Battling Chaos, Crisis and Change: Gina L. Osborn #76

Warwick Fairfax

July 20, 2021

Are you tolerating something in your life that is leading to chaos and crisis … and causing or at least giving oxygen to the crucibles you’re facing? It could be something you’re thinking that’s tripping you up … or something someone else is doing that’s holding you back. Discover how to master your mindset from Gina L. Osborn, an Army veteran and former FBI special agent who knows firsthand that crises can be managed and chaos can be controlled even though change is inevitable.  From establishing and living from your core values to creating boundaries, from calling for backup when you need it and avoiding those vision-killing tolerations … she offers practical action steps to help you chart your unique path to a life of significance.
To learn more about Gina L. Osborn, visit www.ginalosborn.com

Highlights

  • Her early dreams … and crucibles (5:34)
  • The chaos she experiences growing up (7:22)
  • Joining the Army and making espionage her career (13:32)
  • How she wound up with the FBI (18:20)
  • What she found most gratifying about her FBI career (23:41)
  • The importance of allowing the people you lead to own a project (28:02)
  • Why she left the FBI to coach leaders (31:10)
  • The importance of establishing core values as the jumping-off point to avoiding chaos (35:22)
  • Helping female executives overcome obstacles (40:24)
  • The importance of setting priorities (48:40)
  • Setting boundaries (53:52)
  • The need to “call for backup (56:57)
  • The final two points (1:01:09)
  • A word of hope and counsel for young female leaders (1:03:43)
  • Key episode takeaways (1:04:30)

Transcript

Warwick F:

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

Gina O:

We can choose to live in chaos or we can choose not to. And really what I believe is the chaos that we bring into our lives is based on what we tolerate in our lives and whether that’s relationships with our kids, with our workplaces, at home, really, if you think about, okay, even just as easy as the boxes in the garage that’s making me crazy. Every time I pull into the garage, I see those boxes and it’s weighing me down. So one toleration really isn’t that big of a deal, but when you layer these tolerations from work and home and neighbors and this and that and children and spouses, that’s when we start to become overwhelmed. So if we start with eliminating those tolerations, we’re going to have a lot more space to work with what we’re dealing with then, and keep chaos from turning into crisis.

Gary S:

So what are you tolerating in your life that may be leading to chaos and crisis and causing or at least giving oxygen to the crucibles you’re facing? It could be something you’re thinking that’s tripping you off or something someone else’s doing that’s holding you back. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, cohost of the show and the Communications Director for Crucible Leadership. This week, Warwick and I talk with Gina L. Osborn, an army veteran and former FBI special agent who knows firsthand that crises can be managed and chaos can be controlled even though change is inevitable. From establishing and living from your core values to creating boundaries, from calling for backup when you need it and avoiding those vision killing tolerations, she offers practical action steps to help you chart your unique path to a life of significance.

Warwick F:

Well, Gina, thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it. I just love what you do with helping folks, business leaders, executives navigate chaos, crisis and change. I feel like we live in the world that’s increasingly chaotic and increasingly uncertain and changing. And maybe I have a feeling things aren’t going to get more certain, they may get less certain, probably not more certain. So the need for what you do, I don’t know if it’s fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it is going to increase. So what can we do, but you’re here to help folks navigate through the chaos and uncertainty. So I love that.

Warwick F:

So before we get to some of what you do, you’ve had an amazing career in US Army Counterintelligence, the FBI, but I’d love to just start with a bit of the origin story of Gina Osborn of how you grew up. And just you had some challenges and a little bit of chaos yourself growing up, so just talk about some of that to the backstory of Gina.

Gina O:

I did. Well, I grew up in Orange County, California. And I always wanted to write, and I was very interested in being this international woman of intrigue. I wanted to go out and I wanted to be a spy. When I was in high school, I was fascinated with the CIA and the KGB and the Cold Car, everything that was going on there. And so in my second year of college, I sat down in the library of my college and a young man came up to me and started telling me about the Army’s Counterintelligence program where not only could I get this great experience, but I could go off and be a spy. And so I said, “Okay, that’s great.” And I could also get my four year degree.

Gina O:

And so the next day I went down and I enlisted. And about six months later, I was in Europe chasing spies. And it was really a great thing for me. I was always a dreamer. I grew up in a single parent alcoholic household. And so I really understood how to live in chaos and how to survive in chaos. So really going out into the uncertainty of the Counterintelligence world that really helped me out quite a bit.

Warwick F:

That’s amazing. And I have a feeling, often the seeds of gifting can emerge in challenging, chaotic situations. So I think you mentioned having a challenging upbringing and maybe an alcoholic. From what I understand, there’s a whole level of uncertainty, because who people are can be different. If they’re drinking, it’s one person, if they’re not. So what are they going to be like today? There’s a lot of uncertainty. What was your experience? Well, how would you describe maybe the chaos or the uncertainty as you grew up? How would you describe that?

Gina O:

I just remember riding my bike home from school, riding down the street and just wondering what was going to be waiting for me on the other side of the door. Sometimes it was okay. Other times it was pandemonium. So yeah, I think that really taught me how to be calm in the middle of a war zone. It also taught me how to be a chameleon, and that really helped me in my investigative life and working undercover in the Army, because I learned how to act and how to be in order to maintain some calm out of the chaos.

Warwick F:

It’s interesting. Sometimes when people go through a family where there’s uncertainty and alcoholism, it can I don’t know about destroy, but it can devastate kids. You can somehow think, and I’m not a psychologist, it’s my fault, how could it be your fault, but somehow it’s seems, and you obviously understand this better than I do, but you didn’t choose the sense of this is going to destroy me or it’s my fault. How did you choose a path of resilience and strength, because I have a feeling, not everybody chooses your path. What helped you lead you to where you are and choosing a different path? And some do, perhaps maybe that’s the wrong way to put it, but you know what I’m getting at.

Gina O:

Sure. Well, I think with me, I had a choice between being ordinary and extraordinary. And being ordinary was really something that did not sit well with me. So being extraordinary was really my only option. And I didn’t want to live and die in the scenario that I spent my teenage years in. And I wound up never drinking, never doing drugs. And that definitely helped me get into the FBI for sure. But really I think we all have choices to make and we don’t have to get into the cycle of what we grew up in. We can veer off the path and do something that’s going to be better for us. And that’s something that I chose.

