John L. Gronski, Major General, USA (Ret.) is CEO & Founder of Leader Grove LLC (www.LeaderGrove.com). He is the author of “The Ride of Our Lives: Lessons on Life, Leadership, and Love”. John is a much sought-after speaker & leadership seminar facilitator.
John served for over 40 years in the Army on active duty & in the PA National Guard. Assignments included DCG USAREUR (ARNG), 37th Commanding General of the 28th Infantry Division, & Commander of 2nd BDE, 28ID in Ramadi, Iraq (2005-06). He also served in Lithuania from 2000 to 2001. He spoke with Joel about leadership in and out of the military and the ride of his life.
Rounding the Bases with Joel Goldberg Podcast was created to share the stories of men and women in business and entrepreneurship that are both well knowing and or hidden gems. Joel believes that everyone has a story and their story matters which is why Joel is eager to connect with individuals that are bringing value to their community through innovation, leadership, entrepreneurial journeys, and developing company culture. If you would like to be a guest on Joel’s podcast please email us at email@example.com.
JOHN GRONSKI TRANSCRIPT
Joel Goldberg: Welcome in the rounding the bases, the podcast about leadership and culture with a baseball twist. My name is Joel Goldberg and thanks once again for joining.
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Joel Goldberg: Great information here storytelling and that’ll definitely be the case with my guest today. Also, I have a daily video podcast rounding the bases live if you search for that on YouTube and
Joel Goldberg: Facebook and all those places. Those are daily, but these are a little bit of a deeper dive.
Joel Goldberg: Weekly, and my guest today, and I’ve said this many times before that I I love talking to members or former members of the military because the culture has to be right in the military.
Joel Goldberg: It doesn’t mean it’s perfect. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t mistakes. But if the culture with a baseball team.
Joel Goldberg: ultimately leads to wins and losses, the culture of the military potentially could lead to life or death, or at least keep life going and you know when I went over to Kuwait.
Joel Goldberg: On the royals USO tour George Brett. The Hall of Fame their basement had said to so many of the troops that we talked to that.
Joel Goldberg: Look, I, I’m in the Hall of Fame for being successful 30% of the time you guys make one mistake over here and it could come at a major cost. And so I think about that all the time. And I’m really fortunate. On this episode to be joined.
Joel Goldberg: By retired two star general Major General John Gronski who that alone would be great. I would love the conversation. But there’s a really, really interesting story to tell. Along the way that involves a very long shall we say bike ride john thanks for joining the podcast.
John Gronski: Hey, Joel, thank you for hosting me. I’m so happy to be with you today.
Joel Goldberg: Well you know you and I have had the chance to get to know each other a little bit still getting to know each other. And now I feel like with this book that you sent me
Joel Goldberg: The ride of our lives lessons on life leadership and love and I’m working my way through the book right now at a pace that probably matched your journey across the country, you know,
Joel Goldberg: methodically through and it’s actually a really easy read and it’s a
Joel Goldberg: Phenomenal story with with so many heartwarming lessons in there. We’ll get to that in a minute. How are you doing in your post military life living in Pennsylvania.
John Gronski: Yeah, that transition is going well I retired from the Army last June, so it’s been about a year now that I’ve been retired.
John Gronski: I am president of a leadership consulting firm now leader Grove professional speaker, I can. I was able to write that book, you talked about so
John Gronski: Things are going very well, even in this environment with Covid and some of the other issues we have going on in our country which concern me things are going very well with with my life. So thank you for asking.
Joel Goldberg: Well, you spent a lot of years in the military. So thank you, of course, for your service. But I, as I learned when I went over on that USO tour.
Joel Goldberg: Really the thanks of course it should go to the members of the military, but I always feel like the group that’s forgotten often is the family.
Joel Goldberg: Because what I heard over there from the men and women were hey we’re just doing our jobs, and I know that there’s a humility to that.
Joel Goldberg: Hey we signed up for it. We chose to do this. But it’s that wife or husband or significant other at home and the kids that are really ultimately the ones making that sacrifice. So I think about that one all the time. I want to ask you about that. I mean, ultimately,
Joel Goldberg: That is the greatest team, right, that that support system to allow you to do that.
John Gronski: Yeah, I actually talk about that a lot. How important to families are, you know, a soldier would not be able to do their job without the support of the family.
John Gronski: The other thing is, it’s the soldier that volunteers, but it’s it’s the family who has to bear the brunt of what’s going on with the deployments and that type of thing. You know, when
John Gronski: When I deployed overseas. You know, it’s my wife that is back at home, still taking care of everything is is I’m doing my job over there.
John Gronski: And when she does her job well back home and allows me to to focus. And then the other thing I like to talk about to
John Gronski: Military personnel, but this really goes for anybody in the civilian workforce as well, you know, in the army. We have leadership values, one of the values is loyalty
John Gronski: But when we talk about loyalty. It’s Natalie being loyal to one unit or organization. It’s also about being loyal to one’s family.
John Gronski: So whether you’re in the military, whether you’re in a large corporation or a smaller business, whatever you have to allow yourself to to spend time with the family and devote the necessary time to the family as well.
Joel Goldberg: It’s a lot and you certainly have a lifetime’s worth of experience now in your career, probably around mid 60s is a low, I would say, I’m guessing that that you’re still guy that is in great shape and active. You look at and and i think i have a bit of an idea of
Joel Goldberg: Of how you’re wired. What, if anything, do you miss from the military. You’re obviously in that post military life and you’re taking those lessons and you’re
Joel Goldberg: You’re helping people’s lives and companies with with your consultancy and and with all of your other endeavors are the elements that you miss from your days as the general or even before that.
John Gronski: Yeah. You know, it’s funny you ask that question because I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, for some reason, and and I really miss
John Gronski: Just being with the soldiers, you know, just just being able to go out and visit units visit soldiers. See how they’re doing, you know, have those conversations with them.
