You need to take care of yourself. You should get enough sleep. You should watch how much alcohol you consume. You should work out. You should pay attention to your nutrition.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Redman.
Jason Redman is a retired Navy SEAL and NY Times bestselling author of The Trident and Overcome. Jason uses his 21-year SEAL career to relate how the mindset Navy SEALs have used for decades to lead, build elite teams and deal with the highest levels of adversity can be utilized in your life and business. Jason teaches how his “Overcome Mindset” helped him rise above a leadership failure, vicious enemy ambush, and even a debilitating business crisis. Jason’s incredible story, positive message and vibrant energy on stage make him a highly demanded speaker both nationally and internationally. He shares his story in his new book, Overcome: Crush Adversity with the Leadership Techniques of America’s Toughest Warriors.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I was born in Ohio and grew up a mutt, but a patriotic mutt with a heart of service. My parents divorced when I was young, and I bounced back and forth between them as I grew up — from Ohio to North Carolina, to South Carolina, the US Virgin Islands, Florida and back to North Carolina. All along the way I wanted to follow in my grandfather and father’s footsteps to serve in the military. At age 15 I locked my sights on the US Navy SEAL Teams and never looked back.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today I am an entrepreneur, an international speaker, TEDx speaker, NY Times bestselling author and coach who helps people define their mission, set their course, lead themselves out of adversity and build a mindset to handle any “life ambushes.” Having sustained a leadership failure myself, I’m able to wholly relate to high-level individuals who’ve sustained a major setback, whether personal, physical, or professional, and are struggling to redefine or reinvent themselves as leaders.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I spent 21 years in the US Navy SEAL Teams (1992–2013) — 11 years as an enlisted Navy SEAL and almost 10 years as a SEAL officer. I had great successes and a few big failures, which gave me a really unique perspective and deep appreciation for leadership. I served in South America pre-9/11, conducting counter drug operations in Colombia and Peru. I went on to become a SEAL instructor and was selected for a Navy Commissioning program that sent me to Old Dominion University, where I earned my business degree, then went back to the SEAL Teams as an officer. I saw combat in Afghanistan, made a few mistakes along the way, and earned myself some creative rehabilitation, including a journey to attend US Army Ranger School, before getting my head back on straight and earning back my credibility as a SEAL leader. I saw heavy combat in Iraq in 2007 where I was critically wounded after being shot eight times by a machine gun during an enemy ambush and nearly dying. This incident propelled me into a whole new journey of leadership and resiliency. I earned national recognition from posting a bright-red sign on my hospital door while being treated that basically said I didn’t want anyone’s sympathy because I was busy trying to recover. I endured 40 surgeries over four years. My leadership journey from failure to redemption to severe injury is chronicled in my book The Trident, the Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
One impactful story involved my SEAL Assault Troop in Iraq in June 2007. We got into a fierce firefight from multiple positions that involved barricaded enemy forces dropping grenades down on us from the rooftop above. We had multiple people injured and 11 civilian women and children in the midst of it. To say it was chaos was an understatement. I learned to trust my people. It was a chaotic situation that we were literally fighting our way through, but guys would propose different solutions and I trusted them to execute them.
Additionally, I learned the power of always doing the right thing. At one point, we decided we were going to move from one house, which had the enemy machine gun barricaded on the roof, to another house 60 yards away to drop bombs on the barricaded enemy machine gun position. The house we planned to leave contained the 11 Iraqi women and children. We could have left them there, but I knew that, in good conscience and for a hundred different reasons, it was not an option. So we developed a plan to move ourselves, our wounded, and the women and children with us, all while under enemy fire. If we hadn’t tried to protect them that way, it would no doubt have been an international incident. And you never know: Perhaps one of those kids will grow up to cure cancer someday.
We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
Absolutely. The night I was wounded, I was shot eight times and pinned down in between my teammates and the enemy under vicious enemy fire. My team leader ran out under fire and got us both back behind a large tractor tire, where he got a tourniquet on my mangled arm before calling in the closest air-support missions in the entire Iraq war. If it wasn’t for his heroism, I wouldn’t be here today. He will tell you that he was simply doing his job, but I owe him my life.
Based on that story, how would you define what a hero is? Can you explain?
