At the end of March, I spent the day in Santa Ana, Calif., with Doing Good Works, a new kind of benefit corporation that merges the world of profit and nonprofit in a unique and powerful way. The executives there have figured out how to multiply and redistribute the power of capitalism into social programs, by helping to add corporate social responsibility to businesses through promotional products and specialty coffee.

I was there to help attendees understand how we’ve been repurposing the proven principles of the SEAL Teams for high performing individuals and organizations, and to demonstrate to them how the same can be done for at-risk youth across the nation. In attendance were business leaders from Orange County, Calif.; administrators and counselors from a variety of organizations that share a common commitment to improving the success rate of foster programs; and some “Guardian Scholars” — young adults who have aged out of the foster care system, made it into college, and are now looking to be a voice for those who desperately need to follow in their footsteps and make that critical transition from “the system” to a bright future.

I’ll not soon forget two of those Guardian Scholars — two girls from San Diego State University who had driven over 80 miles to be there. They were a bit quiet and reserved, as you’d expect young adults to be in a room full of executives and programs administrators — that is, until they were engaged. Once they were, they came out with a kind of confidence and passion that comes from those who’ve “been there” and intend on going back to lead others out. They were fierce in their efforts to be a voice for foster care children.

The topic of trauma had come up, and I shared my thinking on the matter — that trauma is often caused by not having the power to affect the outcome of a situation. Once I was done, one of the Guardian Scholars shared a story of trauma that brought the room to its metaphorical knees. We had suddenly, and humbly, found ourselves in the company of a real hero who had seen things beyond imagination. In that moment, the gravity of what we were up against sunk into my chest like a giant needle. Nothing less than life or death was at stake. But I knew I could help these individuals find a way out.

I went through what we call “Foundations of Leadership.” — a six-part series designed for and deployed to corporations to help them build highly functional teams and cultures of empowerment. I taught them how we help people embody the 8 critical tenets of leadership that were developed by business partner and former SEAL Larry Yatch.  

  • Courage
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Communication
  • Honor
  • Perseverance
  • Innovation

“These things are as fundamental as gravity and apply to anyone at anytime,” I said and went on to explain how common training simply addresses the “what,” meaning that it tells people what they should do, but doesn’t address the “how.” “These kids know they’re supposed to go to school, do their homework, get good grades, and move on to productive careers,” I said with more authority than my experience with them should permit, but I was fired up.

“When you send people through training and it doesn’t work, which most training doesn’t, they eventually will think that there is something wrong with them,” I continued with an authority that my experience absolutely permitted.

You see, we often don’t do what we know we’re supposed to do, because we lack the strength and desire to do so. However, the focus on and the timely reinforcement of these tenets helps to set the groundwork for that strength and desire. It encourages effective behaviors and works to create an environment where people begin to make the right choices — the kind of choices that lead to success.

By the end of the day, I could see that glimmer of hope that makes writing and teaching worth every bit of the effort. New ideas were bounced around, and discussion of implementation began. I’ve taught a lot of people a lot of things about performance, but I don’t think I’ve ever been this impacted by a single group. People have a variety of styles of learning, but this group was listening in a way that was different. They knew that a single conversation could alter the trajectory of someone’s life. Speaking to the Guardian Scholars had already altered mine.

Eric’s new book, Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned From their Training and Taught to their Sons (St. Martin’s Press), will be available on May 3, 2016. To pre-order a copy, visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble.