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Lessons In Leadership: One On One With Mark Divine

I spoke to Mark Divine, founder of SEALFIT, NavySEALs.com and Unbeatable, about his best leadership advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts on leadership. First things first, though I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What are your hobbies and how have they impacted your development as a leader?
Mark: I don’t really have hobbies. Instead I have commitments. One of my commitments is integrated physical training done daily, rain or shine. I like to tie my training to a big “why”… this year it is to raise awareness and money for vets suffering from PTS. So I challenged myself to do 100,000 burpees and my tribe to do 22 million and raise $250,000. Every day I do 300 burpees as my commitment to daily integrated training and the why of supporting the vets.

Another commitment of mine is mastery of body-mind and spirit. To work toward this I have a daily practice of a blend of tai-chi, chi-gong and yoga that I call Kokoro Yoga. Kokoro means “whole mind” or “merge your heart and mind into action.” By practicing the breathing, movements, meditation and visualizations of Kokoro Yoga I am working on my own integrated development, so that I can teach it to my clients with authenticity.

Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them?
Mark: Retired SEAL Admiral William H. McRaven was my Commanding Officer at SEAL Team Three. I learned the importance of vision and obsessive communication of that vision from him. While his peers were dealing with now issues, McRaven was able to see years ahead and position ST-3 (and later the entire SOF community as the Commander of SOCOM) for future conflicts to resolve.

Tadashi Nakamura is the founder of World Seido Karate Organization and my Zen teacher in my early twenties. I learned the power of sincere care for those you are leading, and the importance of showing up every day to “do the work” of bettering oneself so you can lead by example, and most importantly, the power of silence to balance out the action and receive the insights.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader?
Mark: Trust – a leader must both trust and be trustworthy. These are character traits that can’t be hacked or faked. I think that this is the most important, for without trust there can be no connection, and the leader – team relationship will become transactional.
Humility – I believe that humility is both an earned trait, as well as a daily practice. This is crucial for a leader because it is not about them after all… it is all about the mission and the team. So a leader must get over his or her brilliance, accomplishments, power… and serve.
Adaptability – leaders must be adaptable in today’s rapidly changing environment. This adaptability is so they can evolve, but also lead by example in creating an adaptable organization that thrives in VUCA… volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Mark: The number one way leaders can take their skills to the next level is through integrated development. This is where the leader has a defined plan of action to develop physically, mentally, emotionally, intuitively and spiritually… and these are linked and integrated. The result is the development of “whole mind” thinking where belly, heart, head and hands are all acting in concert for mission accomplishment.
Second, as whole mind thinking expands a leader’s capacity to learn and lead, so does it also expand the capacity to see things from broader, more inclusive perspectives. So the leader can take the perspective of others he or she may disagree with, and make a new perspective that transcends, but includes all previous perspectives. This type of leader has a world-centric attitude, which is very inspiring, and dare I say, necessary for humanity.
Third, the leader must learn to connect at a deeper heart level, and stop investing in anything that is remotely connected to planetary degradation or conflict. The leaders must learn to create closed loop systems that replenish rather than deplete resources, and uplift all rather than just the few.
Adam: What is the best advice you have on building, managing and leading teams?
Mark: I advise my clients to develop a culture that is so energized and vibrant that it attracts the best and brightest who align with your vision, mission and values. That way the leadership spends time selecting and training, rather than recruiting and hoping.
Second, put the team under pressure with tight timelines and competition. Pressure brings out the best in teams… just as fire melts ore to create iron.
Communicating culture daily, and as often as possible. This communication is done through directly stating vision, mission and values, by pointing out alignment and aberrations, through decisions and attention, and by trusting (yet verifying) that those executing the mission at the ground level can autonomously act in in alignment with the culture.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Mark: Leaders need to step up their game to drive a new paradigm of human connection, non-violence, multi-stakeholder wins and protecting the precious earth.
The last 100 or so years has been very destructive to the environment, and we have proven to be poor shepherds of the awesome technology our rational brains have developed. Now we face the more serious existential threats than any time in the history of humankind.
Corporate and educational leaders are in the best position (as opposed to political, military, bureaucratic or church leaders) to demand change, and to lead by example to usher the world away from the destructiveness of the industrial age and into a new, world-centric, era.
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