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?

Becoming A Heart-Centered Leader

Matters of the Heart

Students of leadership will often look at the intellectual attributes of a great leader. We point to great strategy, distinction, winning against the competition.  Leadership is also about matters of the heart.  Susan Steinbrecher and Joel Bennett’s book Heart-Centered Leadership reminds leaders to be mindful, authentic, and caring.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Susan Steinbrecher about her work. Susan is a consultant, mediator, speaker and leads Steinbrecher & Associates, Inc., a management consulting firm.

 

“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.” -Jesse Jackson

 

Leading From the Heart

What is your definition of “Heart-Centered Leadership”?

Heart-Centered Leadership means having the wisdom, courage and compassion to lead others with authenticity, transparency, humility and service.

 

“You lead by encouragement and inspiration, not by fear and control.” -Susan Steinbrecher

 

Anyone can be a heart-centered leader if he or she has the determination and daily commitment to practice certain core principles.  The root or basis of these principles is what we call “the power of the human element.”  Two things are required to tap into and unleash the human element.  The first is your ability to listen or, even better, your ability to learn how to listen.  The second is your own willingness to clear personal obstacles, in other words, your own story and organizational obstacles that get in the way of this deeper listening.

 

“If you stand straight, do not fear a crooked shadow.” -Chinese Proverb

 

3 Differences of a Heart-Centered Leader

Off the top of your head, what 3 things are different about a heart-centered leader?

  1. The focus is to serve the people that you are leading, not the other way around.
  2. A heart-centered leader tells the truth.  If you are not able to provide information when asked, you must be willing to explain why you aren’t at liberty to share that information.
  3. A heart-centered leader does not judge or assume, but comes to understand, asking the right questions instead rushing to judgment and assumption.

Our book outlines some key guidelines for heart-centered behavior. But in order for this behavior to be authentic, it has to come from a place of emotional resonance and coherence. You have to believe in what you are doing. It has to resonate with you. Ultimately, a heart-centered leader leads from principles, values, and virtues.

 

“Since in order to speak, one must first listen, learn to speak by listening.” -Rumi

 

Encouraging Leaders to Have an Open Mind

How do you encourage leaders to be open-minded?

I ask them to reflect on a time in their career when being open-minded paid big dividends and why.  I also ask them to tell me of a time when they were not open-minded and what happened.  I find that if people can reflect on their own experiences, they can piece together the benefits of being open-minded much faster than me pointing out the rewards of being open-minded.

0615891195Another approach is to ask leaders to imagine how differently they would communicate with an associate if grounded in this key principle: people have positive intentions.  It requires revising certain ways of thinking, such as taking sides in a conflict, and replacing them with healthier habits of mind — observing the perspective of both sides.  It involves identifying and taking responsibility for your own mental tendencies, including an inclination to stereotypes and making snap judgments about what people “should” do.  It also means flexing your empathetic muscle.  As a result, you gain a greater understanding of the causes of atypical behavior and problems that result from that behavior, as well as insight into the best solution.

 

“Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.” -David Starr Jordan

 

Leaders Need to Let Go

Often leaders feel like they need to seize the reigns, and yet you talk about the importance of letting go.  Tell us more about that.