John Gronski: You know, leading soldiers. I mean, that whole aspect, you know, is what I miss most about about the military, it’s the people I served with and I just don’t have that daily interaction with such a fine group of Americans that are used to have.
Joel Goldberg: And that’s, years and years worth of being involved in that. Right. If we go back to if I’m
Joel Goldberg: Getting your bio correct from back in 1978 2019. How about your evolution and I’m always fascinated by leadership brilliant in anything. So take, for instance, the baseball manager that suddenly is the
Joel Goldberg: The new manager and he has to be able to prove himself to his guys, he has to be able to lead.
Joel Goldberg: Guys that move up in roles I ever remember a player saying to me once you know i i think i can be a leader here in this clubhouse, but
Joel Goldberg: It’s not my time yet there are guys that have that. And I’ve got to be careful that I don’t overstep my bounds and that I know where my places. So to go from 1978 to where you were at the end.
Joel Goldberg: Deputy commanding general of the United States Army in Europe, that’s a pretty big gap between those two. WHAT WAS JOHN Brodsky in 1978 versus general GRAND SCHEME towards the end. What were the differences
John Gronski: A lot of knowledge, a lot, a lot of wisdom that I’ve gained over the years because because I’ve made mistakes. You know, I think there’s this old story about a young soldier talking to an older general and said, you know, what’s the secret to your success. And the general said
John Gronski: You know, make make no mistakes. And he said, Well, you know, how do you not make no mistakes and he said through experience. And he said, How do you gain experience in the general said from making mistakes. And so, you know, it’s just really
John Gronski: And I think any successful leader. It’s what you do when you make those mistakes and how you learn from those mistakes that is going to pave the road towards success or not.
John Gronski: And fortunately, I’ve had some great mentors and I’ve had some great people working for me that have helped pick me up when I’ve made a mistake and put me back on my feet and and help me keep going along the way.
Joel Goldberg: What were your earlier responsibilities when when you were in the military as a youngster. What type of roles. Did you have
John Gronski: Yeah, when, when I first got my commission in 1978 I went on active duty. I was actually a Medical Service Corps officer, which meant that I was a platoon leader.
John Gronski: And a medical platoon a platoon that actually ran an aid station that’s supported in armor battalion. And so I had about oh, about 40 soldiers working for me. And again, back in 78 more of an analog time than it is today and
John Gronski: I had some good and CEOs, some good sergeants, who were working for me, who really acted as my mentors and and and and helped me learn how to lead soldiers.
John Gronski: And so that that was my initial responsibility. Then when I left active duty after four years and joined the Pennsylvania National Guard I branch transferred to Infantry
John Gronski: Which was one of the best things I ever did had an opportunity to go to ranger school
John Gronski: And the infantry officer advanced course the resident course at Fort Benning. So really helped me become a proficient infantry officer and was a company commander battalion commander.
John Gronski: Commander two different brigades, and you know, right up until I commanded the 28th Infantry Division. So again, just just learning a lot along the way and having a lot, lot of good people alongside me to help me learn
Joel Goldberg: I want to talk to you more about the 28th Infantry Division and a bit because I know and you told me this on the last call that we had, as we got to know each other that
Joel Goldberg: That was certainly a dangerous time and a very dangerous place. And so I want to talk to you about that but you mentioned ranger school I was
Joel Goldberg: I was listening back recently to an interview that I had on this podcast with a former Army Ranger, who’s here in my area now in Kansas City, and he he’s the CEO and founder of a Cattle Company, and he talked about having to bring the remains
Joel Goldberg: Of his brother in law home from Afghanistan and this was his sister’s husband and he said, his name is Patrick Banca me phenomenal guy. I’d love to connect you guys some point but he
Joel Goldberg: You know, it was one of the worst and HARDEST THINGS YOU EVER HAD TO DO THIS MAN Jeremy was essentially like his brother, they dreamed of going into business one day.
Joel Goldberg: But he said it was also the greatest honor of his life to be able to do that. And then it took me years
Joel Goldberg: To get over that and I’m just guessing I shared that story because when I hear a story like that.
Joel Goldberg: As as a civilian that’s never spent time in the military. Some, some days here and there, embedded with some groups, whether it be over in Kuwait or down in Panama, with some some TV assignments, way back when.
Joel Goldberg: But when I hear that one story. My jaw drops that I can’t believe it. And I’m not suggesting that you’re desensitized to it.
Joel Goldberg: But as I’m telling you that story. I’m guessing you’ve heard versions or seen versions of that before. And I’m wondering how that changes your perspective and, you know, and your outlook on life when you’ve been so close or seen so much death.
John Gronski: Yeah, you know, when I command at the second brigade 28th Infantry Division over in Ramadi Iraq in 2005 2006 very violent time
John Gronski: Sadly, I lost 82 of my soldiers and Marines over there. They were killed in action.
John Gronski: And we had another over 260 who were wounded seriously enough where they had to be evacuated back to United States. So it was very violent, a lot of death. A lot of a lot of wounds and
John Gronski: Actually Mike McLaughlin, who was Lieutenant Colonel over there working with me, we became very good friends over there.
John Gronski: And he was killed by a suicide bomber on January 5 2006 and that was very difficult. Actually, for every everybody we lost it was very difficult for me.
John Gronski: But you just know that all of these great soldiers and Marines who were with me over there.
John Gronski: They signed up, you know, they volunteered because they felt we have a great country and the sacrifice that we’re making was was worth it for the type of country we have. So they were doing what they wanted to do.
John Gronski: The ones I really, I still get kind of choked up about when I think about the families, you know, that have that knock on the door.
John Gronski: And we’re told that their, their loved one was, was killed. I really feel bad for the families because those families are going to live without loss.
