People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die. —Plato
Like most organizational and team leaders, you’ve probably got an older, established generation of teammates who have invaluable experience but who can sometimes allow that experience to mire the team in groupthink and other cognitive biases that get you stuck in outdated modes of operation. On the other hand, you’ve got a growing base of younger teammates coming up in the ranks, many of them Millennials or younger. They’re driving innovation because they’re more comfortable with technology and change in an accelerating world. You are likely struggling to create a culture of respect, trust, and excellence among the disparate cast of characters each on different levels of development and bringing their own biases. The team just doesn’t seem to flow, often getting stuck in pettiness, negative coffee room chatter, and resentment—the fear wolf rearing its head to howl. Team spirit is more than just back-slapping after winning a game or having a beer after returning from an op. It is the ability to access flow at a team level that generates a power far greater than the sum of the individual parts. This is an energetic state where all teammates are in synchronicity, “vibing” at the same high level of competence and inspired by the challenge and their collective vision, leading to performance at a 20X level.
The ability to flow as a team is a phenomenon that occurs when all team members are synced up in their vision and radically focused on a mission meaningful to them all. Teams that suffer negative focus due to a weak leader, or have one or more teammates not committed to the mission, will not be able to access this team flow state. In a healthy team, the positive energy and mission focus develop trust and glues teammates together to work in harmony to accomplish the mission. This team flow seems to have an intelligence of its own whereby the teammates pick up on each other’s energy and intentions effortlessly, propelling them to greater achievement. Victory—accomplishing any big mission or challenge—starts with a vision, the “why” behind what the team is doing. It is key for the team to share the vision for winning in precise imagery and meaning. Recall that we discussed communicating the mission with visual language in Principle 3. This is the pre-requisite to creating a powerful team spirit, which provides the source energy as the team relentlessly marches forward.
Remember, the warrior who sees the win in their mind first will win on the battlefield. So it is with a team, multiplied by the power and contribution of each elite warrior comprising that team.
Share Core Values
When I launched the Coronado Brewing Company, I did not take time to learn whether my partners shared certain values with me. These were values that I developed growing up in the Adirondack mountains and at college, on the dojo floor, and as a growth-oriented SEAL officer. In particular, the values I had been steeped in as a SEAL officer had become part of my Background of Obviousness (BOO), and I took them for granted. It was a painful lesson when I realized these values were not “the norm” for everyone, and my partners certainly didn’t share them with me. We never synced up on the shared values that would guide our efforts—what we were synchronizing on instead was free beer and financial gain, admittedly not what you build an elite team around! The partnership later blew up largely due to this values conflict, which now seems an obvious, inevitable outcome.
We don’t need to share every value we hold dear with our teammates, and we can develop respect for people with different values even while we may disagree with them. In the SEAL teams we had operators from all walks of life who valued different cultural norms, religious principles, music, food and the like, but they all shared key common values that make the SEALs so powerful– a work ethic, physical and mental readiness, and a lust for learning. Developing a team ethos takes time and requires complete buy-in to a set of non-negotiable principles that guide your actions and decisions. At Unbeatable, Inc., we seek to attract people who are inclined to share my values but have also developed a set of six principles to live by through our actions. These include trust and transparency, skillful communications, always learning and growing, having an ownership mindset, staying radically focused, and a shared commitment to being a “fifth plateau” company. Clarity around non-negotiable values allows teammates to stand their ground when pushed and pulled in uncomfortable directions and further strengthens team spirit.
Develop Your Team Code
The SEAL Teams did not have a stated, written down code until 2006 when Captain O’Connell and Commander Wilson took the lead to codify the values of the Teams. Until then the SEALs had a value system that was communicated through action (offensive, leadership, team focus, mission focus, earn the Trident every day), through stories (leave no man behind, you are only as fast as your slowest man, front sight focus) and metaphors or slogans (failure is not an option, the only easy day was yesterday, embrace the suck, pain is weakness leaving the body, if you ain’t cheatin, you ain’t tryin!). This is how cultural norms are most often and most effectively transmitted in any organization or society.
The problem is that the interpretation is left up to the aspirant, and as new generations come into the tribe they may interpret the spoken code different than their predecessors intended. An example is “If you ain’t cheatin you ain’t tryin.” I heard this many times at BUD/s, and to me, it meant that we had to think unconventionally and out of the box, but within the legal constraints of the organization and society. However twenty years later many of the young guys coming into BUD/s, who grew up with our morally relativistic social norms took this to mean that cheating was condoned. After all, that is how they got through school, and the norm was “just don’t get caught.” So in an organization where absolute integrity was required of everyone, this cultural value passed down from our Vietnam era brothers was not working. Thus it was discarded, along with others, and a firm written code was enshrined. Here is the original, and it is constantly being looked at for relevance:
- Loyalty to country, team and teammate
- Serve with honor and integrity, on and off the battlefield
- Ready to lead, ready to follow, never quit!
