’s evil, he demonstrated a lot of servant leadership. And one of the reasons why he had so many followers and was so impactful. I don’t buy into his reasons. But in terms of leadership, he was willing to sacrifice for his cause and be there for his people. So yeah, but it’s so much funner, more fun, working with, making people good leaders, as opposed to…

Warwick F:
So talk about the Buccino Institute. In particular, I love this course you have, Crucible Moments, what was really on your heart when you came to found the Buccino Leadership Institute? What was the vision you had for helping undergraduates learn about leadership?

Bryan P:
So they had a previous organization that did leadership in the business school, which is not uncommon for a lot of universities. That’s where leadership sits. But the university made a decision in the year that I arrived to expand that program. So it was the entire university as opposed to just the business school. And I think one of the things that makes our program unique, particularly in today’s world, is the fact that we are teaching leaders how to be leaders in an interdisciplinary environment. So it’s not just business school kids. I have a poet sitting next to the education person sitting next to the diplomat sitting next to the scientist, and learning about leadership in a four year program, I think is important to get that interdisciplinary field because that’s where the world is moving. We’re moving out of our silos and we’re moving more towards small teams of diverse groups. And that’s one thing that we’re trying to do there.

Gary S:
And it’s true, I would imagine, as you’re thinking on this crucible leadership course of study, your athletic experience, your experience on teams, because teams, I’ve been on teams, sports teams, I was a baseball player, too. I was never described as scrappy. I was the fat kid who caught. I was the fat catcher in the Bad News Bears, but teamwork on sports teams, sharing successes, sharing failure builds camaraderie and confidence. I suspect that was at least in the back of your mind, perhaps the forefront of your mind when you decided to talk about crucible experiences with your students.

Bryan P:
Yeah, you’re 100% right there. And whether you take that from the sports world, you could say the same thing in the military. But the reason why I had that course, I think in organizations, when you try to put all the ingredients together what makes an organization successful, one of those things is trust, trust between leaders and followers, trust within in peer groups, trust with the organization. And in order to trust you, I have to know you. And to really know you, you have to be vulnerable and share parts of yourself that normally you might be willing to kind of keep from others. And so when we did this class, the setup was before the class starts, I ask my students, each student to come up with between one and three crucible moments in their life, and I described them very similarly as you and Warwick did at the outset. And I had those ahead of time.

Bryan P:
And then in that class, I talk about the importance of it just very similarly to how Warwick did and their importance in our growth. And then I lead from the front, I share my crucible moments with the class, and I ask some of my associate faculty, my associate directors to do the same. And then we turn it over to the students to volunteer, so you don’t have to volunteer if you don’t want to. But boy, the past couple years when we’ve done this, the emotional response that we’ve gotten from students that have shared their crucible moment has been extremely powerful. I think it’s powerful for them, because it’s a cathartic moment of getting this off their chest and sharing something that they haven’t done with others.

Bryan P:
But it also empowers them that when they do that, afterwards, you see the kind of stress relief, but also the pride that they have that they were able to get through something very tragic, meaningful, difficult. And yet, I think there’s another side of it too, which is the students that are in the audience that are hearing these experiences, because some of those 18 year olds, and I’m happy about this, haven’t experienced that life trauma yet. And so the fact that they are seeing one of their fellow students get up and share this experience where they’ve endured this thing and have emerged stronger on the other side, I think it’s important for them to hear because in their minds, they go, “You know what? This is going to happen to me eventually. And when I do have that moment, I can be just as strong as this other student.” And so it’s a really powerful, powerful lesson.

Warwick F:
And that’s such an important point, because at 18, obviously you had some experiences with divorce, and obviously, I guess you weren’t 18, but later on your mother dying, but a lot of kids these days, they will have had crucible experiences. But even if they haven’t, life is not easy. They will. I can’t think of anybody that’s lived on this earth that hasn’t gone through a tough experience at some point. It’s sort of inevitable. Life is not easy. Things will happen at home and the workplace.

Warwick F:
And so yeah, just being prepared. I mean, one of the phrases, I know Brene Brown talks a lot about vulnerability. One of the phrases that I love that we’ve begun talking about is vulnerability for a purpose. And I’m sure you would talk about this with your students. It’s not always like, with a bunch of co workers, let me tell you about every dumb thing I did in school, whether it’s drugs or whatever, that has no relationship to the situation or what people are going through. That’s just sharing every dumb thing you did can be useful, but not always. But maybe if you’re leading a bunch of folks in the military, maybe you’re saying, “Yeah, first time I led a company of 10 people as a lieutenant, I was scared stiff. I couldn’t sleep that night, or I figured the noncommissioned folks, the sergeants knew way more than I did. But over time, I realized that OK a day at a time, I learned more, got a bit more confidence.”

