To succeed as a SEAL — to succeed as a leader in any organisation — it is imperative that you know who you are.
Consider the prophetic words of Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
The reality is that it takes hard, continuous work to really know oneself; to know one’s strengths and weaknesses.
But smart leaders funnel the same energy, passion, and competitiveness that they apply to the challenges in their everyday lives and they routinely turn it inward — focusing on knowing themselves better in order to gain a leadership advantage.
Consequently, these are the leaders who remember the life lessons that matter — and that also help others.
They can easily recite their own dreams and aspirations. They understand their own temperament and are all too aware of the length of their personal fuse.
They know what frustrates themselves about themselves as well as what frustrates them about other people. They know what motivates them to succeed — money, power, respect? — and what propels them to failure — ego, lust, greed?
They deftly play to their strengths and fiercely fight to transcend their fears.
They know their values and, consequently, know what it is that they will never compromise. This isn’t some exercise in navel-gazing. This is about knowing who you are so that you can better help yourself and be more prepared to help others.
When you are a SEAL, self-awareness heightens your ability to read situations more carefully and to then act and react accordingly. With self-awareness, your leadership is more evenhanded and steady. It won’t sway in the wind, be affected by the crowd or the brushfires erupting all around you.
If you know who you are and what you’re made of, it’s easier to serve those you lead with more vision, purpose, and clarity. For example, if you know you have a tendency to be a fixer and not a delegator, you can take a deep breath, be contemplative, and consider multiple options when something goes wrong and requires your attention or direction.
If you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, for example, you know that everyone has their own unique psychological type. None are better or worse, just different in many cases. Therefore, if you know that you are an ESTJ type (extroverted, sensing, thinking, judgment type), chances are you won’t want to hire an INFP type (introverted, intuition, feeling, perception type) as your number two.
Or maybe you would. It all depends on how that individual can shore up your own position as a leader. Who knows, after much thought and careful consideration, you may decide a touchy-feely sort is just the person you need to smooth out or make up for your own shortcomings in some particular area.
When you are not self-aware, you are prone to making poor decisions that can dramatically affect your life and career. If you overlook a vital aspect of who you are when making a career choice, for example, it could be disastrous for everyone involved.
When I was going through BUD/S (and as I routinely train clients in my stress-inducing classes and seminars), I quickly discovered that whether you left SEAL training as a graduate or a failure, you ultimately knew who you were.
Those who didn’t really want to be a SEAL soon figured that out. They didn’t want to suffer the deprivations, the pain, or the mental anguish. Once they came to that realisation about themselves — for some it takes a day; for others, it might take six weeks — they rang the Bell three times and placed their helmet on the deck. They dropped on request.
They had a “come to Jesus” conversation with themselves and determined that being a SEAL really wasn’t who they were or what they really wanted in life, painful as it might be to admit. And they moved on. I know a journalist who is one of the best national security correspondents in the country. He’s covered the lives and careers of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines for more than twenty-five years.
He’s been to the bottom of the ocean in deep-submersible vehicles, flown in fixed-wing fighter aircraft, stood on the outside deck of a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine as it prowled off the coast of Guam, smoked cigars while standing in the crow’s nest of a heavy cruiser, and more. You name it, he’s done it and he’s loved every minute of it.
It’s a true passion and he’s a great fit at the company he works for. Unfortunately, very few people outside the military have ever heard of the paper he works for (Army Times), and fewer still know my friend’s name. That bothered him, he admitted over a beer one night.
All journalists, I’ve learned, are somewhat self-impressed. They are some of the smartest, cleverest, and most creative people I know, but they all have healthy egos, some more than others. Several years ago, frustrated, my friend thought about going to work for the Washington Post or USA Today.
He started working his professional contacts, arranging interviews with key editors, and laying the groundwork for a possible career move. He was confident he had the skills required for such a move.
He knew he could hang with the big boys. It wasn’t a matter of whether he was qualified for the gig but rather, should the stars of opportunity align themselves, whether it would be a good personal and professional fit. Did he really want it? And then he had an honest conversation with himself. And the answer he came up with surprised him.
“I honestly realised that the real reason I wanted to work at the Washington Post was so that I could go to a dinner party and say to anyone who would listen: ‘I’m a reporter for the Washington Post,'” my friend told me. “It was all about my ego.”
I want you to take regular journeys of self-discovery. Reflect on some recent decisions you’ve made and the actions you have taken. Are they what you want or expect from yourself? If not, why not? Have the courage to ask others to give you honest feedback, even if it means you don’t like what you find out.
Ask others the same questions you ask of yourself: “Am I a good leader? Am I trustworthy? Am I inspiring?” Only when we know ourselves can we ever hope to get the best from ourselves and those we are blessed to lead. Only then can we create SEAL-worthy teams.
Reprinted from NAVY SEAL ART OF WAR Copyright © 2015 by Rob Roy. Published by Crown Business, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
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