10 Leadership Lessons From the U.S. Navy Seal Who Led the bin Laden Mission

Every CEO has a list of leaders and mentors he or she looks up to or has learned from. Here’s a new one for your list.

Admiral William H. McRaven is the former commander of U.S. Navy SEAL Team 3 and the current commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. He led the mission which resulted in finding Osama bin Laden. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, he recently gave the commencement address at his alma mater, and offered the graduates 10 lessons from his SEAL training that every leader can benefit from. He said, if you want to change the world:

1. Start off by making your bed. The first thing a sailor does every morning is make his bed. This sets him or her off on the right footing and gives a sense of pride. Begin every day by accomplishing a small task. It will make you feel good and put you on the right footing.

2. Find someone to help you paddle. It takes a team of seven SEALs to get across the heavy San Diego surf in a raft. The task is impossible to do alone. You can’t change the world alone—accept that you will need some help.

3. Measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers. He tells a story of a SEAL team that was the ‘runt of the litter,’ but outswam, outpaddled and outran the big guys every time. Judge people by their character and nothing else.

4. Get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward. Recruits whose uniforms didn’t pass inspection were required to dive into the ocean in full uniform, then roll around in the sand, an exercise they nicknamed being a ‘sugar cookie’. They had to stay in those wet, sandy uniforms all day. The ones who got frustrated didn’t survive because they didn’t get the true message: Things are never going to be perfect all the time.

5. Don’t be afraid of the “circuses.” Recruits who didn’t meet daily standards or time tests ended up on a list and had to participate in a “circus.” “Circuses” were additional training exercises designed to wear already tired recruits down. Many didn’t make it, but those who did, ironically, ended up being stronger and harder than those who didn’t go through a lot of “circuses.”

6. Sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head-first. A candidate broke a hand-over-hand upside down crawling-across-a-rope record by instead sliding across the top of the bar head first. What he did was really risky and no one else had ever tried it. But he tried it and he succeeded. He not only broke the record, he reset the bar.

7. Don’t back down from the sharks. Recruits who encompass a shark on a swimming exercise are ordered not to back down from it, but rather to punch it in the nose. McRaven tells the graduates, there are a lot of sharks in the world. If you’re going to succeed in life, you’ve got to face your sharks.

8. Be your very best in the darkest moment. Part of SEAL training is to conduct attacks on enemy ships. This requires being deep under pitch black water while listening to loud, distracting noises from the ship’s engines and systems. It’s very easy to get disoriented and fail. Every SEAL, he said, knows that when it’s darkest is the time when you need to be the most calm, composed and focused.

9. Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud. During hell week, McRaven’s team of trainees found themselves in freezing cold mud up to their necks and were required to remain there for eight hours, until dawn. Just when it seemed that several of them were about to give up, one started singing, then another and another. All of sudden, they had hope. “If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world,” he said, “it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala—one person can change the world by giving people hope.”

10. Don’t ever, ever ring the bell. In SEAL training, recruits who want to give up simply have to ring a bell that hangs in the center of the compound. His final message: If you want to change the world, don’t give up. Don’t ever, ever ring that bell.

For a full transcript of his speech, click here.