“If you want courage and you want to mobilize a team for courageous action, you have to be real – Mark Divine
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In this solo episode, Mark talks about the importance of courage in both the military and in business. You need to understand the place for courage as the relentless attention to detail and how you can make fear work for you.
- Courage involves training and preparation, rather than just diving in.
- The opposite of fear is actually hubris, so fear can be a good thing.
- You need to understand what you can and can’t control in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) environment
Listen to this episode to learn how to be courageous in understanding and following your mission.
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Hi folks, this is Mark Divine. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. So stoked you could join me today. I will not waste your time. We will get right into it, because today is a solocast. So, if you don’t like solocasts, well, I guess you can shut this off or flip to your next favorite podcast.
But if you do like solocasts, today we’re going to talk about courage. Courage. Feed the courage wolf.
Going to tell a story first.
It was October, 1993 and the Rangers were pinned down in Mogadishu. Nobody saw it coming. We were working with this warlord, Aideed and Aideed was corrupt just like everyone else.
And that city was armed up. Every so -called “Citizen” was armed up, had a weapon and was ready to use it. And a good percentage of them were kids. Sad to say.
So, the Rangers go out on their routine mission, and the next thing they start taking fire. And that fire – like moths to the flame – attracts other booger-eaters with guns. And then next thing you know they’re taking more fire. And now Rangers are getting hit and they’re going down.
You may recall the movie “Black Hawk Down.” This is the incident that spurred the Blackhawk to go in to try to provide air support and one of them was shot down. And one of the pilots was really treated very, very nastily.
At any rate. We won’t go there. That’s a different story.
So, the Rangers are pinned down. And I’m going to tell you a part of the story that you probably don’t know. The quick reaction force was a Pakistani UN Force. And they were at the compound with the Special operations – which were primarily Rangers. And then there a was a very small contingent of tier one special operators to include then Commander Olson, who was a Navy SEAL. Two other SEALs and one Delta Force guy.
And so, the Rangers are taking heavies… They’re getting pinned down. They’ve got some casualties, and every single gun in the city is running toward the sound of gunfire. And it’s getting really nasty out there.
so nasty that the Rangers call for the Quick Reaction Force. And the leader of the Pakistani force – no discredit to the Pakistanis – decided that it was too risky. Too risky. to take his men out there.
And guess what? They had armored cars – they had armored personnel carriers or APCs. And so, they would have been protected from the worst of the small-arms fire. But, of course, exposed to rocket fire. Which the so-called enemy had.
So, the Pakistanis – in that moment of choice- failed in the courage department. They lacked courage. They were frozen, unable to act. Unable to do their job.
Well, Commander or maybe it was Captain Olson – I have to check my records to see if he was a O6 captain or O5 Commander at the time. Maybe someone listening knows.
Captain Olson grabs his other 3 operators and in a very public manner they tell the Pakistanis, “Well, if not you then someone’s got to do it. So, we’ll lead the way.”
And they jocked-up, quickly walked to the front gate, opened it and began to walk toward the sound of the gunfire. Walked toward the center of the city where the battle was raging.
Now that took courage.
And, of course, the Pakistanis when they saw that these Americans without armor – just 4 special operators – were going to walk into this gunfire. Walk into this hail-storm of lead. They just couldn’t deal with the shame that that would have brought on them. And so, they got into their armored personnel carriers and followed.
And that Quick Reaction Force then fought their way in, and helped the Rangers fight their way out. It’s a fascinating story. Likely classified to this day, but you heard it here… I hope it’s not classified. SWAT team will descend upon me at any moment here.
Consequences and Courage
At any rate, it’s such a great story. There’s no secrets there. The only secret is in the heart of the individual in their moment of choice. When they have an opportunity or a responsibility or just the option of taking the courageous action. The action that involved or requires risk. Risk to their personal well-being. And in the case of the warrior in combat is risk to life and limb.
But for most listening, it’s risk to your reputation… just risk of doing something that is completely new to you, or that you’re terrified of failure. Or you’re terrified of success. Or you’re just terrified to do.
So, there’s going to be risk.
And it’s a moment of choice where you have to ask yourself “What’s my stand? What do I stand for? Why does this need to get done? Why do I need to do it? Why am I being called to do this thing?”
“And what are the consequences of failure? And am I okay with that? Is my stand strong enough? Am I willing to stand my ground to take this action? What are the consequences to myself, my team, my organization and to others if I don’t take this action?”
Remember one of my favorite quotes from Admiral Olson, when he was leading all of Special Operations, as a 4-star Admiral, SEAL – was “What you do and what you tolerate in your presence best demonstrates your standards.”
