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Lessons in Trust from a Navy SEAL

Two Navy SEALs in Swim TestTrust is the glue that holds a team together. Without it, the team becomes dysfunctional. A leader’s role is to build and foster that trust to such levels that the team members know their colleagues have their backs.

Today’s post is by Rob Roy, author of The Navy SEAL Art of War (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

“I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come, if alive.” – General William T. Sherman to General Ulysses S. Grant

I love this simple note from Sherman to Grant. It spoke of the remarkable bond of trust between two military men—a bond that is the very bedrock of what it means to be a SEAL team member.

Without trust, there is no SEAL team. Some people think I am crazy to consider entering a smoke-filled room filled with bad guys with guns who want to shoot me. But I do it with gusto because I trust my teammates. And because of that trust, the attack can proceed. I can’t do my job—clear the left side of the room—unless I can trust that the guy coming in right behind me will do his job and clear the right side. We trust and rely on each other.

Just to be clear, it takes a tremendous amount of discipline not to look to the right when I am clearing my left-side space. But that’s the beauty—and the benefit—of trust. And it’s funny—with trust comes success.

For the record, there are plenty of guys I didn’t like or could not stand on my Teams. But I trusted them. I trusted their professionalism and talents. Through the prism of shared adversity and experiences, I grew to have faith in the competence, integrity, and motivation of my fellow SEALs and our leaders.

Thanks to open communication and demonstrated commitment, we shared the same values and goals. Because of that, we formed bonds of trust, if not always friendships. I learned early on that if I didn’t have such a bond with the teammates and leaders I counted on for success, operations would come to a crashing—perhaps deadly—halt.

And sometimes I learned, as Ernest Hemingway said, that sometimes the best way to learn if I could trust somebody was to trust them, until they gave me a reason not to.

When I talk about trust with the business executives I work with, I’m more and more convinced that it is a universal value. The most successful clients know trust is a valuable business commodity. Like the SEAL stranded on a mountaintop surrounded by enemy fighters who trusts that air support will come when he calls for it, employees must trust that their employer—their team or divisional leaders—will look out for them. That if everything starts falling apart, they won’t be left behind.

If a bond of sacred trusts exists, people are willing to take risks, to stand and fight, to go the extra mile—all without being asked. If they don’t have trust, they do only what’s expected and little more. They play it safe. They think only of themselves. If a company’s customers don’t trust that it will deliver on its products and promises, they’ll head for the nearest competitor at full speed.

So how do SEALs develop trust with one another and with other organizations? Here are just a few of the ways:

  • We live a culture of honesty and integrity. Those things actually matter to us.
  • We keep promises and don’t make them lightly.
  • We value relationships and honor them.
  • We involve the entire team in the decision-making process.
  • We are loyal—to one another and to our team.
  • It’s never about us, but always about the mission.
  • We share common goals and passionately pursue them.
  • We are transparent. If we think you’re full of it, we’ll tell you so. It’s rarely personal; it’s just business.
  • If we need three helicopters to do a job, we need three helicopters. We don’t inflate the statistics, or exaggerate the risks.
  • We have a solid track record of proven past performance.
  • We are committed to excellence in everything we do. And we can prove it. We walk the walk.

In 2012, the magazine Fast Company reported that companies with high levels of trust enjoy higher stock prices, improved profits, and better retention of key employees. Sounds like a SEAL team to me.

How are you building trust within your organization? What have you done to strengthen trust today?

The Navy SEAL Art of War– Rob Roy, Chief Petty Officer (Ret.), spent 20 years as a Navy SEAL (including service on the legendary SEAL Team Six) before founding Sot-G, an eighty-hour intensive leadership course that uses military combat training to teach executives and managers the leadership skills they need to succeed in business and in life. He’s the author of The Navy Seal Art of War: Leadership Lessons from the World’s Most Elite Fighting Force (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

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Photo: Sailors participate in a swimmer surf passage exercise. by Official U.S. Navy Page

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