What's with the Saber?

Here's the original "saber" that still hangs in my office today from my time in Tiger Squadron, 3rd ACR

Here's the original "saber" that still hangs in my office today from my time in Tiger Squadron, 3rd ACR


I’ve always been looking for the edge.

It all started in the US Cavalry. In college I was an English major from a pacifist family who really had no business as a cavalryman – at first. For the early part of my post-military career I worked to soften the cavalrymen image. The first few years were tough. Imagine General Patton in an HR executive meeting about performance management and you’ll understand. I learned about DiSC, MBTI, and EQ. I studied Situational Leadership, Change Management, and goal setting theory. I dove deep in the “soft skills” trying to prevent myself from wounding others with the “edge” of the cavalryman’s saber.

I learned a huge amount about myself, how I operate, and what motivates me. In the process, I was getting strong results – and people noticed. They saw me forming new productive habits while shedding some of the rough spots. People started asking to join my teams. After a while, people began to ask for help. They wanted to learn how to grow, change, and achieve their goals. I coached my team, my peers, and leaders across several organizations on personal productivity, career transitions, team development, culture, and organizational change. All the while I kept learning. I invested in a Master’s in Organizational Psychology because I wanted to keep my skills sharp (and because a close friend challenged me and said that by not going back to school I looked “lazy” on my resume). I read hundreds of leadership books, took courses, watched recorded webinars, and even watched videotaped interviews and debriefs to see how people made hiring decisions. At one point someone asked me what my superpower was. I had no idea. They asked me what one thing had I done over the last 20 years that other people might not have done. And there it was. My edge. I had invested more time in personal development and coaching than anyone I knew. I had dramatically changed my life and had impacted others along the way.

So, if I spent so much time moving away from the saber, why did I choose it as the name for my business, right?! What I know now is that I was struggling with my identity. I felt I could be gentle OR have an edge. But it was an AND all along. I can be a gentle man and still have an edge.

Everyone is talking about authenticity – acting in a way that is consistent with their beliefs. And by not embracing the saber, I felt I wasn’t being true to myself. The truth is that I loved my time in the Calvary. And as much as I tried to soften, I consistently operated with a bit of an edge. In my coaching, I challenge people. I (gently) push them into new situations because I know learning happens at the edge of comfort zones. I use edgy humor often because I love to laugh (at myself and the situation). I use edgy language and curse (sometimes) to make a point and because it adds emphasis. I push myself to be better in all aspects of my life. I’m constantly seeking the edge for myself and my clients. When it came time to look for a business name, I had to look at the roots of my coaching. And it all started in the US Cavalry.

I am a cavalryman at my core. In my coaching, I bring 20+ years of experience in personal and professional development. But I also bring the edge. I bring with me some of the key lessons I learned from the Cav.

Lesson 1: USE YOUR SENSES (Scouts out)

When looking to make changes, you must use all of your senses. The Cavalry is often used for reconnaissance. You put the “Scouts Out” in front on the edge of change to understand the situation, find the strengths/weaknesses of your enemy, and gather intelligence on the objective. Putting the scouts out means that there is some risk – they are at the forward edge of the battlefield. They need to stay razor sharp because they don’t know what they may discover. They probe. They test. They learn.

In my coaching, I encourage clients to test and learn. If they want a new job, we look for informational interviews. If they want to build their speaking skills, we observe great speakers and find micro-opportunities with low stakes to try. When clients move just past the boundaries of comfort, they start to learn. They put their scouts out and start the recon.

Lesson 2: embrace the attitude (elite units)

The first night I was in the Cav, we had a huge pig roast on top of a big hill where we played tanker games (e.g. capture the “maiden”) and consumed a fair share of the grog. I know – classy. At one point a veteran cavalryman yelled, “If you ain’t Cav…” The rest of the Squadron replied “…you ain’t S&#t!” Welcome to the Cav. The Cav is the most mobile of the combat arms. It’s a cut above a “regular” tank unit. There is a huge amount of pride within the Cav. It’s noble (despite the phrasing above). Even the uniform is different. We wore Stetsons and spurs with our uniform. It just looks badass. And there is this attitude that comes with the Cav.

This is how I think about my clients. It takes a rare breed to reach out to a coach to grow and develop. It shows that level of “eliteness”. Most of my clients are already very, very good. But they want more. With elite teams, people discuss what comes first – the attitude or the performance? I think it’s the attitude. If you want to get the edge, why not start by believing you already have it?

lesson 3: grow strengths (better weapons)

First came man*. Then man with club. Then man with club on horse. Man with steel. Man with steel on horse. Upgraded weaponry provides an advantage. When you need an edge on the battlefield, you call for the Cav. There is something about that bugle call. You summon the Cav and they are ready to roll. You call in the Cav when you have a slight advantage and want to hear news of the victory – Longshanks style. Better weapons are better tools.

I work with clients to assess their current strengths. We work together to determine what we need to add to the arsenal. We distill the principles, select the tools, apply, and advance. Lather, rinse, repeat. 

lesson 4: decisive action (cavalry charge)

Jim Collins writes about “firing bullets, then cannonballs.” Once the Cav has probed and tested the enemy, they MOVE when they have an advantage. They hear that bugle call and GO! It’s what Tony Robbins calls “taking MASSIVE ACTION.” Once the Cav gains an edge, they can be pushed through the head of a pin to the critical point on the battlefield. And they move with speed.

This is where the edge comes in with my clients. We’ve tested. We’ve got the attitude. We’ve upgraded the weapons. Now it’s time to move. I help my clients see the decisive moment and encourage them to execute. This is not for the faint of heart.

Lesson 5: learning the lessons (After Action Review)

At the end of every mission, we circled the wagons and had an “After Action Review” session. We discussed what went well, what didn’t go well, and what we need to do differently in the future. Every mission. Without fail. I’ve continued this process in every aspect of my life. After taking action, I look at the results and ask the three questions. This process provides the opportunity for infinite growth over time.

My clients and I do this as well. If they’ve taken the action (or not), we discuss. What went well, what didn’t, and what could they do next time.  We are constantly moving the edge of the battlefield further and further out. We establish new boundaries. We capture new ground. And once the process is in place, they turn the flywheel on their own. Learn the lessons and then go your own way. I’m available for support, but after a while you won’t need it.

If you were wondering about the saber – that’s the story. I thought about other names – Edge, Elevate, Boost, ChallengeU (that was a favorite for a while), Sharpenthesaw, Ignite, Foundations, Great to Exceptional, and a lot of others. But the saber felt right. It’s sharp. It honored my history. It was authentic. It captured the edge.

I’ll meet you at the edge…

- Mike Sweeney, www.sabercoaching.com 

 *I get that this is debatable. It fit the flow of the wording better…apologies.