Investing in the Next Generation: SMA Dan Dailey (USA Ret) Interview

May 28, 2024 8:36:00 AM

Phil Wagner, MD talks to Vice President of the AUSA, SMA Dan Dailey, (USA Ret), on the importance of leadership agility, embracing change and empowering the next generation. 

They discuss:

  • Using the right tone and language to teach leadership lessons that people remember
  • Removing emotion and relying on data when trying to change age-old paradigms
  • Learning from and investing in the next generation to fortify our workforce

About SMA Dailey (USA Ret)


Sergeant Major of the US Army Daniel A. Dailey (USA Ret), brings a wealth of leadership experience to his role as Vice President of Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs at AUSA. With a career spanning over three decades, Dailey has served in various leadership positions across multiple infantry divisions, earning accolades such as the Bronze Star with Valor for his exceptional leadership during the Battle for Sadr City in 2008. A graduate of the US Army Sergeants Major Academy and Excelsior College, Dailey's commitment to service and dedication to excellence continue to inspire others within and beyond the military community.

Hear the Interview:


Full Transcript: 

Phil Wagner, M.D.: I'm your host, Phil Wagner, founder of Sparta Science. Today I'm super excited we have Dan Dailey retired Sergeant Major of the Army; and since 17 years years old he's held every enlisted position in the Army, and the SMA is unique because he travels throughout the Army to observe training and also be talking to the soldiers and their families. It's a very broad role and some of the ranging of responsibilities and experiences SMA Dailey's had is everything: from tattoo policies, to headphones and workouts, to sexual assault, to leadership core competencies. So it's an extremely large range of responsibilities and situations and after more than 30 years in uniform, he now serves as Vice President of the Association of the United States Army, AUSA. And a key piece we want to hit on today is the crucial aspect of leadership is agility. Having the ability to adapt and be relatable to every situation, organizations and leaders encounter. And there's -- I read something about SMA Dailey about some of these principles he looks at, and he listed off very easily rattled off 10, and I'll just read you a few: Number one was probably my favorite: 'yelling doesn't make you skinny, PT does'. Another one: 'If you can't have fun every day, then you need to go home.' Another one is: 'It's okay to be nervous, all of us are.' And all these are really about having that agility of walk in the walk, but also at the same time being relatable to the soldier. So today, again, I'm very excited. Want to want to welcome SMA Dailey to the show.

SMA Dailey: Yeah, Phil, thanks for having me. It's an honor and a privilege to be here, and it was an honor privilege to meet you last week in person at Huntsville, Alabama and learn a lot about your great company, too, and all the things you're trying to do to increase the health and wellness of our soldiers and their families.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah, we might have to use that tagline: yelling doesn't make you skinny.

SMA Dailey: Yeah, yeah, I can. I can trademark that to you if you'd like. I've already had a college professor steal that top 10 thing for his leadership seminar...

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah.

SMA Dailey: Yeah -- if you -- we can get in the story about where that comes from. Actually, I've been invited all over the world about it, just to talk about those 10 things. And they're actually cynical, intentionally, right? So they're supposed to grasp your attention. But they have a very serious and deep meaning, and they have a you know, a very broad meaning, too. The yelling doesn't make you skinny means a whole lot more than just physical fitness. It's all about you know, presence and being with your people and doing what your people are doing. 'Cause that's what people appreciate the most, but it's great to be on the show, Phil.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah. And I think it's great. You mentioned the cynicism because a lot of times, you know, there has to be that balance of this deep meaning. But also we can't take ourselves too seriously at the same time. Right?

SMA Dailey: That's Right. Yeah, and people remember them if they're funny, you know. So I learned that after you know, 20 years of giving public speeches, and I asked people, what'd you think of the speech? And they usually remember the joke, you know. So I said, you know, I gotta make these things a little bit humorous. So people remember them, and then wanna use them, you know?

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I think when we first met, that's one of the things that came across too, you know, when we met is is really just listening to you, and you know how both funny but deep a lot of the comments were. You know, about some of the problems that the army and really the country is facing. Yeah. And how do we deal with some of these large problems? But in a way that's, you know, not not too serious at the same time.

