Category Archives: Military

What Navy SEALS Can Teach Us About Teamwork.

Why are Navy SEALS so effective?

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US Navy SEALS Freefall from Air Force C-17. Photo courtesy of U.S. taxpayers (from .gov website).

SEALS  go anywhere (Sea, Air and Land).  They are the best conditioned, best trained, best equipped fighting force on Earth.  But is there is more to the story?

One often overlooked element is an unsurpassed dedication to the team. This is not the kind of “teamwork” that we talk about in business or sports.

In business, teamwork often happens begrudgingly. In many organizations, there is little or no alignment between people or departments. What we often call teamwork is more like the strained alliances of fractious parties in a parliamentary government. Each individual protects his own turf, viewing others suspiciously while contributing as little as possible to the team. This is not real teamwork.

SEALS on Teamwork

SEALS view teamwork differently. Teamwork is a force multiplier. Teamwork is a matter of life and death. Teamwork is born in training and demonstrated when members give their last full measure for the team.

Lone-Survivor

In his book, Lone Survivor:  The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and The Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10, Marcus Luttrell illustrated how SEALs understand teamwork.

After their position was exposed by a goat-herder on a mountain in Afghanistan, Luttrell and 3 fellow SEALS fought off an overwhelming Taliban force.

Soon after the firefight began, Lt. Mike Murphy was shot in the stomach, but he “was ignoring his wound and fighting like a SEAL officer should, uncompromising, steady, hard-eyed, and professional.”

Shortly thereafter, Marcus wrote that he saw Danny Dietz’s thumb “blown right off. And I saw him grit his teeth and nod, sweat streaming down his blackened face. He adjusted his rifle, banged in a new magazine with the butt of his hand, and took his place in the center of our little gun line.”  Danny would continue to return fire in spite of each of the five wounds (including one to the neck) that would eventually take his life.

When Luttrell saw Matthew “Axe” Axelson  shot in the chest, he recorded:

This could not be happening. Matt Axelson, a family fixture, Morgan’s best friend, a part of our lives. I started calling his name, irrationally, over and over. Privately I thought Danny was dying, and all I could see was a stain of blood gathering in the red dirt where Axe was slumped. For a brief moment I thought I might be losing it.
But then Axe reached for his rifle and got up. He leveled the weapon, got a hold of another magazine, shoved it into the breech, and opened fire again, blood pumping out of his chest. He held his same firing position, leaning against the rock. He showed the same attitude of solid Navy SEAL know-how, the same formidable steadiness, staring through his scope, those brilliant blue eyes of his scanning the terrain.

After being shot in the stomach earlier, Lt. Murphy was hit again–this time in the chest. He asked for another magazine and continued to fight. Then, what happened next was simply unimaginable. Luttrell wrote:

He groped in his pocket for his mobile phone, the one we had dared not use because it would betray our position. And then Lieutenant Murphy walked out into the open ground. He walked until he was more or less in the center, gunfire all around him, and he sat on a small rock and began punching in the numbers to HQ.
I could hear him talking. “My men are taking heavy fire…we’re getting picked apart. My guys are dying out here…we need help.”
And right then Mikey took a bullet straight in the back. I saw the blood spurt from his chest. He slumped forward, dropping his phone and his rifle. But then he braced himself, grabbed them both, sat upright again, and once more put the phone to his ear.
I heard him speak again. “Roger that, sir. Thank You.” Then he stood up and staggered out to our bad position, the one guarding our left, and Mikey just started fighting again, firing at the enemy.
He was hitting them too, having made that one last desperate call to base, the one that might yet save us if they could send help in time, before we were overwhelmed.

Only I knew what Mikey had done. He’d understood we had only one realistic chance, and that was to call in help. He knew there was only one place from which he could possibly make that cell phone work: out in the open, away from the cliff walls.
Knowing the risk, understanding the danger, in the full knowledge the phone call could cost him his life, Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, son of Maureen, fiancé of the beautiful Heather, walked out into the firestorm.

Greater love

 His objective was clear: to make one last valiant attempt to save his two teammates. He made the call, made the connection. He reported our approximate position, the strength of our enemy, and how serious the situation was. When they shot him, I thought mortally, he kept talking….
An act of supreme valor. Lieutenant Mikey was a wonderful person and a very, very great SEAL officer. If they build a memorial to him as high as the Empire State Building, it won’t ever be high enough for me.

A memorial was built. The guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) was commissioned on October 6, 2012.  Murphy was also awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112). Photo courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer (from .Mil website)

The guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112). Photo courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer (from .Mil website)

What Motivates This Level of Dedication to the Team?

Get your MBA at Charleston Southern UniversityMaybe it is because the SEALS are selective. After all, they only take recruits who are in top condition.

