Using Multipliers to Shape the Battlefield

A primary reason for the success of SEAL Teams is preparation. We are so prepared before the fight that our confidence is high, we feel optimistically lucky, and we are able to draw on GUTS.

Before a military invasion, it’s imperative to prepare the battlefield in your favor and not leave it to chance. We call this shaping the battlefield or preparing the battlefield. Before invading or sending in conventional military forces, Special Forces conducts missions, such as reconnaissance, sabotage, spy development, deception, creating indigenous partner forces, disrupting communications, extracting VIPs, and more. We make the battlefield conducive for our success, not our enemy’s. Life is no different; the more we prepare ourselves and shape our environments, the better our chance of success. It often appears to be luck—but it isn’t.

Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.



Our SEAL forefathers, the Naked Warriors—so called because they went on missions wearing only swim trunks, fins, and masks—did nothing but shape operations in World War II. Days before every major beach landing, the Naked Warriors would swim onto the beaches bearing nothing but a knife and a bag of explosives to clear the beaches of obstacles. This was in preparation for the landing craft that would carry the Marines and soldiers who were to storm the beach. During the landing in Guam, the Naked Warriors performed continuous operations for six days, clearing more than 900 obstacles before the landings, and suffering nearly 75 percent casualties. Few people even knew they existed. These archetypal frogmen were the predecessors of all Navy SEALs. While our mission has evolved over the years, deep down, we SEALs all identify as frogmen who are willing to do what others can’t or won’t.


In your professional and personal lives, the way you shape your own battlefield—or environment—has a direct effect on you and your success. Your environment will evolve you, so why not shape your environment and facilitate your evolution?

Multipliers refer to the things we can do to exponentially increase our potential for success. The results produce a compounding effect, providing maximum outcomes for minimum effort and commitment. Multipliers are particularly important for transformational, or strategic, aspects of our lives, and deliver the greatest value.

The “Shape Charge” Effect

In the Special Forces, we perform small but transformational duties, such as preparing the battlefield or clearing the harbor, that have a significant strategic impact on the global mission. We don’t fight wars the way conventional forces do, but, if correctly utilized, we do have a significant impact on the outcome. As of early 2020, Special Forces personnel are deployed in 149 different countries, supporting the internal defense of nations around the world. We embed small units of Special Forces members in other militaries to organize, man, train, equip, and ultimately lead them into battle or prepare them to defend their national interests. The effect these units have on global security is far greater than the sum of their small numbers. To put this into context, the United Nations only recognizes 195 countries; we cover more than three out of every four.

To explain this role, the SEAL Teams use the “shaped charge effect” metaphor; that is, SEALs create a “shaped charge effect” whenever we are involved in an operation. What is a shaped charge, you might ask? A shaped charge occurs when you put two or more explosive devices at the proper angle and distance from the surface of an object, so that when detonated, the explosives collide with each other and form a knifelike jet of energy that can cut through surfaces, increasing the impact of the explosives exponentially. In the movies, when you see a team blow off a heavy steel door, they are likely using a shaped charge approach. If this weren’t used, the amount of explosives it would take to blow off a metal door would probably kill or render unconscious anyone nearby who set off the explosive. For instance, if you place 40 pounds of explosives on the ground and detonate them, you may end up with a tapered hole four feet in diameter with a center one foot deep, as most of the energy blows up and out, not down. But if you take that same amount of explosive and shape it properly, you could get a 10-foot-deep hole that is one foot in diameter, depending on the soil makeup. The shape charge effect is a force multiplier. It gives us the most bang for the buck—literally!—exponentially increasing the odds for success. SEALs use the shaped charge effect in their operations and act as a shaped charge themselves in their missions.

