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Three leadership lessons from a Navy SEAL commander

Bryan Powell, Senior Director, Practice Management, discusses an unconventional approach to team leadership based on attributes developed by retired Navy SEAL commander Rich Diviney.

Bryan Powell, PCC, CPBA, CPMA

Bryan Powell, PCC, CPBA, CPMA

Senior Director, Practice Management

Feb 1, 2024
6 minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Developing our leadership skills often requires seeking out new – sometimes unconventional – perspectives on working with teams.
  • The attributes developed by former Navy SEAL commander Rich Diviney can help leaders harness the diversity of thought and experience among their team members.
  • Here, we discuss how leaders can apply three of those attributes – optimal vs. peak performance, leadership as a behavior, and dynamic subordination – as they work to develop high-performing teams.

One of the areas that excites me about being a coach and consultant is having the opportunity to meet with other thought leaders who bring different perspectives to working with teams. As I reflect on 2023, one of my most humbling experiences was being introduced to Commander Rich Diviney, who is a retired Navy SEAL and best-selling author of the book The Attributes.

Watching Rich in action as he presented to teams and leaders on several occasions, it was clear he has a different approach to leadership that draws heavily on his experience leading Navy SEAL teams. That approach includes the development of 25 attributes (soon to be 42) to understand and celebrate diversity of thought and experience on teams in areas such as Grit, Mental Accuity, Teamability, and others. (I encourage you to read the book to uncover the rest.)

I want to share some of Rich’s attributes so you can get curious about how to grow in these areas as you work to develop a high-performing team.

1. Optimal vs. peak performance

When working with leaders and their teams, the topic of “peak performance” often comes up, especially with teams that are successful but want to take their skills to another level. But what does this mean, and how does it relate to what we want to achieve?

In discussing this topic, Commander Diviney brings up a curious point: A peak is a destination from which you can only come down. Reaching our peak is not a bad thing per se, but is it real life?

Instead of striving for an apex such as peak, consider focusing on optimal performance, which Rich defines as “doing your best in the moment, whatever ‘the best’ looks like in that moment.”

Think about times where you or your team are not feeling it on a given day, week, or even month. The energy can slowly drain from the group to the point where we begin losing sight of our goals. We continue to lose energy, clarity, and focus, thinking that we must wait until we are magically re-energized to our “peak” levels.

Instead, allow yourself to simply do your best in that moment on that day – in other words, focus on optimal rather than peak performance. You may find that this shift in mindset is contagious.

Here are a few areas of optimal performance to discuss in your regular team meetings:

  • How can we capitalize on our collective strengths to be at our optimal performance level this week?
  • How do we want to recognize each other for our achievements and model that behavior?
  • What do we need to do as a team to manage our energy differently?

2. Leadership is a behavior – not a position

I can geek out with the best of them when it comes to new leadership concepts, and it was refreshing to hear Rich’s thoughts on leadership. His view that leadership is not a position, but rather a behavior, caught my attention immediately.

He went on to propose that you cannot declare yourself a leader; it’s like calling yourself handsome or highly intelligent (a statement that garnered plenty of laughs from the audience). True leaders, Rich explained, are identified and defined by those they lead.

Think about all the leaders you have worked with in the past. Did they call themselves leaders, or did they earn the title from you on a consistent basis through their actions?

Here are some questions to discuss with your team to better understand how leadership is applied within your firm and how it can evolve:

  • How can we shift our mindset about leadership and apply it as a behavior?
  • What support do we need as a team to show up together in a vulnerable way?
  • How can we consistently share our diversity of perspectives and celebrate our differences?

3. Dynamic subordination

This last concept is one that intrigues me the most, especially as it relates to my work with teams that have complementary skills. The way dynamic subordination works is, whoever is most capable and closest to the problem at hand steps up and takes charge, and everyone else immediately supports them.

Think about the different skills each of your team members have: Some may be fantastic at solving problems and implementing process, while others are excellent at providing a great customer experience. As you contemplate those skills, consider what would happen if just one person was responsible for all the different areas of the business. Then consider what it would look like if everyone on the team had the opportunity for leadership by taking responsibility for the situations and tasks that they’re the most capable of handling.

We’ve all experienced how one leader or decision-maker can create a bottleneck at times. Dynamic subordination can not only distribute specific responsibilities to those who are the most capable of handling them, it can also develop additional leadership skills within the team.

Here are a few questions to think about as a team when it comes to dynamic subordination:

  • In which areas do each of our team members excel?
  • How can we support the members of our team who have experience and skills that are best matched to our priorities?
  • How can we hold each other accountable to lead in our areas of expertise and celebrate our diversity of thought and skill?

If you are a member of a team that is struggling to reach your full potential or are curious about how to look at leadership from a different angle, I encourage you to take these three concepts back to the team and begin discussing how you can implement them.

Work together to understand that leadership is a behavior and determine how you can apply this mindset as a team. Hold open and objective conversations as on how you can capitalize on your collective strengths so you can operate at an optimal level – no matter what that looks like on any given day.

Lastly, practice dynamic subordination and witness the effects of having multiple team members who can step into areas where they can drive success while being supported by the rest of the team.

I hope you can implement some of Commander Diviney’s concepts in your practice and start to think about leadership from a different perspective. I’d also highly recommend getting a copy of The Attributes for yourself and your team members, as it is chock-full of ideas you can tap into in the future as you work to build a high-performing team.

Lastly, if you could use more support in building your high-performing team, reach out to your Janus Henderson Sales Director. Our specialists can support your efforts to grow as a leader and leverage the strengths of your team members with a variety of teamwork modules.

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