The Learning Leader Show With Ryan Hawk

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#363: Admiral William McRaven – 363: Admiral William McRaven – The Bin Laden Raid, Saving Captain Phillips, & Leadership Lessons For Life


  • Sustaining excellence:
    • Great listeners – They value the opinions of others and listen
    • Decisive – The leader must take responsibility and make the call
    • Measured – Calm. Staying cool under pressure is vital
  • Importance of coaching in Admiral McRaven’s life… and being pushed by them. He pushed himself  to his physical limits to set the school record for the mile with the help of a phone call from a coach. (Jerry Turnbow).
    • Write letters to the parents/spouse/kids of the people you want to recognize. “Love on the people who love them.”
  • Failure can make you stronger —- Being assigned to “The Circus” in SEAL training helped him build resilience and a “never quit” attitude.
  • Writing ­– He was a journalism major at Texas. Admiral McRaven has consistently worked to become a great writer. It is critical for leaders to be exceptional communicators… Both of the written AND spoken word.
  • In July 1983, he was fired as a SEAL squadron leader for trying to change the way his squadron was organized, trained, and conducted missions. His response was the difference between a long, successful career, and quitting. Georgeann (his wife) offered him encouragement and said, ‘you’ve never quit at anything in your life and don’t start now’. 
  • Admiral McRaven has always had great respect for the British Special Air Service: the famed SAS. The SAS motto was “Who Dares Wins.”  He said that even moments before the Bin Laden raid, his command sergeant major Chris Faris, quoted it to the SEALs preparing for the mission.
    • To him that motto was more than just how special forces operated. It’s about how each of us should approach our lives… Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present…
  • Admiral McRaven walked us through the strategy development and the decision making process for the bin Laden raid:
    • It was a team effort – Leon Panetta could have done it only as a CIA mission, but he reached out to Admiral McRaven because the mission was what was most important, not getting credit.  Great leaders recognize that it’s never about them. If you think it’s about you you’re probably not a good leader.
    • It was still an extraordinarily difficult decision to green light the mission. Admiral McRaven described that conversations he had with President Obama. “If we got there and the guy on the third floor was just a tall Pakistani man, then President Obama would have been a 1 term president.”
    • The SEALs on the mission rehearsed and practiced  A LOT. No matter how much experience you have, you ALWAYS need to practice.
    • The night of the bin Laden raid, Admiral McRaven was in charge of 10 other missions! He didn’t have time to celebrate, he was focused on identifying the body, telling the President, and then paying close attention to the other missions he had going on that night.
  • Courage — “without courage, men will be ruled by tyrants and despots. Without courage,  no great society can flourish. Without courage, the bullies of the world rise up.”  Over the course of a month he visited Saddam Hussein in the jail where they were holding him, he would rise to meet Admiral McRaven. McRaven would motion for him to go back to his cot. The message was clear, “you are no longer important.”
  • Rise to the occasion.  Be your very best in the darkest moments – Think about the moment we are in right now. Great leaders rise to the occasion in the midst of a pandemic
  • Books Admiral McRaven recommends- The Speed of Trust- Stephen M.R. Covey, It’s Your Ship – Michael Abrashoff
  • No plan survives first contact with the enemy- things will go wrong and you need to plan accordingly. Be prepared, think through worst case. “Have a plan, work the plan, plan for the unexpected.”
  • Get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward. Don’t ever say “that’s not fair.”  The story of Moki Martin – bike accident that left him paralyzed

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