10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training from Admiral William H. McRaven

  • By Steve Nguyen
  • 19 May, 2017
University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address - Admiral William H. McRaven

Watch his speech above or directly on YouTube, https://youtu.be/pxBQLFLei70

An inspiring and powerful 20-minute commencement speech by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University-wide Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.

Admiral McRaven’s commencement speech is perhaps one of the best commencement speeches I have ever heard. It is on point and offers some fantastic life and business lessons.

Below are excerpts from his amazing speech.

10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training

1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
“You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help— and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.”

3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
“SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.”

4. If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
“Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie.”

“For failing the uniform inspection, the student [in Basic SEAL training] had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a ‘sugar cookie.’ You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy.”

“There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. . . Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.”

5. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
“Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events — long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics — something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards — times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list, and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a ‘circus.’ A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.”

“Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.”

6. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

7. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
“There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.”

8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
“At the darkest moment of the mission is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.”

9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
“If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala—one person can change the world by giving people hope.”

10. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.
“In SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit—is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

------

“Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.”

“It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status. Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.”

“Changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant

Link

University of Texas at Austin - Adm. McRaven Urges Graduates to Find Courage to Change the World   https://news.utexas.edu/2014/05/16/mcraven-urges-graduates-to-find-courage-to-change-the-world

By Steve Nguyen 12 Jul, 2017

“The difficulty in mastering change lies in the fact that we can’t “program” ourselves to adjust. Human beings are complex and emotional, and some of the stress of change comes from a gap between what we want to feel and do, and what we actually feel. The gap will not go away by ignoring it, but it can be easier to take by recognizing and facing up to one’s real difficulty with change.”—Dennis Jaffe & Cynthia Scott

In the Pocket Mentor book, “Managing Change,” Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill (2009) shared reasons for people’s reactions to organizational change. Dr. Hill listed nine reasons why people resist change and six reasons why people support change.

Nine Reasons Why People Resist Change (Hill, 2009, p. 47):

  1. They believe the change is unnecessary or will make things worse.
  2. They don’t trust the people leading the change effort.
  3. They don’t like the way the change was introduced.
  4. They are not confident the change will succeed.
  5. They did not have any input or in planning and implementing the change effort.
  6. They feel that change will mean personal loss — of security, money, status, or friends.
  7. They believe in the status quo.
  8. They’ve already experienced a lot of change and can’t handle any more disruption.
  9. They’re afraid they don’t have the skills to do their work in new ways required by the change.

Six Reasons Why People Support Change (Hill, 2009, p. 47):

  1. They believe the change makes sense and that it is the right course of action.
  2. They respect the people leading the change effort.
  3. They anticipate new opportunities and challenges that come from the change.
  4. They were involved in planning and implementing the change effort.
  5. They believe the change will lead to personal gain.
  6. They like and enjoy the excitement of change.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant

References

Hill, L. A. (2009). Managing change: Pocket mentor . Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Jaffe, D. T., & Scott, C. D. (2003). Mastering the Change Curve: Theoretical background  (2nd edition). West Chester, PA: HRDQ. Retrieved from http://www.traininglocation.com/mastering-change-curve-theory.pdf

By Steve Nguyen 22 Jun, 2017
“Coaching is helping another person reach higher levels of effectiveness by creating a dialogue that leads to awareness and action.” -Brian Emerson and Anne Loehr

“When an employee has the skills and ability to complete the task at hand, but for some reason is struggling with the confidence, focus, motivation, drive, or bandwidth to be at their best, coaching can help.” -Brian Emerson and Anne Loehr

In the classic coaching book, Coaching for Performance (2009), the late John Whitmore described numerous benefits of coaching. Included in the list are benefits to the recipient (i.e., the client/coachee) as well as benefits to the team and the larger organization (pp. 156-158):