Gary S:

And that’s an interesting way of expressing it, because a lot of folks who grow up in an environment like you’ve described, they’re just hoping for ordinary. Their life is anything but ordinary in a bad way. You had the courage, the vision, the hope, whatever it was, to aim beyond ordinary, to go for extraordinary. What do you think it was about your constitution that gave you that vision for that next step, that next rung?

Gina O:

Well, Gary, I was a big dreamer. And you have a choice between getting involved in all of the chaos or just dreaming about other things. And I dreamed of going to foreign countries. And I read books that took me far away. And really, again, looking for the extraordinary, looking for something that’s greater than just who I am, being part of something bigger than myself. And when I went down to the army recruiter, I had no idea that it was really going to change the path. And I was afraid to leave, because I didn’t know what was going to happen to my parent and whether or not they were going to survive me not being there, being part of the whole scenario. But that was the best thing that I could have done probably for both of us. And I was very fortunate that my alcoholic parent wound up stopping, they stopped drinking and have been sober for over 30 years. So I think it worked out for all of us.

Warwick F:

That’s awesome. So you’re in college and you’re thinking about even as you were growing up, sort of being a spy, if you will, or just it was in your mind, but it’s not like you necessarily go to say, “Hey, excuse me, I want to be a spy.” It sounds like more often than not that you’re chosen. How did that initial discussion happen? Because I know it’s a bit of a dance, but how did that happen that they found you, if you will?

Gina O:

I wanted to work for the CIA. And like I said, in my second year of college, I don’t know who this individual was, I don’t know where he came from, I had never seen him before, but he contacted me in that library and started and planted the seed. And it definitely worked.

Gary S:

That’s how secret agents work. They hangout in libraries and they find people who are reading books about that stuff.

Warwick F:

Do you ever think to yourself, “Okay, what is it about me that would make somebody approach me? What is it about me that said, boy, this person is spy material?”

Gina O:

Or he was just trying to pick me up, we don’t know.

Warwick F:

Did he ever ask you for a date?

Gina O:

He did not. He never asked me for my phone number. It was like an angel coming down, because I think of how would my life have not changed had that not happened? I don’t know. It definitely put me on a whole another path and that’s why I’m a big believer and I tell people to really listen when something, opportunity comes knocking, because you definitely want to be able to take advantage of it when you can. And I did, and it completely changed my life.

Warwick F:

And I think there’s some flexibility there that you were thinking maybe CIA, but you probably, at that point, didn’t think about, well, there’s Army and there’s Army Counterintelligence. You might not have even known about it in college. So it wouldn’t have been like, well, Army, no, I’m thinking CIA. At a college, you’re not seeing that as the same, but somehow. So, okay, this person approached you and then the next step was what you said, “Okay, well, let me check this out.” What was the next step for you that led you to that army recruiting office?

Gina O:

That was the next day. I just went down and I put on my black and white polka dotted dress and my fuchsia hat, because it was the 80s and went into that army recruiting office. And they thought I was nuts. And I took the test and I went off the charts on the test and they said, “Okay, you can qualify for this counterintelligence bit, if this is what you want to do.” And I said yes. And eight months later I was eating dirt at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in basic training. And that was the beginning of it.

Warwick F:

Wow. Sure. I don’t know quite what lessons there are, maybe be yourself. I don’t know quite what the lesson there is, but that is so amazing. So talk about that period, because that was… I think, you were in the army for six years, something like that and in part during the Cold War era. So talk about those years where you had this dream of espionage and you were doing that. So talk about those years, because not everybody comes right out of college and is doing what they’d grew up dreaming about. That doesn’t often happen.

Gina O:

Right. And I ended up only two years of college. I enlisted in the Army.

Warwick F:

Right.

Gina O:

Yes, it was. So my first assignment was in Belgium and I was at an air base outside of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, and I was responsible for the United States mission to NATO. And it was just a great, amazing experience working with all of these different nations that were coming together at this headquarters. And then my last three and a half years was when I was actually assigned to a team that investigated the highest profile espionage cases in the European Theater. And we were on the road probably about 10 months out of the year, undercover, doing a variety of different things. And that was the dream come true. And fortunately, I had to get my degree, because my dream was to work for the CIA. And so at midnight I’d be there in a car with my little blue suitcase writing out my term papers, trying to get my degree and I wound up getting it. And I was very fortunate with that. And I didn’t go with the CIA. I wound up with the FBI.

Warwick F:

That’s serious commitment to be espionage by day and studying by night. And clearly you were determined, you were making choices, I want to make a difference. What about this field, obviously, you were attracted to, but what made you think, I want to do this, this is important, this is what I want to spend my life doing in some sense?

Gina O:

I just being of service really I get a lot of gratification from serving my country. I’m a patriot. I really enjoyed being in the military. I love the camaraderie that came with that and that followed me into the FBI with all of these amazing people. And I wanted really to have adventures that I can write about. That was another thing that I always wanted to do was write. So just going out and getting experiences that was something that I really wanted to do. And it’s interesting. When I went into the FBI, I thought I would be going anywhere USA, because they don’t tell us before we get to the academy. And I wound up coming home. My first arrest was across the street from my high school. So I was very, very fortunate to be able to come back home and represent the FBI in my hometown.

Gary S:

And they didn’t have you go to the library and try to recruit?

Gina O:

I never had to do that.

Gary S:

Awesome.

Warwick F:

It was a different process.

Gina O:

Exactly.

Warwick F:

Yeah. Obviously, you mentioned service. What you were doing was saving lives, protecting our country. Obviously what you were doing was important and you felt like this isn’t just a job, it’s a mission that you feel called to do that was important. It’s not just making widgets or something. Nothing wrong with that, but you felt like this was a higher calling.

Gina O:

Definitely.

