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What Great Leaders Have That Good Leaders Don't

The difference between good and great leadership can be expressed in a single word: loyalty.
Navy SEAL candidate training. Coronado Island, San Diego.

“My loyalty to Country and Team is beyond reproach.” --Navy SEAL Creed

When you think of strong leaders, you probably think of people who are decisive, bold, confident, and fearless. You’re not wrong. Good leaders have all of these qualities. But how many good leaders are also loyal? I don’t know, but I know that every great leader is.

Loyalty is one of the core values taught in the Navy SEAL training program. Instructors teach you from the first day that your team is everything to you. You succeed with them, and you fail without them. And you never leave anyone behind.

During the chaos of SEAL training, which includes the most grueling physical and mental punishment imaginable, the officers in charge of each boat crew are expected to keep an accurate headcount while their world is literally exploding around them. If they fail to report an accurate number to the instructors, the entire team is punished brutally. It teaches you quickly what it means to live or die as a team. You succeed together or not at all.

My SEAL training is part of me for life. It resides deep within me. Obviously, the business world is different from the world of combat, but there are similarities, too. I try to apply my SEAL training every day to my role as a business leader, and team loyalty is at the top of that list.

A commitment to loyalty is becoming uncommon in business leaders. I think that’s a shame. As leaders, we have the duty to hire responsibly and then support the people we hire. These are some of the lessons in loyalty that I learned as a SEAL and apply daily to my job as a business owner:

Never throw anyone under the bus. As a leader, redirect praise to your team members and protect them from criticism. If you need to talk to a team member about a misstep, do it behind closed doors.

Never leave anyone behind. Instill in your team the belief that every person on the team is as important as the next. Include everyone in the celebration of success. And don’t blame any one person for a failure. The next time you have a business success, publicly thank people in lower-level support roles for their contributions to the team.

Try to be as candid as possible with your employees, and never lie to them. Loyalty is built on trust. If your people don’t believe you’re being forthcoming with them, they won’t trust you to have their backs. Schedule a meeting to discuss the big picture of the business. Let any member of your team ask any question, and answer honestly.

Give employees your unconditional support. Don’t turn your back on them if they mess up. Help them figure it out, and be as loyal during the bad times as during the good. Pull aside someone who has had a bad day and give that person ten minutes of your time. Make it clear that he or she still fits into the future of your company.

I would never be disloyal to a SEAL brother. And I know my brothers will always have my back. It’s a feeling of trust and security that you get only in special places. I try to make my organization one of them. Leadership is a privilege we must earn every day.

 

 

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Last updated: Nov 16, 2012

BRENT GLEESON

Navy SEAL combat veteran Brent Gleeson is the co-founder and CMO at Internet Marketing Inc., a leading digital marketing agency and an Inc. 500|5000 company for the past three years in a row.




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