John Gronski: till the day they die and and there’s, you know, we owe the families a debt that we will never be able to repay. And so that that’s what I’m saying. By the most of all.
Joel Goldberg: I wonder to leadership during times like that. And I thought about this a lot. And this you know what the beauty of podcasting, people might be listening to this, the day that it is
Joel Goldberg: Released or they might listen to it in two years. But, you know, as you and I are talking right now and about the middle of July 2020 we’re still in this pandemic, we have seen
Joel Goldberg: I believe, just some amazing leadership and probably some not so good. I, I always feel like in times of adversity you really learn a lot about people.
Joel Goldberg: What were those times of adversity like specifically in Ramadi where you’re needing to lead and you know you have eyes on you from the highest level of officers, looking at you.
Joel Goldberg: I don’t care how experienced and how much knowledge you have, and at that point in your career. I’m sure you had a ton of knowledge. I know you did, how challenging and what were some of your strategies in leading at a time where you’re in such a scary and dangerous place.
John Gronski: Yeah. Um, well, first of all, you know, people ask me how you do that. And the way you do it as a leader you know people are counting on you. So you have no choice but to lead. I mean, it’s your duty to
John Gronski: A few of the things that I recall was the importance of of communicating purpose to our soldiers and Marines, because again, being over there Ramadi very violent
John Gronski: Every day could kind of seem like Groundhog Day to soldiers, you know, their buddies getting killed or wounded of, you know, on a daily or weekly basis.
John Gronski: And it was important for me to articulate a purpose and the purpose I articulated
John Gronski: To the brigade over there is, hey, where were conducting these operations in Ramadi 7000 miles away from our families in order to keep
John Gronski: Our we’re fighting the insurgents over here in order to keep our families or friends and all americans safer back home and United States, so that was the. That was the purpose and I articulated that purpose every chance, like I got
John Gronski: Probably. I didn’t have to. Because I think most of those soldiers and Marines. Got it. But, but I think they they they needed to hear that now and then.
John Gronski: And then the other thing I did is I put out these success cards monthly because you know I have 5000 Marines and soldiers in the brigade, they were spread from Ramadi ALL THE WAY TOWARD THE
John Gronski: East and happening. So it was a very large area we’re recovering a lot of these soldiers conducting these patrols everyday kind of got into their own little bubble
John Gronski: And maybe not were not aware of all the great success. We were having so i i would on a monthly basis, you know, put out
John Gronski: The success card. So the soldiers and Marines could see, you know, the great success. We were actually having there because sometimes it might be an
John Gronski: Invisible some of these soldiers on them because success, such as how many insert insurgents. We had to attain you know maybe how many schoolchildren, we had helped
John Gronski: You know how many caches of weapons we had found that we took off the street, so they couldn’t be used against innocent Iraqi civilians.
John Gronski: So, those, those type of successes or something I communicated regularly so people can see that, hey, you know it you know it’s a pretty tough job. You know, we’re slugging it out here but but overall, we’re having a great deal of success. I thought that was very important.
Joel Goldberg: And there’s an element there that that you’re talking about, I think about providing hope or or focusing
Joel Goldberg: On the positives. Right. And then you can’t ignore the negatives. I think our minds in general tend to either dwell or shift to the negative. It’s always say, why do we, why do we often hear the negative voice in our head. And why does that
Joel Goldberg: Outweigh the positive. And so how much of that role is making sure that they see that positive
Joel Goldberg: At a time. And I do think this applies to times. Like right now, maybe it’s not life and death. But we’re dealing with mental health, we’re dealing with financial struggles, we’re dealing with, with dreams.
Joel Goldberg: washing away. And to me, it’s I’ve always been a glass half full type of guy. Hey, what what positive. Can we find in this, what can we do, you mentioned groundhogs day
Joel Goldberg: This is not groundhogs day in Ramadi but it is Groundhog’s Day for a lot of people in terms of some hopelessness and all of that. So where does that role rank in terms of leadership in picking people up.
John Gronski: Yeah, I think it’s extremely important. I talk a lot about resiliency and it’s not only about a leader being resilient, but it’s how, how does a leader help his followers or her followers
John Gronski: To be resilient. I think one of the aspects of resiliency is exhibiting positive energy
John Gronski: You know, I think we’ve all been around people who we could define as energy sponges, where they just kind of SAP, the energy away from everybody around them, you know, I mean, in a baseball clubhouse. You don’t want an energy sponge in there.
John Gronski: And in any organization. You don’t want an energy sponge you want somebody who’s going to generate energy.
John Gronski: And and that means being optimistic being hopeful. Yes, you have to be pragmatic, you know, you can’t whitewash stuff because
John Gronski: You know, you’re going to lose credibility with followers. If you ignore some of the hardships and some of the difficulties.
John Gronski: But you have to, you have to be able to provide that hope you have to be able to provide that optimism and generate energy.
John Gronski: In order to to keep everybody on track with with achieving the ultimate goal that you’re trying to achieve whatever that might be for whatever organization you’re leading
Joel Goldberg: What was your take.
Joel Goldberg: Either at the time, or looking back in terms of your role in Ramadi because it would, you know, I’m sure you mentioned it. I’m sure you think about those 82 lives lost in the 200 was a 260 plus injured over there. I’m sure that never goes away.
Joel Goldberg: But I know that you guys also did a lot of good what in hindsight now, we’ve got some distance from there. And then of course we see more conflicts popping up around the world all the time, and there are others that are now and
Joel Goldberg: In your shoes. But when you look back, what are you most proud of.
John Gronski: Yeah, I’m most proud of the fact that even in very violent trying chaotic situations are soldiers.
