Simply Lead at All Costs

What would define as the keys to forming a tight camaraderie within your team and group?


Rorke Denver shares with us the many things he has learned about teamwork and leadership through his years as a Navy SEAL trainer. He tells us that one of the keys to creating the brotherhood of the SEALS is that the leadership and the enlisted go through training together. Everyone is in it together.

He also shows us that, as leaders, at minimum people are going to mimic our behavior and at best they are going to amplify our behavior. We must always be cognizant to the example we are giving our teams. Panic is contagious just as integrity is contagious.

Man: Whiplash, one minute out.

LT. Rorke: Once we step off on campaign, once this bird's ready, and we're down range, everything back home needs to be in balance. All our focus is on the mission.

Scott Waugh: Lieutenant Rorke is the most moralistic person I’ve ever met.

LT Rorke: Leave two men here!

Mike McCoy: The guy's just a born leader.

LT Rorke: Frag out! On me! When I was in the spring of my senior year and at college trying to figure out what wanted to do, and my father had sent me one of Winston Churchill's autobiographies about his early service in the military, and that book just hit me like a shot of lightning, saying that military service would really be a great place to begin. The SEALs was the next step that made sense. First spot the land, then find a home. Target with multiple wounds gunshot wound to the head. This will be a hot extract!

Mike McCoy: He's as much gunfighter as he is officer. He leads from the front.

LT Rorke: You know, from time to time I think the public forgets that there's still guys in harm's way doing this job, and we don't forget. We do it every day and live it every day. Our brothers are there right now. Guys from this picture are overseas in the fight right now, so it's special. I think Act of Valor is a peek, a little bit, behind our culture of our brotherhood that has up until date never been represented in this authentic way. And if we can share that, and that resonates, I think we’ll achieve something special.

LT Rorke: Wow, thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. So about three weeks ago I got a call from Jayson at GiANT Impact and Chick-fil-A Leadercast to talk about the event, and he gives me a call, “I just want to say, I want to know that you're set. Everything good? Are you ready for the program?” I said, “I'm set. You know, my slides are ready. I’ve got my concepts down. I'm very, very excited about it.” He said, “Well, I'll be honest with you, we feel like we've assembled one of the greatest speaking groups that's ever been under one tent, and we're honored to have you be a part of it.” And I said, “Likewise. I feel exactly the same way.”

He said, “Okay, well if there's anything else, let me know.” I said, “No, I'm good. Let's do it.” He said, “Okay, we just want to leave you with one thing. You know, as a group we looked at all the leaders, these luminaries from the world of leadership and speaking and we kind of unanimously voted that you're going to be our anchorman.”

So I look at the phone kind of comes off and I said, “Let me tell you something, Jayson from Chick-fil-A Leadercast, I refuse. I refuse to be your anchorman. I've never been an anchorman before. I get it. Jack Welch, Condoleezza Rice, John Maxwell, these are visionaries, these are some of the titans, but I'm ready. I'm going to kick the door in and do something special. I refuse to be your anchorman. What do you say to that?”

There's a little bit of an awkward pause. He says, “No, we want you to anchor the program. We want you to be the last speaker.” Awkward. So I take a second, and I didn't know what to do, so I just hung up. I didn't know if they'd pick me up yesterday when I flew in. I was delighted that there was a car there. But I'm going to explain it now so I can clear things with Jayson.

In the Navy, we rank at a course the top performer and the bottom performer. So you have the number one performer in a class, whether it's SEAL, flight school, whatever it is, and you have the bottom performer. Anyone want to hazard a guess what we call the bottom performer in the SEAL course? Anchorman. Yeah.

So I've squared it away. I think we can move on, and I'm excited to be here. So I'm excited to anchor the program. We go up to the next slide. Thank you.

I know we don't have a real good talking opportunity with such a big room. We got all these we'd call them outstations, all these regional locations, but just show of hands, who knows what this bell is for? Oh yeah, a lot of hands. Okay. So this is the mythical SEAL Bell. This bell governs your life at Navy SEAL training. About 75% of the 12-1,400 young lions that come to our course in a given year don't see the finish line. And almost all of them to a man decide to leave of their own volition. They just said, “I don't want to be this cold, wet, and miserable again. I am out of here. You guys are crazy. This is not for me.”