Humor and Play

People are at their best during play. Anyone who is around SEALs for long will quickly learn about our culture of play and humor. It may be a coping mechanism for the dangers of the profession, or it may just have to do with the type of people we recruit and train. Either way, the effect of play and humor cannot be ignored in our success. Even during our most serious missions, when the tension can be cut with a knife, we use humor to cut it instead. When you can laugh and have fun in the face of death, you’re not only living in the moment, you’re increasing your odds of success. Remember, the executive parts of our brain shut down when we’re in a fearful state of mind; since we can’t have two states of mind at the same time, we focus on play in the moment instead of worrying about the future. Humor keeps your mind nimble, focused, and flexible, and it enables you to access your best creative self during the darkest and worst of times. A playful state of mind helps change your perception of the events happening around you. You even get a DOSE and reduce cortisol. Good leaders use self-deprecation, making everyone around them more comfortable and creating a better environment for the team to thrive.

Life is a one-way dead-end street; it’s too serious to take too seriously.

Some of the scariest times have ultimately turned into some of the funniest moments in my life. I remember one night, as my unit was driving in Iraq on a mission, one of the vehicles in our convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). It detonated just before the vehicle drove over it. Had the explosion happened milliseconds later, the vehicle would have been destroyed, and most likely, everyone inside would have been killed or wounded. Luckily, nobody was seriously hurt.

After the mission, we ensured everyone was OK and we conducted an After Action Review (AAR). “Country Dave,” the turret gunner hit by the IED, started to explain what had happened. He was full of emotion and was very animated in his storytelling. He was yelling very loudly because, as you can imagine, the explosion had done a number on his hearing. We realized he couldn’t hear worth a damn. All at once it seemed, we all busted out laughing hysterically, the type of laughter that only comes after a seriously tense situation is resolved. Dave was a little mad that we were laughing at him, but the scene was one right out of a cartoon. His face was solid black, just like a cartoon character who, holding a bowling ball bomb, has it go off in his face, covering him in soot. Although the blast nearly killed him, we almost died laughing, and then, so did he.

I still remember him saying in his “Country Dave” voice, “It ain’t f***ing funny. I’bout got blowed up, and y’all are laughing like it’s funny, like a bunch of damn fools!” But eventually, the laughter caught on, and Dave started laughing hysterically at himself after realizing he was yelling with a face as black as night.

Some people might think such laughter is sick and thoughtless, but no, it’s a weapon against suffering, despair, and fear. Laughter in the face of possible traumatic events and life challenges is a way to give the middle finger to the grim reaper, As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” In this case, laughing in the face of adversity creates and celebrates a sense of optimism, luck, and esprit de corps; it makes us stronger. If we sat around dwelling and awfulizing about what could have happened, you can bet it would have cemented this event in our minds as something horrific. But laughter gives us a DOSE, changing the way we perceive the event, and, more importantly, how we carry that memory forward.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.



I have a routine I follow religiously before every mission. How I put my gear on, in what order, and even the mental process of getting ready are part of this routine. Developed in my initial training, I do it the same way every single time, no matter what. This ritual provides familiarity and comfort in the things I know and have done countless times; it helps prepare me mentally for the fight. It’s also a great way to develop a checklist and to make sure that, in times of stress, I don’t forget something important.

One night in Iraq, I was leading a force of American soldiers to create a perimeter around a target compound for a direct action mission to be carried out by my Task Force. The target building was in Sadr City, a dangerous place, and everyone on the mission knew it. We all knew it wasn’t a matter of if we would encounter the enemy; it was a matter of when. Before departure, a young Army soldier climbed into the back seat, beside me. We were about to leave the walled compound when I noticed that the soldier didn’t have his rifle. I leaned over to him, and said something to the effect of “Hey bro, go back and get your gun. You might need it.” Holy moly, he almost had a panic attack! He jumped out of the vehicle, ran back to the staging area, and got his weapon. Of course, when he returned, I laughed at him and told him he owed me a case of beer (which I, of course, never received). He didn’t have a ritual, and due to his fear, forgot a critical step in preparing for the mission—his gun!

Rituals build discipline. Design and create rituals that you enjoy and look forward to, so that they become repeatable habits. Good habits are like a checklist to help ensure important steps are taken. Over time they define who you are, what you do, and how you do it. I am very proactive in creating rituals around what I want to improve in my life.

