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January 18, 2019

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

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/feb/16/sas-navy-seals-officer-lone-survivor

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”.

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

PLEASE NOTE: there is no video for this Ted Talk. It is Audio only.

Speaker: Simon Sinek

Run Time: 11:54

He makes many interesting points (the numbers are minutes left in the talk):

9:57 In the military they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we might gain.

8:30 The Circle of Safety

7:07: It’s the conditions inside the organisation that matters and that’s where the leader matters because it’s the leader that sets the tone. It’s the leader that sets the tone. When the leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of people inside the organisation first, to sacrifice their comforts and sacrifice the tangible results so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong, remarkable things happen.

5.46 You see, if the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our time and our energy to protect ourselves from each other and that inherently weakens the organisation. When we feel safe inside the organisation we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.

4:28 One function of coaching

4:20 Banking CEOs: they sacrificed their own people to protect their own interests

2:20 When the people feel safe and protected by the leadership in the organisation, the natural reaction is to trust and cooperate

1:57 Leadership is a choice not a rank. I know many people at the senior most level of organisations who are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities … but we would not follow them.

:58 We call them leaders because they go first. We call them leaders because they take the risk before anyone else does. We call them leaders because they will choose to sacrifice so their people may be safe and protected so their people may gain. And when we do the natural response is that our people will sacrifice for us. They will give us their blood and sweat and tears so that their leader’s vision comes to life.

I have included the Go Pro footage he refers from Youtube.

Another search and you can find a CNN explanatory news item if you wish.

I’ve read a bucket load of books, undertaken hours and hours of professional development on team development, and worked tirelessly for many years to build my own teams. But, deep down, I knew everything somehow missed the mark.

I strongly encourage you to watch Simon Sinek’s talk wherever you are and whatever you do. Take a close look at your “leaders”. And let’s have a look at ourselves. Aren’t we all leaders somewhere?

This is the critical element of leadership. If you and/or your organisation do not allow your people to feel safe, you and your organisation can’t succeed. And, in the end, you’re gonna get it in the neck.