Interview with a Multiplier Leader: Kaiser, Lieutenant Colonel USAF

By Karina Wilhelms
Originally published on April 10th, 2017

Mark Kaiser Schmidt

This year we added a new category to our Multiplier of the Year contest. The clear winner of the new Military/Government category was Mark “Kaiser” Schmidt, Lieutenant Colonel of the United States Air Force.

Here’s what his nominator had to say about him:

“Kaiser is the epitome of a military Multiplier. As a commander, Kaiser created a positive work environment that questioned the status quo, welcomed bottom-up feedback, and purposely developed young leaders. His influence and leadership stretches the minds and capabilities of his people. As a Challenger, he seeks opportunities to grow others up and down his chain of command. The service’s top leaders now propagate his leader development program throughout the force.”

We interviewed Kaiser to learn more about how he became a Multiplier leader. This blog post shares his perspective on how he got there and how he views leadership.


Kaiser’s Interview

On Leadership

Leadership means removing obstacles and barriers so that people can do their jobs. It’s developing future leaders, showing them where their growth is, and allowing them to teach and lead others. Leadership means providing world-class mentorship opportunities to your people.

In my role and sector, everyone in your squadron is a fighter pilot; they’re brilliant, well educated, accomplished, but they’re also stubborn, self-determined and passionate. If you get that wrong, you can do some far-reaching damage. But if you do it right, you will create a beautiful being who has a large impact.



My job as their leader is to remove barriers and allow them to challenge themselves in a new way.


— Kaiser



On Using Others at their Highest Level of Contribution

A Multiplier makes sure that everyone under or around him or her is used to their highest level of contribution.

I first had to get to know them and figure out their interest, likes, and passions. They know what the central mission is: to educate people who are learning to be fighter pilots. But there’s the above and beyond the job. For that you have to understand what they enjoy, to ask them to do more. If you ask them to do additional things they love, they’ll invest themselves whole-heartedly and hit it out of the park.

When I communicate to my people, I use 5 words:

I need you to do this because you’re a talented person
I believe you can do this
I trust you
• I’m proud of you
I love you, and I love what you’re doing

I had heard a talk by Jack Welch and Bill Hybels where they said, “Scrap the long eloquent talks and just let them know clearly that you care about them.” Rather than having them buy into your agenda, you buy in to them and their capabilities.

Love is not a word used often in the military. You cannot use it lightly. If you do use it, you better mean it.

What drives me is the love and passion that I feel towards these people who are much more talented than I am. Their wives and families sacrifice incredibly – they move often, and have to adjust to each new place. I can’t help but feel an overwhelming amount of love for them and their families.

On Identifying and Providing Growth Opportunities

I believe that anyone who is in the military wants to grow. So it’s less about asking “Do they want to grow?”, and more about asking, “Where do they need to grow? And in what area should they grow?”

The growth needed may not be in a military area. My job as their leader is to remove barriers and allow them to challenge themselves in a new way. It’s harder when it’s an area where they need to grow but they may not currently see it or want to grow in that area.

In that situation, I share that I also need to grow in that area. If I’m asking someone to develop in that area that I’m also weak, I need to be vulnerable. I ask them to join me to work on this area in their life too.

The impact on that person is the most exciting part. There’s a legacy that happens when you leave and hear stories about what people are now doing. People are writing papers on what Liz Wiseman or Bill Hybels taught them. That’s how we know it sticks. They are continuing the work even after I’ve moved on and they don’t report to me any more. It’s incredibly rewarding for me as a leader that they continue doing this growth work because they love it.



What helps is if I display my own shortcomings. All it takes is asking one question to expose it. Then you can get into a rich conversation about how to get better.


— Kaiser



On Creating an Environment that Requires People’s Best Thinking and Work

In our world, we get evaluated a lot. You fly, you get back, and you debrief. You tell them how to get better. This makes it hard to get people to open up, admit fault, and get better. I didn’t know how to do this correctly until I read a book called Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone.

Now when I’m coaching someone for improvement, I try to keep evaluations out of the conversation. If I do that, it they respond better because these fighter pilots already know where they are underperforming. They get immediate feedback all the time. What helps is if I display my own shortcomings. All it takes is asking one question to expose it. Then you can get into a rich conversation about how to get better.

On Decision Making

One of the biggest drivers for decision-making is my wife, Shontelle. She has such a great perspective not only about what’s going on, but she has enormous empathy for the people involved and who will be affected by the decision. I can’t think of any decision I’ve made without consulting a mentor, an expert, or my wife –especially my wife, because she thinks so differently than the military and with so much empathy.

When I reflect back, it was always when I’d react quickly and not seek out wise council that I’d have to make apologies for bad decisions.



There is genuine excitement when you give someone an assignment and you know he or she is the perfect person for the job.


— Kaiser



On Handing Ownership Over to Others

I first had to let them know that if they didn’t accomplish it, it wasn’t them failing, it was me who would have failed. I trusted them; I believed in them; I knew they could accomplish it. And that if they failed, I was the one who failed. Either the guidance I gave was not complete, the resources weren’t there, or it was the wrong season of life to give it to them, just not the right assignment for them. My people knew they would not get thrown under the bus or exposed. They knew that if they failed, the fault of ownership would be with me. If it went well, it would be theirs to enjoy the accolades.

There is genuine excitement when you give someone an assignment and you know he or she is the perfect person for the job. There’s a sense of, “Wow, I can’t wait to see what this person does. I don’t want to give you too much guidance because I’m excited to see what you come up with and produce.” The result was typically so much better than I thought it was going to be or imagined.

Reflections on My Path to Multiplier Leadership

I thought I had this leadership stuff figured out, and then I started opening up to leadership teaching outside the military – non-military types. It made me think differently about leadership. In particular female leaders like Liz Wiseman, Brene Brown, and Sheila Heen. They have taught me more in the past 5 years than their male counterparts.

You must branch out and learn – especially from a group or population that is different than you have exposure from. Women in leadership positions provided content and knowledge that I had never heard before.

Also, none of this could have happened if I didn’t have bosses who taught me how to do this. I was offered mentorship and guidance at the right time. My superiors had us go and present this model to our commander, they taped it, and now they play it for commander courses – as a model approach to leading your people.

Currently Kaiser is a student in Washington DC at the National War college, learning how to be a strategic thinker for our government.

Kaiser and his squad

Mark Kaiser Schmidt 2
Mark Kaiser Schmidt 3

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