Beginning with Gratitude

Early morning is my favorite time of day. I start my day by being grateful that I’m alive and thankful for the day. I challenged myself to begin this daybreak ritual as soon as I could remember to do it. At first, I would forget occasionally; it would take me as long as 20 minutes after waking to remember to be grateful. But it didn’t take me long to get to the point where I remembered it immediately upon waking, even before I came out of the haze between consciousness and sleep.

I now spend several minutes after waking, filling my reticular activating system (RAS) with gratitude for all that I have in my life—not just the big things like health, family, friends, money, and shelter, but even the small things we usually don’t think of, such as running water, electricity, security, and technology.

Practicing gratitude for having whatever job you have will help you strengthen your relationship with it and manufacture motivation. If, when you wake up, you automatically go into a dreadful state of mind, it will affect your whole day negatively. This special time of lying in bed, intentionally feeling grateful, is the key to starting the day with a state of mind that will act as a positive filter and compass to guide you.

When we practice gratitude for what we have in our lives, we build a better relationship with those things. I challenge everyone to try this and keep note of how long it takes to remember to do it in the morning. Once it happens immediately, then you’ve built a habit, one that enables your subconscious mind to point you in a good direction.

Early morning gratitude—intentionally feeling grateful—is the key to starting each day with a positive state of mind.

When I get up early, I’m already excited about being awake. I start the coffee, pour myself a quart of cold sparkling water mixed with a little lemon juice, and sit on the couch to begin my breathing techniques. I hyperventilate for at least 30 breaths, blow out all the air, and hold my breath for as long as possible. Then I inhale and hold this for 10 seconds. I do this three times, which gets my sympathetic nervous system up and running. I exercise with low impact movements, all while breathing through my stomach and practicing gratitude and/or visualizing what I’m about to do to create a positive state of mind.

After 15 minutes of this, I take my coffee and water and sit in front of the computer. I look at my notes from the day before, so I know where to begin. Often, I watch a funny video or read something exciting and positive that’s related to what I am doing that day. I have sticky notes with quotes and thoughts all over my desk, which force me to fill my RAS with what I want. Mornings are my most productive time of day, when my brain is working well, and I’m focused, excited, and just grateful to be alive. By the time I’ve had two cups of coffee and at least two quarts of water, and have worked for several hours, I go for a workout. If I’m on a roll, I wait; sometimes it’s near noon, but no matter what, I get my exercise in. During this workout/therapy session, I’ve discovered that if I’m stuck on something, I often have it figured out by the time I get back to my desk. Moving the body allows time for our minds to put patterns together and gain insights into our lives.


Luck is important, but the type of luck I am referring to is not about winning the lottery or being struck by lightning. Rather, the “luck” involved here is the type that we can manufacture and control. In the world of work, and in our personal lives to some degree, we can multiply force by putting ourselves in position to achieve a favorable outcome. For example, a favorable geographic location for a store increases its chances for success. A favorable business presentation starts with choosing a venue in which you feel most comfortable, and eliminating potential distractions and disrupters, such as noise. Being prepared and being likeable might give you an opportunity to deliver an elevator pitch at an opportune moment that can change your life. When disciplined preparation meets opportunity, it often appears to be luck, but is it? In this sense, you “manage the randomness” of the situation to tilt toward a favorable outcome, something we do all the time in the SEAL world.

Every SEAL I know feels lucky. We feel that, no matter what, we will win in the end. Even if the odds are not good, we have a great deal of optimism about the outcome. And when something terrible happens, SEALs immediately think that it could have been worse, so by default, we are grateful for the event because it probably taught us something.

Feeling lucky is a sign of what goes on in your mind—if you are optimistic and can control your focus, language, thoughts, and emotions—you’re predisposed to having things work out right. I’ve found that the best way to hack the feeling of being lucky is to practice gratitude in all aspects of life. Gratitude creates a positive and optimistic state of mind, which leads to a lucky state of mind. If you focus on gratitude, you will always feel lucky.


When First, Fast, Fearless came out, I had people from all industries contacting me for speaking engagements and leadership training. One topic that really resonated was the SEAL concept of swim buddies. People reached out to me and told me they were implementing this concept in their organizations. One senior leader in particular, Jeremey Donovan, not only said he was implementing this across his entire company, but he also recommended this be my topic for a TED Talk, which meant a lot because he is the author of the book How to Deliver a TED Talk.