John Gronski: And Marines adhere to our military values they treated the Iraqi people with dignity and respect, even though it’s sometimes hard to tell who to get bad guy from the good guy was
John Gronski: They treated you know the the insurgents that we had to attain with dignity and respect and
John Gronski: You know, Governor moon, who was the governor of Al Anbar province. I’ll tell you a quick story. I tried to make this really quick, but
John Gronski: He he he was to Governor Val Anbar province. The capital city was Ramadi so I had to deal with him regularly.
John Gronski: I met with them at least once a week, and I would always tell them about American values about the values of our soldiers and Marines.
John Gronski: One time he had to have a medical procedure conducted and because Ramadi was so dysfunctional. He couldn’t have that medical procedure done in Ramadi we had a transport him about two hours east of Baghdad.
John Gronski: To an American military treatment facility there and he was away for two weeks when he comes back. He calls me to his office.
John Gronski: And usually, at a big entourage in his office as everybody to leave only three people in his office to Governor myself and my interpreter
John Gronski: And he sat down beside me and he said, you know, Colonel GRAND SCHEME many times you’ve you’ve told me about American values about
John Gronski: The values of the Marines and soldiers. I never really knew what you were trying to tell me, but when I was at that American medical clinic in Baghdad.
John Gronski: I watched my own eyes how a wounded and surgeon was brought to the trauma center there and I watched how your American medics and nurses and doctors
John Gronski: Struggled to save the life of that and surgeon and he said, I could not believe how hard you Americans worked to save the life of one of your enemies.
John Gronski: And he said, now I finally know what you were trying to tell me about American values and and and he really turned his trust toward us 180 degrees. After that point, because he sobered his own eyes. When I was verbally trying to tell them about the type of people we are
Joel Goldberg: So that was ultimately trust.
John Gronski: Absolutely. And the best way. The best way to to gain trust in an organization is is by
John Gronski: You know, showing good character and and and concrete integrity and at hearing to your values, even when times are tough. And if you could do that as a leader in any organization, you are going to generate trust in the organization.
Joel Goldberg: could not agree with you more. That’s an unbelievable story I it also is a story that speaks to the culture, I believe, of the military. And as you said, American values to how would you sum up the culture.
Joel Goldberg: Of the military and this will be across all branches. I know that your, your focus in leading was was army and Marines, as you were commanding, how would you sum up the military culture.
John Gronski: Yeah, I would say an emphasis on character and values. That’s foundational and then an emphasis on hard realistic training.
John Gronski: Because our, our whole intent of being ready is to deter our adversaries. So we never have to fight them. But if we do have to fight to to win our nation’s wars, so that that’s the whole culture of all of our military services.
Joel Goldberg: So I want to get back to well before those times, and a stretch of months that I would guess, in many ways, helped you become who you were.
Joel Goldberg: Because, okay. This might not be living in the most dangerous place like Ramadi and bullets flying left and right and and all that. However, this was personal and and goes very deep. I
Joel Goldberg: I don’t know. Let’s see. So you should now have nine through 13 like a 37 year old son, maybe I would guess somewhere around there.
Joel Goldberg: Exactly 3838 now. He doesn’t remember this, although I am sure that he has heard it many, many, many times. But actually, if I read correctly, it was your other son. I think that convinced you to write this book, The ride of our lives lessons on life leadership and love. Let’s start with this.
Joel Goldberg: What in the world. Were you thinking
Joel Goldberg: Which is a question everybody asked you at the time in 1983
John Gronski: Yeah, you know, when I was 20 years old in 1976. It was our Bicentennial as you remember
John Gronski: This bicycle organization called Bicentennial created this route you know wasn’t a bike route, per se, but it was just kind of a recommended route along regular roads from
John Gronski: Oregon to Virginia and and i was enthralled and captivated by the stories of people bicycling across the United States. You know, usually takes people about three months.
John Gronski: And so it was just a dream of mine, you know, since I was 20 years old. So when I was in my late 20s.
John Gronski: Left the military up in Tacoma, Washington and my wife and I were living up there, you know, we were both working and we decided to move back to northeastern Pennsylvania.
John Gronski: And I thought, man, what an ideal time the bicycle across the country. We were transitioning between jobs. We were on the West Coast, going back to the east coast.
John Gronski: And of course, we had a young son when we started to talk about the trip. It was a year old at the time when we actually started a trip he was 15 months old and and
John Gronski: We just didn’t let the fact that we had a young son stop us from going on this adventure and
John Gronski: I bought a bicycle trailer that, uh, I was able to pull Stephen across the country and and we had, you know, bike.
John Gronski: panniers bike bicycle bags on our bicycles that we had our gear and we had a two man backpacking tend to sleeping bags of one burner camping stove and
John Gronski: Took a circuitous route of just over 4000 Miles three months on the road camping and then now and then staying at people’s homes and meeting such wonderful people. And we just had a fantastic adventure in 1983 during that bicycle trip.
Joel Goldberg: You described yourself and your wife birdie as as hippies and certainly got a lot of those looks as you are riding through Washington and Oregon and
Joel Goldberg: And on and on and a lot of scares and a lot of challenges. I thought it fascinating. You’re clearly a very detail oriented hands on guy that just after the first day.
Joel Goldberg: You found out, and you didn’t want to tell your wife you guys were, you know, still younger and you know somewhat newer to each other. And, you know, had fallen in love and then had Stephen but
Joel Goldberg: That the bike didn’t feel right. And then you came to find out later that she was having the same issues, but you didn’t want to tell her, and she didn’t want to tell you something as simple as accounting for weight diapers and things like that. Right.
John Gronski: Yeah, yeah, it was, you know, the trick when you’re going to be doing a long distance bike trip like that and you’re carrying your own gear is to make sure the packs.
John Gronski: Way the same on each side of your bicycle and you know I read something that said that and, you know, being, you know, thinking I knew everything. I guess I didn’t pay much attention to it. But after making that first 30 mile leg of this long journey.
