How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL


When you read those two words, what comes to mind?

Words like: tough, decisive, driven, fearless, disciplined?

What can leaders learn from the SEALS?


Under incredible conditions, Navy SEALS prove their worth by getting the job done. When I meet a SEAL, I am intrigued because I know this is someone who is proven. Recently, when I had the opportunity to interview Brian “Iron Ed” Hiner, about his new book, First, Fast, Fearless: How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL, I knew I would walk away with many lessons I could apply in business and in life.


“When leadership is right, you really don’t see it any more.” -Ed Hiner



Becoming a NAVY SEAL means you have overcome all odds. What can corporate leaders learn from the selection process in terms of hiring and recruiting the very best team possible?

Navy Seal Ed HinerWe have identified four major traits that we look for in a perspective SEAL candidate: physical courage, moral courage, problem solving, and what I call “teamability.” Physical courage is obvious, but moral courage does not rank far behind because we are an organization that relies heavily on trust and for our people to do the right thing for our country.

We also want SEALs to be problem solvers who thrive in what we call VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), an environment often referred to as the “fog of war.” In our Gallop polling, we discovered that chess players are almost four times more likely than non-chess players to successfully make it through Navy SEAL training; chess players are problem solvers, and the board is VUCA writ small.

The last trait that I call “teamability” is a person’s ability to lead and be led, who can move from team to team seamlessly.


The 4 Must-Have Traits of a SEAL

1: Physical courage.

2: Moral courage.

3: Problem solving.

4: Teamability.


The takeaway of this is that hiring and recruiting needs be very deliberate. Organizations that understand the critical traits they need in their employees, and actively recruit for these traits, will be more successful down the road. Obviously all organizations look for skills and experience, but oftentimes they overlook the fundamental traits they actually need to be the elite organization that they wish to be.


“Leadership is something you do with people, not to them.” -Ed Hiner



Could you cover teamability a little more and what that means? What methods do you employ to get people to put “mission before me.”

Teamability requires that leaders and team members put mission and team before their own personal interests. When people know that leaders are selflessly making decisions for the team to succeed, and protecting their people along the way, it sets the conditions for teamability. From the beginning of SEALs training we set conditions to reinforce this concept.

In some ways it’s like we turn the pyramid upside down and take care of the broader team mission first and work our way down to the individual. For example, after we finish a mission, we take care of the teams’ common gear first. Then we all split off to our smaller teams and take care of that gear and issues until we get to the individual. This applies to everyone on the team, rank doesn’t matter; the motto is mission before me. This applies everywhere in the SEAL Teams. During staff meetings SEAL Team issues get addressed first, then the smaller Task Unit issues and so forth. It’s a practiced ritual that develops teamability and mission focus. As for the leaders of team, the rank of importance is the Mission, the men and then me. When it’s time to shower and eat, leaders eat last.

When organizations depend on teamwork it’s critical for them to reward the teams that exhibit this trait. In the SEAL Teams your performance review is heavily skewed toward your teamability; we don’t just give it lip service. We reward the traits that we want, to be the elite organization that we need to be. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of just rewarding individual performance at the expense of critical traits that you need for overall mission success.


“Servant leadership means that the team is not about you.” -Ed Hiner



You say, “The biggest enemy of humility is our own ego, which is molded by our fears.” Talk about that interplay between fear and ego.IMG_0089

We are an organization of “Alpha males” and high performers, and it’s easy for individuals in any organization with high performers to fall in love with their own ideas and abilities. Elite teams perform at their best when their leaders are humble. It’s an outward indicator that the leader is willing not to fall in love with his or her own ideas but is instead willing to find the best direction for the mission and the team. When leaders are humble and act selflessly it builds trust, and trust is the invisible thread that holds all elite teams together. When this invisible thread is broken and leaders act in their own self-interest, and don’t engage the skills and talents of the team, results will suffer.

We all have fears, and those fears can contribute to shaping our personalities: fear of failure, not being intelligent, shame, etc. Humility is the antidote to those fears. Elite leaders are not worried about being right; they are focused on the cause-and-effect relationship to get results and accomplish the mission.

I’m not saying that people should completely get rid of their egos so that they dance naked in the halls; I’m saying divorce your ego, yet stay friends. Don’t let your ego run your life. As the saying goes, “Humble people don’t think less of themselves, they think of themselves less.”


“Be the cause, not the effect.” -Ed Hiner


What qualities do you first notice when someone is leading with humility and acting as a servant leader?

