5 Leadership Lessons From the Navy SEAL That Killed Osama bin Laden

I recently listened to an outstanding interview from Howard Stern with Robert O’Neill from SEAL Team 6. Robert is a true American hero and has written a new book titled “The Operator”. Robert is the person who put the bullet in Osama bin Laden, the evilest man on earth and mastermind behind the infamous worst day in US History on 9/11. Regardless of where you stand politically, Robert so eloquently shared many nuggets of wisdom on persistence, fortitude and leadership and we wanted to share a few.

1.Trust Your Training

O’Neill didn’t know how to swim six months before he became a SEAL, but he found a trainer at the local YMCA and dove into the pool to try. He said, “You should always train for your next success”. O’Neill told in exact detail how the raid on Bin Laden went down and how he and his teammates trusted their training throughout. The 1st SEAL coming up the stairs saw two women to the left behind a curtain and selflessly jumped on top of them to save the mission in case they had a bomb, just how he was trained. The selfless act allowed O’Neill the opportunity to shoot Bin Laden, just how he was trained with three bullets the only ones he used in his entire chamber. He gave the chamber as a present to the CIA analyst who found the house and the mission. A SEAL came up to O’Neill and said you just killed Osama bin Laden, your life just changed forever. O’Neill was completely stunned and in a cloud of his own thoughts when he said back to the SEAL, “Well what do we do now”? Without hesitation the SEAL replied, “We go get the computers, c’mon man we have done this hundreds of times.” O’Neill snapped right back up and trusted his training and completed the mission.

2.Plan for Everything, Including Failure

 

SEAL Team 6 had everything in place for a perfect mission and a true belief in its success. Take the CIA analyst mentioned above most notably played by Jessica Chastain in the movie Zero Dark Thirty.  She was obsessed with the mission and worked tirelessly to know everything about Bin Laden. She told the team where the house was, where everybody would be inside including the tremendous intel that if you run into Osama’s son, Khalid Bin Laden he will be armed and he is the last line of defense.  If you kill him, Osama Bin Laden will be on the next floor, which is exactly where he was. The most impressive part of the planning was when the team was about to go in they asked each other if there was anything that they were not thinking of that could go wrong? One of the SEAL’s said “What if the helicopter crashes, how do we get out?” and that is exactly what happened on the front lawn of Bin Laden’s house and they were ready for that challenge as well.

3.Fear vs. Panic: Keep emotion out of decision making

Hell week is the cornerstone of SEAL training and tests every fiber that is inside of your body. Hell week was built to see if they could finally break you and it was mostly there to teach you that panic isn’t going to help you. Robert spoke about Hell week as an absolute torture where 24/7 a team of seven men had to stay awake and carry a 320 pound inflatable boat everywhere they went. They did panic and endurance tests such as tying their hands behind their back and feet and treading water by bobbing up and down in the ocean for 10 minutes then floating on their backs for 10 minutes. O’Neill found this act calming because he brought his mind to a different place and enjoyed the environment underwater because no one was yelling at him then. “I can talk my body through anything because of my mind. Fear is good for you it makes you think clearer, but panic does not.”

4.Quit tomorrow

85% of the people who tried to become a SEAL on the 1st day of training failed to even make it to training.  O’Neill failed the entrance test because they gave him his immunizations the day before, he thought he blew his chance but stayed with it and passed two days later. Robert said some of the sagest advice he ever received from an instructor applies to anything in life or business. “When you feel like quitting and you will, just quit tomorrow.” O’Neill when asked if he ever felt like quitting, he said he almost quit every day but kept pushing through using that advice to help him stay mentally tough. Another piece of advice that helped him was “Go to war, where the enemy is your doubts. The enemy is all the people back home who said you couldn’t do it and instead of quitting let your mind go on an adventure.”

 

5.Mental toughness

The mind is able to compartmentalize and therefore you must train it to do so and do it humbly. O’Neill said there were many loudmouths on the 1st day of training speaking so confident that there were many others that told themselves that guy must be tough. They weren’t tough however, they were just loudmouths but the people bought in and followed their lead. When the loudmouth quit which was early on, the others toppled over too because they taught their minds to quit as well. O’Neill said, “It is totally acceptable to have doubts, in fact it is healthy to say you are scared and respect your enemy.” O’Neill said true compartmentalization was when “World War 2 veterans had to go to war, kill the enemy and comeback on Monday and work in a warehouse.” Robert shared details about a training mission where they had to slush through frozen waters for days, shivering, soaked and frozen. He said every man bitched the entire time, but there were two women on the mission and they never said a negative word. They never complained and he said women are very tough and they can compartmentalize the mission versus their own misery.

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James Edwards
Revalant is a nationwide recruiting and consulting firm dedicated to training and developing leadership candidates for and within organizations. Revalant helps identify, evaluate, recruit and deliver the highest-caliber professionals. From recruiting leadership full time or temporary executive placement to staff positions, sales & account executives, marketing, general managers and operational team members, we identify best in class candidates who can step into a position and begin contributing to your company immediately. http://www.revalantco.com/recruitment.html Revalant will be launching a secondary brand www.how2interviewbetter.com for candidates later this year to improve their skill sets through a one hour executive coaching session. To learn more email, me at james@revalantco.com