Warwick F:
I mean, that’s the kind of thing and just not saying you’re in that position, but I’m sure it’s somewhat common for new commanders sharing that with other newly minted lieutenants. Well, that’s vulnerability for a purpose, because it’s like, okay, gee, if somebody that I respect, like Bryan Price, or whoever it is, can be nervous, I guess it’s okay to admit that I’m nervous too. Does that kind of make sense?

Bryan P:
Yeah, and I love, I’m a huge fan of Brene Brown too. And when she talks about vulnerability as a purpose, I think to tie it to leadership, you need to be vulnerable. If you’re vulnerable, you’re seen as authentic. And authentic leaders are trusted. And that to be an effective leader, you need to be trusted and then you can be effective. So I think it all ties together, for sure.

Warwick F:
Absolutely, and part of it with crucible moments is part of its vulnerability. And one of the other things I find is I’m sure you found this with your students, it’s when students share sometimes, let’s say it’s a mistake they’ve made. They think, well, if other people knew how stupid I was, they’ll judge me and I’ll be shunned. As a young 18 year old, a 19 year old, you’re absolutely thinking that. You’re thinking about that later, but when other people kind of slap you on the back, give you a hug or whatever, and say, “Hey, that was amazing you did that.” It’s like, “Well, you’re not judging me? I’m not ostracized?” That’s also and I’m sure you’ve seen that. It’s like, because that’s what you think if I share this, I’ll be rejected. I’ll be a pariah or something.

Bryan P:
Especially in this kind of Instagram happy environment that we have, where you have to put on these airs in order to show everybody that everything is fine, when in reality, my analogy for this is, I coach business leaders outside of West Point too. It’s the duck. When you look on top and you look on Instagram, the duck is kind of moving gracefully through the water. But if you had that underwater camera of said duck, that thing is churning, the water’s all muddy and churned up. And so I think people should not be afraid to show that underwater view of what’s going on in their life, and particularly when it comes to mental health, you know, when you need help get it in this world, in this country. I don’t know how it is in Australia, but I’m interested in your thoughts in terms of the comparison. When I coach athletes, if they have a sprained ankle, they go to the doctor for the sprained ankle. In this country, if you have a mental health problem, there’s still this stigma attached. I think it’s getting better, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

Warwick F:
No, I think I know there’s some elite cricket players, I probably get it wrong here. But I think it may be Glenn Maxwell. But there’s one of these folks that has unbelievable talent, but does struggle with this. And then he says, “Look, I’m sorry, I can’t play for Australia or some elite team right now because I just need to take some time off.” And that’s accepted and they go through protocols. And so that’s great, which is important. The other aspect of crucible moments is vulnerability. But it’s demonstrating to young folks that it’s not the end of your story is as we always say in Crucible Leadership. You can learn from that, if it’s your mistake, learn from your mistakes. Even if it’s not, okay, what maybe I can help people who are survivors of this, whether it’s cancer, or whatever. Maybe I can use that to serve others. So it’s seeing crucible can be an opportunity for a life’s mission, a life’s calling can come out of that. And I’m sure that’s probably part of your discussions, I imagine with your students.

Bryan P:
You said something on our podcast that stuck with me, and I’ll probably butcher it, I’ll paraphrase you. And if I screw it up, you can fix it, Warwick. It was kind of like your crucible moment or your worst day doesn’t define who you are. And to me that is powerful, because when I work with athletes and business leaders, I try to decouple what they do with their identity. So when I work with elite athletes on the mental game, oftentimes they will self describe themselves as “I’m Sally, the swimmer.” And I say, “Okay, that’s a recipe for some self esteem and some identity issues down the road.” I say, “You’re Sally, the awesome kid, the awesome daughter, the awesome everything who also happens to swim, but you can do some other things in your life.” And I think it’s important to kind of decouple what you do with your identity, in order for both your sanity but also your self esteem, and as a leader, because you’re going to have those bad days, but like you said, don’t let those bad days define you.