A hero is someone who recognizes a desperate need and also recognizes that by addressing that need, he or she is placing himself or herself in physical danger, or possibly professional danger, and despite recognizing the risks of damage and/or death, still addresses that need. That’s heroic.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
Unequivocally. The path of a business entrepreneur is a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, often including growth and success followed by stagnation and failure. It takes relentless positivity, steadfast self-leadership and what I call a tremendous “Overcome Mindset” — all things I learned in my military career.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Yes.Through the night of February 8, 2006, I tossed in bed unable to sleep because my pulse was racing so much I felt I was having a heart attack. Eighteen hours earlier I had made a grave mistake in a rage-filled decision that placed me on a crash course with destiny. From a momentary lapse in judgement, I believed I had forever negatively changed the course of my life.
I had quit Ranger School in an emotional rage and, in a few hours, I would meet with the Ranger School commander to process me out of the school and to what I was sure would be a one-way ticket out of the SEAL Teams and the Navy.
I’d been a SEAL for 12 years; a SEAL officer for two. Coming off the heels of a bad leadership decision in Afghanistan, I’d been sent to Ranger School as “punishment” for that decision. I was bitter about being there and now felt my most recent bad decision had sealed my fate. Or so I believed. Throughout that anxiety filled night, I had come to the stark realization that my career was likely over.
Several hours later I stood before the Ranger School commander, Colonel K.K. Chinn. Colonel Chinn asked me what had happened, and I told my sob story going back to my “leadership mistake” on a mountainside in Afghanistan. I then brought it full circle with my emotionally charged outburst at the Ranger instructors and my impetuous move to leave the course.
Colonel Chinn patiently waited while I regaled how I was the victim and how my only available option now was to leave the military and start a new life. Once I finished, he asked, “Is there anyone in your community you’d like to speak to?”
God, no, I thought to myself. I was ashamed. I’d never quit anything in my life. I felt like I was a shattered vessel with pieces scattered all around me. I solemnly shook my head no.
Colonel Chinn was a highly respected Ranger colonel, and he could have let that moment go and sent me on my way. But for whatever reason, he decided to hand me a lifeline. And in that precise moment, fate, serendipity, luck, a God moment — whatever you want to call it — happened. He said, “I have a good friend in the SEAL Teams, a very respected leader whom I worked with years ago.” He continued as he dialed the phone, “He’s respected by everyone who has ever worked with him, including me.” I heard a voice answer on the other end.
“Vince. K.K. Chinn, here. I have one of your guys here and he could use a little motivation.” Colonel Chinn promptly handed the phone to me and said, “It’s Captain Vince Peterson.”
I was dumfounded and couldn’t decline taking that phone call. Vince Peterson was a legend in the SEAL Teams — a natural leader who started his career as a Marine. He’d joined the Navy and was a Surface Warfare officer before becoming a Navy diver. At 36 (the average student age is 24) he decided to go to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training, and he crushed it.
Captain Peterson continued this leadership onslaught with successful SEAL platoons before moving to the higher tiers of the SEAL community. Then he had a terrible skydiving accident and had to have his leg amputated. He fought to stay in the Navy, and after a long battle, he managed to remain and to continue to lead in the SEAL Teams.
Not long after that, our paths crossed. Vince Peterson was my commanding officer at my first SEAL Team. I’ll never forget meeting him for the first time as he ran the obstacle course with his prosthetic leg. I remember telling myself, “No room to feel sorry for yourself here; let’s go.” Over the years, Peterson mentored me and helped me get a commission.
I looked at the phone with dread and brought the receiver to my ear. I didn’t want to speak to anyone, much less the man I respected as one of the best natural leaders I’d ever met. I said, “Hello,” and Captain Peterson immediately asked what was going on. I launched into the same victim story that I’d told Colonel Chinn. He quietly listened. Then, in typical Vince Peterson style, he asked some very succinct questions to get to the heart of the problem and find solutions.
“Red, do you really think Ranger School is a punishment?”
Uhhhh … yeah, I thought to myself. “Yes, Sir,” I replied.
“Red, did you ever consider that you may have been sent there to learn something, to prove that you have the ability to lead? We need good leaders in the SEAL Teams right now, especially in combat.”
I’d never considered that possibility, and I quickly replied that I had made too many mistakes, that the guys would never follow me again and it was too late.
Captain Peterson then gave me a powerful piece of leadership advice. It’s what I go back to every time things get off track. He said, “Red, it’s never too late. People will follow you if you give them a reason to. Now get back into Ranger School, crush that course, and come back to the SEAL Teams and give people a reason to follow you.”
