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Building trust in your team

By March 6, 2019 March 27th, 2019 No Comments

“Everyone knows that a role or a position – even an elected position – is a temporary thing.”- Mark Divine

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For an elite team to function properly, the leader needs to be able to earn the trust of his team. Commander Divine discusses trust – how to earn and give it in your team.

Learn how:

  • An example of turning a major mistake into more trust for yourself through being forthright, taking responsibility, and then acting on those lessons to improve the risk situations.
  • Humility is the hallmark trait of a good leader

Listen to this episode to get a better understanding of trust in teams and the importance for success

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Hey folks, this is Mark Divine. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Super stoked you could join me today. Thank you for your time.

Today I have another solo cast for you. And the title of this is trust, trust. How do we develop trust on a team?

Before I get started, let me remind you that it really helps to rate the podcast if you like what we’re doing here and the themes of forging an unbeatable mind and cultivating an elite team and living as a world-centric warrior leader and integrated development. Man, it’s a great playground for me, because I can cover a lot of territory with those topics. Well, if you like what we’re doing and you want other people to find it so, there’s others who are living the Unbeatable Mind lifestyle, then please rate the podcast.

ITunes is probably the most obvious place to rate it, so, go to iTunes and just click on that five stars if you like what we’re doing. And we’re also available on Stitcher and SoundCloud and our website and I have a new website and I’ll be launching my personal blog again soon.



Like I said, today I do not have a guest. My guest is myself. So, hopefully I will be an interesting guest and this will be information that will serve you well. And why I want to talk about trust is because it’s near and dear to my heart. I mean, one of the things that I learned in the SEAL teams was how much trust was critical to the functioning of an elite team. One particular story stands out my SEAL team, three commanding officer – some of you’ve heard me say is admiral – or then commander McRaven – who later became admiral McRaven and in charge of all special operations.

And the man that I largely credit as the leader of the team that ultimately nailed bin Laden. when I see my SEAL teammates out there saying that they got bin Laden or they shot bin Laden, that’s great. I’m happy that you pulled the trigger and that a round came out and, it flew through the air and hit its target. Frankly, that is easy-peasy compared to what McRaven did – which was for over a nine year period – keep the pressure on an extended team who were hunting him after everyone basically gave up and thought he was dead or died – died in the Tora Bora caves or died of kidney failure. And McRaven didn’t believe it. And he ended up literally organizing the mission, that nailed bin Laden. So, this guy is a really, really smart guy. And he was my commanding officer and a great mentor to me, especially when I screwed up, which is a story I don’t tell very often and I’m not going to tell here, but I’ll tell it in my next book.

he really held me accountable and then, basically, was part of that story. At any rate – I know you’re like, “tell us that one Mark.” Nope. Some other time.

But I want to tell about a time that McRaven screwed up. And as a result of that, he could have destroyed the trust that the team had in him, because he was fairly new to SEAL team three. It was in the first, I think six months or so, of his tenure there. And he came in with a reputation that people were not sure because he had gotten into a little falling out with Dick Marcinko who was commanding officer of SEAL team six and, Dick Marcinko didn’t think his leadership style was right for the, that type of energy or atmosphere at SEAL team six.

And so, then I think Lieutenant Commander McRaven was sent away and off to Monterrey. Now Monterrey is naval postgraduate school where a lot of SEALs get a master’s degree in special operations and low intensity conflict. How cool would that be? wouldn’t most of you love to get a master’s degree in special ops and low intensity conflict? Well, you’d have to join the military to do that. I’m sure there’s a few civilians who have done that. But you gotta be part of the system.

At any rate, what’s cool about Mr. McRaven is he, while he was there, he really, really leveraged his time to the hilt. And he wrote a book called “The Theory of Spec Ops,” which is basically required reading for anyone in special operations. In “The Theory of Spec Ops,” he looked at all successful special operations missions. Not all, but the most successful ones all the way back to World War II ops, like Antibes and the Germans storming using gliders. Enemy territory that was like on an island, sort of crazy, intensely complicated exercises and a bunch of others.

And he came up with a bunch of principles, such as stealth speed, surprise, secrecy, stuff like that. And he wrote this book. It’s a fantastic book. It’s even got pictures in it so, people like me can read it.

