Imagine that you’re looking at your company-issued smartphone and you notice an e-mail from LinkedIn: “These companies are looking for candidates like you!” You aren’t necessarily searching for a job, but you’re always open to opportunities, so out of curiosity, you click on the link. A few minutes later your boss appears at your desk. “We’ve noticed that you’re spending more time on LinkedIn lately, so I wanted to talk with you about your career and whether you’re happy here,” she says. Uh-oh.
It’s an awkward and Big Brother–ish scenario—and it’s not so far-fetched. Attrition has always been expensive for companies, but in many industries the cost of losing good workers is rising, owing to tight labor markets and the increasingly collaborative nature of jobs. (As work becomes more team-focused, seamlessly plugging in new players is more challenging.) Thus companies are intensifying their efforts to predict which workers are at high risk of leaving so that managers can try to stop them. Tactics range from garden-variety electronic surveillance to sophisticated analyses of employees’ social media lives.
Some of this analytical work is generating fresh insights about what impels employees to quit. In general, people leave their jobs because they don’t like their boss, don’t see opportunities for promotion or growth, or are offered a better gig (and often higher pay); these reasons have held steady for years. New research conducted by CEB, a Washington-based best-practice insight and technology company, looks not just at why workers quit but also at when. “We’ve learned that what really affects people is their sense of how they’re doing compared with other people in their peer group, or with where they thought they would be at a certain point in life,” says Brian Kropp, who heads CEB’s HR practice. “We’ve learned to focus on moments that allow people to make these comparisons.”
Senior leaders want to believe that delegating a task is as easy as flipping a switch. Simply provide clear instructions and you are instantly relieved of responsibility, giving you more time in your schedule.
That’s the dream. In reality, we all know it almost never works that way. You’re often forced to step in at the last minute to save a botched deliverable. And because you jumped in to save the day, employees don’t have the opportunity to learn. They aren’t left to grapple with the consequences of their actions, and therefore are deprived of the chance to discover creative solutions. What’s more, morale takes a hit — employees begin to believe that no matter what they do, their work isn’t good enough.
A must-read. You will most likely recognize the first work environment described and perhaps enjoy a few suggestions for change. – pw
If there’s one place on earth where originality goes to die, I’d managed to find it. I was charged with unleashing innovation and change in the ultimate bastion of bureaucracy. It was a place where people accepted defaults without question, followed rules without explanation, and clung to traditions and technologies long after they’d become obsolete: the U.S. Navy.
But in a matter of months, the navy was exploding with originality—and not because of anything I’d done. It launched a major innovation task force and helped to form a Department of Defense outpost in Silicon Valley to get up to speed on cutting-edge technology. Surprisingly, these changes didn’t come from the top of the navy’s command-and-control structure. They were initiated at the bottom, by a group of junior officers in their twenties and thirties.
When I started digging for more details, multiple insiders pointed to a young aviator named Ben Kohlmann. Officers called him a troublemaker, rabble-rouser, disrupter, heretic, and radical. And in direct violation of the military ethos, these were terms of endearment.
Kohlmann lit the match by creating the navy’s first rapid-innovation cell—a network of original thinkers who would collaborate to question long-held assumptions and generate new ideas. To start assembling the group, he searched for black sheep: people with a history of nonconformity. One recruit had been fired from a nuclear submarine for disobeying a commander’s order. Another had flat-out refused to go to basic training. Others had yelled at senior flag officers and flouted chains of command by writing public blog posts to express their iconoclastic views. “They were lone wolves,” Kohlmann says. “Most of them had a track record of insubordination.”
Kohlmann realized, however, that to fuel and sustain innovation throughout the navy, he needed more than a few lone wolves. So while working as an instructor and director of flight operations, he set about building a culture of nonconformity. He talked to senior leaders about expanding his network and got their buy-in. He recruited sailors who had never shown a desire to challenge the status quo and exposed them to new ways of thinking. They visited centers of innovation excellence outside the military, from Google to the Rocky Mountain Institute. They devoured a monthly syllabus of readings on innovation and debated ideas during regular happy hours and robust online discussions. Soon they pioneered the use of 3-D printers on ships and a robotic fish for stealth underwater missions—and other rapid-innovation cells began springing up around the military. “Culture is king,” Kohlmann says. “When people discovered their voice, they became unstoppable.”