Warwick F:
And that’s so key. Boy, that’s the whole issue of identity. I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently. But I’m sure you probably have, I would guess, conversations with your daughter. I mean, she is one of the elite soccer players of her age. She might be on the U.S. team one day might be in an Olympic team, or maybe not. But try and instill in her she is not defined by her soccer ability. You’re happy for her. But she is defined by who she is as a person. I’m sure you, I mean, this is on your heart and mind, I got to believe, I don’t know whether it’s a conversation that you’ve had at least some, helping not get too wrapped up in it, because there is going to be some people. They’re going to say, “You know what? You’re one of the best players I’ve ever seen. I’ve been watching young people for 20 years. And you’re incredible.” They try to be helpful, but that’s not always so helpful when people tell you that. You know what I mean?

Bryan P:
It’s funny, first off, if you look at the statistics, it’s likely that she’s not going to be any of those things. I mean, just based off of the numbers, but this is an area where I wrote a blog piece about this, and I’m interested in your thoughts. I was actually hoping that she would have a failure moment earlier in her life. Because I mean, look, she’s a good player, but she’s on a fantastic team. The team is ridiculous. But I would prefer at some point, not to say that I want her crucible moment to arrive earlier in life than later. But if you go through life and you don’t suffer any type of adversity, how do you react? This would be a great research project to look at in terms of are people more successful or less successful, based off of when is that crucible moment happened in their life? Would you have been the same if you were 45 as opposed to when your crucible moment happened? I don’t know.

Warwick F:
Yeah, I never thought about that before. But that’s an insightful point. I was probably, in some ways fortunate that the whole thing, well, the takeover happened of the family media business when I was 26. And that ended by the time I was 30. But yeah, I mean, certainly the whole issues of identity growing up because I unfortunately worked hard, got good grades at school, Oxford, Harvard Business School. I was sort of, I’m not going to be this young, dilettante, wealthy kid. I’m going to work hard. And yeah, I mean, sort of, I wouldn’t call myself scrappy. I’m not a hustler in the sense of I’m a contemplative person. But in terms of determination and perseverance, I’m very, if not extremely high. And so yeah, that didn’t help all these expectations. You could be one of the great Fairfaxes, you could have this huge impact for your nation.

Warwick F:
I mean, so once when it ended, it’s like, huh, well, that’s not going to happen. I’m never gonna achieve anything, no matter what I do that is at the level that I might have achieved. So that’s where you really got to do some serious soul work and say, “Where is my identity? Is it being a Fairfax in charge of this mammoth media organization or as a person of faith? Is it in what God thinks of me? Is it in more spiritual eternal?” So yeah, I had some years to figure that out. But identity a huge thing.

Gary S:
So gentlemen, we are in a hover at the moment. But we are descending, and we will soon put the skids down on the helipad. Before we do that, I know Warwick wants to ask some questions about the things that you tell your students when they talk about their crucibles and how they get through them, because they’ll be very applicable, Bryan to our listeners. But before we get to that question, let me, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you the opportunity to tell listeners how they can find out more about you, more about the Buccino School about anything that you’ve talked about here. How can they learn more about Bryan Price and what you do?

Bryan P:
Yeah, sure. So almost all my social media is under Top Mental Game. So Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. For the Buccino Leadership Institute, you can get ahold of us at www.shu.edu\leadership. And then on Twitter, it’s @shuleadership, and Instagram, it’s @buccinoleaders.

Gary S:
And we will put those in the show notes, listeners, so you can see them written out.

Warwick F:
Just as we close here, I know one of the things you mentioned in advance, we talked actually quite about a lot of these things. There are some key principles that you advocate. And I think we’ve covered actually a number of them. But just wanted to give you a chance to explore any of these further. You talk about the ability to reframe failure, overcoming imposter syndrome, becoming aware of negative narratives, proper goal setting, process over outcome, identity questions. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that we’ve covered. Any of those you want to as we close, just really touch on a bit for our listeners?

Bryan P:
Yeah, I think one that is kind of near and dear to my heart, and it just keeps popping up over and over is kind of a combination of that imposter syndrome and those narratives that I told you about. In the past week and a half, and I just had a recent post on this as well, I coached a former Major League Baseball pitcher, who is now in the corporate world. I’ve coached a gymnast who is at the top of her game. I’ve coached a CEO that went from nothing in his family and he’s brought up, he’s the CEO of his own internationally known organization now. And it’s funny when you coach these people, one of the consistent themes that emerges through that is, at some level, there’s a confidence issue.

Bryan P:
And those confidence issues are usually borne out of this thing that we call the imposter syndrome where you feel like you’re not worthy of your promotion, or whatever things are happening positively in your life. Or it’s they’re based off of these narratives, oftentimes that are formed at very young ages. When I talk to this one person, not to give her age away, but she’s around my age we’ll say, and yet she thought back to a moment when she was 13 years old when somebody said something to her. And these things rattle around in our heads, but worse, they influence or negatively influence your ability to act.

