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Leadership Killer with Bill Treasurer and Captain John Havlik

By April 24, 2019 August 12th, 2020 One Comment

“Humiliation is almost always going to be the reverberation of an ego that’s gone too far.” – Bill Treasurer

Sheepdog training is learning to deal with a crisis situation so that you can help yourself and others through the situation. Sheepdog training includes situational and self-awareness skills, hand to hand combat and pistol shooting, tactical medicine and quick reaction skills in general. The Sheepdog event is only run once a year and you can find out more about it at

Mark talks with Bill Treasurer (@BTreasurer), globally renowned author and retired SEAL Captain John Havlik (@CoachHavlik) on leadership and how to maintain it. Their impetus to write a book came from watching several leaders fall from grace when they were at the pinnacle of achievement. “The Leadership Killer: Reclaiming Humility in an Age of Arrogance,” focuses on one of the main challenges for leaders; the ability to remain or become humble as a leader. They provide actionable strategies for becoming, and most importantly staying, a more effective, confident and humble leader.

Hear about:

  • How you should have genuine interest and appreciation for the people on your team
  • How to overcome the constant pressure to “be the best,” on your own.
  • Doing something as simple as learning names can make a huge difference

Listen to this episode to learn how to be a more effective leader, by letting go of the hubris that often comes along with it.

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Hey folks. Welcome back. This is Mark divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for your time today. Super-appreciate it.

I know you’re busy. We’re gonna have another great show. We’re gonna talk about leadership and hubris and honor and courage and all sorts of interesting things today. Before I introduce our guests – that’s plural – let me remind you that this podcast is now available pretty much everywhere. Not everywhere… But pretty much everywhere you can find podcasts -so iTunes – it’s probably the biggest platform – then Google Play and Stitcher and SoundCloud. Even Pandora and I Heart Radio as well.

And also I’ll remind you that it really helps to leave a review, because there are about a billion podcasts popping up. And we have like 500 five-star ratings. So if you like the show, go rate it. I know it takes a second – but I try to do that with podcasts or audiobooks that I really love, because I know it really helps other people find them that would be like-minded. So yeah thanks for that.

Quick plug for our sheepdog event. SEALFIT. Coming up at the end of May – last weekend of May.

So this is where we go train civilians how to think with the offensive, confidence mindset so that you can react to crisis. Like what we read a newspaper every freaking day. Some crisis happens like Las Vegas shooting or what just happened in Sri Lanka.

And what if you’re there? How do you respond to that? How do you keep yourself and your loved ones and people around you safe?

So we teach this at our sheepdog training. It’s three days down in Texas. So we have Quick Reaction drills, offensive mindset training, Krav Maga, shoot move and communicate all taught by former Navy seals and experts. Also field trauma medicine, which is one of the more valuable things. So imagine just being… Driving by a car accident and how often you would love to be the one who’s there rendering aid as opposed to wondering what to do. So be that person. Be sheepdog strong.

So check it out at and just look for sheepdog – because I don’t have the URL for you in front of me. It’s probably slash sheepdog. That goes to show you how prepared I am to market myself. I don’t do a very good job of it, but that’s the way it is. That’s why you love my authenticity.

Anyways. Enough on that.



So today I have Captain John “Coach” Havlik, who I’ve known for years – SEAL team 3 teammate of mine from way back when. And Bill Treasurer. Both are teaching, training coaching leadership and leadership development with executives. They’ve co-authored a book, which I had the honor of being interviewed for… And I think I show up at least a quote or two in there on humility. So a topic near and dear to my heart. It’s called “The Leadership Killer: Reclaiming Humility in an Age of Arrogance.” I love it.

Bill and coach, thanks for joining me today.

Bill: Mark, great to be with you. Thanks for having us.

John: Thanks, mark. Appreciate it.

Mark: Yeah, no kidding. It’s my pleasure and coach good to hear your voice again. And it’s been a long time. I know we chatted recently, but I always love talking to you.

John: Again, I apologize for the delay. As I was doing my 10,000 box jumps and burpees, I realized I had to get on the mic so…

Mark: Yeah. I’m pleased to see that you’ve taken up the burpees, which are near and dear to my heart. And you’ll be happy to know that I got my ass back into the pool.

John: Nice

Mark: Yeah, we have this incredible YMCA here in Encinitas and I decided I really… At my ripe age of what 39? I need to get back in the pool and limber up a little bit. At any rate, wink, wink, nod, nod…

John: I know my knees appreciate the burpees. So thank you.

Mark: So Bill, you’ve authored five books on leadership. You have a best-seller called “Courage Goes to Work.” you run a consulting company, Giant Leap, which works with pretty big-name clients – NASA, eBay, etc. etc.

Tell us a little bit about – let me just start here because get to know the two of you. So tell me about how you met coach – I think you guys went to school together – and how you reconnected. And then we’ll talk about coach’s background.

Coach I’ve known for years, because he was a SEAL – so that’s a little bit easier for me. But where you come from and what you’re what you’re all about.

Bill: Sure, well let me first say that that you Navy seals have had an impact on me. Coach will tell you that I’m a big donut eater, and I haven’t been working out. And he hadn’t seen me in 25 years and his look of pity… Looked at me. But now in the couple years I’ve been working out with John:.. I’ve started working out again – a little bit, a little bit. And I even sent John a videotape of me bench-pressing 250 pounds. And he didn’t believe it was real. He thought it was like CGI…

Mark: (laughing) I hope you’ve put the donut box down.

Bill: Well, yesterday was peeps day. I had my peeps because it was Easter.

So John and I… We have to rewind back 30 years… In 1980 I went to West Virginia University. I was on a scholarship. I was their first scholarship diver.

And John had been on the swimming and diving team the years before me… The four years before me… And now he was an assistant coach. He was part of the 79-80 team but I came in 80-81… And now he was assistant coach.

And you know, the swimmers are always giving divers grief, right? Like they just don’t think we’re…

Mark: Cause divers don’t do any work. They just bounce around and jump in the water.

