What Can Seal Training Teach You about Leadership?

Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special OperationsSealTraining Command, gave the 2014, University of Texas at Austin, commencement address.The theme of the address was the graduation event marks the beginning where the graduates will have the opportunity to change the world.

To guide them in pursuits, Admiral Rosen shared the benefit of his experience from undergoing the demanding training to become a Navy Seal. Seal training seeks to find those who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships. While the commencement address was directed at how each person could use this advice at a personal level, I saw significant parallels in a business context.

Adm. Rosen organized his comments into 10 life lessons that he learned from his Seal training. Using the same organization titles I have applied a business context to each one. While his examples (click here to read the complete commencement address) were to help on a personal level, these same lessons are applicable to running and leading a business.

Start off by making your bed.
It is important to do the little things right if you expect big things to happen. In the scheme of things, making a bed is low on the list of someone who will be called upon to serve in combat.  If, however, the little things are not done right then the ability to be successful in combat may be compromised.
The same is true in business in that big successes are often the result of the completion of many small processes, some may characterize them as trivial.  When these processes are performed consistently and accurately, each and every time, they establish the foundation of a brand, reputation, and a customer experience that will result in a business win.
Find someone to help you paddle.
You will not be successful in business without relying upon others who understand the needs of the business and do their jobs well. You need to stimulate teamwork, which results in everyone focused on the same objective, pulling together to maximize the combined impact of his or her skills, experience and ability.
Measure people by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
There is a tendency to judge who will be the best based on personal appearance or self-promotion. They look and sound good but can they really produce.  Don’t overlook those who may not measure up by how they look or sound.  The bottom line is do they work well with others, is everything always all about them or others, do they create a positive work environment, and do they persevere in the face of unexpected challenges and see things through to the end.
Get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
Adversity, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, is part of being in business.  If owning and running a business were a cakewalk, anyone could be in the corner office. Prepare your self for the fact that you are there to handle the things that don’t go well, even if they are not the result of your own actions.  You are a problem solver.  You have the capability to work outside of the box to keep things on track. It is easy to be recognized when things go well.  Deal with the problems with the same positive attitude that you handle success.
Don’t be afraid of the circuses.
Do not avoid adversity and the steps necessary to overcome it and eliminate it from your business.  It can be discouraging and frustrating when the same problems occur repeatedly. The corrective action steps may be onerous and time consuming to retrain those in the process where the problem is occurring. However, by repeatedly facing these “problem spots” you will convey how important it is for the organization to do things right, each and every time, no matter how trivial. Your effort and commitment will build stronger individuals and more robust business processes.
Sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle headfirst.
Some obstacles in business will not have obvious ways to avoid them or reduce the impact on your business. However, over time you will see opportunities to either avoid or significantly reduce their impact in terms of time, money, or quality but it will require you to step out of your comfort zone and take measures that would be called risky.  However, properly planned, executed and successfully done, will result in an improved business process and most likely a competitive advantage.
Don’t back down from the sharks.
Do not shy away from challenges in your business.  Stand firm and square your resources up against them as they occur and deal with them.  Avoiding or putting them off erodes your confidence and raises questions in your organization about your leadership ability.  Successfully dealing with a challenge instills confidence and energy in an organization, which is extremely valuable in facing the next challenge.
You must be your very best in the darkest moment.
You will face dark times in your business and this is when you will need to draw on your ability to be calm, composed, and focused on the basics of your business. No matter how dark the moment or bleak the circumstance, you are to be the source of strength in your business.
Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
In times of business chaos, it is very productive to get your mind and that of the team or organization off of their immediate predicament.  Focus on micro-successes, give them encouragement wherever possible, be the source of humor where appropriate – in short give those around you hope that their circumstances will change despite evidence to the contrary.
Don’t ever, ever ring the bell.
There is always the option of quitting or giving up when there are difficult circumstances. There are times when it would be easy to quit and not face a troubling circumstance. You may find yourself on the precipice of doing this when you are worn down.  If you give up (“ring the bell”) even on small issues you are setting the tone for those around you.  As the leader, you have to be the one who hangs in there, giving encouragement to others, and you will find those around you doing the same.

I have tremendous respect for those who have completed Seal training, as it represents the ability of people to be taken to the limits of their physical and mental ability, to complete six months of arduous training.  Not everyone is equipped for this level of physical and mental experience but the lessons are very valuable – particularly if you desire to be a leader.

You do not have to be a graduate of Seal training to be a good leader but you can certainly benefit from the lessons of this training and how it should be applied to your work experience and professional career. Leadership in business can be very taxing, frustrating and mentally demanding.

Applying the lessons from Seal training to survive constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships can help you deal with tough times and what will appear to be insurmountable challenges that occur in running a business.

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