  • Improved performance and productivity
  • Staff development
  • Improved learning
  • Improved relationships
  • Improved quality of life for individuals
  • More time for the manager
  • More creative ideas
  • Better use of people, skills, and resources
  • Faster and more effective emergency response
  • Greater flexibility and adaptability to change
  • More motivated staff
  • Culture change
  • A life skill

In the book, Coaching People (McManus, 2006), benefits to the person being coached are (pp. 5-6):

  • maximizing their individual strengths
  • overcoming personal challenges/obstacles
  • achieving new skills & competencies to become more effective
  • preparing for new work/job roles or responsibilities
  • improvement in managing themselves (e.g., better time management)
  • clarifying and working toward goals (e.g., learning about and setting SMART goals)
  • increasing their job satisfaction and motivation

Benefits to the team and organization include (McManus, 2006, p. 6):

  • improving the working relationships between manager and direct reports (i.e., employees)
  • developing & fostering more productive teams
  • using organizational resources more effectively

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant

References

Emerson, B., & Loehr, A. (2008). A Manager’s Guide to Coaching: Simple and Effective Ways to Get the Best Out of Your Employees. New York: AMACOM.

McManus, P. (2006). Coaching People: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for Performance (4th ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
By Steve Nguyen 06 Jun, 2017

In their book, 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR (2004), Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich — three internationally-recognized experts in human capital management — shared that, in general, managers are “very poor at coaching and developing their people” (p. 470). 

This may come as a shock to some, but probably not to others. Why? Let’s think about it for a minute. Line managers and mid-level managers are often quite busy and they simply do not have the time or want to set aside quality time for coaching and developing their staff. And even when some managers do make time to coach and develop their direct reports, coaching & developing others isn’t something that gets rewarded by senior leadership (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004).

“Relying exclusively on line managers to coach and develop their people for the long-term is a losing strategy. Typical line managers aren’t good at it, don’t have much motivation to do it, are terminally busy and don’t have or make quality time for it, and are not rewarded for it when the few do actually do it” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 472).

According to Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004), the recommended best practice is a coordinated process led by human resource professionals and enthusiastically endorsed by senior executives and with the buy-in and collaboration of line managers and the people being coached .

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor and Talent Development Consultant

Reference

Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.

By Steve Nguyen 21 May, 2017
In the 2010 movie Robin Hood, a young, naïve King John (played by Oscar Isaac) had one of the funniest lines pertaining to leadership I’ve ever heard in a movie. With absolutely no leadership or battle experience, and only after the troops had already been rallied to go to war by someone else (the real leader), the young king foolhardily proclaimed, “This is my first time, I’ll lead!” and takes off on horseback all by himself.

It is essential for a leader to build credibility. According to Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2012), there are two components of credibility: (a) Building expertise, and (b) Building trust. Kouzes and Posner (2007) said, “Above all else, we as constituents must be able to believe in our leaders. We must believe that their word can be trusted, that they’re personally passionate and enthusiastic about the work that they’re doing, and that they have the knowledge and skill to lead” (p. 37).

Trust can be viewed as being made up of two things: the ability to clarify and communicate values to others, and the ability to establish, maintain, and strengthen relationships with others (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012). The young, inexperienced king in the movie had not forged strong relationships with his men. He did not know them, and they certainly did not know anything about him, other than his birthright as king. Kouzes and Posner said in order to rally others, the leader must enable others to act by building solid trust and strong relationships.

In addition to an absence of a relationship with the king, the men also had no confidence that this untested, unproven king knew what he was leading them into or where he was leading them toward. Followers need to believe that a leader knows where he’s taking them and that he is forward-looking and has a vision for the future (Kouzes & Posner, 2007).

There’s a very important lesson and reminder about leadership from this movie — leadership is not a birthright nor is it reserved only for a few chosen people.

“Leadership is not a gene and it’s not an inheritance. Leadership is an identifiable set of skills and abilities that are available to all of us. . . . [T]he theory that there are only a few great men and women who can lead others to greatness is just plain wrong. . . . [Great leaders] are the everyday heroes of our world. It’s because there are so many—not so few—leaders that extraordinary things get done on a regular basis, especially in extraordinary times” (Kouzes & Posner, 2007, p. 23).