Bill: (laughing) yeah. You jump around. Do a big can opener.

John: You couldn’t say it any better, mark. They don’t do anything.

Bill: See? This is the grief that I’ve gotten for 35 years. So John and I… But I will say, through all the grief, if we were having a kegger on a Saturday or whatever, John showed me the time of day. John would talk to me, right? John was always nice to me. And made me feel part of the team and I hadn’t forgotten that.

And so fast forward about… Almost 30 years later, they were honoring the 1980 swim team that had gone undefeated. And I decided to bring my kids, to bring my family to this big event and I’m thinking “maybe this guy who I had heard went off and became a Navy SEAL…” but I hadn’t seen in all that time. He was, like, famous among the swimming and divers. That this guy had gone off and became a SEAL.

So I’m bringing my kids to the event and I’m prepping them. I’m like “if you get to meet this guy John Havlik, you thank him for his service and you respect this guy. I mean this guy has done some amazing stuff. And he probably won’t remember me, so I’m gonna introduce you to him.”

And then I we’re getting… I think I’m in line for breakfast, and I see John: I catch his eye and he points at me. And says “Treasurer. I want to talk to you.”

And I was like… Totally didn’t expect that. So I introduced my kids to him and such, and had breakfast. And it turned out that John had known about some of my books and such and wanted to talk to me about his life after the seals. And had an interest in doing speaking events and bringing what he had learned and helping formative leaders and such.

And so we started reconnecting over the idea of leadership. And we started to text back and forth, and send some articles and emails.

And invariably there’d be some disappointing story about a leader who put their entire reputation at stake and decimated it, for something stupid. And it caught our attention that it was happening with so much frequency that John and I said “what the hell is going on?” and we thought there might be a book there. And so we said, “what if we write a book?” and it rekindled our relationship.

And moved through the friendship to grief-givers, because we’re constantly giving each other grief – as we will on this call, I’m sure – and then reconnected over the book. And we would talk every single Sunday, pretty faithfully, as we shaped and refined each other’s thinking for the book. And wrote and edited back and forth. And I like where it landed, but it’s been…

It’s really cool for me, because before this I hadn’t really known any seals. Just John and another guy Rick Kaiser. And I have such great admiration and respect for the SEAL community and everything you do for our country.

And the core… That’s my funnest thing in working with John: As much as we give each other a lot of grief and such, and it’s fun. I know who he is at a core, and I know what it means to have a core. And it’s helped me maybe strengthen my own core to be around guys like you. So it’s been fun.

Mark: You mentioned Rick Kaiser – and I know Rick. He runs the – this is a quick plug for the Navy SEAL museum – so he’s a director down there. And he’s done a phenomenal job. And if anyone listening is ever in South Florida, swing by Fort Pierce and go to the Navy SEAL Museum. It’s well worth it. It’s really quite an extraordinary… I used to be on the board of the directors, right? When we were trying to transform it from an old stodgy museum, to world-class. And we did the first iteration of the big fundraising push and whatnot. But they have come light-years since then.

So coach I had like a similar reaction. When I first met you… I think was like in the weight room at SEAL team 3…?

John: That little hole?

Mark: That little tiny hole in the wall. It’s like 10′ x 10′. Obviously, they have this beautiful new facility these days. And all sorts of human performance training.

Back then it was just a bunch of rusty weights thrown in this little black hole. And I just remember you being… You were a lieutenant, I was an ensign… You were like four years ahead of me or something like that. But you were very just genuine and approachable and happy. A lot of a lot of seals run around with that thousand mile stare and a big sneer on their face. But you weren’t like that. I know you could turn it on when you needed to.

So that was cool. I really enjoyed that aspect of your character. Give us a sense for who you are, and where you came from, and how…? I know you were a competitive swimmer and that nickname carried into the seals.

How did you get interest in the seals and give us some thoughts on your early formative career. What shaped you? The man who we’re talking to today?

John: The man called “coach.” I grew up an army brat and I was born in Germany. My father was stationed over there and he came back and we settled outside of Baltimore. And he eventually retired after 24 years. And both my parents are veterans so I’m very proud to say that for them.

He retired and then went to work for the Defense Intelligence Agency in DC. So we just kind of located and put up a roots right outside of Baltimore.

And so I grew up around the army my whole life. But I was swimming, playing a bunch of different sports. And just kind of did this swimming thing, because I sucked at lacrosse. And every Maryland kid has to play lacrosse, or at least try to. And I attempted, but I was bad.

So I just stayed in the water and did that… But I swam at the Naval Academy in the age group program. And there was no competitive high school swimming at the public high schools at that time. All the big swimming schools were up in Baltimore at the private Catholic schools. And so I swam at the Academy, got a scholarship. Did okay. Got a scholarship to West Virginia. Went there and it was a great program for me, because I was able to build it – helped build the program. And had a growth spurt and did really well and so I qualified for nationals. Qualified for Olympic Trials. A lot of things that I didn’t think I’d ever do.

And so I swam and then in the year, I met Bill, finishing up my degree. So that was very cool.

The big thing afterwards was I got a job eventually coaching swimming at the Naval Academy. When the coach asked me if I wanted to do it I said, “yeah absolutely.” because I needed a job and he said, “before you say yes, just know that it comes with a catch.” and I said, “well what’s that.” and he goes “well, you gotta join the Navy.” and growing up an army brat, I had no real intention of joining the military in my future. I thought I was gonna be a coach.

And I said “yes, sure. Okay. That’s fine.” I mean it was probably the best grad assistant equivalent…

Mark: So how did that work? Did they send you through OAS or something like that? Or did you have to enlist?

John: Well no, it’s even weirder… So there were nine of us for nine different sports at the Academy. Instead of the Academy hiring a civilian they went the Navy route. But we went to boot camp, and so we all came out as E3s with guaranteed orders to the Naval Academy. So I did my time, I did my boot camp time in Orlando and then went up to the Academy…

Mark: So did you get E3 pay or a coaches…? Coaches’ pay is probably less than an E3.

