Think Like a Navy SEAL to Achieve Greatness

navy seal

Think Like a Navy SEAL

This is not your typical career: after graduation, start as a CPA with a prestigious accounting firm, then go back to school at night for an MBA at NYU Stern School of Business, and leave it all behind to become a Navy SEAL. After full-time active duty, show your entrepreneurial side by co-founding Coronado Brewing Company, NavySEALS.com, and then other businesses like SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind.

That’s the unconventional career of Mark Divine.

I love to learn from people with varied experiences, and Mark is in a rare category. Of all the people I’ve met, no one has quite this type of resume.

His book, The Way of the SEAL, caught my attention a few years ago, and he is now re-releasing it in a second edition.

Truth be told, I’d much rather read his book than go through his brutal training program!

I recently caught up with him to talk about his work and his new book.

 

You were already a successful consultant when you decided to join the Navy and become the best as a SEAL. What drove you to make this decision? 

Shortly after starting my job as a CPA and consultant with PriceaterhouseCoopers (I was with Coopers at the time), I began a practice of Zen meditation with a martial arts grandmaster. Though I was a competitive athlete growing up and in college, meditation was new to me, and at 21 years old it had a powerful neuroplastic effect on my mind’s development. What I experienced as a result of extended practice over several years was increasing clarity and ability to see how the choices I had made subconsciously had driven me into this career that I did not feel inspired by. So I began to challenge all of my assumptions and see them as biased. Then I pondered different questions, such as what is my true purpose or calling in life? I found that what I was called to do was serve as a warrior and leader… and the SEALs became my new focus. This experience taught me the powerful truth that we must all align with our calling, or what Buddha called “dharma,” to find true fulfillment in life.

 

Think Like an Elite Warrior

The subtitle of your book is “Think like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed.” A powerful statement. How is our thinking directly tied to leadership?

We are all leaders and followers… leading our family, our corporate tribe or ourselves. Whether we do it well is another issue. To think like an elite warrior means to train your body-mind to be able to excel in an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. All Special Operators become masters in “VUCA” environments, and the business world is becoming a lot like the battlefield of the Spec Ops warrior (albeit less risky). If the corporate and entrepreneurial leader can learn to find clarity amidst the uncertainty and take powerful action in spite of ambiguity, then they will lead and succeed at an elite level.

 

Leadership Tip: Find clarity amidst uncertainty. Take action in spite of ambiguity.

 

Lead from the Front

Lessons from SEAL, the Toughest Man on the Planet

Break the Norm for Wild Success

 

Ever feel like you want to take your physical fitness plan up a notch?

Maybe give it your all for 51 Days with former Mr. Universe Rich Gaspari?

Or maybe hire a Navy SEAL to move in with your family for 31 days?

 

“Every day do something that makes you uncomfortable.” -SEAL

 

Jesse Itzler doesn’t do conventional. He doesn’t follow the social norms most of us do. He is a bold, risk taking entrepreneur who seemingly tries anything. He once pretended to be a major hip-hop artist to get a meeting with a studio executive and ended up with a recording deal.

But hire one of the toughest men on the planet to get you into the best shape of your life? Jesse did just that. I recently asked the wildly successful and completely unorthodox Jesse Itzler to share some of his experiences. His new book Living with a Seal: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet, is a hilarious account of his physical fitness journey. (Warning: the book contains language that may be offensive to some readers.)

 

“It doesn’t have to be fun It has to be effective.” -SEAL

 

Get Your Foot in the Door and Figure it Out Later

 

Living With a SealI’m not quite sure how to describe you, but you’ve had crazy success from music to business. You cofounded Marquis Jet, invested in ZICO, and your wife invented SPANX. That seems like you would be someone who would make wise decisions. And then I read this hilarious book and wonder about that assumption. For those who want to emulate your success, how do you describe your decision-making process?

We are totally on the same page because I really don’t know how to describe myself either. I have always lived my life out of the box, and it has brought me great rewards. For the most part, my decision making has been based on my gut mixed with a philosophy of let me get my foot in the door first . . . and then figure the rest out later.

 

“If you want to be pushed to your limits, you have to train to your limits.” -SEAL

 

Jesse, you see a crazy in-shape SEAL and decide he should move in with you and your family. You don’t know him; you didn’t do a background check; you agree to do whatever he says. ARE YOU INSANE? Why did you do this?

I met SEAL at a 24 hour ultra marathon. I ran the race as part of a relay team, and SEAL ran the entire 24 hour race . . . alone. He was his own team. He had a determination and focus that I had never witnessed before in my life. I decided on the spot that I could learn a lot from that man.

 

“The only easy day was yesterday.” -SEAL

 

Say No to Non-Essentials

What was most surprising about those 31 days?

How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL

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

 

HIRING LESSONS FROM THE SEALS

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

 

PUT MISSION BEFORE SELF

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

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF HUMILITY

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?

Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed

Getting Stronger

What happens when you get a stress management expert, a successful entrepreneur, and a Navy SEAL together to write a book? You end up with Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed, a powerful new resource that will help you better thrive under pressure. The three authors have such varied experience that, when combined, works magnificently. The result is a powerful book that will help you not only understand resilience but learn how to build it for yourself.

Two of the authors, George Everly and Dennis McCormack, collaborated to answer some of my questions and to give you a glimpse into the power of resilience. Dr. Everly is one of the founding fathers of modern stress management. He teaches at Johns Hopkins and Loyola University of Maryland. Dennis McCormack is one of the original Navy SEALS. He pioneered SEAL combat doctrine and tactics in Vietnam.