Empowering the rank and file to innovate is where most leaders fall short. Instead, they try to recruit brash entrepreneurial types to bring fresh ideas and energy into their organizations—and then leave it at that. It’s a wrongheaded approach, because it assumes that the best innovators are rare creatures with special gifts. Research shows that entrepreneurs who succeed over the long haul are actually more risk-averse than their peers. The hotshots burn bright for a while but tend to fizzle out. So relying on a few exceptional folks who fit a romanticized creative profile is a short-term move that underestimates everyone else. Most people are in fact quite capable of novel thinking and problem solving, if only their organizations would stop pounding them into conformity.
When everyone thinks in similar ways and sticks to dominant norms, businesses are doomed to stagnate. To fight that inertia and drive innovation and change effectively, leaders need sustained original thinking in their organizations. They get it by building a culture of nonconformity, as Kohlmann did in the navy. I’ve been studying this for the better part of a decade, and it turns out to be less difficult than I expected.
For starters, leaders must give employees opportunities and incentives to generate—and keep generating—new ideas, so that people across functions and roles get better at pushing past the obvious. However, it’s also critical to have the right people vetting those ideas. That part of the process should be much less democratic and more meritocratic, because some votes are simply more meaningful than others. And finally, to continue generating and selecting smart ideas over time, organizations need to strike a balance between cultural cohesion and creative dissent.
Letting a Thousand Flowers Bloom
People often believe that to do better work, they should do fewer things. Yet the evidence flies in the face of that assumption: Being prolific actually increases originality, because sheer volume improves your chances of finding novel solutions. In recent experiments by Northwestern University psychologists Brian Lucas and Loran Nordgren, the initial ideas people generated were the most conventional. Once they had thought of those, they were free to start dreaming up more-unusual possibilities. Their first 20 ideas were significantly less original than their next 15.
Across fields, volume begets quality. This is true for all kinds of creators and thinkers—from composers and painters to scientists and inventors. Even the most eminent innovators do their most original work when they’re also cranking out scores of less brilliant ideas. Consider Thomas Edison. In a five-year period, he came up with the lightbulb, the phonograph, and the carbon transmitter used in telephones—while also filing more than 100 patents for inventions that didn’t catch the world on fire, including a talking doll that ended up scaring children (and adults).
Of course, in organizations, the challenge lies in knowing when you’ve drummed up enough possibilities. How many ideas should you generate before deciding which ones to pursue? When I pose this question to executives, most say you’re really humming with around 20 ideas. But that answer is off the mark by an order of magnitude. There’s evidence that quality often doesn’t max out until more than 200 ideas are on the table.
Stanford professor Robert Sutton notes that the Pixar movie Cars was chosen from about 500 pitches, and at Skyline, the toy design studio that generates ideas for Fisher-Price and Mattel, employees submitted 4,000 new toy concepts in one year. That set was winnowed down to 230 to be drawn or prototyped, and just 12 were finally developed. The more darts you throw, the better your odds of hitting a bull’s-eye.
Though it makes perfect sense, many managers fail to embrace this principle, fearing that time spent conjuring lots of ideas will prevent employees from being focused and efficient. The good news is that there are ways to help employees generate quantity and variety without sacrificing day-to-day productivity or causing burnout.
Think like the enemy. Research suggests that organizations often get stuck in a rut because they’re playing defense, trying to stave off the competition. To encourage people to think differently and generate more ideas, put them on offense.
That’s what Lisa Bodell of futurethink did when Merck CEO Ken Frazier hired her to help shake up the status quo. Bodell divided Merck’s executives into groups and asked them to come up with ways to put the company out of business. Instead of being cautious and sticking close to established competencies, the executives started considering bold new directions in strategy and product development that competitors could conceivably take. Energy in the room soared as they explored the possibilities. The offensive mindset, Carnegie Mellon professor Anita Woolley observes, focuses attention on “pursuing opportunities…whereas defenders are more focused on maintaining their market share.” That mental shift allowed the Merck executives to imagine competitive threats that didn’t yet exist. The result was a fresh set of opportunities for innovation.
According to decades of research, you get more and better ideas if people are working alone in separate rooms than if they’re brainstorming in a group. When people generate ideas together, many of the best ones never get shared. Some members dominate the conversation, others hold back to avoid looking foolish, and the whole group tends to conform to the majority’s taste.
Evidence shows that these problems can be managed through “brainwriting.” All that’s required is asking individuals to think up ideas on their own before the group evaluates them, to get all the possibilities on the table. For instance, at the eyewear retailer Warby Parker, named the world’s most innovative company by Fast Company in 2015, employees spend a few minutes a week writing down innovation ideas for colleagues to read and comment on. The company also maintains a Google doc where employees can submit requests for new technology to be built, which yields about 400 new ideas in a typical quarter. One major innovation was a revamped retail point of sale, which grew out of an app that allowed customers to bookmark their favorite frames in the store and receive an e-mail about them later.
