How will you react if someone disagrees with you? What will you do if you hear negative feedback? Leadership expert Bill Benjamin reveals how we can manage our emotional intelligence, especially when it comes to leadership. Bill lets us understand the brain science and the strategies we could use and put into practice to be our best and become effective leaders. Discover how you can manage and deal with your emotions skillfully as Bill takes a deep dive into emotional intelligence.
It is against the warrior ethos to leave someone essential to the mission behind. However, in reality, a military spouse is left with nothing if the soldier decides to divorce and they have spent less than twenty years being together. Gaby Juergens, a former military wife, and cancer survivor shares her advocacy through the Homefront Collection by Homefront Girl. For Gaby, it is a way of paying it forward to wounded warriors, veterans, and their families, for all the sacrifices they’ve made. Learn how you can get involved as Gaby continues to help military families and continues to stand up for them.
I’m so glad you joined us because we have Bill Benjamin and Gaby Juergens. Bill is the Partner for the Institute for Health and Human Potential. He does a lot of work in the area of emotional intelligence. Gaby is the Creator of the Homefront Girl, which is a company dedicated to people who support the troops and their families. It’s a pretty interesting company she’s created out of this.
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Managing Emotional Intelligence with Bill Benjamin
I am here with Bill Benjamin, who is the Partner for the Institute for Health and Human Potential. He’s a mathematician who applies scientific rigor to the field of emotional intelligence. He’s a leadership expert of choice for Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Intel, Marriott, NASA and multiple branches of the US military. He’s a contributing author of the New York Times bestselling book, Performing Under Pressure. It’s so nice to have you here, Bill. Thank you.
Diane, it’s great to be here.
It is great because we’re going to have a conversation that I love to talk about a lot of the things that you deal with, which emotional intelligence is high on my list as you know. I want to get a little background on you just because you’ve been so successful on IHHP. The Institute for Health and Human Potential is huge and this book being a New York Times bestseller. I want to find out how you got interested in all this.
I don’t have the typical path into the work we do because I have degrees in mathematics and computer science. My story is I went to work for a computer software company. I was reasonably bright and pretty good at my job. I was a high performing individual contributor. Of course, what the organizations do with their high performers, they promote them and make them a manager. The question is does the qualities and characteristics that make somebody a successful individual contributor necessarily mean they will be a good leader?
Not according to the Peter Principle.
That’s what I experienced. It actually turned out I wasn’t a very good leader. I wasn’t a very good manager. People didn’t like working for me. This was many years ago. I’m working at a computer software company and I was a new manager. I was working tons of hours. I was doing everyone’s work for them. I was stressed. I heard a quote back then that stuck with me. The quote is, “I’ve had a lot of great moments in my life. I just wish I’d been there for more of them.” I was struggling and I was fortunate that I got to see my business partner, Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry, speak at Kellogg at Northwestern on the topic of emotional intelligence. There’s some brain science to it so a lot of people hear emotional intelligence, and you know this because you have a dissertation in emotional intelligence. They think it’s soft and squishy.
Being a math and computer guy, I thought the same thing but I trusted JP. When I learned that there’s brain science to it and we all have this emotional system that gets triggered and there’s chemistry going on. I engaged in it because I recognized that it wasn’t my IQ or my technical skills. Those were not what was derailing me as a leader. It was this area of emotional intelligence. I actually spent the next six years staying at the computer software company, attended IHHP training and I became a client. JP would come down and do programs from a senior leadership team. I get coaching and it made a huge difference for me not just at work. I eventually got promoted and I was the vice president of that software company, but it helped me in my personal life.There are times when it's appropriate to express frustration or anger. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting to me that’s the science that attracted you to it. It’s hard not to read about Phineas Gage and the rod going through his head and looking at that and seeing what they learned about the brain was an interesting thing to me as well.
After six years of putting this work into practice for myself, JP and I had always talked about potentially working together. I decided in 2002 to leave my good job with a computer software company, much to the chagrin of my father-in-law, who was a truck driver for UPS. He could not understand why his son-in-law would leave a high-paying job in the technology industry, which he understood to go into this business about emotional intelligence. That’s what I did because it made such a difference for me. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and own my own business, but I also wanted to bring this learning to others.
You said it made a difference for you. In what respect?
First of all with how I was engaging with people. You wrote a book called The Curiosity Code. I would say I was probably one of the least curious people because I thought I was always right. I thought I got promoted because I’m smart. I thought I had all the answers. I didn’t listen very well. On the other side of things, if somebody disagreed with me or didn’t like the idea, I would get a little triggered. I tend to have more of a fight response, there’s a fight or flight response. I would be difficult, critical or defensive, and that’s impacted, people. When you get triggered emotionally and have these chemicals in your body, you get anxious. It has an effect on your stress. Understanding of brain science and then learning the tools and the strategies, which is one of the things I loved about IHHP programs is there is some cool, interesting brain science but more importantly, there are strategies that you could actually use them and put into practice. It’s helped me become better at managing and leveraging my emotions, not just being at the whim and being reactive all the time.
