What I Learned at Boot Camp: Leadership

November 5, 2015


When I participated in “the ultimate Seals training” boot camp, I did not expect that I would share some leadership values as the Navy Seals training us. While I believe that a certain amount of discipline is a good thing, I am also the first person to “go against the grain” when I detect a command and control culture. In the business world, strict command-and-control cultures are often compared with the military. While the military does maintain control through command, they are grounded in very human values.

Respect goes down the chain to go back up the chain. Your team is more likely to respect and trust you if you give them that same trust and respect. If something isn’t normal or right, start by giving your team the benefit of the doubt. Check in with your team and find out what is going on. How is a commander supposed to command if he doesn’t know what’s happening on the ground? If someone is having trouble, offer some help.

Play checkers, not chess. If your team doesn’t understand your strategy or direction, they will not be able to support or follow it. Keep strategy simple. Provide simple direction. While you’re at it, keep the rules for success simple.

Invest in the team through mentorship. Your senior team members and leaders have built up skills and experience that will benefit each other and will help grow junior team members. Set up mentorship programs so your people can learn from each other. Even at the leadership level, you can learn from each other by periodically getting together just to discuss leadership – challenges, victories and lessons.

Take care of your team. In every exercise we did, there was always one person, usually the 2nd in command, whose role was to take care of the team. That person ensured that everyone knew what was going on, decisions were communicated, the team was together and safe, and reported back to the person in command. I had the opportunity to be in that role as well as being a “regular soldier”. When you’re in a cold, wet ditch in the middle of the night, peering into darkness and waiting for instructions from HQ, you really appreciate when your commander asks how you’re doing and lets you know what’s going on.

Add an “A” to the OODA Loop. The OODA loop, developed by military strategist and USAF Colonel John, refers to the decision cycle to  Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. It is also important to Assess your actions so you can learn from what worked or didn’t work.

The leadership lessons from the boot camp reminded me of Captain D. Michael Abrashoff’s books It’s Your Ship and It’s Our Ship. Both describe the no-nonsense leadership values Abrashoff developed while leading “the best damn ship in the navy”. I highly recommend reading both books.

Do you invest in your team through mentoring? Do you and your fellow leaders ever just talk about leadership? Do you think that would help refine your skills?


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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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One Comment on “What I Learned at Boot Camp: Leadership”

  1. milfordstreet Says:

    Sounds interesting. I wish more people understood the concept behind Play Checkers, Not Chess. Going against that really hinders hinders things. Nice post – Cheers!


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