Warwick F:

There was a higher purpose in you. To me, when we talk about a life of significance, it’s using the gifts that you’ve been given for a higher purpose to serve others; you were a higher purpose, protect your country and serving others, protecting others. Your job does save lives in counter espionage, obviously. So you’re doing that for six years and had incredible experiences. And the dream was the CIA. So how did the FBI happen and not the CIA? So talk about that, because it’s still part of the mission, but it’s not quite the original high school college game plan. So talk about that whole shift.

Gina O:

Well, after the six years of doing double duty, getting my degree and getting all that experience with the military, I put in for the CIA and it was a time where the government was downsizing and I didn’t get in. So that was devastating, because I had spent all of that time with that dream in mind and I didn’t get it. So I had to sit back and I had to think about it and I had to get off my pity pot and said, “Okay, if this isn’t going to happen, then we need to find something else that’s going to really hit on all of those things that I want to do.” And I applied for the FBI and I stepped through a four year hiring freeze and I wound up getting in, in 1996.

Warwick F:

So did you have to wait to get in, because of the hiring freeze?

Gina O:

I did. So it was a hiring freeze plus another year and a half that it took for them to process me to get through all the hoops that it takes to get into the FBI. So yeah.

Warwick F:

Wow. So you had to keep yourself employed while that was happening. So that must’ve been frustrating. Did you look back and say, “I have had six years as a Counterintelligence special agent, why wouldn’t the CIA want me? I’m as qualified as anybody, qualified, more qualified than many. You probably knew friends, colleagues, and it’s like that person got in seriously and not me? I don’t know. Are they the son or daughter of the director? What’s going on here?”

Gina O:

Well, and that’s where you have to, like I said, get off the pity pot and realize that, okay… I always knew that I would be participating in something bigger than myself. I always had that belief and I had that dream. And I just had to believe that, “Okay, if the CIA isn’t where I’m supposed to be, there’s going to be something much better coming down the pike.” So sometimes when we don’t get what we want, that’s actually a gift we have to wait, because there might be something even better coming down the road. And for me, the FBI in my experience there, was just absolutely amazing. Having the opportunity to represent my agency in my hometown, I have been able to travel the world, I was able to spend time at headquarters and just work with and lead such amazing people. So yeah, it was much better I think, than what I thought was going to be my dream.

Warwick F:

So it’s funny how, again, important lesson. Sometimes we have a dream and it was still intelligence. It was just probably domestic, obviously FBI. So sometimes we have a particular idea of what that dream will be, but whether you think of it as the universe, God, some force somewhere, sometimes, I don’t know, maybe there is a power or source that knows better than we do. Or I don’t know, sometimes maybe it’s idealistic to think if things work out for the best, but do you look back and say, “You know what? Maybe I wouldn’t have chosen this path, but I’m grateful for 22 years in the FBI and it worked out.” I don’t know whether it’s for the best, but you were gratified by that experience. You didn’t feel like, “Oh boy, I lost out.” You felt fulfilled that this was worthwhile, those 22 years. Correct?

Gina O:

Right. Absolutely. And it was better than the CIA ever would have been. I had already lived outside of the country for six years and so really having the opportunity to be home, like I said. And I don’t know, it was really, really great plus I didn’t work intelligence for long. I wound up going onto work Asian organized crime and Counter-Terrorism. And then I ended up for the last 11 years working cyber. So the FBI definitely took me on a ride I never expected, but it was the best thing that ever could’ve happened.

Warwick F:

Wow, that’s amazing. So now you’re in Southern California at the moment. Is that where you worked for most of the years you’re with the FBI in that area?

Gina O:

Yes. So I was assigned to the Los Angeles Field Office for the entire 22 years. And I did 18 months during that time at FBI Headquarters in order to be able to promote into the executive ranks.

Warwick F:

So you can serve the country, but yet being near family too?

Gina O:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Warwick F:

Not everybody gets to do that.

Gina O:

All three of my roommates wound up going to New York and I got to go home. So I was very fortunate. But again, that’s where you have to just believe and listen to your gut. And even though it was devastating when I didn’t make it into the CIA, I just had to really just believe that there is a path for me, there is a place for me and long as you believe it and you can envision it, you can make it happen.

Warwick F:

And so as you look back on your 22 years in the FBI, and obviously you had a lot of amazing things you were working on, were there some lessons that you learnt as your take away, “Boy, I’m so grateful for this experience because…” What were some of those for you personally, anyway, those key takeaways that it meant so much to you?

Gina O:

When I look back on my career, what I find most gratifying, it’s not the arrests that I made. Although, I appreciate that experience. It’s not the experiences of working on task forces. Really what I am most grateful for and what I am most proud of is developing the leaders that came up behind me when I became an executive, and really teaching them the things that I knew, watching them, allowing them to make mistakes as a leader. And you don’t really get that opportunity very often, but it’s just so important for people to have that sense of security that if they make a mistake, it’s okay because that’s how we succeed is by making mistakes. So I think looking back, the people were phenomenal and still continue to be phenomenal, but I would say just having that opportunity to be a leader and develop leaders coming up behind me was really what was my legacy.

Warwick F:

And that’s so important, because often our image anyway in government, in general, is bureaucracy, play it safe, don’t make mistakes, ask for a bigger budget each year, because you use it or lose it, all of these things that people in the private sector have a view of government. But in the work that you do in the FBI, you’re always going to make mistakes. Obviously you want to limit the consequences of those mistakes. I get that. You can’t make major mistake after major mistake. There are consequences there too, but if you play it so safe, I would’ve thought ultimately lives could be in the balance. I have a hunch that there’s something about X avenue of inquiry that my gut tells me based on, I don’t know, whatever it was at the time, 10 years of experience, an informed gut instinct, put it that way. I really need to investigate this.

Warwick F:

Gina, there’s something about this that smells funny. I want to spend a week or two or whatever. I’m sure you’ve had those conversations often and it may turn out, gee, I spent two weeks and nothing came up. Well, you could say, well, you just wasted two weeks of my budget. Well, what are you thinking? You probably had a lot of those conversations, I’m guessing.

