Thursday, September 27, 2012

From the Battlefield to the Boardroom: A Navy SEAL's Guide to Business Leadership Success (Part 2 of 3)

Brent Gleeson, Contributor

Former Navy SEAL combat veteran and passionate entrepreneur, Brent Gleeson, is the co-founder and CMO of Internet Marketing Inc. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrentGleeson.

In Part 1 of this blog series I wrote about six important aspects of military leadership that are critical to building a successful business and developing a driven team.  Originally, Part 2 was going to focus on strategic planning but I thought it would be more appropriate to discuss team building first and address that important topic later.  In this post, I will focus on building the team and managing in a chaotic environment. Most of my readers will probably never serve in the military or be in a combat situation, but we all deal with our own chaotic environments every day. In business, this could be a brand crisis, employee turnover, economic issues, or even externalities that mentally affect your staff. It’s essential that leaders know how to successfully guide their teams through these situations.

Building a Team In the Midst of Chaos:  Forging SEAL Leadership

There is no better time to have a strong unified team than amidst chaos. That’s the basic principle of the Navy SEAL training program.  Before we can manage a strong team within our organizations, we must build one.

In early 2000, I quit my job as a financial analyst in Dallas and joined the Navy to pursue the most challenging special operations training in the world. A few months later, I checked into the notorious SEAL training program called BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) and joined Class 235. Needless to say I was terrified. BUD/s is the first six months of the one year journey to become a Navy SEAL.

The third week of BUD/s is called Hell Week. Even with that name, it’s an understatement. During Hell Week the class experiences the most grueling physical and mental punishment imaginable with no sleep. Its purpose is to weed out those that aren’t solely committed to the mission. During this week, the survivors really come together as a team and share moments that forge them into the most hardened special operations warriors in the world. The real training comes later but this is where the foundation is laid and the brotherhood formed.  Class 235 started with approximately 250 students. At the end, only 23 were left.

The first few hours of Hell Week is called “Break Out.” Break Out is designed to simulate pure combat-style chaos. Hell Week always starts in the early evening on a Sunday. The whole class is crammed into one of the classrooms to “relax” and watch movies. No one can relax of course or enjoy the movies. We knew what was coming, but had no idea how crazy it would be.

At one point during the evening, the instructors burst into the classroom, shut off the lights, and start firing M60 machine guns and M4 rifles (blanks) while screaming orders through megaphones.  To this day I still shudder when I hear a megaphone turn on.  The class is ordered out onto the grinder (a paved courtyard where much of the physical training occurs). While being sprayed with fire hoses and surrounded by smoke, explosions, and gunfire, instructors sent us in all different directions: bear crawling to the surf to get wet and sandy, to the grinder to perform hundreds and hundreds of flutter kicks, pull-ups, and pushups. It is pure mental, emotional and physical chaos.

The class is divided into boat crews of seven students each. Each boat crew has an officer in charge, or boat crew leader. During this chaos, boat crew leaders are expected to keep track of their crews, maintain an accurate headcount, and still prep for the first evolution of Hell Week.  If they fail, the whole crew is punished brutally. You live and die as a team.

The point of Break Out, other than to force the uncommitted to panic and quit, is to simulate a chaotic environment, and teach the class how to remain focused and calm while relying on each other, despite the most miserable and stressful conditions. Our class had the tragic experience of having our class leader (highest ranking officer) die during Hell Week. We were devastated by this loss to the class. The instructors told us, sympathetically, but purposefully to “get used to it.” Things change. Be ready for when they do.

Similarly, when building a business, situations can often seem unbearable and the stress can seem insurmountable. But as leaders, we must learn to remain focused on the big picture, stay calm and confident, and continue to make sound rational decisions. These decisions are made much easier if you have a strong, unified team supporting you.

Let’s face it, building a start-up or running a growing business in this new economy is chaos, plain and simple.  As your business, grows the obstacles you face becoming more complex and more difficult to negotiate.  This is why it is imperative that we as leaders develop as quickly, if not more quickly, than our businesses.  In my company’s industry, digital marketing, if we are doing business the same way today that we were six months ago, we become obsolete.  Don’t be left behind or wait until the chaotic event happens to start building up your team. As a leader, you should constantly be building a team that can weather the storm when it hits.