At any rate, I digress. Mr. McRaven, back when I knew him was a commander. So, he had, roughly 20 years or so, in service, maybe a little less. And he had just… was new to SEAL team three and I was there for a long time and I was kind of finishing up my second deployment when I, when he came on board to relieve commander McTighe. At any rate, there was SEAL team three Alpha platoon was doing their operational readiness exam and they were taking boats up to Morro Bay, the ribs and they were going to do an over the beach.

Um, and then tactical, recon and then an assault. And the whole thing was a complicated mission. They were using the SWIC boats, the RIBS, rigid hull inflatable boats, which are 30 feet long or so, and very powerful, very fast boats and can hold a squad each of SEALs with the SWIC operators, which included a pilot, navigator and a gunner. Maybe two gunners.

So, at any rate, they’re doing the op and they transit all the way from San Diego up to Morro Bay, which is in central California coast, near San Louis Obispo area, I guess, or Petaluma. Maybe further north. And they got there and the sop for the platoon, the platoon leader was lieutenant and he is sop is to send some swimmers scouts in the swimmer scouts he sent in Were basically going to recon the surf zone and then get onto the beach reconned the beach, make sure it’s clear and then signal the rest of the troops to shore. From where they would continue their mission.

It’s about two, three in the morning. Ironically, not ironically, but it just so, happens that Morro Bay is known for unusually high surf conditions that can arise, even without a storm. But you give stormy conditions and sometimes the surf can just be monstrous there. In fact, I think, some, some big wave surfers are very familiar with some of the surf spots around there.

So, at any rate, the swimmer scouts didn’t even make it through the surf zone. They made it up to the… where the surf was booming and they assess the situation and they were using… when scouts do this type of thing, they use all their senses. And a big part about swimmer scouts is you really can’t see how big these waves are from the outside, right? You can see them rise and basically crest.

But it’s hard to get a gauge on just how high these waves are except for the noise. And the, and the reverberation of the pounding of the surf. Because when the wave crests and then falls to the trough of the wave, right, there is an enormous amount of water that’s collapsing. And the bigger the wave, the bigger the boom and the bigger the reverberation. And you can kind of feel that in the ocean. And then surrounding area there might be echoes. And so, the closer you get to this surf zone, the more cacophony you’re gonna hear, the more of these booming sounds. And the bigger the waves… The bigger the boom, the bigger the waves. And these guys were sensitive enough to know that we’re talking some boomers. So, anyways, they decided wisely not to go through that surf cause they wouldn’t have been able to make it back out.

And they swam back to the boats and they conferred with the lieutenant and they said, “listen lieutenant, this is not safe. We don’t recommend going in right now. And uh, I think we should either wait and if we have enough light when they settle down, we’ll go in. Or if we have enough darkness when they settle down, we’ll go in. otherwise we should scrub the mission to come back another day.”

Well, it just so, happened because this was the readiness exam – that commander McRaven was on the boat. And in normal circumstances, or maybe another leader would have said, “hey, it’s your op, you make the call.” Or they would have even veered more toward risk mitigation and said, “you know what, let’s, let’s go with the swimmer scouts and call off the op, come back another day.”

Well, the lieutenant conferred with the commander and the commander, his recommendation was to go, or at least that was what his preference was. And so, the lieutenant – who didn’t want to contradict that, decided, “okay, let’s go.” And so, they pointed the nose of the boats toward the surf zone and started heading in. Now the only way to get through something like that is to time it perfectly and you got to accelerate up and through the surf. Worst thing that could happen would be for you to basically be caught on the top of the wave as it’s cresting like a teeter totter and have your basically nose pointing now down toward the ocean as the wave crests over. Because what’s going to happen there is you’re going to nose in and the wave’s going to push the bow of the boat over and you’re gonna flip the boat.

And that’s exactly what happened with both boats. The entire SEAL platoon thrown in the ocean, all the SWIC operators thrown in the ocean, all their gear, all their weapons, everything just tossed into the sea to be claimed by King Neptune.