Since employees often withhold their most unusual suggestions in group settings, another strategy for seeking ideas is to schedule rapid one-on-one idea meetings. When Anita Krohn Traaseth became managing director of Hewlett-Packard Norway, she launched a “speed-date the boss” initiative. She invited every employee to meet with her for five minutes and answer these questions: Who are you and what do you do at HP? Where do you think we should change, and what should we keep focusing on? And what do you want to contribute beyond fulfilling your job responsibilities? She made it clear that she expected people to bring big ideas, and they didn’t want to waste their five minutes with a senior leader—it was their chance to show that they could innovate. More than 170 speed dates later, so many good ideas had been generated that other HP leaders implemented the process in Austria and Switzerland.
Bring back the suggestion box.
It’s a practice that dates back to the early 1700s, when a Japanese shogun put a box at the entrance to his castle. He rewarded good ideas—but punished criticisms with decapitation. Today suggestion boxes are often ridiculed. “I smell a creative idea being formed somewhere in the building,” the boss thinks in one Dilbert cartoon. “I must find it and crush it.” He sets up a suggestion box, and Dilbert is intrigued until a colleague warns him: “It’s a trap!!”
But the evidence points to a different conclusion: Suggestion boxes can be quite useful, precisely because they provide a large number of ideas. In one study, psychologist Michael Frese and his colleagues visited a Dutch steel company (now part of Tata Steel) that had been using a suggestion program for 70 years. The company had 11,000 employees and collected between 7,000 and 12,000 suggestions a year. A typical employee would make six or seven suggestions annually and see three or four adopted. One prolific innovator submitted 75 ideas and had 30 adopted. In many companies, those ideas would have been missed altogether. For the Dutch steelmaker, however, the suggestion box regularly led to improvements—saving more than $750,000 in one year alone.
The major benefit of suggestion boxes is that they multiply and diversify the ideas on the horizon, opening up new avenues for innovation. The biggest hurdle is that they create a larger haystack of ideas, making it more difficult to find the needle. You need a system for culling contributions—and rewarding and pursuing the best ones—so that people don’t feel their suggestions are falling on deaf ears.
Developing a Nose for Good Ideas
Generating lots of alternatives is important, but so is listening to the right opinions and solutions. How can leaders avoid pursuing bad ideas and rejecting good ones?
Lean on proven evaluators.
Although many leaders use a democratic process to select ideas, not every vote is equally valuable. Bowing to the majority’s will is not the best policy; a select minority might have a better sense of which ideas have the greatest potential. To figure out whose votes should be amplified, pay attention to employees’ track records in evaluation.
At the hedge fund Bridgewater, employees’ opinions are weighted by a believability score, which reflects the quality of their past decisions in that domain. In the U.S. intelligence community, analysts demonstrate their credibility by forecasting major political and economic events. In studies by psychologist Philip Tetlock, forecasters are rated on accuracy (did they make the right bets?) and calibration (did they get the probabilities right?). Once the best of these prognosticators are identified, their judgments can be given greater influence than those of their peers.
So, in a company, who’s likely to have the strongest track record? Not managers—it’s too easy for them to stick to existing prototypes. And not the innovators themselves. Intoxicated by their own “eureka” moments, they tend to be overconfident about their odds of success. They may try to compensate for that by researching customer preferences, but they’ll still be susceptible to confirmation bias (looking for information that supports their view and rejecting the rest). Even creative geniuses have trouble predicting with any accuracy when they’ve come up with a winner.
A Syllabus for Innovators
When aviator Ben Kohlmann set out to build a culture of nonconformity in the U.S. Navy, he found inspiration in many sources. Here’s a sampling of the items he recommends to people who want to think more creatively, along with his comments on how they’ve influenced his own development.
A Syllabus for Innovators
When aviator Ben Kohlmann set out to build a culture of nonconformity in the U.S. Navy, he found inspiration in many sources. Here’s a sampling of the items he recommends to people who want to think more creatively, along with his comments on how they’ve influenced his own development.
