Get a Good Night’s Sleep: Interview with Author Matt Drayton


Adam Mendler interviews Sergeant Major Matthew R. Drayton, author of Leading While Black: Leadership Strategies and Lessons for Today’s Black Professional.

I recently went one on one with Sergeant Major Matthew R. Drayton, author of Leading While Black: Leadership Strategies and Lessons for Today’s Black Professional.

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Matt: Thanks for having me. My journey began as a poor boy from Georgia who lost his mother at an early age (6 years old). My father struggled with alcohol after my mother died. We had very limited resources and I struggled mightily with discipline, accountability and accepting authority.

Growing up an only child I became a latch key kid while my father worked, so I was constantly getting into trouble. I took my first (and fortunately only) ride in the back of a police car when I was 11 years old. However, I was fortunate enough to have good people in my neighborhood who watched over me and kept me from getting into serious trouble.

Joining the military after high school forced me to grow up, accept responsibility for my actions and gave me the discipline I badly needed. When I joined the military, I had no intention of making it a career. I joined to get away from home and earn some money. However, I began to enjoy the travel and I kept advancing through the enlisted ranks all the way to Sergeant Major.

During my time in the military, I was exposed to numerous types of leaders, and leadership styles (good and bad). Those experiences taught and showed me what worked and what didn’t in military organizations. I am fortunate to have been exposed to and learned from some of the best military and civilian leaders in the world. This is what I want to share with your audience and future leaders, I believe leaders have an obligation to share their experiences.

Being a leader in the military and being responsible for others’ well-being forced me to learn human behavior and taught me how to motivate people and gave me a true sense of purpose. I am blessed to be able to serve in the US Army. Since retiring from the military, I have written two books, become a speaker, voiceover artist, personal fitness trainer and worked with at risk youth at a nonprofit. I truly feel it’s important to give back and help young people.

I wrote Leading While Black to address many of the leadership challenges I struggled with in the military and corporate life. My primary goal is to make being in a leadership position easier for all current and aspiring leaders. The leadership lessons and strategies in my book can be applied by any leader regardless of race.

Adam: What were the best leadership lessons you learned from your time in the military? 


  1. Listening to team members and getting to know who is on your team is vital. I had a soldier who worked for me whose father was a millionaire. This soldier had a master’s degree and was excellent at solving problems. He joined the military to learn, grow and return to help run his father’s business. I wouldn’t have known that had I not sat and talked with him. The soldier turned out to be a valuable asset to me by providing wise counsel and much-needed friendship. Make an effort to talk with members of your team as often as you can.

  2. Address problems and deal with conflict within your organization as soon as they arise (applies to our personal lives too). We sometimes avoid difficult situations because we don’t want to hurt or disappoint someone. Bad news or bad situations usually don’t get better with time. Addressing problems or conflict as soon as possible will limit the damage and prevent long-term organizational ineffectiveness.

  3. Always have a contingency plan for when projects don’t go as planned or they get derailed. Choosing a single course of action without taking into account potential pitfalls can cause major setbacks for leaders and their organizations. Contingency planning is common in the military but not as much in the private business sector.

  4. Look at situations within your organization through your subordinates’ eyes and understand what is important to them. Doing so allows leaders to see and avoid potential pitfalls. It also helps leaders set realistic expectations. Leaders must also remember they were once where their subordinates are in their careers now.

Adam: What do you believe are the defining qualities of an effective leader?

Matt: I believe an effective leader is one who is honest, confident, competent, and compassionate who also communicates well and takes responsibility. The aforementioned qualities will put a leader in position to succeed and more importantly mold and grow better future leaders. Leaders must be accepting to feedback from their peers and subordinates. Feedback is vital to gauging your effectiveness.

Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level? 

Matt: Allow yourself to be mentored (learn to follow) and observe everything that is happening in your organization (above and below you). Learn as much as you can about your job and those on your team. Be authentic, don’t morph into something you are not to fit in or impress others. Acknowledge and move on from your failures.

Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams? 

Matt: Get to know the members of your team (on a professional and personal level) and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Provide them honest feedback when they perform well and when they are not performing well. Allow team members to contribute and allow them access to you as their leader. Lastly over-communicate (non-linear) so everyone knows what is going on in the organization. Avoid creating toxic work environments by being honest and impartial.

Adam: What do you hope readers take away from your new book? 

Matt: One key takeaway is leadership or the lack thereof is the leading cause of most of the problems the world faces today, both in business and in our personal lives. All leaders face challenges, black leaders face a different set of challenges, however, being a leader (white or black) is a journey worth taking. I also hope readers understand how supporting their leaders and participating in work climate surveys can make things better in their organizations. 
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders? 

Matt: All leaders should lead by example. Leaders are the ones who establish an organization’s culture. Leaders who communicate clearly and lead with compassion see remarkable results. Team members will put in extra effort for a leader who cares about them.

All leaders must also possess great communication skills, both orally and written. When writing correspondence, what a leader writes should be able to stand on its own without any further explanations. Also remember that electronic communication lives forever, review your correspondence prior to sending. Never communicate electronically when you are upset or emotional. I have seen careers altered because of emotional emails.

Being an entrepreneur is very hard work and requires a lot of sacrifice. Most successful entrepreneurs spend years growing their businesses before they start to see a profit. However, being your own boss and being responsible for your own success is extremely gratifying.

Remember, as an entrepreneur you are your brand so be very careful how you present yourself. Especially on social media platforms.

Today’s civic leaders face many difficult challenges from political division, the economy and the ongoing pandemic. Civic leaders must uphold and adhere to the laws and mandates of their state and local governments. They should also learn as much as they can from trusted and verified sources about the issues and problems facing their cities and towns so they can make informed decisions. Representing constituents in government is a huge responsibility. Lastly, if you decide to run for public office and are elected, remember you represent everyone in your district not only those who agree with you.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Matt: Many years ago, one of my mentors told me that a leader should always be able to get a good night’s sleep. He went on to say when leaders knowingly or purposely make wrong decisions or mistreat their team members it keeps them up at night. Conversely, when a leader does what they know or believes is right, they can get a good night’s sleep. I have found this to be true. I have made many mistakes as a leader, but I have always tried to do what’s right and make decisions that were best for my team members. I have shared this information with other leaders, many of whom have come back and told me it was excellent advice.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Matt: Business organizations that are collaborative and have a flat organizational structure can be very productive, however this type of organizational structure can present many challenges for leaders. There have been examples at some flat organizations (like tech companies) of unprofessional and sexist attitudes, formations of cliques, and decisions not being made in a timely manner due to over collaboration. I believe there is no substitute for strong accountable leadership. Having good leaders is vital to an organization’s success. I hope my insights are helpful to you and your audience, thanks again for your time.

Adam Mendler is the CEO of The Veloz Group, where he co-founded and oversees ventures across a wide variety of industries. Adam is also the creator and host of the business and leadership podcast Thirty Minute Mentors, where he goes one on one with America’s most successful people – Fortune 500 CEOs, founders of household name companies, Hall of Fame and Olympic gold medal winning athletes, political and military leaders – for intimate half-hour conversations each week. Adam has written extensively on leadership, management, entrepreneurship, marketing and sales, having authored over 70 articles published in major media outlets including Forbes, Inc. and HuffPost, and has conducted more than 500 one on one interviews with America’s top leaders through his collective media projects. A top leadership speaker, Adam draws upon his insights building and leading businesses and interviewing hundreds of America’s top leaders as a top keynote speaker to businesses, universities and non-profit organizations.

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