Matthew Drayton of Drayton Communications: Lessons I Learned From My Military Experience about How To Survive And Thrive During A Time Of Crisis


Acknowledge your part or your failures in the crisis if there are any. Leaders who own up to their failures are respected and forgiven for them in most cases.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Author Matt Drayton, US Army Retired.

Sergeant Major Matthew R. Drayton spent 20+ years in the US Army, sixteen of those years working with elite Special Operations forces. He is a decorated combat veteran who has led and mentored hundreds of people. Today, he is an author, corporate speaker, consultant, voice actor, certified personal trainer, and leadership expert with business experience in government and commercial commerce. Matt has been featured in the Huffington Post, LA Times, Sirius XM, BBC Radio and Newsweek.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

Thanks for having me. My journey began as a young 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 and accepting orders from anyone in a position of authority.

Growing up an only child I became a latch key kid while my father worked, and 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. I joined the military after high school and had the opportunity to serve for 20+ years.

I wrote Leading While Black to address many of the leadership challenges I struggled with in the military and corporate sector as a black man. 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 are applicable to any leader regardless of race.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

Today I am an author and I support multiple organizations that work in support of helping young people; Youth for Christ (YFC) Ministries and The Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF). YFC provides after school and other programs to assist young people nationwide. The SOWF provides college educational opportunities assistance (preparation and resources) to Gold Star children (children of deceased military) and children of Medal of Honor recipients.

I also work with young people via one-on-one mentoring. I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of Gold Star children about what to expect and how to be successful during their first year in college. I received really good feedback from the students and the SOWF staff. I also attended the Marine Corps basic training graduation of one of my mentees, who struggled with behavioral issues as a young man. This was truly special and gave me great pride.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I joined the US Army after high school and served on active duty for 26 years. I traveled extensively during my career and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I spent 16 years serving with the United States Special Operations Command. I retired at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Military service 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 become financially independent. 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 various leaders and leadership styles (good and bad). Those experiences showed me what did and didn’t work within organizations. I am fortunate to have been exposed to and learned from some of the best military and civilian leaders in the world.

Being a leader in the military and being responsible for others well-being allowed me to learn human behavior and taught me how to motivate people while giving me a true sense of purpose. Serving in the military also provided me valuable leadership training and put me in situations that helped me with problem solving and crisis management. I am blessed to be able to have served in the US Army. Since my retirement, I have written two books, become a speaker, voice over artist, personal fitness trainer and worked with at-risk youth at a nonprofit organization. I truly feel it’s important to give back and help young people. The training and experiences during my military career has helped me immensely as a civilian.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career?

In 2003 President Bush visited Fort Bragg to thank the troops for their support against the War on Terror. That day, President Bush gave one of the best speeches I ever heard him make. There were no media present for this speech. What was more impressive is the President stayed behind after his speech and shook every hand of the service members in attendance. The President’s Secret Service detail was freaking out because so many people were that close to him. I will never forget that day. I came away with a new found respect for President Bush after that speech.

We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

I was sitting at my desk at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on 11 Sept 2001 when the coordinated terrorist attacks in NY, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania began to unfold. I remember how shocked and totally caught off guard we were as a nation as the terrorist attacks unfolded. On that day America basically came to a halt. All flights were cancelled, POTUS was flying around on Air Force One and the US Military went on high alert.

Within a few days, Special Operations Forces received a warning order to conduct a direct response to the terrorist attacks. We began to plan and conduct rehearsals and within a month a mission was launched to conduct operations deep into the heart of Taliban territory in Afghanistan (Objective Gecko).

This was a very complex and dangerous mission culminating with an assault on the Taliban leader’s compound. In Kandahar. As I listened from Fort Bragg as Special Operations Forces touched down, I felt overwhelmed with pride. Within weeks, the United States had put forces directly into the living room of the terrorists who attacked our country. Some of the soldiers who went on the mission left FDNY badges in the compound to show America’s reach and America’s resolve.

I was fortunate enough to speak with some of the men who went on that mission after they returned. These men are true heroes.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

My definition of a hero is someone who does an act to help, save or protect someone or an ideal without concern for their own life or safety. I was fortunate enough to witness heroism many times during my career displayed by the men and women in our armed forces.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?