From the very beginning of training to the time we leave the SEAL Teams or retire, each SEAL must have a person with him, no matter what he is doing. We start applying this requirement in BUD/S. Up and down the beach all day, you will hear students yelling: “Swim buddy, I need a swim buddy!” This is one of the disciplined habits we instill in our students to prepare them for the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) of war. We don’t know what the students will face when they get to the SEAL Teams, but we do know that they will encounter VUCA and have to deal with very fearsome, dangerous, and complicated situations. We know that being with another person makes us stronger, braver, smarter, and more capable of solving complex problems; it brings our focus into the now. Humans are social beings. This is why, under the Geneva Convention, which established the standards of international law for humanitarian treatment in war, isolation for extended periods of time is considered a form of torture. During the Covid-19 pandemic many people suffered mental distress and depression because of the forced isolation and physical distancing that kept people—even family members—apart.

Find a swim buddy. We know that being with another person makes us stronger, braver, smarter, and more capable of solving complex problems; it brings our focus into the now.

Joint Accountability

The foundation of all teamwork starts with the swim buddy team of two people. Accountability is shared and overlapping, meaning each member of the pair is held 100 percent accountable for the mission as if it was theirs alone. Most people would say that each person should be 50 percent accountable, but by doing that, you open the door to excuses and a path to failure. Once a swim pair realizes it doesn’t matter who does what because they both are 100 percent owners of the mission, it eliminates the seams and gaps that may occur when each person is only 50 percent accountable. Once embraced, this overlapping accountability creates a shape charge effect, and the whole becomes much greater than the sum of its parts. The swim buddy system eliminates the “I, me, and mine” language, unless one of the members is taking responsibility for a failure.

In Sight Gets It Right

The Observation Effect holds that the act of observing something will influence that which is being observed. In quantum mechanics, through the double-slit experiment, scientists have found that observation, even passive observation, will change the behavior at the photon level. In psychology, the Hawthorne Effect occurs when subjects modify their behavior when they know they are being observed. One study, called the “Princess Alice” experiment, had some young children playing a simple game with easy rules. The kids, observed by a hidden camera, cheated when they were alone. When the scientist tested another group of kids, they were told that “Princess Alice” sat invisibly on an empty chair in the room. As you might guess, the kids followed the rules as long as they believed Princess Alice was watching. The power of the Observation Effect has been around for all of recorded history, mostly in our experience of religion and its invisible gods. If you believe that God is watching you, does that lead to better behavior?

Of course, we all know that there are things we do in private that we don’t do in the company of another person. I consider myself one of the best dancers and singers on this planet—at least when I am by myself!

Studies have shown that simply putting a picture of a set of eyes over the money jar in the office will significantly increase the amount of money employees will leave in the “honor jar.” Having a swim buddy with eyes on you will help you stay accountable.

The Power of “Others Focus”

The swim buddy system, with overlapping fields of accountability, also creates a sense of “others focus.” When we focus on others, we get a DOSE and form strong bonds, which help to mitigate fear and doubt. During the toughest times, we want our teammates not to focus on themselves, but rather on others. This takes them away from the awfulizing and isolation that destroys courage and confidence and increases the chance of failure. We are more productive, and the memories of events are stronger when we share them with someone else.

The swim buddy concept is one of the easiest and most straightforward SEAL operating concepts to implement in your professional and personal life. Hell, I’m working with a swim buddy right now to write this book!

When in doubt, find a swim buddy. One plus one is three!


As SEALs, we take our reputations very seriously. You may not know your reputation, but you can bet the people around you do! We have a saying in the SEAL Teams, “A thousand attaboys don’t make up for one ‘Oh f***!’” Our brains are designed to see danger, focus on threats, and pick up on the negative, so if we do something wrong, that’s often what people remember. Learn to apologize, stay on high moral ground, and always play for your reputation.

You reap what you sow. Whatever you put out into the world, you will find yourselves receiving down the road. Do what will make you more respected, more trustworthy, and more likable, and you will have a greater influence in the world. Attract good people into your life.