John Gronski: And we stayed at a friend’s house that night. Man, I weighed those packs very precisely, and made sure I jettison stuff. We really didn’t need in order to make that trip a little bit more comfortable for both of us.
Joel Goldberg: And and you also had to make sure that Stephen was not just comfortable, but I remember you writing about that image of him chucking toys out the back in the day, you had to be able to make sure that that wasn’t happening anymore.
John Gronski: Yeah, you know, before we started a trip. We did some test runs with the trailer and, you know, he would be throwing toys out the back of the trailer and my wife and I have to stop and pick them up. So we went to a
John Gronski: Tent mad manufacturer in Tacoma, Washington and had to make a screen for the back of the trailer to prevent him from throwing toys out the back but allowing him still to get the nice air flow coming in.
Joel Goldberg: He got to go along for the ride. I you obviously both have to be in amazing shape to be able to do that but you know there are a lot of elements along the way. Literally and figuratively.
Joel Goldberg: That come up that you have to deal with how often war. This is, you know, well before you ended up being in places like Ramadi but
Joel Goldberg: Yet you’re having to make sure that your wife and your, you know, your infant are safe, there’s a lot of pressure on the line there from a personal standpoint, how harrowing were some of those moments.
John Gronski: Well, I think the most harrowing moment we had was an Oregon. When we came face to face with a runaway bull on a rural road.
John Gronski: And I like to talk about divine intervention and truly we were on this rural road hadn’t seen a car in about 30 minutes or so because sparsely populated area of Oregon.
John Gronski: And this we see this bull coming toward us, and must have broken out of a farmer’s field.
John Gronski: He started literally pulling it to ground and blowing steam out of its nose. I thought that only happened in cartoons. But I swear to God, that’s what happened.
John Gronski: And we were trying to figure out, what do we do, you know, because we just had come down to steep hill wasn’t going to be too easy to go back up that hill.
John Gronski: Outta nowhere this farm. I assume he was a farmer, because he was in coveralls and a baseball cap pulls up in a big old car rolls down his window.
John Gronski: And says, Looks like you folks got yourselves in a bit of trouble, don’t you, if we said, We sure do.
John Gronski: And he said, This is what we’re going to do, he said, you keep your bikes to the left of my car. I’m going to keep the ball to the right of my car and we’re going to keep on going down this road for at least a half a mile before we stop.
John Gronski: And he ran interference, for us, kind of like an offensive guard leading interference for a running back we passed that bold went down another half mile or so before we stopped and I wanted to pull that farm router the car and give him a big hug and a kiss.
John Gronski: She was smart enough not to get out of the car. So I couldn’t do that.
John Gronski: But, uh,
John Gronski: You know place that divine intervention. I truly believe and I I truly believe a greater power is looking out for us that day.
Joel Goldberg: What were some of the more interesting spots on the way, I’m looking through the route you certainly came through my neck of the woods or close to it and then eventually into the the Ozarks. But you guys covered a lot of states, looking at the roundhouse how unique or some of those spots.
John Gronski: Yeah, coming through coming through the Cascades in Oregon was just beautiful.
John Gronski: The Snake River and Idaho. We crossed the Rockies in Wyoming and then coming down through Colorado just gorgeous scenery or
John Gronski: I mean every state has its own beauty, but I like to say, and we talked a little bit about this, it wasn’t so much about the scenery was about the people we met along the way.
John Gronski: We had so many nice people that we encountered a fellow cross country cyclists. We met two Frenchmen from France roller skating across the United States. And oh,
Joel Goldberg: My gosh.
John Gronski: Yeah. And the third brother was on a bicycle. So two brothers roller skating. The other
John Gronski: Brother on a bicycle carrying their gear. They were all from France and then Meta just just so many nice people that would invite us into their home, you know, they would, they would see a cycling into their small town.
John Gronski: And again, you’re on a bicycle. So you’re vulnerable. You know, you’re easy for people to come up and approach.
John Gronski: And they would start to talk to us and say, You know what, you know, we’d love to have you stay tonight will, you know, have some home cooked meals and
John Gronski: Able to take a shower now and then and then again you know there were some
John Gronski: Some weeks at a time when we didn’t take a shower at all because, you know, we didn’t have any campgrounds to stay up. We had to stay behind town parks or I should say in town parks or whatever the case might be.
John Gronski: So, you know, there were some challenging times, along with some of the great people we met in the nice times that we have
Joel Goldberg: Well, I thought it really interesting in the book, a couple of things. One, a lot of things, but one that you guys became celebrities, whether it be out throughout the country word had been passed along about the the young couple with the with the baby or the newborn and
Joel Goldberg: And then the second was you were doing regular radio updates at a time where we didn’t have cell phones or anything like that how the. How did that all go in terms of of your regular radio appearances in 1983
John Gronski: Yeah, that one. Well the main reason we did that, it was a radio station in northeastern Pennsylvania and you know we were raising money for the Scranton Boys and Girls Club at that time was just called the Scranton boys club.
John Gronski: And because I went there when I was in high school and really enjoyed the time I had at the boys club.
John Gronski: And so, you know, in an effort to bring visibility to that effort. You know, I did these about a weekly interview with the local radio station.
John Gronski: Get progress reports I had people, you know, it’s been 40 YEARS SINCE WE DID THE STRIP. I have people 2025 years later come up to me and tell me
John Gronski: Hey, I remember hearing the reports on the radio about you and your wife and son. And it just really spurred a lot of interest. And then when we finally made it to music Pennsylvania my hometown.
John Gronski: They were probably about the newspapers report that there were 1000 people there to greet us when we arrived back and moves that can, it was, it was just a really nice celebration. When we returned home.
