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Learning Tough Lessons With the Special Forces

special forces
Lessons With the Special Forces

For 3 years of my 3 ½ year contract with the Special Forces, I lived with and worked alongside a group of very elite retired US operators. To say I had a baptism of fire was an understatement.

Between a home life built around navigating the different personalities, storytelling, and PTSD, I had a job to do in a world I’d only ever read Andy McNab books about.  I was taken under their wing and guided through a crash course 24/7 in how to sit up-crawl-walk-run-sprint-pivot in this new world.

I had been working really hard on my self/situational awareness over the previous months and the way I saw it, I was not in a strong position. Here is how I scored myself out of 5 on the respect scale.

  • - 1 point: Non-SOF
  • - 1 point: Non-military
  • - 1 point: A foreigner
  • - 1 point: Didn’t speak the language
  • - 1 point: A contractor

Total score: - 5 out of 5

Not ideal. But I had my start point.

So, I made a very simple plan, and I executed it to the letter. Here is the plan.

✅ Engage people on my -5 on the respect scale, do not hide from it.
✅ Shut up.
✅ Occasionally ask questions.
✅ Listen to everything and everyone.
✅ Ask people about themselves as people, non-military communication.
✅ Design a brilliantly basic program and tell everyone the purpose and expected outcomes.
✅ Communicate very succinctly.
✅ Let my work and results do the talking and let everyone else sing for me.

I did plenty of things wrong in my time in Romania, but I did plenty right as well, here is what you can take from a civilian who supported a nations SF human performance program.

👉 Humans first.

People want to know that your purpose is above simply getting a result.  Once you can relate to a shared purpose then they are on the mission with you, and you move together whether they are a CEO, SF operator, world or Olympic champion. Here are a few examples from that role…

Being combat ready and combat effective.
Not be in pain every day of your life.
Enjoy your physical training so it is not a burden.
Be able to pick your kids up and play with them when you hit 45.

👉 Seek to understand.

Using your 2 ears and 1 mouth in the correct ratio in any relatively new environment is rarely going to get you into trouble. Become a student of the new environment and go back to school to learn everything you need in order to build trust and rapport.

👉 Let your work talk.

You don’t need to sing about your results, let someone else do that for you. Simply present the information/data in a succinct and clear manner.  Do the basics incredibly well, be organised, meticulous and communicate succinctly and only when needed, a little bit like the military.

I did a bit more than just survive in a very hostile and austere environment, not easy but the points above are easily transferable to your everyday working lives.

So build a basic plan, execute it well and earn respect in any environment.

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