Navy SEAL Leadership Principles

 Navy SEAL Leadership Principles

“The only easy day was yesterday.” – Navy SEAL Motto

The Navy SEALs are the most elite special operations force of the United States military. SEALs are so elite that 90% of candidates that sign up for training dropout. As a result, SEALs that graduate prove extreme mental and physical capabilities and toughness. To be ready to win in any situation, they constantly drill and practice their skills. In Forbes this month, Cheryl Conner wrote a fantastic article entitled, “Extreme Leadership Principles of A Navy SEAL.” Below is my summary of the three core leadership principles and their application in business.

Principle 1 – Lead by Example. SEAL training is the toughest in the world. In addition, there is no exception or special treatment for officers. SEAL leaders go through the same training as enlistees. Former SEAL, Mark DeLisle, says, “There would be nothing worse than being led by a ‘cake eater” that could not lead by example.” During the final week of “hell week” when everyone is cold, miserable and tired, commanding officers are in the same position. They keep their teams focused on successfully accomplishing their missions.

LESSON – People are mirror reflections of their leaders. If the leader sets the right (or wrong) example, people will emulate them. People do what people see. Doing has far greater influence than saying – people hear what leaders do. Thus, leaders must spend time in the trenches to stay connected to and respected by their teams. Leaders cannot exempt themselves from the requirements and training that the people they lead must meet. If what the leader does contradicts what the leader says (and vice versa), their influence decreases.

Principle 2 – Make It Happen. Navy SEALs are empowered to achieve objectives that are often deemed impossible by other people. In fact, commanding officers of SEAL teams end each individual and team briefing with the phase “make it happen.” They do not say, “Go figure out how to do it” or “Is everyone ready to go do it?” Make it happens means there is no doubt in the commanding officer’s mind that the mission will be successfully completed. He is fully confident and trusts that his SEAL team will find a way to accomplish its objectives – no exceptions.

LESSON – Fully commit and believe in yourself. When defining objectives for individuals and teams, use the phrase “make it happen.” Empower them to achieve their objectives. Force them to get out of their comfort zone and create ways to remove obstacles and achieve goals. To foster creativity, define outcomes, not the steps to achieve them. Demonstrate that you have no doubt that the team can get it done. Know that you are only as strong as your weakest link. Make people better by maximizing everyone’s strengths and minimizing their weaknesses.

Principle 3 – Remove Personal Limitations – As a survival mechanism, the human body does not like to operate outside of its comfort zone. To guard against discomfort and fear, the brain often places doubt as roadblock to success, including mental and physical limitations. According to DeLisle, otherwise perfect Navy SEAL candidates often quit too soon during training because they are unable to find the energy and will to go on – they lose focus on the goal. They quit ten minutes from greatness without ever knowing how much more their bodies or minds could take.

LESSON –  Like Navy SEALs, you must eliminate all perceived personal limitations from both your conscious and subconscious mind. You cannot perform at the highest level if you doubt either yourself or your team. You have to always be willing to do whatever it takes to win, including what other people will not do. What you can do is often much different than what you will do. Never put limitations on yourself or let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. Remove the word “cannot” from your vocabulary. Your only limitations are the ones that you put on yourself.

All contents copyright © 2013, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.

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