I’ve been reading some books about special forces in the military lately: American Sniper by Chris Kyle, No Easy Day by Mark Owen, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, SAS Insider by Robert Macklin, Sniper One by Dan Mills, Warrior Brothers by Keith Fennell and SAS Sniper by Rob Maylor.
I appreciate they are not everyone’s first choice for a relaxing read but they contain some powerful messages about people, teams and organisations.
Each episode of the TV series Band of Brothers opened with one of the original veterans talking about what they went through. One was asked why he joined the paratroopers. Because, he said, when everything gets really tough, he wanted to make sure he had the best people possible around him.
Wouldn’t it be great to work with experts, who operate as such even under the most terrifying and difficult circumstances. Who you just know will “have your back”:
‘Your loyalty to your fellow soldiers is absolute,’ says ex-SAS officer John Richards, on the remarkably realistic Mark Wahlberg drama about sharp-shooting Navy Seals battling al-Qaeda
Experts … with total loyalty to their colleagues.
How often do you see them in your work place? How often have you, as leader, tried to build them into your culture? How often have you “got people’s backs”?
How often have you seen desertions to “dodge the bullet”? Oh, yeah, that’s because they messed up – big time. In elite forces, when people mess up, it is really big time, and people are likely to get very hurt. And yet, no-one leaves their colleagues to face the consequences alone. Someone has got their back – even when they mess up.
And in your workplace?
In Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin:
This book is about leadership. It was written for leaders of teams large and small, for men and women, for any person who aspires to better themselves. Though it contains exciting accounts of SEAL combat operations, this book is not a war memoir. It is instead a collection of lessons learned from our experiences to help other leaders achieve victory. If it serves as a useful guide to leaders who aspire to build, train, and lead high performance winning teams, then it has accomplished its purpose (pp 7-8).
And what is extreme ownership?
As the SEAL task unit commander, the senior leader on the ground in charge of the mission, I was responsible for everything in Task Unit Bruiser. I had to take complete ownership of what went wrong. That is what a leader does – even if it means getting fired (p26).
Know any leaders like that?
Other chapters are titled Cover and Move, Prioritize and Execute, and Discipline Equals Freedom. Interestingly, an early chapter is entitled No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders. Here the authors discuss how changing a bad leader for a good one can significantly alter a poor performing team. Later, however, in the chapter Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty, they also call attention to team members who are “cancers”. Whose “destructive attitudes will metastasize within the team”. Therefore, “the quicker you cut them out, the less damage they will do, the less negativity they will spread, and, most important, the fewer people they will pull away with them” (pp 260 – 261).
And here’s the contradiction. There can be bad teams: caused by cancerous team members. And it’s the leader’s job to ‘cut them out’. They cannot be allowed to fester. Everyone, including the leader, has to feel safe
I encourage you to watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe”.