SMA Dailey: Yeah, you know. And people, some people may not appreciate that. But if you look at a different way, you take every problem with with anger and frustration. It is met equally by human beings naturally with resistance. Right? So you know you, you can show up and be the negative guy that can point out all the problems. We all can do that. You know you don't. You don't need a whole lot of education to pick out bad things, especially in the army cause. I promise you we're doing something wrong, you know, on someday right? But you know it doesn't need to be all miserable every day, you know. Let's stay positive. Even when there's problems you could stay positive. And if people tend to get behind the issue when they see a leader that is not angered and frustrated by the problem, but yet sees as a challenge that we can overcome as an organization.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: And what are some of the ways that you're able to kind of balance that right? Because I imagine it's pretty easy to swing to one way or the other right where everything's cause. You see it with leaders right? Some are overly cynical where everything's like, oh, well, that's how it goes.

SMA Dailey: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: This is the Army right? On the other side, you know there can be no fun right? And so how do you? How do you kind of balance that that piece.

SMA Dailey: Yeah, it's-- you gauge the audience, the time, the mission. Obviously, you know, if it's you got a little bit more time, and the mission is not that critical? Then then, you know, it's okay to be relaxed around your subordinates. It's okay -- you're a human being, and that's how you want to be observed by them, not some machine that doesn't care about people, or just, you know, is focused on something. And then, obviously, you know, when you're in combat, you're not going to be very cynical then, when you got to make tough decisions, they need to see a competent cable leader that can make good decisions in a short amount of time that is in their best interest. And I think that's the key to leadership. But yeah, people tell me all the time you know, how do you become a successful leader? And I say, the first thing is, you gotta figure out who you are as a leader and then adapt and change; and then you wanna mimic people, you know? You want mentors; you wanna emulate the good things, and, you know, refute the bad-- but you still gotta be your own leader. You still gotta figure out how you, as a person, could have an effect on those people to get them to do what you want them to do, because basically the end of the day, that's what leadership is, you know, getting somebody to do something that you need done, right - as you've led them. That's the most simplest form. But that's not how you wanna do it. You wanna do it through, you know, motivation, direction, purpose, care, humility. That's a long lived, effective leadership.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah, I've I weren't heard someone describe it as being in the room when you're not there.

SMA Dailey: That's right, yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: And so, you know, what are some of the ways you've kind of overcome. I mean, you talked about just now like the self awareness of the situation you know, to use -- over generalization, but  combat versus non combat right? Having that self awareness allows you to adapt to the situation. But but how are some of the challenges that you've seen? And have you kind of overcome those with the initiatives you had either as SMA or now in your current role?

SMA Dailey: Yeah, I I think the first one is, if you know in your heart it's right. Nobody likes change, you know, and if you go into an organization you're gonna be met met with natural resistance. So one thing I've learned is, if you get the organization or the group of people that you're leading to believe that this, their mission, and they believe in the same thing. Then it's a whole lot easier to accomplish change. Right? Rather than just walking in the first day and say, 'I have arrived. Here's what screwed up and now we're gonna fix these things.' Unless you intend to do all those fixings yourself, you know. That's probably not the best approach, right? You need the organization to help move that change right? So some of those are easy, you know. You know, when you come in first week, as the army of the army and the entire army is frustrated with the previous tattoo policy. That's a pretty easy one, you know, and it's a big win publicly. But some of it's hard, you know when you're trying to convince Congress that we need to create a credentialing assistance bill to entertain the other 80% of soldiers that don't want to go to college. And there's nothing bad about that, right? But it's traditional 100 years of thinking that, oh, the only way to succeed in America is to get a degree, and that is a good way to succeed in America. But it's not the only way. And you're talking to a group of people who got to where they are through that traditional education process. And you gotta spend 18 months educating on the fact that well, there's another way that we can empower these young men and women once they leave service, or even while they're in service, by getting, you know, credential in and a lot of times in the MOS that they're in the army which is going to be a benefactor to the communities that they go back to when they get out because 100% of soldiers are going to leave the army someday, right? And we want them to be just as successful in their post careers as they are in the army because it tells the next story to the next generation about where they got their start.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah. Well, said, yeah. And it's interesting that that might be one of the few analogies between I've seen between the Silicon Valley where I'm at, and the army is that both need and have recognized that you don't have to go to college isn't the only way. I mean, there's even some CEOs out in Silicon Valley that are, you know, giving people incentives not to go to college. You know, there's a lot of different ways to approach things. How do you break some of those paradigms is Critical.