Gina O:

Well, no. When I talk about mistakes, I’m talking more of leadership mistakes. So my parameters were as long as no taxpayers’ money was spent or wasted and as long as no lives were in jeopardy at all. But it’s important for leaders to be able to make decisions and feel confident in their decisions. Even though I had a lot more experience and I saw, “Hey, this is a rabbit hole, we may not want to go down,” sometimes you have to let your leaders make these type of mistakes, minor mistakes, just to be able to learn those lessons, because I think the greatest lessons that have so much impact on us are the ones where we did make the mistakes. Those who don’t want to make mistakes, I believe, that is fear based. If you create an environment where you’re afraid to make mistakes and none of your people are allowed to make mistakes, because it’s going to reflect negatively on you, that’s not the type of environment with high morale and high productivity. So that’s something-

Warwick F:

If you’re trying micromanage your employees, because I know best, which you probably did after 10, 15 years of experience, wherever you were at the time, but if they don’t learn, they don’t grow.

Gina O:

Exactly.

Warwick F:

And eventually you won’t be there to hold their hand forever. There’ll be new managers, maybe they’ll be in your position 10, 20 years down the track. If they’re being afraid to fail, then how are they going to help their leaders?

Gina O:

Exactly.

Warwick F:

So you can’t give them 1,000 page rule book and saying, “Okay, follow all this, and before you even think of thinking, ask me first,” right?

Gina O:

And so when you do that, you take all the creativity away from these people. And I worked with cyber people who are wildly creative. And if you micromanage in that environment, and that environment is extended out to the new generation that is coming up, because they don’t want to be told what to do either, you take a lot of creativity away when you say, “Okay, go ahead and do that, but do it this way,” as opposed to, “Okay, go ahead and do that,” and if they have a way to do it that is just as good as your way, let them do it their way. Why impose the old way or the routine way of doing it? Why not let them have more creativity, because when they feel like they own the project, they’re going to want to come to work every day and the morale is going to be higher.

Gary S:

I sense that we’re about to turn a corner in a little bit and get into what you’re doing today. But I want to make sure listeners caught the import of the last five minutes of this conversation, Gina. And that is this, you said, and then you talked in telling three different stories about it. You said that as you look back at your career in the FBI, and there’s all kinds of things that happened there that you accomplished, that your team’s accomplished, that you can’t even tell us, right? True things that preserved liberty and saved lives and remove bad people, lots of stuff there. But you said the most rewarding part for you in that experience was leading your team.

Gary S:

And that is something folks who are listening, likely not in the FBI, maybe you manage a shoe store, maybe you are an entrepreneur who has a small team under you, but it’s that leadership of your team, regardless of where you’re doing it, whether it’s the global stage of espionage or it’s the local neighborhood soda shop. Those are the things that are important. And we have to remember, I think, the name of the brand that we’re representing right is Crucible Leadership. And that’s what we want to do. We want to convey leadership principles and this idea of, regardless of what you’re doing as a leader, pour into your team, because that’s where the gratification is going to come and that’s where the growth in those who are supporting you is going to come and they’re going to be able to support others down the road.

Gina O:

Absolutely. And I always surrounded myself with great teams. That was always throughout my entire career, being surrounded by great teams and choosing your teams wisely. That’s very, very important.

Warwick F:

Such a good point. So I want to talk a bit about you ended up leaving the FBI and starting your own business. I’d say work with business leaders, organization leaders, navigate chaos, crisis and change. You’ve got this great piece you put out, seven key ways to eliminate chaos from your business and your life. So talk about that decision to leave the FBI and go in a different arena, because after six years in the Army, 22 years in the FBI, that was a huge decision. So talk about that transition.

Gina O:

Sure. Yes. Well, I was eligible to retire and I had been for a couple of years. And really what I wanted to do was my childhood dream of writing. And so I’ve been writing and I’ve been writing television shows. I am working on a book, I’m working on a variety of different things, but writing and telling stories is what I really, really wanted to do. So I’ve got two different podcasts. One is a True Crime Podcast called Behind The Crime Scene. The other is called Lead Like a Lady where I interview remarkable women who have made it to the top in male dominated fields. So really I just am pursuing the other dream that I had when I was a child and going after being a storyteller and a writer and helping people along the way with my executive coaching.

Warwick F:

Boy, that is awesome. A lot of different things. So when you’re writing is one of the things like writing novels, like spy espionage novels, is that one of the strands you’re thinking of or?

Gina O:

So it’s more on the television route. And all of the shows that I am pitching are strong female leads and in law enforcement. So I’m taking the experiences that I earned over the last 28 years and I’m putting them into practice.

Warwick F:

Okay. Yeah. I love reading all those things and shows. I’m reminded of one you’re probably aware of, was it Covert Affairs. You ever saw that show? It also had a very strong female lead. Now, I’ll probalby botch this, I want to say, Piper Perabo, maybe she was the lead…

Gary S:

Wow, good job Warwick.

Gina O:

Yeah.

Warwick F:

And she didn’t fit the mold that was convince people I can do this, even though somehow she wasn’t out of the CIA recruiting manual. I don’t want to get the whole storyline. Which is great, because you want young leaders, young women leaders to say, “Hey, this could be me in espionage or just in general.” Is that would be a fair statement of part of your mission or what you feel called to at least in part?

Gina O:

Well, just empowering. I really enjoy empowering women. And I’ve worked a lot with female executives and mostly who are the only women in the room, because I was the only woman in the room so often, being a woman in law enforcement and dating back into the 80s. So yes, just taking the experiences that I have. And the reason why I chose chaos, crisis and change is just because I was presented with that, on a routine basis in law enforcement and learning how to eliminate chaos from our lives. And that’s what my eBook is about, because that’s a choice.

Gina O:

We can choose to live in chaos or we can choose not to. And really what I believe is the chaos that we bring into our lives is based on what we tolerate in our lives. And whether that’s relationships, whether that’s whatever, with our kids, with our workplaces at home, really, if you think about, okay, even just as easy as the boxes in the garage that’s making me crazy. Every time I pull into the garage, I see those boxes and it’s weighing me down. So one toleration really isn’t that big of a deal, but when you layer these tolerations from work and home and neighbors and this and that and children and spouses, that’s when we start to become overwhelmed. So if we start with eliminating those tolerations, we’re going to have a lot more space to work with what we’re dealing with then, and keep chaos from turning into crisis.