You brought up so many important things, you mentioned stress. When I studied salespeople for my work, I use the BarOn EQ-i instrument for that because he focused on stress. I think in sales stress is such a huge factor and a lot of people are looking for some of these strategies that you’re talking about. I was thinking of some examples as you were talking about all these things that you say you had, but you seem like such a nice guy. I find it very hard to believe right there that you did a good job of fixing yourself because I’ve watched a lot of your talks and you’re so likable. I don’t see these triggers and things that you talk about that you’ve obviously fixed them. A lot of people are looking to fix a lot of these problems because I probably have seen the work that Travis Bradberry posts and a lot of others about how we have low EQ in CEOs. The higher they go, the worse their EQ levels are. How do you explain that? I’ve had people say as they get higher up that they tend to get away from people more and they’re more promoted for their math and their ability to read spreadsheets or whatever it is. What do you think is the reason that we start to have such a low EQ in the highest levels?
I’ll answer that question, but I’m also going to say I’ve met lots of CEOs that are amazing. Do you have a high EQ? You don’t see it necessary unless you actually work with them. The ones that struggle, I would say it has to do with, you probably heard this term CEO’s disease, which is the higher you go up in an organization, the less candid feedback you get. You have all the status, power and authority and people are afraid to speak up, to point out a mistake, to share an idea. You talk about in your Curiosity Code about innovation. As a senior leader, if you’re walking into a room and everybody’s waiting for you to say what you think and tell them what to do, it stifles innovation. I think a lot of leaders aren’t curious anymore.
They’ve been around so many yes men and women, and everybody’s doing the status quo thinking that it’s hard for them to break out of it. If the leader doesn’t buy into the cultural need for change, it’s tough to get it in the company. I actually talked to Daniel Goleman on the show about how you can get the best information for all these things. He’s a big fan of 360 for getting outside input, but when you try to do that, you think you’re going to say something bad about your boss if you’d know that you’re going to get it. How do you get around that?
The good news is that feedback is anonymous when you do a 360. A 360 is certainly a great way to do it. The end is about you as a leader, can you model receiving feedback and not getting defensive, listening, asking probing questions? One of the CEOs that I’ve met that are phenomenal at this, they’re aggressive learners. You even have this experience. I’ll go to the company. It will be the CEO and maybe their top 40 or 100 leaders or maybe just twelve. Either way, some CEOs are talking to you beforehand. They’re engaging or sitting at the front of the room. They’re actually doing the exercises in the workbook. They’re seeing this as a learning opportunity for them, and then you have the CEOs that never talked to you, come in and say, “Here’s this training. You need this,” and they leave and everything in between. There’s the CEO that sits at the back and doing an email. I think that’s a big difference.
It’s definitely a range and that’s what I find fascinating. I’ve had some amazing CEOs and I’ve spoken to groups. There are so many great ones. I’m thinking of the ones who I’ve worked for who lose it under pressure. I know that’s what you talk about a lot. I could think of being on a phone call with one where it was because of his side of the company that he wasn’t getting what he wanted from a vendor. He was losing it at this vendor who’s doing what they were supposed to base on the contract, but he wasn’t getting the answer he wanted. You can feel this tension and it’s a video conference, so you can see everybody’s faces just thinking, “This guy is lost in here.” What does that do for your credibility that everybody thinks this guy’s lost it?
The people are afraid to give feedback or tell them news they don’t want to hear. Giving the answers they think they want to hear, which may not even always be true. I was experiencing this as a leader. I would get defensive. I would get angry. I would cut people off, interrupt people. It has an impact on their level of engagement, on their willingness to bring up ideas. There’s a huge impact of not managing those emotions. We like to say all emotions are okay, all behaviors are not. We don’t keep people thinking that, “I shouldn’t get frustrated, I shouldn’t get angry or I shouldn’t be disappointed.” It’s how you express that. There are times when it’s appropriate to express frustration or anger, but you don’t want to be doing it by default, you want to be doing it by design. That’s the goal of emotional intelligence. It isn’t shutting emotions down. It’s recognizing them and channeling them skillfully.
I think every culture does it a little differently. I’ve been studying a lot about perception. I’d be curious about your ideas. You talk about emotional memory and some of that stuff. I was thinking about how does that tie into our perception of others and other cultures and countries if we’re trying to do business in different areas?
In which part?
Our emotional memory of how we perceive other people. Are we able to view people from their perception of themselves? To me, it’s a lot about empathy and building the ability to relate to somebody. How do we do that? How do we build empathy so that we have a realistic perception of them and understand how they perceive us?
