What some true badasses taught me about leadership

This book is truly hardcore and yet surprisingly helpful from a leadership perspective.  We imagine Navy SEALS pulling off Mission Impossible style activities.  Who would have thought that Navy SEALS would have to deal with PowerPoint slides and face similar frustrations manaextreme-ownership-coverging up and down that the rest of us do in a business environment? I immediately recognized challenges with my own leadership style and used the perspectives in the book to change my attitude to great effect.

The key concept is in the title and aligns closely with the Stoic writings of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations – stop blaming others for what happens, look in the mirror, accept the blame and take ownership.  This is the only way to build true trust that is the most effective way to make teams work together.  Google comprehensively studied what makes teams effective and discovered that psychological safety was the single most important metric for determining how well a team would work together.

When you hear lines like “corporate doesn’t understand what’s happening in the field”, “management doesn’t get it”, you know trust is not present.  Jocko and Leif make the argument that the best way to fix this is to ask “Do they want us to fail? Are they trying to sabotage our efforts?” Of course not.  If they don’t get it then you’ve failed to explain it to them.  So own the communication, invite them out to the field, learn why they are asking the questions they are, build the relationship and the trust.

Navy SEALS are true badasses.  The audiobook is fantastic because Jocko and Leif read with their intense deep gravelly voices recounting stories from Iraq with a deeply measured intensity that transports you to the urban battlefield. It can get a little repetitive with the stories, details and acronyms (I got tired of hearing M1 Abrams tank and M2 Bradley fighting vehicle spelt out every time they were featured) but at the same time there’s an important lesson from this precision and attention on details, the cost of a mistake can be the death of a close team mate, so checking and double checking when the stakes are high is absolutely critical, even if it get’s annoying.  There are two examples in the book of avoiding blue on blue incidents (aka shooting your own guys) that were averted by having the courage in the heat of battle to stop and confirm the details before acting.

If you remember nothing else, remember there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.  They tell a great story of 6 boat crews competing in SEAL training.  Boat 2 is crushing it, all working together.  Boat 6 is losing every race.  The leader is blaming his crew and thinking he had the bad luck of getting a weak crew.  They swap the leaders and suddenly Boat 6 starts coming in first or second with Boat 2.  The successful leader did not assume he would lose, and focused the team on pushing to the next immediate obstacle in the race.  This small shift in approach coupled with belief in the team (which made everyone on the team believe in themselves) made all the difference to their performance.  So have faith in your teams, look in the mirror and ask are you truly owning the outcome no matter the result.

If someone on your team is causing you frustration, seek first to understand the behavior and the motivation.  Ask them, hey I noticed you seem to be having trouble with doing x, are you not sure where to start or why we’re doing it, or something else? By realizing that you are responsible for their success you’re now on the same team and working together to be successful.  If you both understand and believe in the mission (the why) and your own personal whys, the motivation will be there and you can focus on the execution.

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