John: Yeah. That’s exactly right. I mean yes, like I said, when you factor it all out – between E3 pay and the medical and dental benefits. And the educational benefits. It was the best grad assistant job in the country.

And so I did that. I was about a year there at the academy. And we were having practice in this tall good-looking guy comes strolling down the pool deck, and I looked at the head coach and I said “who’s this guy?” and he goes “oh this is lieutenant so-and-so. He just checked in.”

And I said “well, what does he do?” and he goes “oh, he’s a Navy SEAL.”

And I go “Navy SEAL? What’s that?” and I got the classic… “It’s those things in the zoo.” I said “no, no. I mean what does a Navy SEAL do?” and he goes “oh he’s like… The seals are like the Green Beret of the Navy.

Mark: What they should say is we’re the men who should be in a zoo.

John: Exactly. Afterwards, yeah. So I looked into it… I became friends with him, and to the day he’s a good very good friend of mine. Dave Morrison. I’m sure you know him.

And he kind of got me started. So I didn’t think the coaching thing was going the way I wanted, and so I put the package in to get a BUD/S quota.

But I wanted to go to OCS first, cause I’m coaching all these future officers at the Naval Academy, and I’m sitting there going “you know, I’m just as good as these guys. Why not go with the officer route?”

So I used a lot of connections at Navy, and it all worked out. So I got a quota to go to Officer Candidate School with a guarantee to go to BUD/S after getting commissioned. So that’s how that’s how I got in.

Mark: That’s the same exact route that I took. And there weren’t many of us…

John: There was only four.

Mark: They took two my year.

John: There were four Academy guys, four OCS guys, and then I think a smattering of ROTC guys… So, yep.

Mark: Interesting.

John: Yep, that’s it.



Mark: So I wanna… As we get into this a little bit, learn or hear a little bit more about your SEAL experience, cause I know people would be definitely intrigued by that.

But the purpose of this podcast or the focus really is going to be on leadership and in particular pitfalls to leading when you haven’t checked your ego at the door.

And, Bill, you mentioned earlier something that’s really been interesting and I’m sure everyone listening has been observant of the fact that it’s easy to fall when you reach the summit. Let’s talk about some of the bigger fuck-ups that we’ve seen recently.

We were mentioning Theranos. The female that started that. That was a glorious screw-up.

You wonder, like someone’s got so much potential. She’s got all the right stuff, right? She’s highly educated, she’s obviously very smart, she’s obviously a go-getter… And yet such an incredible failure of courage to do the right thing.

Bill: Right, right.

Mark: So give us your perspective. I know you introduce some failures in the book and that’s a good place to start. Why do people fall? What’s the whole underlying problem here?

Bill: Well, certainly we want leaders that are confident. There’s no doubt about it. I mean, the two leaders you don’t want to be is a pig-head – and that’s somebody who’s sort of overconfident, arrogant… That we talked plenty about in the book. But we also don’t want to be led by a weakling.

So that’s the other end of the spectrum. So you got to get the confidence thing in the right proportion.

And John and I have crossed that line. John and I have gotten cocky and met the consequences of cockiness and arrogance. I think what happens typically is that a person gets validation, and validation of how good they are. And how right they are. And how special they are. And over time they come to believe their own marketing material. And people start treating them differently, and they start treating them like they’re special.

So, for example, in a corporate environment – as you progress up the ladder, it’s not uncommon at all for a senior executive to walk into a meeting late. Nobody will challenge that senior executive.

But you walk in late to that meeting, when you’re an underling, and you’re gonna get a cross look from your senior executive. So we give the person who’s been around longer…

Mark: Not only that, but it’s disrespectful to do that.

Bill: Absolutely and yeah they want their time respected, but they don’t respect your time if you’re quote-unquote “subordinate” to them.

And so over time people start treating you special. And then you start believing it. And then you start giving yourself latitude.

It’s interesting I there’s a really good book that I like a lot by Robert Sutton who wrote a book called “The No Asshole Rule.” He’s a Stanford professor and he talks a lot about different research that was done. And one of the research examples that he uses that I think is just brilliant is these researchers were doing research on leadership. And they have two people who are working on puzzles and such. And then a third person is to direct them and then during the course that… Sort of tell them what to do, and how to do the puzzles, and where they need to… Shape them, do it differently and give them direction, and tell them what they need to do.

And then a researcher comes in during the research and has a plate with five cookies on it. Now unbeknownst to the people in the experiment, this is the actual research. And they’re looking to see who takes the most cookies.

And they’ve got a camera – a hidden camera – and what they find is more often than not that the leader would take two cookies. That everybody else would take one cookie, but the leader often felt – maybe subconsciously – entitled to take that second cookie. Sometimes even the third cookie.

But what was really interesting is, that when they reviewed the tapes, more often than not the leader would eat with their mouth open. It’s almost as if when you move into a leadership position and you’re the authority figure, you now have latitude from conventions and rules. Even if they’re unwritten rules that other people are expected to abide by.

So I think that some of this takes over when you move into a leadership position. It’s kind of hard to remain humble. And it takes a lot of discipline – so much about the work that you’ve done at Unbeatable Mind is this idea of self-discipline, right?

It’s why you guys work out every morning. It’s why you keep your core and you keep your allegiance to an oath and a code of honor.

Because it requires that kind of self-discipline as a leader, because of the seductions that leadership comes with.

Mark: What are some of the characteristics of hubris or, like, tells, so to speak that you can see… Perhaps this is an evolving problem or there’s gonna be… Rear up and bite someone in the ass.

Bill: I love the example that one of the guys that we interviewed in the book – his name is Patrick Decker and he runs a company called Xylem – he’s the CEO. And what he says is when somebody gets promoted do they grow? In other words do they get engaged? Do they want to know more about this role? Do they want to talk about the goals? Do they want to soak up as much learning as they can? Do they grow?

Or do they swell? Do they start to make the job about them? Do they start to get preoccupied with how much money they’re making? And how many resources that they have underneath them and what the next rung on the ladder is?

