Now, more than ever, we need strong, effective, and responsible leaders and teams pulling together to solve some of our greatest challenges—in business and in life—and rowing together so we don’t lose our way.
Major figures throughout history have been important vectors for the popularization of the saying, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility,” including notable persons such as Lord Melbourne, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and even the creators of Spider-Man, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. My first Commanding Officer in SEAL Team often would offer leadership guidance to me, and one of my favorite lessons from him regarding power and responsibility was, “Only ever be as tough as the situation dictates.” There’s an entire scale of when you’ve got to be at your toughest and when your softest will be more than enough. In the many interviews and podcasts I’ve done, the moderators have asked me how to walk the line between becoming unstoppable and going rogue. I like to answer by telling them the story about getting recruited at the Naval Academy, and think it helps to illustrate how not to lose your way.
Have You Ever Been Bullied?
I remember this big Navy SEAL with a long mustache coming up to me on the grounds of the Academy and our meeting went something like this:
SEAL: “Hey, do you ever think about trying out for the SEALs?”
Me: “I don’t know, what do they do?”
SEAL: “You ever been bullied?
Me: At this point, I’m thinking about when my mom kept my hair really long and my nickname as a kid was Shirley Temple. I was a big man-child of a kid and my hair was huge and curly. So, as a first-grader, I got bullied all the time—by fourth graders—and I said, “Yeah, I’ve been bullied, …” and I started to go into the details when he stopped me right there.
SEAL: He raised his hand as if to say “stop” and said, “I didn’t say I wanted to hear about it…I just asked if you’ve been bullied.” (He paused for a moment and said),”You see that’s what SEALs do—we go around the world, and knock back bullies…if that sounds interesting, then come to tryouts next week.”
When you make the choice to commit to that kind of profession—be it SEAL Team, other military, or law enforcement—it’s really important not to be the bully. There’s that fine line there, and you need the right training to knock out the right bully, save everybody else, and self-correct as a unit.
Feeding Your Ego Versus Serving Others
Aside from having the right training, not losing your way also comes about by maintaining a balance between feeding your own ego versus providing service to others. There’s a healthy level of ego that builds confidence, which I talk about in the first of three levels of leadership. Reaching your full potential begins with leading yourself and focusing on your own mindset. As you grow, however, success is dependent on your ability to lead others, which expands your focus beyond yourself to include your immediate team. The ultimate shift in focus onto your larger community and beyond—which I call culture—demands an entirely different set of responsibilities. Staying focused 100% on yourself while operating in positions where you have a lot of power and influence on your organizations’ culture is potentially destructive—that’s where some people have lost their way.
Leadership and positions of power can be natural goals for narcissists—a self-centered personality style—because of the status, power, attention, and other benefits that leadership offers. Not all leaders have narcissistic traits, of course; and it may be that narcissistic traits, when not extreme, and when balanced by other character strengths, may serve the important function of instilling confidence in and inspiring others. Not losing your way as a leader, teammate, and influencer involves taking responsibility, prioritizing others’ needs above your own, not misleading others, and understanding how your decisions and actions could pose a risk to your employees, constituents, or followers. I speak about these leadership actions in my Unstoppable Goals and Unstoppable Mindset Courses.
Johnny’s Letter Made My Heart Sing
Since before my first 6-month deployment as a Navy SEAL platoon commander, and continuing upon my arrival at business school, my goal was to become an Inc. 500 founder/CEO within ten years. Shortly after that goal was achieved in 2009, the economy went to hell in a hand basket, and we were facing potential bankruptcy. Sitting in my office late at night after lawyers had advised us to file and start over, I picked up this letter from a 14-year-old boy written in #2 pencil. It read something like this:
Dear Mr. Perfect Pushup Man,
Thank you for inventing the Perfect Pushup. My grandmother gave me the Perfect Pushup for Christmas. She bought it at Walmart. I followed your workout routine four times over 12 weeks. And, I want you to know I made the JV football team. Next year, I’m trying out for varsity.
After reading that letter, I moved this bulletin board on wheels right inside the front door of our office. I put Johnny’s letter right up there for everybody to see as they walked in to remind us why we’re in business and that we were going to figure out a way out of going bankrupt. The reason I got into the fitness business in the first place was because I used fitness to help me get over my health limitations. Exercise helped me beat asthma, and it gave me the confidence to try out for my high-school rowing team. My success in rowing led to being recruited to the Naval Academy, where I gained the courage to try out for the SEALs. As a SEAL, I became a student of exercise and learned how to use it to unlock my potential. Exercise led me from the SEALs to business school to inventing the Perfect Pushup. Exercise has been my swim buddy throughout my life. It’s given me the confidence and courage to face my fears, and the stamina and strength to go after my dreams. Exercise has been my secret weapon against giving up.
Johnny’s letter made my heart sing and helped me press on to make a dent in the universe in a positive way. Being unstoppable is not just about going after selfish goals, because—99% of the time—the things that make your heart sing have to do with helping others make theirs sing. Now, more than ever, we need strong, effective, and responsible leaders and teams pulling together to solve some of our greatest challenges—in business and in life—and rowing together so we don’t lose our way.