SMA Dailey: Yeah, well, like our nation needs both. Right? Well, I, you know, blend of education in my observation, having been the Trade Ox Army during leading the army's education enterprise was we? We didn't need a full workforce full of higher academic education. We needed a blended workforce, and we need technical certifications. We need laborers. We need -- just like America, right? And if we tell every kid in America, the only way to path to success is to go to college. Well, then, who's gonna be the plumber, the electrician, the welder, the manufacturer, the laborer? And the truth is not every kid in America is destined to go to college, so why do we tell them all the same thing? And it it's a hard paradigm to change, because these are things that moms and dads like to talk about at dinner. You know where they're sending their kid right? You know. And it's it's somewhat become an embarrassment if your child doesn't go on this preferred path of elitism, I guess, is the best way to say it. But the reality is, you can make more money as an air conditioning technician than you can as an undergraduate college guy with a bachelor's degree or gal, you know but society doesn't view it that way for some reason. And then we have a very -- excess population of people who have traditional education from a higher education and not enough people to fill the jobs in the critical roles that are necessary in the credentialing fields. So yeah, it's it's interesting. And it's also counter to military service, because that's, you know, going to college is not consistent with serving in the military or becoming a police officer or a public servant, and you could see this stem, this phenomenon going on in America, how we're leading our children, and this falls right in the leadership discussion. Because, you know, we gotta we have to raise the next generation of leaders right now to run this country behind us. We can't send them all in one path cause it just won't work.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah. And that blended workforce is a good label of of really what's needed. You know. How do you help approach when you're talking to Congress or other folks about you know, changing the thinking around that like, what are some key you know, principles or tactics you found?

SMA Dailey: Yeah. First one is as as passionate you are is about something. Your emotion usually does not override another person's perception. What you have to do is present them with facts. Be unemotional, calm and collected, and say and show them, hey, here's the US Labor market:

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Hmm.

SMA Dailey: 20% of it requires traditional education and higher education doctors, lawyers, scientists critical to the success of this nation, absolutely critical. The other 80% is split between between skilled and unskilled labor. And then and what is what is the economic return on somebody that is credentialed versus that of somebody who is not? It's actually incredible. I used to use my son when I go up on the hill as an example. Before we came on the show, I'm proud of the fact that my son's a mechanical and an aerospace engineer spent 6 years at college and I drove him in that direction. So I'm the guy saying, you know, we don't need to drive every kid, but you know I drove my kid there -- but I'm not being hypocritical. That's what he was destined for and I spent several $100,000 doing that, and well worth every single penny. He got a world class education, and he is in the business that he wanted to be in. He's working for phone aerospace division to this day. But the reality is, I could have sent him to Commercial Air Conditioning school. The Union would have paid for all of it and he would have made more money the first day out of the door as a commercial air conditioning tech than he did as a rocket scientist in Huntsville, Alabama. Which is -- most people don't wanna believe right? It's like, No, no, you no, that's not. No, that it's absolutely true. It is absolutely true. But somehow we got so far off the path of only giving our youth one direction that we're failing, you know. We actually don't lose jobs because of a lack of resources or manufacturer, or even labor cost is because our inability to be able to source the labor for those jobs in America. Which is amazing. Yeah.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah, so it sounds like a big piece, right? Is, you know, when you're when you're helping shift paradigms right is to limit the emotion right? Because a lot of times they come off as rash.

SMA Dailey: Yeah. That's Right.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Trying to change something in your overly emotional.

SMA Dailey: Hmm.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Opposed to using data and saying, Hey, look! Here's the actual situation based on numbers. We should rethink how we're looking at this.