Takeaway About Leadership:

“Leadership is not about position or title. Leadership is not about organizational power or authority. It’s not about celebrity or wealth. It’s not about the family you are born into. It’s not about being a CEO, president, general, or prime minister. And it’s definitely not about being a hero. Leadership is about relationships, about credibility, and about what you do” (Kouzes & Posner, 2007, p. 338.)

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant

References

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The Leadership Challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Robin Hood (2010). The Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0955308
By Steve Nguyen 20 May, 2017
“Believing in others is an extraordinarily powerful force in propelling greater performance.”
—Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner
By Steve Nguyen 19 May, 2017
University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address - Admiral William H. McRaven

Watch his speech above or directly on YouTube, https://youtu.be/pxBQLFLei70

An inspiring and powerful 20-minute commencement speech by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University-wide Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.

Admiral McRaven’s commencement speech is perhaps one of the best commencement speeches I have ever heard. It is on point and offers some fantastic life and business lessons.

Below are excerpts from his amazing speech.

10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training

1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
“You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help— and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.”

3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
“SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.”

4. If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
“Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie.”

“For failing the uniform inspection, the student [in Basic SEAL training] had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a ‘sugar cookie.’ You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy.”

“There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. . . Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.”

5. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
“Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events — long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics — something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards — times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list, and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a ‘circus.’ A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.”

“Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.”

6. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

7. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
“There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.”

8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
“At the darkest moment of the mission is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.”

9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
“If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala—one person can change the world by giving people hope.”

10. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.
“In SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit—is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

------

“Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.”

“It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status. Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.”

“Changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant

Link

University of Texas at Austin - Adm. McRaven Urges Graduates to Find Courage to Change the World   https://news.utexas.edu/2014/05/16/mcraven-urges-graduates-to-find-courage-to-change-the-world
By Steve Nguyen 18 May, 2017
“Failure is not fatal. Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. It should challenge us to new heights of accomplishments, not pull us to new depths of despair. From honest failure can come valuable experience.” -William Arthur Ward, American author and teacher

We prize success over failure. You see articles and book titles with the words “success” or “succeed” splattered on bookstore shelves. However, research shows that when it comes to learning, failure may just be good for us after all. In fact, failure is a better teacher than success. Madsen and Desai (2010) discovered that the knowledge gained from our failures lasts longer than those from our successes . They advise organizations, to neither ignore nor dismiss failure but to, treat failure as a learning opportunity.

To illustrate the point, they used the flights of the 2002 space shuttle Atlantis and 2003 space shuttle Columbia. During the 2002 Atlantis flight, a piece of insulation broke off and damaged the left solid rocket booster but did not impede the mission or the program. However, there was little follow-up or investigation.

During the launching of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, another piece of insulation broke off and struck the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing. When Columbia reentered the earth’s atmosphere after a 16-day mission, “damage sustained from the foam’s impact compromised the orbiter’s thermal protection system, leading to the failure of the left wing and to the eventual disintegration of the orbiter” (Madsen & Desai, 2010, p. 451).

Tragically, all seven astronauts on board were killed. The Columbia disaster resulted in the suspension of shuttle flights and led to a major investigation resulting in 29 recommended changes to prevent future disasters.

The point is that, while we should not fail on purpose, failure while sometimes tragic is an important teacher. For organizations, the advice is this: study your small failures and close calls to extract useful information instead of waiting for a major catastrophe.

“Organizational leaders should neither ignore failures nor stigmatize those involved with them; rather, leaders should treat failures as invaluable learning opportunities, encouraging the open sharing of information about them” (Madsen & Desai, 2010, p. 471).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant

Reference

Madsen, P. M., & Desai, V. M. (2010). Failing to learn? The effects of failure and success on organizational learning in the global orbital launch vehicle industry. Academy of Management Journal, 53(3), 451-476.
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