To me, there are two questions. The one is the emotional memory because it’s very difficult to have empathy with someone who you’ve had a negative experience with or culturally. You might have had a negative experience with someone from that part of the world or country where you’re transferring. You’re making some assumptions because we store our negative experiences in our emotional memory. We all have that experience with that person that we have that not so great, toxic relationship. We get an email from them and we’re immediately feeling triggered. We’re already into defensive mode and we haven’t even read the email. When we get triggered, the emotional system, the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that manages our fight or flight responses, it’s there to protect us. We become very self-focused.Learn skills so you'll have some extra tools in your quiver that you could use to create a life. Click To Tweet
It’s very difficult to have any kind of empathy, listen, be curious when we are even a little bit emotionally triggered because we become more self-referential. We become more certain that we’re right. Managing that emotional memory and our reactions and responses are critical. Tie it to your other part of the question to having empathy. We have a model, we talk about building bridges. If there are two people and you’re on one side of the valley and the other person on the other side of the valley, most of us try to build the bridge from our side because we’re enthusiastic, we’re passionate, we have the answers. We talk about metaphorically getting off your side of the bridge, walking over to the other side, starting there and looking from their perspective. It’s literally walking in their shoes.
As you were talking about this and you talked about the triggers and saying about the email, it’s funny, people will call me who I worked with or they know I know some of the stuff so they’ll ask me. What do you think they meant by this? They’ll read me the email in this tone of voice. They read a voice into the email that I don’t hear when I hear the words. We do that because we’ve already assumed a snarky tone because they’d been snarky in the past.
One of the strategies we use in our emotional intelligence training program is intention versus impact. There’s how we impact people and then there’s our intention and it’s the reverse. People don’t judge us by our intention, they judge us by our impact and we do it the other way around. When we get that email, we tend to assume a negative intention but that may not be their intention. We want to separate out the impact we felt from the person’s intention. An email is the worst place for the intention for sure.
You’ve used the word assumptions a couple of times and it’s important to my work with curiosity because the things that hold people back from being curious or fear, assumptions, technology, and the environment in my research. The assumptions, that voice in our head that we associate with like we’re not going to like something, something’s going to be bad, this has happened in the past. How do we get over those assumptions we make? How do we reprogram that voice so it’s not so snarky in our head?
The foundation as you know of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. That’s where understanding and recognizing when we get triggered, knowing where we feel in our body, knowing what happens to our thought processes and our behaviors. That awareness is number one and learning some skills. In that moment when that toxic person says that difficult thing, instead of getting defensive in front of everyone, can you stay calm and ask a probing question? Show up in a more skillful way. It is learning strategies. In our model, once you’re managing yourself, then it’s how are you connecting to the emotions that drive other people’s behaviors? In exactly the same way that our fears, concerns, assumptions are driving our behaviors especially when you’re coaching and developing people because what’s holding them back from their best is that emotional stuff.
There are so many things that people react to that they don’t realize that they’ll react so quickly. I remember watching one of your talks where you were talking about the draft folder. It may help people to write out something but don’t send it until you think about it.
We say the draft folders are designed for emotional intelligence. The thing I love when we work with organizations, these things get seeped into the culture. It’s certain ways of reacting, certain ways of responding. What we’ve seen less of the fight responses, the angry person pounding the table, we see more of the flight responses, which is people not stepping into conversations they know they need to have. Not giving difficult performance feedback, not holding people accountable, not pushing back where the organization needs that. In the organizations where we’ve had the biggest impact, we’re challenging some of those norms and teaching leaders to create environments where there is called psychological safety. If people aren’t going to speak up, they’re not going to step into difficult conversations. They’re not going to give feedback to senior leaders unless they’re psychological safety to do so.
You talk about three conversations of leadership. What do you mean specifically by the three conversations?
That’s a program that follows up on our emotional intelligence program. Those three conversations are daily, difficult and courageous. The daily conversation is not necessarily daily, but they’re the ongoing project updates of seeing somebody at the water cooler. It’s recognizing there’s a real opportunity to connect in those daily conversations that will then help you when you do have to have a difficult conversation.
It’s challenging to build that foundation. Do you have tips that you give to do that?
VVF, in our program we talk about Voice, Value and Feedback. In any conversation, you want a person to have a voice. They feel heard and they feel listened to. It doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with them. It doesn’t mean you’re giving them what they want. It means they’re feeling heard. You want to try to find the opportunity to ensure they feel valued because that is such a driver. When somebody feels like they’re making a contribution, they matter, that drives engagement. You want to be looking for opportunities to be giving feedback along the way so that something doesn’t ball up into a big, difficult conversation. You’re giving that, “In that meeting, here was what I experienced and what was going on for you?” You’re giving that feedback along the way. Voice, value, and feedback in our daily conversations is an inoculation against having to have difficult and courageous conversations.