“Lead Like the Great Conductors”
TED talk by Itay Talgam
Much can be learned from professions we have no understanding of. People are people—and recognizing the commonalities is useful.
by Orson Scott Card
This novel illustrates how tactical and strategic teams can be adaptable—and how genius can emerge at a young age. It’s especially apropos reading in the military, where we promote on seniority and not merit.
by Frank Herbert
A compelling story about insurgency and taking on established powers, Dune explores the ambiguous nature of messianic saviors.
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
by Kathryn Schulz
We’re wrong a lot, and yet we almost never admit it. Schulz helped me critically evaluate my own biases and better understand how people view and portray themselves.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things
by Ben Horowitz
Horowitz doesn’t merely talk about how to lead; he’s actually lived it. And who doesn’t love a guy who starts his chapters with rap lyrics?
The (Mis)behavior of Markets
by Benoit Mandelbrot
Mandelbrot is the father of fractal theory, and his insight into how that plays into the stock market transformed my understanding of luck’s role in managerial successes and failures.
Letters to a Young Contrarian
by Christopher Hitchens
I’m a person of faith, but I appreciate the way Hitchens incisively questions everything, even faith. I’ve used his methods many a time to develop contrarian positions and win debates.
Each episode is pure fun—but yields lots of learning at the same time.
Research suggests that fellow innovators are the best evaluators of original ideas. They’re impartial, because they’re not judging their own ideas, and they’re more willing than managers to give radical possibilities a chance. For example, Stanford professor Justin Berg found that circus performers who evaluated videos of their peers’ new acts were about twice as accurate as managers in predicting popularity with audiences.
I’ve been following a system I created for myself in 1989. It’s worked dramatically for me, and it’s worked dramatically for others.
I’d like to share it: I promise it can work for you…
Why 90 Days?
When I first started setting goals, I’d set six-month goals. But I discovered I didn’t start working on them until I had 90 days left: I’d procrastinate.
Procrastination is the killer of all goal setting. You have to set a goal with a time limit that causes you to take action today.
I picked 90 days because I wanted to give myself enough time to accomplish something, but not so much time that I’d procrastinate.
Don’t make a goal so far out that it doesn’t affect your behavior today. You need a goal that makes you start now.
How To Start
The key to setting a goal for anything is to make them time-bound, measurable and written.
The vast majority of people who make goals fail to give themselves a deadline, and they fail to write them down. But, according to Stanford’s executive program, 90% of high-performing people:
• set specific goals—with outcomes,
• set a deadline for their goals, and
• write them down.
I set my goals at the beginning of each quarter. I set three personal and three professional goals.
First, Set Three Personal Goals
When I say personal, I mean personal. They’re just for me: I don’t share them with anyone.
I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. I’m trying to push myself to get better. I want to make myself reach new heights.
Most of our lives, we’re told what we can’t do and what we can’t become. We get a lid placed over our self-belief and our aspirations.
But successful people won’t accept that. They push themselves beyond what others tell them they can’t accomplish.
When I set these personal goals, I ask myself this question:
“What can I accomplish over the next 90 days that will make me feel good about myself?”
I really believe this is important: You must set goals that help you feel good about yourself. Aim to lift yourself and your expectations.
Why? When you feel good about yourself, you act differently, and you carry yourself differently. This creates a personal feedback loop that changes you.
Then, Set Three Professional Goals
The second set of goals is focused on identifying what I can achieve that has an impact on my business.
In contrast to my personal goals, these three time-bound, measurable goals are shared with my boss and with those I serve. I ask my boss and my team how they’d feel if I were to achieve the goals over the next 90 days.
Most times they feel good about my choices, but at times I get great feedback about the goals. This helps me hone and focus them.
The beauty of getting feedback is that it helps me sharpen the goals before I’ve even started work on them.
And Finalize Your Goals
Now that I have my six goals—three personal, three professional—there are three steps I follow.
First, set the goals aside for a day.
Second, come back and read each one, asking myself if I’d be proud of myself to achieve the goal.
At this point I may tweak the goal to aim a little higher. Not massively, but enough to affect me. Push yourself as high as you can go. The goals don’t have to be huge. They can be small steps to achieve—so long as they stretch you.
(Remember: You’re not setting these goals to make others proud. You’re doing this to make yourself proud. Once you realize this, it’s like a breakthrough in your mind.)
Third, make these goals your highest priority. Schedule action items for each goal. They’re appointments you cannot break.
For example, if your goal is to exercise more, and you schedule your exercise at 7am every Wednesday morning, then that appointment has to be your highest priority: It doesn’t get rescheduled or moved down the priority list.
Treat it as if it’s the most important meeting of the day, because it is. You are important and you need to treat yourself as important.
