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Leadership lessons from SEAL Team 6

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At the recent NAILBA conference in Orlando, I had the pleasure of hearing Rob O’Neill speak. You may not recognize his name but I’m sure you recognize his affiliation: SEAL Team 6. 

O’Neill’s accomplishments are awe-inspiring. He is one of the most highly-decorated combat veterans of our time. He was a team leader with the Naval Special Warfare Development Group. He has deployed more than a dozen times and, as if that wasn’t enough, he held combat leadership roles in more than 400 combat missions, including the highly-publicized mission of taking down Osama bin Laden. 

What O’Neill went through not only in combat but also in training was something so terrifying to listen to, you can’t help but wonder how he — and all other members of the armed forces — do what they do, especially when you’re part of the most elite Navy SEAL unit. 

According to O’Neill, to be successful in anything the first thing you must have is people skills. Basically, you have to be able to get along with those you work with, including subordinates. “No one wants to work for a jerk,” O’Neill said. The second thing you need is to know the difference between over-planning and being prepared. The third thing is learning to take emotion out of the decision-making process. “The initial reaction is probably the wrong reaction,” said O’Neill. “Don’t react, do respond.” And the fourth, and probably most important is, no matter what, never quit. “You’re not having a bad life, you’re having a bad day,” he reminded the crowd. 

These life mottos are not earth-shattering. We’ve heard variations of all of these at some point in our lifetime. But how quickly we forget these when we feel overwhelmed by work or personal matters. 

As the New Year is upon us, let’s take a few lessons from Rob O’Neill, who no doubt had a harder job than we’ve ever had or will ever have. Let’s remember that stress is a choice. As O’Neill said, “It’s a bag of bricks and you can carry it around as long as you want. You can put it down whenever, and you should. It’s doing no good at all.”

As we face challenges and unprecedented demands on our time, we must be prepared to fight, learn to perform under fire, always trust our people, and most importantly for the year ahead, never, ever quit.