Image credit to Avis Viswanathan

“You’re too small, too weak, too slow. You don’t have enough experience.” When I shared my aspirations of joining the Special Forces, every one of my friends had an opinion and all of those words sounded a lot like excuses to me.

Those things they said were all true. I was 5”8’ and 140 pounds soaking wet. I could barely bench press and my military experiences were unremarkable at the time. The  only element out of my control was my height.  With that in mind, I focused on getting heavier, faster, stronger and more experienced because those were the things that I could control.  Several months later my selection results proved that my mindset had been right. I finished with three other candidates. The others had decided to quit at various stages of the process.

Learning to control the uncontrollable is key to success, and being the under dog has it’s advantages.

Most people tend to let the “uncontrollable” factors become the excuses for not achieving or overcoming. To me, the odds stacked against me aren’t odds at all. I see them as an opportunity to learn, grow and improve. You control your thoughts, emotions and actions. Understanding and accepting this fact is called extreme ownership. (Check out an earlier post for more about this.)

Controlling the uncontrollable is a difficult skill to learn because it requires some detachment. Detachment allows for analysis from multiple perspectives and removes some of the emotions that can cloud our judgement.  Choosing a level of detachment can be hard. Too much carries the risk of becoming emotionless and unable to connect with your reality. The key is to remain aware of your perspective, your reality and your goals. Let the level of detachment follow.

If you can’t influence an event or the outcome, don’t waste energy or time on it. 

In the midst of making difficult decisions, take time to create a solid, realistic plan to meet your objective. When in the middle of a crisis, utilize detachment and discipline to control the uncontrollable.

One of the most powerful lessons I have learned is that choosing control is as important for my own well-being as it is for others. During one of the most harrowing moments of my military career, a teammate recalled my quick-thinking and calm demeanour and how much it had helped him stay focussed on the objective. Remaining in control of our behaviour sets the standard for those around us.

In all situations, at all times, you have complete control of your actions, thoughts and words.  You have the power to accomplish your goals. Push harder, get tougher, don’t quit EVER.






specops poppy

Lest we forget.

Peace, freedom and safety has a steep price. Our Armed Forces personnel have made a commitment to travel to danger zones and work in harsh, unrelenting conditions. The war in Afghanistan has been costly. We have lost 158 of our brothers and sisters-in-arms in that conflict. Reported cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have claimed another 178 lives on Canadian soil. We know there are likely more deaths that have been unreported home because the circumstances are complicated.

War has changed and evolved.  The enemy doesn’t always wear a uniform and does not march across a defined battlefield as was customary in the past. Today, the enemy is a man, a woman, an elder. Animals and innocent children are used as human shields and the battlefield is within villages, near schools, and near sources of drinking water. Each veteran has their own story to share. Some return with scars and injuries on their bodies. For others, the injuries have left indelible marks on brains, and hearts are suffocating with grief. The enemy now becomes anger, shame, anxiety, depression, and fear.

Let Remembrance Day be a time when we can be together and honour those who have gone before us. Let it be a day when we support those who stand in the gap and protect our freedom. Stay present in moments of peace and be thankful for the memories we share.

To those who made the ultimate sacrifice, you live on in our thoughts and in our hearts. You are dearly loved and missed. We remember your smile, your laugh, your gentle soul, your warrior spirit. We would give anything just to spend one more minute together. Your mission is accomplished and from here we’ll stand strong and carry on.

Give me fear, give me pain, give me loneliness, suffering and chaos but give it all to me so the rest can live free.

Facta Non Verba

Sly out



Amos3Photo credit: Larry and Quan Vang

Meet Amos Vang. He’s currently pursuing a Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and is set to graduate in 2021.  In his spare time, Vang is a classical pianist, sports announcer at U Sports Canada and freelance voice-over artist. He has had many accomplishments in a few short years and even more opportunities on the horizon.

Vang has worked tirelessly and with great success, all while remaining extremely humble. He immediately agreed to an interview and was very generous with his time, especially considering the constraints of his current work load.

* * *

LM: How old are you?

AV: 22

LM: How do you implement discipline in your lifestyle?