Do all this, and you’ll do things you never dreamt possible.
Time To Reach Higher
At the end of 90 days, you’ll have done something you’re proud of.
And you’ll realize you can do more. You’ll expect more of yourself, as will others. You’re on your way.
This is a system, but more importantly it’s a change in mindset.
But it’s not a failure if you don’t achieve all six. In fact, the first time I did this, I hit four of the six goals. But I was ecstatic: I’d aimed at something and made tremendous progress. Then came the realization that I could aim higher.
So every quarter I started to shoot higher.
The Bottom Line
I define my goals, I have a target to aim at, I write down and commit to my goals.
For more than 20 years this system has worked for me. Many high-caliber professionals have adopted this system and found success—they’ve contacted me over the years to say so.
I promise it can work for you. It changed my life and it can change yours.
Although producing excellence, incentivizing excellence, incorporating new ideas from the ground and leading by example is a matter of life and death with SEALs, organizations who wish to remain competitive can adopt the same strategies. Originally posted on HBR.
Almost every world-class, high-performance organization takes training and education seriously. But Navy SEALs go uncomfortably beyond. They’re obsessive and obsessed. They are arguably the best in the world at what they do. Their dedication to relentless training and intensive preparation, however, is utterly alien to the overwhelming majority of businesses and professional enterprises worldwide. That’s important, not because I think MBAs should be more like SEALS—I don’t—but because real-world excellence requires more than commitment to educational achievement.
As an educator, I fear world-class business schools and high-performance businesses overinvest in “education” and dramatically underinvest in “training.” Human capital champions in higher education and industry typically prize knowledge over skills. Crassly put, leaders and managers get knowledge and education while training and skills go to those who do the work. That business bias is both dangerous and counterproductive. The SEALS can’t afford it. “Under pressure,” according to SEAL lore, “you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard.” When I see just how difficult and challenging it is for so many smart and talented organizations to innovate and adapt under pressure, I see people who are overeducated and undertrained. That scares me.
So I reached out to Brandon Webb, an innovative SEAL trainer/educator, and CEO of Force12 Media for real-world perspective on what industry could learn from a special operations sensibility. Webb, who served in the Navy from 1993 to 2006 and radically redesigned the SEAL training course curriculum, graciously shared his insight about what works – and what fails – when effecting a training transformation.
A member of Seal Team 3, Webb became the Naval Special Warfare Command Sniper Course Manager in 2003. This was a precarious time. The SEALs leadership recognized that technical excellence—better shooting and better shots—didn’t go nearly far enough in addressing the complex environments and demands that would be made upon sniper teams in wartime deployments in multiple theaters. The wartime challenge demanded better collaboration, greater situational awareness and more strategic application of cutting edge technology for the war-fighter. The post-9/11 environment demanded it. In response, some of the radical changes that Webb designed are the following: He broke the class into pairs, assigning mentors to boost support and accountability; he created classes that explore and explain technologies giving participants greater insight into the physics and underlying mechanics of their equipment; and he adopted the “mental management” techniques of Olympic world-champion marksmen, which we were at first reluctantly but then enthusiastically embraced. The results impressed the war-fighting community. SEALs like Marcus Luttrell (Lone Survivor) and Chris Kyle (American Sniper) observed how that course transformed their field capabilities and effectiveness.
“Our instructors were teaching better, and our students were learning better,” Webb noted in The Red Circle, his 2012 SEAL memoir. “The course standards got harder, if anything—but something fascinating happened: Instead of flunking higher numbers of students, we started graduating more. Before we redid the course, SEAL sniper school had an average attrition rate of about 30 percent. By the time we had gone through the bulk of our overhaul, it had plummeted to less than 5 percent.” And as he told me in a recent email exchange, he accomplished this by drawing from many diverse areas outside the military: “We took best practices from teaching, professional sports, and Olympic champions, and we made our course one of the best in the world in a very short period of time…” Webb noted. “We re-wrote the entire curriculum and saw our graduation rate go from 70% to 98% instantly, and hold there…”
Webb explicitly emphasized four transformational training themes. They’re neither obvious nor cliché. Unfortunately, I rarely see them in Fortune 1000 training programs/executive education or elite MBA programs.
1. Produce Excellence, Not “Above Average”
The first describes where Webb simply would not professionally go. “Being very good wasn’t good enough,” Webb declared. “Training programs shouldn’t be designed to deliver competence; they must be dedicated to producing excellence. Serious organizations don’t aspire to be comfortably above average.” “I honestly don’t even want to focus on good or competent,” Webb wrote, “it’s not in my nature and I don’t want to be part of any team or organization that is willing to set this standard. ‘Aim high, miss high,’ and you can quote me on that.”
