The Navy SEALs have a well-deserved reputation for executing flawless missions in some of the world's hot spots. Those tough enough to survive the rigors of SEAL training come away with superior leadership skills, intense focus, and unbridled determination to succeed. For eight years, Mark Divine was an active duty SEAL before founding a string of multimillion dollar business ventures. In The Way of the SEAL, Divine lays out eight key principles drawn from his military background to help business owners become better leaders. Recently, business writer Robert Lerose spoke with Divine about what businesspeople can learn from these proficient fighters.
RL: You've described The Way of the SEAL as a self-mastery book for leaders based upon warrior principles embodied by the Navy SEALs. How so?
MD: When times get tough, warriors step into the breach to help solve the intractable problems because they have developed the character where they're not afraid to take risks. They're not afraid to do the right thing, even though it's going to cause some pain to themselves or to others. And they're not afraid of any pushback because they've got skin about a mile thick. The principles that I teach in the book are to develop that type of character. It's nothing new to talk about character-based leadership, but it's new to present it from the context of American's Spartan warriors and from someone who is also a business leader who comes out of that community.
RL: One principle that you teach is about establishing one's set point. How would you define that and how does it apply to business leaders?
MD: The idea of a set point involves developing a deep self-awareness about your own life—what fires you up, what makes you feel purposeful—and then to align your professional life with that passion and purpose. If you can find a way to align your business interest and business style with those things that are radically important in your life, then you will be much more fulfilled. You'll have more power in terms of your productivity and focus, and you'll achieve results so much faster and more meaningfully. It's like saying: in order to know where you want to go in life, you've got to know where you stand right now. Not many people take the time to uncover those passions or that purpose that are going to guide them into the future.
MD: I was working as a CPA in Manhattan and finishing up my MBA when I decided I wanted to shift and become a Navy SEAL officer. I remembered how powerful visualization was to me as a swimmer at Colgate University. I began to visualize myself as a SEAL and literally began to feel internally as if I was already a SEAL. I did this for almost nine months straight. What happened was, I felt a growing sense of certainty. I call it winning in your mind first before you step foot on the battlefield. You literally see the win so clearly. I'm not talking about once, but about living it and reliving it in your mind's eye over and over again well in advance of you taking the actions necessary to win in the real world.
RL: Clearly communicating the purpose of any military mission is critical. You say it's just as important in business. What are some ways that a small business owner can communicate the company's mission to employees or customers?
MD: First is the KISS method—Keep It Simple, Smarty. A great example is Google's vision of organizing the world's information. It's very easy for their employees, their stakeholders, and their customers to wrap their heads around that. Second, to articulate it in a manner that is very visually stunning—meaning something you can get a picture of right away. To use visual words and action words, like verbs. Google's use of "organize" is an active, powerful moving kind of mental imagery. Your rational mind thinks with words, but your emotions and the rest of your body is moved with imagery. That's why visualization is so powerful.
RL: Another principle you teach refers to bulletproofing your mission. Explain that, especially as it applies to business leaders.
MD: In the business world, we go after the wrong target a lot of the time. It's important to have simple planning tools that get you moving forward fast. So we use these mental models for both rapid planning and rapid feedback: essentially, to take a look at your priorities, the realities of the situation, the options you have, and then selecting the best plan to execute. This process leads to what I call a "fail forward fast" mentality, which leads to great momentum. One reason why SEALs are so successful where others fail is because they're willing to move fast, take risks, learn on the fly, and fail forward fast. Those are the skills that are going to allow business leaders—particularly small business leaders and entrepreneurs—to really crush it in this new business environment.
RL: You also say to think offense all the time and to stack the deck in your favor. What skills do small business owners need for this?
MD: They need what I call the Big Four Skills of Mental Toughness. First, take physiological and psychological control through conscious deep breathing. It greatly reduces stress and allows you to be more present and to make better decisions.
MD: To see the win, to see yourself achieving, to see yourself as dominating, to see yourself as the type of person who can and will achieve victory. That's a type of visualization I call a "future me" visualization. Instead of me visualizing my goal, I'm also simultaneously visualizing the type of person that I need to be who can operate with agility, move fast, and be a good planner and a good leader.
RL: What are skills three and four?
MD: To always maintain a positive mindset, even when the chips are down and things are set against you. You have to be emotionally resilient and optimistic and always be checking your attitude so that you're in a positive territory and you're positively driving forward, because that's going to attract the right type of people and energy. And lastly, set small goals tied to your target. I call them micro goals. If you chop things up into little bite-size chunks, you keep an awareness of and a momentum towards the overall target—but you execute with your hair on fire toward that micro goal. This allows you to accelerate your momentum because you're knocking down these small goals. Before you know it, you've tackled the big goal. Psychologically, you develop confidence and a forward leaning approach or attitude.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.