And at that point, of course the training mission was over. And everyone went into crisis management mode to make sure that they could recover everybody. And we didn’t leave any bodies behind and believe it or not, everyone survived. Although there were some close calls, some people unconscious, floating. Life fits holding them up that were quickly recovered. There were some that had their life vest ripped apart who are literally sinking that were recovered. I mean this is just an insane moment.

And everyone including Mr. McRaven was in the water, recovering people, providing medical assistance and basically getting everyone to shore. So, anyways, that’s the backdrop of the story.

A major F-up. Now of course, you know, when that type of thing happens in the military, there’s an investigation and everyone wants to know who screwed up and why it happened. So, you can hold people accountable, but also to learn from the mistakes.

Build Trust


So, this is where Mr. McRaven built trust in a situation that could have really hurt it. Hurt trust and hurt his reputation. And there’s three key aspects of trust that I want to point out in this solocast that are really have to be… They just have to be present for a team to develop trust amongst his teammates and for a leader to develop trust amongst his team or her team. First is transparency and second is relentless follow-through. And the third is humility. There are other aspects of trust we could talk about, but you know when we’re talking about the real glue that holds the team together, those three are really crucial.

Transparency, follow-through and humility. So, this is how it played out. Now a lot of leaders would have basically, hid after a situation like that, be like, “holy cow,” pretended it wasn’t a big deal. Uh, they would have deflected blame, even in a situation like this. McRaven could have played coy and said that he didn’t order the lieutenant to do this, that it was lieutenants call that he was trying to basically just support him, all that kind of stuff.

But he was the senior leader on scene. And so, that wouldn’t have gone very far cause everyone knows that, the junior officer’s going to defer to the senior officer. And regardless of whether or not he did defer to him, a senior officer’s always responsible. So, basically, he took responsibility right away and he said, you know what, I’m responsible for this screw up.

“I made a bad call,” but he went further. Right. He apologized to the men. He apologized to the team for his actions or for his whatever you would call it, not his action, but his decisions. And he committed to learn from this event and to improve the risk management around these types of operations and to also be utterly transparent and truthful with the investigating officer or team.

And he was transparent about all this with the SEAL team. He didn’t hide behind closed doors and he kept everyone apprised and he was very, very genuine and transparent. Right? He did not belittle this. He knew it was a big deal, but also he knew that he could get through it. He had kind of a quiet confidence that this too would pass. And everybody saw that and was they gained trust in him as a result of how he handled this.

Because how the leader handles the extreme situation is going to have an effect on how the team handles it. Cause everyone’s going to kind of cue off of the leader’s energy and the decision. So, that was powerful.

Then wrote about follow-through. Well, he did follow through on his commitments to learn and he didn’t… it wasn’t just like a onto the next thing and forget about it. Right? And so, he took delivered actions to improve risk management protocols and elevated risk management as a key attribute of all the planning cycles that the teams went through and for the rest of his career, he took risk management more seriously at the same time.

At the same time, he didn’t shirk from risk. And he didn’t do anything to diminish the team’s appetite for risk, which is really important because in a VUCA world, leaders and teams must become comfortable taking risks.

Otherwise, there’s really no growth. There’s no way to learn and grow if we don’t risk, if we don’t find our edge and continue to ratchet up our skills, ratchet up our confidence, ratchet up our comfort with being uncomfortable. We’ve got to be able to take risks. And so, any unit or military unit where the leader is afraid of risk because of risk to his life or reputation or career advancement, then the team’s going to basically follow suit and then they’re not going to get the realistic, demanding training that they require. Which is going to basically, help them excel in combat, which is the riskiest of environments that you can imagine. So, he basically said what he was going to do and then he did it. He followed through relentlessly and he didn’t let the situation diminish the team’s capabilities.

In fact, he used the situation to enhance the team’s capabilities and to enhance his own awareness and responsibility to develop his own skills as an operator. Which is awesome.

So, he’s got two positive checks, transparency and follow-through. Now what about humility? Well, one thing I loved about Commander McRaven was that he was a humble guy. He was brilliant… a lot of people gave him a lot of credit. He was a commanding officer of a SEAL team. I mean there’s very few people in the world to who get to do that. He has a lot of power in that regard. But he was a very humble individual and his humility was forged through his screw-ups. Right? I’m sure that when most of you look back at your great successes – you don’t think those are what made you humble – assuming you are – it’s the screw-ups and McRaven was no different. And the higher up that bureaucratic ladder he got, it seems the more humble he got. So, even as a four-star Admiral, right, he was a very humble individual and he was quick to give credit to the team and not take it for himself.

