Twice recently, I have presented my synopsis of Leadership Lessons of the U.S. Navy SEALS : Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results by Jeff Cannon and Lieutenant Commander Jon Cannon. I was struck with how practical, how timely, and how needed these lessons are.
We have a new and deeper appreciation for the folks who make up those Navy SEAL teams, after the successful mission that took out Osama bin Laden. That success was no accident. They prepared, drilled, trained, rehearsed … the preparation was literally decades in the making! This book helps us understand just why they succeed.
The entire book is worth a careful look. But here are three lessons to take seriously for any current or aspiring leader.
Lesson #1 – care for your people. Really, care for your people. If people are cared for, and feel cared for, they will trust, follow, and stay with their leader. People go to where they feel cared for. From the book:
If passion for the big mission is not enough, then maybe commitment for the success of (the life of) your team members will keep you focused. In other words, because you care for the people you work with, you work responsibly, professionally, sacrificially…
Lesson #2 – Plan well. Plan thoroughly. Plan some more. Because the more you plan, the more you know exactly what to do — and, the more prepared you will be when you have to adjust the plan on the spot. From the book:
Do you think you are spending too much time on planning? Spend some more… Success in the boardroom or on the battlefield does not require everything to go perfectly. It requires you to be ready when things go wrong. Set specific goals and establish identifiable paths to reach them…
Time after time, organizations fail to do this.
Lesson #3 – Maintain your rituals, because this plants and sustains a deep appreciation and commitment to the systems that work. Systems matter. Get the wrong systems, and the whole enterprise can come crashing down. Get the right systems, and the whole enterprise has a much better chance at success. From the book:
Sweat the small rituals… By maintaining its rituals, an organization is communicating the idea that a system or culture is in place.
By adhering to its rituals, you are confirming that you belong to the organization. If you buck the system, you are not simply rebelling against formal suits and orthodox memos; you are questioning the organization, strategies, and processes they represent. You are questioning the company you work for.
This book is filled with other, valuable lessons – here’s just a sampling:
build boundaries to prevent infighting and cannibalism;
the vast majority of the time, you know what you should do;
if you think no one else can replace you, you’re an egotistical S.O.B. who’s failed;
there is no “I” in “Shut up and do the work”;
let them be angry when they have a right to be;
tell them when the ship is sinking;
you’re the one who can make it work, and that’s often thanks enough;
cowboys and cogs don’t have job security, team members do;
your own people are your best recruiters;
identify your lead dogs, feed them well, and build a pack around them;
let it be known that you’ll get rid of people who just shouldn’t be part of the team – even the nice people;
practice (“if you need to scream, you need to practice”);
make a decision!
These are just a few more of the many valuable lessons of the U.S. Navy SEALs. I’m glad they have learned their lessons so well.
You can purchase my synopsis (with handout + audio) of Leadership Lessons of the US. Navy SEALs, which comes with an introductory section about Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, with brief excerpts from Inside the Kingdom by Carmen bin Laden and The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright (this book won the Pulitzer Prize), from our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
I have oft quoted, on this blog, and in countless presentations, from The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2007). And Inside the Kingdom by Carmen Bin Laden.
Here is s link to a reading list, all books that were highlighted on PBS, with links to interviews with the authors: A Reading List for the Post-9/11 Era, posted by Molly Finnegan , May 3, 2011. From the intro:
The NewsHour has featured conversations with many writers over the past decade on books that address, directly and indirectly, how 9/11, bin Laden and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have influenced how we live today. After the jump, find a sampling of some of these featured titles with links to the full conversations.
The list is a good one, and, yes, it includes The Looming Tower. Here is the quote lifted from the full interview (link on the page) with Wright on the book list page:
From the conversation:
“Humiliation is one of the most common words in bin Laden’s vocabulary. Certainly there have been many Muslim men who have been physically humiliated, especially Arabs and Egyptians in those prisons. For instance, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two guy in al-Qaida, experienced three years of torture in Egyptian prisons, as was true of many people who are in al-Qaida today. I think that accounts for the appetite for bloodshed that’s so characteristic of al-Qaida and so unusual in many respects for a terrorist movement, which is normally just interested in theater….When he uses that term, it resonates with many Muslims who feel that Islam has been in retreat for hundreds of years and been displaced from his proper place in the world.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington D.C., August 28, 1963:
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
Carmen Bin Laden (Inside the Kingdom):
No one will ever be able to take an airplane again without a sense of apprehension.
Osama Bin Laden and those like him didn’t spring, fully formed, from the desert sand. They were made. They were fashioned by the workings of an opaque and intolerant medieval society that is closed to the outside world.
When Osama dies, I fear there will be a thousand men to take his place.
Our defense is the defense of truth.
President Barrack Obama, May 1, 2011:
We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice.
Justice has been done.
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower (from The New Yorker):
…the fact that he was able to evade justice since 1998, when he authorized the bombings of the two American embassies in East Africa, emboldened terrorists all over the globe.
The recent bombing in Marrakesh and the arrests in Germany demonstrate that Al Qaeda continues to have enthusiastic, entrepreneurial operatives that are eager to make their own mark on history.