It’s very proactive and I think that it’s so important. You write about many great things and performing under pressure. What led to your interest in writing that book?
We were approached by Dr. Hank Weisinger who had this concept around performing under pressure. What we liked about it was the way that it went well with our emotional intelligence work. We had already done our emotional intelligence work, which is about managing that emotional part of the brain, the amygdala. Performing under pressure is more about managing the cognitive part of the brain, our thinking processes and we’ve talked about that. Our assumptions, the things we worry about, our expectations. For us, it’s like two strands of an intertwined rope, you need both. You need your emotional brain and your cognitive brain to be strong in order to be your best and be effective. We love the idea because managing emotions was always about pressure. It fits in with the work we’re already doing. It added a whole new content area for us. We’ve created the assessments training, coaching to go along with that book as we have with our other programs.
What I think is so interesting about pressure is the perception of what’s hard for somebody. I had a friend who came to my house one time. He was freaked out crying and he had to fire somebody. He was the leader in the office. The reason he had to was that she stole some money out of the petty cash. They have her video, it was proof she had stolen it and it’s overwhelming to him that he had to do this. It seemed not that a big deal to me. It’s awful to have to fire anyone, but it wasn’t like the end of the world thing because she’d actually done this thing. I can remember the same day my husband came home, he’s a plastic surgeon and he goes, “This guy’s carotid artery exploded in my hand. It was so cool. I got to fix it.” He’s going on and on about how cool this is. That’s pressure. I would have freaked out. Our perception of what is stressful, do we need to evaluate where are we overreacting ever? How do you know?The goal of emotional intelligence is not shutting emotions down. It is recognizing them and channeling them skillfully. Click To Tweet
All of these reactions come from our emotional learning. I’m assuming that the fellow that had to fire someone had some experience that informed that. Something might have happened to him. Maybe his father got fired from a job, I don’t know. I think we have to be careful of how we judge. We may judge at somebody’s reaction. The reaction may be out of alignment with that specific situation, but it might be coming from somewhere else.
The experience is something else.
When we can connect with that, then we can help that person see that they’re reacting to something different. There’s an underlying emotional need, emotional trauma or something that’s causing them the overreaction. Too often, we try to downplay it and minimize it for them but they don’t even realize. They feel minimized about who they are versus this one situation. It’s about trying to understand. Emotional intelligence is about becoming a student of human behavior. Why do people behave the way they do, and there’s always something going on in terms of their underlying emotions.
This is interesting though to even to put the same task to two different people who are supposedly trained the same for the same job. One person will find it no big deal and the other person will freak out. It is important to understand why to put yourself in their shoes and that you’re bringing up an important part of empathy. It’s just understanding it and thinking and asking questions which is a lot of what I hope people will do more of. A lot of people can learn so much from your speaking and writing and everything that you’re doing at the Institute for Health and Human Potential. Thank you so much for being on the show. I think a lot of people would like to know how they could reach you, get your book and find out more.
Thank you. By the way, you do a lot of great work in this area too, so it’s a pleasure to get connected here. Our website is www.IHHP.com, Institute for Health and Human Potential. You can also go to www.IHHP.com/bill and learn a little bit more about me. We also do offer our training both in the classroom and virtually. We have open enrollment programs. There are lots of opportunities for people to engage in our learning and in whatever way suits them. The book, Performing Under Pressure can be found at PressureBook.com. I would love to hear from folks on LinkedIn too. We’re also pretty active on LinkedIn and it’s always great to hear from people when they have questions or ideas or things they want to share.
Thank you so much, Bill. This has been so great.
Homefront Girl Advocacies with Gaby Juergens
I am here with Gaby Juergens who’s known as the Homefront Girl. The Homefront Collection by Homefront Girl is resonating with those who share and love their hero. For more than twenty years, Gaby’s experience was firsthand as an active volunteer throughout her family’s assignments. She’s a recipient of the Dr. Mary Walker Award along with a lot of other awards. I want to get into this because Gaby’s an impressive person who’s been through a lot herself and has a great story to tell. Welcome, Gaby.
I’ll thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here with you, Diane.
James Clark introduced us and I was not familiar with your work and I started looking into all that you’ve done and you’ve hit an untapped market. I want to talk about what you’ve done. I know you served as an Arlington Lady at the National Cemetery representing the army family and different things that you’ve done that you’ve been proud of. What led to your interest in going into this Homefront Girl business into developing the studio?
When my ex retired because I’m divorced, I started the studio once he retired in 2007 and we moved to a rural area. We moved from Europe, so you can imagine it was quite a shell shock. My son went off to high school junior and my ex went off to start his business career. I think a lot of women who are at this stage in their lives come to a point where you’re saying, “What do I do with the rest of my life?” All of the familiar things that were part of your life especially when you’re a military wife and you’ve lived this life for so long, they’re no longer there. Social media is great. You get on Facebook, you can keep in touch with friends from all over the world. As military wives and families, everyone’s spread out always but it isn’t the same as being on a day-to-day basis of what I did a lot of, which was a volunteer and sit on boards. Be very active and trying to do a lot of work in helping not only from our children to all of the organizations that you can volunteer at. I didn’t have access to them. Along the way throughout my army life, I’m a self-taught artist and I make a point of saying that.