Maybe it was because these men had endured some of the most difficult training that the military has to offer. SEAL training (BUDs) lasts 25 weeks.  By all accounts, it is grueling both physically and mentally.  All a recruit has to do is ring a bell to make the pain stop, and this is quite a temptation when recruits are cold, wet, and exhausted.  Two thirds of those selected for BUDs wash out of the program. Or, maybe it is something more.

For me, two primary lessons stand out.

The first lesson was revealed in the following  passage of Luttrell’s book:

One time during Indoc while we were out on night run, one of the instructors actually climbed up the outside of a building, came through an open window, and absolutely trashed a guy’s room, threw everything everywhere, emptied detergent over his bed gear. He went back out the way he’d came in, waited for everyone to return, and then tapped on the poor guy’s door and demanded a room inspection. The guy couldn’t work out whether to be furious or heartbroken, but he spent most of the night cleaning up and still had to be in the showers at 0430 with the rest of us.
I asked Reno about this weeks later, and he told me, ‘Marcus, the body can take [expletive deleted] near anything. It’s the mind that needs training. The question that guy was being asked involved mental strength. Can you handle such injustice? Can you cope with that kind of unfairness, that much of a setback? And still come back with your jaw set, still determined, swearing to God you will never quit? That’s what we’re looking for.’  (p. 102)

The lesson being taught was mental toughness. In the academic literature, it is called “grit.”  Dedication was developed by training that required SEALS to be comfortable with the hard realities of warfare–to recognize that life is not fair.

The second lesson is the actually the first lesson that SEALS learn in BUDS training. It is drilled into every SEAL.

The SEAL creed:

I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight. (p. 7)

I wonder how different things would be if individuals in organizations had even a fraction of this mentality.  What if we acted like teammates and we defended one another with our eyes fixed on the mission? What would happen if  we determined that we would never quit. What if  we decided we would “draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect our teammates and accomplish our mission.” I think we would have fought our way out of the recession by now. What do you think?

The Professor’s Recommended  Reading:

Seal of Honor

and

No Easy Day

If you are interested in additional leadership lessons from the military, you might also want to read the article: Love the Suck.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

December 7, 2012

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Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University

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What is Leadership? – Part II [Video of short lecture – 10 Minutes]

In part II, I continue to discuss the nature of leadership based on a review of the academic literature. See Part I here if you missed the introduction.

Here we discuss the following:

  • Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityRelationship
  • Emotional connection
  • Change
  • Leading by example

In the lecture I talked about a fantastic book, It’s your Ship I have linked it here.

Because he understood leadership, Captain Abrashoff  transformed one of the worst performing ships in the Navy into the best of its class. I highly recommend the book.

WARNING: As a sailor, Captian Abrashoff has a salty tongue, so the book gets a PG-13 rating. But, I recommend the book because he understood the fundamentally empowering nature of leadership. Here are a few brief passages to illustrate:

its_Your_ship

I found that the more control I gave up, the more command I got. In the beginning, people kept asking my permission to do things. Eventually, I told the crew, ‘It’s your ship. You’re responsible for it. Make a decision and see what happens.’ Hence the Benfold watchword was ‘It’s your ship.’ Every sailor felt that Benfold was his or her responsibility (p. 6).

I was determined to create a culture where everyone on board felt comfortable enough to say to me, ‘Captain, have you thought of this?’ or ‘Captain, I’m worried about something,’ or even ‘Captain, I think you’re dead wrong and here’s why.’ Yes-people are a cancer in any organization, and dangerous to boot (p. 89).

How much more effective would our organizations be if all leaders thought like this?  Have you ever worked for someone like Captain Abrashoff?

Darin Gerdes

December 2, 2012

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Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University

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The More You Know, The More You See.

What do you see in the pictures below?

If you are like most people, you see two men. If you are like most Americans, you probably see Middle-Easterners, but you may not be able to tell much more than that.  In Brotherhood of Warriors, Aaron Cohen, a former Israeli Special Forces counter-terrorism solder explained what he sees. He wrote:

There are different types of dress in various parts of the [Palestinian] territories. The red-and-white keffiyehs are dominant in some parts, black-and-white or green-and-white in still others. Red-and-white means the neighborhood supports Hamas; black-and-white means it supports Fatah; green-and-white, which can be seen much less frequently, means Hezbollah. We would know in advance which areas we’d be going into on a mission, and if the color of our keffiyehs wasn’t correct, we’d have gotten [expletive deleted] up quick (p. 148).

The point of this article is that the more you know, the more you see. Aaron Cohen saw enough to avoid danger.  Where we sees keffiyehs, he saw the equivalent of Palestinian gang colors.

By the way, a FBI agent sees something else. He would see Khalid Ibn Muhammad Al-Juhani (left) and Muhammad Sa’id Ali Hasan (right). The are both wanted by the FBI.

Example #2

What do you see here?