Joel Goldberg: And the great equalizer you came to find out was Stephen
Joel Goldberg: How, how did that affect the dynamic and the relationship of the people you came across along the way that I’m sure at times were looking at you a little bit funny, like, Wait a minute, you know, who are these people
John Gronski: You know you are exactly right. It was really Stephen who opened all these doors for us when people saw you know our baby you know
John Gronski: He was 15 months old. We started 18 months old and we finished the trip.
John Gronski: Their, their hearts would just open up and you know that’s one of the reasons they wanted to invite us to stay at their house and
John Gronski: I was just a pleasure doing this as a family to. I mean, how many opportunities as a father and a mother have the time to spend. I mean,
John Gronski: You know, three months continually together with with their young son. So it really bonded us and you know to this day were very, very close family and we have a special relationship. And I think largely has to do with that trip that we took.
Joel Goldberg: Yeah, I wanted to, I wanted to ask you more about that and Neil not getting too personal but ease your relationship with your wife, and you guys been married for a long time now.
Joel Goldberg: At a higher level because of that trip. I know it’s been a lot of years, but on a whole lot of couples can sit there and say at a young age or any age for that matter that they’ve biked across the country and lived to tell about it.
John Gronski: Yeah, for sure. We figured that bicycle trip was either going to cause us to get a divorce immediately.
John Gronski: Or, or, you know, be the cement that was going to keep us together for a long time.
John Gronski: And September. We’re going to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. So, it ended up being the cement that that kept us together but
John Gronski: You know it’s real. We were only we were married, less than three years and we started that trip. So we were really still newlyweds. We’re still trying to figure each other out and doing that challenging adventure together really created a special bond.
John Gronski: You know, between us, that I think a lot of other couples maybe haven’t had an opportunity to experience and we still talk about that trip and some of the lessons we learned from that pure up pretty often.
Joel Goldberg: What do you think, Stephen got out of it. That’s a weird question because 15 to 18 months all but I know
Joel Goldberg: Just at the beginning of the book, you said to my son Stephen who’s grid and hardiness inspire me. This is a trip that I know he’s heard about a million times, but he clearly doesn’t remember it, but didn’t have some type of some type of effect on him.
John Gronski: I think it did because even to this day, you know, Stephen was in the Marines.
John Gronski: He is a gritty hardy person who has had the ability to overcome adversity in his own right and and I think perhaps you know that trip against set a good foundation for him.
John Gronski: He had the constant attention of his mother and father during this very formative time in his life. He knew he was loved that was very clear to them.
John Gronski: And I think it has provided him a great foundation to continue to to be a you know a great father himself now and and just have a good fulfilling life.
Joel Goldberg: This book came out this year. So it’s a newer book 2020 the ride of our lives lessons on life leadership and love by john grande ski retired two star general and
Joel Goldberg: So if one of the central figures of this book is Stephen and your wife birdie. And you and then all the people you met along the way.
Joel Goldberg: It was your other son Timothy who helped inspire you to do this. How did this project come about.
John Gronski: Yeah, you know, Timothy wasn’t even born when we took the trip and and
John Gronski: That this year. You know, I should say in 2019 after I retired from the army came back from Europe after being over there for three years.
John Gronski: Sitting around a fire pit with my son Timothy one of our favorite things to do.
John Gronski: And he started asking me questions about the bicycle trip. And for some reason, you know, I don’t know why didn’t
John Gronski: You know, didn’t really get into great conversations over the years with them about it. So starting to tell some stories.
John Gronski: Of course, that led to a lot of laughs a lot of good stories. And he goes, Dad, you should write a book about this trip. And then I talked to my wife, Becky about and she said you know john
John Gronski: For nothing else to have a documented for your sons and your grandchildren. You know, I do think you should write the book and then
John Gronski: Obviously I’ve had such a passion for leadership over the years that I wanted to really make it more than just a book about this adventure, but also put a leadership component into it.
John Gronski: And so that’s exactly what I did. So I think at its heart, it’s a leadership book, but it’s also a great way to tell leadership lessons through an adventure story that’s quite unusual.
Joel Goldberg: Yeah, and it’s a love story too. I mean, it, it is and
Joel Goldberg: And I just turned the pronunciation. See, I was off on that. I don’t have the Austrian, you know, knowledge, but your wife Berti was born.
Joel Goldberg: In Australia in. And now, here she is connected with a with a guy you guys said
Joel Goldberg: You know, Matt in Georgia and now you’re on this bike ride. I mean, she’s, she’s got to be wired like you to be willing to, you don’t just say maybe I’ll try this clearly you guys are are an amazing match.
Joel Goldberg: I am curious and I told you a, I wanted to ask this. Before I get to my baseball themes questions.
Joel Goldberg: The spirit of people. And you’ve seen that spirit across the world. When you talked about the governor in Iraq and what he came to understand
Joel Goldberg: There was a spirit there to him and an awakening to him.
Joel Goldberg: We see so many differences in the world. And just in this country right now. And they’ve always been there in some ways or another, they’re
Joel Goldberg: They’re more obvious right now because of social media because of of the instantaneous ability to voice your opinion. Oftentimes, without a name or a face to it, which is
Joel Goldberg: A whole nother topic and one that’s detrimental, I believe, to society, but I believe, at least at heart. People are good. I really do believe that most
Joel Goldberg: I’m wondering what you saw as you traverse the country in the human spirit. And if you think that same human spirit exists today. If you were to go on that same bike ride today. Would you encounter something similar.
John Gronski: I absolutely believe that I would I really think people are just as helpful and and and wanting to reach out and and open their hearts and doors to people as they as they’ve ever been.
John Gronski: I think the average American is like that. That’s what America is all about helping other people
John Gronski: That’s why so many people want to come to our country. So yes, I think if I made that that if I started out on the same adventure tomorrow.
