How the Navy SEALs train for leadership
Almost every world-class organisation takes training and education seriously. But the US Navy’s special operations forces, the SEALs, go far beyond. Their dedication to relentless training and intensive preparation, however, is alien to the majority of businesses worldwide. That’s i mportant because excellence requires more t han commitment to educational achievement.
As an educator, I fear that business schools and businesses overinvest in “education” and dramatically underinvest in “training”. Leaders and managers get knowledge and education, while training and skills go to those who do the work. That business bias is dangerous. The SEALs can’t afford it. “Under pressure,” according to the SEALs, “you don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard.” Many talented organisations f ind it diff icult to innovate and adapt under pressure. A factor may be people who are overeducated and undertrained.
Brandon Webb, an i nnovative SEAL t r a i ner/ educator and now CEO of Force12 Media, served in the US Navy from 1993 to 2006 and redesigned the SEAL training course curriculum.
HE EMPHASISES FOUR TRAINING THEMES:
Produce excellence, not ‘above average’ “Training programmes shouldn’t be designed to deliver competence; t hey must be dedicated to producing excellence,” Webb said. “Serious organisations don’t aspire to be comfortably above average.”
Tra i n i ng d i v orc e d f r om e x c e l l e nce i s mere compliance. It is more “box-t ick i ng” t han human capital investment. Is “above average” training really worth the time, energy and expense? Webb’s perspective poses a challenge to most organisations’ views of human resources. Do they really want training to bring out the best in their people? Or does everyone train with the expectation that excellence matters less than being a bit better?
Reward excellence, not competence
explicitly acknowledge and promote excellence. And, says Webb, they also need the courage and integrity to replace those who can’t − or won’t − step up.
Should t raining over whelmingly focus on skills enhancement? Or must it be managed to build better bonds and relationships throughout the enterprise? Webb unambiguously champions both. The training transformation made the SEALs culture more open to innovation and exchange. Incentives that facilitated accountability improved the entire organisation, not just the trainees.
Incorporate new ideas from the ground
Successf ul t r a i ning must be dynamic, open and i nnovative. Ongoing t r a nsfor mation − not j ust incremental improvement − is as important for trainers as trainees. “It’s every teacher’s job to be rigorous about constantly being open to new ideas and innovation,” Webb says. “It’s a huge edge, sometimes life-saving, to adopt a good idea early and put it into practice. As an instructor I learnt that you are never done learning, and your students can be a wealth of information.”
Lead by example
Arguably Webb’s most passionate t raining t heme ref lects his battlefield experiences. The most important training behaviour a leader can demonstrate, he asserts, is leading by example. “Leading by example means never asking your team to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself,” Webb writes. “This can’t be faked; do it right and your team will respect you and follow you.”
The level of motivation, dedication and self-sacrifice the SEALs demand from themselves and one another goes far beyond what most businesses and business schools should ever ask, let alone expect, from their people. No one doubts the role that education plays in creating and sustaining economic competitiveness worldwide. But it’s long past time that CEOs, boards, business schools and universities revisit what world-class training should mean.