Warwick F:

Boy, it’s true. Clutter, whether it’s of your mind or home or office or tasks, it can overwhelm you and stop you thinking clearly. So it makes so much sense. So as I’m looking at the list of the things you have in the eBook you mentioned, it’s interesting the first one you mentioned is establishing core values. You talk about commit to those values daily. Talk about why that’s a good place to start in terms of eliminating chaos and creating clarity. Why is establishing core values so important?

Gina O:

Well, really knowing who you are and what type of life you want to live, that’s where we start. And then we think about priorities past that. What are the priorities right now? Because everything can’t be a priority, especially when we’re trying to eliminate the chaos from our lives. So knowing who we are and what we expect from people and setting boundaries around ourselves and teaching people how to treat us, to eliminate this conflict and chaos that’s coming at us maybe on a daily basis, that’s why it’s so important. And those are other parts in the eBook that I talk about is being able to create those boundaries and eliminating those tolerations and teaching people how we want to be treated.

Warwick F:

It’s like how do you create those boundaries and tolerations if you don’t know who you are and what your core values are.

Gina O:

Exactly.

Warwick F:

You have no way of doing that. I imagine maybe it’s not as bad as it used to be in 60s, 70s, 80s, for young women leaders. Although I’m sure it’s a bit like when we talk about racial diversity, there’s a spectrum, there’s may have been an improvement, but there’s probably a fair ways to go, I’m guessing, or at least somewhat.

Gina O:

When I entered the FBI in 1996, 14% of the agents were women. And when I left in 2018, it had only risen to 20% of the agent population were women. So it really didn’t go up all of much.

Warwick F:

That’s staggering. It’s not like objectively physical strength is so vital. Therefore, you can’t have 50, 50, I’m guessing. The number one attribute to be a good FBI agent isn’t… I’m just trying to think of some objective reason, isn’t physical strength. There’s a lot more to just… What I’m saying is there’s no real objective reason for why it should be 14 or 20%.

Gina O:

Right. Well, I think a lot of it is the average age going through the FBI Academy is 31 years old. And because it’s a second career, that’s why it’s the premier law enforcement agency in the world, because they hire the best of the best, the cream of the crop. And when I went through only 1% of all of the candidates, the applicants were actually getting into a seat at the Academy. So yes. And really I thought the FBI had hired me, because I was a woman number one and because I had all this great Counterintelligence experience, but I only worked Counterintelligence for about 15 minutes in the FBI.

Gina O:

And as I look back, what they hired me for was my problem solving skills, my ability to create relationships, my ability to network and solve problems. So really they’re looking at a person as a whole, whether you’re a zookeeper or a doctor or a lawyer, an accountant or a military person. The FBI is looking for somebody who has those things, because when 9/11 happened, the majority of us were working criminal. We weren’t working terrorism. So we had to make the shift and learn to become terrorism experts within the FBI more so than they already had. So that’s the type of people that the FBI was looking for.

Warwick F:

Absolutely. So just before we move on from core values, I would assume you want to teach young leaders, young women leaders to be in organizations that fit who you are, that respect your values, where there’s a fit. Maybe that’s obvious, but does that make some degree of sense?

Gina O:

I think it’s important for you to like where you’re working and being in a place where you’re appreciated. But I think a lot of time we are our own worst enemies when it comes to self sabotage. And as women, sometimes we feel that we have to be completely or overqualified for a job before we’ll even put in for a job. Whereas men are more likely to put in for jobs where they’re not qualified and they’ll get those jobs. So really, I think we, as women working in male dominated fields take on, well, we have to be perfect and we have to be qualified and we have to do this and we have to do that, when really these are the things that we’re putting on ourselves.

Warwick F:

You’re creating your own barriers and boundaries. I’ve read articles and studies saying that women are far less likely to ask for a raise than a man is, well, I don’t know if I deserve it kind of thing. A man will be like, “My boss may say no, but I’ve got a family to support and I think I’m worth it. And what the heck, let’s see what happens,” right?

Gina O:

Yes. And that’s why we shouldn’t allow the rules that we put on ourselves to remain. And that’s what I do when I’m working with female executives is to remove those obstacles. I have a six week executive bootcamp and it’s not for the faint of heart, let me just say. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you really need to be ready to change, because what we do is we take that obstacle that has been standing in our way for most of our lives and we remove it, but the people have to be committed to wanting to do that in order for us to be successful in this program, because I’ve been through bootcamp and I can make an experience where it feels like bootcamp, but I’m very supportive and I want to make sure that my clients get what it is that they’ve fought so hard for.

Gina O:

But removing those obstacles is so important, because if you think about the obstacles that are in your way, ask yourself, how many of these obstacles are self imposed and how many of these are actual obstacles? And if it’s through negative talk or it’s because we have this perception of some sort, I would say question it. And if it’s not real or it’s not tangible, if it’s not something that’s truly holding you back, then get through that wall. Go around it, go under it, go over it, but get through the wall.

Warwick F:

I think that I just want to just camp on this a little bit, because we talk a lot in Crucible Leadership about being authentic and whether it’s women or men. Sometimes we feel like we’ve got to be a certain person to fit within the organization. You can be who you are authentically and still be successful rather than, “Oh, what do they want me to be?” So probably not a terrific example, but I love sports as much as the next guy, but I also like history and music, and that’s not the typically let’s hang out in the pub or the bar and swap interesting history anecdotes. It’s just not the typical thing that you do necessarily from a male perspective. But it’s like, “Well, okay, I like sports, but there’s a lot of other things in life I enjoy too.” I wouldn’t say I’m an artist, but I grew up in a family that loved art and music.

Warwick F:

There’s rather than thinking, oh wow, that’s not going to go over well in this environment. My impression is FBI agents don’t sit around talking about, gee, what’s your favorite classical music composer or something. Maybe they do, but rather than saying, “Gosh, I like classical music, therefore, I better not tell anybody, because I’ll just get razzed.” It’s like silly stuff, just be yourself, whatever it is you enjoy. Does that make sense? Stop being so afraid of what everybody else thinks you should be.