AV: Discipline is the most important aspect of my life. It helps me balance everything. How do I implement: 1- time management and 2- I stay ahead of the curve? I never pulled an all-nighter in during my undergrad. Time management helps me balance piano practice which I do 4-6 hours a day, but when time is scarce I focus on quality over quantity. Same with my studies. I use time to be productive and put my mind to work.

LM: What is your routine like?

AV: I divide my day into 3 blocks: morning, afternoon and evening. Then I  schedule my tasks within those blocks. Socialization is not a priority for me at the moment.

LM: What are your career goals?

AV: Lawyer, announcer or pianist. To become a pianist I would have to move to Europe where it’s a bit more popular. I’m not giving up the idea yet.

LM: What about sports or working out?

AV: I workout for about 60 to 90 minutes after my classes are done. I do a warm up for 10 minutes on the treadmill then focus on strength 3 day upper body 3 day lower body and 1 day rest. I use workout to decompress and relax my mind.

LM: What is your definition of a leader?

AV: Leaders are humble, open-minded, and self-aware. They are willing to learn, lead by example, and build people up. I try to lead my life that way.

LM: How do you keep going in moment of failure?

  1. I never give up.
  2. I get support from friends and family.
  3. I take responsibility of my failure and I learn from it and try to produce a positive outcome from it.

* * *

There is no question that Vang is living a life of extreme ownership. Hard work, determination, discipline and focus are present in his daily routine.  He is proof that the skills and concepts in some of the past posts are relevant for anyone, regardless of background or experience.  While Vang has had many successes, there have been moments of failure. These times have also helped to shape his current goals and ensure a balance to his life.

One of the most important points reinforced during the interview is that discipline is important at every age and every stage in life. Small acts in our daily routine carry over into bigger and more important decisions.  Implementing discipline allows us to define what is important in our lives and then invest quality time and attention towards reaching our goals.

Sly Out

Amos Vang Professional Highlights 

  • Pursuing a Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa Law School 2018-2021
  • Sports Announcer
  • Classical Pianist
  • At age 14: Amos completed his Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto (ARCT) diploma
  • At age 19: Amos announced the 2016 NBA All-Star Challenge in Ottawa, which was his very first NBA event
  • At age 21: Amos announced his first CBC Sports broad cast at the 2017 Canadian Junior Swimming Championships
  • Play-by-play announcer of the 2018 U Sports Swimming Championships alongside Olympic Bronze Medallist Brittany MacLean
  • Public address announcer for the 2016 Can-Am Basketball Shootout between NCAA Division 1 and U Sports Canada teams
  • Author of two law publications for the Carleton University Journal of Legal Studies: “Adversarial vs. Inquisitorial Legal System: One, the Other, or Both?” and “Intent and the Murder of a Peace Officer: An Analysis of S. 231(4) of the Criminal Code.”


What makes a great leader? Take a minute and consider some of the most influential people in your life. How did they shape your personal and professional experiences? What sort of character traits sets the best leaders apart from the rest?

The dictionary definition of leadership is stark and objective. Google tells us that leadership is “the action of leading a group of people or an organization.”  When creating a definition for excellent leadership, the answers get complex because of the subjective nature of leadership from an individual perspective.

Leading a group of people or an organization effectively is a complex task. It requires a basic understanding of psychology, human emotion, and verbal and non-communication. It requires strength, sensitivity, a strong moral code, and a healthy dose of humour at the appropriate moments.

How are great leaders made? What separates greatness from mediocrity?

Weak leaders are easy to find and even easier to dissect. They likely have character traits that include selfishness,  micromanaging tendencies, arrogance, dishonesty,  lack of ethics, bad temperament, poor communication. The list is endless.

Great leaders are not perfect but the decision to improve daily sets them apart. He or she works tirelessly to build trust and confidence within the team. These leaders make the effort to develop a positive working relationship and always put the welfare of others first. Great leaders are inspiring and their visionary approach can shift the entire focus towards excellence in any capacity.

The military pushes the concept of leadership to the extreme. In the Infantry, a platoon commander can, and will, ask his or her subordinates to accomplish very complex and dangerous tasks that may lead to catastrophic results including death. Here, the value of trust in the leader-subordinate relationship is unmatched.