This time, you see an X-ray of a human body. Do you see a 70 Year old? Do you see the prostate cancer? How about the  hypercalcemia and diffuse osteoblastic bone metastases? Follow the arrows. Still don’t see it? Your doctor sees it.

The more you know, the more you see.

Example #3

Read the list below:

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

We all see this as a list of 10 items. Some will realize that it is a political agenda. Closer inspection will reveal that we have already accomplished #2 and #10 and we are actively working on #3, #5,  and #7.

Get your MBA at Charleston Southern University

The political scientist or well-trained economist (or perhaps a sharp history teacher) will realize that this is directly from the end of Chapter 2 of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

Again, the more you know, the more you see. It works the same way in any field–the military, medicine, politics, or business.

Example #4

Sam Wyly was a serial entrepreneur who founded University Computing Company (UCC), owned Bonanza Steakhouse, bought Michael’s Arts and Crafts, and co-founded  Maverick Capital.

In his book, 1000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire Sam Wyly  recounts the story of a skeptic who questioned how he could have made a 199% return on an investment. He wrote:

I answered, “I read a lot.” The questioner laughed. But I wasn’t joking. It’s true. I do read all the time. What I’m trying to say is that having good timing is a result of paying attention to the ideas and trends floating around out there, studying them, coming to some intellectual conclusions, and then, ultimately, listening to your own gut about how to apply your conclusions to the business ventures you elect to pursue (p. 224).

There is a reason that Warren Buffett is one of the richest men on earth. He is currently #3 on the Forbes list.

Buffett  famously quipped: “Some men read Playboy. I read annual reports.”

What Sets Some People Apart From Others?

There is no mystery or magic here. Insight comes from investigation. What do you need to see? What are you doing to learn about the subject?

Darin Gerdes

November 30, 2012

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Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University

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Love the Suck

When you are looking for a little inspiration about leading your people, think about what soldiers experience in the U.S. Army Ranger School.

Some time ago I read The Unforgiving minute: A Soldier’s Education. In the book, Craig Mullaney describes his experiences at the United States Military Academy and U.S. Army Ranger School before heading off to War.

The book was a compelling inside view of what it took to complete each component of Mullaney’s military education. To give you a taste of the book and the leadership lessons contained within, let me provide two brief excerpts. I found these two passages particularly riveting. The instructors drilled simple but profound ideas into the men as they trained them to be Rangers–the U.S. Army’s battlefield leadership. Mullaney wrote:

As we spent nights marching through torrential thunderstorms, officers urged us on with motivational cheers. ‘Nothing but a little Ranger sunshine, cadets.’ ‘If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training.’  ‘You gotta love being cold, wet, and miserable. Love the Suck, men, love the suck.’   On the face of it, their cheers were silly. Who could love being miserable? (p. 50).

Now, Mullaney was right. These cheers were silly, but remember that leadership is a mindset. Too often we think that leadership is about having certain traits or taking correct actions. Success often hinges on the leader’s focus (why he is leading, not  how or what). In battle, Rangers would be responsible for motivating their men regardless of the conditions.

Love the Suck 

I have passed that little bit of wisdom on to my MBA students at times when they were overwhelmed by the demands of work, home, and their classes. I remind them that if they play their cards right, they will have more pressure, not less. But when they rise through the ranks of their organizations, their people are going to be sustained by the training they are experiencing right now in my class. No discipline is pleasant at the time (Hebrews 12:11).

At home, I have encouraged myself with the same message when it was hard to comfort a crying baby at 3AM. I have 5 kids, so I know what it is like to be tired and frustrated while caring for a child. But as a parent, I know that hard times are part of the job description, and this is the point. This is why we need to learn to “love the suck.”

Leadership is Not About You. It is About Your People 

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityWhether you are leading soldiers, managing employees, or raising children, the only correct leadership mindset is one that places the best interests of those you lead first. This does not mean that they necessarily get their way; it does mean that they get your best.

In another passage, Mullaney explained that one of the Ranger instructors:

asked each of us one simple question: ‘Why are you here?’ The answers were predictable, ranging from ‘For the challenge’ to ‘My platoon sergeant made me.’ I admitted with the other infantry officers that I hadn’t had a choice.

‘Wrong answer, Ranger,’ he said to each person before addressing the group. ‘You are here for one reason.’ He paused for effect. ‘You are here for the troops you are going to lead. You are responsible for keeping them alive and accomplishing whatever mission you’re given. I don’t care if you’re tired, hurt, or lonely. This is for them. And they deserve better. You owe them your Ranger tab’ (pp. 101-102).

The instructor was absolutely right: You lead FOR THE PEOPLE YOU LEAD. Remember that, and the correct actions will be much more likely to follow.

The Professor’s Recommended  Reading:

and

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

November 24, 2012

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Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University

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