Need the Mental Toughness of a Navy SEAL

Recently, I have been reading a book by Marcus LuttrellA Lone Survivor.  Marcus was part of Navy SEAL Team 2 that came under attack in Afghanistan.  Marcus was the lone survivor of the six man team.

The book is very well written.  One of the interesting sections was about Navy SEALs BUD/s training.  Essentially, the weed out trials for the SEALs.  Marcus goes into detail the physical and mental pain they were put through.  Looking back he realizes it wasn’t to just weed men out of the group to keep the best of the best.  It was to prepare the elite fighting teams to be able to work, think and react under extreme pressure with the precision of a fine tuned instrument.  The SEALs would no be distracted from the physical pain and their surroundings.  They would think and react as they had been taught.  This mental toughness was what would get them through anything and make the SEALs stand apart.

This made me think of some of the legendary stories of Taiichi Ohno.  Stories of him leaving a guy standing in a circle to observe with no break until he came back.  Or calling in a team leader to his office and then berating them for leaving their team on the line.  While on the surface this seems very harsh, at least that is the way I reacted, he was driving home his points.  Taiichi Ohno was getting his people to be able to think and react under the pressure of delivering product on time in a cost efficient way and at the highest quality.

As lean implementers, we have to be able to think and react under the pressure of senior to middle management to shop floor employees questioning what we are doing.  We have to be tough mentally.  Not willing to quit if we are going to eventually change their minds and see the waste.  We have to be prepared for any question or situation that may come our way and react calmly and swiftly.

While people may understand the lean concepts, not everyone puts them into practice.  Part of it is because you have to mentally tough to go against what others are  doing.  Day after day.  Sometimes it feels like you are beating your head against a concrete wall, but we can’t quit.  We keep pushing and eventually things will break through.  And that will be a great day.

Note: By no means do I think lean implementers go through what Navy SEALs to, but the story got me thinking about the mental toughness it takes to make change happen.

Posted on February 7, 2012, in Leadership, Misc, People, Principles and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Matt,
    First off, I loved the movie “Lone Survivor”. A very well made movie and well presented story of a few very remarkable individuals. I am currently an active duty military member (16 years and counting) and there are many challenges that I face on a daily basis in regards to improving processes and eliminating waste. It seems like on a daily basis I see the excessive amount of money that the government pays for various products and parts, I see money being wasted on new TV’s and office furniture because “if we don’t spend it this year, we won’t get it back next next year when we may actually need to buy new things”. A lot of the younger folks also see this behavior and often times raise concerns about this type of reckless spending in a time of fiscal constraints, budget cuts, sequestration, and personnel cuts. How do you get “buy-in” from subordinates in terms of process improvement, eliminating waste, and improving efficiency when many of those subordinates see the wasteful spending that occurs at the “top”?


    • Clifton, thanks for reading the blog. I hope you enjoy it.

      You bring up a problem as old as the budgeting itself. I have seen the same behavior in every company I have been a part of. People spending money because they are afraid that they won’t get it back the next year.

      This is a sign of upper level management not really understanding lean and process improvement. Yes, people should be recognized for coming in under budget and saving money but not buy cutting the budget the next year.

      Two things I can mention. First, they great thing about about lean is that you can apply it anywhere. Start with your span of control and get others to buy-in as you have successes. Always get your subordinates involved in the improvement and tell them to focus on what they can control. Not what they can’t. Have success and then determine the best way to being upper management along.

      Second, with budgets it is best to be proactive. I can’t speak from a military perspective, but from the companies that I have been in the organizations that get an increased or even a flat budget year-over-year are the ones that say, this is the work we are going to do and this is what it will cost to do it. If my budget goes down, so does what we can accomplish. Build in an improvement factor to your budget as well and try to align as best you can with what upper management is trying to accomplish.

      Thanks for your comments.

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