5 Things the Navy Seals Taught Me

A "light" boot camp provided a small insight into what our servicemen and women go through -- and the importance of teamwork in business.

White navy boat on on the water


--It's crucial to establish a common vision and help, encourage and trust your teammates.

--Value diversity. You'll be surprised what a different perspective can do for you.

--Acknowledge members who deliver on core values. Be flexible and keep it fun (and stay warm).


Navy SEALs are the ultimate team. They accomplish almost impossible feats through precision teamwork. While each SEAL is a formidable fighting machine, it's the team that does fantastic things.

While working in the insurance industry isn't hazardous to life and limb, it does require a team endeavor. Success depends on a well-honed team of underwriters, actuaries, agents, marketers, IT experts and others.

No one succeeds without good teammates. This is what we're taught during team-building activities and something I was reminded of at an industry conference a few years ago.

After attending a Blue Cross Blue Shield conference in San Diego, 32 of us attended a Navy SEAL boot camp on Coronado Island. This "light" boot camp was a great experience, giving us a small insight into what our servicemen and -women go through during initiation -- and the importance of teamwork in the military and business.

We were paired into two teams of 16. Teams were then divided into four boat crews of people of similar heights

There was the usual physical training (PT), during which we were told we were too hot (cool off and get into the ocean), then too clean (roll in the sand) and then too dirty (get back into the sea). Then, there were team obstacle races, memory games, log drills, runs, cold ocean work and more, starting at 5:30 a.m.

So why wasn't I in my comfortable hotel bed at that early hour? Because it was fun, and once I started I didn't want to let my team or myself down.

Finishing the boot camp was something I couldn't have done alone, but having teammates didn't give me an automatic pass. I still had to learn to work with those teammates.

Here are five lessons I learned while at the boot camp:

1. Help, encourage and trust your teammates

It was much easier to reach a consensus and align our goals with our four-person boat crew first. Then, while racing and carrying a log overhead, we first tried to assess how we could best help each other carry the weight.

We knew we needed to step in time so we would not trip on each other. Walter, an ex-Marine, would call out the steps from the rear. During the race, another teammate's shoulder became very sore due to a recent operation. I moved forward to take his weight. We stayed positive, encouraged each other and beat the young guys.

2. Communicate and establish a shared vision

It was a little hard at first to communicate, as none of us knew each other, but we knew that the sooner we could communicate, the sooner we'd have an advantage. So, together, we decided what the core mission was and everyone's role so the team could succeed.

This might seem obvious, but it's easy to lose sight of goals when faced with challenges or obstacles. Whether your objective is supporting your team by linking arms and sitting in the ocean while being pounded by waves -- or implementing software or obtaining market share -- a shared vision will keep the team focused and on track.

See also: There Is No 'I' in 'TEAM'

3. Value Diversity

Some teammates had plenty of boot camp experience, and others had very little. However, their opinions were valued equally because they brought different perspectives and ideas. Unfortunately, many businesses can fail to recognize this.

In business, a healthy exercise is to ask someone in a lower-level position, such as an administrative position, what they think about a problem in the company and how they would solve it. Then, mention their solution at the next C-suite executive meeting. You'll be shocked at how valuable listening to your people can be.

4. Acknowledge members who deliver on values

As a company, you need core values and standards that reinforce those values. As leaders, we tend to recognize performance, which is important. But we also need to recognize when team members deliver on those core values with their behavior. That's how we communicate what's important to us.

One way the SEALs acknowledge values is to simply call out individuals to the front of formations and tell everyone how they are doing a great job. In business, let's say one of your core values is supporting one another (a core value at my company). Openly call out the people at your weekly meetings when they meet that standard with their actions.

5. Be flexible, keep it fun and stay warm

You might have a plan, but be ready to make adjustments at any time. When we thought we understood a drill, our instructors would make it a little more interesting. Todd, the teammate with the sore shoulder, got our boat crew singing during our runs. I encouraged our crew to hug to stay warm when many began to shiver from the cold-water drills. Together, as a team, we finished the boot camp.

Some gave up or got hurt. They grabbed a doughnut and a coffee, rang the bell and left. But we hung in there, breaking the boot camp activities down into one task at a time -- and we got through each of those "one tasks" together.

We will inevitably have our own oceans to cross and missions to accomplish. Yet regardless of the landscape, we will require the help of others to reach our destination. Through positive teamwork, we can harness skills beyond our own and achieve success we might not otherwise see.

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