Now, with new hope and motivation, I answered, “Yes, Sir!”
For good measure, Vince dropped one last command: “Red, go crush that course and come back and lead. If you quit, I’ll have you out of the Navy in less than a month.”
“Roger that, Sir!” I immediately replied. Then I asked Colonel Chinn if I could rejoin my class. Chinn replied, “No. But you can join our holding company and start over with the upcoming class next month.”
I spent a month in “Ranger School jail,” where I had a lot of time to reflect on my mistakes. The bottom line is that I owe the better part of my professional career to Colonel Chinn for making an effort to help me, and especially to Captain Vince Peterson, for telling me what I needed to hear at a critical moment in my young leadership journey.
Captain Peterson was in charge of multiple SEAL Teams, thousands of SEALs, thousands of support personnel, and hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and equipment. The last thing he needed to deal with was some young knuckle-head junior officer who had gotten off track. He could easily have told Colonel Chinn to let me go and end my career. Instead, he took the time to invest in me and tell me exactly what I needed to get my life back on track.
Always remember that no matter what happens in life, it’s never too late. People will follow you if you give them a reason to. That advice changed my life. I’m eternally grateful to Captain Peterson for his leadership, his example and for still believing in a young man who had gotten off course.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
A crisis is a “Life Ambush” — an unexpected catastrophic event that leaves physical, mental, emotional and/or major financial scars on an individual. These scars never completely heal or go away.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
An acceptance that bad things will happen, and they will happen to good people. You must hope for the best but always, in the back of your mind, plan for the worst. Have contingency plans. Discuss these with your team. Think through them in your mind. I often think about worst-case scenarios. What if something happened to my wife or kids? What if I was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease? Many people tell me, “Wow, that is dark thinking,” but I don’t see it that way. I’m a realist, and I pray that those things never happen, but part of an Overcome Mindset is understanding that bad things can and do happen, and if we’ve at least thought ahead about them, we’re better prepared to deal with them when they come.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
When people get into a crisis or a life ambush, that point of crisis, ambush, adversity, attack, or whatever is what I call “the X.” And in order to quickly get out of crisis, you have to “get off the X” as quickly as possible. We developed a methodology to do just that. In order to get off the X you have to REACT.
REACT is an acronym for what to do with massively hard situations, or life ambushes. The first step is to Recognize your reality. This is one of the hardest things, because when life ambushes come, as humans we have a natural tendency to go into denial. We don’t want to admit that we’re in a crisis. Like an ostrich sticking our heads in the sand, we just hope and pray it will go away on its own. But life doesn’t work this way, and you’ll never get off the X until you come to grips with the reality — until you acknowledge and articulate that there’s a problem. And at this point you begin the process to move forward.
Number two, now that you’ve accepted that you’re in a crisis, you’ve got to Evaluate your assets; you’ve got to take an inventory of all the things you need to get out of this crisis. As I lay there pinned down by enemy fire, in my mind I started to assess: This is a bad situation, how do we get out of it? Well, I’ve got my teammates. I’ve got a Marine Corps quick-reaction force. I’ve got an Army medevac helicopter crew. I’ve got drones. I’ve got an Air Force AC-130 gunship. These were all the assets we had to utilize, to bring to this problem.
It’s no different than what assets we all have in our lives. When these hard moments come, we need to think about what we have: a family; friends; possibly some money in an account, or maybe the ability to borrow some money to deal with the problem. Maybe we need an attorney. Maybe a priest, a counselor, or a chaplain. All that matters is that we evaluate these assets and take stock of our inventory.
Next, we’ve got to Assess the possible options and outcomes. Often when people make it to this step, they feel a sudden sense of urgency, like, “Oh my God, I’m in a crisis and I need to move right now!” And often we tend to put ourselves in a worse situation because we don’t fully think through the steps. It’s critical to take inventory, to look at our options, and look at the potential outcomes.
One of the hardest parts of this step is that oftentimes when we’re in a crisis, there’s no good option and outcome. It then becomes a matter of choosing the best of the bad decisions. So many of us don’t want to do what needs to be done, which is to endure short-term pain for the long-term gain. It took me 12 years to get to where I am now, and I followed the process that I’m describing to get here.