Leadership Lessons From the Unusual Story of Market Basket

An Uplifting Corporate Story

We often read stories about corporate greed, about slimy executives, about profits at the expense of people. These stories grab headlines because they hit a nerve and fuel anger. I have never read a story quite like We Are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business where employees and customers joined together to demand the return of a fired CEO.

The story may be unique, but it offers powerful lessons and insight into the changing nature of how we view corporations and what we expect as employees.

I recently spoke with the authors, Daniel Korschun and Grant Welker, about this story.


Loyalty is Demonstrated Every Day

This story has so many powerful lessons. One of those is about loyalty. What does the We Are Market Basket teach us about loyalty?

Arthur T. and much of the senior management team have been extraordinarily successful at engendering loyalty. But loyalty at this company tends to be viewed as a two-way street. Employees – they call themselves associates – we speak with tell us that they feel loyal to the company and top management because they feel a loyalty to them from that top management. So what we see at Market Basket is people who are reaffirming their commitment to each other over time. The result is these very strong bonds we see. The lesson for managers is that you can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself. You’re not going to gain loyalty just by changing the pay or the job responsibilities; it’s something that has to be demonstrated every day.


“You can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself.”


A Respect for Others

Why did Arthur T. inspire such passion and loyalty?

Arthur T. is beloved as the CEO largely because he gives all associates, customers, and vendors respect. He says explicitly that no one person is special at the company, and from what we’ve seen he walks the walk.

But it’s also important to point out his place in the protest. Bringing back Arthur T. was the central demand of protesters, but in our view, they were fighting to save the company’s culture. Reinstating Arthur T. became the critical step in making sure that this New England institution continued to serve those who have known it for years, and sometimes for generations.

Market Basket 

A Lesson for Boards and Corporate Leaders

What does the Market Basket experience teach boards of directors?

Most business schools today teach that the fiduciary responsibility of directors is to look after the interests of shareholders. However, this idea is simply not supported by the corporate code in Massachusetts and many other states. The code states explicitly that the board is to be a steward of the corporation, which includes customers, employees, shareholders, and others. We need to hold our boards to this higher standard.

Leadership lesson: A corporation’s duties extend beyond shareholders to the broader community.


A Commitment to the Community

10 Commandments of the Dealmaker

From Childhood Actor to Dealmaker

Jeff B. Cohen’s story is compelling. The former child actor is best known for his role as “Chunk” in The Goonies. The Goonies debuted and quickly became a classic, but Jeff’s career took a different turn. Adolescence changed both his body and his career trajectory. Now, Jeff is one of the entertainment industry’s prominent transactional attorneys. He co-founded Cohen Gardner LLP and has been named by Variety to its Dealmakers Impact List.


“To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” -Aristotle


Though you may read Jeff’s articles in numerous publications, it’s his book that grabbed my attention. The Dealmaker’s Ten Commandments: Ten Essential Tools for Business Forged in the Trenches of Hollywood is a must read for serious negotiators.

Think Chunk meets Machiavelli and you will have a sense of the enduring book he wrote on negotiating. Some are sure to disagree with his philosophy or approach. Some may not like his view of power. Still, the book is a powerful tool for negotiators because it shows a side of negotiating not usually taught in class.

Jeff recently spoke with me about his work, his life as a childhood actor, and his fascinating new book.


“He who angers you conquers you.” -Elizabeth Kenny


How Your Experience Can Affect Your View

Your story from childhood actor to co-founder of your own Beverly Hills-based law firm makes for great reading. Talk to us about how losing work as a teenage actor impacted your view of power.

Jeff B. CohenAs they say, the beauty of first love is our ignorance that it will ever end. Acting was my first love as a kid, and I was really broken up when I hit puberty and couldn’t get gigs anymore. Fortunately for me, in high school, I found my way to a book written by Niccolo Machiavelli in the early 16th Century called The Prince.

Machiavelli discussed the question “Is it better to be feared or loved?” He comes to the conclusion that it is better to be feared than loved because people fear you because they have to and love you because they want to. A prince can only rely on what he controls.

The book was a revelation to me, because as a performer being loved is your first priority. It showed me that as a business person I would have to view the world differently than I had.


“You must unlearn what you have learned.” -Yoda

How Leading From the Heart Will Change Your Organization

From the Heart

Think about the leaders you respect and admire. Chances are they distinguished themselves because they led with and from the heart. Heart-led leadership is the subject of Tommy Spaulding’s new book The Heart-Led Leader: How Living and Leading from the Heart Will Change Your Organization and Your Life. Tommy is the founder of Spaulding Companies, a leadership-development consulting firm based in Denver. He previously wrote It’s Not Just Who You Know. After reading and thoroughly enjoying his books, I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his work in this area.


