Hellweek occurred in the sixth week of 25 weeks of training for BUD/S class 181 (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training). It’s a week of punishment to simulate the stresses of combat – at least that’s what the instructors told us. You find out quickly it’s all about learning your answer to the question “How badly to do you want to be a SEAL when it’s not a sunny day?”
There were plenty of painful and memorable moments during our Hellweek. For one, I was the only officer left in my class as we started our “winter hell” (Hellweeks that occur in winter are called “winter hell” – mine started on 05DEC91). Being the only officer, I was continually reminded by the rotating shifts of instructors about the number of quitters leaving my class. It’s hard not to take it personally when you start with 34 men (including myself) and by the end of the week you’re down to 18.
Did I mention this was only the sixth week of training?! But there was a bright spot for me, and it happened in a bathroom on Tuesday night.
I Almost Quit Because of… A Pair of Shorts?
Our class was testing a new undergarment during Hellweek called “tri-shorts” – essentially a pair of tight fitting long underwear that were cut off about 8 inches above of the knee. The concept was to reduce the number of chafing injuries during Hellweek, so those that made it wouldn’t have to spend numerous days on limited duty because of massive scabs on their inner thighs (due to running in wet sandy pants for miles and miles and miles…).
For the first 48hrs, the tri-shorts were fantastic, but when nature finally came calling on Tuesday night we all got a painful surprise. Up until that moment, all bathroom breaks were taken in our pants – we actually welcomed peeing in them – it was the only warmth we would experience that week! But then we found out a terrible side effect of urinating on yourself with tri-shorts on – our skin became stuck to the mesh of the tri shorts. So when we pulled our pants down to make a “deposit”, we unintentionally pulled off multiple layers of our inner thigh skin – about 6-8 inch strips. It was one of the most painful moments of Hellweek. I sat on the toilet and quietly cried because it hurt so badly. Turns out, a classmate was in similar pain in the next stall.
When I came out, he was waiting for me in front of the sinks. He looked at me and said: “Sir, when I walk out of the bathroom I’m going quit – I just want you to know.”
I said something along the lines of “Really? Me too!” He looked at me in shock and responded with, “Really sir – you’re gonna quit too?”
I replied, “Hey, take a look in the mirror – look at us – we look like two old men standing hunched over – I don’t know about you, but I sure feel like one!” We laughed… then I grabbed him by both arms, made him look me in the eyes and said: “Tell you what, just make it to the sunrise before you leave us – deal?”
I suspect he could see my pain. I’m certain my tears were visible – he knew I was hurting too. He agreed, and I’m sure glad he did – because that young man went on to be the Honor Man of our class.
We all need someone to lean on – a nudge or boost at just the right moment can make all the difference in the world to someone. While you’re wondering if you can be a leader, let me give you a nudge to remind you that all leadership is personal. We are all different but we all respond to the same thing: care.
Your Authentic Self
When you’re grappling with what kind of a leader you should be, know that there’s only one way to go: YOUR kind of leader. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be your authentic self!
You’ll have much more success building relationships when people can trust you for who you are. Genetically speaking, no two of us are the same. However, we’re all wired to react positively to feeling cared for. Teddy Roosevelt got it right when he said:
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Leading Is Caring
Leading is about caring. Put care at the top of your list and you’ll find that relationships will lead to results. I care about developing better leaders. We need them more now than ever before. The world is becoming a more interconnected place by the second, and with this interconnectivity comes massive opportunities for those who are able to forge relationships built on trust. And those kinds of relationships come from being your authentic self.
Trust me, when you care about others, they’ll return the favor and you will ALL be on a course for success.
Dare to care,