Ray, your book is compelling. It starts by scaring us beyond belief. For those who haven’t read your book yet, would you go ahead and scare our readers…
By the end of 2016, one category of cyberattack on business —ransomware infection– topped 4,000 instances per day. One publication, CSO, recently posted an estimate that cybercrime damage will hit $6 trillion by 2021 and, by 2022, the human attack surface, the potential victim pool, for cybercrime will reach 6 billion, which is 75 percent of the projected 2020 world population of 8 billion.
So, if you want to be scared, chew on the incontrovertible fact that you and your business are being attacked today, and you will be attacked tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. Obviously, you need excellent cybersecurity—firewalls, antivirus software, antimalware software, automatic downloading and installation of the latest security patches for all your software, and a workforce educated in basic digital hygiene. Yet the hard truth is that even the best cybersecurity will be penetrated. Some of those daily attacks will pierce your perimeter defenses.
Mediocre security will stop some attacks. Good security will stop more attacks. The best security will stop even more. But, whether mediocre or exceptional, all security will ultimately fail. You will be breached, and, if you depend on security alone, the effects of the next breach—the next inevitable breach—may be annoying or may put your business at great risk. This is why you need both excellent digital security and excellent digital resilience. In short, you need to be prepared because you will be attacked. Resilience starts with preparation.
“Resilience starts with preparation.” -Ray Rothrock
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.
The number one reason for organizational success or failure is the ability to stay relevant. Staying ahead of the continual marketplace changes may seem an impossible task. How do you continually evolve at a pace that keeps you ahead of the curve?
In SHIFT AHEAD: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World, authors Allen Adamson and Joel Steckel explore why some organizations can continually evolve to meet the times and the marketplace, and why others struggle to keep up. Allen is co-founder and managing partner of Metaforce and brings over thirty years of experience in building iconic brands. Joel is an expert on marketing research and branding. He is currently Vice Dean for Doctoral Education at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
I spoke with Allen about the book and their research.
“Focusing too much on the competition can lead to inappropriate shifts. It’s the customer that really counts.” -Adamson and Steckel
You share many examples and case studies about companies that just plain missed some key changes. Some ended up obsolete and others struggled for years. Would you share an example and what went wrong?
One of my favorite examples of “what went wrong” is the story of the rise and fall of Blackberry. For those who may not remember, Blackberry was once the indispensable mobile communication device of choice for heads of corporations, heads of state, and the Hollywood elite. It was an easy, secure and effective device that allowed workers to send and receive emails and phone calls while away from the office. The functionality of its tactile keyboard made typing easy, and it built its initial reputation on the concept of security. This was all before Apple and Android smartphones had taken hold.
The quick answer about why it fell so precipitously is that Blackberry’s inability to shift and move forward was caused by its own sense of invincibility, inward group-think, and general arrogance. With the rise of in popularity of iPhones and Androids, those at the helm saw only what they wanted to see. They considered these new devices not as significant competition, but as toys, a passing trend. They arrogantly laughed off the threat that was materializing in front of them instead of figuring out how to defend against it. As we all know, not only were these smartphones built for ease of communication on multiple platforms, they were beautiful to look at. They became just too much to resist for even the most security-centric audience of users.
Too-little-too-late is what Blackberry eventually did in response, which was exactly what it shouldn’t have done. It began to chase the market with subpar versions of the competitors’ brilliant models, wrongly assuming that its core customers would follow with them. That did not happen. The producers of Blackberry should have doubled down on what made the product so vital to its initial loyal audience. It should have kept its focus on its point of relevant differentiation in the marketplace – security – and capitalized on it. No brand, product, or organization is invincible, especially when it dismisses the needs of its most loyal audience.
Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook called the Netflix “freedom and responsibility” deck “the most important document ever to come out of the Valley.”
The document is 124 pages and it outlines the principles behind the unique corporate culture at Netflix. It has had reverberations far outside of Silicon Valley and way beyond Netflix itself. The principles have been debated and adopted by organizations throughout the world. It has been viewed over fifteen million times.
Patty McCord helped write the document. She worked at Netflix for 14 years as the company’s Chief Talent Officer. In her book, POWERFUL: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, Patty shares what she has learned about building a high-performance culture. I recently asked her to share more about her experience.
Challenge the Rules
You challenge many of the existing HR rules with new ways of thinking. What advice do you have for leaders that will help them embrace these changes?
It begins with questioning, literally, everything we do in HR: policies, procedures, guidelines, practices, permissions. What is the purpose of each of these activities? Do they achieve the desired result? If you started from scratch, would you embrace these methods?