My philosophy on managing and planning is that you should inform, inspire, and engage the team at all levels.  There must be buy in from the whole team for the execution of the plan to be most effective.  We do this by allowing the team to take ownership of helping define the direction of the company and set goals.

Here are some tips for building a strong, unified team that will execute the plan successfully:

    Recruit talent that have a passion for the business and fit the company culture – I have never seen a more clearly defined culture than in the SEAL teams.  I can spot a Team Guy a mile away.  This doesn’t happen by accident.  How are you currently selecting the right team members, building your company’s culture, and aligning it with the core values?

    Properly communicate the company’s mission, vision and values to the entire team – This is imperative for having a strong team.  Everyone must not only understand the mission and values but believe in them.  In the Teams, the mission is clear and simple and there is buy in from everyone.  We must have this same unification in our companies.

    Engage ALL members of your team in the planning process – When everyone is involved in setting the direction of the company and defining how you are going to move in that direction, the team has ownership in the company’s achievements and will be more passionate about their role in its success.

    Ensure members understand their roles in achieving the objectives – As the saying goes “get the right people on the bus and put them in the right seats”.  In the Teams we first get the right people, those who are committed to the cause and survive selection and training.  Once on a team, each member is trained for specific jobs (sniper, breacher, driver, etc.) that they are well suited for.  We often find in our businesses that we have great talent but they may not be sitting in the right seat.  Place people in jobs that leverage their skills and set them (and the company) up for success.

    Keep everyone in the loop as the plan progresses – As we discussed in Part 1, pass the word!  There is no sense in involving the team in one planning session if we don’t then communicate the progress or adjustments that are being made along the way.  Involve them consistently and utilize their feedback to keep the plan moving in the right direction.  Doing so will result in a happier more productive team.

    Have contingency plans and be flexible enough to make adjustments along the way – In combat, contingency plans are even more crucial than the original plan.  The team must be trained to be dynamic and adjust the plan on the fly. During capture or kill missions in Iraq, bad intel would often lead to the team hitting the wrong target or kidnapping the wrong person.  We had to adjust quickly.  Is your company ready for possible obstacles such as employee turnover, losing a large client, or major technology changes within your industry?

And, in the midst of chaos, remember that  your team is looking to you for leadership, so even in the craziest of environments, keep communicating even if you can only give them a little information at a time, let them know that they can ask for help, and encourage them to rely on each other for support.

In the third part of this series, I will focus on how to find good leaders. Hint: Hire a veteran.

Rise Executives Helps Host A National Leadership Conference At Ford Field and Gives Back To The Community

Members of Rise Executives, a sales and marketing firm in San Diego, traveled to Detroit to attend a national leadership conference and participated in a charity kickball tournament.  Among attendees were several national business consultants and executives from Ford including special guest speakers from the Ford corporation.   

Rise Executives, based out of the Mission Valley area of San Diego, specializes in client acquisition and retention for Fortune 500 clients.  The company focuses on gaining long lasting business account holders for national corporations.  

Rise Executives’ main client is the largest mail-order office supply retailer in the country. The client is currently headquartered in Lincolnshire, Illinois, and offers a catalog of products containing more than 200,000 supplies.  The client supplies businesses with a variety including g school and office supplies, office machines, furniture, technology, cleaning and breakroom, custom-printed and promotional products. 

The weekend in Detroit kicked off with leadership lessons from some of the nations’ leading business sales management consultants.  The meetings were followed by a trip to Ford Museum, and then off to Ford Field.  Attendees were given a tour of the Lions stadium before teaming up for a charity kickball tournament on Ford Field.

The charity event raised money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  JDRF, founded in 1970, is the leading global foundation focused on research for type 1 diabetes.  JDRF is the largest charitable supporter of Type 1 diabetes in existence.  The goal of the organization is to help improve the progress made towards curing, treating and even preventing diabetes.   JDRF has raised more than $1.6 billion for diabetes research. 

Each team paid an entry fee of $100 to play.  Rise Executives and the accompanying executives helped raise $1600 for the charity.  All donations went directly to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  

On the way to the charity event, attendees were given a tour of the stadium and a look inside the locker room. 

