Tonight I attended my first annual chamber meeting for the Hutchinson | Reno Chamber of Commerce and had the privilege of hearing the most decorated Navy Seal, Robert O’Neill, speak about winning the good fight. I had anticipated a strict appearance from a man in dress blues (or whatever it is the Seals wear for their dress uniform) and lecture about being a good leader. What I got was a red head in jeans, a blue plaid shirt and a jacket with a rapid rate of speech and a thought pattern similar to mine – the brain running faster than the mouth can keep up. He wasn’t the most eloquent speaker – he stammered over his words at times. You could see the conflict in his brain as he ran through 20 things he wanted to say in his head but had to choose just one. I could tell he wanted to say so much, but his time was restricted so he said as much as he could and as fast as he could.
What I didn’t anticipate was that I would feel as though he was speaking directly to me. With my nervousness and indecision about whether or not to take the path of the commissioned officer and my apprehension about going through what would essentially be boot camp all over again, I knew that if I did nothing else, I needed to hear O’Neill speak tonight. I didn’t know what he was going to say, but my gut told me I needed to go. And right it was.
O’Neill did what any good leader does – he didn’t just tell us how to be a good leader (which for some dumb reason I expected). He told us about his own life experiences – the various trainings he had endured, the battles he had been through, the lessons he had learned during his service – and through these stories, he showed us what it was to be a good leader. I had wanted to take notes but the truth is, I was so enamored with what he was saying, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen which projected not only him, but countless videos and photos relating to his career and his missions.
Through his stories of training under the most brutal conditions, I learned that the point of the training was not so much in proving the skill, but proving that you will go to any length necessary to complete the mission. In one story, he told of how his buddy was on his last attempt of a drill where they had to dive 14 feet down, tie a knot in a rope, wait for the instructor to come look and okay it, then go back up – take one breath, then go down and do it another knot…. 5 times in a row. On the 5th knot of his last attempt (if he failed, he would be kicked out of the training program), his buddy actually drowned. The instructors performed life saving measures and after a minute and half, he coughed up the water and immediately asked if he passed. The instructor assured him he had passed. The buddy said, “Oh good, I got the last knot right.” The instructor replied, “It’s not whether you got the last knot right, it’s about how far you would go. You died. You passed.”
O’Neill also discussed leadership concepts such as delegating vs. micromanaging. He offered a great concept which I intend to use: The rule of three’s. Essentially, each person (including yourself) should only be tasked with three major things at a time. Once you hit the fourth, you delegate it to someone else who has been trained to do that type of job. Once they have hit three tasks, you move the fourth task to someone else, and so on and so forth. You give them the tasks and then you back off – meaning you leave them to do their job. While I understand delegating, this seems a very logical rule to me but not one I would have likely realized on my own.
Throughout his speech, O’Neill constantly came back to the concept of never quitting and of being successful in all you do. Having fear is okay, but you need to be able to acknowledge the fear and then most past it, else you will end up stuck on that one fear and will likely fail. But should you fail, use it as a learning experience so that next time you will do it better. The ability to think rationally and quickly under any amount of stress is what makes a leader great. He also brought up the concept that all stress is self-induced. This was a slightly new concept to me but it makes perfect sense. When you dwell on something, you create stress. When you are stressed, you are not able to perform to your best ability. If you cannot perform to your best ability in combat, you are risking your life and the lives of your battle buddies. Therefore you must learn to let go of the stress and focus only on what needs to be done to address the task at hand.
Lastly, one of the biggest points to hit home to me was that you should be able to trust your team 100%. This means trusting they know how to do their job so that you aren’t checking on them and therefore taking away from you doing your own job. He used the example of room clearing (for you non-military folks – google it) – He knows when he enters a room that he only needs to check his quadrant. He trusts that his other teammates are capable of handling their quadrants. He doesn’t need to check his back to see if it is covered – he trusts his battle buddy that he is doing his job and covering his back, just as he is doing in return. Because of this deep level of trust, O’Neill never once had a man on his team get hurt. Why? Because they were all 100% focused on doing their job and trusted their battles 100% to do their jobs. I’m not gonna lie – I’m a bit of a control freak and it is hard to trust that others are doing their jobs properly because all too often I have found that people half-ass their jobs when no one is looking. So to have that level of trust is something I am going to have to work on and I know that I will have to work on ME in order to reach that goal. Above all else, my ability to trust is likely what will determine whether I am a good leader or not. Because if I can’t trust others, how can they trust me?
I wish I had been able to shake O’Neill’s hand and let him know how his speech influenced me. I imagine a civilian likely would not have taken away as much as I did from his speech since he spoke a LOT about missions and used lingo civilians have likely never heard. But I understood it. I also imagine that most people in that room, while they may have also served, were likely retired veterans and that there were probably very few who were both business owners and currently serving, like myself. Therefore, I felt his speech was so utterly relevant to where I am in my life right now that I was awed at the perfect timing of his message.
Yes, I have a tough road ahead of me. Yes, the training is going to stressful. Yes, I’m a little scared. But I have a deeper understanding now of how to handle the stress, of the mindset I must have to succeed, and what I need to do internally to make it happen.
Never quit and you will win the good fight.