And they walked up to this bell, bing! bing! bing! They ring that bell three times, they take their helmet off, they put it down on the grinder, and they're done. They walk away from the program. It's not something that we do to embarrass a young man. It really isn't. It's a special part of the program, is this kind of balance between those that make it and those that don't, and this kind of continuum that runs through that program.

And as a leader, you're constantly kind of thinking about that bell, saying, “I don't want anything to do with that bell. I've got to take care of my guys. I've got to take care of my troops, and kind of get to that finish line.” I like explaining the quitting policy right at the front of my presentations, because if I feel like I push you too far, if anyone in the room says, “Look, I've had enough,” you just raise your hand, you can walk up here and say, “Hey, I want to quit,” we'll come up with a way to ring the bell. You don't have a helmet, so yeah, just take off a piece of clothing. You leave it here on the floor, and you can walk outta here.

When people ask me what's the most special thing about your SEAL unit compared to other units on the battlefield? What is it that distinguishes you from the rest of the folks out there on the battlefield? It really is the training. It's the training we use to select those young lions, and prepare them for war, and hone them and craft them into a lethal, capable team that can go do the nation's work.

So I've got a video that I'm going to run about our SEAL training. Some insider footage of kind of what we put the young guys through when they show up for the first six months of training. But as a former training officer, and running all the training for the SEALS, I would not feel right in my position if I let you watch a bunch of SEAL training at a resting heart rate. And since I've explained the quitting policy, on your feet. Oh yeah, somebody's ready.

So this is what we're going to do. And by "we" I mean you, because I have the microphone. I'm going to ask you to do an exercise that I used to put the students through in excess of 3,000 repetitions, usually about knee deep in water, they had to do this over 3,000 times. I'm only going to ask you to do it three times. What I'm going to do is I'm going to ask you to jump.

I'll give you an example of what I'm not asking you to do. That is not a jump. I'm embarrassed that I did that as an example. I see that moment on YouTube, I am coming for you. Don't post that. Okay? So you got to actually jump. And we're going to do it in a military fashion, so I'm going to say "ready," and I want to hear a loud and thunderous "ready."

So I'm going to say "ready," a big, booming "ready" is going to come back at me. And then I'm going to say "up." And in unison you're going to jump. And this is for the outstations too, everybody watching all around the world. You're jumping, too. I hope you're on your feet right now. And then, you're going to land and you're going to count off the repetition. So I'm going to say "up," you're going to land, you're going to count 1. And then I'm going to say up again, and you're going to count . . .

Audience: Two!

LT. Rorke: Right. Some groups don't get that, so we got a sharp, sharp crew right here. And I'm going to say "up" again, you're going to count 3. So a loud "ready," booming "ready" back at me, and then we're going to jump. All right? Last disclaimer: If you've got a bad back, bad knees, bad hips, bad ankles, you thought the right costume today was 7 inch stiletto heels, or doctor told you yesterday, “Bob, everything's looking good. The only thing that's going to throw you into cardiac arrest is if you jump three times this week,” don't jump. Okay? Other than that, you're jumping. All right. Ready!

Audience: Ready!

LT. Rorke: Up!

Audience: One!

LT. Rorke: Up!

Audience: Two!

LT. Rorke: Up!

Audience: Three!

LT. Rorke: Nice. Take your seats, let's watch some training.

Man: Come on guys, let's do this.

Man group: One, two . . .

Man group: One, two! Three, four! One!

Man: Platoon, up!

LT. Rorke: So it's fun. I mean, that's the first six months. We get to the hard stuff after that. As a leader, one the things that's fun about going through SEAL training is we have the officers and enlisted guys going through training together. So we share the experience as a leader, and as a follower, and as future leaders as they go through the program.

And one of the things I've always tried to figure out from my team, I think it's something they everyone is looking for, in every industry, in their life, for their family, whatever it is, is how do you constantly improve in the elite environment? How do you take a team that's already performing at a very high level and continue to improve? How do you get Michael Jordan's Bulls to play better after they’re already playing as high a level a game as you can play?

And I think I've got an example that helps illustrate this. You don't need to get out of your seats. But I want everyone, just in your seats, to reach both hands over your head towards the ceiling like a bank robber's sticking you up. Yeah, both towards . . . Keep them up. All right, great.

Now, everybody in the outstations, if you're watching this around the world you got to be doing this, too. Now loosen up your back, roll your shoulders a little bit, and everybody reach as high as you can. I want them all the way up.

