The very first thing you notice when you see Mark Eaton is his height. At 7’4” that’s to be expected. (That’s not a typo.)
His career in the NBA is well-known: NBA All-Star, leading the league in blocked shots in four seasons, a five-time member on the NBA all-defensive team. He has two records including the most blocked shots in one season (456) and career average blocked shots (3.5).
His career continues as a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and now, author.
His book, The Four Commitments of a Winning Team, is a blend between his intriguing personal story and his principles for teambuilding. Even if you don’t follow professional basketball, I am certain you will enjoy it.
In our interview, you will learn:
What Wilt Chamberlin told him in five minutes that changed everything
Why he dreaded his height for much of his life
How an auto mechanic who wasn’t interested in basketball became an NBA All-Star
How the never-ending persistence of a coach changed the course of his career
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.
These rare teams build with care and intention. They operate at an incredibly high level of productivity and achieve extraordinary results.
Dysfunctional teams are unproductive, draining, and stressful. You’re always watching your back, focused on managing up, and fighting outside your silo.
Linda Adams, Abby Curnow-Chavez, Audrey Epstein, and Rebecca Teasdale honed their expertise inside some of the largest and most powerful businesses operating today. The four authors have led the human resources, talent management, leadership development, and organizational effectiveness functions of multiple Fortune 500 companies including Ford Motor Company, Pepsi, and Target. Currently, the four comprise the TriSpective Group, catering to companies like PetSmart, Kaiser, Orbitz, and others.
The best teams perform so well it appears they are one single organism.
What are some of the characteristics of a great team?
We studied thousands of teams in dozens of industries and found that the highest-performers had the same set of traits and characteristics. On these teams, individuals trust each other without reservation and assume positive intent, put the team agenda ahead of any personal agenda and hold each other accountable. We call them Loyalist Teams because they are loyal to one another, to the team, and to the organization as a whole.
Study: high performing teams put the team agenda ahead of personal agendas.
You outline four different types of teams in this book. If you’re the new leader, how do you know your team’s persona?
A new leader can use one of our team assessments, including the Loyalist Team Snapshot that’s available for free on our website. We also suggest learning about the characteristics of Loyalist Teams and looking for them on the new team.
Leaders can ask themselves a series of questions including: Are there only pockets of trust on my team or do all team members trust one another? Do team members believe that “We only win together,” or are they more likely to think, “I look better if you lose”? How often and how well do team members put the real issues on the table and discuss them candidly and productively?
If trust is consistent across the team, individuals know their success is tied together, and they readily discuss even the tough issues, then the new leader is starting in a great place. If those elements are missing, we suggest the leader learn more about the less effective team types and determine actions to take to move the team along the spectrum to becoming a Loyalist Team.
Team is not a destination you permanently reach, but more a way of working together.
On the other side of the equation are the toxic, dysfunctional teams. What characterizes them?
We call the least effective teams Saboteur Teams because on these teams, someone is always trying to sabotage someone else’s effort. Team members spend as much time watching their back as doing their own work. There’s a “Get them before they get me” mentality, and people often dread going into work. Bad behavior and poor performance go unchecked, and there is an overall sense that nothing will change.
What most contrasts a Saboteur Team with a Loyalist Team?
Loyalist Teams face winning and losing together. When the heat is on and the team is under pressure, Loyalist Teams find ways to come together and prevail. They learn from mistakes and losses, adjust and move on. Saboteur teams, already splintered, disintegrate into heated factions and waste time assigning and avoiding blame during the toughest times. While individual team members focus on self-preservation at all costs, the team’s performance spirals out of control.
Leadership Tip: Consistent trust allows team members to discuss the tough issues.
It seems easy enough. Hire talented people who are motivated to achieve something and together the team is formed.
What could go wrong?
Most of us who have been in leadership positions realize that building a team is far more difficult than hiring talented individuals.