SMA Dailey: Absolutely. Yeah. And again, as we said earlier, when you come with somebody, resistance is naturally met with resistance. So and your personal opinion is valuable, especially to you. Yeah, you're a doctor. You walk in with the credential when you walk in before - if someone even knows you, you have been tested by an organization that has proven to produce quality people? Right? So you have credentials. When you go up to Congress and you're wearing a uniform, you know. I've been fighting bad guys for the last last 30 years in Iraq, and I have a PhD in that right. But but I don't in business economics and us labor markets right? So it's going in there and feeling passionate about it is not the way you're gonna convince somebody. Obviously your passion has to be within the work you're doing. But it's really the facts, you know and that's how you're going to grab their attention. And then what does it mean to them? What it means to them is the product that leaves the army is a better community member and a higher earner over lifetime, and a greater contributor to the US Industry, you know. So it's over time. It's it's a benefactor. And we were able to convince that now we have strong advocates on both sides on the hill on this credentialing initiative, which is which, I'm proud to say, has reduced the unemployment rate of post-service military folks to the lowest in the nation's history, and lower than that than a national average.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Wow that's a great stat right there.

SMA Dailey: Yeah, yeah.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah, we're the fortunate recipients of 2 sergeant majors, you know, with with no business experience, right out of the army into a Silicon Valley Tech Company right away, and just their ability to adapt and really curiosity to learn. You know, as a testament to how you know the army continues to produce these leaders that you know extend beyond, you know, service within the armed forces.

SMA Dailey: Yeah, absolutely. I pride on the fact that that's what one thing our soldiers are good at. They're not experts in pretty much anything, but they're pretty good to adapt to anything you throw at them because they've been. They've had to live that life, you know. You get dropped off in a foreign country and told to make it happen. You figure it out, I'll tell you. Yeah. And the-- survival is how the human species have lived on this earth. They've somehow figured it out and sergeant majors are a good example of that on a battlefield, you know you give a mission, they'll somehow figure it out. And soldiers, too. I mean, they're incredible, you know. You can't take credit away from the youngest private in the army. You wanna figure out how to get off early and get something done quick. Just ask a private. Yeah, he'll tell you. 

Phil Wagner, M.D.: You know, with that in mind, you know, as as these privates are coming into the army, what's what do you see as a key piece to the future of the US Army, and training these leaders as they're as they're coming in?

SMA Dailey: Yeah, I think publicly. First, I'd like to say that I don't think there's anything wrong with this generation. I hear that a lot. That's what America has done since America's inception blamed the next generation for its failures. Interesting history. I'm a history guy-- Did some deep looking in this, in 19 twenties and thirties, there was a nationwide belief that that generation was gonna destroy America in the future. You know this is the the pre industrial revolution. This is the agricultural, you know- they expanded the West literally scraped the ground with almost their hands right, I mean, and built and expanded America. And then you have the roaring twenties, and then the Great Depression of the 1930s and there was a term that was first used in America called teenager. It was a negative connotation on America's youth at the time. You know, they're smoking cigarettes. They're listening to jazz music. And they're gonna wreck America.They became the greatest generation. Which is--And that's what I hear a lot of people say today, oh, these kids, they can't do that. You know, they they've been on their, they're on their phones and on the Internet all day. And yeah, I mean, but I remind if we had that stuff since birth, we'd be using it too. But you also have to look at the positives. I mean, they grew up with the world's information accessible within a microsecond in the palm of their hand. You and I, when we went to school we went to a place called a library to do a book report, drew out a book that some guy or gal wrote 20 years previously, and that's how we learned. Now, who's the smarter person? That's right, I mean.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Encyclopedia days, right.