Gina O:

And that’s where we as leaders, we lose our authenticity by taking on the traits of others because we want to fit in. I learned that from the very beginning, because I was trying to, being in the Army and then going into the FBI where I was definitely a minority. And I would take on the characteristics of my male counterparts and be tough and strong and this and that, but then all that caused was okay, I’m insecure because I’m not being perfect at these leadership traits that I’ve taken from other people. And I have all of these other issues that are coming up, because I’m not leading authentically.

Gina O:

And it wasn’t until I became the head of the cyber program for FBI Los Angeles, where I couldn’t lead from the front. And that was my leadership style that I had chosen for all of those years, because I had no technical skill. So that’s when I had to go back and rely on my problem solving skills and my networking and my relationship building and my compassion and my empathy. That’s who I was. And when I began leading like that, my people followed me, the morale was great, productivity was high, and I felt authentic as a leader.

Warwick F:

It’s so interesting that we’ve come across… We had a woman leader who’s from Germany, Cathleen Merkel, and she was very driven 30s successful. As she would put it too German in a way that she was really blunt strong. And she had a boss, a woman boss said, “Cathleen you actually scare people. This is a woman boss.” And it’s like, “I don’t want to scare people.” She was so task oriented. And then she just took a breath, what is it I want in life, I love my work, but I also want to have a social life. And she became, I guess, more empathetic and she was more successful. So I’m not against blunt, but it’s like you don’t want to scare people.

Gina O:

No. If you’re doing anything that’s scaring people or alienating yourself, then you may want to rethink about how you’re leading. But again, if you’re a feminine woman and you’re in a male dominated field, you can still be a feminine woman in a male dominated field, you don’t have to change who you are just to fit in. And if you think you do, then that’s one of those things that might be a self imposed limitation that you’re setting on yourself. So just evaluate that and move forward. I always was wearing the last 11 years of my career when I wasn’t out on some sort, out in the field, I was wearing high heel shoes and dresses. And I was always very, very feminine. Even when I was in the military, a lot of people didn’t even realize that I was a soldier half the time, because I was in civilian clothes. So you just have to be who you are. And if you can be who you are and be recognized in that environment, that’s a good environment for you.

Gary S:

And that’s one of the things that Crucible Leadership, and you talk about a lot Warwick, is the potency of authenticity. One of the best ways to avoid crucibles and to overcome them when you’ve had them is to default to your authentic self. Live and lead authentically. That’s one of the things that is a common thread through the guests that we have on the show. There’s an authenticity factor to it. In fact, Warwick, one of the things that you’ve said about your own crucible was that you weren’t as the media baron. That wasn’t authentically Warwick and that didn’t work out too well. So I think in the examples that you’re using, Gina, when we get off track a little bit, and we can walk into our own crucibles of our own creation, sometimes that’s living inauthentically.

Warwick F:

Yeah. You raise an excellent point. Certainly in my own life, as listeners know growing up in this 150 year old large family media business in Australia, what I thought was required was a Rupert Murdoch take-no-prisoners chief executive. And that wasn’t me. I’m basically a quiet, reserved, reflective adviser. Maybe I could have been a philosophy professor in another life. But I don’t like being upfront making decisions, I like more advising and thinking, reflecting, being part of a team. So it was a horrendous fit, fortunately maybe not financially, but fortunately it didn’t work out. And so now I actually get to do what I love doing, writing. I love writing like you and reflecting and hearing people’s stories. I love that. And it’s like, okay, so maybe I’m not this take-no-prisoners chief executive, whether that’s make sense anyway. I don’t know, but that’s just not me. And it’s okay not to be this other person. It’s not me. So I don’t want to be that other person. I just want to be me.

Gina O:

Right. And where are you happy, where you are happiest.

Warwick F:

Right, exactly. So there’s a lot of other good points. You’ve already talked about tolerations, which I think is fantastic, because they do indeed lead to anxiety and chaos. You talked about set priorities. Talk a bit about that. Okay. So you know who you are in, you know your values, but I’m guessing in light of your values, you need to set priorities. Talk about the link between values and priorities.

Gina O:

Well, I would say knowing who you are, and when you set your priorities, first, where do you want to go? Let’s create a roadmap. And that’s something that I do with my clients is creating that roadmap as to what does success look like? Because so many times we find ourselves frustrated, because we achieve a goal and yet it’s still not good enough. We have to know where exactly it is we’re going and then set priorities on how to get there. Now, if you want to get a promotion, you want to be a dad or mom, you want to learn how to play golf and you want to do all of these things, well, you’re not going to be great at any of those things. So something can’t be a priority in order for you to achieve whatever the goal is.

Gina O:

And if your number one goal is to get that promotion, it’s going to cut into your mom or dad time, it’s going to cut into your golf time. So really when you understand what the priorities are, if something comes up and it’s not on your priority list, then that’s when you say, “Okay, I’m going to have to set this aside.” And then we don’t get overwhelmed. And it doesn’t become chaotic, because we know what our roadmap looks like, we know what our priorities are. And it’s okay to say no, it’s okay not to do certain things if they’re not a priority.

Warwick F:

And what you just said again is so profound is you said earlier that we have choices and life is about choices. So rather than saying, well, you could be a young woman leader and saying, I want to be CEO or director, whatever this organization is, and I’m going to do A, B and C, and that’s great, but there are consequences to that. That could be with family, other things you want to do, balanced life. And rather than saying, I want to do something just because it should be more people in X role. Well, great. But is that what you want to do? Are you living somebody else’s vision, a group of people’s vision? Is that what you want to do? For me, totally different situation.

Warwick F:

There are a lot of Harvard Business School graduates where I got my MBA that they work in investment banking, 80, 90 hours a week and they don’t see their kids at all. And I never wanted that to be me. And so I had some flexibility and worked at a local aviation services firm. I’ve done executive coaching number of things, but it was always a priority of mine to be around my kids growing up they’re now 30 into 20s. But one of the things we do in birthdays, we say what we value about, who’s ever birthday it is, we write cards. My boys who are more athletic than my daughter, they got my wife’s genes, she’s more athletic than I am. They always say, “Dad, you’re at my soccer game, you’re at my tennis game.” Every single card for years, 10, 15 years. Years. Well, that means everything to me, because I want it.

