“A mindset that recognizes crises for what they are — opportunities for growth and relevance — is how you thrive through adversity, emerging stronger as a result.” — Pat Dossett
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 Patrick Dossett.
Pat Dossett spent 9 years serving as a US Navy SEAL. Following service, Pat earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Business as a Tillman Military Scholar and spent three years at Google before leaving to co-found Madefor, where he currently serves as President and CEO.
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 grew up in Dallas, Texas, and in 7th grade I read a book about the Navy SEALs that set me on my path.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
I run a startup I co-founded called Madefor — we help people adopt positive habits and mindsets to improve physical and mental health. Every day is different, ranging from calls with scientific advisors, to live video sessions with our Members, to packing boxes, to writing copy. Fortunately, I have a really strong team to lean on, because every day brings new opportunities and there’s never a shortage of work.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
9/11 happened during my senior year at the US Naval Academy. Every decision thereafter seemed to carry greater weight. 11 months later I started SEAL training and graduated BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training) with Class 244. I spent just over 9 years in the SEAL Teams and was honored to serve alongside some of the finest quiet professionals on the planet.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
Goat and I went through BUD/s at the same time and later served on SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Team Two together (mini-submarines). In training we would occasionally have to do long soft sand runs, carrying weighted packs. If an instructor found out your pack was underweight, he would make you pay a heavy price. Goat and I decided to start competing with one another to see who could hide more weight in their rucksack. At the end of a run, we would pull dive weights out that we hid away in our packs to see who “won.” Suffering can make you do funny things, but if you have the right mindset, you can also find fun in it and forge bonds that last a lifetime. It’s the connections I made under stress that stay with me — they are my fondest memories from my time in the Teams.
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.
A month after I left service, Extortion 17 was shot down in Afghanistan. The helicopter was full of heroes, all of whom perished. But, it was the resilience I saw from the spouses and families left behind that truly blew me away. Faced with unbearable grief, the families leaned into one another and grew stronger, together. They, just like their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons, are heroes.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero is someone who takes action, however small, in the face of adversity and in the furtherance of a set of beliefs and values in service to others.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
Yes. A mission focus mindset, bias for action, and an understanding that the best leaders are those who understand their position is ultimately one of service.
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?
As a young lieutenant, I was selected to attend a highly sought after selection course. Two weeks into selection, I was removed from training and sent to Fort Bragg, NC to serve a year-long stint as an aide-de-camp to MG Joe Votel (now retired General Votel). At the time, it was the last thing I wanted to do. But, in the end, the lessons I learned from my time with Joe changed how I viewed the world and a leader’s role within it. I lean on those lessons often.
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 consequential and accelerating divergence of expectation from reality.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
Resilience is rarely if ever built, lying on the ground. The investments made in advance are what determine whether or not a crisis forges or folds an organization. A clear mission, an empowered team, a culture of trust and accountability, are the investments that allow a team to remain responsive and effective, regardless of the crisis at hand.
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?
Establish a timescale. If you are being ambushed, stopping to think through various scenarios and risk-weighted responses will only get you killed. Once you’ve established the threat and its velocity, let others know.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Survival in a crisis is a low bar to set. A mindset that recognizes crises for what they are — opportunities for growth and relevance — is how you thrive through adversity, emerging stronger as a result.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Dan Cnossen. Former Navy SEAL, six-time Paralympic medalist, dual masters degrees from Harvard. Nothing slows Dan down, not even the loss of his legs.
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?
I’m still bouncing back. After a year of serving as an aide-de-camp, I returned to the same selection course only to be dropped during the third week of training, because I couldn’t keep up. I gave everything I had and then some to be there, and it wasn’t enough. It still troubles me. I hope one day the steps forward I take will outweigh the setback, but I’m not there yet.
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.
Move the finish line … Crises are rarely sprints, so break up the race into manageable segments that you feel confident pursuing. Hell Week is a crucible event in SEAL training. Those who are able to slice it into parts — I can make it through the day, I can make it to the next meal, I can make it the next 100 feet — generally find success. Those who try to process the entire event at once fold under the enormity of the task at hand.
Exert control … If a perceived lack of control is creating stress then the best thing you can do is to exert control, however small. Make your bed. Drink a glass of water. Check your altimeter. Continue exerting control until you are back in control. Sometimes on target all you can control is the level of your voice or the pace of your breath, but doing so calms the mind and allows you to effectively exert influence on target.
Serve others … Crisis and sustained periods of stress can be isolating. It’s hard to think about others if you are only focused on your own suffering. The reverse is also true. If you focus on identifying and serving the needs of others, you lessen your own perceived suffering. SEALs live by this code, and it’s one of the primary reasons they can endure such extreme circumstances.
Maintain your baselines … Mindset aside, you are still bound by the basics of physiology. Pay attention to the small things you are doing and whether or not they are serving to build you up or break you down. Nutrition, movement, hydration, rest. Ignore the baselines, and you will fail, every time. Several years ago it became clear that the SEAL community was showing signs of fatigue built up over years of sustained combat deployments. One of the first areas we focused on wasn’t pay, or vacation or even better weapons, it was sleep.
Define your mission … People with big missions can do big things. The greater the sense of purpose and meaning you can assign to your actions the deeper you can dig to achieve them, regardless of the friction faced.
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. 🙂
Take time to reward yourself. Not with external validation or material pursuits, but by understanding the small things you do everyday that bring out the best in you. This is where a better world begins.
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’m trying to be a better husband, father, teammate and leader. I’d love to connect with anyone who has wisdom to share.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m on Instagram @madefor_pat
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.