SMA Dailey: Yeah. And they're intelligent. They're capable. They do have different aspects. Right? I think you know, with regards to grit resiliency there may be, there's obviously, and we have less than that of our predecessors because of the lifestyles they had to live, but they're very capable. And then I remind people -- they're all we have. So we got to invest in them right. And we got to make them the next generation of people who are going to lead this country to great things. And you do that by not shunning them away by saying, This is the way we used to do it, or this is the way we did it, or we're better than you, you know we do that by encouraging and saying and and acknowledging, accepting the skills that are different than us and their capabilities because their attention span is probably at one half of that of ours. But their absorption rate is 5 times, so, and you capitalize on those things. And in the army, we actually change our entire education system to adapt to the way we generations learn. We did a study with Carnegie Mellon. about how does the generation today learn? You know, there's misperceptions about whether you can learn as well online or in classroom... And we changed our enlisted education and training program to capitalize on how they learn; and-- embracing the next generation is the is the proper thing to do. And we're we're gonna be in good hands. These these young men and women are that are willing to serve our country are just as willing and able to do it as previous generations. Our big problem is, we have depleting population of people that are willing to do that -- that's our big problem. Yeah.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah. And so, how does that? I know that that recruiting piece is such a focus for the Army? How does that start to shift if at all? Or is it something we, you know, to use your word, almost embrace sometimes of like? Well, you know, maybe it's not going to improve that much. So how do we?Yeah, how do we embrace the situation?

SMA Dailey: Well, here's and this is Dan Dailey's opinion. There's a lot of reasons why we're seeing a decline and propensity to serve today. And there's probably no single one for any individual but my firm belief having run the recruiting enterprise, and then being have oversight of it as the SMA -- we, as a nation have relied on military services to recruit if we continue to do that, we will fail, because armies don't fight wars, neither do navies and marines or Air Force. They don't. Nations do these things, right? So we we fought a war for for decades with Russia and didn't even fire a shot, right? So, it's the same with recruiting armies don't build armies. Nations do that. And the nation is not invested in this at all, at all. Nope, I'm not saying there's no national hatred. I don't believe that I don't believe there's national hatred towards the military. It's just they're not invested in building it. It's not a priority, and it's just not  not a focal point. And then you combine that with, we tell every kid whether they're destined to go there or not, that the only way to success in life in America is college. That's counter, not intentionally, but unintentionally to public service government service, you know. And unfortunately, it's gotten to the point where, you know, we are convicting parents for paying rowing coaches, a half million dollars just to get their kid into the college. They have to go to so they can, you know, and I see it every night. There's nothing against that. I'm the hypocrite. I know my son went to 6 years of college, right? But he was, you know, we need--We need guidance counselors, teachers, coaches, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles, to drive America's youth in the direction that is in their best interest; not in our personal or public preference -- which won't work. It just won't work. And we can't -the army cannot change the perception of an 18 year old America that's been influenced for 18 years to do something that's counter to what we want them to do. That's why it takes a nation to build an army, and if it doesn't get behind it, we're gonna gonna have a problem and this nation's going to have an army. It has to. If there's anybody out there that believes. You know, we don't need the police, or you know, I don't wanna get in the political divide on this but the reality is is, we need safety and security. And there's a whole lot of folks around this world that would exploit the opportunity if we didn't have one. And there's only 2 ways to build one. Either get volunteers or you tell people to do it -- and we tried both. We tried, both in history and the best way to do it is to get volunteers. Yeah.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Hmm.

SMA Dailey: Yeah.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah, well said. Yeah. And I think you know in having some of these discussions, one of the things that that I tend to do, because I know we're tight on time. Is kind of summarizing some of the takeaways behind your leadership philosophy, and some of the things we covered. And I think the biggest thing is the first point I'm taking away is, you know, when you're in these situations, have that self awareness. And to use, that generalization of combat non combat right, because it allow a different approach of you know that cynicism, or a little bit more casualness versus, you know. Okay, we've got to focus on the task at hand. Yeah, you know, I think this. The second piece is how important it is when you are changing paradigms to not become overly emotional because it can come off as rash and you want to bring data in order to help change the mindset and approach; and the third piece is really embracing the younger generation right embracing it, because every young generation is, is is questioned. In this case it's like, well, they don't work very hard, but in this case they're absorbing a lot more. They're more efficient. Right?

SMA Dailey: Yeah, they're.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Working as hard. They're working smarter.

