Think On Your Feet Or Die Where You Stand
“I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity.” -- The Navy SEAL Creed
When my SEAL team was deployed in Iraq, one of our jobs was to identify and eliminate high value targets, or HVT’s. One night we were tasked with capturing a known terrorist in rural area outside Baghdad. We were using helicopters as the insert platform. My squad fast-roped onto the roof of the main building and began aggressively clearing the target. Suddenly, it came over comms to get back on the helos, because we were on the wrong target!
Intel had provided incorrect coordinates, so the pilots placed us over the wrong houses. We hustled back to the birds, boarded, and proceeded to the correct target, which was less than a mile away. The element of surprise now gone because of the noise of the hovering helicopters, we had to adjust the plan and prepare for a possible gunfight. We roped in, successfully cleared the target, and captured the HVT. Mission completed. It didn’t go as we had planned, but our ops rarely did.
In business, it’s nice when everything goes smoothly, but you have to be prepared for when it doesn’t. Here are some tips I learned in combat that will keep you moving towards your ultimate goal.
- Don’t get frustrated. When things go wrong, it’s natural to get irritated, especially for those of us who lean towards perfectionism. But frustration has no place in leadership. You have to stay focused on the end goal at all times.
- Keep moving. When your plan hits an obstacle, reassess and go at it from another direction. In our case, when we learned we had hit the wrong target, we stopped, got back on the helicopter, flew to the right house, and got the job done. In the SEAL teams, you quickly learn to think on your feet and never stop moving.
- Silence blame. Yes, someone made a mistake, but taking time to assign blame is useless, especially when you’re in the middle of your mission. Refocus your team quickly on the larger objective to get their minds off the mistake. Examine the cause of the misinformation only after the mission is completed successfully.
- Learn from mistakes. After the mission, assess the situation, then use it as a learning opportunity. Never use it as a chance to call someone out. As a leader, you should be teaching, not pointing a finger.
- Reassess roles and responsibilities. Of course, we don’t want to make the same mistakes again, so later, after considering all of the circumstances, you can decide if team members need to be reassigned. Most times, however, your team members will learn from their mistakes and be better for it.
After a bad experience, it’s natural to be uneasy about going back at it. But in business, as in war, there’s no time for second-guessing. Jump right back in, wiser for your mistakes and fully prepared for the next time intelligence leads you down the wrong road.