Building trust requires integrity, honesty and discipline – both personal and professional. In routine interactions, it looks like this: show up to work on time, do your best, take a genuine interest to others, speak the truth, stay away from office drama, and keep your focus on your own job. Liking the person next to your desk is irrelevant. Stay professional even when others are not.

Leadership in a personal capacity is just as important as in a professional environment. Be the baseline for excellence in your life. This means being accountable to yourself, your family and friends. Eat well. Exercise for strength, stamina and well being. Take care of the details, no matter how small. Treat others with respect, kindness, compassion and honesty.

During the times when things get real and raw, apply the extreme ownership concept to your life. (Go and read that post over again if you need a refresher.) Stop blaming everything and everyone around you for your own failures.  Why did you fail?  You know why. You were not consistent, you lost sight of the goal. Fix it, and move on.

Now get out there LEAD BY EXAMPLE and CRUSH your day.

Sly out


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Let me take you back to 2014. My new case manager at Veterans Affairs offered to visit me at my house.  At this point, my expectations for the meeting were low. This was my third case manager in 6 months and I had difficulty understanding why a civilian, with little to no exposure to the military, would be assigned to a medically released combat veteran.

At the time, I was living in my 12 x 22 ft garage and my property did not have running water or electricity. When he arrived, my case manager said “Oh, you’re building a house!” I answered plainly, “No, I’m not.” The expression on his face was my first hint that something wasn’t quite right.  I invited him inside and we sat by the fire to stay warm. As the meeting progressed, I noticed he was assessing my living space as much as he was listening to my answers to his questions. He finally stopped me mid-sentence and asked if I would attend a PTSD assessment. Even though I thought things were fine, he insisted I was exhibiting multiple “red flags.” Clearly, there was a disconnect. Two months later, I was diagnosed with severe PTSD.

Somewhere along the way, I had given up everything in my life that had mattered. I rarely slept, and when I did it was for no more than 4 hours each night for no more than 4 nights a week. If I found myself restless in bed for more than an hour, I would get up and start my day, ignoring the time on the clock. My insomnia gave me a chance to really delve into my diagnosis. I started therapy twice a week and slowly started to exercise, focus on my health and look to my future.  It took four years to make adjustments in my lifestyle to find balance. I was juggling academics, fitness, relationships, and even my sleeping patterns.  Now in 2018, my life has completely changed and I am living a full and happy life. Even with PTSD.

Hitting rock bottom was a wake up call. It took me two years to learn I was solely responsible for changing the direction of my life. I stopped complaining and blaming  the system at Veterans Affairs. There are an abundance of news stories that highlight the flaws in the system already and my own grievances won’t lead to significant change.  I also had to identify and distance myself from the sources of negativity in my life. And then I figured out that the Infantry had given me all the skills I needed to survive this fight.

The Four Laws of Combat applied to my situation and here’s how I utilized them:

1. Cover and move. I built a team with the most important people in my life. My parents, girlfriend, therapist, physiotherapist, massage therapist and case manager were my support system. I relied on them for help every step of the way. My progress was a team effort.

2- Simplicity. I wrote a daily execution plan to keep me organized and focused.

0430 hrs Wake up

0500 hrs Workout

0600 hrs Shower and prepare for the day

0700 – 1200 hrs Study

1200 hrs Lunch

1230 hrs Read. I picked books in any subject that interested me: astrophysics, psychology, leadership, investments, personal finance management, more leadership and more astrophysics.

1430 hrs Assess my progress. If there were elements missing from my day, I made time to complete them. This included an extra workout or general maintenance around my property or in my life.

I also chose to surround myself with living things. I got rabbits, chickens, ducks and geese. I planted a garden and found that the struggle to fight for light and life was influential and inspiring.  I learned that if a plant – a simple living organism – had to fight for light and space, than it seemed normal that humans – very complex beings would experience greater struggles. The plant doesn’t care about the struggle, it finds a way around it to strive and grow.

Most of my days were about reading, studying, working out, caring for my animals and gaining knowledge. The most important lesson: NEVER stop learning. My afternoons were the same but I would include time to listen to podcasts and build my schedule for the following day. I also realized that a second workout was necessary in order to function properly.