The weekend topped off with a lecture from key note speaker, Edsel Ford, member of the board of directors at Ford and great grandson of Henry Ford, and a speech from Deborah Windey, Director of Human Resources.

Rise Executives plans to send its executives to several leadership development conferences in the months to come and expects to continue giving back to the community as well.

23 Leadership Tips From Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of her generation. Raised by her grandmother in rural Mississippi until age six and then by her mother, who worked as a maid in Milwaukee, Ms. Winfrey was an unlikely candidate to become one of the most dominant media personalities of modern America.

The tremendous challenges she overcame make Oprah’s career especially inspiring. The fact that she has handled her success so adeptly, despite her impoverished childhood, is astounding.

When I began gathering examples of Oprah’s wisdom, I expected to identify a handful of quotes relevant to entrepreneurs. To my surprise, I identified dozens of worthy bits of wisdom. From these, I collected 23 insightful missives of interest to aspiring entrepreneurs. Oprah’s thoughts are group into four general categories: Fear, Failure, Success and Humility.

1. Fear – Channel It

“The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free.”

Ms. Winfrey’s big break was an accident. An accident which Oprah’s hard work and dedication had more than adequately prepared her to exploit. Channeling the Roman Philosopher Seneca, Oprah later characterized her lucky break by saying, “I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity.”

In 1982, Oprah was the co-host of the local television news in Baltimore Maryland. As part of their job search efforts, one of the station’s producers created a montage tape of their work and sent it to a number of major-market stations, including WLS in Chicago. Coincidentally, one of the on-air personalities on the tape was Oprah Winfrey.

The WLS executives were immediately impressed with Ms. Winfrey and asked her to audition for A.M. Chicago, a glorified cooking show. Did Oprah know anything about preparing food on live television? Heck no. Did this slow her down? Of course not.

It was natural for Oprah to be apprehensive about assuming an unfamiliar role in the US’s third largest media market. However, she balanced her trepidation with a lifelong desire to face and conquer her fears, later stating, “I have a lot of things to prove to myself. One is that I can live my life fearlessly.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom, entrepreneurs are typically not blind to risk. However, they tend to view what most people consider to be “risky situations” as opportunities to be exploited. Oprah description of risk is typical of entrepreneurs: “I believe that one of life’s greatest risks is never daring to risk.”

2. Failure – Refuse It

“I don’t believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.”

Oprah’s biggest failure was ultimately her greatest success. Her WLS morning show was well received from its outset. Within a few months of its launch, she was consistently beating Phil Donahue, the then-current national king of daytime television.

Her show’s local success led to a meeting in Los Angeles with several ABC network executives. The network owned Oprah’s AM Chicago show, as it was created under the auspices of her contract with WLS. Thus, in order to expand beyond Chicago, she needed to negotiate the terms with ABC.
Oprah Talks Philanthropy, Failure And What Every Guest - Including Beyoncé - Asks Her Moira Forbes Moira Forbes Forbes Staff
The Education Of Oprah Winfrey: How She Saved Her South African School Clare O'Connor Clare O'Connor Forbes Staff
Pssst...Here's How To Become A Venture Capitalist John Greathouse John Greathouse Contributor

After a brief meeting, the ABC executives told Oprah, (paraphrasing), “You have a great, local cooking show, but it has no future beyond Chicago.” Oprah was understandably disappointed.

Some young people would allow rejection by “industry experts” to short circuit their dreams. However, Oprah’s healthy balance of humility and self-confidence caused her to be undaunted by the network executives’ poor judgment. In the midst of her disappointment, she no doubt took the advice she has since shared with her fans, “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.”

On the return trip to Chicago, Oprah realized that by rejecting her local show, the network had effectively freed her from her contractual obligations, allowing her to own all aspects of her show; from the studio, to the syndication rights, to the hiring and firing of the show’s employees.

Like all entrepreneurs, Oprah’s career has included multiple failures. “Nobody’s journey is seamless or smooth. We all stumble. We all have setbacks. It’s just life’s way of saying, ‘Time to change course.’” If you are not intermittingly failing, you are not trying hard enough. Oprah encourages entrepreneurs to expand their comfort zones by “Do(ing) the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.”