Warwick F:

Now, I’m not saying everybody should do that. Although, I’m biased if you decide to have kids, I would say you should make a choice to spend time with them. Otherwise, don’t have kids, but then that’s my own personal value, judgment set. But does that make sense? It’s like you’ve got to, as you say, set priorities and be okay. Even if somebody’s in the other cubicle, other office is more successful than you, that’s okay if it’s because of choices as priorities you made, right? It’s not a competition. It’s about being true to who you are and your values and priorities. I know that sounds so simple, but in the real world, it’s not easy when you see somebody else that you think is less qualified, less competent, get the promotion that you thought you deserved, because you made choices that reduced the amount of hours you put in and they were doing crazy overtime stuff. Does that make sense?

Gina O:

That’s right.

Warwick F:

You got to be okay with your choices and priorities and be willing to live with them.

Gina O:

Exactly. But it’s important to know where you’re going and what success looks like.

Warwick F:

Exactly.

Gina O:

And if success is one thing, don’t be looking at somebody else and being jealous for their success, because maybe their success is completely different from your success.

Warwick F:

Exactly. Success can be financial and in terms of position in the corporate ladder or success may mean other things, be true to who that is for you. So as we wind down a little bit, you’ve got a lot of great things that you’ve talked about toleration, you talked about creating boundaries, because there’s certain, a lot of people can create chaos in our lives. And you’ve had experience with that. People aren’t always good at doing that, creating boundaries, about not accepting intolerable behavior, if I can mix points, so to speak.

Gina O:

Right. Well, if you think about a person in your life past or present that is a dysfunctional relationship and then go back to when you first met that person and how things would have been different if you would have laid out boundaries, right? So that’s why it’s so important for us, especially in our relationships is to treat people how we expect to be treated. And if we allow people to treat us in a way that we don’t want to be treated, then shame on us, because we’re not setting boundaries, we’re allowing them to do that. I have a friend in the FBI, she’s still in the FBI and she is so good at setting boundaries. And she’s not aggressive about it in any way and it’s just natural to her if she doesn’t like somebody.

Gina O:

I remember having a conversation with her, it was a heated conversation over something. And she said, “Hey, watch your tone.” And that just set me back on my heels. It’s like, oh. And it was just so easy for her to do. And she wasn’t being mean, she just didn’t appreciate the tone that I was using with her. And so now I know in the future, I’m never going to use that tone with her, because I know that she doesn’t appreciate it. So it’s just simple things like that. It doesn’t have to be confrontation all the time. It’s just an easy non confrontational, hey, watch your tone. Right? Okay, I get it.

Warwick F:

So important if you know yourself and have self respect. We all have friends who’s like don’t they have an ounce of respect for themselves don’t they think they’re valuable, they’re worthwhile. I think all human beings have innate intrinsic value and they tolerate toxic relationship, oh, he’ll change, it’ll be okay. And they’re not really like that. It’s like really, if you know them well in the situation you’re going, come on, let’s get into reality. But you can’t make other people’s choices for them. That gets harder to deal with, if they’re people, friends and family, you dearly love. That’s really challenging. But what can you do? You can only live your own life, but a lot of people are not doing that.

Gina O:

Yeah. I think eventually people will stop tolerating that once they learn whatever lesson it is. Imagine, so say you unpack and pack those boxes in the garage. And every time you go into the garage, you drive into the garage, you’re going to feel that sense of, “Oh yeah, the boxes are unpacked. Oh, the leaky faucet is fixed.” And that’s where we create space. When we stop tolerating behaviors from other people that we don’t want, those are the harder ones. First I say, start with the easy toleration, get rid of the boxes and the leaky faucet. But once we decide that we’re not going to tolerate that anymore, we’re going to feel so much better about ourselves. Like you said, self respect that we’re going to have for ourselves, but it’s a matter of getting to that point where it’s time to clean out that thing we tolerate.

Warwick F:

Absolutely. And I love one of these latter ones in which you say call for backup. Obviously, even those who haven’t been in the military or FBI, we’ve all seen the TV shows and yeah, backup, I need it please, it’s a tough situation. But so many of us want to do things on our own. It’s like you ask, hey, do you need help? I’ve got it. Sometimes it means I’ve got it, but sometimes it means I have not got it, but I’m not willing to admit that I need help. It can mean that too. And just realize that we talk a lot on Crucible Leadership. We have certain gifting, but nobody has all the gifting. I’m a person of faith. And from my faith perspective, God, in his infinite wisdom, hasn’t given us all the gifting. So if we don’t have a team, we fail typically. I’m sure you’ve had that experience in the FBI team as well at work.

Warwick F:

So you led a group of cyber experts. You knew a lot about managing those, but you didn’t know as much about cyber coding as your team. And that’s okay. They probably didn’t know as much about managing and dealing with people, perhaps, I don’t know. So it requires a team. I know that sounds obvious, but so many people, so many entrepreneurs that don’t call for backup. It’s like, I got it. Right? Does that make sense?

Gina O:

That’s essential. And especially if you’re in a crisis scenario to not surround yourself with greatness, to not call in teams of people who know more than you do about how to get out of the crisis. If you’re going through any sort of crisis, whether it was like me in the FBI where we were responding to a crisis, whether it’d be a terrorist attack or a cyber attack, or if we lose a loved one or we’re going through a divorce or we’re having other issues going on at work, it is so important call a neighbor, call a family member, hire a coach, call in an expert. In this day and age, there’s absolutely no reason for us to go through anything by ourselves. And an easy way to practice that is whenever anyone offers you, would you like a cup of coffee? Yes. Would you like this? Yes. Just start saying yes to the simple things that we always say, oh no, I’m fine. No, I’m fine. But if you just practice those little things, when it comes to the big issue, it’s going to be a lot easier to accept help if you practice it now.

Gary S:

I have a question for you, Warwick, would you like the captain to turn on the fasten seatbelt sign so that we can begin the process of landing the plane?

Warwick F:

Yeah, no, I think it’s probably a good idea.

Gina O:

We can talk forever.

