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“Never give in – never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”  – Winston Churchill

My two decades of experience serving as a Navy Seal, combined with my thirty years studying martial arts, have allowed me to interact with some of the most incredible human  beings that this planet has to offer. I have witnessed these people attain feats and overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, not because of their physicality, their strength or speed, no… it was their mental fortitude.

I am a firm believer in the mantra, ‘Mind over body,’ in that, your mental strength is far more important than any physical abilities you may or may not possess. Mental fortitude plays an intrinsic part of any leadership role.

In our life, when the metaphorical game is on the line, we need to train ourselves to not just want the final shot, the pressure, the high stakes, but to demand it, to own the moment. We need to recognize that every negative – pressure, challenges, critiques – are all opportunities for us to rise above.

Although the vast majority of us will never have to take an actual game-winning shot, we all have challenges and obstacles that require mental fortitude and emotional resilience.  Especially for those in leadership roles, mental toughness allows you to make decisions that others might not have the courage or wherewithal to undertake.

So, what are some of the characteristics of a mentally tough leader?


A mentally tough leader is calm under pressure. As the water rises and while everyone else is running around like a chicken with their head cut off, they remain calm, assess the situation and then make the best possible move not just for themselves, but for their team. They remain engaged and connected to the situation even as the pressure rises.

When we were in battle, with bullets whizzing overhead and explosions every which way, it was paramount that whoever was in charge remained calm despite the life-threatening nature of the situation. Bad choices are made by those who allow the situation to get bigger than themselves. Effective decisions makers remain calm and make the best move they possibly can with the given options. This is why our training on the Big 4 of Mental Toughness is so popular with leaders at my SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind events.

Take The Burden on Themselves

Owning each and every situation, both the good and the bad, is a hallmark of someone who is mentally tough. They want that shot, that responsibility, that pressure. They believe in their ability to overcome whatever odds or challenges. Even if they fail, a mentally fit leader will take stock, see what they did wrong, learn from it and then move past it. They know how to effectively overcome negative thoughts.

Heightened State of Awareness of Others

A master craftsman not only knows his trade backwards and forwards, he knows and values his tools and utilizes them in the most effective way possible. Mentally tough leaders know that they cannot do everything and that they must work in tandem with their team to be at their very best.

A good leader not only has great self-awareness but is also intimately aware of their team’s strengths and weaknesses and then puts them in the optimal positions for success that highlight their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

“Embrace The Suck”

They don’t whimper, they don’t whine, they say, “Bring it on.” Be it early morning training for a marathon or doing extra late night research for that one client you have, mentally fit leaders, “Embrace the suck.” Championships may be won on the court, but they are built in the gym, in the film room, in studying and training… in the small, unexciting things, the ones that no one sees.

A mentally fit leader not only embraces the tough or unrewarding moments, they smile while they do so because of the impact it has on other people around them. This type of mentality rubs off, it becomes infectious. When you are working out, don’t stop at ten reps, don’t be satisfied with the bare minimum. Embrace the suck. Say, “One more rep.” or “One more cold call.”  

If you want to develop or strengthen your mental fortitude, I created a paradigm called the ‘Big Four’ of mental toughness. I use it when I’m training SEAL candidates. The big four include breath control exercises, mental control exercises, visualizing success, and setting SMART goals.

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