And so, if you have a standard where you’re going to be clear about what the mission is, what needs to be done. And you’ve got a specific notion of how and you’ve trained for this mission so you know how, or what specific actions you can take to move toward success. You don’t have to have the entire picture clear. You just need to know what direction do I need to move to lead me to success.
So that I can mobilize my own energy to take that step. As well as the energy of my team. Because if you’re directionless, you’re going to be wandering around going, “I don’t know where to go or what to do.” If you’re clear ab9out your mission, then at least you know what initial action you can take to move toward success. And that action will lead to either an immediate lesson learned, or some success. or some failure, and you will fail your way forward.
And then, because of that vision and clarity on your mission and the values that you’ve upheld or basically have taken as a standard in your team or with your team – you know why this needs to be done, and why you’re the ones that need to do it – or you are the one that needs to do it.
And you’re clear about what the consequences of failure are. And you’re willing to accept those consequences.
So, what you do and what you tolerate in your presence demonstrates your standards. Now what I love about that also is the second part about what you tolerate in your presence. So what Olson was saying is, “I’m not going to tolerate non-action on the part of the Quick Reaction Force. So, I’m going to become the Quick Reaction Force.”
If not them then who? And the answer was “me.” And of course, “my team.’
But you know, in those situations his team could have bowed out. His 3-person team.
But there’s no way that they would. Because Olson was leading by example. He took a stand. And he was a leader who had mobilized his team with great clarity, with rigorous training, with tons of courage. And so, they were giving it back to him. That was the gift that he gave them, and so they were offering it in return. And all of this in service to something higher. And in their case, that something higher was serving the needs or the mission that their country had asked them to take on.
Heart and age
now courage – the word courage – comes from heart “coeur” is a French word that means heart. You could think of that as the heart of the matter, or actually one’s heart/mind being engaged in action. Now when you rationalize something analytically, there’s no way in heck many things that we do as human beings make sense. They just aren’t rational.
But when you apply your heart to the decision making – that “coeur” – suddenly it becomes necessary. Because it’s part of your stand. It’s who you are.
So, when you combine coeur – your heart with action, now you’re talking about courage.
The other part I love about that word – and this is just my ad hoc looking at that… is that “age” is in the word. So, you have “coeur” which is heart and “age.”
And I think that speaks to where we are right now. We’re in the age of heart. The age of requiring heart-action, instead of just head-action. And that means we need courage.
So, we need to develop courage, we need to act with courage. And we need to look at it like a skill. And not just as something some remarkable person has… like, you could look at Olson and say, “well, he was a remarkable person. He was a Navy SEAL, he was a Navy SEAL Captain. He’d been at that time probably 20 some-odd years in the force. He’d served at SEAL team 6. He was a rock star.
And so, he was different than me.” And I’m willing to bet that Mr. Olson would say, “Not so. I and you are the same at our core. It’s just that I have developed my capacity for heart-felt action in alignment with my mission so I can stand my ground when called upon in those moments of choice.”
And everybody starts with that same raw material. You, me, Olson… we all start with that same raw material. Question is, what do you do about it?
So, if you spend 20 or 30 years avoiding courageous action… avoiding connecting with your heart and risking things. Risking reputation, risking some loss. Then essentially what you’re doing is weakening yourself. Because you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not taking risk.
And risk is one of the key attributes of developing and honing courageous action. And the willpower of courage.
Now risk tolerance is something that is trained as well as managed. In the SEALs, we were taught to take risks. But at the same time, we were also taught to manage that risk. we weren’t foolish with it. This was not reckless at all.
And so, part of it was a mindset. That mindset of courage.
And then the other part was how do you apply courage in your action? And so, when we took a mission that was a high-risk mission, we weren’t just a bunch of yahoos jumping out of an airplane into the ocean and hoping to find the submarine to link up with. We had the plan dialed. And we had the contingencies… and we had contingencies for contingencies. And we mitigated our risk at every step of the way.
And that meant we needed to examine where the failure points were that could lead to total mission failure or death. And then spend an enormous amount of time refining our skills in those areas, so that we had redundancy, and we had effortless perfection with the basic movement task, horizontal skills and the things that you just have to do in order to succeed. Through those critical nodes, or those failure points.
So, on a SEAL mission, those failure points are 1) being able to operate your weapon under pressure. Think about that. If you’re going to be able to cycle through a high rate of fire with an M60, or modern version of the M4… Whatever weapons that we’re using these days…
You need to know how to do that, and change a magazine, and clear a jam and move between primary and secondary weapon. You have to train that. Crawl, walk, run. and 10,000 times. So, you can do it with effortless perfection and mindfulness, but mindlessness. Meaning you’re not thinking, you’re just acting.
And then when the team trains these things together, the team variant of that would be that everyone has mastered the art of shooting and moving… and now shooting and moving and communicating as a team becomes a standard operating procedure that we train over and over and over.