Even, like I mentioned earlier, singularly, probably the most important individual for capturing bin Laden and you haven’t seen Mr. McRaven give a single interview taking credit for that. Because he knows the credit belongs to the operators and the men in the arena. And of course he was in the arena. But he’s got to humility to let other people take credit for better or worse.

When you stop pretending that you’re more perfect, more better, more smarter, more competent than others, that’s when you develop humility. And humility leads to authenticity. Where you are just a real human being, no matter what role you’re in or position, right?

Cause everyone knows that a role or a position or even elected position is a temporary thing. And it’s also built upon a story. And it doesn’t mean that you’re a better human being. If you’re president of United States or commanding officer of a SEAL team or astronaut, on a Space X mission, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are a good human being and you do that job to the best of your ability. And that takes humility, because our society wants to pump up your ego and place you on a pedestal. And that’s easy for us to mistake for being, more perfect, more better, more smarter, more competent. When in reality we are just doing the best we can. So, authenticity and humility are kind of hand in hand. Or hand in glove.

Humility leads to authenticity as well as transparency and to being more open to being wrong. And to be more open to other people’s ideas and perspectives.

I want to contrast this for a moment with the term vulnerability. We hear a lot about vulnerability these days as a quality that leaders need. And I’m here to tell you that no SEAL is going to tell you that they’re vulnerable, because that means they have an opening that an enemy could penetrate.

Now we close our openings, we don’t want to be vulnerable. So, I just think that’s a poor word to use for what I would prefer to call authentic and open, right? When you’re authentic and open, you’ve tapped into that courage like I talked about in that solocast about courage, which is your heart, heart in action. And when you tap into your heart with your actions or through your actions, or before your actions, then it means you’re being open to other people, to other people sharing the load, other people sharing their risk, other people sharing the experience, other people sharing the credit.

You’re open to their ideas and their perspectives. And you’re also open to being wrong. Because no one person has all the answers and not a single individual can solve the complex challenges that we face.

So, I don’t really love the term “vulnerability,” especially as a warrior because I think that essentially it means that we have a weakness that can be exploited. And that’s not the case. Opening your heart is not a vulnerability. Opening your heart is a strength, right? It gives you the strength of pliability, of flexibility, of caring and concern. And that allows you to be a better leader, not vulnerable to your enemies or to your, to the vagaries of the complexity that you’re going to face every day.

Trust and Business


So, I have plenty of experience in situations where I’ve been on trustworthy teams and I’ve developed trust through my own transparency, fall-through and humility.

But I’ve also been in situations where I breached trust and those are so, instructive because it can sneak up on you. I remember one incident, I had some friends who were SEALs who had started an adventure company called Arena and they wanted me to come in and help them run it. Because I had experience through the Coronado Brewing Company as an entrepreneur launching that and getting that successful. And so, they brought me in to be the CEO and then collectively we decided we needed to expand the team.

So, we brought in two others. And those two others approached me one day, and this is about just a month or so, into this whole adventure. And in a closed door meeting, they basically said they really were having trouble working with one of the original SEAL founders. It was a personality conflict. And they wanted me basically to remove this guy.

And so, there I was stuck with a kind of a dilemma. And because I didn’t have… At that time I wasn’t transparent with the original founders about it. A little bit of time went on. And then they got wind that we had had this closed door meeting and that we were discussing, removing one of the founders. And I got caught up in it and I knew the right thing to do, but I didn’t take action because I was being somewhat codependent to these other guys. And I was, I was justifying it by saying, “hey, let me think about it.” And then of course, they went and dimed the whole thing out. And next thing you know, I’m standing face to face with this individual. And trust has been absolutely destroyed.

And so, ultimately the whole team blew up as a result of this incident. And I ended up bailing on it because I didn’t want to be part of it anymore after all of that either. And basically handed it back to the founders and I learned a huge lesson. And I had to pull my own McRaven and go back and apologize and basically say that I screwed up. And that wasn’t how I wanted to be as a leader or as a teammate.

