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Book: Leadership Lessons of the Navy Seals by Jon Cannon


Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. ~Unknown

The Leadership Lessons of the U.S. Navy Seals : Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results

I just finished the audio book, Leadership Lessons of the Navy Seals by Jeff Cannon. I finished it while bike riding on a chilly Sunday afternoon in Chicago, the Windy city. One of the really odd things about riding in the downtown area and by the lake is that the wind seems to always be in your face, seems to always be opposed to the direction one is headed. There were a few times I wanted to cut the ride short because I was not ‘comfortable’ in the chilly wind, a few times I thought it was just too cold for a training ride, a few times I thought it was too bitter when, like clockwork, the author would highlight a leadership concept with a Navy Seals training story, such as sitting in a pool of ice cube water until limbs go numb and then staying a while longer, that pushed me to keep going.

Most of the book covered leadership topics with which I was very familiar, concepts that I have encountered a few to numerous times in my twenty year study of leadership. Three of these were really worth hearing yet again either because they hammered home something I feel strongly about or because the military angle put a slightly different twist on something I viewed from a different angle. Those three areas are; Communication via a single channel, being candid is a sign of respect, and attempt what is taught for true learning.

Communication via a single channel

I have long held the belief that communication between teams separated by distance should be via a primary conduit. This worked for me on projects I have lead during my many years in Project Management. I am on the periphery of a team that has chosen a different approach, the scatter gun approach. Everyone is copied on every email so everyone is in the loop in the hopes that no one will miss anything and am watching both teams struggle.

Much time is wasted with this technique. Time is wasted reading emails which, typically, contain little value for the task at hand. Focus is taken from the primary task the person should be accomplishing. When someone context switches they lose more than the time on task, they also lose the time remembering where they are and getting back in the task frame of mind.

I believe and have believed for many years that someone from each team should be a focal point of communication and that person then disperses information to the necessary members of the team. And that person ensures two people from different teams communicate if discussion on a topic is required.

Being candid is a sign of respect

Candidness is a perspective I became acutely aware of after reading Jack Welch’s book titled Winning. The Navy Seals author drove home the understanding that being candid is a sign of respect to the recipient. As a leader, I expect people to be candid with me on the status of a project. It is only respectful that I give them the same courtesy when being candid about their work. Without candid feedback, especially when things are of kilter, puts the person in a state of not knowing what is going on and, in some cases, at risk of losing their job for underperforming without being aware of the discrepancy between expectations and performance.

I do my best to show respect to everyone with whom I work. I have a personal goal this year of giving candid feedback to my direct reports even when it would be easier on me to avoid the topic. Viewing this as a sign of respect gives me additional impetus to be more candid.

Attempt what is taught for true learning

This is another understanding I have had for what seems like forever. In my college Calculus class, the professor would solve problems on the board and it always seemed so easy, easy until I went home and attempted them myself. Since then, I have normally tried to apply what I read into real life situations.

In my training class, I am providing a great deal of theory to my students. I recognized a hole for them as I was putting the 2nd class together in that I don’t hold them accountable for going back to their teams and applying some of the theory. Staring with my 2nd class, homework is being assigned to apply to their teams one of the theories they were taught. In the subsequent class, everyone must then give a summary of what they tried and the subsequent results.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Primarily I enjoyed the book for the Navy Seal stories that encouraged me to go above and beyond, that allowed me to fantasize living the life of a Seal, a fantasy that is easy to have when one is sitting comfortably in the warmth of the home sipping a hot beverage.

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