I speak to a lot of women’s groups. One of the things that I want to stress all the time to them is that there are going to be times when you find yourself wandering. From my time when I was in, it’s difficult to keep a career. In the generation that’s here, they’re finding a lot of other ways in which they can have a career through Etsy, through doing all kinds of networking and building up groups. It’s extraordinary and it’s wonderful to see it’s happening because you can lose sight of who you are in this lifestyle very easily. It’s because of the constant movement and the constant upheaval of being the new person and a new base and re-establishing yourself as our kids do as well. I did a lot of creative work, drawings and note cards were the big thing. It was a watershed moment for me when I realized that a lot of these women took to the designs of the note cards that I had created just for my own personal stationery.
I would send them out and so then I’d hear back, “I’m not using them because I love them too much,” or “Can you do my command brigade insignia on this or that, a welcome wagon?” I would do those. I do the little note boxes because they’re blank cards. What they could do is use it for welcome notes, farewell notes or thank you notes, which is the reason I was using them. I always remember that they took to them because I think what they saw is an identity of themselves within the card. There was nothing like that out there that they could go to. I was an inveterate gift buyer. There was always a baby being born and my former husband was in command. I was a battalion commander’s wife. I was a brigade commander, captain’s wife. I had paced through quite a bit of that. With those positions come a lot that weighs on the spouses’ shoulders if they decide to take it on. I always tell my girls, “Only do it if you want to do it. Your family comes first. We’ll manage.”
Later on, when he retired, I was in the kitchen thinking, “I’ve decorated the house over and over again and that’s done, what do I do?” I used to get all excited when the oil man used to come in. I think that man thought I was hitting on him, but I was just happy there was an adult. I’d keep them there longer, “How’s your family? How’s this?” He would look at me like, “I’m getting out of here.” That was it. I heard about a licensing show in New York. I’ve known about it because I have friends who are at licensing, which in a nutshell to explain it is you create artwork that manufacturers licensed to put on their products. That’s the quickest way to say what that is. I went to New York and I basically pace down the aisles and saw the interesting artwork that was coming up. It takes place every year. I went and set up the seminars and what I noticed, I thought, “This is something I could do, but I needed to teach myself every Adobe programming, graphics design and creative design.” I had done all my artwork with pencils and markers on a drafting table.
I knew things had changed apparently with creative departments in different manufacturing companies and in advertising. I went back to my rural home and I spent several very horrible winters, but I committed myself and said, “I’m going to teach myself how to do all this and be able to have extra tools in my quiver that I could use to create a line.” I did and I created about 900 designs and my friends were like, “What are you going to do with it?” I was like, “I don’t know.” I didn’t know. I was just doing it. It gave me an outlet. I taught myself something, I’m an expert in Illustrator and Photoshop, audio edition and every Adobe program because it took up a lot of winters. I created a whole line literally based on what I experienced as a daughter, a spouse and a mother raising a child in this life. That is what I drew my inspiration from. I did submit it after a lot of arm twisting. I submitted it to two licensing agents, one in New York, one in LA.
The one in New York was a very lovely rejection. The one in LA actually was taken to it. We had several meetings and I basically was like, “Maybe I’ll get a greeting card contract out of this or something along those lines.” They wanted to sign me and they told me, “You’re not a collection, you’re a brand. You have a backstory to what you’re creating. You’ve got to come up with a name. We want to sign you and we want to launch you as a brand.” I was like, “I didn’t expect that,” because I’ve heard the word brand at the licensing show. I went ahead and they gave me a day to come up with a name and the most ridiculous things you can imagine. I just wrote a text and I said, “What do you think of the Homefront Girl?” It’s because homefront is always on a war footing. I want to grow to be light and fun. They were like, “We like it, we love it.” They got me on a conference call. The president said to me, “Who is she?” I was like, “What?” He said, “We need a tagline.” I was thinking to myself, “This is getting harder.” I want to get it over with.
I went back and it didn’t take long once I looked at it and I thought. He said it was a touchstone to go back to, so who is she? I wrote it out and said, “She’s a wife, a mom, a spouse, a sister, a niece. She’s a partner. It’s anyone who’s ever loved someone who has served in the military and shared that hero with the world.” It came down to sharing your hero with the world. Since then, it embraces the first responder community. They also share their hero, which is their family member with the community that they go out and serve every day with no real promise that they’re going to come back much as military families. It was something that since I started the studio, I did the trademark. I did the LLC when I signed with Enesco, which was a three-year exclusive contract for an enormous amount of products. It was a great contract. Exclusivity was a little bit of a tough one because you couldn’t go anywhere else with it, but I met a lot of great artists.
