You probably associate leadership with skills, behaviors, and theoretical models. As a retired Navy SEAL Commander and founder of several multimillion-dollar businesses—with a long history as a martial artist and yogi—I propose that leadership stems from your character and heart. A professional who masters their thoughts and emotions, and has a strong code or stand, will naturally become a powerful leader, earning the trust and respect of others through the force of their presence. Here are some ideas on how to develop this level of deep character from the new edition of my book.
- Build your stand.
What do you stand for? Most of us don’t take the time to consider our personal code of conduct—a guiding force to handle murky, difficult decisions. For example, what would you do if you observed a significant breach of integrity at your company? Or you made a mistake, and the blame fell on your teammate? If the answer is uncomfortable, that gives insights into the character you have, and where you need to develop. For example, my personal stand, shared by all Navy SEALs, includes being prepared in mind, body, and spirit, to work harder than expected, and never quit until the mission is done.
- Define your personality principles.
You’ve probably attended a leadership course where the expert asked you to rank your favorite values like leadership, family, and faith. However, your character develops from focusing on personality principles that make you better and stronger, for example, health, courage, authenticity, gratitude, truth, growth, and decisiveness. Be cognizant of eliminating any negative principles that have slipped through your defenses, such as judgment and selfishness.
- Calm your mind.
To succeed as a leader, and win the mission, you must first learn to calm and control your mind. The best way to do this is to practice slow and controlled deep breathing for a minimum of five minutes daily. This is also an effective tool to use before important meetings or any challenging situation. At my company Unbeatable, LLC, we do this combined with visualization before important meetings. Deep breathing is free medicine that reduces mental chatter, giving you the clarity to make better decisions.
- Visualize your desired end-state.
Elite special operators use visualization to condition their minds to experience their desired end-state, as well as uncovering the potential pitfalls and contingencies of their mission. With deep breathing, this is something to be practiced daily, so it becomes more effective over time—allowing you as a leader to win in your mind, before stepping onto the battleground.
Powerful leaders must find simplicity in complexity. Keep it simple, smarty (KISS) is a mantra often used amongst elite warriors. Start with an 80/20 analysis of everything demanding your attention. What 20% of things are both important and urgent? Can you delete, delegate, or outsource the other 80%? Consider removing loose commitments, and saying no to most things, so that you can say yes to the most important.
- Develop an “offensive” mindset.
Are you always in reactionary mode, getting crushed by your responsibilities and an endless to-do list? As a leader with deep character, you can develop an offensive mindset to protect yourself from this whiplash. It starts with a rigorous look at what you deem important to let into your mind. Weak, defensive internal dialogue such as I’m not sure, I’ll try and Maybe, erodes your confidence and performance over time. Replace with stronger, committed, offense-orientated internal dialogue such as Yes I will, I’ve got this, and Definitely; watch your emotions and results transform for greater results.
- Communicate from the heart.
Difficult conversations aren’t fun, but they’re essential for personal growth and achieving elite-level performance as a leader. These conversations always fail when done “from your head”—trying to game the outcome by telling them what you think they want to hear while having an opposing internal dialogue of what you really think. Learn to drop into your heart when having crucial conversations, so you’re authentic and caring. Also, practice mindfulness in your conversation, so you’re keenly aware of what your teammate is saying. Finally, only speak if it’s truthful, adds value to the discussion, and comes from a place of genuine concern for the other party.
- Do today what others won’t.
If you want to lead to succeed at an elite level, you must believe that you’re capable of at least twenty times more than you think. This requires you to lean into challenges, to do today what others won’t, so you can do tomorrow what others can’t. Learn to love hard work for the deep character it builds. Settling for the soft life, by avoiding the challenge, leads to low confidence and self-esteem. Too much comfort imprisons you in fear of the short-term pain of suffering. Unfortunately, this prevents you from experiencing life to the fullest. I encourage you to commit to challenges that push you to become the person worthy of accomplishing them. It could be something like a Spartan Race, SEALFIT 20X, or even a 60-day yoga challenge. This year I committed to doing 100,000 burpees to raise money for veterans suffering from PTS. On the intellectual side, commit to reading for 45 minutes a day (which is one book a week!), or going for that advanced degree you’ve procrastinated about. Bottom line: commit to challenging yourself to prove that you are capable of twenty times more, and you’ll cultivate serious mental toughness and a non-quitting spirit.
Though I don’t expect you to be a Navy SEAL, I know you can develop the same mental toughness, leadership qualities, and winning attitude as a SEAL. Develop a stand of excellence, practice the skills of the Way of the SEAL, and you will develop the character of a world-class leader.
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