Do they grow or do they swell? I think that that’s sort of one indication. It’s almost like the Napoleon effect. When this person gets a little dose of leadership, does it start to go to their head? And do they start to act more dictatorial? Do they store it start to act more out of self-interest, than in the interest of the team’s mission or the other. John:..?

Mark: I was gonna say, maybe John can respond to this… But you point out a few… I’m not sure what to call these… But “attributes” of swelling. One is rigidity, another’s complacency, incompetence – and I think what you mean there is basically leveraging or resting on your past knowledge, instead of growing. And also intimidation and ingratitude.

Yeah, I’ve seen all those in asshole leaders.

Mark: No I was just gonna say, John, you and I both… Everyone think that all seals walk on water, but that’s not the truth. I’ve seen a lot of hubris in leadership in the teams and the military.

John: I think it’s a natural reaction. I told Bill, and when I my speak it’s a natural reaction of you go through this – it was six months at least when I went through – I don’t know how long it took you. But they continuously tell you… It seems like every ten minutes… This is the hardest military training in the world. Most mentally difficult and physically the hardest. And after a while, once you start seeing your class get smaller and smaller and smaller… And then, all of sudden, you get left with the core that you graduate with. It’s natural to kind of believe that.

And I think that’s what they want when we graduate from BUD/S is… I remember when I graduated, I could run through the wall. I felt like I could do that. And I think that’s the leaders they want in the seals, and in special operations.

But what I saw very early on were just a lot of guys who… It was the Vietnam era… And just a lot of guys with just huge egos and just “do what I tell you, not how I do it.” or “do what I say, not how I do it.”

And so there was that contradiction of leadership. And many a time I go in and try to get a little mentoring, and I’d get thrown out. “Get the fuck out of my office. If I have to tell you that, I’m gonna relieve your ass.” I heard that many a time.

And one of the reasons I never got a really mentor or sea daddy was I just didn’t trust a lot of the guys – senior leaders that I was exposed to – and so…

And that was my observations early on in the teams. I know we’ve done a better job of educating our officers in the professional development. And I think that’s good, but…

Mark: Right. Yeah, they’ve come a long way. I mean, still an issue obviously.

I was actually down at SEAL command a couple weeks ago. Meeting with the incoming commanding officer and also Captain Schoultz, who is a friend of mine. Who runs the human performance program. And there’s this dialogue about bringing mental toughness training.

And they’ve been studying our Unbeatable Mind training. And they really like how we’ve developed practices to cultivate the mindset of the winner and using the breath and visualization and those tools that we use.

But the most interesting part – and the reason I bring this up – most interesting part of the conversation was yeah it’s kind of like Bob and I were pinging off this idea that it’s actually pretty easy to teach someone to be hard and to teach someone to be focused and mentally resilient.

But it’s not so easy to teach someone to have a good character. That takes a… Like that’s a whole different game.

John: Yeah.

Mark: And the fact that they’re having that conversation is really cool, because they recognize that seals need to have the character of honor, courage and commitment. And not just be the toughest and baddest guys who can play whack-a-mole all day long. Because that gets us in trouble.

And we have some seals who have gotten in trouble, because they were tough, but maybe they killed the wrong person. Or they lost their empathy on the battlefield. Or they just were jerks when they were off duty, you know what I mean?

And so that’s an issue. It’s an issue in the corporate America just like in the SEAL teams.

John: I think it’s just my perspective. Especially I saw a lot of it during the war was just we had to come to rely on other people. It wasn’t just all about us. And yeah, you can kick ass… You go in a room, you can kick ass and take no prisoners. But you got to have a logistical tail, you got to have Intel, you’ve got to have all the enablers that allow you to succeed when it’s go time. And that was a hard lesson, and it took many years to kind of come to that realization.

Admiral Olson was a real good advocate of that. It’s like “hey, we have to rely on the conventional side of the Navy. Or the other services. And we have to learn to play well with others.”

There’s always just this natural tendency… I can walk in a room and yeah I’m a SEAL, I can kick your ass. But I got to work with you. And I learned to temper a lot of that.

I think a lot of success I had overseas with some of the deployments I had was just learning to work with people and kind of… Everybody knew I was a SEAL, but I didn’t have to every 10 minutes reinforce the fact that I was a Navy SEAL. And right so I think that’s been probably the best lesson learned that we’ve learned as a community. Is we have to learn to rely on other people.

Mark: Yeah. There’s a lot of talk about seals being the quiet professional, but the reality is we’ve kind of moved away from that.

And there was no real training it was just kind of like just an ideal, you know what I mean? So now I think there’s more of a sense of urgency to cultivate the quiet professional who has these qualities that were talking about. Who kind of can check the ego.

But Bill, I got a question for you… So I’d love to hear from both of you like when hubris bit you in the butt personally. And how you recovered and what that was like…

Bill: Yeah. Well thanks for asking, because what come up for me when the two of you were talking is that sometimes that lesson in humility has to come on its own. Right? Like sometimes you have to go out over your skis and tumble forward and really wipe out and get your ass kicked? And then you get…

It is interesting sometimes that this idea of humiliation is often the entry point of humility and humiliation is almost always going to be the reverberation of an ego that’s gone too far. Hubris, right? It’s like the long arc of the story is when you get into the humiliating event.

For me I’ve had a number of them. I can think of let’s see… I mean, I’ve offended a client right to their face and to the point that I said something that was wildly inappropriate, because I was jousting with him through humor. He had sort of jousted with me. He said something about a speedo – which swimmers and divers hear all the time – and he said it in front of his senior executive team. So I just like leveled him back with a bit of what I thought was humor – but it just went too far, right? And he looked at me shocked and so did his entire executive team.

And I was totally embarrassed. I had another full day of work to do basically on strategic planning, facilitating their strategic plan. But here I had offended the senior guy. Right in front of his own apostles.

Mark: (laughing) pack your bag and go home, Right?

