Get Navy SEAL, or Real Accountability

Over the last three years, I’ve listened to leaders struggle with improving accountability in their organizations. The ones that succeed at it have something in common with Navy SEALs. Accountability doesn’t create great teams, great teams in belonging inspire great accountability. Here’s a little dive into creating leadership and behaviors that bring about Navy SEAL team like capabilities and accountability, and, a little human science behind why.

SEALs ultimately train to swap self-preservation with team-preservation in pursuit of the objective.

People try out for and join the Navy SEALs. They’re not conscripted, nor forced. They choose the tribe and the tribe chooses them. It’s extreme belonging. You violate the ethos you’re out. SEALs learned a long time ago that a heart for each other, trumps fear of anything, any day. It’s the will that leads to skill. It’s a heart-set, a mindset. There are enough things to fear from the outside, and that if you have to fear things from the inside too, those things will divide your focus and always keep you from doing your best in service of your mission. SEALs ultimately train to swap self-preservation with team-preservation in pursuit of the objective. In their autonomy, they ultimately have the option to cancel the objective if it’s at the team’s peril. It’s their choice to belong that creates deep accountability. You can’t give an order to care about somebody or something. It just doesn’t work. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that level of inspired accountability in your own organization?

For SEALs, service and team matter most, and because of that, they pursue and practice excellence in emotional ability and technical skills in order to never let their teammates down. They epitomize a tribal motivational model- People, Purpose, and then Pay.

We as humans will:

  1. We’ll die for each other,

  2. Join another’s cause, or

  3. Exchange our time and effort as a commodity for money.

SEALs will sacrifice everything for each other. They joined the cause in brotherhood and sisterhood, making it their own. But, they’re not mercenaries exchanging their effort for dollars. I’ve never heard it said that somebody became a Navy SEAL for the money.

Below is the summary of the SEAL creed/ethos (less the combat explicit stuff, and I also added the link to the full creed below). Imagine saying this about your company’s people.

In serving, they choose to join those who’ve gone before, giving loyalty to cause and team, placing the security and welfare of others before their own.

Owning their own of their emotions and control of them, regardless of circumstances, acting with uncompromising integrity, they expect to lead and be led. They will draw upon every ounce of strength to protect their teammates and accomplish the mission. Lacking orders, they will take charge and never be out of the fight.

The lives of their teammates and success depend upon each as an individual in service, and training is never complete.

Actions are guided by the principles that they serve to defend. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of their teammates steadies their resolve and silently guides their every deed. They will not fail.

Link to the full creed: click here

Use belonging to grow a team first operating system (Team OS)

They are teammates before they are snipers, comms, ops, intel… etc. In their pursuit of the mission, they’re given and objective versus a plan. They are trusted and given their autonomy to figure it out because their commitment to mastery is second to none. It’s motivated by not letting each other down in their pursuit of the objective’s purpose. In short, it’s belonging.

The more belonging they practice, the more oxytocin and serotonin they have which makes belonging more natural and easier.

SEALs train so that when they’re in the worst of circumstances, their team matters the most. In the top image, failing to hold that telephone pole up has more to do with team first growth than the physical endurance training. To let that pole drop is to let your team down. They achieve a team first focus by practicing behaviors that demonstrate and shape an attitude of care for each other, even under extreme duress. Making a mistake is not a mistake. However, making a mistake that puts your team at risk and not growing past it, that’s a mistake. The context is always for each other. As a result of their practice, they’re always generating the love and confidence chemicals of oxytocin and serotonin, even in the most difficult of situations. When everything goes sideways, they still have their O and S intact. That means they always have a resiliency that’s motivated by the love for each other. You can think of their practice and producing oxytocin and serotonin as their belonging “OS” (Team OS) for deep, resilient and excellent teamwork. The more belonging they practice, the more oxytocin and serotonin they have which makes belonging more natural and easier. When the shit hits the fan, their hearts and brains are physiologically capable. The more belonging they practice, the more oxytocin and serotonin they have which makes belonging more natural and easier for them and their teammates.

Yes, I realize this is a narrow focus and somewhat of a simplification of SEAL, or any other military training, I’m doing so to stay on target though.

We’re human beings and whether or not we’re Navy SEALs, it’s simple, what we practice is what we do under pressure. If you don’t practice belonging in leadership and in simulated difficulty, you won’t do it when it matters, because you won’t have a good supply of oxytocin and serotonin.

That Team OS is within your reach

Now your normal non-SEAL workplace doesn’t have the life-and-death aspect of people trying to kill you, bullets flying at you and bombs and whatever else. However, you have the same circuitry in your brain and you’re just processing the tribal and economic threats, and pressure of the daily workday. You could say it’s the “subtle tribal-economic life and death” stuff. Guess what? They might as well be bullets and bombs. Your heart and brain treat them the same way. We’re all part of the greater human tribe. The threat your non-special ops people do face, the competition from outside companies trying to destroy you and at minimum, make you a distant second place to them.

Like the SEALs, we must and can develop our love and confidence chemicals too. We’ve all snapped or been subpar under stress.

Heck, I just flinched, reliving some of my more recent moments while writing that last sentence. We can do a lot less of the subpar and then perform a lot better with coaching and practicing belonging. That’s what develops our Team OS. And yes, I get it, practice in your business world usually happens in real-time. You don’t get to take timeout in a business training field to hone your skills for each other. That doesn’t change the fact though, that in the tough moment, we do what we practice. Or, we don’t do what we should’ve practiced.

To keep or get your Team OS in your companies, you gotta practice behaviors that live-out your shared and guiding values, and, develop an uncompromised team-first-ethos in service of your company or tribal purpose (your Why?). Some might say that’s hard to measure. So what, if you don’t, you’ll never be able to measure advancing. You’ll be a bit aimless. Any behavior/action can be tracked and measured as a lead measure, and then checked to see if it moves the lag measure. It’s as simple as defining what the behavior emotionally looks and feels like, and then doing it. Yes, it is hard work and takes some emotional wrestling. Then, we track how often we do it over a specified time. And ultimately, checking to see if we’re getting to the finish line all together and faster because of it. And that finish line measure is this: are we as a tribe, happier and healthier, emotionally, physically, and economically. Further, we always extend our tribe to the customer. Wash, rinse, repeat for each guiding value, and measured impact.


Paul Haury
Paul Haury
Belonging Coach & Evangelist for Heart-Based Leadership in Workplace Culture & Happiness. I’m a coach, a mentor, an optimist that nerds-out on all things in the social-behavioral and neurosciences for what motivates us in how we can be better, and, get us to with whom and where we belong. The paths that get us there follow roads of vulnerable togetherness, kind and honest challenges in personal accountability, and a deep curious appreciation for being wholly human in full potential. It’s here, where we land on the good side of our fears and aspirations, and make our dreams happen. We’ll never do anything as well, as when we’re doing what we’re doing with and for those we love. I help people create their own unique spaces to go farther and higher in their individual brilliance than they ever could alone.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE