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.
We Learn From Failure, And The Lesson Learned Can Be Monumental – (From The Desert In Iran In 1980, To The Death Of Bin Laden)
We learn from the failures that we decide we will learn from.
We don’t learn from all failure. In fact, I would guess we don’t learn from most failure. And/or, most of us don’t actually learn from failure.
We have to decide that we will learn from a failure after we fail.
If we don’t learn, the failure is wasted.
If we do learn, the possibilities are amazing…and endless.
We failed in the desert in 1980, in Iran.
Then, we learned.
Then, we got Bin Laden in 2011.
The book, about to be released is this: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Hartford.
These thoughts were prompted by this paragraph from Andrew Exum (which Andrew Sullivan highlighted):
You are witnessing the late stages of an evolutionary process that began in a cold desert base in Iran some three decades ago. You cannot understand why the U.S. military was able to execute this extraordinary operation deep in the heart of Pakistan without first understanding the failures of Iran in 1980. I’ve got Tim Harford’s new book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure on my desk right now, and I’m thinking Tim should add our special operations forces as a case study in time for the paperback.
I was amazed that the same day that I read about the bombing of the hideout for Osama bin Laden in a novel was the same day that the United States Navy Seals and our intelligence operations actually killed him!
One of my favorite fiction authors is Stuart Woods. His recent best-seller is entitled Strategic Moves (Putnam, 2011). The featured character is Stone Barrington, a playboy-type attorney, who is “of counsel” to a large New York City law firm.
In the book, a foreign arms-dealer and fugitive, Erwin Gelbhardt (Pablo), reveals he knows the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden at the end of a four-day interrogation which the CIA conducted in Barrington’s home office.
The book notes that the area that Pablo identified became the target of heavy and intense bombing from Unites States forces. However, the book does not provide a conclusion that the attempt killed or captured bin Laden.
Not so on Sunday! It was 10:00 p.m. and I turned on the news to check on the DFW weather. The local news was not on, but an ABC network breaking news story was. And, you know the end of the real story as well as I do.
How many times have you seen fiction turn into reality the same day?
Let’s talk about it soon!
We Get (We Accomplish) What We Meet About – (with reflections on President Obama’s focus on getting Osama Bin Laden)
I’ve been re-looking at Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish. I have presented my synopsis of this incredibly practical book a number of times. The book describes, and elaborates on, in user-friendly form, the traits and practices of John Rockefeller. At the center of those practices was the discipline of regular meetings.
I am now ready to boil it down to a phrase. Here’s the phrase:
We get (i.e., we accomplish) what we meet about.
We seldom accomplish what we never meet about.
And here’s what I mean. We are living in a constantly distracting world. We have so many things to do. Because we have so much to do, we do all of that “so much” – but we frequently fail to do the one thing we most need to do.
The Harnish book basically says this: have one priority at a time, and meet about it until it is accomplished — (meetings + execution + debriefing + next meeting + more execution).
We see this everywhere. Do you want to know which company will win the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award? Look at the schedules within the winning companies. They have constant, perpetual, consistent meetings on quality improvement over the long haul – until they genuinely excel at quality.
In the article by John Dickerson on Slate about President Obama’s focus on Bin Laden, Mission Accomplished: How Obama’s focused, hands-on pursuit of Osama Bin Laden paid off, we learn that President Obama gave the directive early in his presidency:
In June 2009, Obama directed his CIA director to “provide me within 30 days a detailed operation plan for locating and bringing to justice” Osama Bin Laden.
A series of meetings were held in the White House to develop aggressive intelligence gathering operations.
By mid-March the president was chairing the national security meetings on the operation. (In all he would chair five such meetings, including the ones on the day the operation took place.)
You get (you accomplish) what you meet about.
Or, at least, you certainly don’t accomplish what you never meet about. Or, in other words, meetings done well may not guarantee success, but a failure to meet with a clear focus almost guarantees failure.
So, whatever your goal, ask yourself this simple question: is it genuinely your focus? If it is, then you are meeting about it, regularly, with the people who can make it happen – until it is accomplished.
Are you meeting regularly? With a clear focus, “one priority at a time?’ If not, it is probably time to start.
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.