Bill: Yeah. And I’ll tell you, I did very little work with that group after that. And I pride myself on doing a good job. John can tell you that I can be kind of uptight about making sure I get things right for my clients and such. But that one taught me… In fact, I processed it with a mentor of mine, who’s a guy I look up to as a leader. Corporate guy – Heinz Brannon – and I called Heinz and I told him the situation.

And he didn’t try to make me feel good. He said, “Yeah, you do that sometimes, Bill: You take humor a little too far. And there’s some professional settings when you do that and it’s gonna have a consequence, just like it did. You need to bite your tongue. And you need to be more thoughtful, and not so quick to respond.”

And I was in my young 40s, but I didn’t forget that lesson. That stung.

But I can give you a litany of other examples like that. Of where I wiped out. And to be honest with you, a piece of my story is that I’ve been in a 12-step program for 25 years. 25 years, because I had done some things outside of work that had decimated my life. And some of it was about character erosion. And I came to grips and had to confront myself.

I’m like Luke Skywalker, and I had to walk in the cave and Darth Vader takes off the mask and it’s me. And so I had to sort of confront myself.

But that was a pivotal moment. That shift. And what I call it too, Mark, is I call it the “Holy Shift.” When it’s a shift away from selfishness, to start taking an interest in others. The word that you used was “empathy.”

I think that every leader, every person at some point in their life has to have a holy shift. And unless you have that holy shift it’s hard to acquire humility, because it’s hard to acquire an appreciation for the other, and that other person…

Mark: Yes and normally it’s a natural developmental stage that not everyone goes through. I mean, you could you can make your way all the way up to number one honcho leading a country and never make that shift. (laughing) just saying.

Bill: (laughing) you could.

John: What are you trying to say, Mark?

Bill: I agree with what he said. This can happen.

Mark: I mean, generally speaking psychological development is from selfish like completely merged with self. And that’s natural.

I mean the first three four years of your life there’s very little… I mean first 18 months there’s no differentiation between self and other in the child. The child is the mother.

And then it starts to differentiate a little bit, but you’re still merged. And you don’t really get any separate sense of self until you’re five.

And then some people will get stuck there right? And that’s it. So they’re very selfish. But you can still…this is what blows me away. How does that happen? Like how can someone who’s stuck at that first stage of just raw selfishness ascend to these super-high levels of power and position? I mean what’s your perspective on that? Because they’ve certainly been dropping grenades, but the grenades didn’t seem to blow them out. They just kept going.

Bill: I think it’s the confusion… I think that some people want solution to fear and they’ll look for it in what they consider to be quote-unquote the “strongman.” the person who has such a solid sense of forward movement, that they must know what they’re talking about because they’re so confident and I’m willing to follow their confidence and put all my… Push all of my coins in on the table.

Mark: From their worldview, everything is very coherent and consistent. And they’re able to communicate that. So people buy into that and think oh that must be the right way.

Bill: It makes it easy for me to capitulate to it. And say “well, that person’s got a lot more confidence than I do. And they appear to know what they’re talking about. Therefore I’ll cede control of myself to that person.”

And that’s dangerous. And I’ll tell you what… I love leadership books, but I often love the ones that are that are a little bit reverse. Upside-down. Like, there’s a great book by Stanley Milgram. Milgram’s the guy who did the electric studies, where people would administer electric shocks to people – or they thought they were administering electric shocks… He also gave us six degrees of separation. But Milgram wrote a book called “Obedience to Authority” and it was showing how… The banality of evil. Because we can look at a Hitler situation and say “how would that ever happen? And that would never happen to me.”

And then you then you see how easy it is if a person just has a clipboard.

Mark: Is he the one that did the Stanford study?

Bill: No, that was another guy. His last name begins with a “Z”…

Mark: Found that like 33 percent of people will turn the dial up to fatal levels on the electrical shock – just because they’re told to. They will go evil.

Bill: They will go evil. It’s actually two-thirds. It’s 66 percent. They’ll turn the knob up to where it says triple-x, which insinuates that the person is probably gonna die. And the average people… Like people who play the church organ on Sunday, or a woman who works at the library… And they’ll still do it. Just because a person in a lab coat with a clipboard is saying “no, you must proceed with the activity.”

So I love those upside down books. The other tragic example is Jim Jones, right? Like here’s a guy and he actually… This is the other thing, Mark, is that they do some good while they’re doing some bad.

Mark: Sure. I’m sure Jim before he did the mass suicide that was Jonestown right down in Ghana…

Bill: Named after himself.

Mark: Right. I’m sure he was helping a lot of people find meaning right? At least they perceived that.

Bill: He literally opened up like goodwill places where they were feeding the poor and giving them clothes and such. So there was that counterbalancing side. So a lot of times these strongman leaders are getting some results that we find favorable. And we’re willing to overlook other aspects of them because they’re getting quote-unquote “results.” but at what cost? At what wreckage?

Mark: Right. Interesting. And so they either have a big fall and they can learn from that and open their heart to empathy and grow beyond the self to be able to include others. Or they don’t.

Bill: Or I just don’t think that no man gets to be God on earth. I think that I don’t know of an example of somebody… But a modern example of somebody who has such followership, that also has erosion of character – that doesn’t meet with a consequence.

I don’t think that anybody gets to be hubristic and fly to the Sun, and touch the Sun, without a consequence. That all leaders that are hubristic…. I don’t know that a leader gets to die arrogant, never having to face themselves. That’s my own sort of philosophical belief.

Mark: That’s an interesting thought there.

So how about you coach? Do you have a personal example of when you failed to check your ego and you got torched as a result of it?

John: Yeah, it’s chapters five and six in the book. Well, I mean really Bill was very… When we were writing the book he was very kind to allow me to kind of explain my story. And so the quick part was that like anything in the seals… I come out of BUD/S and I’m ready to kick ass. And then you do your platoons and you’re operational and you’re deploying and you’re doing all the good stuff.

And then you hit all the check offs – the system platoon commander, then you get in charge. And you keep progressing those career check offs.

