Everyone Is Dead. What Do You Do?
By Rick Barrera
I was talking to a former SEAL Team Six leader about contingency planning. I asked a naïve question about happens when a SEAL Team Leader is killed or injured. “The mission continues,” he said “just as planned. The team wouldn’t miss a beat.” “Wouldn’t miss a beat? Really,” I said.
He went on to explain that from the time your SEAL team training begins, the action is stopped periodically and the instructor or leader points to a team member and says “Everyone is dead. What do you do?” or “Your leader is dead. What do you do?” After the team member has answered, other teammates weigh in on his or her choices and then the leaders and instructors weigh in. The exercise is repeated so often that it becomes an automatic thought pattern anticipated by every SEAL in every scenario. “By the time it actually happens, you are already on autopilot” he says. “You are already in motion”
Don’t Expect Your People to Rise to the Occasion. Expect them to Fall to Their Level of Training
We often wonder why there isn’t more excellence in our companies, but we don’t behave like other professions where excellence is common. Professional athletes train endlessly and have multiple coaches, trainers and mentors. Special Forces teams train endlessly with instructors and battle tested leaders for all contingencies and they perform with consistent excellence. In the corporate world we don’t want to invest in training and when we do, we complain about the time it takes. We don’t have our best and brightest lead the training and we don’t do it often enough to build the muscle memory it takes to make the desired behaviors automatic under stressful conditions.
What is Your Team’s Level of Training?
What would happen if you were “dead” tomorrow? What is your team’s level of training? What decisions would they make in your absence and what would the quality of those decisions be? What would they invest in? Who would they recruit? How would they grow revenues or treat customers? If you don’t give them the decision making practice they need, repeatedly, long before they need it, they will fall to their level of training, the results will be disastrous, and it will be your fault.
Training is One of the Most Important Roles of Leadership
Many leaders believe that training their team to the level of excellence is someone else’s responsibility, but it is a critical role of leadership. If your team is not excellent, it is because you have not recruited the right team or more likely, you have not invested the time and money required to train them relentlessly to the level of excellence you desire.
Decision Making Practice
Everyone needs practice making decisions. Every time you are asked to make a decision, ask one or more members of your team to role play making it. Say “I’m dead. What would you do?” Then review first their thinking behind the decision and then what they expect to happen as a result of the decision. Also have them consider alternatives including the status quo or making no decision at all. Have them write it all out or record it on audio or video. Discuss their thinking and decision with your team. Get other opinions. Then make your decision including your rationale for making it. Everyone will get plenty of practice and will be able to think clearly in the face of stressful decisions because they have a process for thinking things through and have practiced it repeatedly.
Track Your Decisions
The military does After Action Reviews to learn from their decisions. You should too. That’s why I suggested that you write down what each of you were thinking at the time of your decision. Revisionist history is rampant inside companies. We all say that if they had just listened to us when the decision was made, that things would be different now. By writing down your thinking and the decision you made or would have made and then tracking results, you’ll get a lot of learning about where you and your team are right and wrong about your decisions. Making poor decisions is just part of life and leadership. Making the same poor decisions repeatedly should not be. Don’t be afraid to be publicly wrong. Be afraid that you haven’t trained your team to think, decide and behave with consistent excellence.
Be Willing to Let Them Fail
When asked to make decisions by my team, I often ask them what they would do in my shoes. Regardless of what they say (unless it is a critical decision or a life or death situation) I say “Go do that.” Most often they are making the same decision I would have made. Sometimes their thinking is different from mine but I let them do it anyway. In either case, they learn and get to practice their decision making skills. They learn as much from their poor decisions as they do the great ones.
A Well Trained Team Frees You Up to Lead
Leaders have many other roles that we will cover in future articles, but you will never have time to do them unless your team is well trained in decision making and willing to make a tough call when you are busy, overwhelmed, out of town or otherwise “dead.” A team of great decision makers is foundational to growth since you can count on them to think clearly and do the right thing in a variety of circumstances. Promotions for you and them are made more easily when solid decision making skills are in place. By constantly playing “Everyone is dead. What would you do,” you’ll be preparing your team for that inevitable day when you will no longer be there and they will continue to function brilliantly without you…and isn’t that the real role of leadership?