Want to Forge an Elite HR Team? Think Like a Navy SEAL

Jenn Thomas

In Mark Divine’s Navy SEAL culture, one word says it all: HooYa! It means, “We’ll crush it. We are in this together,” he says. 
 

Divine is a former Navy SEAL Commander, New York Times bestselling author, and owner and founder of Unbeatable Mind and SEALFIT. At this year’s IAMPHENOM conference, he had attendees chanting “HooYa!” … and then promptly led a 10-minute meditation afterward. 
 

The experience exemplified his approach to team leadership: Rally your people. Empower them to make courageous decisions. But also instill mindfulness and a sense of calm. It’s an approach that is particularly relevant to HR leaders today, as uncertainty and fear loom over many industries. 
 

Upon retiring after 20 years of service, Divine created a highly successful mentoring program for SEAL trainees. He drew on that experience to write the bestselling Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments that Forge Elite Teams, which provides guidance on how business leaders can apply Navy SEAL values to team management.

 

First, Address Fear of Risk

Fear is the titular “wolf” Divine refers to. A key part of elite leadership is learning how to face and dispel fears. Common ones in the workplace include fear of failure, exposing weaknesses, admitting mistakes, and risking one’s reputation. 
 

Having some level of fear is normal and healthy to prevent rash decisions and actions. But fear can also prevent teams from taking necessary risks that could lead to better results, progress, and individual and team growth. 
 

“Learn how to approach risk in a very methodical manner. Teams that do this together drop all of that fear and start connecting from the heart,” Divine says. “This is where courage lives. You feed courage by staring down fear.”

 

Embrace Mindfulness and Positive Thinking

Reducing negative thinking and stress are fundamental to “starving the wolves of fear,” Divine says. Several scientific studies have confirmed the negativity bias—the human brain’s natural tendency to process negative information faster and retain it longer than positive information. 
 

Other studies overwhelmingly conclude that workplace stress is prevalent, and detrimental to job performance and productivity. In fact, several leading companies have long-embraced mindfulness training for employees, including Google, Target, and General Mills.
 

HR leaders are in a unique position to introduce and nurture positive thinking and mindfulness within a company’s work culture. While some organizations partner with outside companies to promote wellness programs, employee-led initiatives that teach techniques such as meditation, visualization, and imagery can also be impactful. 
 

Try this visualization exercise that Divine led IAMPHENOM attendees through:

1. Close your eyes and clear your mind. Look back over the past few months and reflect on mistakes you’ve made. Mentally cross them out to release attachment. 
 

2. Next, identify top accomplishments. Mentally expand them in your mind’s eye. Imagine a spotlight shining on them. 
 

3. Look forward to the next year and consider who you want to be and what you want to accomplish. Cultivate a clear vision of this future, and create a memory of this future you (or team). Visualize the positive accomplishments you’ll create as a team, and hold onto those images to generate excitement about future growth. Check in with that vision every day to reinforce its legitimacy. 
 

This is “the way of the SEAL,” Divine says.

 

Lead by Example: Embody the 7 Commitments 

Believe it or not, building an elite team in a corporate environment can be more difficult than in a military special ops setting, Divine says. An unconducive culture and structure with ineffective processes are often to blame.
 

How can leaders take their teams to new heights and increase individual and collaborative engagement? Essentially, leaders need to get out of their team’s way so that members can maximize their skills and perform the work they’re trained for. 
 

“Leaders often think, ‘It’s all on me.’ And then you get in the way of your team,” Divine says. To avoid that pitfall, he encourages managers to embrace and embody 7 commitments he describes as “human capacities”:
 

1. Courage
Feed courage by admitting flaws and inviting direct feedback to establish an authentic connection among team members. Take on risk with your team, recognizing that growth can’t happen without some level of uncertainty.
 

2. Trust
Cultivate an environment of transparency. Team members should be comfortable taking ownership of mistakes, and view them as opportunities for team improvement. 
 

3. Respect
Integrity and clarity of communications drives respect. Make sure you’re upfront with your team regarding what you expect and why, and demonstrate that your motivations are tied to the success of the team and organization—not to your own career.
 

4. Growth
Challenge your team to get out of its comfort zone, and join them for the ride. Invite feedback from all angles to unlock growth. 
 

5. Excellence
Declutter to make room for excellence. Eliminate unproductive beliefs and patterns so you can focus on what’s crucial to your mission and purpose. Invite curiosity, creativity, and innovation to the table.
 

6. Resiliency
Once you’ve established a strong vision and learned to manage fear and negativity, resilience comes more readily. When you encounter an obstacle, you will be better able to persist and adapt instead of letting it paralyze you. 
 

7. Alignment
Elevating the mindset from “job” to “mission” is what unifies and generates excitement. Ensure there is continuous communication regarding your team’s mission and vision so everyone is on the same page.
 

By addressing fear of risk, practicing mindfulness and positivity, and embodying the 7 core commitments, you’ll be better equipped to clear a path for your team to reach maximum growth potential. 
 

Divine’s last bit of advice—don’t forget to breathe. HooYa!


 

Interested in more resources for promoting resilience in the workplace?
Check out Wellness Resources to Keep Employees Calm and Focused