3- Prioritize and execute.  Fitness became the most important task.  It brought energy, strength and stability back and helped keep depression, anger and anxiety at bay. Working out also set the tone for everything else.  I was motivated to accomplish my goals and stay energized until it was time to rest.

4- Decentralized Command. I trusted a team of professionals to help me improve.  My therapist dug into the dark emotions and helped me find my way out. My case manager kept track of my paperwork and helped me to access the support available to me through Vetrans Affairs. My physiotherapist kept track of my improvement and my massage therapist kept track of my stress and tension. The people close to me were a tremendous help.  My dad and girlfriend were great listeners and never judged me for my words and attitude when I needed to vent.  For the things I could not control, I learned to let go.

To me, PTSD means Potential To Simply Dominate. My initial diagnosis felt unbearable at times. Through all of the frustration, struggle and depression I had a chance to learn more about myself. When my life started to take a turn for the better, the changes set me apart from my peers.  My professors at university took time to ask about my background, my classmates made an effort to get to know me. The interests that I had developed gave me positive ways to interact and left little room for negativity. My life had completely transformed.  In the beginning, my diagnosis felt like a limitation but changing the acronym to fit my new perspective shifted my focus. I hope this tactic can give you tools to keep pushing forward.

The military taught us how to fight but fatigue can dull our senses and lull us into mediocrity.  As military members, past or present, we have a unique understanding and often bring a global perspective to the challenges we face every day.  We understand what leadership looks like, we can function under pressure, our work ethic is strong. There is nothing we cannot overcome.

Sly Out

DSC_4981It’s only been a few months but The Leadership Mindset has gained some great followers and is read by a small international audience.  My editor and I want to extend a heartfelt thanks for taking the time to read and engage with us as we work towards crushing everything that stands for mediocrity in our lives.

Never in a millions years did I imagine I would have the opportunity to share my ideas about leadership, discipline and a few random topics that stem from challenges in my own life.  This post is to set the record straight.

I’m the biggest failure of all time.

I have a lifetime of proof to support my statement. I failed at school my entire childhood.  I failed at making friends.  I was bullied. I failed as an athlete. I failed as a partner, I failed miserably as a business owner. I lost all my money and lived in a 12 x 22 ft garage without electricity and running water for two years.  Even now, I still don’t have electricity but I have a generator and I’ve upgraded to living in a trailer.

I failed at work – yes, in the Special Forces. I got comfortable at my job. Comfort leads to complacency and complacency leads to a stagnant state of mind. Even though I earned a place within an elite group, I failed at achieving and pursuing growth. I was never an outstanding soldier, even less a leader.  I wasn’t an officer. I didn’t earn medals and awards. Somewhere along the way, I stopped caring about the higher cause of service and the reasons why I had wanted to be there.  But most critically, I failed at recognizing it all.

The complete destruction of my life occurred after my second shoulder reconstruction surgery.  By then, I had lost every single one of my assets and my bank account ran dry.  I lived in a garage, my friendships were shattered, and I had no option but to return to school in the hopes that higher education could replace my lost career.

Hardship shapes your character and the entire process hurts. Alot. And it sucks. There was no one to help me and I didn’t even bother to complain because there was no one to listen.  I took a long, hard look at my situation and endured every uncomfortable moment in its entirety. I also waited to watch the worst of the feelings dissipate so I could recognize the tiniest moments of progress and change. I wanted every part of my DNA to remember how it felt to survive and the incredible value of working harder and smarter.

The first thing I see when I wake up in the morning is a giant poster with the following quote: Work while they sleep, Learn while they party, Save while they spend and Live like they dream.  That sets my intentions for the day. I’m focussed on creating the best version of myself, one solid and disciplined step at a time.

Don’t let your failures dictate the outcome or your future. Failure is the stepping stone of success. It is necessary. Let failure be your teacher and learn from it.





Welcome to The Leadership Mindset.  This blog is meant to be a place to share ideas about leadership, discipline and all of the factors that influence the decision-making process. Since incorporating this into my own life, I’ve been able to change my mindset, improve the quality of my life and work towards accomplishing my goals. I’ve learned the path to success is brutal but the end result is worth it. By sharing my successes and failures, I hope to encourage and support anyone who wants to make a change in their life.

