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The Way of the Seal Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed

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Book Review


The Way of the SEAL
Think like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed


Mark Divine

With Allyson Edelhertz Machate

In this book, Retired Navy Commander, Mark Divine, presents leadership from a military standpoint. He breaks down his training from the Navy Seal training school into 8 basic principles. Each principle is supported with exercises, meditations, and focusing techniques that will prepare your mind for the challenges in any situation. His personal influences of the martial arts are littered throughout the text.

These eight principles are part of one’s “integral training” which encompasses the five human capacities, or to use the author’s term, “five mountains”. These five capacities are interwoven throughout the exercises needed to adapt the author’s eight principles. They are:

1. Physical 2. Mental 3. Emotional 4. Intuitional 5. Spiritual

Principle One
His first principle is to “Establish Your Set Point”. This is the “inner sense” of every person – i.e. what makes us different. To do this we must exercise the emotional and mental capacities we all have by accessing four key elements. First, “Make a Stand” by defining our own beliefs by answering the question “what do we stand for?”. Second, we must “Find Your Purpose”. This will answer “why we are here”.

The third element is “What’s Your “Why”? Why we do things have either an intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. The author’s perspective is that extrinsic motivators are rarely acceptable for this deep self-evaluation. Intrinsic motivators are much more likely to be a steadfast personal belief, or value, that will keep one focused when external challenges arise. The fourth element is to “Embrace Risk, Loss, Failure”. Most individuals are risk adverse. Taking calculated risks are necessary for any who wants to lead. In doing so, one must be prepared for failure and loss. These defining moments must be embraced, and are vital in the establishment of our set-point.

I am somewhat in agreement with the author’s first principle. These seem like reasonable starting points for revealing ones values and beliefs. The book itself relies too much on the author’s knowledge of his martial arts training for my personal use, but is not presented so drastically that I could not relate to his intentions.

Principle Two
The author’s second principle is to “Develop Front Sight Focus”. As with principle 1, this standard relies on our mental and emotional capacities. To adopt this principle, one must “Prepare Your Mind”. To do this, he describes how “Deep Breathing” is a technique used by elite warriors throughout centuries and actually has physiological effects on stress and anxiety.

Another technique is to set aside time for “The Sacred Silence”. The author feels strongly that a clear and focused mind is essential in keeping motivated and focused toward ones goals. The second element to develop front sight focus is to “Envision Your Goal”. Developing a positive mindset and visualizing the end result are significant components in leading a successful project or “mission”. The author suggests devoting an hour per day to this activity, which does not seem realistic to me; however, I can see the benefit in the exercise itself.

The third element is to “Define the Mission”. To accomplish this, the leader must “Simplify the Battlefield”. Every individual or business has something unique to offer – “what am I good at?”. Identifying these is critical so the leader can delegate tasks to the most qualified follower, and to identify vulnerabilities that may be detrimental to the project. After these have been identified, one must “De-Clutter Your Environment”. The purpose is to remove all distractions so you can concentrate on the task at hand.

This principle seems logical. The message is to identify you and your follower’s assets, eliminate all other nonessential distractions, and to get everyone doing what they do best. This is also a key component in Jim Collins book, Good to Great.

Principle Three
The third principle is to “Bulletproof Your Mission”. In this principle the author is still trying to get the reader to narrow their focus. The element “Select High-Value Targets” deals with defining your mission in the sense that it evaluates the mission/project under consideration for its merit. It is my experience that in reality, the “targets” are not always optional, and in many instances, the projects are delegated to the leaders without any input or option whether to complete it or not.

There are usually many ways or paths to consider when undertaking a project/mission. One must “Explore Your Options” in order to select the path that provides the best chance of success. Be clear to the followers and to the stakeholders and “Communicate the Mission.” From a personal perspective, this could not be more important to the success of any project. Everyone must understand their tasks and the overall goal and be perfectly clear on all expectations. The author used the term to “Dirt-Dive the Mission”. His intent is to go over the entire project step by step and explore possible pitfalls throughout. He believes in internal visualization, and while I agree with the concept, I believe it would be much more productive as a brainstorming session with the team rather than individually.

Principle Four
The author’s fourth principle is to “Do Today What Others Won’t” - to go the extra mile in preparing for the mission. “Find Your 20x Factor” – this is an element directly from the author’s military training. The thought here is that a person is capable of 20 times more than what he or she thinks they can do. To do this one must get out of their comfort zone and experience new challenges and face your fears. When a person accomplishes a milestone such as this, then distractions and challenges are met with more confidence, and with a positive “can do” attitude.

The second element is to “Embrace the Suck”. Issues will arise and unforeseen problems will occur – bad things are going to happen and a leader must simply face the issues and deal with each in a calm manner. The author suggests to “Focus on the Positive.” There will be some aspect or something that is going well. This will help settle your mind and to focus on the problem. There will always be challenges, and the author’s second element in “embracing the suck” is to not avoid challenges, they will find you anyway - confront them head-on. The third and final element of this principle is to “Build the 3 D’s (Discipline, Drive, And Determination)”. This is accomplished by making a “habit of excellence.” The point is we all have habits that need to be broken; his suggestion is not to simply stop the undesirable habit, but to replace it with a positive one. Developing discipline to not take shortcuts, to do things the right way every time, and to take the challenge of learning to“train the mind to reject discomfort and to embrace the suck.” He suggests developing drive by connecting a major interest or value to your mission. Determination is the long-term commitment needed to be successful.

