Karen Baetzel | BattleAxe Consulting (Episode 505)

Karen Baetzel | BattleAxe Consulting (Episode 505)

Karen Baetzel | BattleAxe Consulting (Episode 505)

Karen Baetzel (@BattleAxe57) started BattleAxe Consulting to sharpen leaders — for work and for life — through experiential and multi-channel training using military aviation principles.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Learn about military aviation culture and what helpful tips it can teach us about attention and respect.
  • Understand the crucial difference between procedure and technique.
  • Why are precision language habits necessary?
  • If you aren’t doing your leadership “dirty work,” then who is?
  • Find out what this self-described “battleaxe” wishes civilians knew about leadership and service.
  • And so much more…


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Everyone can benefit from clearer objective identification, knowing how to plan and decide, figuring out how to execute, and upping presence and ability to “command.” These skills build extreme equity in the workplace, but also in every aspect of life.

In this episode of The Art of Charm, we talk to BattleAxe Consulting’s Karen Baetzel. She has a unique background of military, non-profit, and corporate leadership, and dedicates her efforts to sharing the lessons of servant leadership and inspired living — both to pay it back and pay it forward.

More About This Show

Captain Karen Baetzel retired from the United States Navy after 30 years of service, and she’s one of the few naval aviators qualified as an aircraft commander in fly helicopters and propeller and jet aircraft, amassing over 2,000 military flight hours in six aircraft types and serving aboard seven ships. So if you think of her as just another self-appointed leadership coach, you’re missing the point. “I am not a leadership coach,” she says. “I don’t even know what that means! I am a practitioner. This is 30 years of military experience and then another eight years in the corporate world; I learned it through a lifetime of service to this country.”

Karen has found that so many leadership skills she learned in the military transfer quite readily into the civilian world, and that’s how BattleAxe Consulting (taking its moniker from Karen’s Navy nickname) got its start.

Karen tells us that the military — no matter what service, and no matter what era — is excellent at teaching people, first and foremost, to be a part of a team. To become a leader of such a team, you have to learn how to follow. The focus isn’t on the individual, but on how individuals work together to get a job done. “That doesn’t mean that you’re a kiss-butt or that you’re a mindless drudge, despite what you might see in Hollywood,” says Karen. “It means you know how to play your role as part of a team. And when your leader falls in a hole somewhere, you know what’s expected of you.”

Procedure Vs. Technique

As a young aviator learning the ropes, Karen quickly discovered the difference between procedure and technique.

Procedure: A standardized, non-optional regulation that can’t be changed on a whim. It’s consensually arrived at, written down, and consistently applicable. It’s a must-do. Karen gives the example of landing procedure for an airplane, with a very specific criteria. The crew knows a whole litany of procedures backwards and forwards to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Technique: The way an individual complies with a procedure.

“The problem is when people confuse the difference between a procedure and a technique,” says Karen. “It is at the base of so many arguments, and this applies outside the cockpit, in the workplace, and in personal relationships. I see it all the time. And I always go back to that convention and say: are we arguing about procedure, or are we arguing about a technique?”

In the military, adherence to procedures is reinforced by regular inspections. But in a civilian office, for example, various techniques employed by different leaders over the years may have replaced the original procedures, blurring their initial intent. “They’re living on an oral history and passed-down technique and they can’t understand why they’re not delivering the product they want,” says Karen. So it’s important to keep procedural manuals handy and regularly consulted instead of letting them gather dust in some forgotten closet.

Precision Language Habits

“When you’re in a low-context environment like the cockpit,” says Karen, “where there’s not a lot of subtlety, you have to use the right words. Not only so people will understand you, but so they cannot misunderstand you — which are two different things. Aviation teaches us to be very precise in our language. You’re competing on a tactical frequency with other military entities, so you have to be precise. The precision and the acuity of the words is critical.”

Karen gives us the example of a plane that crashed when it ran out of fuel — simply because the crew didn’t properly convey the severity of the situation when applying for clearance to land.

In another example, countless lives were endangered on landing when a subordinate in the know was instructed by the captain to simply follow orders and shut up. Now, there are specific words and phrases in place that allow free communication between crew members of any rank to avoid crisis without disturbing protocol.

Leadership Dirty Work

“If you are doing your job as a leader,” says Karen, “and you are doing your mission of any consequence, it is not possible to keep everybody happy. And if you try and do that, Colin Powell once said famously, ‘The quickest way to mediocrity is to please everybody.’

“But there are times when, as a leader, you have to do what I call the dirty work of leadership. If you weren’t the leader, you wouldn’t have to make the decision. For example, let’s say you’re managing a project in the civilian world and you’re over hours and over budget and somebody’s hours are going to get cut or you’re going to have to lay somebody off. It’s not possible for you to make everybody happy in that circumstance, but you still have to do your duty.

“I think we need to tell people and shape people’s expectations of being a leader, from time to time, is going to require that. And that’s what a good leader does. Sometimes they have to make the hard call and people are going to be unhappy. You do it with sensitivity and you’ve communicated, and there are ways to do it well, but there’s really no honest way to avoid it. If you’re not doing the dirty work, one of two things are happening: first, it’s not getting done at all, which means you’re failing your duty to your boss, or somebody else is doing it for you, and that’s not fair. You can’t delegate your dirty work to other people — not if you’re a good leader.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about how a superior officer earned Karen’s loyalty before they’d even met, the difference between military and civilian training, what Karen wishes civilians knew about leadership and service, and lots more.


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