Name: Michael Hudson
Title: Joint Special Operations Command Liaison to the National Security Agency
Organisation: US Department of Defense - Joint Special Operations Command
LTC Mike Hudson currently serves as a US Army Intelligence Officer within the Joint Special Operations Command. He has over 20 years of experience serving Army, Joint, Interagency, and Multinational organizations. He has deployed for combat 11 times to a variety of locations including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Jordan. He is a father to three children and husband of 19 years to his wife.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Michael's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
If leadership is meant to be the ability of a person to provide direction, purpose, and motivation for others to achieve something; I think the most challenging aspect of that process is the ability make the sort of connection needed to make someone else the most effective version of themselves. Drawing connections with individuals relies on our ability to manage each unique connection relative to every other connection and to scale that ability amongst groups and organizations.
As a species, humanity's most basic capability is the ability to connect with others. Leadership manifests when specific individuals are able to draw out the most in others, see where they need to go, and set the conditions to get them there. At it heart though, finding those connections and learning about what intrinsically motivates people enables leaders to develop a relationship predicated on the belief that we, as people, have no idea what greatness we're actually capable of.
Human Beings are the most sophisticated organisms in the universe - if you believe that, then you must also believe that we are capable of accomplishing anything. Leaders believe that about others, and great leaders know how to build environments to draw that talent out and unleash its potential. It's a leaders' responsibility therefore, to always be looking for ways to develop that potential, to build trust in others so they are safe exploring their own boundaries, and to help guide and direct resources to support them.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I am a testament to the saying that leaders are made, not born. When reflecting on your life, you can see that your own education in the art and science of leadership was always happening, you may just not have realized it.
Since I can remember, I faced the profound impact of my parents' divorce following the tragic loss of an older brother. The grief and emotional burden of growing up in a family that had endured such heartbreak weighed heavily on me. As the youngest child growing up, I grappled with the dual challenge of coping with this immense loss while feeling its effects on my parents and other siblings. Life felt like a series of transactions, where I would go through the motions of things without having meaning to attach to any specific experiences. This culminated when I began high school in a new place where I knew almost no one and realized I had to figure out how to add direction to my life. I realized there was more to what I was doing, but that it would be up to me to figure it out.
As a freshman at a new high school, I was drawn to the Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps (JROTC), an Army program for high school kids to learn about and develop and understanding of what real leadership is. I discovered in it a sanctuary where I could channel my emotions in a positive direction. I found solace in the camaraderie and sense of belonging that the program offered. I developed a resourcefulness and intentionality where I could use my past experiences to establish empathetic relationships with others.
Within the JROTC community, I encountered mentors who recognized my potential and encouraged me to go to college and pursue a career in the military. Intellectual curiosity became a guiding principle in my pursuit of personal growth and leadership. I began to understand that I had potential beyond what I could see in the present moment and that if I applied myself toward hard things, it would take me beyond where I thought I could go.
I did not immediately transform into a wise leader capable of changing lives - not at all. In fact, I continued to struggle creating structure and discerning between what I wanted to do and what I needed to do. The fulfillment that comes with doing hard things however, led me to earn a four-year Army Scholarship to The Citadel and ultimately commissioning as an Infantry Officer in the Army (and subsequent career in Intelligence). I had transformed my earlier experiences of loss and adversity into a driving force behind the purpose-driven leadership style I use to this very day. The wounds of the past became the wellspring of compassion and understanding from which I led and mentored others over my years in service.
Through this journey, I discovered that being vulnerable about my own past struggles can empower others to find strength in their own adversity. My resourcefulness and instinct has guided me in overcoming obstacles, both in my personal life and during complex military operations. My family's tragedy has instilled in me a profound sense of empathy, and I've made it a mission to be a pillar of support for others facing challenges.
Furthermore, my intellectual curiosity has led me to continuously seek knowledge and never settle for the status quo. This desire for learning has not only made me a subject matter expert across various fields but has driven innovative efforts to help others embrace a growth mindset.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Some days are inherently more disciplined than others! The basic outline however, reflects the deliberate intention to set conditions for myself to be successful. How that manifests will be different for everyone, but there are some basic commonalities I think all great leaders focus on to help them be their best:
1. Wake up before you have to: Wake up well ahead of your first commitment for the day and give yourself space to acknowledge the fact that you are alive on this Earth one more day. That on this new day, no one truly knows what will happen, and that it's up to you to make the difference, no one else.