And so those 4 SEALs walking into Mogadishu… they’re not going to just walk in there and get shot. They’re going to shoot, move and communicate. And they’re going to do so with thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of practice. Against an enemy that barely knows how to shoot a gun. Who’s just lobbing bullets randomly.
You can see why a small number of Special Operators can dominate a battlefield really quickly. They’re able to control time in a sense of slowing things down. And shoot, move and communicate with effectiveness and with just dazzling accuracy compared to people who are the enemy – so to speak. Who are just not that trained. Hadn’t had the luxury, let’s say to train for thousands and thousands of hours. And so, they’re really just winging it – so to speak.
So that type of training really develops tremendous risk-tolerance, because it’s managed risk and it’s trained risk. The training is relentless, and you train to failure.
Now you might be thinking, “Well, I’m not a SEAL. I’m business owner. And entrepreneur.” Or, “I lead a large organization.” Or, “I’m a student.”
And you can apply this. So, what are those things that are the most important things where if you fail at that, you fail at everything. When I think about leading a team in a corporate organization, the fail at this, fail at anything applies to my ability to develop a trusting relationship with my team.
So, I practice that. And my ability to take courageous action in a VUCA world, I gotta practice that. Those are critical fail points.
My ability to rapid prototype and get minimal, viable products out there… I gotta practice that. That’s a critical node. And fast.
my ability to understand the basic numbers that move the dial for the business, that’s been a challenge for me. And learning that and then practicing that until you can just by a quick glance tell whether your business is heading in the right direction, or what the issue is under the hood.
And when you’re trying to cultivate a team, communication. Communication is more than just sending massive amounts of emails out. In fact, that’s poor communication. The type of communication I’m talking about here is really high-quality communication where you take responsibility for how things land as well as for how it’s said. communication where you’re consistently conveying the important things, and letting the unimportant things not be said, or be figured out by time or the team in the field.
so that means, as a leader, you’re constantly communicating vision. You’re constantly communicating your stand – and this is the words, through your action, how you carry yourself. Constantly communicating the boundaries and the rules for autonomous behavior for those closest to the sound of gunfire.
Those are the critical nodes. And we take a close look at those… we examine the things that need to be done to improve them. And then we’re relentless with our training to do those, and we never stop.
Another thing that helps develop courage is getting real. And so, this term realism is one way to look at that. so realistic training… we had this saying in the SEAL teams, “train like you fight.” Think about how you can do that in your organization or in your life. How do you train like you’d fight?
What is it that you’re uniquely qualified or good at? How can you train it and do more and more and more of it? You can conside4r training to be practicing or just doing more of. For me, it’s more writing, more podcasting, more speaking engagements, more communication with my team. Those types of things. The things that I need to get good at.
So that’s one way to look at it. Realism is train like you fight. The more you bleed in peace, the less you bleed in war. Get real.
The other piece of realism is to take of the “-ism” part and just look at “real.” Get real. What does it mean to get real?
And I think real and authentic are synonymous. Real to me means if you want courage and you want to mobilize a team for courageous action, you have to be real. You have to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. You have to be honest about your fear.
Everybody experiences fear, thought a lot of fear is false evidence appearing real, or a false expectation that appears real.
So, we have to get real with what’s real fear and what’s fake fear. And when it is real fear, we have to get real about that and be like, “Yeah, I’m scared.”
and Guess what? That’s okay. Cause that’s human. But it doesn’t paralyze you. And you use the tools that we teach in Unbeatable Mind to control that fear. The Big 4 skills. And to move toward the courageous action one step at a time.
So, getting real, being real… a real person. Heart-felt courage. The age of courage… that helps us. consider the warrior ethos of one day, one lifetime. If today is possibly your last day, then you’re going to get real, real quick.
And to be fair, for all of us, it could be. I’m not suggesting it will be, I’m just saying what a great mindset. To wake up every day as if it’s your last. You can bet that was Olson’s mindset when he was walking into Mogadishu in 1993.
Now I’ve had ample time in my life to fail with courage and to practice courage. I won’t go into those stories here, but I do want to tell about a company that I think… and a bunch of individuals I think are very courageous.
And that’s the team at SpaceX. And I’m heading up to SpaceX in May to address the engineers who are sending up their first manned spaceflight.
And it’s super-meaningful to me, because I had a brief moment in my life where I was intrigued by the astronaut program and I had met Navy SEAL commander William Shepherd, who was a Navy SEAL astronaut. We now have 3. Bill, I think is retired, but there’s Cassidy and then there’s another young SEAL who went out to medical school and now is in the space force, NASA.