Ask yourself: “Do you deserve, and do you generate envy?” When your reputation is strong, and you’re doing things right, people will envy you.

Your reputation is like a shadow that beats you to the party and stays in the room long after you’re gone.


In the SEAL Teams, we lay it out pretty simply: “If we can’t trust you, we cannot use you.” We don’t care how good of a performer someone is, if he is not trustworthy, we do not want him in our organization. People who cannot be trusted will tear an organization apart. We have had gifted SEALs—SEALs who were amazing athletes, great problem solvers, and very capable—but we kicked them out for lack of trust. We would take someone with medium performance and high trust over someone with high performance and medium trust every time. Trust is earned. It’s not given freely nor should it be, so go on the offensive and earn it. I have a simple five-point TRUST model that I use for building trust in a team or in life.

Time and Attention

Say what you’re going to do, and do what you say. Do what you say when you say you’re going to do it. Time is finite, and we all must pay attention to how we choose to spend it. When you waste someone’s time, he or she loses a commodity that cannot be gotten back; everyone resents it. I hear it in the corporate world, “The boss is never late. The meeting time is when she gets there.” This is often said in a joking manner, but in reality, it’s not a sign of good leadership, and people know it.

You have to view your time and attention (focus), which equals effort, as valuable commodities, just like money. Since writing First, Fast, Fearless, I’ve done a lot of free coaching, speaking, and even consulting, and I have found that most people don’t value time unless you put a price on it. It’s not uncommon for someone that I’ve done free coaching or consulting for to show up late or to not even show up! But when I charge for my services, the person shows up ready to squeeze every drop out of me and demanding my full attention. Time and attention are valuable. Don’t waste yours, and respect and appreciate that of others.

Say what you’re going to do, and do what you say.

Do what you say when you say you’re going to do it.


Every human being wants to be respected. Our lives are valuable to us, and we want to feel they are valuable to others as well. Respect is a way of reinforcing that. You can learn a lot about people by how they treat others. Do they respect the janitor the same way they respect the CEO? When they feel powerful, do they abuse that power? Do they do a great job of leading up, but a poor one of leading down? When we disrespect people, especially in public, they do not forget it easily, nor should they. When we disrespect people, we are telling them that we do not consider them as our equal. If we truly value life, then we realize that every life is equal. As evangelical author Rick Warren wrote in his book The Purpose-Driven Life, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” We need to practice humility, not humiliation.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.


Unbreakable Values

Our actions, over time, represent our beliefs and our values. Every day, we have to prioritize our values to navigate the world and the way we see ourselves in it. I believe the number one value we should all have is life itself. I believe courage is right up there with life as a value because if we don’t have courage, we can’t exercise the values we believe in.

Our natural default mode is to believe people when they say something, but be mindful. Pay attention to what people do more than what they say, and you’ll discover who they really are. People will know your values based on your behavior, so let your values lead your actions.


Do you give more than you take, in relationships, at work, and in life in general? Do you produce more than you consume? The foundation of any team is trust, and the secret sauce of trust is the willingness to sacrifice for the mission and for others, to delay personal gratification, and in extreme situations, to delay even your own safety.

We have a technique to teach sacrifice to young officers: for mealtime, we instruct them to go to the back of the line. Officers do not eat until after the enlisted people have eaten. As we say, “The higher you go, the more you owe.” It’s not about privilege; it’s about giving. We all know the people who give more than they take—not only do we want them on our team, we want them leading our team.

Technical Proficiency

As I said earlier, “It takes a shooter to lead a shooter.” That goes for all aspects of life. If we are on a team, and we don’t know our job and we aren’t progressing and evolving, it’s hard for the team to trust us. Our SEAL Ethos says, “My training is never complete.” We must continue to learn and grow. Always.

Trust is a peek behind the curtain of our character.


