Valuable leadership principles learned in military operations can be effectively applied to leaders in the civilian world. However, complacency and comfort zones are often the barriers to such success. Being moved to join the military after watching the towers fall on 9/11 was a turning point that broke these barriers for this Navy SEAL.
Members of a Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) team have to “earn their trident everyday.” Hard work and determination through any circumstances are necessary, but the key is to push beyond comfort zones in order to gain a sense of humility, which in turn is the greatest weapon to have in an ever-changing and dangerous world. The same philosophy for success could be applied to civilian leaders and teams.
Being a “Teamguy”
One challenge that many teams face is the ability to disseminate information and, more importantly, have the grit (inspiration) to push the team to the next level. When leaders are underprepared to rapidly read and react to various situations, the entire team is put at risk. This is where humility comes in. When team members or leaders think they know everything, it can lead to failure. In such cases, they lack the humility needed to acknowledge and manage the unknown. Threats can come from anywhere, so situational awareness (“keeping your head on a swivel”) is critical.
Highly functional teams need to maintain an awareness of the teams’ needs and weigh priorities in order to not weaken team efforts. This may mean putting the team first, even before personal issues. Hell Week for a SEAL instills dedication and decision-making skills, and demonstrates how much members are willing to sacrifice. From that time on, SEALs make being teamguys their top priority. Team-building activities in the civilian world similarly can expose the strengths and weaknesses of team members.
Although some leadership skills can be taught, it became apparent during training that highly effective leaders tend to be born rather than made. However, leaders must understand and capitalize on everyone’s roles and capabilities, which include managing themselves before they can be expected to effectively lead others. This entails examining an organization not just on a broad base as a team, but on the individual base as well (e.g., Do team members present their workspace in a professional manner? Do they show up on time?). For example, teamguys are accountable for their own gear, which has to be secured and functional at all times because the team depends on it. Interdependencies within a team environment become apparent when one teamguy does not maintain a sufficient level of personal accountability.
True leadership in unknown circumstances involves attacking the situations and not avoiding challenges by taking the easy road. At all times, leaders must be prepared for any outcome. However, it is not about the elemental factors, but rather the team that pushes the leader to do better. This includes leaders becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Regardless the circumstances, a true leader must always remember to represent the team well and to keep the team safe.
Everyone has his or her own talents they bring to the job, but the various circumstances in life are what elicit these talents. When faced with diverse challenges, true leaders use hurdles as resources to build strength and further the effort, rather than seeing them as obstacles and hindrances. They also instill these characteristics in their team members, so they can think on their feet, take control of situations, and lead others as circumstances dictate.
Outside of being a teamguy, SEALs are experts in multiple disciplines. For example, being a physician assistant, going back to school, becoming a professional in the field, being a motivational speaker, performing charity work, and staying active in the community is not surprising for a retired Navy SEAL. To tackle all these and other tasks, it requires facing different battlefields each day and going beyond what is already familiar. Leaders need to use all of their skill sets, even those that may not seem to transition to other scenarios. Talents must be used in creative ways to be effective in every task and every operation.
The 2nd of August 2006 was a day that demonstrated how SEAL Team THREE brought its best under the worst of circumstances. It was a hot day in Iraq when Ryan “Biggles” Job was injured with shrapnel to the face and Marc Lee was killed with a direct hit. After getting out of the fight, the team got up and went back in. Overworked by upper level leadership that demanded results, the team dealt with its first two man-down scenarios in the same day. More casualties would have been likely had it not been for middle management leadership and the dependability of each member’s training and skillsets, which had been burned into muscle memory. Despite being pushed to the point of failure, effective middle level leadership kept the team focused on its goals and responsibilities.
Leadership does not stop on the “battlefield.” To reach their full potential, leaders must be present in everything they do: in the company, in the home, and in the community. They are multifaceted, which is necessary because they do not know when they will be challenged. Of course, success is a stepping-stone rather than the end goal. Effective leaders should serve as mentors to challenge and build the next generation of leaders. The team-building process and training begins on Day 1 and never ends.