When most of us civilians hear about Navy SEAL's capturing terrorists or pulling off hair-raising rescue missions, we stand in awe of their toughness. But according to Rob Roy, a 25-year veteran of the SEALs and author of The Navy SEAL Art of War, being a SEAL "is not about being the toughest guy. It's about being the smartest guy."
In a recent Big Think video, Roy explains that while SEALs are clearly incredible warriors, they rely on careful planning and battle-tested approaches to leadership, as much as sheer strength and bravery. Accomplishing jaw-dropping things, Roy explains, is less about innate grit than you probably think, and more about process.
Roy lays out the seven-step approach SEALs use to tackle even the most daunting missions, so you can adapt it to achieve your own biggest, scariest goals.
1. Ask clarifying questions.
Clearly, in military situations it's essential to be clear about your objective, both so you don't capture the wrong guy and know what winning looks like. But in civilian life, too, it's impossible to achieve success if you don't define it first. SEALs ask, "Exactly what do you want me to do? Who, what, when, where, how?" Roy notes. Adapt and answer this sort of question for your own context ,and you've taken taken the first step to reaching your goal.
2. Identify all your resources.
The next step is to marshal all your resources and see what you have to work with to achieve your aim. That means not only material resources like money and technology, but also intangible ones like your network and skills.
3. Clarify roles and responsibilities.
Before SEALs go into any mission, they make sure each person knows their role, from machine gunner to medic, what each must accomplish, and when. The roles in your team are unlikely to involve automatic weapons or morphine, but nonetheless, it's essential to make sure everyone understands their area of responsibility and how it fits into the larger mission.
4. Focus relentlessly on your goal.
As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has explained, all good leaders take responsibility for outcomes, whatever the circumstances. For true leaders, there is no such thing as an excuse, because they always keep their focus on the goal and look for ways around each constraint.
Roy explains, "In the SEAL teams, what we'll do is we'll say, 'Hey, we're going to get Bin Laden.' And one of the first questions they always ask is, 'How many people do you think you can do the mission with if the helo crashes?'" In short, never let circumstances turn into excuses.
5. Think through all possible contingencies.
In practice, this means letting your pessimistic imagination run wild to dream up every hiccup and holdup you might face. How can you work around these possibilities?
"There's a car accident? OK, I'm going to walk. Well, the roads are blocked. OK, so how do I get around there?" Roy offers as an example. "You need to constantly think about what's the next thing to do in that situation, because again, at the end of the day, you have to be able to accomplish your mission."
6. Train until you're stress-proof.
OK, you know your aim, you've assigned your roles, and you've talked through everything that could go wrong. Your planning is ace, but there's another essential step to making
sure your paper plan actually translates to real life. This is the step where many of us fall down. There is no great accomplishment without day in, day out effort and training.
One, because that's how you build skills and a body of work. But also because steady practice is how you teach yourself to handle the stress of struggling for any audacious goal.
"When you're a SEAL, you train a lot, you train a lot. You do everything repetitively over and over and over again, because you want muscle memory," Roy explains. "The more you know about what you're doing, the more frequently you train for the mistakes and the problems and the hiccups, the more you're able to do a lot more in a shorter period of time without much effort."
7. After-action review.
Reached your goal? Congrats, but there's still one final step left to go. "You do yourself and the people in the room or the people in the organization a disservice if you don't debrief what happened or where the mistakes are at," Roy concludes. This isn't about assigning blame to people. It's about figuring out what went wrong so you can do better next time.