May 7, 2011

SEALS - Going Beyond The Veneer

What a great article in the Wall Street Journal today (7-8, May 2011) about the Navy SEALs.

No, the article is not about how they are just these pure lethal, killing machines--as Osama Bin Laden learned this week.

But rather, about what it takes to be a Navy SEAL, and in my mind implicitly what it takes to be the best in life at whatever you chose to do.

The Navy SEALs were stood up by President Kennedy in 1962 as an elite new commando force for all-terrain missions (aside from being the nation's elite maritime special forces):

Hence the acronym: SEa, Air, and Land.

Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden recounted at Fort Campbell this interaction with his granddaughter, as follows (Source: Washington Wire):

"We're going to see the guys out there who got Osama bin Laden," Mr. Biden said he told her.

"And she grabbed a little friend of hers and said, "My pop's going out to see the whales!'"

"Not the SEALs," Mr. Biden added, "the whales. Because if they're that good, they've got to be big, man."

And it is true, the SEALs are big men, but not necessarily in the sense that you might think.

Yes, they can kick your a** six ways to Sunday, but becoming a SEAL is really about heart!

While the SEAL training draws the physical best--"high school and college track and football stars, national-champion swimmers, and top-ranked wrestlers and boxers, only 10% to 20% ...manage to finish" -- and there are only about 250 graduates a year, total!

So what's the differentiator--between making it and not (through "Hell Week"--the culmination of the 6 months of grueling training)?

The SEAL author sums it up for us this way:

"Almost all the men who survived possessed one common quality. Even in great pain, faced with the test of their lives, they had the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear, and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the 'fist' of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others, to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose."

Very well said!

Some major leadership lessons:

1) In the end, physical strength (what they call the "size of their biceps") and prowess is only part of the equation--and at some point, everyones strength gives out--"they break". But the heart and soul of the person, what drives them inside, is not subject to physical limits--and that is the part of us that is our essence and is immortal and can drive us to true greatness. And like the story of little David (the champion of Israelites) beating the giant Goliath in the Bible, with courage, ingenuity, teamwork, and purpose, we can do the seemingly impossible.

2) It's important to see beyond the exterior of the person or situation that's before you, and to go deeper into what behind the veneer. On the surface, lots of people may look like they could be SEALs, but only the cream of the crop make it. Similarly, when it comes to business opportunities, hiring situations, and complex negotiations, it's critical to "go deep, before you leap," so that you can make important determinations of what is really the best for you and your organization.

3) You don't just become the best, and stay that way, but you have to earn it every day. For example, training is critical and learning and growth is a life-long pursuit. As the SEAL states from one of his instructors: "The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war." We've got to put in the sweat equity into everything we really want, and which is really important us.

4) Never forget you are not alone, you are part of a "squad", a team, a nation, a people--you are a child of G-d. Together, we are held together by principles and values that transcend the individual and the moment. These make us strong beyond our physical limitations, our sheer numbers, and even our technology--although these certainly help ;-)

Our fighting men and women make tremendous sacrifices for all us, and becoming a SEAL or other special forces commando requires even greater demands--and the physical part is only the beginning, only the veneer.


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