Number four: You’ve got to choose a direction and Communicate. This is absolutely critical. Because one thing is always for sure: When you have a life ambush, and you’re on the X, you are never on the X alone. The X has its own gravitational pull. Your family gets pulled onto the X with you, your kids get pulled onto the X with you, your spouse is on the X with you. If it’s a business ambush, your employees, your colleagues, your partners are all on the X with you. And guess what? In that misery, in your agonizing, stress-filled moment, they feel it too. This is where you have to step up and provide what represents one of the quintessential pieces of the overcome mindset — when you say, “This is where we’re going, and this is how we’re going to get there.” By that decisiveness, you give people hope. And hope is a powerful ally.
And the last and most important point: You have to Take Action. You have to execute. I’ve watched so many business leaders and individuals going through trauma who never actually take appropriate action because they’re waiting for the ever-elusive “perfect moment.” They’re waiting for the lull in the gunfire. They’re waiting to close this deal because it’s going to be the tipping point that leads them out of their crisis. I hate to break it to you, but the perfect moment will never come. The time to move is now. The time to get off the X is now.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Optimism and a relentless Overcome Mindset — a mindset that declares, “Adversity will inevitably come, but I will never let it defeat me. I will find a way through it and I will get to the other side.” The Overcome Mindset definitively accepts that the outcome we hoped for may not always be the outcome we will end up with, but as long as we are driving forward relentlessly, we know we’re getting better and not accepting defeat.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
People often assume that my wounds and subsequent four years of undergoing 40 surgeries and rehabilitation were the hardest things I’ve ever endured, but they’re not. By far, the greatest setback I’ve endured was my leadership failure, being told that I was found lacking as a SEAL and a SEAL leader. I had wanted to be a leader, but I was failing to lead myself at a pivotal point in my career.
I was really successful in the SEAL Teams at a young age. I was smart, I understood what we were doing, and I grasped complex concepts quickly. I was moving up the ranks as a young enlisted SEAL to the point that by the time I was at a higher-level middle-management role, I was selected for a commissioning program. I was leading within our training department and certain key aspects of training. They sent me off to school for a commission. I went to school. I moved my way up in the largest ROTC, which is our training pipeline for officers in the military. I was accepted to Old Dominion University that had some 350 midshipmen and officer candidates. I moved my way up to battalion commanding officer for the entire ROTC unit and graduated number one in my class.
I returned to the military with my commission as a Navy SEAL officer, but my leadership abilities started to blur with arrogance because I thought so highly of myself and the successes I’d had up to that point in my career. I somehow believed that I knew better than others and that I didn’t need to listen to anybody else. I knew what to do. I’d had all this prior experience, after all.
But the problem was that while I was at school, the SEAL Teams had changed dramatically in response to 9/11. When I returned to the SEAL Teams in May 2004, everything was different — all of our tactics, how we did things — because we’d gone from a peacetime to a wartime military. We’d quickly learned that many of the things we’d been doing in training didn’t work in Iraq and Afghanistan. The SEAL Teams had to quickly change and adapt.
Instead of humbling myself and asking for help with new tactics and techniques, I kept telling myself, “I don’t need to ask someone else, because I’m the leader; I’ve got experience.” But I was stepping on my toes right and left. I kept making mistakes.
Another thing that began happening was a direct result of how I dealt with the stress of not doing things right. I started drinking heavily to self-medicate. A lot of people do it; I recommend against it. It doesn’t help you as a leader.
This all merged into a perfect storm in which I made a bad call on a mission in Afghanistan. Nobody was killed. Nobody was injured. But it made my leadership question my credibility as a leader. I was trying to lead others, but I wasn’t effectively leading myself. I had people who wanted to kick me out of the SEAL Teams, saying “Get rid of that guy. He’s dangerous. We don’t want to follow him. We don’t want to work with him.” Thankfully, I had some leaders who believed in me. They sent me to U.S. Army Ranger School, which is a leadership program that forges you into a leader through hardship and adversity. They use a lack of food. They use a lack of sleep. They use hard conditions. There’s no rank. When you show up at Ranger School, it doesn’t matter if you’re a senior leader or someone new to the military. The way to earn respect and to lead others in Ranger School comes down to how well you lead yourself.
My leadership was smart enough to know to send me to that school. I had to learn that lesson. And I did. I came to grips with who I was. I came to understand my strengths and, more importantly, my weaknesses. I began to recognize that people don’t follow you because of the rank you wear on your chest. They follow you because of the actions you take and how you motivate and inspire them.