Since it was first established in 1775, it’s been a Navy tradition to come back from sea and tell “sea stories”—stories of adventure and hardship, exotic ports, and the allure of life at sea. The Navy has boot camp and Officer Candidate School, but those aren’t nearly as effective at passing down the culture to new sailors as these sea stories, and each generation takes pride in telling their own. Sea stories are compelling and influence the behaviors and beliefs of new sailors more than any of the organized programs through which the Navy formally puts recruits. For good or bad, the sea stories we tell influence others, build our own reputation, and embed organizational culture.

In 2005, after several years of multiple wars, the SEAL Teams realized that we had a cultural divide in our own perception of what a Navy SEAL really was and wasn’t. When we developed our ethos to govern our behavior on and off the battlefield, we knew the place to start was not just in the classroom but on the beaches and ranges of BUD/S training during the downtime between the curriculum and training evolutions. We had to communicate our ethos clearly through our sea stories. If our sea stories didn’t match our stated way of life, our ethos would be nothing but a piece of paper visited a couple of times a year.

When Culture and Values Don’t Match

The stories we tell at work and in our personal lives are an expression of our values and beliefs. People learn a lot about you through the stories you tell. I did some work for a large power company that wanted my help getting through to their frontline managers about safety. Parts of their business were very dangerous, and, like the SEAL Teams, they had a culture that they wanted to modify, or at least define, so that they could move forward in the direction they wanted. Although this company had done great work in developing and enforcing a thorough safety program, they still had mishaps that could easily have been prevented. In a dangerous profession, it’s very easy to develop a macho cowboy mindset due to the nature of the job and the people you recruit.

At the hotel bar the night before the event, it didn’t take long for me to identify a problem not being addressed—they had not changed their frontline sea stories. The foremen who had been around for a long time loved telling stories to the younger workers about how, when they were young, they did stupid things and broke the rules, yet lived through it. Of course, they would qualify their stories by saying, “But now we are smarter than that. That stuff is no longer tolerated. And, boy, are we lucky to be alive.” Those stories completely contradicted the company’s safety policies, but they had the allure of danger, which appealed to the young workers, who wanted to tell their own exciting sea stories to a younger generation one day. Let’s face it, it’s hard to start off a “good story” with: “There I was following every safety procedure, and lo and behold, the job went off without a glitch, and we all went home to our families.”

Once the president of the company learned this concept, he immediately recognized the problem. He vowed to start teaching the frontline foremen about the powerful influence their stories have on new workers and company safety.

The stories we tell are windows into our character, our values, and our beliefs. Do we tell stories in which we are always the victim, always being wronged, or blaming others for what happens to us? Or do we tell stories of humility, accountability, kindness, and fairness? What are the common themes in our stories? How we weave our values into our stories is important in shaping our world. Our stories are a leadership tool that can shape not only our teams and culture, but the very battlefield of life.

You can build your reputation by being intentional about your stories and how you recall events so that they represent who you are and who you want to be. Your stories have to tell the truth about who you are. In the same way, sea stories have to be aligned with a company’s culture and values.

Courageous Restraint

Communication expert Julian Treasure identified the seven deadly sins of speaking: gossiping, judging, negativity, complaining, excuses, exaggeration, and dogmatism. All are fear based, and to stop them, it takes an essential form of courage, a kind of courage called courageous restraint. Being able to restrain ourselves is just as crucial as delaying gratification. It takes the “emotions off our sleeves” and shows others that we, in fact, are in control of them.

In 2010, I was in Afghanistan working with Afghan Special Forces when a new concept came out of the headquarters that struck me as interesting. The United States was considering establishing a medal for “courageous restraint” for military personnel who showed physical restraint on the battlefield. The mantra at the time in Iraq and Afghanistan stated that we could not “kill our way to victory.” When you’re trying to win the hearts and minds of a country in an insurgency, it’s a delicate balance to maintain the safety of friendly troops and to control the escalation of violence. Sadly, the idea of the medal was shot down quickly.

The military awards medals for valor and courage, which usually means gunfights resulting in the deaths of enemies. As much as we preach about not killing our way to victory, the number of Direct Action missions and enemies killed are high on our After Action Reviews (AARs) and on our personal evaluations. You get what you reward.