John Gronski: I have no doubt that I would continue to run into such fantastic people i mean i i since I got out of the military, but just been, you know, a new network, a new group of friends, a new group of people. I’ve been meeting and they’re fantastic. So yes, I do think the
John Gronski: The spirit of humanity is alive and well and United States today.
Joel Goldberg: Which is heartwarming at a time where we need some of that that gets back to that positivity and leadership to and I agree with you on that. There’s a lot that goes on on the daily basis that really can make so many of us question the
Joel Goldberg: You know state of of all of our lives. But at heart. I’ll get back to I think people are good and want to help even that the pictures in here so breathtaking if for no other reason than to to see the the future, future general with the big beard and
Joel Goldberg: Yeah, I’m sure. Stephen like seeing the picture in the overalls, but there’s this picture on page 67 and I hope people will buy the book.
Joel Goldberg: With this big banner up above you, that says Welcome home, Captain john el grande ski verity and Stephen. What was that like to get back home and have that in my mind I think of that as like the hero’s welcome when someone comes back from overseas. This was a cross country journey.
John Gronski: You know that that was the doing of my father.
John Gronski: And he was he was very, very proud of the fact that I served in the military. He was a World War Two veteran.
John Gronski: So, so he was very happy about the fact that I joined the army and and he he didn’t quite know what was going on with this fight trip, you know, because he was
John Gronski: A guy who was born back in the 19 teens and he just worked hard, his whole life. He was a grinder and but he supported our trip, and he was proud of the fact that we made this trip and he he’s the one who made sure that banner was hanging across the street, as we entered back into music
Joel Goldberg: Pretty, pretty cool. Okay. Baseball themed questions. First one.
Joel Goldberg: Professionally speaking, whether this be military while, whether this be what you’re doing right now book, whatever it is, your endeavors outside of marrying Berkeley, because we know that’s the ultimate home run. What’s the biggest home run. You’ve had yeah
John Gronski: I’d say, I’ll put it this way, the biggest honor. I’ve had was to honor to combine those soldiers and Marines in Ramadi Iraq. I mean, that certainly was. And then I was very, very
John Gronski: Fortunate I’ve had good luck my entire life fortunate to be able to command the 28th Infantry Division 15,000 soldiers throughout the state of Pennsylvania and some surrounding states and then the three years, we spent over at US Army Europe, you know, from 2016 to 2019
John Gronski: We’re phenomenally and my wife has been able to spend those three years over in Europe with me being very close to her home in Austria and there were such outstanding soldiers who serve in US Army York and throughout Europe.
John Gronski: Working with our NATO allies that it was just a phenomenal. So I would say it was kind of that grouping of outstanding assignments that I’ve been fortunate to have
Joel Goldberg: It’s great stuff. Second question biggest swing and miss. You’ve taken and what did you learn from it.
John Gronski: Yeah, you know,
John Gronski: When I think of that question. I think of. And I’m not trying to be falsely humble here but but the myriad of mistakes I’ve made throughout my life really starting from the time I
John Gronski: graduated from college and enter the army and then continue to serve in the military, and then also in the civilian sector.
John Gronski: And it was just a culmination of a lot of
John Gronski: Wrong turns, I would make. And then people who would get me back on the right path. It’s hard to say one big swing and miss. I guess I guess if I had to pick one thing you know i i did spend a year in a PhD program that I that I
John Gronski: Decided to end and I never pick that back up again. So perhaps that could be a swing and a miss. But I’ll tell you honestly, Joel. I’ve just been so blessed my whole life.
John Gronski: To have the career I’ve had, and to have the friends I’ve had, and to have the people in my life who would be able to mentor me and guide me
John Gronski: It’s hard for me to think of one big swing and miss. And I’ll just say this again, I don’t want to take too much of your time up here. But even in the bike.
John Gronski: Bicycle book I wrote on this bicycle trip I wrote in there somewhere that
John Gronski: You know, sometimes you have to make a decision whether go to go east or whether to go south or whatever your come to a crossroad. You got to make a decision which direction ago
John Gronski: And I say in the book that what whenever we had to make that decision about which way to go. And we made that decision. We never made the wrong decision.
John Gronski: Because if you go into those decisions with the right attitude. You’re not. You’re never going to have to look back and and i really don’t look back on anything but any regrets.
Joel Goldberg: Having confidence in what you’re doing and then conviction with with those decisions last baseball themed question. It’s the small ball question.
Joel Goldberg: What are the little things the bumps. The sacrifices, the single that add up to the big things the home runs. What are the small ball elements that you feel are important. Yeah.
John Gronski: I really firmly believe that character is foundational and and really
John Gronski: Taking the time to identify what your core values are as a human being as a person and then
John Gronski: Identify what is your life purpose and then focus on adhering to those values, even when times are tough and, you know,
John Gronski: Pretty easy to adhere to your values and good times when, when does that you’re back and you’re saying like along
John Gronski: But when times get a little bit tough, that’s when you really have to buckle down
John Gronski: And adhere to your core values and and by doing that and understand what your ultimate purposes. I think that’s the small ball item.
John Gronski: That really helps someone be be successful. And when I say successful. I’m not just talking about monetary success or positional success, but just being successful as a human being, we could look yourself in the mirror and really feel good about the way you’re living your life.
Joel Goldberg: That applies to everyone no matter what they do. I couldn’t agree more with that for final questions.
Joel Goldberg: As we round the bases. The first question you were recently on a much more famous podcast than this. And I think that that anyone
Joel Goldberg: That enjoys studying leadership has heard read seeing the name Jocko willing Jocko willing and he’s a former Navy SEAL his
Joel Goldberg: Book his podcasts are just incredible. Tell me about that experience. And I’m sure you’re used to guys that are intense from your background, but he seems to me to be about as intense as they come.