And I learned from it. So, I cultivate a little humility there by appreciating, how such a simple thing can destroy trust with a snap of a finger. If you don’t have transparency, follow-through and humility all together, working hand in hand, then trust can be destroyed very quickly. The other thing about trust is it can take a long, long time to develop trust, but it can be destroyed in a moment.

And once it’s destroyed, it’s very hard to get it back. It’s possible, but it’s very hard to get it back. It takes 10 times as much energy as developing the initial trust. I’ve seen other teams, it’s not just military teams. I’ve seen other teams that have high, high levels of trust. Several years ago or a year and a half ago, I was invited to speak to Harvard medical school and their department of neurosurgery. So, I met the head of the department, Ali Saltin, Dr Ali Saltin and talk about humility. Now he was just all smiles. So, grateful to have me there to talk to the doctors at their, what they call the grand rounds, which is their weekly meeting. It’s kind of like what we would call a murder board. That’s a horrible term. But where they put up pictures of really hard cases that they dealt with that week and everyone picks them apart. And picks apart the decision making of the doctor. And so, the doctors who are presenting their cases, it’s thick skin, brutally honest communication type stuff.

And the purpose of the grand rounds is to learn from the decision making that happens under pressure in the field. I mean, we’re talking brain surgery, that’s a lot of pressure. And so, Ali Saltin leads the charge and his other doctors are all equally humble and transparent. And the reason they do this, like I said, is to learn and grow. So, that they all are aware of the mistakes that happen or that kind of arise from their other teammates. So, that they can learn from that and not make the same mistake.

And the conversations are very matter of fact. No one is judging or blaming other people. Someone made a decision and everyone’s like, “I would’ve done this,” or “I would’ve done that.” And the doctors take it in stride.

They’re not getting defensive, because they know there’s no right answer. Sometimes it’s in the moment the best choice you have. The best decision you have. And it’s all for the purpose of developing trust to learn from each other’s failures. And to have the humility to acknowledge that you’re not perfect. Even as a Harvard MD, neurosurgeon, you’re not perfect. You’re not infallible. Right? You may be smarter than some, but you’re not smarter than all. You made me more competent than many, but you’re not more competent than everybody. So, there’s always room for improvement. There’s always room to fail as well. So, Ali led by example in that, one thing I loved about Ali and really forged his character through adversity was that he was a refugee from Afghanistan, literally had to escape the country when the Mujahedeen came in. Ended up putting himself through schools in Europe and then finally at Harvard. Self-made man from a very young age.

What an interesting guy. And I want to call out to my friend Rodolfo Gardia, MD, who is a SEALFIT graduate and Unbeatable Mind practitioner who is a doctor on Ali’s staff. Also helping out people who are really without medical care in Puerto Rico. So, Rodolfo is a Puerto Rican and he spent much of his time in Puerto Rico providing medical assistance to those, especially affected by the hurricane. Where after which a lot of doctors left.

And then he spends the rest of his time up at Harvard working with Dr Ali and his team. So, thank you Rodolfo for inviting me to Harvard and thank you Ali for your example. Thank you, Harvard Med, for what you do and for being a team that develops trust through transparency, follow-through and humility.

All right. Hooyah. Hopefully this is valuable information to you and you enjoy the solocasts.

If you do let us know. And topics that you would like us to talk about. I think next time I’m going to talk about respect. And then we’ll get into things like resiliency and developing potential. Peak performance. The idea of the team as a growth mechanism.

Those are some of the topics that I’m going to hit up. So, if you’ve got ideas on things you’d like me to hit up, keep it to like one-word things. I think that’s really cool. Then I will think about it and we’ll see what we can do.

Okay. You guys rock, stay focused, train hard, cultivate that Unbeatable Mind. And then remember that your teams are really craving transparency, follow-through and humility. So, that authenticity can thrive and you can lead with courage because you all have a high degree of trust in each other. The glue that holds the team together.

Thank you for your time. See you next podcast. This is Mark Divine.
The Unbeatable Mind podcast.

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