I signed with Jim Shore and it launched and it was a great collection. I was very happy with it. I signed with Yankee Candle. With Yankee Candle, I did a special edition candle collection for them and we tied it to a charity, Homes For Our Troops out of New England. We met our donation match. It was a very successful launch. It was in all 500 stores here in America and ten other specialty stores, which are in different malls around the country. It was a wonderful experience. I signed at their flagship stores and signed the candles. In fact, I remember showing up at Williamsburg and I saw my face up on a banner across the entire building because I live behind a computer screen in my studio. I remember I didn’t even go to a Yankee Candle store. I knew it was in the stores and stuff but I hadn’t gone to it. I remember I was in Enesco and somebody said, “You’ve got to meet the Homefront Girl.” I was looking around, “Who is she?”
You’ve done some amazing things with all of your work with the Homefront Girl, the brands and stuff, but you’ve been an advocate too for a lot of different things. I know you’ve had health issues and you talk about some of the problems that spouses face if they’re in the military, which is interesting to me because my stepfather was a colonel in the Air Force. I never thought about it, but I have all this access to the USAA things because of that. That’s my only experience with the military. I don’t know much about what you’re entitled to and what not. You were talking about the DoD rule that leaves spouses without health insurance if they divorce before twenty years, even if it’s one day before. Did that impact you?
It did. We had moved to Rhode Island where we were supposed to buy our forever home. This was my former husband. It was October 7th, they’ve gone to introduce the teddy bear collection that I’d created supporting Operation Homefront. They went to Dallas with absolutely no clue. I saw him that morning. I came home to a house and everything was gone that was his. It was a shocker. I went into a real trauma decline, dripping wet, I think I was 90 pounds. I was in shock. I got back and I realized what had happened. By March 6th, I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. It was aggressive cancer. At some point, it was one, at some point it was two but I was too busy in trauma and shock that I would not have known. I passed the mammo a few months earlier.
I went to get my treatment at Johns Hopkins and they had no doubt it was due to the cortisol and the stress, which was tremendous that I had suffered. My stepdad had cancer. There were some very tough times in my life that I had made it through, but this one was pretty enormous. I went and filed for nineteen months at Johns Hopkins. When I was there, I remember July 2016 I was walking down the old town with a friend and I was on a phone and tried to ask, “Is this real? Am I about to lose my health insurance?” It was because I was short a year of active duty time with my husband’s twenty years in the military. Basically, I was there 90% of the time. They said, “I’m sorry. You’ll get a year, but your ID card will be taken from you. You lose it all,” because the military will give it to anyone who has twenty years. If you don’t make that cutoff, you lose it all even a day.People don’t judge us by our intention. They judge us by our impact. Click To Tweet
How do I get it as a stepchild? That doesn’t make any sense to me.
The children, they’re considered dependents under the military members. They will keep it until 23 years old, but that goes under a different thing. We’re in the middle of a divorce. In the divorce, once the divorce is final, what ends up happening is that it’s whatever state you’re in. Regardless of what pension is divided up or whatever, that goes by a lot of state statutes and stuff because it’s considered community property. When it comes to the benefits, that’s under DoD rule. There’s no way around it. When I discovered that I went to the Senate, I spoke to my senator from Rhode Island. I had my friend who came who was at eighteen years, but she has a debilitating disease. If her husband of 30 years decides to lose his mind and go into a late mid-life crisis and divorce her, she’s up to the creek because she cannot work.
She brought her awards that the military had given her during the time she was active. I met with them. It was for an hour. I explained to them, “It’s too late for me but you have to understand, this is a rule that needs to be changed. You’re leaving too many people behind, yet if they have their twenty, you are acknowledging that they can keep it. You’ve got to look at this and look at the people that you are leaving behind.” They have given up their life. They’ve given up careers, they’ve given up choices that many civilian sisters are able to make, and you’ve called them combat multipliers that the mission couldn’t go on with the fact that we have families back here to keep the homefront straight so the soldier can go forward and complete the mission with no worries. That takes a lot of sacrifices. We’ve been in a war for over a decade and they’ve come home and their spouses have become military caregivers into a war-torn home.
