Management Lessons from US Navy SEALs

Management Lessons From The Navy SEALs
After reading the book “Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win,” I was in awe of the tools and strategies used by one the world’s elite forces to succeed in the most hostile environments. From taking decisions in the midst of heavy bombing to executing missions in IED (Improvised Explosive Device) laid areas, managing a team of high performing Navy SEALs is a task every SEAL Commander must master.

The corporate world can’t be directly compared with a battlefield, where every decision makes the difference between life and death, yet we can draw parallels between the two arenas. This is because of two reasons – first, it involves leading people successfully towards a per-ordained mission and secondly, it involves managing resources effectively and performing at peak levels. Below are eight powerful strategies Navy SEALs use to perform at peak levels.

1. Conduct Pre-mortem and Post-mortem:
Conduct Pre-mortem and Post-mortemNavy SEALs conduct an in-depth analysis of the mission before and after executing the mission, which also means to “Dirt-Dive” the mission. When they have to operate in an unknown territory, they are on the lookout for the worst-case scenarios before starting the mission. They discuss the possible countermeasures in case the plan doesn’t work. These are called Pre-mortems. After executing the mission it’s important for them to learn and improve, for which they do a Post-mortem. They dissect every detail of the mission and extract the learnings so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes again and are able to take their skills to the next level.

2. Train when not on a Mission:
Train when not on a MissionWhen SEALs are not executing missions they are busy training. They find ways to up their skill levels, either playing games to sharpen their reflexes or learning new warfare techniques to succeed in tough missions. In the movie Zero Dark Thirty, the Navy SEAL team is shown playing games a day before they went on the mission to raid Osama Bin Laden’s suspected house. One of the Navy SEALs in the movie was listening to Tony Robbins’s motivational tapes in the helicopter while on the way to raid the house. They believe in continuous mental and physical conditioning to become the best in their domains.

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3. Navy SEALs avoid “Blue on Blue”:
Navy SEALs avoid “Blue on Blue”When two teams having the same mission engage in a fight with each other, it becomes “blue on blue.” Navy SEALs don’t operate in isolation. They work with other sister teams having similar missions, which include the local armed forces or the military units of other nations. If they fight with a team who is considered friendly forces, they incur heavy losses because the enemy wins without any engagement. When the SEAL leader doesn’t study the battlefield well, the chances are high that they might miss out on an allied force already engaged in the area.

4. “Cover and Move”:
Navy SEAL teams support each other while moving through the battle zone. One team provides cover from enemy fire for the other team to advance in the right direction. Once the team has advanced, this team provides cover to the team that was giving cover initially. That’s how the teams advance and support each other. There is no one-man army in the Navy SEAL team. They must execute missions with teams supporting each other throughout.

5. Hell Week:
Hell WeekNavy SEALs are famous for their Hell Week, which is the culmination of the entire Basic Navy SEAL Training. It is so gruesome that out of two hundred young men, hardly twenty or thirty make the cut. They are sleep deprived for the entire Hell Week and get a chance to sleep for only a few hours. This is not a test of their physical ability but their mental toughness. Surprisingly, the young men with big muscles and tough looks are the first to quit. Though the SEALs require physical training, they also require mental toughness that will come handy when executing missions against well-trained merciless terrorists.

6. Develop “Front-Sight Focus”:
Develop “Front-Sight Focus”Navy SEALs are trained to focus on one target at a time, which means they do not change their focus until they have dealt with the first target. This helps them improve their accuracy while shooting. They do this with the help of various techniques that include breathing, meditation, etc. Looking and focusing are two different things. With focus, Navy SEALs hit the bulls-eye not just once, but every time.

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7. “Prioritize and Execute”:
While executing missions in war zones, Navy SEALs must prioritize their actions by consistently asking questions like:

  1. “Will this target give a high return on investment?”
  2. “How important is it for the success of the overall mission?”
  3. “Is the time optimal for engaging with the target?”

Prioritizing enables SEAL teams to be effective. They can’t afford to engage with just any target that comes their way; they chose their battle effectively.

8. Decentralize Command:
The Navy SEAL CO (Commanding Officer), with other political and defense leaders, craft a strategy that is then shared with tactical SEAL Teams deployed in war zones for execution. The leadership teams know that they can’t make all of the decisions for the Navy SEAL team deployed, hence they decentralize command by entrusting the teams below them to take their own decisions. They communicate the leader’s intent with the strategy and then act as a support to the execution teams. The leaders trust their team to make adjustments and adapt to the changing environment.

After spending days researching and taking notes on Navy SEALs, I am fascinated by the level of commitment and drive such Special Forces showcase. It was indeed exciting to read battlefield stories of grit and courage that touch your heart and make you believe in the potential you have.

But as we say, true learning begins when you apply what you learn. Share the article with your friends, colleagues and bosses, and spread the leadership wisdom across your influence circle.

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