“Success is about building hearts, not resumes.” -Tommy Spaulding


How Heart-Led Leaders Are Different

What distinguishes a heart-led leader?

A heart-led leader serves others. They epitomize servant leadership. They are humble. They are genuine and sincere. They are transparent and vulnerable. They measure success not just on spreadsheets but on the amount of impact they (and their organizations) have on others. They believe love and results are two sides of the same coin.

Why do heart-led leaders produce better results?

For years we looked at servant leadership as a worthy leadership style that is beneficial to organizational culture but not necessarily tied to bottom-line results. Heart-Led Leaders are obsessed with achieving bottom-line results. But they also believe that love and results are two sides of the same coin. They believe that if they love what they do and who they do it for, it is hard not to produce extraordinary results.

Are you born a heart-led leader or are you able to acquire the characteristics over time?

This is a century old argument – are leaders born or are they made? I have always believed that although we may be born with certain characteristics and qualities, true heart-led leadership is a learned trait – just as one would learn how to ride a bike. If one chooses to become a heart-led leader, he or she can become one. But the 18-Inch Journey to become a Heart-Led Leader is a difficult one.


“Heart-led leaders have the self awareness to understand who they are.” -Tommy Spaulding


18 Principles of the Heart-Led Leader

You make the point that there are 18 inches between the head and the heart, and then provide 18 leadership principles to support the difference. Would you talk about one or two of these that stand out and why they are so important?

The Heart Led Leader The Heart Led Leader

I believe the journey to heart-led leadership is the 18-inches between your head and your heart. In my book, The Heart-Led Leader, I list 18 traits that I believe one must possess to become a heart-led leader—traits such a humility, passion, love, authenticity and vulnerability, etc. I think 21st century leaders must possess these qualities to be truly successful – to create impact, change and bottom-line results.

As an Eagle Scout myself, I was pulled into your personal example about when you wanted to be named Outstanding Scout. Would you share that story and what you learned about character?

Character is one of the 18-inches (traits) of heart-led leadership. I first learned of the importance of character at Boy Scout camp when I was a kid. The scout masters chose one scout at the end of summer camp that was awarded the “Most Outstanding Scout” award. It was the highest honor given to the one scout who demonstrated great leadership qualities. I wanted to win this award more than anything. That week during scout camp I worked harder than any of the other scouts. I got up early. I volunteered for everything. I earned more merit badges, and did whatever the scout masters asked of me.

At the end of the scout camp we had a huge camp fire celebration. And at the end of the evening the scout masters awarded the “Most Outstanding Scout” award. I was certain that I would win the award. I nearly started to stand up before they announced my name.

Lead INSIDE the Box for Efficiency and Effectiveness

How Leaders Can Be More Efficient and Effective

Last year, I was reading the dramatic account of a hard-charging executive who suffered a heart attack. The post was about the need for balance, but it was more than a wake-up call.  What struck me about this post, however, was not the lessons he taught us from his painful experience, not the, “Oh, I hope this doesn’t happen to me” feeling we have when reading these posts, but the name of the hospital he went to. It was here in Dublin, Ohio!


“A leader’s job is to help people move to a position of improved performance.” –Figliuolo / Prince


That meant that one of the people who regularly shares my posts and vice versa lived in my town. Social media amazes me. A quickly dashed off email and the two of us found ourselves in Starbucks where I heard more about his compelling story. I’m still amazed at how Twitter and blogging create opportunities like this one.


“Great leaders think about talent management every day.”–Figliuolo/Prince


Lead INSIDE the Box

20141017 LItB Cover V3Let me introduce you to Mike Figliuolo. Mike is the founder of thoughtLEADERS, LLC, a leadership development firm. He is also the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. His latest book was just released and was co-written with Victor Prince, former COO of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and now a strategy consultant.

We recently got together to talk about this book, Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results.

Mike and Victor have built a powerful framework designed to help leaders be more efficient and more effective at the same time. It starts with the recognition that we, as leaders, are often overworked and not as effective as we could be.

  • Where am I spending my time?
  • With whom?
  • Am I treating each person the same when different approaches would create better results?


“Your leadership success hinges upon your ability to get people to perform well.” –Figliuolo/Prince


If I understand the “box” and apply the techniques correctly, I can be more proactive, more thoughtful, and more impactful with my team members.

20150410 Leadership Matrix