Navy SEALs Are Warmer and Fuzzier Than You Might Think

Whether you're a part of a Navy SEALs team or just a paper pusher with a white collar job, the principles of effective leadership and organizational culture remain constant. Every team needs a leader who can instill inspiration, direction, guidance, and hope. These are the building blocks of success.

Rob Roy: We have a certain amount of leadership capability that’s inbred in all of us. There’s an amount of teamwork. And when you go through the SEAL program, all of the outside influences of your life have been stripped away and what’s left is you, the individual. And then you are basically imprinted on, "Hey, this is how you survive." You know. Teamwork, team ability, being able to communicate. Those things are actually if you don’t succeed in those areas, then you fail the program, you drop off in the program. It’s not about being the toughest guy. It’s about being the smartest guy and figuring out how do I go from point A to point B and how do I get the most out of the people that are going to be there with me. I would say it’s not just about the guys that are 360 degrees covering what I don’t see. I think it’s about how we get along after that. How do we relax in an environment that challenge one another on a personal level. You know, our brand is that you need to be the best and the brightest in the world. And people expect that of you and people expect things out of you and you tend to live up to them. At least in the SEALs they do.

You may not like the guys you’re working with because the alpha males are always trying to — everybody wants to be top dog. But the mission is what’s important to all of us. The mission and how we accomplish the mission as a group. It’s a funny thing about going through something together. If your culture of your company is not more like a family or the culture of your company is a dog-eat-dog world, then you will never establish that trust for one another. If people think that their jobs are not secure, you can’t establish trust. And I can always go back to those four things about leadership — inspiration, direction, guidance, hope. They know that they’re safe; they’re safe. People will tend to reach out. People will tend to cross bridges they wouldn’t normally cross. People will tend to do things they wouldn’t normally do if they can trust. At the end of the day they’re allowed to make some mistakes.

I think we tend to put things in dollars and cents all the time, but the people need to make mistakes. They need to feel that you trust that they can make mistakes. Because if you’re going to reach for something you may not make it, but at least you try. And I’d rather be able to pull a person back in doing something than to keep pushing a person alone. And unfortunately in business and everything else is that we tend to focus on that guy or that gal that we have to continue to push, push, push. And then the person over there that’s reaching all the time we don’t see that. All we see is their failures and not all the successes. And maybe it’s just the one thing that person needs is to make that reach that they’re not making or to cross that bridge that they’re not making. Because you need to mentor them to be able to say hey, I made that mistake when I was your age or I made that mistake doing this last project and this is what’s going to help you out.

You want your people to feel like a part of the team so you have to include them. I mean not in every decision but a lot of decisions they need to feel that they’re a part, they’re contributing to whatever your mission is. Whatever your company’s goals are. You need to share with them because then they’ll feel like a part of it. It would be like taking your family on a family trip and not telling the kids where you’re going, you know. How does that work out? Especially if you’re driving.


Whether you're a part of a Navy SEALs team or just a paper pusher with a white collar job, the principles of effective leadership and organizational culture remain constant. Every team needs a leader who can instill inspiration, direction, guidance, and hope. These are the building blocks of success. Retired SEAL Rob Roy, author of the new book The Navy SEAL Art of War, offers a unique perspective on the universal elements of teamwork and strategy.

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