“People can handle being told the truth, about both the business and their performance. The truth is not only what they need but also what they intensely want.” -Patty McCord
High-performing leaders don’t always lead by the book. They may not be full of praise. They may not celebrate small wins and give positive feedback. But somehow, some way they manage to deliver growth year after year. They can even set the bar for the entire industry. This leadership philosophy is different than what many of us follow today. Since I enjoy studying these various models, I wanted to share it with you.
Stanislav Shekshnia, Veronika Zagieva, and Alexey Ulanovsky have studied them for ten years. And they write about their findings in Athletic CEOs: Leadership in Turbulent Times. I recently asked Stanislav to talk about their research.
“Don’t let anybody work harder than you do.” -Serena Williams
What is Athletic Leadership and what are Athletic Leaders’ unique attributes?
Athletic Leadership is a model, a construct, which describes effective leadership in the specific context, defined by rapid obsolescence, high turbulence, heavy government involvement, high-power distance leadership tradition, and a medium level of development of human capital.
Athletic is a metaphor which we used to emphasize a very important characteristic of the effective CEOs we have studied – mental toughness. Just like top athletes these leaders are super-ambitious, passionate, focused, cool-headed and merciless to the competitors, followers and themselves. This evokes images familiar to all of us: Usain Bolt, Wane Gretzky, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.
At the same time, business leadership is more complex than sports. Athletic CEOs combine toughness with mental adaptability. They are proactively curious; they constantly reinvigorate knowledge, and they change their mental models. This almost improbable combination makes them effective.
“I love competition, so when you talk and tell me what you’re gonna do, all it makes me wanna do is work harder.” -Usain Bolt
The agendas of athletic leaders – their ambitions and major themes – are complex and multidimensional, with many different overarching themes, time horizons and specific projects. However, there are two central leitmotifs in all this diversity: winning and transforming.
Athletic leaders strive to beat specific competitors – companies and leaders they recognize as such. They work hard to beat their own records, e.g. they want their companies to constantly outperform themselves. They would like to set world records. Their playing field is the world, and their benchmarks are the global leaders. And athletic CEOs want their companies to win championships as well as single matches; they make the long-term success of their organizations a very important element of their leadership agendas.
Leadership is always about transformation, and this priority sits high on the agendas of athletic leaders. Transformation, or positive change for its own sake, has a profound meaning for them. And, as with ‘winning,’ athletic leaders pursue different kinds of transformation at different levels. They change people who work for them, the companies they manage, the industries they compete in, the communities their businesses operate in and the countries in which they live and work.
Athletic leaders also use some distinct iterative behavior strategies for leading people and organizations which I call meta-practices. These practices produce superior financial performance (outputs of athletic leadership) and long-lasting transformational legacy (outcomes of athletic leadership).
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” -Pele
What do these leaders do that is not necessarily “by the book”?
The model of athletic leadership describes what effective leadership actually looks like in the specific context. This model seems contradictory: it reflects both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides of leadership. Some specific elements of athletic leadership go against well-established and widely-accepted leadership models. Let me give you some examples.
Athletic leaders do not fit into the well-known ‘Level Five Leadership’ model depicted in Jim Collins’s bestselling book From Good to Great. They are not humble, but openly ambitious. They say ‘I’ much more often than ‘we.’ They do not follow ‘the Window and the Mirror’ pattern that Collins describes; rather, they habitually take the credit for success and may blame subordinates for underperformance. They usually decide on a course of action and only then think about the people who will carry it out (contravening the ‘First Who … Then What’ principle of ‘Level Five’ leaders). They do not shy away from the limelight, but constantly seek it. CEO Vitaly Saveliev appears in every issue of the Aeroflot inflight magazine; Herman Gref has given more than a hundred press interviews since becoming Sberbank CEO.
“I hated standing on that third-place podium. Hated it, hated it.” -Michael Phelps
Athletic leaders do not always demonstrate another recognized attribute of effective leadership: emotional intelligence – at least not in the way described by Peter Salovey, John Mayer, David Caruso, or Daniel Goleman, who write about understanding and regulating personal emotions, understanding the emotions of other people, and interacting with them on the basis of that awareness. Athletic leaders are relaxed about managing their own emotions and give themselves the freedom to raise their voices or threaten followers. They criticize more often than they praise. Providing positive, constructive feedback is not their strongest competency. One of them said to us, ‘My deputies are mature, well-paid professionals – if they don’t understand what they do well, they should not be where they are. They don’t need feedback.’ Athletic leaders do not often reflect on what effect their actions and words have on other people and rarely take any steps to correct negative outcomes. They are so passionate about what they do that they assume others share the same passion, demonstrate the same level of commitment, and therefore do not require any kid-glove treatment. Like top athletes, athletic leaders are so concentrated on winning that they tend to forget about the people who help them to win.
“I don’t fold under pressure, great athletes perform better under pressure, so put pressure on me.” -Floyd Mayweather