People often think of Spec Ops guys as people with a ton of attitude, swagger, and (over)confidence. But that’s the movies, not reality. In the real world of combat, swagger gets you killed — and probably a bunch of your buddies with you. In business, you may not get physically blown up, but you will get fiscally.
SEALs do have a level of confidence that is unusual and unshakable. But that’s not attitude — the opposite, in fact. You have to be open-minded, to be able to listen. Be flexible. Adapt.
I have very strong opinions, but I can also pivot on a dime and completely change my viewpoint, even on a long-held opinion, if someone presents a clear and cogent argument against it.
When Chris Kyle published his memoir, American Sniper, he wrote about an encounter with Jesse Ventura that Ventura claimed never happened. The dispute ended up in court. Then Chris was killed, but if you thought that would end the lawsuit, you were wrong, because Ventura continued to press the suit against Chris’s widow, Taya.
The SEAL community was outraged. This guy is going to sue Chris Kyle’s widow?! As you can imagine, it seemed as total a betrayal of the brotherhood. For weeks, we had people venting on the pages of SOFREP and on our SOFREP Radio interviews. And then I did something I don’t think anyone on the planet expected.
I had Jesse on the podcast as my guest. Not only that, but I didn’t attack him.
To be fair (to me, I mean), I did hold his feet to the fire. But I was respectful throughout. Some of our readers were incensed with me, which I completely understand. Chris was a friend. Did I think suing his widow was the right thing to do? Are you kidding me? I thought it was as low as it gets. But here’s the thing: the man still deserved to be heard.
Having a strong opinion is one thing. I have plenty of those. (Ask anyone who knows me.) But having a point of view doesn’t mean you close up your mind. If you don’t maintain a genuinely open and curious mind, if you don’t listen carefully to the cues and clues around you, to the input of your team, and the advice of your best advisers, then your violence of action stands a good chance of being impulsive and/or misguided. This will kill sooner than you expect. The only way you can employ violence of action effectively is by coupling it with a thoughtful, open mind and a reliable ability to put your ego in the backseat.
As Vince Lombardi said, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.”
This isn’t easy. I’m not going to pretend I don’t have a big ego, and I’m also not going to pretend you don’t have one. That’s normal — in fact, it’s essential. Whoever heard of a successful entrepreneur without a healthy ego? It’s your passion, your drive, your ambition, and your aspirations that make this thing work. That’s all your ego.
But you can’t let your ego drive the car. You have to be able to put it, if not in the backseat, at least over in the passenger seat.
Then who drives the car? Your better judgment fueled by total situational awareness — that is, by doing your homework.