5 Leadership Lessons Learned From a Navy Seal and What They Mean For you

Leaders—true leaders—aren’t average people. The average person doesn’t choose to swim upstream while others swiftly float downstream, or zig when others zag. But having the courage, character and confidence to enter into the abysmal unknown and create value—personally organizationally –for others is exactly what defines them as leaders.

The motivation to grow, to become a better version of yourself and “show up”. Sustaining your competitive advantage as a leader, as a team, and as an organization is a daily grind, but if you don’t live up to the purpose that defines you as a leader then you lose the war—of “relevance.”

Thirteen years in SEAL Teams taught me a lot about leadership, teamwork and personal choice. What’s been more eye-opening since leaving the teams, however, has been transferability in lessons learned between the special operations community and business. Here are the five lessons I want to share with you for the taking:

  1. Yesterday doesn’t count.
    At the risk of sounding cheesy I’ll share the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training motto, which is “the only easy day was yesterday.” Meaning, that yesterday was easy because it’s over, now you have to focus on—or worry about, depending on the perspective you choose. Look ahead and focus on the next target.
  2. Prioritize yourself.
    You can’t manage or lead others until you know how to manage or lead yourself. What this looks like is making the right personal choices that serve your role, whether it be personal or professional. The most successful people don’t “pencil in” exercise when windows of opportunity open, they open the windows themselves by scheduling their workouts into their daily routine. Remember, every day counts, and if you don’t seize the opportunity to improve, your competitor will.
  3. Strive to become better, not the best.
    Every week the BUD/S for six glorious weeks we conducted a two-mile timed ocean swim where each student was paired with a swim buddy. In the off chance that a swim pair were to encounter a shark or other force of nature, the plan was to stab your swim buddy and then swim like hell in the opposite direction (only kidding). The takeaway here is to have identifiable benchmarks for how you’re doing against the competition. The business landscape of today has a funny knack for changing on a dime, and if you’re unaware of what your competitors are doing then you’ll soon find yourself not competing at (because you’ll be irrelevant).
  4. Hire for fit.
    Too often hiring managers look for the brightest, shiniest ball of competence in their applicants, such as recently graduated MBA who will fit nicely into the next job opening without any need for additional training. Yes, competence is great, but skill without will (in the context of character) is a loose firehose. If you want the recipe for success, it looks like this: hire for character, train for competence, coach for performance. It’s simple, it’s effective and you won’t be wrong.
  5. Be humble.
    There’s nothing worse than hearing somebody tell you how great they are. Humility doesn’t mean being passive or abdicating authority. It means subjugating self- interest for a greater purpose—such as listening. Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care, and once they know how much you care, then they’ll see how smart you are.

Practicing the above leadership behaviors will cultivate not only better personal performance, but better business…

Jeff Boss contributor


image from USCG Press