I have a friend who created on her own, she’s not going to pay, but it’s called Healing Household 6 to help these women who are coping with the trauma of night terrors of a husband sent off to war and when he comes back is not the same. Whether it’s a physical ailment or a nonphysical ailment. What happens to them when they are told, because the husband decides, “I’m done with you. We’re going to get a divorce.” Off he goes and what happens to the spouse? She’ll lose therapy that she needs to cope with what she’s gone through, and she’ll lose that secondary care on top of everything else. She’s losing it all. When I discovered that this was a thing, I made a promise to myself. I said, “I was borderline for it. If I survive this, I’m going to make sure that no other spouse walks the halls of the Senate or treatment like I was doing and have them go through this. It’s an oversight. It’s wrong.” I made it, I survived cancer so I’m keeping my promise. I’ve started a petition which is available at HomefrontGirl.com to raise the attention. I’ve done several interviews and I’m looking for senators within the Senate to support who sits on the armed services committee to look at this law. At one time, Diane, this law was at ten. You could get your benefits at ten years.
Is that reasonable? What do you want it to be?
What they’re doing is they lumped me, they would lump my friend into a rule called 2015, meaning that you have fifteen years of active duty. That guarantees you one year of medical care afterward, but that’s it. I have nineteen years, 364 days. They’re still going to lump me. You get one year of benefits and that’s it. What we’re asking for is it is a sliding rule and we noticed fiscally that’s going to be the biggest thing. It takes $525 to get TRICARE a year. Give that to those spouses for continuing care. That’s a drop in a bucket when you think about it. Plus, this is something that goes against the warrior Ethos to leave someone behind who has been someone so essential to the mission. I’ve gone back to General Odierno speaking at his retirement speech at how much these spouses have contributed to the strengths of the army. All of that is very true.
The second point is continuing care is needed for the spouses because they’ve lived through military caregiving. Some of the worst conditions as their children have when they come home and they’re not the same. They have to cope and it’s not been easy at all. We’ve had wives suicide, we’ve had horrible situations. My friend in Healing Household 6 could tell you that she has the stories and she goes out there on her own with her person who joined her on building this community of trying to get the answers for these wives who are either being abused due to the deployments. The man comes back and their whole lives are torn up, it’s not the same. What happens when you tell them the husband leaves them and he goes away with all his money and his benefits and you’re left with one year? What do you do? That’s the big question. It’s an oversight of such consequential impact to these families.
This goes for men too with their wives.
It’s by habit. I see why it applies to the spouse, but you will find that male spouses are the least to come forward. I think that goes to the whole gender of, “I can take care of myself.” It should apply to spouses and wives, all the same. I’ve served many years I was in the military with male spouses and they have the same sacrifices that we all do. That’s one of the things that I advocated. I was on Brian Kilmeade Fox radio show and I brought that to that attention, which was at large audience. That’s something that’s on my radar to continue to advocate for.
I saw the speaking of Captain Leslie Smith, Ambassador to the Gary Sinise Foundation. I want to know a little about that if you can touch on that.
Captain Smith is someone that I met and we’ve become the best of friends. She’s survived a single amputee of her leg and also she’s got 10% vision in the right eye and that’s it. That was due to the fumes that were coming out of the graves while she was on tour in Bosnia. She was a Public Affairs officer. She went into the country and traveled everywhere with a senior entourage that would come through. She was medivacked. She could have died, but she made it through. One of the things that were interesting as we met, and I’m very familiar with the Gary Sinise Foundation. I’ve come across them before. I’ve done huge donations of teddy bears to the children at TAPS as well. We talked for a long time. One of the things that she had thought of was when she woke up and she could talk about the prosthetic that she would get. She was determined that she would not lose all of her identity to this. She loves stilettos. What woman doesn’t love her shoes? We all love our shoes.
They made her the first prosthetic leg with the ability to go into a stiletto. I thought, “I love you for doing that.” When I went through my treatment, I was determined that my face would not be the face of what I saw when I took off my makeup, which was like a blank face. You lose your hair. You lose your eyebrows, your eyelashes. It’s a clouded image that you are there. I never did show that. I learned how to apply makeup. I wore my wig, I wore my stilettos and my shoes and they can hear me and they knew Gaby’s coming down the hall. When I rang my bell, I was in heels. You can see the photo. I was in my Jimmy Choo’s and I rang my bell. Her idea is the one that came up. I was starting to create a line. It was all camo platform heels. I have about 60 camos, but they’re not your grandpa’s camos. These are fun, trendy colors. We talked about it and she always had this idea about heal up. In the military, they call it wheels up. That means you’re ready to go, you go forward. Where you’re healing yourself and she wants for us to go around whether it’s within the CDC Foundation and talking about the empowerment of families and women especially to overcome adversity.
For every purchase of a shoe, we’re going to gift one to someone who is going through very strong adversity and overcoming it. I was on Dr. Drew and I remember we talked about sharing stories and everything else. After the show, I was found by this one woman who couldn’t believe my story. She was crying in the car when she heard the show. She listened to it. She said, “I finally have the answer as to what happened to my mother when my father left her. How could she not know that she had cancer but it spread so fast?” She didn’t understand what she heard my story is stress can cause this and you’re such in a cataclysmic event that has just happened to your life.