It’s a process. From understanding individual styles to improving communication, it’s a constant effort.
That’s why nearly every leader I know is constantly working on the team.
One of the experts I follow is Robert Bruce Shaw. He’s a management consultant focused on leadership effectiveness. He has a doctorate in organizational behavior from Yale University and has written numerous books and articles.
What are some of the elements of a highly successful team?
I assess a team’s success on two dimensions. First, does the team deliver the results expected of it by its customers and stakeholders (in most cases, more senior levels of management within a company). Does it deliver results in a manner that builds its capabilities in order to deliver results as well into the future? Second, does the team build positive relationships among its members as well as with other groups? This is required to sustain the trust needed for a team to work in a productive manner over time. These are the two team imperatives: deliver results and build relationships.
What’s an extreme team?
Teams that continually push for better results and relationships are what I call extreme teams. Most teams work in a manner that emphasizes either results or relationships – and fail to develop each as an important outcome. In addition, some teams settle for easy compromises in each area in striving to avoid the risk and conflict that can come when pushing hard in either area. For example, a team that pushes hard on results can strain relationships. Or, a team that values only relationships can erode its ability to deliver results. Extreme Teams push results and relationships to the edge of being dysfunctional – and then effectively manage the challenge of doing so.
“Results + Relationships = Team Success.” -Robert Bruce Shaw
How do leaders help foster a culture where extreme teams thrive?
My book examines five practices of cutting-edge firms that support extreme teams. These firms are unique in how they operate but do share some common practices. I will mention three of these success practices:
1) They have a purpose that results in highly engaged team members. This purpose involves the work itself but also includes having a positive impact on society. Pixar, for example, attracts people who are passionate about making animated films that emotionally touch people. Patagonia attracts people who love the outdoors and want to do everything they can to protect the environment.
2) They select and promote people who embody their core values. Cultural fit becomes more important than an impressive resume. Alibaba looks for people who fit its highly entrepreneurial culture. The firm’s founder, Jack Ma, describes this as finding the right people not the best people.
3) They create a “hard/soft” culture that works against complacency. In extreme teams, people realize that they need to be uncomfortable at times if they are to produce the best results. This need is balanced against the need for people to feel they are part of community that supports them and their success. Each firm I profile in the book does this to a different degree and with different practices. Each, however, is more transparent and direct than conventional teams.
“Cutting edge firms have a critical mass of obsessive people and teams.” -Robert Bruce Shaw
This is a guest post by Jane Thompson. Jane is a writer and content manager for Uphours, an online resource with information about businesses. She loves running and reading history books, especially about World War II and the Middle Ages.
We live in a world where powerful leaders are capable of accomplishing great things. No one is born a leader – it’s something that people of worthy character grow to be through their experiences. Everyone deserves to be equipped with the leadership skills they need to make a positive impact in the world. Your children are never too young to learn the foundations of what leadership means.
Here are six ways to develop leadership skills in your children:
1. Increase Access to Information
Many parents feel the need to shelter their children, or censor them from a lot of things. Rather than cutting off access to that information, try to explain it in an age-appropriate way. If there’s a troubling issue happening in the world, allowing your child to see that and understand why an issue is troubling may inspire innovative thinking. Children are the heroes of the future, and you can’t lead the world without that kind of brainpower.
“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” -Margaret Fuller
This may feel counterintuitive, but it may be the best thing for your household. Rather than relying on the failsafe “because I said so” response, explain why. Allow your child to ask further questions and barter. Their bartering points won’t always work, but allow them to win these debates when there isn’t much at stake. This will teach your child to negotiate, which is a crucial skill for a leader.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”-Voltaire
Group activities allow children to understand how a hierarchy works, particularly if roles within these groups shift. Perhaps every child has a turn to choose the activity for team playdates. Children are most likely to select something they feel they’re good at. Everyone will have a chance to learn, and everyone will have a chance to teach. Good leaders need to be willing to learn from others.