And I thought I did pretty well, and I kept going up the ladder and so my ego kept getting stroked, so to speak, and that if you didn’t do well, they wouldn’t give you a job with more responsibilities.

And so I kept doing that and then eventually the highlight for me was I screened for Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and I got to go. And made it through Green Team…

Mark: Green Team is a six-month training program that you have to go through right? At SEAL Team six?

John: Right, right. And it’s very intense. It’s like BUD/S two. And so I was the OIC of the Green Team class. So that was a big leadership test for me.

And then I got to go into an operational team at DamNeck and work with… Like I say the great privilege is I’ve gotten to work with some really brave and great Americans. So leading them is even more of a privilege. And so I got to do that for a little bit.

And then my next tour was down in Panama when we had a boat unit and a SEAL unit down there. And I was the XO of the boat unit, as a lieutenant.

Which is pretty big, you know. And I thought I did a pretty good job on that. And I thought I was riding high. And it met all the check-offs for promotion to Lieutenant Commander and I failed to select the first time.

Which was a total… That was a shot to the nuts, big time…

Mark: Yeah, and again, so the listener knows – failing to select just means you didn’t get promoted.

John: Right, right. Exactly. For some reason. You don’t know…

Mark: But the Navy gives you a second chance and a third chance, right?

John: Yeah. They give you a second chance, but the odds are tough because you get a new group of folks coming up for promotion. So it’s really hard the second time…

And it puts you behind your so-called “peer group,” right? So there’s a little bit of a humility, gut-check with that.

John: Yeah, there’s nothing positive about not promoting. So that’s the best to say it so… I didn’t I didn’t get promoted. I busted my butt and tried to make myself promotable – and I didn’t get selected again the second year.

And so I had to get out. And as I write in the book it’s… The Navy, the teams… You don’t go through Hell week to get kicked out.

Mark: No. It’s crazy to think that you would get through… You would be an elite operator at our Tier one DEVGRU, be successful there, then go be successful as an XO and not get promoted. I mean what was the… Did you find out what the underlying reason was?

John: Well, as one CO told me very early in my career “you’re gonna work for somebody who just doesn’t like you. And it doesn’t matter how you comb your hair or whatever… He just won’t like you.”

And I kind of ran into one guy and… But the problem eventually I think that was the answer, but what I eventually found out when I got out was somebody had messed with my official record, and had changed it to the negative.

Mark: After it’s filed.

John: Yeah. And I didn’t know about it.

Mark: That’s not supposed to happen, right?

John: Yeah. So it became part of my official record. And so whatever’s on your microfiche at that time, goes before the board… And so it just set a negative perception, and probably led to me not being selected.

So once I discovered that error, I had proof that it had been changed and so I petitioned the board of Corrections for naval records. And they removed the old fit-rep. And I probably had grounds for a special promotion board. Which the guy said I probably would have been selected.

But by that time I had been in the reserves, and I got promoted. And then I came back on as a TAR or an FTS, the active reserve side of the house.

Mark: So that means you were back full-time with the seals. But now you were a reserve officer…

John: Yeah so I just wanted to come back on active duty and serve, and so I was good.

Mark: That’s interesting. So what I love about that story, coach, is that you got kicked in the balls pretty hard. And a lot of people would have just left the seals and be like “okay, I guess they don’t want me. What’s next? Maybe I’ll go back to school and I’ll figure out another career.”

But you felt wronged and also that that was your calling. You weren’t done yet, were you? You needed to find your way back on the team and continue your service.

John: Yeah, it was almost from like day one. I readily admit, I got bummed out for about two or three months. And I just wasn’t a happy camper to be around. And I apologize to my parents and my sister, because I went home to live. And I just started drinking and I kind of went into the depths of just really pissed off at the world and myself and everything.

And I felt like a failure. And so…

But I moved down to Knoxville, and kind of started things over again. So I went to school, I start coaching again, but I also got in the reserves… But my goal was to get back on active duty. So I kept just thinking that there was something wrong with my record that I wasn’t catching. And so when I caught that error and some other things, I was able to right the ship, so to speak.

But yeah I planned… My goal became to get back in and serve.

Mark: Yeah and you retired as a captain in ’06. Thank you for your service.

John: Yeah, I can tell you the numbers of people that the Navy allows to come back in. It’s smaller than the BUD/S class graduation.

Mark: Oh, for sure. I know that. I remember a few people and it was tough. Like Chris Lindsey is another good example. Like he came back into the reserves and ended up back full-time with the seals…

John: Extremely difficult.

Mark: He had to commit to eight years in order to retire as a full-time. Did you retire as an active SEAL? I know this is detail that nobody else would know or care – but did you retire as an active or reserve?

John: Yeah so I had 13 and a half years when I got out. And I was able to do 17 more when I came back in. So I retired with 31 years four months.

Mark: That’s amazing.



Mark: So one of the things that I enjoyed about our conversation with regard to the book – not today’s conversation, although I’m enjoying this as well, of course.

But we talked about humility as a practice and that was kind of my perspective. Is that we got to actually do things to cultivate humility. What do you guys think are some of the best ways to get humble? Besides just having one of these big fuck-ups like we’ve about so far. Or life happening to us and setting us straight.

Besides that, is there a way that we can…? Or what are some of the ways that we can cultivate humility to check our ego and to really open ourselves up?

I’ve got my ideas, obviously – but I’d love to hear from you… Both of you and what your thoughts are on ways that we keep…

Bill: In a corporate environment or in an organizational setting – and I imagine this probably is true of the military too – there’s formal mechanisms for asking for feedback about your leadership. And some of those are anonymous. So to seek feedback anonymously driven because you…

Mark: You mean like in a 360-degree…?

Bill: Exactly. A 360-degree feedback review. You’ve got your own perception about how you’re showing up as a leader.

But you’re not the one that really matters. What matters is the people that you’re leading. How do they perceive you? And how do your peers perceive you? And how does your boss perceive you?

