leadership lessons that work in corporate America

As a combat-decorated former Navy SEAL, Marty Strong led combat missions and helped develop special operations capabilities during his 20 years in uniform. And even though Strong left the military decades ago, he still uses the strategies he learned to excel in business today.

Strong, 64, explored several career paths after retiring from the Navy, from being an account vice president to an investment advisor to his current role as CEO, chief strategy officer, board director, and business investor. However, all of these positions have one key attribute in common: leadership.

According to Strong, today’s managers and bosses could take a few pages from the Navy SEALs’ book on effective leadership.

Here are the top 5 lessons, derived from the military, for leaders who want to “improve the strategic planning process” and succeed in the workplace.

Establish a “mission-driven” culture.

A company’s mission is about what they do and who they do it for. And developing a team dedicated to that mission not only helps the company achieve its goals, but makes leadership easier.

“From a military perspective … anyone who’s on a SEAL team or a Special Operations Unit, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the Marines, the Air Force, or the Army, the focus is on the mission,” Strong told CNBC Make It. “And this mission is well understood by everybody and well communicated, from top to bottom, something you don’t always find in a commercial environment.”

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“It is very difficult to succeed without a culture that focuses on a set of goals and objectives. And I’m not talking about KPIs and financial metrics … I’m talking about more aspirational lights at the end of the tunnel”.

Willing to cultivate others

Good leaders always refine their skills and abilities, but great leaders facilitate opportunities for their teams to grow as well.

“[It’s important to] prepare the next wave of leaders. And you do that through a training program. But you also need to follow up all those training programs with training, and ultimately, a mentoring program.

Strong says that the training stage consists of “imparting skills and knowledge, which are usually very vocational and technically oriented.” Coaching involves giving feedback to the team about “how they are performing collectively and individually,” and mentoring should be all about “polishing” and “keeping the edges sharp.”

Practice ‘intellectual humility’

According to Strong, being a Navy SEAL means being “psychologically resilient” and humble enough to take everything as a learning experience, regardless of your status, rank, or honors.

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As a leader in the workplace, it’s important to recognize that you’re going to get a lot of things right — and a lot of things wrong. But staying humble, self-aware and level-headed is key.

Strong believes that leaders “have to throw away all their recent victories and triumphs and clear their minds of that mental baggage so they can start thinking about the world, and information, in real terms.”

“Without one of the arrogant thoughts of how you act as a leader or as a decision maker, or negative thoughts where you feel you have failed, you will be able to replace sources of information and asymmetric input, even if you do not necessarily agree with or have not tried them”.

Practice ‘intellectual curiosity’

Hand in hand with intellectual humility, intellectual curiosity is a person’s willingness and desire to learn new things and dig deeper than the surface, according to BetterUp. Strong says this is “instrumental” in being “truly creative”

“Once you open yourself up to being humble and listening and seeing learning differently, you can try to build what will be the new normal. [within your company]. You can create a new future and change the status quo in many beneficial ways.”

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As a SEAL, Strong said being curious and “agile” helped him solve problems and create solutions to complex problems in the force.

Expand your thinking

Strong recommends that leaders stop analyzing “to-do lists” and “short-term metrics” to think about the bigger picture. He also stated that it is important to analyze the situation from all angles.

In the military, Strong says this is known as “keeping your head on a swivel,” which reminds troops to be alert, aware, and cautious due to potential threats. But this thought can be useful when analyzing the situation in the workplace.

“You have to think further out to the horizon. Whether that is two weeks out, four weeks out, 12 months out, or 24 months out,” said Strong. “[Ask yourself] what will the world look like? What will your life look like? What will your organization look like? Many must do that in a 360-degree situational awareness process.


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