But bin Laden’s death comes at a time when Al Qaeda has been sidelined by the democratic surge that has unsettled the Arab world.
Democracy and civil society are the cure for the chronic misery of Muslim countries that has fed the rise of Islamic extremism. The death of the most notorious terrorist the world has ever seen, whose mission was to create a clash of civilizations, will allow the door to open more widely to the tolerance, modernism, and pragmatism that is so badly needed and so long awaited in a part of the world where despair, corruption, brutality, and fanaticism have laid waste to so many generations.
Osama Bin Laden is dead. I am glad. Joy is not the right word. (A friend of mine tweeted last night that she felt no joy in such a killing). But I am glad. “Justice has been done,” said President Obama. Yes, it has.
Dr. King spoke of the “security of justice,” justice that had too often withheld from the people he led. But that phrase is so powerful. Our security is in the idea, the promise, of justice.
There is a terrific reminder of the purity of justice in a courtroom scene at the end of The Verdict (Paul Newman). Here is part of his speech:
I mean there is no justice. The rich win; the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time we become dead, a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims — and we become victims. We become weak; we doubt ourselves; we doubt our beliefs; we doubt our institutions; and we doubt the law.
But today you are the law. You are the law, not some book, not the lawyers, not a marble statue, or the trappings of the court. See, those are just symbols of our desire to be just. They are, in fact, a prayer, I mean a fervent and a frightened prayer.
In my religion, they say, “Act as if you had faith; faith will be given to you.”
If we are to have faith in justice we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice. See, I believe there is justice in our hearts.
I believe the decision by President Obama was a pure decision, on the side of justice. I do not rejoice. Too many died, and Bin Laden’s death brings back that sadness… But it was right, and we are glad. Justice has been done.
So, here’s the request that came in an e-mail:
We are going on a cruise in September and I want to load my Kindle with three books. What are the three best books you would recommend for my reading? The request came from a very sharp, keen-minded, successful, independent business consultant. He attends one of our book synopsis events. This is my attempt to answer his question.
I am tempted to simply list some of my all time favorite reads (not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, although they are close – but definitely books that I am very glad I have read), like: The Doorbell Rang, one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries, by Rex Stout; and The Powers That Be and The Reckoning by the truly great David Halberstam; and Defining a Nation, edited by the same Halberstam.
And then there is this: what are the business books from the last few years (and even a little longer ago) that should be on your “I’ve definitely read that book” list? I would certainly include Good to Great by Jim Collins; something Gladwell (it’s tough to choose — probably Outliers); Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf and The Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy; almost anything, but definitely at least one thing, by Peter Drucker. Add to this The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, and a major personal favorite, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
But – I still have not answered the question. If I had but three books to load on my Kindle for a September cruise, what titles would I choose? Here’s a list of five; you will have to narrow it down to the three that most interest you.
Choice #1: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize winner with his earlier book Guns, Germs, and Steel, has written a tour de force in Collapse, sweeping us through the societies that collapsed, and providing warnings regarding the decisions societies make. An important book!
Choice #2: Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Laden, or, The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. Of course, the Wright book is the heftier of the two; it won the Pulitzer, and provides an amazing education about the rise of Al-Queda, what went into their thinking, and especially their animosity toward the West. But there is a personal tone and a very personal take on life in the strict Muslim world of Saudi Arabia in Carmen Bin Laden’s book — the former wife of Yeslam, one of the brothers of Osama Bin Laden. It is a captivating read, and noticeably shorter than The Looming Tower. (You can tell, from this response, that I think we ought to seek to understand this “other” culture that is so foreign to our own).
Choice #3: OK, which two business books to put on the list? Not necessarily which books to read for enjoyment, but which books provide the most important and useful information? I list two choices. I would put The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life by Robert Cooper, because everyone would benefit from reading an occasional “let’s aim high, and take things higher” book. Unfortunately,this book is not available for the Kindle. (Yes, I checked on all the others). So, for this category of business book, I recommend The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. (I haven’t yet read the new Schwartz book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, which could be a better choice). And, for the other business book, I would have to go with The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, just because I think it deals with the complexity of this age and provides really valuable suggestions. (And, it gives every patient going in to surgery an important question to ask his or her surgeon: “do you use a checklist?”).
And you will notice that there are no novels on my list. I read about a novel a decade (except for my relatively frequent re-reading of the Nero Wolfe mysteries). But I have actually bought a novel – in the past week. It is: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I might actually read it – one of these days soon.
Two personal footnotes:
#1 – thanks, Tom, for providing a great idea for a blog post. I apologize for answering you in this fashion.
#2 — And, it would be interesting to have Bob Morris give his list of “only three” in response to this request? I’m pretty sure he would have different titles – all absolutely worth the investment of a Kindle purchase and a few hours of reading. So many books… so little time!
update: I definitely should have put The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis into the mix — as the book I would recommend to help you understand the financial meltdown of the last couple of years. So now I am up to six to choose from, to then narrow down to three. Sorry about that.