John Gronski: Yeah, you know, he wrote that book. Extreme Ownership which is really all about taking responsibility for your actions taken your responsibility as a leader Jocko and I serve together over in Ramadi
John Gronski: He arrived in April 2006 I ended up leaving after spending a year there in in June of 2006 so we served together for about two months. So we knew each other over there.
John Gronski: He certainly is a hero, you know, Silver Star recipient and he has done just so much with helping others developed to become stronger leaders.
John Gronski: He is a what you see is what you get guy really great guy and and I enjoyed spending the time I did when I flew out to San Diego to be on this this podcast and just just just really a great experience to be on his podcast, not quite as fun as it is to be on your podcast.
Joel Goldberg: Oh, not, not now. That’s the first. That’s the first full of, you know what, I guess I could say, I could say that. I gotta check the box.
Joel Goldberg: That’s the first thing that I don’t believe that you’ve said this whole thing, not that we’re not enjoying this one I should have flown you out to Kansas City. I thought that was interesting, though, that you told me that that
Joel Goldberg: He flies his guests out to San Diego. He won’t do it virtually, you’ve got to be there.
John Gronski: Yeah, you got to be there or my understanding is sometimes he’ll be in another part of the country, but all of his podcast, as far as I know our face to
Joel Goldberg: Face.
John Gronski: Whether it be in San Diego, where they’re being another part of the country that he happens to be in
Joel Goldberg: Really interesting stuff. Second question, as we round the bases. I’ll stick with the military theme for this one. Is there a general
Joel Goldberg: In history and then you know you ended up being a two star general Major General, is there a general in the long history of this country that you have studied the most or that that you admired the most
John Gronski: Yeah, I really admired General Grant. I think he showed a great deal of tenacity that last, you know, you’re so of the Civil War.
John Gronski: And admire him I admire some contemporary generals and mean hell more who fought in your drink Valley and Vietnam and has that great book that you wrote with Joe Galloway we were soldiers once in young
John Gronski: Certainly a hero. Another dear friend of mine, Lieutenant General retired David E Grange, Jr. He’s in his mid 90s live sort of sun in North Carolina and
John Gronski: The best Ranger trophy is named in his honor. He’s had three combat jumps one in world war two as a private another one in Korea as a lieutenant another one in Vietnam as a colonel. So just, just a tremendous a hero of mine who I admire very much. But yes, there’s been several
Joel Goldberg: Third question, as we round the bases. We talked about your, your long bike ride across the country what in these days now in your 60s is the thrill the, I don’t know if I can call you a thrill seeker. You guys went out on a mission back in 1983 but clearly there are
Joel Goldberg: There are elements to your life that might scare off others that you are not scared of what would give you a thrill at this point.
John Gronski: Well you know I mean I’ve jumped out of airplanes before, you know, not, not as many jumps, as some people have. But I do have more takeoffs and landings and an airplane.
John Gronski: And. And one thing I do every year. That is a challenge for me. And I do believe people have to place themselves out of their comfort zone.
John Gronski: Whether it be physically, mentally, whatever the case I do this 28 mile ruck march every year and I do it in honor of have fallen warrior.
John Gronski: And it’s an annual event that we do with 14 in town gap, Pennsylvania, usually get about 1000 people there and a 28 mile ruck march over
John Gronski: mountainous terrain with 35 pounds in the rock is a pretty hard thing to do physically I’m 64 now. So it’s becoming more and more of a strain.
John Gronski: But again, it’s just a physical challenge that I like to train up to and do and my wife and I, by the way, still bicycle, a lot. We just did 23 Miles yesterday will probably do about 20 or 30 tomorrow and we still like to get out there and hike together walk together and cycle together.
Joel Goldberg: It’s amazing. All these years later, still at it and going strong. Final question is around the basis the walk off question. I feel like you’re just getting started in a lot of ways.
Joel Goldberg: With the with the website with your leadership, certainly the book and and people can find out more about john and his services at john grant ski.com je R n SK I calm and there’s a great newsletter on there just a lot about leadership, what, where, where do you want to take this next
John Gronski: Yeah, I want you know I’m a professional speaker. So I would like to take that to the next level. I’m working on a second book the working title is general leadership rules.
John Gronski: I hope to have that out, perhaps in the default or some time into winter and I’m a leadership consultant, so I I love to coach executives. I love to go into organizations and and
John Gronski: Delivered my leadership seminars, I tell a lot of stories live inspirational stories, a lot of lessons that could be applied to the business world, and that’s what I love to do. I’m passionate about it.
Joel Goldberg: Well, it’s amazing. Again johngronski.com and then the book, I would highly recommend it. It’s an easy read. It’s a fun read.
Joel Goldberg: And an informative one to the right of our lives lessons on life leadership and love by john Brodsky check out the website. Subscribe to the newsletter.
Joel Goldberg: This has been a lot of fun. Also, go check them out on the Jocko podcast too and everything else general John Gronski. I’m glad that we’ve had the opportunity to just get to start to know each other. I’ve learned more about you from this podcast. I really appreciate you spending the time
John Gronski: Joe I tell you I i I’ve listened to your podcast. Many times I really enjoy a lot of lessons here and thank you for everything you do to get some good messages out there to help people learn and grow.
Joel Goldberg: I appreciate that. That means a lot. And that’s the goal and will continue to do that, certainly did that with this episode. So again, if you want to reach JOHN. JOHN grant ski.com. You can reach me at Joel Goldberg media.com
Joel Goldberg: And I appreciate everyone listening again share this subscribe five star ratings are great and I hope to catch you next time on rounding the bases
Rounding the Bases with Joel Goldberg Podcast was created to share the stories of men and women in business and entrepreneurship that are both well knowing and or hidden gems. Joel believes that everyone has a story and their story matters which is why Joel is eager to connect with individuals that are bringing value to their community through innovation, leadership, entrepreneurial journeys, and developing company culture. If you would like to be a guest on Joel’s podcast please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.