Gary S:

I want to amplify though, and we still have a couple of points to go through. But I want to amplify, Gina, one of the things that you say about calling for backup, because it’s critical, and Warwick talks about it a lot too, and that’s this, and I’m going to quote from your seven key ways to eliminate chaos from your business in your life. You say, “It’s also important to get out of your bubble and become involved with groups of people who are not like you. Networks of different people with a variety of skills, knowledge and networks of their own are essential in becoming unstoppable when chaos hits.” For folks who’ve been listening and they’re saying, “I’m nothing like Gina, she’s FBI and all this experience,” how can people perhaps add you to their team? How can they find out more about the services that you offer?

Gina O:

You may find me at ginalosborn.com. I have two eBooks, the eBooks that we’re talking about. And then also one for women who are working in male dominated fields, there are five key ways to navigate that. And I’m also an international speaker. So I’ve got my speaking stuff on there as well. So yes, please visit me at ginalosborn.com. The eBooks are free. And I would love to share them with you.

Gary S:

And that is Osborn without an E on the end or a U in the middle. It’s O-S-B-O-R-N. Correct?

Gina O:

Yes. Gina L. Osborn.

Gary S:

All right. Warwick, we’ve got a couple more of these seven key ways. I’ll let you take it home and get the plane on the ground from here.

Warwick F:

Yeah. So we’ve got, don’t take things personally, which I love. I’m not always fantastic at that, to be honest. I’m a tad sensitive. So I to talk myself out of it or my wife can help me talk myself out of it. But I wouldn’t say that it’s always something I do terrifically and then have courage. So talk about why you chose those two to round out these seven points that you have about eliminating chaos from your business and life? Why those last two?

Gina O:

There is a lovely book called The Four Agreements where they speak about taking things personally. And they say it’s the most selfish thing that you could possibly do. And I’m a big believer in that. I was part of a task force when I was a brand new agent and agent in the FBI. I would go to that task force and I had a partner there, but then the other detectives on the task force, they didn’t really treat me very warmly. So after about three weeks of this, I go to my partner and I said, “You know what? I don’t think any of these guys like me.” And he said, “Oh no, they like you, they just hate the FBI.” So I thought, “Oh, okay.” Well, that was a good thing. Apparently they had a bad experience with an FBI agent in the past and so they just didn’t like the feds. And that was just something, but it wasn’t me.

Gina O:

And so by taking it personally, all I’m doing is just creating all of this drama that is really unnecessary, because they liked me fine. It was something that was completely out of my control, that they were treating me with the distance on. So really we really need to just not take things personally. And even if something, we do take something personally, let’s address it immediately. I call it giving the finger, not the middle finger, the come here finger. And just ask a question, what did you mean by what you just said? And you don’t have to be confrontational about it, but that’s going to nip it in the bud, instead of using all of that energy all day long and being mad and calling all your friends to tell them what happened and then losing sleep over it. And then plotting that person’s demise is so much easier just to nip it in the bud by asking a simple question than taking it personally and diverting from your roadmap and where you want to go.

Warwick F:

Then obviously the last one have courage. You got to have courage to deal with all of this situation. As we close, what would be a word of hope that you would give to young leaders and potentially maybe especially young women leaders? What’s a word of hope and a word of counsel, perhaps, that you would give them?

Gina O:

My favorite quote is from Albert Einstein, but I’m going to modify it for my sisters. She who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible. And that’s been my mantra. The absurd was an Orange County girl who was grown up in an alcoholic household, who went and joined the Army, which was something I never thought I would do. So if you attempt the absurd, you’re going to achieve the impossible. So don’t be afraid to risk and don’t be afraid to try. Have that courage.

Gary S:

I have been in the communications business long enough to know when the last word on the subject has been spoken and Gina has just spoken it. If I had done my research listener, I would have, as I say, the plane is on the ground, I’d have the name of some fighter plane or something to pay homage to Gina’s background, but I don’t. So the planes on the ground and I have for you listener, I think, three really great takeaways from our conversation with Gina Osborn today. First one, dare to be extraordinary. The very first story that Gina told was about not wanting to just be ordinary when life wasn’t going, when she was young, the way she wanted it to go. She didn’t hope for just ordinary, she dared to be extraordinary. So don’t settle for ordinary when your life has been knocked off course. Be open to the possibility. It may be an opportunity to chart a different course.

Gary S:

Moving beyond your crucible does not always or even necessarily mean hopping back on the same path. It doesn’t even mean hopping back on the same bike. You can go as far as your vision will take you if you commit to it the way that Gina has committed to. Second takeaway. Chaos we bring into our lives is equal to the chaos we allow into our lives. That is something that’s important. The chaos we bring into our lives is equal to the crises and the chaos, the crises that come out of the chaos that we bring into our lives. If we eliminate the tolerations in our lives, reduce the clutter of all sorts, as Warwick said it, we can prevent chaos from becoming crisis. Lean into your core values, set priorities and create boundaries.

Gary S:

And then the last thing tying up really the seven key ways to eliminate chaos from your business in your life, there’s a through line and I’m going to read it out of Gina’s eBook. The through line is establish your core values and live in light of them. And she wrote this in the eBook. In these difficult times, we are living in, it’s important to establish your core values so chaos doesn’t throw you off track. Values are about how you consciously choose to show up in relationships at work and in the way you navigate your inner landscape.

Gary S:

Get a pen and write this next one down, because this is the closing thought here. You commit to values daily and never reach a final destination. So until the next time we are together at Beyond the Crucible listeners, Warwick and I would ask you to do us a little favor, if you like what you’ve heard, you’ve enjoyed this conversation, click like subscribe on the podcast app on which you’re listening to the show. It helps us get the show the content, the hope that comes from these discussions out to more people.

Gary S:

And also remember this, we recognize, hopefully you’ve heard it in this conversation that your crucible experiences are painful. They hurt, they can knock you off the bike I was talking about just a little while ago. But here’s the good news, that’s not the end of your story. In fact, if you learn the lessons that, that crucible can teach you and you apply those lessons to the rest of your life, it’s not the end of your story, it’s the beginning of a new chapter in your story that can lead to the best chapter of your story. A fantastic ending to your story, because that ending is a life of significance.

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