They’re gonna give you a lot of rich feedback about your leadership self. And once you see that there’s a gap between how you’re perceiving yourself, and how others are perceiving you, then you can sort of decide what are the actions I need to take to be the leader I’d like to be led by? Am I a leader that is worthy of being led by? Am I the leader that I’d want to have as my leader?

And then, in terms of the humility to get there, so much of it has to do with not making it… It’s almost like the first law of leadership. It’s not about the leader. Like, the first law is leadership is it’s not about you leader. It’s about the people you’re leading.

And listening is such a big piece of it. To really attend to – John I’m sure will talk about this idea of walking the deck plates – and you really have to like be among the field, be among the people that you’re leading. I think when you’re in your young ambitious 30s, you just want to hang out with those leaders that you want to become. And you’re not thinking about the team that you’re leading, and paying attention to them. And they’ve got really good ideas.

And then John I’m sure I’ll talk about the check. John make sure you tell him about to check. What do you think – for humility?

John: Well, I thought the best thing I ever did as a leader was when I was in Panama and I learned to push away from my desk, and force myself to go down and… The Navy, as you well know – Friday afternoons are field days. So you clean up the command and then the XO – when I was the XO – normally would walk around the command. Checkout for cleanliness and then let everybody take off for the weekend.

So it was a great opportunity for me to go down and talk with the people. So I never did to clean up I just grabbed the CDO – the command duty officer – I said “make sure it’s clean.” and then I would go off and talk to my people. And I really tried to learn about them. And where they came from. Their families and stuff like that.

And then the second thing I did was I’m horrible on names. And so I made it a point to learn everybody’s name in my command. And there was like 200 people, which is big for a SEAL command. Because you normally deal with 14 or 20 or 40 was the max before that.

And so we had a change of command, or a change of uniform and I had a personnel inspection. And I went down and I picked the date so that I had max attendance. When none of the boat detachments or anybody was deployed. And most of the command was in town.

And I went up and I shook everybody’s hand. I looked them in the eye, and I called them by the first name. Which is highly unusual for a senior officer to do that.

And I was making it through. I was doing a really good job, and I was making it through and about 3/4 the way through, I walked up to this guy and I was looking at the periphery of my eye as I was going down to kind of prep myself as I’m talking to somebody. “Who’s this guy?” okay, and I’d remember his name.

And then I kept seeing this guy and I said “I don’t know this guy’s name. I don’t know his name.” and I got up there and I’m shaking his hand and I’m just looking at him, I said, “how you doing?”

And we’re like looking at each other and he goes, “you don’t know my name, sir.”

And I go, “nope. I sure don’t.”

And everybody in ranks was laughing and stuff. And he says “Well, that’s okay XO, because I probably haven’t been in your office for being in trouble.”

And I said “well that’s true.”

And so I apologize and then I moved on. And it was the only name I didn’t remember. And it turned out that this guy ended up being my sailor of the year six months later. Yeah, so how ironic is that, that I don’t remember the name of my best performing boat driver. But I think that’s the big thing I did.

And the other thing I think what’s great about the Navy – especially as you go up – is the leadership triad – the CO, XO, Master Chief, senior enlisted. And I think that’s a great check when used appropriately. Especially for the old man – the CO – that you close the door. You sit down and you talk about command business. And the XO kind of gives you this opinion and the senior enlisted – he’s the senior guy, so he kind of knows what the troops are thinking and the sailors, and he’ll give you his perspective.

And you come out with a unified front. And then you open the door, and you walk around, and everybody’s talking off the same sheet of music. And I think that sends a great message to command that everybody is talking the same message.

Because I have been at commands – and I’m sure you have – where the CO says something and the Master Chief is saying something else and the XO is like “God Almighty.”

And it’s not a healthy environment.

Mark: No, that can go south real quick.

John: That’s the two things.

Mark: Clarity of mission is so critical and humility plays into that, because you have to be humble to go ask… To be present enough to listen and to take perspective of these key people, who’ve got different perspectives than you. And then to integrate it. And then, like you said, to ensure the consistent drumbeat of vision, values and mission.

John: Well I think what I found out was… Especially down in panama was I started hearing him from the deck plates that leadership at this command doesn’t know what’s going on. And I used to say that at the team’s – I remember when I was a JO would be like, “the front office doesn’t know what’s going on. They never leave their office…”

Mark: We used to say “a bitching frogmen is a happy frogman.”

John: Exactly. And you never saw this very rarely you see the CO walk around especially not the XO because he’s just… His inbox is just keeping him chained to his seat. And then the Master Chief would walk around.

But in reality, you never really saw those guys walk around too much. And I started hearing that and I said “well, I’m part of leadership.”

And I tried to make it a point – you’re right it’s hard to go down, turn off your hubris or your “I’m the leader,” and listen to people bitch. And tell you what’s wrong. And then, “yep, you’re right. And I got to go back and change it.” And that’s very, very difficult, so…

Mark: What I love that I’m hearing is most people think “to be a good leader I’ve gotta…” there’s all these strategy and tactics and they’re quite… That can be quite complex. The human mind loves complexity.

But the reality is, it’s fairly simple right? Like, remember someone’s name. That’s nice, right? And deal with them directly. Look them in the eye. Ask their opinion. Get off your butt and walk around and actually be interested in what’s going on in your organization.

Don’t play at it. It’s not management by walking around where you’re just trying to be seen. I mean, you’ve got to be genuinely interested, right? It’s not a technique.

Bill: And thank people. Just show an expression of courtesy and gratitude, because they’re the ones who are gonna make you successful.

So you’re right – it’s the small courtesies and we’re asking them to do the things that your Sunday School… You should have learned this stuff, but forget it along the way.

Mark: (laughing) That’s the title of your next book. They should teach this in Sunday school.

Bill: Leadership by Sunday school ethos.

Mark: That’s awesome. Well, we’ve been going for a while now. Let me wrap this up. Is there like a singular… Like what would be your best advice for someone who’s like “you know what? This has been a really interesting show, because I see now that I have some of that some of these qualities, or some of those warning signs in me. I mean what would you say if you’re working with a new client? Or you met someone who said “coach, help me be a better leader.”