2. Timeblock: This should actually begin the day/night before - be deliberate about what you want/need to get done and then be realistic about how much time it will take to do it. This is foundational to all else because if you don't control your calendar, it will control you.
3. Exercise: Human Beings were designed to do hard things - so do them. Exercise both body and mind in doing constantly varied, functional activities with intensity. Learn a skill and practice it; play games; be grateful you get to be a part of writing a new chapter in the story of your life.
4. Eat and Sleep like your life depends on it, because it does! I love sweets more than I should, but first and foremost, fuel the body and mind to be at optimal capacity - you never know what will happen next, so control what you can control to be prepared.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Many folks tend to exaggerate the importance of the weekend because they feel the monotony and repetition of their work week. I think everyone falls prey to these ruts where it becomes easy to be short-sighted about their own potential.
I recently fell prey to going through the repetitive motions of my week when I jolted out of it. I attend lots and lots of meetings in my typical week, with each being different, but many covering various aspects of the same topics (in operational planning, each meeting focuses on a different subset like logistics, communications, resources, but they're all working toward the same event). Well, I had been working with people at my level with similar experiences when a new partner came on-board. This person was a generation younger than me, so I inherently knew that I'd need to exercise a different leadership style to connect with them. In making some small talk and trying to get to know them however, I referenced some television shows and movies that were popular when I was a child. To no one's surprise but mine, our new partner had zero idea what I was talking about. To say things got awkward would be an understatement.
It was a great reminder that each person is unique and that I can't assume my experiences will in any way resonate with someone else's - we must all challenge our assumptions and seek out ways to understand others before we hope to be understood.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Edmund Morris' trilogy on the life of Theodore Roosevelt deeply impacted my approach to leadership and the potential that lies within us all.
Over the course of his life, Theodore Roosevelt is believed to have written more than 150,000 individual pieces of correspondence, not including all the writing and notation needed for his various books, studies, and exhortations on the vast spectrum of topics for which he was subject matter expert. All this, considering how sickly he was as a child, and his early death at the age of 60. This was a man who lived as if every day was his last and took no chances to make the most of it. Coupled with his inherent ability to connect with people, Teddy Roosevelt truly extended his influence well beyond his own reach.
One thing I most admire about Teddy Roosevelt was his ability to articulate very precisely the causal chain between his actions and emotions felt by his electorate that drove those actions. His words mattered and were the vehicle to build deep and immediate connections with others. I have therefore sought to mimic this technique of using words to concretely describe conceptual notions that can create distance between people. Understanding through the mastery of language opens the door to being understood - that's where connections are made and where leaders thrive.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Appreciate the experience and remember that great leaders were all great followers first. Empathy is very difficult to fake, so accept that it's a good to learn and scale as your grow. Singular moments of great leaders rising to the occasion sit alongside innumerable others who fell to the level of their training - don't shortchange the path along which you develop the leadership needed at your destination.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I was serving as the director of a 10-person office filled with big personalities in various specialties. We had an aggresive travel schedule so folks were constantly in and out of the office, missing time with their families, and trying to balance their personal lives with our highly-sensitive, no-fail work requirements.
I was overseas when I received news that one of our team members had taken his own life, leaving behind a wife and two your daughters.
I immediately flew back to the United States and began the process of investigating the circumstances surrounding this event, trying to support his family, support all the other folks in our office, and manage our work requirements since wars don't stop for things like this. My commander had told me the best way to help folks through the event was to keep them as busy as possible, but I pushed back as hard and respectfully as I could. I leveraged my own network and credibility to get all our overseas requirements covered so I could get our entire office back to one place to properly work through what had happened.
Ultimately, the compassion and grace of others provided us the opportunity to take time to care for ourselves and our families. It was a brief respite, but something I know would not have happened if I had not stepped in as the leader and acted the part.