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How To Lead Like A Navy SEAL

August 06, 20237 min read

My older brother has been a Navy SEAL for the past 20 years.

As the brother of a SEAL, I'm a lucky guy. I'm fortunate to witness first-hand the world's love and respect for what the SEALs do to serve and protect it.  

One might argue that this love and respect is the by-product of the now well-known stories of dead pirates, daring rescues, and terrorists running scared. That's part of it, certainly. But, underlying it all is an implicit respect for the courage it takes to live the life they do daily.

Courage, as I define it, is the willingness to sacrifice one's well-being to defend, preserve or protect one's beliefs. Like other heroes, SEALs know what and why they believe – and then live according to those beliefs.


Every day I work with accomplished bankers, lawyers, doctors, and politicians who are thinking about career transitions. To prompt some creative thinking, I occasionally ask: who in this world would you trade places with today? "Navy SEAL" is one of the most common responses…

Why is that? What is it about being a SEAL that's so compelling?

The fact is, being a SEAL is hard. It starts with nine months of pain – the grueling physical and psychological training/screening process known as BUD/s. 

The real challenge begins from there – a lifetime spent protecting our country's interests in the world's most inhospitable regions. Months and months away from friends and family. Night after night of life-and-death missions. Much personal pain and suffering in the process. The courage of the SEALs is real, and they earn every ounce of respect they receive.

And that's the key, isn't it? It's not that these successful professionals – among many, many others – genuinely want to be a Navy SEAL…to live the life of a SEAL daily.

No, what they really want is to be respected in the same way, to matter the way a SEAL matters – to his teammates, family, and country. 

We all want that respect and significance. And we all want that courage: to believe in something so strongly that you would be willing to die for it. 

We want their courage to live with conviction every single day.

Well, here's the thing: you can have it. All you've got to do is start living a life aligned with your personal code – the set of beliefs and principles that guide the decisions of your life.


The Navy SEAL Code is the set of beliefs and guiding principles governing how SEALs carry out their mission and live their lives. 

It is a powerful document that beautifully captures who the SEALs are ("a special breed of warrior…a common man, with uncommon desire…") and what they do ("if I get knocked down, I will get back up, every time…").

This document is more than just a corporate mission statement – it is a way of life and reinforces why the Teams are loved the way they are. 

Have a read – and then I'll offer an approach for building your own personal "Code."

The Navy SEAL Code

In times of war or uncertainty, there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation's call; a common man with an uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America's finest special operations forces to serve his country and the American people and to protect their way of life. I am that man.

My Trident is a symbol of honor and heritage. Bestowed upon me by the heroes who have gone before, it embodies the trust of those I have sworn to protect. By wearing the Trident, I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and way of life. It is a privilege that I must earn every day.

My loyalty to my Country and Team is beyond reproach. I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans, always ready to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own.

I serve with honor on and off the battlefield. The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance, sets me apart from other men. Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.

We expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders, I will take charge, lead my teammates, and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations.

I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder, and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and accomplish the mission. I am never out of the fight.

We demand discipline. We expect innovation. The lives of my teammates and the success of the mission depend on me — my technical skill, tactical proficiency, and attention to detail. My training is never complete.

We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country. The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required, yet guided by the very principles I serve to defend.

Brave men have fought and died, building the proud tradition and feared reputation that I am bound to uphold. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed. I will not fail.


Reading the SEAL Code always gives me goosebumps.

That's powerful stuff.

And I suspect there is little in there that you would disagree with.

That said, how closely does the SEAL standard reflect your own?

Of course, we want to live by this same standard. We want to be brave, fearless, selfless, swift, disciplined; the list goes on.

But heck, doing it all the time?

Come on… It's impractical; it's crazy; it's too hard!

And so we idolize the SEALs because they, somehow, can do it. And we respect the hell out of that. They do things every day that we think we can't do.

But here's the thing: you can.


Navy SEALs are human beings!

They face the same limitations, weaknesses, and challenges you and I face.  

Like you and I, they battle their fears, insecurities, and doubts. But, unlike you and I, they know the standard to which they aspire – the SEAL code – and work daily to uphold that standard. They have made these extraordinary and beautiful beliefs habit.

Why? Because people would die if they operated any other way.

In our world, the cost of non-compliance is not nearly as high. 

We simply make excuses: "I just couldn't." "It was too hard!" "It's not practical!" "It's not possible!" 

The first time we compromise, it hurts pretty bad. But then, for better or worse, it gets easier and easier until we wake up one day and ask ourselves: who am I? What do I really believe?

If you want to be respected by a Navy SEAL, if you want to be respected like a Navy SEAL, then it's time to take a stand. 

It's time to figure out your beliefs, decide how you will behave, and hold yourself accountable.

That's what SEALs do; that's what heroes do. And Heaven knows we need a few more of those right now.

Do You Want Some Help Building A Culture Of Courage?

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Once we learn more about you and your team, we'll share a few ideas for building greater clarity and conviction across your organization.

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Ben Sands is an executive coach and founder of Sands Leadership.

Ben Sands is the perfect mix of coach and consultant and he has been coaching me to higher levels of clarity and meaning for almost 10 years! In leadership and life, we all have a lot of big decisions to make and Ben has taught me is how to make those big decisions confidently, and in a values-aligned way. His coaching is an investment that has paid off exponentially.

Alex Budak

Professional Faculty,

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business & Author,

Becoming A Changemaker