One of Oprah’s setbacks was the 1989 television show Brewster Place. The ratings were poor, the writing was uninspired and Oprah did not have enough time or energy to devote to the show. As such, she elected to “change course,” despite the fact that she had already been paid a sizable bonus.

When she attempted to return the prepayment to ABC, the executives told her to,“forget it.” They were astounded, as no one had ever returned a prepayment. However, Oprah felt she had failed to deliver a quality product. After ABC rejected Oprah’s check, she suggested they give the money to charity, which they subsequently did.

Oprah realized that failing is a part of succeeding and that much can be learned when plans go awry. In her words, “So go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground.” You can never fail if you refuse to lose, especially if you have the necessary self-awareness to, “Turn your wounds into wisdom.”

3. Success – Envision It

“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.”

After being rejected by ABC, Oprah left WLS, formed Harpo Productions and launched a national show. Owning her show in its entirety also allowed her to be truly authentic, in a way that hosts controlled by large networks were unable to emulate.

She did not have to host B-level celebrities to cross-promote the network’s shows, work within arbitrary budgets, hire mediocre network employees or accept sponsors recruited by the network. Soon after she launched her national show, a major diet soft drink brand asked Oprah to promote their product. She did not drink the product and was able to refuse the company’s lucrative offer.

Saying “No” to certain advertisers was a cornerstone of her authenticity, which ultimately led to her global popularity. Her fans knew that she was not “for sale.” If she promoted a book, product, movie or diet, it was because she was a fan, not because she was earning a promotional paycheck.

Oprah’s message about success is empowering because she reiterates that success is not “something that happens to other people.” Success is a choice and the path to success is to identify your passions, define significant goals and then work your butt off. As she once said, “The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.”
Work = Fun

“You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job, and not be paid for it.”

“When you’re doing the work you’re meant to do, it feels right and every day is a bonus, regardless of what you’re getting paid.”
Oprah Talks Philanthropy, Failure And What Every Guest - Including Beyoncé - Asks Her Moira Forbes Moira Forbes Forbes Staff
The Education Of Oprah Winfrey: How She Saved Her South African School Clare O'Connor Clare O'Connor Forbes Staff
Pssst...Here's How To Become A Venture Capitalist John Greathouse John Greathouse Contributor

“What I know is, is that if you do work that you love, and the work fulfills you, the rest will come.”

Passion Play

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

“Forget about the fast lane. If you really want to fly, harness your power to your passion. Honor your calling. Everybody has one. Trust your heart, and success will come to you.”

Significance Is Significant

“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance – and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.”

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

“How do I define success? Let me tell you, money’s pretty nice. But having a lot of money does not automatically make you a successful person. What you want is money and meaning. You want your work to be meaningful, because meaning is what brings the real richness to your life.”

Change Is A Choice

“I believe the choice to be excellent begins with aligning your thoughts and words with the intention to require more from yourself.”

“Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”

“The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.”

4. Humility – Exude It

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

Oprah remained the most watched daytime television host for over two decades. One of the reasons she was able to maintain and grow her media empire over such an extended period was her ability to maintain an emotional and personal connection with her audience, despite her tremendous wealth and power. As she said on numerous occasions,“I still have my feet on the ground, I just wear better shoes.”

Another reason Oprah retained a solid connection with reality was because she surrounded herself with a team who worked with her from the outset of her venture. A wise leader, Oprah was loyal to the early members of her successful startup, understanding that her success was shared by everyone who contributed to Harpo’s growth. As she once said, “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

Having It All – Eventually

It is no secret that Oprah has struggled since she launched the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). As usual, the popular press has been quick to decry OWN a failure. As Oprah once said, “You CAN have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.” The lack of instant success is not equivalent to failure. As with any new venture, it takes time to hire the right team, define a viable value proposition and create a winning product.

As long as she can draw upon an adequate store of energy, my money is on the humble girl from Mississippi, the planet’s first African American Billionaire.

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never tweet about daytime TV hosts, dogs on skateboards or that killer burrito I just ate. You can also check out my blog for emerging entrepreneurs HERE.

Note: This is an installment in the Iconic Advice series. Others include: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Mark Cuban, Richard Branson, Walt Disney, Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Dell.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012