In other words, training divorced from excellence is mere compliance. It is more “box ticking” than human capital investment. Is “above average” training really worth the time, energy and expense? A kaizen—continuous improvement—ethos is one thing. But customer service and leadership training that only enhances rather than transforms capabilities and skills doesn’t buy very much.
Webb’s hardcore perspective poses an existential challenge to most organizations’ views of human resources. Do they really want training to empower and bring out the best in their people? Or does everyone train with the tacit expectation that excellence matters less than being a bit better? Webb wonders whether most companies are serious about what training can and should mean.
2. Incentivize Excellence Not Competence
This links directly to his second theme around “getting the incentives right.” Even if the training itself is world-class, organizations need recognition and rewards systems that explicitly acknowledge and promote excellence. And, says Webb, also need the courage and integrity to reposition and replace those who can’t—or won’t—step up.
“For training to work it has to be effective and incentives have to be in place (financial, personal growth, promotion, etc.) for training to be effective in the work place and in order to get employee ‘buy in,’” Webb notes. “I’m a big fan of economist Milton Freidman… it’s as simple as creating alignment through incentives and that’s what we did by creating an instructor/student mentor program. The instructors had accountability (they would be evaluated on their student’s performance) which created the right incentive for them to pass. This made a huge difference. Plus we switched to a positive style of teaching and we saw our graduation rate rocket up.”
Should training overwhelmingly focus on skills enhancement? Or must it be managed to build better bonds and relationships throughout the enterprise? Webb unambiguously champions both. The training transformation made the SEALs culture more open to innovation and exchange. Incentives aligning and facilitating accountability improved the entire organization, not just the trainees.
3. Incorporate New Ideas from the Ground
This amplifies Webb’s third theme: successful training must be dynamic, open and innovative. Ongoing transformation—not just incremental improvement—is as important for trainers as trainees. “It’s every teacher’s job to be rigorous about constantly being open to new ideas and innovation,” Webb asserts. “It’s a huge edge, sometime life-saving, to adopt a good idea early and put it into practice…As an instructor I learned that you are never done learning, and your students can be a wealth of information, especially when guys like Chris Kyle would come back from Iraq and make recommendations on how to better train students to the urban sniper environment. We incorporated this type of mission brief back and actively sought out this knowledge from the SEAL sniper’s who were returning from places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and other not so friendly places. Then we would take this knowledge and incorporate it into our yearly curriculum review; if important enough, we’d make the change within weeks. That’s how fast we could adapt our course curriculum and get approvals.”
4. Lead by Example
Getting better at getting better is a vital organizing principle for learning organizations. Arguably Webb’s most passionate training theme is the one that reflects his battlefield experiences, not just his training triumphs. The most important training behavior a leader can demonstrate, he asserts, is leading by example.
“Leading by example means never asking your team to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself,” Webb writes. “This can’t be faked, do it right and your team will respect you and follow you. Don’t do this, especially in a SEAL team, and you are doomed as a leader. I’ve seen it happen, and careers ended when it did. Lead by example and watch your team elevate you with their own accomplishments.”
If your organization cares about innovation or transforming customer service or being data-driven, how do you lead by example? In Laszlo Bock’s otherwise superb Google-based book on performance analytics—Work Rules!—the phrase “lead by example” is nowhere to be found. That’s both a pity and opportunity missed because, as Webb stresses, leading by example is what truly empowers small teams and teamwork.
“I’ve seen small teams accomplish incredible things in training (my times at the sniper school) and combat (Afghanistan and Iraq),” Webb recalls. “In Special Operations environments and top business environments, you have the privilege of working with people who just get the job done at all costs. They are self-motivators. Even if they don’t have the know-how, they will figure it out and just make it happen. It’s amazing to have a whole team that thinks this way, and to see what they can accomplish.”
There are no panaceas. The level of motivation, dedication and self-sacrifice the SEALs demand from themselves and each other goes far, far beyond what most businesses and business schools should ever ask, let alone expect, from their people. But that said, for leaders and managers who truly care about their people and their customers, the SEALs training template deserves to be taken seriously. No one rightly doubts the vital role education plays in creating and sustaining economic competitiveness worldwide. But it’s long past time that CEOs, boards, business schools and universities revisit what world-class training should mean, as well.