You’re not aware of your body and the changes that are coming. You’re trying to get out of bed and figure out, “What do I do with the rest of my life. Where did he go?” When she heard the story, she was able to say, “What my mother went through.” Within the space of six months from her ex telling her, “I’m done with you.” He’s having an affair with her old high school best friend. He moved to Canada and she was left of a 40-year marriage, completely bereft. You can imagine the shock of that. Her mother died six months later. It was rapidly growing and it was pulled by stress. I met a lot of Doctoral students at Johns Hopkins who were doing their work on the effects of cortisol and the correlation to breast cancer. In the military, there’s such a high rate of breast cancer that impacts so many women and you have to take a look at the fact that they’ve gone through five, six deployments. The stress of living in this lifestyle is enormous.Our fears, concerns, and assumptions are driving our behaviors. Click To Tweet
I appreciate you sharing your story and talking about all the things you’ve done that I think so many people aren’t aware of some of these issues. This has been so fascinating to know. I’m glad that your site is taking off and what you’re working on is available at HomefrontGirl.com. I want to make sure that everybody knows how to find you if you have any other sites you’d like to share.
The main site is www.HomefrontGirl.com. On there, you’ll find all of the different collections. I do have a Candle collection tied to a charity called United Through Reading, which helps our children when their parents are deployed to have a DVD sent back to the families so that they can watch daddy read them a bedtime story. It’s bridging that deployment through that. That Candle collection is on there. The teddy bears are on there. Also, we will have the launch of the Heald Up collection, and we will do a major launch on that and post any of the speakers wherever we go and do a speech. There are so many places. The other thing is that I did create a cancer collection that benefits The Brem Foundation, which has impacted me greatly. It made an impression on me prior to starting my treatment. For every shirt sold, I will donate $5 to Brem. That collection is up there and it’s not your usual breast cancer t-shirt. I pulled from my journal that I kept, which I called, When My World Turned Pink, I Fight. That is the collection when your world turns pink. It was affirmations of, “Will now be the day that you see me? I’m more than cancer.” That’s what you’re saying to the world because they look away from you. They know what you’re going through and it’s uncomfortable for them.
That was something that occurred to me personally and I had written it down in my journal. I wanted to create a collection that was affirmations to keep you going, that never in my story will it read, “I quit.” There’s a determination that you need to have. Whether you have a loved one who’s going through this or you have a friend who’s going through this or something you want to give to someone who has someone in their family. You’re doing something and giving back to an organization of early detection and also having a wonderful expressive affirming slogan to someone who is already in this fight. That’s up there on the website. I do have Instagram, please follow me. It’s @HomefrontGirl. I’m on Facebook, Homefront Girl and on Twitter, @AHomefrontGirl.
Thank you, Gaby. This has been so great to get to know you. I appreciate you being on the show.
Thank you, Diane, for having me on. Thank you to your audience. Please visit Homefront Girl. Please sign a petition, which is on there.
I’d love to thank Bill and Gaby for being my guests. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. You could find Curiosity Code information there. Please check out the site and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Bill Benjamin
- Institute for Health and Human Potential
- Performing Under Pressure
- Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry
- The Curiosity Code
- Daniel Goleman – previous episode
- Dr. Hank Weisinger
- Bill Benjamin on LinkedIn
- Homefront Girl
- Yankee Candle
- Homes For Our Troops
- Healing Household 6
- Captain Leslie Smith
- United Through Reading
- The Brem Foundation
- @HomefrontGirl on Instagram
- Homefront Girl on Facebook
- @AHomefrontGirl on Twitter
About Bill Benjamin
Bill Benjamin is the CEO of the Institute for Health and Human Potential, a research and learning organization that uses Emotional Intelligence to leverage performance and leadership. Bill is a seasoned business executive with nearly 20 years of experience and is also a highly acclaimed world leader in the exciting field of Emotional Intelligence, with his Leadership 2.0. He is highly sought after as an executive coach for Fortune 500 companies, whose senior leaders look to him to help them understand how to measure Emotional Quotient (EQ) and apply Emotional Intelligence to improve their leadership skills and get to the next level in their careers. Bill’s practical and scientific approach to leadership, combined with his advanced degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science, make him a hit with analytical audiences.
About Gaby Juergens
Gaby Juergens is known as the Homefront Girl. The Homefront Collection by Homefront Girl® is resonating with those who share and love their hero. For more than 20 years, Gaby’s experience was firsthand as an active volunteer throughout her family’s assignments. She is the recipient of the Dr. Mary Walker Award. Dr. Walker remains the only female recipient of the Medal of Honor. She was also awarded the Keeper of the Flame Award for her contribution in support of the Ordnance Corps, as well as the Catherine Greene award in support of Quartermaster Corps and the Outstanding Civilian Service award. Her greatest honor was serving as an Army Arlington Lady at the Nation’s National Cemetery representing the Army Family.