In the movie Rambo, Sylvester Stallone plays a soldier named John Rambo who conducts a series of missions all by himself. The lone soldier acts so independently that today’s SEAL instructors often use the phrase “No Rambos” to define what a SEAL team is not about. Instructors used the phrase hourly during my training. They would remind us at every turn that SEALs don’t work alone, but are part of a team that operates as one. No team member is more important than another. Each one has a purpose, and when properly trained and focused, the team can achieve incredible results.
Before joining a SEAL team, you must prove to the instructors that you have the resolve to be there. One of the best tests for that resolve is Hellweek, which I went through in the sixth week of my 35-week training. Just Hours before my Hellweek started, several instructors gave lectures about what it takes to be a SEAL. They presented two metaphors I will never forget.
First, a Vietnam War veteran SEAL compared SEAL training to the forging of a samurai sword: heat the metal, pound it with a hammer, stick it in cold water, and repeat the process approximately 2,000 times. He said no one can sustain that kind of punishment without first knowing why they want to be a SEAL. Knowing why enables the trainee to endure the pounding he receives.
The second metaphor introduced us to Rambo. There are no Rambos, no lone soldiers, on a SEAL team. Rambos get people killed. SEALs succeed by remaining committed to their teams.
The Importance of the Team
The importance of the team is stressed beginning on day one of SEAL training. Teams work together in every facet of training, from cleaning and eating to swimming and shooting. We even went to the bathroom as a team! The smallest SEAL team — the one that forms the foundation for the larger teams — consists of two swim buddies. Two swim buddy pairs make a fire team, two fire teams make a squad, and two squads make a platoon. (Today’s SEAL nomenclature has changed slightly with the use of squadrons, but the concept remains the same — it’s all about the team.) Just like a house, the teams within the larger SEAL team are built using two bricks at a time: swim pair by swim pair.
Your swim buddy does not stay with you upon graduation from Navy SEAL training. Most graduates join different teams. Upon arriving with a new team, you start the process over by teaming up with a new swim buddy. This time, however, your swim buddy is part of a much bigger team. Eight swim pairs will join forces to create a platoon that will spend the next two years together preparing for and executing more than 150 different kinds of missions. (When my SEAL Team Two platoon trained for our six-month deployment, we had to be prepared for 167 different missions.) Each SEAL team has different operating environments and different mission specialties, but the team dynamic remains the same: start with two-man teams and work your way up to a platoon team of sixteen men.
Team Up and Never Stop Learning
This same dynamic works whether you’re starting a family or a company; it all starts with finding some kind of a “swim buddy.” You want to find someone who is good at what you’re not good at doing. While this may sound simple, the challenge comes when you look inside yourself to determine your weaknesses. It’s not easy at first to admit you’re not good at a particular skill, but over time you’ll become comfortable with the concept. It took me awhile to come to grips with it. When you’re young you believe you can do it all, but as you become aware of excellence around you, you begin to understand that you can’t be excellent at everything. Some things come naturally. I’ve been comfortable from an early age with public speaking and storytelling, but finance is a different story. I struggled to learn the language and the concepts. Yet it’s a critical component of running a successful business. While you should never stop trying to learn something that doesn’t come easily for you, it’s also important to acknowledge the things you find extra challenging. These are the things to keep in mind when looking for a teammate. You want to find teammates whose skills complement your own.
Teammates play another important role: They can help when you’re feeling stuck. A teammate’s attitude can make the difference between success and failure. When you’re on your journey, not every day will be bright. You may even have more dark days than sunny days. There will be days when you question yourself, and days when nothing seems to go your way. A great teammate can be your perfect pick-me-up when you’re feeling defeated. The challenge that has you stumped and feeling depressed may not have your teammate feeling the same way. It might even invigorate your teammate if the challenge requires skills that come naturally to that person. Before you know it, you’ll be over the next obstacle thanks to your teammate. Even if neither of you knows exactly what to do, your teammate might know an expert who can help conquer the obstacle in your path. Every one of my major accomplishments has depended on finding great teammates.
Know Your Reason to Team Up
First, however, you must find your “why.” Great people want to join an effort with a purpose; they need a reason to team up. If you don’t have a firm handle on your why, how can you expect other talented people to understand why they should team up with you? Your why is your calling card for finding the perfect teammates to help make a dream a reality. Understanding your why and the work you’ve accomplished toward your goal is similar to SEAL training. It’s proof of your resolve to complete the goal. No one wants to join a team that is going to fail. Everyone wants to be a winner. The ability to articulate your reason for going after your dream will help inspire others to join you. Finding the perfect teammates starts with a perfect understanding of your why.
This is the beauty of the U-PERSIST framework. Once you have a teammate, you can use the actions of U-PERSIST all over again. U-PERSIST works for teams as well as for individuals, and I believe your teammates will appreciate the framework. A funny thing happens when you create a team: your goals grow. They become team goals, and teams have a tendency to dream even bigger. When they do, you’ll need UPERSIST even more!
No matter what your goal, always remember that nothing great was ever achieved without a team. Period. No single person can do it all. Teaming up is an essential step in accomplishing your dream. It can be the difference between languishing with inaction and finding unbelievable success. It all starts with the first action of U-PERSIST: Understand your why. When you know why you’re willing to work hard and take risks to achieve your goal, you’ll be able to show others why they should team up with you. Once you have a teammate, you can attract more teammates, and then there is no limit to what you can accomplish. It all starts with a dream. So what are you waiting for? Dream as if everything is possible. Dream big and GO FOR IT!
The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership
These lessons aren’t exclusive to the Navy SEALs; they are used by successful entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, coaches, and sport captains—and now you can master them too. Unstoppable Teams is the handbook for how to build care-based teams that will push people to achieve more than they ever thought possible.
Related Post: Team Building 101 (Series)