When you need to recharge after months of grueling work, where do you go on vacation? Do you take a trip to a tropical island, a golfing paradise, or somewhere with a little culture?
All of these options may relax and refresh you, but if you’re looking to return to work with the feeling that you can go beyond the preconceived notions of your own limits, you may want to rethink your destination.
Becoming a Fearless Leader
In December 2011, I decided to get as far outside my comfort zone as possible by signing up for Extreme SEAL Experience, a small company south of Norfolk, Virginia, that gives civilians the opportunity to train like U.S. Navy SEALS.
This idea was born out of a desire to see what it meant to train like the most talented, determined, and fearless people in the world.
I knew I would face fears of heights, injury, water, doing something I might not be good at, and failure — my greatest fear in the world. But it also meant that I could become a better version of myself, which would ultimately benefit my company and teammates.
3 Ways to Becoming a Better Leader
Here are three ways ESE made me a better leader:
1. It Forced Me to Take Challenges Head-On
ESE includes a physically demanding 24-hour-period with no sleep called “Hell Day” as a test of mental strength. It was grueling, but I made it through.
Earlier this year, when I had the opportunity to integrate a new methodology into a strategic relationship with one of our largest clients, I had nine days to build a team and execute at the highest level possible.
I had recently graduated from the Design Thinking Boot Camp at Stanford University, and I learned that there was a chance to apply design thinking to differentiate my company. We had meetings at 5 a.m. for nine straight days. It was our own personal “Hell Week.”
Despite making tons of mistakes along the way, there wasn’t a moment I thought we’d be unsuccessful. It didn’t matter that we were new to the process. I built a strong team and executed. We differentiated ourselves with a Fortune 50 client by ignoring our fear of failure and executing our goals. Now the client is using design thinking in its organization.
2. It Encouraged Me to Make Decisions and not Dwell on Every Detail
Navy SEALS live with elevated risk as they’re frequently in harm’s way. As a result, ESE training teaches you to become incredibly aggressive so you can handle putting yourself in harm’s way. The course trains you to take risks, accept consequences, and move on.When I returned from nine days of training, I literally couldn’t sit still. I needed to do something or go somewhere.
The hardest thing, however, was coming back to corporate life and sitting through a meeting where people couldn’t make decisions.
You see, in ESE training, you have to make multiple critical decisions within seconds, and you know that your decisions affect not only your own life but also the lives of others. After the course, life at the office was vastly different.
I would have people come to me with complex problems. After telling them to go for the best option, they would want to discuss all the alternatives again. My typical response was: “I don’t care; do it.” Now I have a slightly more balanced approach, but I’ll always keep that willingness to take risks with me.
3. It Taught Me to Put Myself Last
Before my experience, a friend and Navy SEAL coached me, “When you finish a mission, make sure you are dead last to the showers.” His advice was invaluable. You always take care of team members and equipment first. Then you can take care of your own needs.
The profound level of teamwork and unity that develops among people who are truly selfless generates amazing results. This is rarely found in a corporate environment, but it’s a staple of the environment in which the SEALs operate.
My philosophy of being a leader has always been that it’s my responsibility to set direction and remove any roadblocks that stand in the way of my team.
I try to work for them instead of them working for me. That’s personal leadership.
While you may not get evaluated on a yearly performance review, you know in your heart whether you’re a good example of personal leadership. I’m fortunate to have learned that from the best, and I try to apply this to at least one situation every day.
Facing My Fears
Fear often paralyzes people into complacency. It keeps leaders from realizing achievements they never thought possible, and — worst of all — it prevents great things from happening. SEAL training taught me to face my fears head-on and smile in the glory of knowing I conquered them. It taught me the power of critical decision-making and how to conquer my next challenges.
You have one life to live, so live it boldly no matter what your fears are. You need to apply yourself at all times. If there’s one thing I learned from ESE, it’s to never stop pushing yourself.
So, I’ll ask you again: Where are you going on your next vacation?
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