Now watch this. Everybody give me one more inch. It's crazy! Go ahead and put your hands down. At some point it's going to fail, and it's going to be an awkward moment up here. I'm going to be like, “Wow, I really don't know what to say anymore.” But so far every time I've done this, it's worked. And I think the reason that is, I think there’s just something special going on. I think we as almost an elemental, base level creature, keep within us what I will call a tactical reserve. We keep a little something extra in the tanks that we can go to when we need it. And I think that inch is your opportunity to constantly improve in the elite environment.

I think that is your opportunity to say, “Okay, where can we claw, fight, scrape for an inch and improve.” And if you do it weekly, if you do it monthly, quarterly, if you do it yearly I think you are going to constantly improve in that elite environment. It's a secret, and something that we inject into our teams constantly. Can you bring up my next slide, please?

I think every team should have a battle cry. You should have a war cry. There's a reason ancient armies beat drums and played the bagpipes to go to battle, and so a big battle scream and cry kind of gets you ready, gets the nerves out, and prepares you for war.

So this is the SEAL war cry. The interesting thing is, and I'm going to give an example, I already know it's going to work in this room, is across the military we all actually have the same war cry. Spelled the same way, it sounds very different. So if you're in the Army, and anyone in the Army knows exactly what I'm talking about, this sounds like this kind of Southern drawl. So sergeant asks some young private, '”Hey, are you okay?” And it would be, “Hooah. Hooah, Sergeant. Hooah, Sergeant.” And that's the way it sounds. Spelled the same.

If you're in the Marine Corps, and I'm going to do this, this is a gift I'm going to give everyone in here, so every outstation in the 750 sites, I want you to do this at the same time. For the Marines in the room give me a devil dog bark. Spelled like that. Inexplicably, spelled like that, that's what it sounds like. I mean, I love a devil dog bark, but it's spelled like that.

SEALs must be the most literal people on Earth, we just say, “hooyah.” I mean that's kind of what it looks like to me. It occurred to me that this is probably the biggest opportunity to set like a Ripley's world record for the loudest “hooyah” in history, so I'm going to count 1, 2, 3. I'm going to point at the group, and I want the loudest, most thunderous “hooyah” we can come up with. I mean, knock one of these screens down. Someone was late to this part of the meeting out front and they're going to go to a door, they're going to hear that “hooyah,” and they're going to be like, “Nope, I don't want to go in there. I don't know what's happening there.” So that's what I'm talking about the level of hooyah, okay? All right 1, 2, 3.

Audience: Hooyah!

LT. Rorke: That's a good hooyah. That's the best hooyah I probably ever heard, so I appreciate it. That's a gift you just gave me. I got nothing for you on that. That was just for me.

So about a week before I graduated SEAL training, so I was a brand new guy, 14 years ago, we have what's called a final training exercise, an FTX, where they basically give you a mission. You got to plan it, you got to brief it, you got to rehearse it, and then you got to execute it, and actually do a mission. It's the first time you feel like you might be a SEAL. And everything's based on time, so the instructors gave us the mission, and we do all out planning, and about midway through we're just going to be like, it's obvious we're not going to make our hit time.

You don't need to fail at buds for it to be hard. SEAL training. If you screw up and SEAL training is plenty hard without screwing up. If you screw up, it's exceptionally hard. And the class officer, the class leader, the senior man in our class is just running around the compound like a chicken with its head cut off, screaming at people, “We got to get the guns, we got to get out there right now, we're not going to make it, let's go!” And just the fevered pitch of the entire group because of this was intolerable. We couldn't perform.

And I remember this Master Chief comes walking out. I don’t know how many people know rank in the United States military, but a Master Chief in the Navy is the senior enlisted rank. I think it’s the coolest rank there is. A Master Chief Petty Officer. All the services in senior enlisted is the rank, but he comes out and this Master Chief in particular is just a god to us. I mean, he’s covered in tat . . . He’s got tattoos to King Triton and a mermaid and a huge [inaudible 00:13:45] of this Magnum PI mustache, comes walking out and he says, “Hey, all the officers get over here right now.” And you are trying to pretend like I need to change the coupling on this. Let me see if I know. And he’s like, “Nope. Everybody over here right now.” So we come running . . .

Rorke Denver

Commander Rorke T. Denver, founder of Ever Onward, has run every phase of training for the U.S. Navy SEALs and led special-forces missions in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and other international hot spots. He starred in the ...

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