John: I’ll let bill answer. As I’ve learned co-authoring, Bill always has the first answer.

Mark: Okay, we’ll start with Bill: So a new client comes in and wants some mentoring…

John: There’s my lesson learned right there.

Bill: I guess I would say, if it was a senior executive, they realize that they had gotten some feedback that they’re on the arrogant side. That their ego walks into the room thirty minutes before they do.

I would tell somebody who thinks there’s somebody to go do something where they can be a nobody. Meaning to get involved with a… I mean, go and serve food to homeless people. And if that’s beneath you then go and volunteer your time for the boys clubs and the girl clubs. Sit on a board of directors. Volunteer. Do something that’s outside of yourself, but a place where you can be not so special. Where you could just be a regular nobody like everybody else. Instead of always having to be a somebody. That would be… When you’re in the act of service, it’s hard to be concerned with your own self-interest.

And it forces you to be interested in others. And as you do that, you recognize the value of the dignity of the person in front of you.

Mark: Yeah. I love that and I totally agree. In fact, that was one of the reasons that I recently took up Aikido. I have studied Aikido in the past – I’m a life-time martial artist. I got two different black belts and I was one of the SCARS instructors or hand-to-hand combat instructors in the seals.

So I know what I’m doing, right? But everyone needs a teacher, and to be continuously learning. And I realized that I had kind of stopped learning. And so I’m a white belt again

Bill: Nice.

Mark: And to your point, it’s been such a humbling experience to just throw my white belt on and just be a new student. And empty my cup.

So be a white belt again. That’s the message, right?

Bill: That’s great.

Mark: How about you coach?

John: I think what I tell people is if you’re in a leadership position, just realize that you don’t know everything and everybody’s replaceable. Whether the president… Sometimes a president… Vice president is there… In the military, if something happens to the commander, the XO can step in. Or they’ll have somebody else… So everybody’s replaceable.

But I think the big thing… And I think we did it really well in the seals was when you’re in charge, you couldn’t do everything. And so you let people take the lead on stuff. Like a junior Petty Officer, go build a rubber duck – one of the things you push out the back. I mean you’re on the hook, because you sign for all that gear but here you got a E4, E5 who’s gonna build that parachute, and build that whole set up. And that’s a lot of responsibility.

And so when you put that trust in people then they respond positively towards you as a leader. So I think it’s…

Mark: Coach, people are gonna think that we played with rubber ducks on the SEAL teams.

John: Or a double duck. You can do that one too.

Mark: (laughing) Double rubber duck.

John: Exactly.

Mark: That’s awesome.

All right. So the book is “Leadership Killer: Reclaiming Humility in an Age of Arrogance.” available wherever books are sold. And we know that basically that means Amazon.

And I have a note here from Allison says people can reach you guys at your personal website. So you got

John: Right.

Mark: And Is there anything else that you’d like the listeners to know, bill or coach, about if they wanted to reach out or learn more?

Bill: Sure. They can find the book at “leadershipkiller.” If they just sort of drop the “the” because the title is “The Leadership Killer.” but if they go to, they can find a lot about the book. Including I believe there’s a sample chapter out there as well.

Mark: Perfect. Excellent. All righty. And you two going to do some more collaboration? Or what’s next?

John: We’ve got a few events coming up here next month.

Bill: Yeah. A top secret one that’s coming up. I’m looking forward to. Yeah. Actually, we’ve got two.

Mark: Do you wanna give us a little insight into it?

Bill: I will say that it’s a secret group. It’s a couple of hundred people that we’re not at liberty to share. But it’ll be a group of upwards of 500 people.

And then in May, we are speaking at a conference for the Association for Talent Development, which is a large sort of organizational development professional association. And we’re speaking in DC at that one.

Mark: Nice.

Bill: But it’s great to be working with John again. And it’s fun for me to get to meet people like you and Randy and other seals. It’s great fun and thanks for having John and I on today.

Mark: It’s been my pleasure. It’s been a great conversation. So appreciate it, and keep up the great work.

John: Thanks, Mark: Appreciate it.

Mark: All right, coach. We’ll see you around. And Bill thanks for your time.

Bill: Take care.

Mark: Bye-bye now.

All right folks. Thanks so much for listening. That was Coach John Havlik and Bill Treasurer. Authors of “The Leadership Killer.” check out the book and yeah… That whole idea of overcoming hubris. You know, I look at it as a daily practice.

How can we cultivate humility, empty our cup, check our ego at the door…? Whatever metaphor we want to use here. The idea is basically just evolve yourself to get out of your own head and into your heart. And to be a better person. That means you can take greater perspective, you can connect with people at their level… everybody. Not just the important people.

This is the outcome of our Unbeatable Mind training. Five mountain development – physical, mental, emotional, intuitional and Kokoro heart/mind. As you evolve yourself along those five mountains you will integrate. You will become more whole. And you essentially will be practicing humility.

I mean every time I sit down on the meditation bench every morning, it’s a humble check. It really is profound how difficult it is to do that work every day – both from a discipline standpoint and also just from clearing the mind and really going deep. It’s very humbling.

So that’s one of the best ways, I think, to check your ego and to develop humility is to have a daily practice of meditation. So Unbeatable Mind is powerful practice and a powerful program. So if you haven’t checked it out, please check it out. And that’s my last plug of the day. I’m out of here. You guys train hard, stay focused and thanks for your support. See you next time.


Join the discussion One Comment

  • Nancy Laine says:

    Thanks Mark Divine! Your Unbeatable Mind podcast deserves a 6 STAR rating, wish it was possible! Very grateful to learn about you and your show. Episode #203 “Leadership Killer with Bill Treasurer and Captain John Havlik” was the first show I heard. (Loved it, such GREAT GUYS!) And now I’m HOOKED. Unbeatable Mind has moved to the top of my list. Such an abundance of fascinating, critical info. I’ve already learned things I suspect may save my LIFE.

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