SMA Dailey: That's right. The and their intelligence level is exponentially higher than ours. It is. And people don't want to admit that. But it's it's it's incredible, the capability I mean. At at 12 years old I just sit over there and watch my son watch watching television while he's writing a book report and typing it like a you know at like a million words a minute, you know, and I'm thinking myself, oh, my God! You know I I can't even do that today, and his ability to focus on multiple tasks simultaneously. Now you know, you gotta yell and make him listen every once in a while. But but hey, exploit the good, you know. Let's figure out what it is that we could do. And you see the generations today they're doing that, I mean. look at, look at the success of folks today that have that proved that this generation is just as capable. But again, I think our biggest demise, though in America is we gotta have a balance right? We have to educate youth on what's best in their interest and then and and sell the fact that there's there's a whole lot of honorable things to do in this nation besides just go on one single path right? That's a very honorable thing to do as well but I think it's critical. I think I I really do and if we don't, if we don't start doing that appropriately, I think we're gonna continue to struggle with things like public service, and you know, service in the military and unfortunately, occupations that are very well paying, very respected occupations in America that that we're we're having to rely on. You know, labor, that for some reason we feel is more appropriate to do it than our own kids. I'll just say it that way, right? It's yeah.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah. And I think a lot of that is just rooted in some of the principles you covered of of, you know, having that self awareness and embracing change and variety, right and differences amongst each other but in a way that's in the best interest of the nation.

SMA Dailey: Absolutely. Yeah. I just want to capitalize to something you know, you open to about the health and just talk about the importance of that if we could for a quick second, because you mentioned my number one leadership tip was: If yelling doesn't make a skinny Pt does. With that, when I give the seminar, I say, and the most important thing you do every day in the army is physical fitness, and that's not from the aspect of just going out there and doing push ups and running. It's staying healthy, eating, healthy, thinking healthy because your fitness, your cap, bill. Everything is influenced by your fitness, your brain, your min, your morale, your everything. And when you bring a young man or woman in the army, and you make them fit. It is amazing. You see, the change in their capability, their confidence. They're they just feel good about themselves. And so I used to remind people every day. You might do more important things on any given day. But the most important thing you do every day in the army is, maintain your level of fitness.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Yeah. Well said, I think people sometimes, you know, try to try to pigeonhole that physical fitness is of just about your physical capabilities, right where it just really impacts. You know everything from. Yeah, your cognitive abilities, your psychological, your mental state. You know your ability to plan and manage your time. There's all these factors that PT forces, these different cascading impacts.

SMA Dailey: Yeah. Bottom line. The best soldiers I've had throughout my 30 years of career are the ones who are physically fit which attributes them to be healthier in their mind and body and soul, and their confidence, capability, and, most importantly, in combat-  resiliency. Right? So you know, somebody that's physically fit that, unfortunately, you know, gets shot has a higher survival rate exponentially from somebody that's not .And it's just so critical. Yeah, so critical. So I'm glad you you brought that point up, but when people hear it they hear the funny, you know, if young doesn't make us skinny PT does. But there's a there's a deeper meaning behind it. It is. It is critically important. And that's why it has and always will be number one. You know, people say, well, 'it's not all about fitness.' Well, it actually is because your brain's not gonna function. If you're not healthy trip.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: That's yeah, and it and it just. And there's the intangibles, too, of actually setting your schedule to make time for that and committing to that and being disciplined, which then leads to that same commitment discipline in the other areas of your day, whether it's family service whatever it may be.

SMA Dailey: Absolutely. Yeah.

Phil Wagner, M.D.: Thank you for the time today -- it was great.

SMA Dailey: Yeah, I wish we'd come back on again. There's all much more we talk about. I wanna thank you for what you're doing and your team there to to help solve some of the Army's physical challenges. You know we've been doing it for a long time, but that doesn't mean we can't get better. I've learned over 30 years is give everybody the time of day because I promise you somebody's gonna educate you so regardless of how much you know. There's somebody out there that's gonna make you smarter on something. So listen and take the time. And you guys did that for me the other day, and I was impressed. With the things you're doing. So thanks for what you're doing there.