At any rate, I thought for about 9 months… investigated from the SEALs into applying for the astronaut program. And I talk about this in my next book. It’s something that ended up just being the wrong target for me at that point in my life. I waited too long, and I wasn’t prepared for it academically.
So, at any rate – didn’t end my interest in space and science and futurism. I’m fascinated with it, and I’ve been following Elon Musk’s entrepreneurial ventures for a while. Hard to miss them in the past couple of years, because he’s all over the news. But very interesting guy.
And courageous, courageous individual as an entrepreneur. He’s funded SpaceX in the beginning with all of his own capital. And they’ve got other investors who are equally courageous. Who believed in the vision.
Here’s an individual – one of a few civilians who literally had the vision to go head to head against the governments of the world to create a private, commercial company that could send human beings into space. And then eventually to colonize Mars.
and he’s doing it.
And this company has really applied Special Operations mindset to their work. Fail forward fast. OODA loop learning. Everything they do is an iterative process. Let’s try something new. That’s never been done.
And then we expect something like 50% success rate or something. I don’t know what their success rate parameters are, but they certainly don’t expect to succeed with everything.
And so, they try. And then they apply the OODA loop. They observe what happens, they orient to it, they make a new decision, they take an action. And then they loop their way. So, their OODA loop has gotten tight. I remember when the first few rockets went up, there were intermittent failures. And, of course, the media was just slaying them.
And they just kept front-sight focus on the next test, and the next test, and the next test. And now they’re sending their BFR rocket… you know what BFR stands for? “Big F-ing Rocket.” I think finally renaming it.
That’s pretty cool.
And you can bet that with their astronaut training, that they’re real – both in the realism of their simulation training. The realism of all their preparation. They’re probably even more rigid and getting more done than NASA because of all the bureaucratic requirements that NASA has and the extra-curricular stuff that they put upon their astronauts.
Whereas these astronauts that NASA has are some of the best test pilots in the world, and they’re just able to radically focus on preparation for their next mission. They know it’s high-risk, but the risk is managed. And they’re willing to go after it, and to tolerate that risk because of their stand. And their stand is essentially – not in their words, but in mine – that the human race needs to look beyond planet Earth. And needs to be a multi-planetary species. That’s pretty interesting and pretty cool.
They’re relentless in this vision, and their mission. And so that’s given the whole team this mindset of courage, heart-felt action in support of the leader, the leadership. In support of the mission and in support of each other. Heart plus action. And their vision could change the course of humanity.
And that’s why they’re so motivated to show up every day and to do the work. To do today what others won’t so that they can do tomorrow what humanity can’t.
So, their first manned flight is coming up in May or June. So, I have to think about what can this Navy SEAL say to mobilize or to help the engineers deal with their own fear. Because it’s one thing to send a hunk of metal up into space, or to send an old Tesla.
It’s a whole ‘nother thing to send another human being – a teammate – into parts unknown at great risk. It’s going to take courage for those engineers to do that.
Just like it’s going to take courage for the astronauts. But I tell you what, the astronauts, they train for that. They’ve done that their whole life, from their very first test flight all the way up to this. They understand the risk and they’re fully able to accept it. So, I don’t need to speak to the test pilots. They get what I’m saying. They understand courage.
But engineers, they haven’t been up in the stratosphere. And they haven’t flown jets at Mach 5. And they care, so there’s a little bit of fear.
And that’s good. I would be worried if they didn’t have fear. I’d be worried for them because the opposite side of fear is hubris, right? And hubris is what gets people killed. Fear is what leads to training. Reaching out to help develop the mindset of courage. Relentless focus on the details. Relentless look at the critical nodes and training redundancies. And knowing where you stand and being willing to stand up and take a stand for what you think is right.
So, I think these engineers know it’s not about them. This is about the future of humanity, it’s about their teammates. It’s about their company. It’s about Elon. And it’s about people like you and me who are rooting for this to succeed.
That’s quite a responsibility. So, I’m going to talk to them about some of these things, and about making sure that they only really take responsibility for what’s theirs to control. And to manage the process with that relentless attention to detail, but also a flexible mind so that they can open up their whole mind to be able to act instinctively, intuitively from their heart. Letting go of what they can’t control because trying to hold onto or manipulate or manage what you can’t control in a VUCA environment will paralyze you with more fear. Because you can’t control it.
What you can control is your domain. Your internal domain and those things that you have mastered. So that you can perform with effortless perfection.
At any rate, I will report back on that. I’m excited about that event, and I applaud the SpaceX team and I appreciate their invitation.
Okay, folks, that’s it on courage. I’m going to do more of these. I think the next one I’ve got, we’ll be talking about trust. And then I think I’m going to be talking about potential and performance, so stand by and appreciate your time, and appreciate your courage. So, practice it.
This is the age of courage. Let’s do this.
See you next time.