I will admit it up front–I am in awe of Navy SEALs. My brother-in-law was a career Naval officer and, once upon a time, my sister ran the officer’s club at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, CA, home of the SEAL Command. Through them, I have met a number of SEALs, each as impressive as the the next. I have heard SEALs speak to audiences in which I sat, and I have spoken with SEALs while sharing a beer or several. I will never forget the time one SEAL told me there were 8 ways he could kill me with just his little finger. True or not, I absolutely believed him. So I fully admit I suffer from hero worship.
Now that my confession is behind me, let me state without equivocation that SEAL teams are the most effective fighting forces on the planet. I have always wondered why, so I’ve read as many books by and about SEALs as I could find. I just finished The Navy Seal Art of War, by Rob Roy, a retired Chief Petty Officer and long-time member of SEAL Team Six–the best of the best. Drawing on lessons learned as a SEAL, Roy applies the lessons to corporate America. The lessons make great sense to me, though I confess to perhaps reading them through the prism of my admiration. But I wanted to share a couple of lessons Roy shared–lessons from both his SEAL experience and also from his corporate training experience.
1. Practice. Practice. Practice some more. And then Practice even more.
“Close Quarters Combat [hand-to-hand] is one of the most difficult things a SEAL does. Something as intense as hand-to-hand fighting requires that an individual be honed to a razor’s edge so that actions aren’t debated or deliberated, but are performed without hesitation.” He explains how this razor’s edge is achieved: “when you are well-trained, everything becomes instinctual….Repetition (training) leads to memorization and memorization leads to instinct. Therefore, one must train and train their skills until they know a procedure cold. And then they must train some more.” If I look at my own performance critically, I see a massive failure in my own levels of preparation measured up to what should be required. It’s a good exercise for everyone, regardless of job description.
2. Teams matter
“SEALs expect to lead, but they are willing to be led by someone with a better plan….If, in the heat of battle, someone else on the team has a better extraction plan than the team leader, the team leader will defer to the other’s expertise. That kind of ‘team ability’ requires trust, confidence, and respect from every member of the team. It’s also what makes SEAL teams so special and effective. Rank may have its privileges, but it’s usually moot on operations.”
There is so much packed into that small statement. What strikes me is the lack of ego in decision-making. Again, something to aspire to achieve.
3. Teams really matter
“I find the notion of team before self resonates with my clients, the executives I work with. The understand and value a culture of teamwork. When you’re in charge of an organization, it’s easier to see the value of an orchestrated, team-focused approach to running a business. Individuals, however, sometimes are unable to see things as clearly.”
I find small teams more effective than solo cowboys. Teams neutralize the weakness of an individual. Teams reflect the maxim that 2+2=5. Why don’t we use them more in our business? Why are we so found of silos?
I am left to wonder how successful a business could be if it embraced the lessons of our most successful fighting force. But I know that some lessons they have learned are critical for me to learn.