When I left Ranger School, my whole world had changed, especially in terms of how I led. I came back a more humble guy. I asked for advice from those around me regardless of what rank they were. If you were a brand-new guy and you knew how to do something, I’d ask, “Can you teach me? I’d love to learn.”
Graduating from Ranger School didn’t instantly earn me a respected spot as a leader back in the SEAL Teams. It took almost two years of hard work and peak performance to do it, and it was the hardest journey I’ve ever walked. But it built a tremendous Overcome Mindset and reinforced in my mind what it takes to be a great leader. Lead yourself. Lead others. Lead always.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
I believe one of the greatest things we can do as a leader is to find balance in five key areas. If we can apply time to these areas, I truly believe we’re better prepared for the ambushes that will inevitably come. I call the five key areas to create balance within the Pentagon of Peak Performance. Balance is interesting, and not necessarily based on a formula. It’s not achieved by, for instance, allocating 20 percent of your time to this, 20 percent to that, and so on. Balance is recognizing that there are different areas of life to which you need to apply time and energy. Sometimes it may be a smaller slice of time and energy than elsewhere, depending on what’s going on in your world.
I relate this to a gunfight, during which I’m not worried about something mundane, but I’m obviously concerned with the people shooting at me. That’s the most important thing in the moment. Life’s no different. We need to address the most important things in the moment, but recognize that once we’ve addressed or fixed the most important or critical crisis, we still need to go take care of the other areas of our life.
The Pentagon of Peak Performance involves five key areas in which you need to spend time to be an effective leader and to lead a healthy life.
The first area is physical. You need to take care of yourself. You should get enough sleep. You should watch how much alcohol you consume. You should work out. You should pay attention to your nutrition.
Leadership takes a ton of energy. You’re constantly dealing with stress. You’re constantly striving to be better. The brain uses a lot of energy. The better shape you’re in, the better you’re going to be able to handle the stresses and the obstacles and adversity of leadership.
Number two is mental leadership. What are you doing to improve yourself mentally? What are you reading? How are you educating yourself? How are you pushing yourself out of your comfort zone? How are you identifying people, groups or educational programs that can teach you or your people how to do things faster, smarter and better than you’re currently doing? Mental leadership is challenging your beliefs. It’s not doing things the same way just because they’ve always been done that way. Always reevaluate: Can we do this better?
Number three is emotional leadership. How do you manage your emotions on a day-to-day basis? Are you naturally hotheaded like I am? If I’m not constantly watching my inner pressure gauge, I can blow up. I’ve allowed it to happen before when I wasn’t managing myself well, and I don’t want it to happen again, so I do my best to not allow stress to build up to the boiling point. Effective emotional leadership pertains to our ability to recognize within ourselves when we need to take a step back and release that pressure. It doesn’t do you or your people any good if you’re riding an emotional roller-coaster. Effective leaders know how to emotionally balance themselves. Their highs aren’t too high. Their lows aren’t too low.
Number four is social leadership. How do we build strong relationships? Our family, our friends, our business networks — all of those take a reasonable amount of time and attention. You must make sure you’re investing some time into these relationships.
And number five is spiritual leadership. This means stepping outside of ourselves. It’s having the perspective that our problems are usually small compared to the larger problems in the world. There’s a much bigger world than just our little personal corners of it. Taking time, whether it’s in meditation, in yoga, in spirituality, in faith, or whatever helps in those areas will make you an effective, balanced leader who is more prepared for life ambushes when they come.
Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-).
I’m launching a new program in 2021 called the Pointman for Life program. The foundation of this program is relentless belief in your mission. I believe that every person on this planet should define their values and mission by the time they’re 22 years old. If you know your mission and values, that gives you a clearly defined destination and course to follow. And when things get off course, when ambushes come, you don’t have to flounder around in the darkness figuring out where to go next. You’re the light in the darkness because you have your mission to guide you. It’s my goal to help as many people as possible become Pointmen for their own lives — to define their missions, set their destinations and courses and build a relentless Overcome Mindset to get off the X from crises and ambushes that will come for all of us.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I would love to sit down with Elon Musk. He’s a rare combination of leader, creator, inventor, visionary, team builder and businessman. I’m sure I would learn decades worth of lessons spending a very limited amount of time with him.
How can our readers follow you online?
Go to www.jasonredman.com. From there, you can follow me on social platforms, @jasonredmanww, sign up for my newsletter, learn more about our coaching and training programs and buy my books or Overcome products.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.
Thanks for the opportunity to share my story and beliefs.