Bryan P:
And I think that’s the most damaging thing and I told an individual that is in the corporate world, I say can you imagine if you are able to do coaching for every person in your organization and get to the root causes of either that narrative or that imposter syndrome, how much more productive, how much happier, how much more effective both that individual and the organization would be? I think that’s where the secrets lie. And it doesn’t matter, oftentimes, why this is so frustrating for both individuals and organizations is your feelings about your narrative or your suffering under the imposter syndrome is usually not rational. One of the things I try to do with my clients is to say, “Look at all the areas in your life where you have succeeded. And all you want to do is focus on that area where you failed or stumbled.” And I don’t know, I just think that that if we could unlock that both as you know, an organization, but as a country, I think we’d be happier, more productive because people are holding back. They’re playing small, and for no rational reasons.

Warwick F:
Well said.

Gary S:
It’s interesting what you said there, Bryan, about that woman with the 13 year old experience. One of the things we’ve discovered on this show, this is the 58th episode that we’ve done. And one of the things that keeps coming up, and you actually alluded to it earlier in the episode, it was sort of a drive by moment, but you were talking about when you were about to be a freshman, I think and someone thought you were in sixth grade when they saw your stature and that, I mean, you’re not a freshman anymore, but that’s still the forefront of your brain. When you got asked that question, you talked about it. And we’ve discovered so many people on this show whose crucible moments or one of their crucible moments date back to single digits or early teenage years, those things that set up what you describe, what others describe as the imposter syndrome. And those things are hard to outrun. And one of the one of the goals of what Crucible Leadership does is to help you learn and leverage those things, so that you can then apply them learn the lessons of them and move beyond the crucible, so you can lead a life of significance. Warwick, any final words you want to leave our listeners with before I wrap?

Warwick F:
Thank you so much, Bryan, for being here. I mean you’ve served our country, you’ve helped students at West Point, you’re now working with students at Seton Hall and other athletes and folks in business and really teaching them about what true leadership is, what servant leadership is, what vulnerability for purpose is. None of us are perfect. Getting over the whole imposter syndrome, I mean that is really important. Almost, I’d say soul work, to be really effective leaders, you’ve got to start at the root. And that’s often at a soul level. You’ve got a good foundation at a soul self image level, you’re going to be so much more effective and compassionate. You have a bunch of weeds or some issues at a soul level, you’ll find it very difficult to care for other people. So you’re really dealing with what I’d call soul work, both with the athletes and the business folks you work with as well as the students. I don’t know whether they quite see it that way. But you’re setting that solid foundation that then enables them to be fantastic leaders to make a difference in this country and beyond. So thank you for the work that you do.

Bryan P:
Oh, thanks. And it’s always awesome to wake up every morning with those kind of challenges. And I hope I continue to have those opportunities. And thanks for what you’ve done with this podcast and your book and sharing your experiences. Because I think that’s where this is a topic that you’re bringing up in terms of crucible leadership that I think is going to move the needle for sure.

Gary S:
That is the second time listener that Bryan Price, our guest today, has said the word book. I am remiss in that the first time Bryan said the word book, I didn’t say the book Crucible Leadership comes out by Warwick in the fall. We actually have right now, October 19, as an on sale date on Amazon. So the book is called Crucible Leadership: Embrace Your Trials to Lead a Life of Significance. So I just embarrassed Warwick. But it is, to Bryan’s point really encapsulates all of what we try to do here on Beyond the Crucible and even more so, what Crucible Leadership tries to do.

Gary S:
Speaking of Beyond the Crucible, until we are again together listener, Warwick and I have a little bit of a favor to ask you. And that is this. On the podcast app that you’re listening to the show right now, click, push the button whatever you need to do to subscribe. That would be a real great help for us, and that it helps us share it with more people interviews like this one with Bryan but it also will help make sure that you don’t miss one of these episodes where we talk about how to move beyond your crucible. So until that next time that we are together, always remember this and we’ve talked about it from the opening bell of this show, that is your crucible experiences are painful. They’re real. Whether you know the name crucible experience or not, you know what it feels like to go through if you’ve been through one. They’re painful, they’re real. But this is the great news. They’re not the end of your story, as we’ve talked about here with Bryan, as Warwick talks about every week on the show. Those moments, they’re not the end of your story. They can be the start of a brand new story, the best story because as you learn the lessons of them, as you apply those lessons and move forward, where you end up headed, the destination you end up getting to, where your helicopter lands, is at a life of significance.

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