Imagine this. You’re on a beautiful beach near San Diego. Twilight approaches, the sun is sinking at the far edge of the Pacific. You are sitting in the 62-degree surf; a cool breeze has become a cold wind. You are nervous, scared and shivering. This is Surf Torture, the toughest night of Navy SEAL training. Every few minutes you will ask yourself if this is worth it. You know many will quit. Only 20 percent of candidates complete the six-month program, earn their trident and join this fighting force.
According to several Navy SEALs alumni, real changes take place within an individual during this exercise. Each must use his mental training to limit the pain. Each extends himself and accepts hardship more severe than ever before. This creates great confidence, a greater commitment, and a deep belief in one’s capacity to survive any situation. Richard Strozzi, trainer of SEALs, Special Forces and executives, calls this process embodiment — when the lessons are embedded in the body, not just in the brain.
Five lessons emerge from this training, which we can apply to ourselves and our teams.
Follow one’s creed, without fail: Dick Couch, author and former SEAL, believes the most important lesson from SEAL training for executives is holding one’s beliefs in the face of adversity. The SEALs call this adhering to their creed. Imagine your team truly living by inspirational rules of behavior. The SEAL Creed provides a powerful example:
“I am a common man with an uncommon desire to succeed.
I serve humbly. Being part of this team is a privilege that I must earn every day.
My standard is uncompromising integrity.
The ability to control my emotions and my actions sets me apart from others.
I am physically harder and mentally stronger than those I face.
My training is never complete.
If knocked down, I get back up. I will not quit. I will not fail.”
Master the body: The physical training of SEALs is legendary, known as the hardest training in the world, building extraordinary strength and capacity. Hell Week, Surf Torture and the other six months of training are referred to as the best time an individual has had, and yet something he never wants to replicate. Top fitness allows him to bring forward his best capabilities. Strozzi believes this is necessary for every leader.
Master the mind: Mental mastery makes the SEALs extraordinary. For example, they train to hold a position without movement for hours, to moderate their body temperatures in extremes of hot and cold and to hold their tempers. Strozzi addresses mastering the mind and body in sessions with executives based on his decades of work in the martial art of aikido. A mental shift occurs in the training, which allows an individual to be at maximum power while handling an opposing force without confrontation.
Focus on the values: Values are at the heart of the SEAL. Common descriptors of participants include humble, honorable, disciplined, willing to sacrifice and of the highest integrity. Couch emphasizes the importance of executives holding others to the team values and not allowing exceptions. “If someone violates a value, you let them know you do not tolerate that behavior. It is unacceptable,” he said. For SEALs, one ticket for driving under the influence and you’re out. Couch said team weakness starts when the values are compromised.
When attending a session for a Fortune 50 company, I heard a participant make a racial joke. Within hours, after calls to upper management, the individual was sent packing and immediately dismissed from the firm. We learn from others’ examples, and those examples have to be the best.
Balance heart and fist: Eric Greitens is an ex-SEAL, and his book, The Heart and the Fist, speaks to the lessons of SEALs training in our everyday lives. On a recent Charlie Rose broadcast, Greitens said we all have a front line, where our commitment to our goals comes right up against reality. “To do anything well, we have to live with courage and compassion. The heart provides us with our purpose, with our passion. But to follow that passion requires discipline and courage.”
The SEALs’ commitment, humility and success are an inspiration to anyone who values being exceptional.
Brandon Hall is CEO of Brandon Hall Research, publisher of the study “Emerging e-Learning: New Approaches to Delivering Engaging Online Learning Content.” He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.