Yes, without a doubt. The military helped me prepare for both. My service in the military afforded me an opportunity to attend various leadership academies and exposed me to a wide variety of senior leaders who were accomplished, talented, and very successful.

I owe my ability to lead, manage, organize, and communicate effectively to my military service. I was placed in my first leadership position in the military in my early 20s. From that point forward I was thrust into situations where critical decision making, and crisis management were required. I was also taught very early in my military career how important it was to take care of your team members and have compassion.

However, if I had to pick two traits that separates leaders with military experience from their counterparts is their ability to make timely decisions and maintain calm during crisis. I believe these are two critical attributes all effective leaders possess.

None of us can achieve success without help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There were so many people that helped me become successful during my career, there are way too many to name. However, one person who stood out early on in my life was Mr. Richardson, the first African-American supervisor I ever worked for. Mr. Richardson was a well-dressed man who always wore a crisp shirt and tie.

Mr. Richardson was very articulate, competent, and soft spoken. What stood out most to me was how much all the team members and customers liked and respected him. There were not many black men with white collar management jobs where I grew up, so I really looked up to him. I would pick Mr. Richardson’s brain as often as he would allow me to. I never forgot Mr. Richardson. He made a positive impact on me.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?

I define a crisis as a difficult situation or events that are unforeseen and chaotic that require immediate attention.

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

Leaders should always have a contingency plan for when a crisis arises, or a project doesn’t go as planned or gets derailed. Choosing a single plan of action without considering potential pitfalls or events that may happen can cause major setbacks for leaders and their organizations. Contingency planning can be something as simple as having back-up equipment for a video tele-conference or as complex as sending two executives on an overseas business trip in case one of them falls ill.

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis? What should they do next?

The first thing you should do when you realize you are in a crisis is remain calm and bring your team in at the outset of the crisis. As a leader if you are calm in crisis, your calmness permeates throughout your team. By addressing crisis as soon as they arise, you limit the damage that can be caused.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

I believe being an experienced confident leader and having a calm demeanor are major advantages during a crisis. Leaders with experience are exposed to many pitfalls and crisis during their careers, which provides a reserve of problem-solving strategies to choose from when a crisis arises. Leaders with calm demeanors exude confidence during crisis, which instills confidence in their team members allowing them to perform well under pressure.

When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

I was blessed to have served with and work for many leaders who possesses the traits I mentioned. One who comes to mind is my platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Boyd, who I served with in South Korea. SFC Boyd was always prepared and confident whenever a crisis arose. Our team was always able to adapt quickly and change course to address crisis under her leadership.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

My father passed away unexpectedly one week before I was scheduled to deploy for an overseas tour. As an only child, I was responsible for planning my father’s funeral and settling of all his affairs.

I was given two weeks to take care of my father’s estate, get my family back to my home base in Virginia and report for my overseas assignment. I was overcome with grief and guilt but was forced to make a lot of important decisions on a very short timeline.

When I reported for my assignment overseas, I struggled with focus, but overtime was able to recover from the grief I was feeling and regain focus. I learned that life would throw you unexpected circumstances that you have to deal with. This was a personal crisis that when I look back on, I feel I handled well.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Plan for contingencies to limit or avert crisis in your organizations. Having a backup plan allows organizations to react quickly and solve crises more efficiently.
  2. Accept you have a crisis and address it as soon as it arises. Recognize small early indicators within your organization that could evolve into a full-blown crisis.
  3. Remain calm and confident during crisis. This allows you to think clearly and instill confidence in your team.
  4. Acknowledge your part or your failures in the crisis if there are any. Leaders who own up to their failures are respected and forgiven for them in most cases.
  5. Conduct comprehensive analysis after a crisis in your organization has been resolved to capture what happened, why it happened, and how it can be prevented from happening in the future.

Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would create more educational and leadership programs, and internship opportunities for young people, especially for those who are under resourced and at risk. I truly believe for a species to survive they must provide for their young.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

This one is hard. I would love to speak with President Obama to get an understanding of the challenges he faced as President, as well as ask him what enabled him to remain patient and upbeat during his eight-year presidency.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me via my website My social media accounts are listed and linked here:

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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