For me, this entire project began a few years ago with the Laws of Combat. These principles are thousands of years old. The first time I came across them was in The Art of War by Sun Tzu, which was written about 500 B.C. They are battle-tested and they work because they are simple, clear and effective. Here they are:

1- Cover and Move: Teamwork. Everyone is part of the team and their job matters. Work together to understand and achieve goals.

2- Keep it Simple: Plans and instructions must remain simple. Make sure no ambiguity remains.

3- Prioritize and execute: Figure out what is the most important task and get it done. Then, move to the next task with the same level of commitment and agression.

4- Decentralized Command: Trust that your subordinates will complete their task. Allow them to be creative in the way they accomplish their mission. Don’t micro-manage.

Source: EXTREME OWNERSHIP. Chapter 5 to 8, page 109-191.

As a matter of fact, I had no idea I was applying them to my life until I came across a guy name Jocko Willink, (here’s the link to his podcast.) He wrote a book the called Extreme Ownership, which has been a major influence in my life and in this blog. Willink is a decorated Navy Seal officer who is now running a leadership consulting  company out of San Diego, CA.

I have learned that war is a phenomenal teacher.  It reveals the best and worst attributes of human nature. I have experienced a glimpse of  war and it has forever changed the way I see the world.  Here at home, we are engaged in our own battles. We encounter an enemy that creates chaos and suffering.  This enemy comes in the form of substance abuse, violence, illness, procrastination, disorganization and laziness are just a few factors that destroy our chances of leading our best lives. For me, understanding and applying the Laws of Combat helped me to find my areas of weakness, create a plan to overcome and then push forward to my goals. What are your weaknesses and goals?






Sunset on Kandahar 14

One of the most influential moments in my own life occured a few years ago. I met a small child who had been a victim of assault for most of his life. He had endured unspeakable hardship – stuff so brutal that I still struggle to comprehend and process it all.  His burden seemed immense and unbearable. He was orphaned, kidnaped and held prisoner in a war zone, all before the age of eight. And against all odds, he had survived. Meeting with this child radically changed my own perspective on strength.

In my own life, I faced years of being bullied. When I was 12, I found my best friend after he committed suicide. I changed schools nearly every year. I failed to achieve my goals as an athlete, and then I failed to achieve most of the other goals I set for myself.  When my own perspective was radically altered, I realized that dwelling on my past was senseless. I learned that regardless of my own hardship, there was someone somewhere that would trade their problems for my own in a heartbeat.

So far, I’ve learned that overcoming anything is hard work. It requires perseverance, discipline and humility.  It means letting go of feeling ashamed, helpless, vulnerable, weak, angry and scared. It is a daily decision to fight for strength, power and control.

My perspective on strength is this:

If I feel weak – GOOD. This is the place I need to create strength.

I lost all my money – GOOD. I’ll prioritize and execute a plan to make sure it never happens again. And I’ll live within my means now, no matter what that looks like.

I didn’t get promoted – GOOD. Now I know I have to do better at work.

I’m overweight – GOOD. Time to stop eating junk and crush those goals in the gym.

In every painful experience lies an opportunity for good.  Take time for some serious self-reflection. Own your weaknesses. Make a plan for change and write it down. Then do it. Be disciplined and consistent. Start with a perspective of strength.







Overlooked for a promotion? Maybe you didn’t work hard enough to earn it. Bad grade on a test? You should have studied more. Extreme Ownership  means that you are responsible for every decision you make during 86,400 seconds of the day (or 57,600 seconds if you sleep 8 hours at night). Adults today are phenomenal at passing the blame for their mistakes.  The food you eat, the workout you skip, the speed you drive, your attitude and the words you choose – all of those decisions are made by you.

Applying Extreme Ownership to your daily routine has immediate results.  It provides a foundation of strength and control for your most basic decisions, actions and tasks.  It is also incredibly humbling because your personal failings are blatantly obvious and you are forced to deal with your weakness swiftly and directly. There is no one else to blame.

The life-altering concept of Extreme Ownership is created by Jocko Willink.  He is a successful author, speaker, mentor and leadership  and management consultant who has inspired millions to change the way they live their life.  As a former Navy Seal, he draws on the valuable skills learned throughout his long and decorated career. His book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Winco-authored with Leif Babin, contains powerful concepts that have real-life applications in all facets of life.