I also believe in the author’s fourth principle’s concept, but the delivery is heavy in the physical fitness arena and somewhat difficult to relate to in the business context.

Principle Five
Mark Devine’s fifth principle is to “Forge Mental Toughness”. To do this, one must “Control Your Response” to stressful situations, “Control Your Attention” by focusing on the positive aspects, and to “Develop Emotional Resilience” which is a person’s ability to bounce back when things go against you.

The fourth element of mental toughness is to “Set Effective Goals”. This is an element I currently practice as well. Setting clear attainable goals and milestones, and then celebrating those milestones along the way are tactics that I’ve had great success with. Another element is to “Visualize Powerfully”. Again, the author is trying to get the leaders to visualize success, visualize achievements, and to visualize positive results.

Overall, the author’s fourth principle of forging mental toughness is a noble objective. However, his tactics of “mental visualization” as the “how to achieve” on practically every element seems simplistic to me.

Principle Six
The sixth principle is to “Break Things”. By applying “Total Commitment”, it will allow all of a leader’s internal focus and intuition toward achieving the primary goal. In this section the author again uses several military concepts, and on the surface they seem logical; but after I have gave them more thought, not really practical. For example, one he used was to “burn your boat”. I get what he was saying – to force yourself to move forward with the decision that you’ve made and stick to it, but from my experience, having a “return to initial state” plan in place is the smartest approach.

“Fall Forward Fast” is another element within this principle. The thought here is that we learn as much from our mistakes as our successes. The concept here is that when we fail, at least we failed trying something new and will learn from that mistake.

To “Navigate Gaps for Opportunity” encourages us to take advantage of the gaps created but the current speed of new technology. During a transition period between when the old technology is static, and the new technology is being introduced, “gaps” will appear and these should be looked at as opportunities.

To take advantage of these opportunities, the author’s last element within this principle encourages us to “Innovate and Adapt Quickly”. To do this, a leader must act with decisive action.

Principle Seven
Principle 7 is to “Build Your Intuition”. The author loses me a little in this section. While I can share in that feeling “someone is watching me”, the author takes it much farther citing Air Force studies that basically relies on extra sensory perception. I do believe a leader has to make a “gut call” at appropriate times, but spending hours meditating would be a tough choice for me to encourage.

Principle Eight
The final principle is to “Think Offense, At All Time”. The first element to accomplish this principle is to “Develop Unwavering Confidence”. This is achieved by changing our communication habits for those around us as well as ourselves. The author says using action words instead of soft, passive words not only gives our followers confidence, our own minds react to these types of communications as well.

Another element is to “Do the Unexpected”. This concept is simply asking the reader to look at situations from different angles than everyone else – i.e. “train yourself to see what others don’t”. The author continues in listing eight rules a leader should break immediately – I will add a brief commentary after each:

* Rule To Break No. 1: Become A Great Multitasker
The point here is that a leader needs to focus on the task at hand.

* Rule To Break No. 2: Nice Guys Finish Last
A leader will be required to make tough decision that affect people; this does not mean you are not a nice guy.

* Rule To Break No. 3: More Is Better
This supports the KISS principle (keep is simple stupid).

* Rule To Break No. 4: Fight Fair
This simply suggests being offensive and unconventional.

* Rule To Break No. 5: Always Tell The Truth
The author is not suggesting to lie; he is however suggesting to only divulge the appropriate amount to the appropriate audience.

* Rule To Break No. 6: Eat 3 Square Meals A Day
This is back to his physical fitness/martial arts training that ties leadership success to physical fitness.

* Rule To Break No. 7: Be Real, All The Time
You must be yourself in front of your team; they must not see wavering or indecisiveness.

* Rule To Break No. 8: Nothing Good Comes Free
This is to give the team/customers something extra. From my personal in the project management arena, this is called “gold plating” and is frowned upon.

In conclusion, The Way of the SEAL takes a position that leadership heavily relies on training. It takes the approach that all can be taught to lead, and developing mental toughness is a key ingredient to becoming a great leader. Unsaid, but clearly implied is the fact that leaders are not born, but rather we as individuals make the decision to do the right things, actually the tough things, to become a leader, and everyone has the ability to do this.

References (2014, May). The Christie Report. Retrieved from
Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap--and others don't. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.
Divine, M., & Machate, A. E. (2013). The Way of the SEAL: Think like an elite warrior to lead and succeed. New York, NY: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.
Divine, M., McKay, B., & McKay, K. (2014, March 21). AoM Podcast: The Way of the SEAL with Mark Divine | The Art of Manliness. Retrieved from
Divine, M. (2014, August). Health Tips, Food and Recipes, Funny Jokes and Cartoons, and Sweepstakes | Reader?s Digest. Retrieved from
Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

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