Lessons in Leadership from the Navy SEALs

Jessica Berry - Partner and Account Manager

Covers topics related to project management, workflows and consulting. You can reach her on Twitter @jesscialberry

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I recently watched this talk that Commander Rorke Denver gave at the Tugboat Institute’s 2016 Summit. He tells some great stories to emphasize lessons he learned over his years in the Navy SEALs about being a leader. These, in particular, really stuck out to me.

Look at less and you’ll see more

He puts this lesson in the context of a sniper rifle. You can’t look at the whole hill when trying to zero-in on your target, you’ve got to break it down to smaller bits and look at less if you’re going to find anything.

This rings true for most small businesses.

There is so much that goes into running a small business. You’ve got your employees to worry about (Are they doing their jobs? Are they doing them correctly? Is the team working together?), you’ve got your operations to worry about (Do we have too much or not enough inventory? How is my cash flow? Are we covering expenses? Are we profitable?), you’ve got your customers to worry about (Are we delivering on the promises we’ve made? Are we getting things done on time? Are our customers happy?), you’ve got your sales cycle to worry about (Do we have enough customers? What are we doing to get more?), and the list goes on and on.

But if you worry about these things all at once, you’ll never be able to get anything done because you’ll be too concerned about all the things you’re not working on.

So break it down. Chose one thing to work on, one goal to accomplish. Delegate what you can out to your team, or put something on your back burner long enough to accomplish one important task. Giving that one task your full and undivided attention will help you get it done faster and better than if you’re distracted by everything else. And once you’re done with that task, pick the next one to focus on.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can accomplish things when your focus is in the right place.

Play without a safety net

Our team is pretty young. Many of our employees (including myself) started as interns or came to FatCat right out of college. There are true advantages to starting with a green employee, like being able to mold and train them exactly how you want, and getting them really invested in the growth and direction of the business. But on the flip side, starting from scratch means spending a lot of time mentoring.

One tactic we’ve used over and over is to “take away the safety net.” After weeks or months of looking over their shoulder and double checking everything they do, at some point, you have to pull that safety net and tell them to trust their instincts.

“Do you think it’s good enough to send to the client? Then you don’t need my approval, just send it.”

Many times this is met with hesitation from our employees, not because they lack the ability, but because they lack the confidence.

You can tell them a dozen times that they are ready to handle something on their own, but sometimes you have to pull that safety net to get them to believe you, and believe in themselves.

It’s your job as a leader to make sure everyone finds their Harmonic Gait

Watch the video to hear the whole story about what a “harmonic gait” is, but basically, it’s the thing that comes so naturally to you, that you do it well and you do it with pride.

I think entrepreneurs find that when they start their businesses. But part of our jobs as “team leaders” is to help our employees find their harmonic gait as well. Mentor them and guide them and encourage them to go outside of their comfort zone. Give them enough freedom to explore new skill sets and new areas.

If they can find something that they love doing and can do well, it will only benefit your team.

Watch the full video here.

Photo from Tugboat Institute.

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