Military people may say they don’t care about medals, but I’ve found the reverse to be true. Such recognition drives behavior and sea stories, which then drives culture. You don’t hear sea stories about courageous restraint. You hear stories of extreme physical courage and heroic gunfights. Just as with the large power company, the stories encouraged certain behaviors.

Some of the bravest and most decent acts I witnessed in combat were of SEALs practicing courageous restraint when no one would have questioned their use of violence. Courageous restraint is a heroic virtue to which we should all aspire. Do we have the courage not to get the last word, not to be passive-aggressive, not to blame others, not to commit the seven deadly sins of communicating? Your reputation is created by what you show, tell, and do. Having restraint will help you build your reputation, and will allow you to refrain from what I call “picking fights with the devil”—getting into lose-lose situations. The best position in every professional and personal relationship we have is a win-win position. Courageous restraint will help your relationships become win-win and will ultimately produce “luck” for you, the kind of luck you create by doing the right thing.

Learn to Listen and You Learn a Lot

I can’t talk about sea stories without talking about listening. Listening is an art and takes deliberate intent, empathy, and the right state of mind. I once asked leadership expert and bestselling author Ken Blanchard, my good friend and mentor, why he chooses to coauthor books instead of writing them alone. His response was perfect: “I already know what I know, so why would I write by myself?” It is also no surprise that Ken is one of the best listeners I’ve ever been around.

Most of our time in conversations is spent waiting to respond. Our minds are formulating our next conversational move, and we don’t truly feel and hear the other person speaking. I’m no different. As an executive coach, I’ll admit that it took me a while to learn to listen, or at least listen deeply. Focusing on what the client was saying and silencing the blabbermouth in my mind was tough at first. I wanted to speak and contribute to the conversation, like we all do. Just like learning to focus during meditation, focus listening is a muscle we must train.

Focus listening is a muscle we must train.

Before the executive coaching sessions, I had to get in an empathetic state of mind, so that I could direct my focus on the client and listen deeply. The client would tell sea stories of his lives, how things were going at work and how things were going at home. When I focused on the client, I could really hear his intent, his problems due to fear. This may sound like I’m stating the obvious, but we can learn a lot as disciplined listeners. To see if I was hearing what a client was saying, I would paraphrase what I heard back to him. Often, he would disagree and go into more detail. I would repeat this exercise until the client agreed with my description of his situation. By practicing courageous restraint in conversation, I also learned that people just want someone to listen to them, someone to hold them accountable—just like a good swim buddy. It is only by being intentional about listening that you learn. As the great Ken Blanchard said, you already know what you know.

The words we use are only a small part of communicating. Our voice and our body language are better indications of what we mean than the words we use, so remember to pay attention to the whole person. Find the intent behind what is said.

Image EXERCISE Image

Your reputation is a shadow of your character, so be deliberate about building it with sea stories that reflect your values and beliefs. Identify your three top values or beliefs. Reflect on your life and choose a story you can tell for each value. Craft the story intentionally so it clearly communicates to others exactly who you are.


•   It’s imperative to prepare the battlefield in your favor and not leave it to chance. SEALs call this shaping the battlefield or preparing the battlefield.

•   The more we prepare ourselves and shape our environment, the better chance we have at success. This often appears to be luck.

•   Multipliers increase our potential for success exponentially.

•   The “shape charge” effect is a force multiplier. SEALs use the shaped charge effect in many operations, and they act as a shaped charge themselves in their missions.

•   Humor and play as force multipliers will help keep your mind nimble, focused, and flexible. They allow you to access your best creative self.

•   Rituals, another force multiplier, should be something you enjoy and look forward to so that they become positive, repeatable habits. Rituals build discipline.

•   The swim buddy concept is one of the easiest and most straightforward SEAL operating concepts to implement in your professional and personal lives. One plus one equals three.

•   Our reputation is like a shadow that beats us to the party and stays in the room long after we’re gone.

•   Trust is earned. It’s not given freely nor should it be, so go on the offensive and earn it.

•   Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

•   The sea stories we tell are windows into our character, our values, and our beliefs. They are a leadership tool that can shape not only our teams and culture but the very battlefield of life.

•   Courageous restraint is a heroic virtue to which we should all aspire.

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