Three Lessons in Business from a Former Navy Seal

Originally posted on the Expion Blog

At Expion’s Social Summit this year in Raleigh, CEO of the McChrystal Group and former Navy SEAL David Silverman spoke about how leadership lessons from the battlefield translate into solving the complex problems that face corporations today.

Know when it’s time to regroup and create a plan

Silverman explained that from November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981, fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for total of 444 days.

President Carter decided to take action and rescue these individuals but during the early stages of the rescue, two planes collided and the resulting footage was shared with international media by Iran. In its wake, the US was sorely embarrassed because here’s the “world superpower” and they can’t even get to their objective.

Out of this failure came the conclusion that there was no single organization capable of doing the tactics, techniques and procedures for how the special operations community was going to operate, and so they created Joint Special Operations Command. this team was combined of some of the best from the SEALS, Delta Force, Army Rangers, and other branches.

In today’s omni-channel marketing world, corporations often struggle with the changing dynamics of new platforms, and the consumer behaviors that can either influence, or be influenced by the shifts of new technology.

When the barriers to completing the goals change, so should the teams working on overcoming these obstacles. It’s important that all departments of a corporation are informed and onboard with top level goals of a company to be able to bring the best of each department to share and work together to solve problems. This comes from informed and honest leaders who have the foresight to adapt when necessary.

Empower Execution by spreading knowledge

In most organizations, there’s the traditional mindset of “do your job” and don’t worry about what other departments are doing. You know this type of thinking: “The people in marketing don’t need to do what the people in R&D are doing” as Silverman went on.

Instead of thinking about the organization in such an archaic way, businesses should strive to become more connected, a network, even brain-like.

If the departments are more informed about what one another is doing, they’ll develop the confidence to make better decisions faster at their own level instead of wasting time and opportunity waging through process or making ill-informed decisions.

This can take a number of forms. It could be a weekly video call, a wikipedia-like knowledge community, or increased conversation and sharing inside a content management system.

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Become a Great Leader to Operate in Chaotic Environments

Ultimately, individuals have to drive this process and go above and beyond to make this happen. Leaders have never been more important because of how interconnected everything is both internally and externally with media and technology.

According to Silverman, in most organizations information comes from the bottom up, decisions are made at the top, and then orders are pushed back down. In small organizations this might be ok because of fewer barriers of communication, when you scale that becomes a nightmare.

It’s not enough to have people down on the ground executing and not being able to make decisions.

You have to decouple the relationship between information and control.

The ability to assimilate information does not define control, in fact it’s the reverse.

So what are the characteristics of great leaders? Silverman listed these key skills that individuals should work on to be a great manager, leader in chaotic environments:

  • Functional excellence
  • Ability to communicate
  • Discipline (holding yourself accountable)
  • Decision making
  • Constant learning
  • Connecting (empathy, the ability to inspire those around you)
  • Self awareness (The more senior you get, the harder is it to achieve this. As you get to larger team: self awareness becomes most important because you’re leading by command and influence and need mechanisms for honest improvement)

The fundamentals of making a small team great are the same as making a large team great, they’re just harder to do because there are more moving parts. Adaptability is the leading indicator of a great team, and above all else, trust and common purpose will allow success and empowerment.

You can watch David Silverman’s full presentation here for a more in-depth discussion of how they have transformed organizations with these other other ways of thinking.

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