Push or Not

Push or Not

In the SEAL teams, we were always adapting to what was happening around us. Whether that be a target shifting, training canceled or adjusted. In most cases the plans we devised never went as planned. In every one of these situations, we had to think if we wanted to push or not. In some cases, we didn’t understand the entire situation but had to make judgments based on what we knew at the time.

In business, the thought process to determine if you should Push or Not is not always an easy one and in most cases does not define life or death. However whether in combat or business the process is the same.  Yes, there is a process, a process we should all abide by so that we can all progress forward.

A defining moment in my SEAL career was when I became a Lead Petty Officer(LPO). All this means is you are the mid-point between the sled dogs and the upper crust (Officers and chiefs). Being an LPO is the hardest job in the platoon, it is the beginning of your leadership career in the SEAL teams. Needless to say, I did not take this lightly, I was excited and unsure all at the same time. I wasn’t sure about what I was supposed to be doing.

But in my infancy as a leader, there was an episode in which I honestly blew it. I was about two weeks in as the LPO, I was still getting my feet under me. The platoon and I were going on a critical training trip. There were a lot of moving pieces, support, boats, equipment, shipments, planes, helicopters, the guys, you get the idea. All of it had to be managed so that we could go and accomplish what we had to.

When we got to our destination, we immediately discovered that one of our guys had not appropriately packed. He basically did not have all the equipment he needed for the trip. This was infuriating, to say the least. However, the guy had been on a training trip before this trip and required assistance, so he had asked his teammates to help him.

Well to make matters worse I reamed the guy who did not bring all his gear. Did I handle this correctly? The answer is a resounding NO! I felt terrible about this as it was happening and immediately after. Something about the situation did not feel right. I used dominance to get my point across, and I could tell it was not appropriate. But the only thing I had as a reference to leadership was previous leaders. All of those leaders, led this way so it must be right, right?

In some situations, it is warranted, but in most, it is not. What this situation taught me was that there should be a process of discovering whether to push or not. I want you to know that when I say push, I do not mean physically I mean mentally push. In the previous situation, I had discovered facts about the situation that should have shifted my focus. Instead, I chose to go from 0 to 100 in the wrong direction. I was wrong.

The process of leadership is a never-ending journey but rewarding if you are willing to get out of your own way. After the reprimand session, a switch flipped in my head, and I started to process everything that I had known up to that point. I questioned everything, past leaders, past platoon experiences, advice, etc. What I realized is that there is more to leadership than being a hard ass. The people around you are what make you a leader. They give you their trust and show up every day because you ask them to. Not because the schedule says to show up. Sure, some people will show up because they have to regardless, but will they be producing up to their potential? Chances are they will not.

Business is no different. In every business I have built or walked into the success or failure is dependent on the leader’s ability to push or not. When I have created businesses or even consulted for businesses, I always start at the leadership level. What are the skills we need and do we have them already? I also watch the interaction between workers and leaders ensuring everyone is performing at their highest and if they are not why?

In most cases, we always had the skills readily available. But the leaders were not competent enough to know how to push appropriately to get the needed skills out. In every case, there were always 3 things I did and would implement.

1. Pay Attention

First and foremost, you have to pay attention to your people to understand what is going on. I am not talking about only numbers. I am talking about going a step or two beyond and looking at the subtilties. How do people interact what does the body language look like? Are people vibrant and excited? Is there laughter and disdain?

As a leader, you have to know what makes your people tick. What gets them out of bed to come to support the cause? You may assume all you want and look at the numbers and determine everything is working but it sometimes only takes one person to destroy the engine. You may not even know it is happening before it is too late if you are not paying attention.

Paying attention is number one for a reason you have to tilt your eyes above computer level and look out at your team and pay attention.

2. Listen

What good is paying attention if you are unwilling to listen? Listening is the next level in the process. You are involved with your people you see what they do and what they like, they see you pay attention and now they are starting to trust you more. When your team starts to trust you more, they are going to begin to talk to you more. What this means for you is better crisis management, better health of the team, and a better capability to rally the team and conquer the next phase.

Listening is not just standing there while somebody talks it is engaging with a person. You give thoughtful responses and be honest when necessary. Listening also cements the trust you have been building. You are continuing to build the foundation from which you will set your entire team.

3. Push or Not

Now you are able to push if necessary. What I mean by this is that you have built trust with your team. Your team knows you are in their corner at this point. As a leader, you can start to push your team or individual team members beyond what they ever thought possible.

Remember a time you trusted somebody, and they came to you and said, “hey I think you would excel at this,” or “I think this is right up your alley.” As the receiver of that message didn’t you believe it just enough to look at the opportunity a little harder? I would venture to guess you did.

That is what you are doing throughout this process. You have taken the time to get to your team’s level and now you can push your team to progress forward. You and your team will start to move as a unit, answering questions before they are asked. This is the sweet spot where the sky is the limit. It is worth your time and effort if you want to make a team that is efficient, effective, and long-lasting.


Push or not is a concept that has been proven more than once. It is not a hard concept, it starts with you understand that you may not know everything. I don’t have all the answers but I am willing to look for the answers and that is all you have to be is willing. I challenge you right now to pay attention to your team, listen to them and learn something new. You may find the missing link you have been searching for.

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