 

“Resilience is the ability to personally rebound from adversity.”

 

The Single Most Powerful Factor to Your Potential 

You call personal resilience the single most powerful factor to realize your potential. Is resilience something you are born with or can develop?

While for some, resilience may be a trait they are born with, for most of us resilience is learned…and that’s the great news! Recent research suggests that it is NOT age dependent either. So we can learn to be resilient at ANY age.

 

“Optimism is more than a belief, it’s a mandate for change.”

 

5 Factors of Personal Resilience

You reference 5 factors of personal resilience. The first is active optimism. What’s the difference between active and passive optimism? How do you increase it?

Great question. People who are passively optimistic believe things will turn out well, but they wait for such things to occur. Actively optimistic people believe things will turn out well because they are decisive and action-oriented. In short, they MAKE things turn out well. They take advantage of the self-fulfilling prophecy effect. When they fail, they see that failure as a temporary setback. Regarding the issue of leadership, whom would you rather follow, someone who waits for good things to happen, or someone who makes good things happen?

As for increasing active optimism, both in yourself and others, follow this principle: Active optimism is fostered in an environment which is supportive, instructive, and forgiving; one that sees failure as a stepping stone to success.

Avoid toxic devaluing environments. When failure does occur, and it will, understand failure is what you did, not who you are. Learn from it. You will be stronger next time!

 

“The optimist always has the capacity to look forward to another day.”

 

5 Core Factors of Personal Resilience

  1. Help people withstand adversity.
  2. Help people make good decisions under pressure.
  3. Motivate people to achieve peak performance.
  4. Allow people to bounce back quickly and effectively even when they are temporarily knocked down.
  5. Serve as important features in determining satisfaction in life and overall happiness.

 

3 Steps to Manage Impulsive Urges 

Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed

How to Set and Attain Your Goals

Mark Divine retired as a commander in the US Navy where he had served as a SEAL for 20 years. He holds an MBA from NYU and is the founder of SEALTFIT, NavySeals.com, and U.S. CrossFit. His latest book is The Way of the SEAL: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed.

Mark, it’s great to have a chance to talk with you as everyone is thinking about New Year’s resolutions: how to make them, but more importantly, how to keep them. Your book is a blueprint for success and is packed with principles, ideas, methods, and specific actions all designed to change your life. We can’t cover even a fraction of them, but I want to ask you about just a few.

 

“The best leaders keep their minds positively focused.” –Mark Divine

 

Visualize Powerfully

Let’s start with visualization. You put it this way: “Visualize Powerfully.” How do you personally visualize your goals and your success?

I learned in the SEALs the importance of winning the mission (goal) in my mind before stepping off the ramp into the dark of the night.

What this means for me is a three step process:

Go after well defined targets

First, I ensure that the targets I go after are the right targets and are super well defined so I don’t waste valuable time and energy chasing impossible dreams or improbable projects. In the past I often had poorly defined new year goals that quickly fell by the wayside. That happened because they were the wrong targets, or poorly defined to begin with. I outline a powerful process for preventing this and selecting the right targets in my book.

Imagine what victory looks like

Second, I imagine what victory looks like for my target / goal. I see it as clearly and with as much detail as possible in my mind’s eye. In fact I have built an imaginary training space I call my ‘Mind Gym’ where I do this inner work. In the gym I see the outcomes of the goal, see myself achieving it and what my life is like after. I see myself as the type of person who CAN achieve the goal and possessing all the skills and knowledge necessary to crush it.

Review your goals daily

Third, I visit my mind gym daily to review the visualization while tackling the tasks and preliminary steps toward accomplishing the goal. This strengthens the image and eventually leads to greater confidence and certainty of mission success.

 

“Decisiveness is a must for anyone seeking to gain momentum toward their critical targets.” –Mark Divine

 

Breathe for Success

You talk about the importance of breathing in your book. Why is it so important and would you share one of your breathing exercises?

The Benefits of Deep Breathing

In a firefight or any intense situation, I learned to perform better by controlling my physiology and psychology. The key was learning how to breathe more powerfully. It is the first and most important of what I call the ‘big four of mental toughness’ skills. Deep diaphragmatic breathing, through the nose, brings two immediate and critical benefits for mission success:wayofseal_cov

First, It is a stress release mechanism because it stimulates the automatic nervous system’s calming function. We are riddled with stressors coming at us from all angles, many self-imposed, and this breathing technique slows down our heart rate, calms our body and allows us to get back in control of our physiology so we can direct it towards performance.

Second, it centers us by narrowing the range of our critical mind’s thought patterns. The concentration required to breathe deeply means you are now focusing on health and stress release. This triggers positive feelings and thoughts, and the mind slows down so we can direct it towards the important tasks leading to success.

The training technique is simple, called the ‘Three part breath.’ Begin by exhaling all the air from your lungs, then inhale deep into your belly . . . your belly will move out. When the lower part of your lungs are full (your belly is ‘full’), then activate your diaphragm to fill the middle of your lungs. When that is full, then use your upper chest to fill the top of the lungs. The exhale is then done in reverse order, and the whole breath cycle should be a five count inhale and five count exhale. Over time you will do this naturally and unconsciously in one step, versus three steps. It will help you stay positively focused on your important goals in 2014 AND have great benefit for your overall health and peace of mind.