- Take responsibility for your actions, and those of your teammates Excel as warriors through discipline and innovation
- Train for war, fight to win, defeat our nation’s enemies
- Earn your Trident every day
A code then is simply the unspoken values of an individual or organization, expressed in words, and lived through action. They must be supported by the systems of the organization. Our company code at SEALFIT is different than the Unbeatable code but has similarities. It was inspired by the Navy SEAL code because they were an inspirational model and the company trains individuals and teams in SEAL-like mental and physical toughness. The values it encodes are eternally strong values that create courageous and authentic individuals when habituated. Let’s review the SEALFIT code:
Loyalty – to our family, friends and our team
In ancient times loyalty was a prime directive. You were loyal to your family, tribe, and clan. How do you continue to reflect that prime directive? Are you loyal to people, groups or causes? Do you tolerate disloyalty by yourself or others? Are there higher-order values beyond loyalty that would necessitate disloyalty? How is your loyalty expressed in different relationships? What does it mean to be loyal to a spouse, co-worker, friend or your child?
Service – to others before self
Service and discipline are the root values of the warrior. With service, we are not abandoning the self and being misused by others but it’s about expanding our concept of self to embrace and include others. It’s about expanding our circles of connection, compassion, and care. We must ask ourselves daily how we can serve others. Is our service to others driven by a larger more expansive picture and experience of self or by fear and insecurities? Is it driven by subtle greed, such as in feel-good philanthropy? Essentially we must ensure that our service is authentic and not contrived, or the trust bond will be broken.
Honor and integrity – in public as well as in private
Our intentions, words, and deeds line up and are expressions of our habits, which form our character. As is said in the Bible “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” In ancient times our word meant everything. If you pledged to do something, then it must be done. How much integrity do you have? Where do you fall down on following through? Where do your intentions, words, and deeds not match? Keep in mind that another word for integrity is trust. Can people trust what you say and what you do? Do you do the right thing when no one is looking? Of course, someone is always seeing…and that is your witness. Be careful to align your thoughts, words, and deeds.
Leadership and Followership – we must be good at both to be effective at anything
We focus a lot on leadership in this lesson but the other side of the coin is “followership.” A good leader knows when to lead and when to follow and a good follower knows when to follow and when to lead. Sometimes when we are in followership mode we can also be called upon to lead. I observed that authentic teams the leader and follower roles are always shifting as if on a swivel. The role leader will step aside to let the expert leader guide the team through a risky evolution. Then the role leader steps back in. Often there are a multitude of leaders on a mission and all know their place. Things can get sticky when the person in the role of institutional leader (like the CO at SDVT-1 in my earlier example) do not get this very important point and try to control every aspect of a mission or project. Soon this lack of trust and authenticity spoils it for everyone and performance is dumbed down to a “let’s just get this over with” mentality.
Responsibility – for both our actions and those of our teammates
In ancient times, one was accountable for the sins of their father. Now, individuals are barely held accountable for their own sins. Imagine if we were held to account for ourselves, our family, our friends and our teammates. How would you have to be different than you are now in terms of those relationships? Another aspect of responsibility is being able to ‘respond’ and not ‘react’ in any particular situation. If you’re reactive it is by habit and not choice. We are not in control of your mind, rather a puppet to your poisoned subconscious background of obviousness. If we respond, than it’s by choice and a sign that we are free.
Discipline, drive and determination – the only easy day was yesterday
We must habituate discipline, drive and determination on our pathway to self-mastery. Anything short and we will stray from the path, not fulfilling our contract to develop to our fullest capacity as a human and to fulfill our purpose in this life. This principle is a BIG DEAL! The 10,000 cut or 10,000 hour rule to mastery is germane. Practice, practice, practice and seek to excel. Day in and day out we train and practice, eventually learning to love the process of sharpening the sword of our awareness and skills.
Innovation – adapt, improvise and overcome
This value is about developing a flexible mindset. Leaning into risk and failure as a way to learn and grow, rather than shying from risk and failure to protect our career, reputation or self. Innovation also comes as we open ourselves up to the Relaxed State and tap into our right brain, intuitive and creative subconscious minds. Recall the story about the inventor who sits for ideas.
SEALs are extremely innovative and always breaking things to remake them better. The creative never fail mindset would never fly in an organization that didn’t honor innovation and risk. We must develop the habit of adapting; improvising and overcoming obstacles at an individual and team level, and hard wire it into our authentic leadership profile.