Jocko outlines his experiences with Extreme Ownership in war and in business. His examples truly illustrate the importance and the value of taking control and assuming full responsibility at all times.  For me, the lesson of Extreme Ownership occurred in a military context as well. In its simplest form, I learned my lesson on a mortar range. (A mortar is a metal tube with a base plate that you slide an explosive device into. When the device touches the bottom of the tube, it is propelled into the air. It is a very basic weapon but very effective and deadly accurate with a good mortar team.) During a standard training session, something went wrong and lives were endangered unnecessarily. In the end, I accepted full responsibility for all of the minor mis-steps that led to a very major situation. The experience was humbling but it was also the only possible outcome. My interactions with my team members and my chain of command had always been based on trust. And through all of the fallout after the event, the trust remained because of the action of Extreme Ownership.

In business, or in life, this direct approach sets a good leader apart. In a team setting, the successes and failures ultimately become those of the leader.  The criticism and harsh reviews, as well as the search for the solution are a leader’s sole responsibility. But by leading with this approach, it sets an example to others and creates a baseline of openness, honesty and trust. By eliminating the habit of passing blame, the team is able to direct its performance towards its mission.

When it comes to Extreme Ownership in your life, remember this: YOU are responsible for your actions, thoughts and expectations. Stop pointing fingers and OWN THAT SHIT.




Adapt, improvise and overcome is the core of every successful military operation. It is also the cornerstone for successfully navigating the challenges we face in our own lives every day.

My friend Jody Mitic is an incredible example of what can happen when the choice is made to adapt and overcome. Jody was a Sniper Team Leader in the Canadian Armed Forces but on January 11, 2007, while on deployment in Afghanistan, Jody stepped on a landmine. The outcome: he lost both legs below the knee. Fast forward 7 years and he has taken on the roles of leader, mentor, author, father, city councillor, and proud veteran. Adapting to his new reality took time and effort with both celebration and setbacks. But through it all, his determination and warrior mindset has propelled him to new opportunities and allowed him to rebuild his life around his new reality. To learn more, grab a copy of his book Unflinching: The Making of a Canadian Sniper. His latest book is Everyday Heroes: Inspirational Stories from Men and Women in the Canadian Armed Forces.

The first time I met Jody, I was fighting to find a way to be comfortable with the recent changes in my own life. My career in the Canadian Armed Forces had come to an end and I was a first-year university student. My reintegration into a civilian lifestyle had been slow and I struggled to relate to the other students. I had more than one verbal altercation with a few campus clubs and associations. I also had several frank conversations with disruptive students in class. While my methods and communication style may have been effective in a military setting, it sent some civilian students running to create their own safe spaces.

It was Jody who wisely counselled me to adapt, improvise and overcome. Skills like discipline, drive, and time management continued to serve me well in my new life. I still struggled to understand my new peer group and I needed to find ways to adapt to my new environment and overcome the culture shock until I was comfortable enough to evolve. In the meantime, I needed to rethink my communication style, thought processes, and expectations of my academic experiences.

The concept of adapt, improvise and overcome occurs frequently in our own lives. From the simplest of tasks to major life events, plans that once seemed rock solid suddenly require adjustment. Those changes may be completely out of your control, but the way you choose to respond to the situation will dictate the degree of your success. In these moments of mild chaos, remember to remain flexible and open-minded. Make the necessary adjustments to your plans and then continue to the objective.  If your original plan fails, try a different approach. Work tirelessly to overcome any barriers that stand in the way of your goal. And most importantly, keep calm while you carry on.

In the midst of change, decisions and activity, it is always worth taking a moment to assess whether your chosen course of action is the correct approach.  Remaining so rigid that the opportunity for adjustment is missed could jeopardize the mission or even mean mission failure. Go back to the original goal and consider whether the change makes achieving the goal more efficient.  The decision for change values improvement over perfection.

Adapt, improvise, overcome, remain calm, be decisive. These words of advice from Jody Mitic were the start of big changes in my own life.  I applied them to my daily routine and gained control over some of the issues I was struggling to resolve. It is not a short term solution to problem solving, but a lifelong skill that allows me to crush my goals every day.