A true Master is not the one with the most students, but one who creates the most Masters.
A true leader is not the one with the most followers, but the one who creates the most leaders.
A true king is not the one with the most subjects, but one who leads the most to royalty.
A true teacher is not the one with the most knowledge, but one who causes the most others to have knowledge.
I heard this quote ten years after leaving the military and wish I had heard it sooner. I likely would have written it inside of my helmet, patrol cap, locker, and anywhere else I could have that statement shoved in my face. No matter how light your gear is, how well you shoot, or your PT scores… it’s not about you. It’s about raising the level of those around you.
If you’re reading this, it’s you're likely concerned with becoming a servant at the highest level-Special Forces, Ranger, SEAL, PJ, Raider. You aspire to operate at a level that establishes a new standard for performance, leadership, and inspiration. Accomplishing goals previously unattainable by the common human. You do this for the the honor of your family, team, and country. We don’t have all the answers, just the lessons from our failures. We share them openly with you in the hopes to create leaders, masters, and kings.
Mantra #1: The view from the top is always better.
There’s no other way to explain it. The view from the top is ALWAYS better. Whether it’s standing on top of a mountain, in a formation of tan berets, or on the podium--this view is the best. Years of planning, work, and execution lead you to a view that lasts an extremely short period of time. Is it worth it? Yes. Is it better when you share it with others? Definitely.
So how do you get there? How do you achieve an objective and lead others to do the same? I recently achieved a life goal--Summit and overnight Three Fingers Lookout. Throughout the journey, I spent a lot of time thinking about this process. The objective wasn’t hard, but I was leading a partner that had never worked at that level before. 15 miles roundtrip. 4200+ vertical feet. Glacier Travel. From trip decision to departure was less than 48 hours.
Preparation: It’s pretty simple. Do your research. Read reports. When you notice something of value, write it down. Sounds stupid, but I always think of that scene from the Princess Bride when Westley, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik (Andre the Giant) are staring at the front gate of the castle to go rescue the princess and Westly asks, “What are our assets and liabilities?” It’s pretty simple. List out your assets, list your liabilities. Find the holes. Mitigate your risks. And make sure your team knows what’s going on. You’d be surprised at what your team produces in the hopes of making a challenge less challenging.
Visualization: I like endurance challenges. Multi-hour, multi-day, multi-year. I’ve found the key to working through the never-ending problems that come with this type of adventure is visualization. Operate at a pace that enables you to move forward, but also allows you the mental clarity to mitigate risks--because they always happen. I visualize a little red button on a clean metal dashboard. Above that button the words, “All Day” are stenciled out, worn, and truly meaningful. Inside my brain, I push that button and it only allows me to move at a speed in which I can operate all day. Sun up to sun down and back to sun up again. In order to reach the objective, it’s going to take all day. Run your mind, body, and soul at that level. Take it in. Be aware of what’s going on with the terrain, your body, gear. Most of your risks are internal. The trail doesn’t get shorter. The mountain doesn’t get smaller. The weight doesn’t get lighter. Failure comes from the inside. If you have the energy and clarity to be aware of those risks and opportunities for failure, your chances of success increase exponentially.
Maintenance: Take your time because that’s all you have in front of you. Lots of time. Take breaks when needed. Plan out your water stops. Put the right fuel in your body at the right time. You’re going to hit lows. Obstacles. Frustrations. Broken equipment. But it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to be here all fucking day. The mantra I learned in SOF was, “If there is any doubt, there isn’t any.” If you doubt your gear will fail, check it. If you doubt you didn’t take on enough water, drink more. If you doubt your position on a map, check it again and get a second opinion. Be proactive about your gear, body, and plan. Maintenance isn’t something you do in the garage when you have time off. It’s a key function of success. Take your time. Set yourself up for success. And you will be successful.
Communication: As a leader, this is your primary tool to aid the success of you and your team. If you communicate like shit, your performance will be shit. If you communicate like a boss, you’ll have results like a boss. If you communicate as a team member, you’ll get team results.
When the first obstacle hits, consult your team. Determine the level of comfort. Make a plan. Communicate. Assign responsibilities. And execute. Success is your entire team making it through without pushing individuals past a breaking point. This is easily avoidable with open communication and humility. When they’ve made it through with all parties intact, you’ll witness the confidence build. The successful navigation of this process builds team momentum--crushing future obstacles at speed.
Monitor and communicate with each other. Gait, speech, hydration habits. This isn’t micromanagement. This is simply ensuring accountability to one another by taking notice of external warning indicators of failure. Hold each other to eat food even though your body says, “no.” Force that water in. And for God’s sake, don’t forget the sunblock. After a few hours of work and the first team members says, “I’ve never pushed myself like this, but I don’t feel tired,” watch them start to monitor each other. Timing food consumption, hydration, verbally coaching each other on gear adjustments. It’s not micromanagement, it’s accountability.
At some point, the view gets better. You make it over the hump. Everything you saw in pictures, in your mind, or heard tales about is now in front of you. The team can see it. But you still have to work for it. This is the time when leadership truly sets in. Teams tend to get sloppy, forget the fundamentals, and prone to accidents when the objective is within sight.
The Final Challenge: Your binary leadership test is here. Is your team talking, motivated, excited? Or are the just pushing across the line to be done with it? As a leader, this is your time to reflect. Did you do everything possible to set up your team for success, mitigate risks, create the mental picture of winning, and maintain the fundamentals to build confidence?
Take it in. You saw it, planned it, and worked your way to the top for it. It doesn’t last long if you do it by yourself. But when you take in that view with friends, family, and teammates, it lasts forever in tales for years to come. It’s told by your team members as they build their own teams and inspire others to challenge limits. Creating a community committed to leadership, performance, and legacy.
The inspiration and photos from this lesson came from the Summit of Three Fingers Lookout with my daughter the week prior to her 13th Birthday. I first read about this hike on my 3rd deployment to Afghanistan when my daughter was in-utero. 7.0 miles of hiking, scrambling, and glacier travel. All to visit a 150 square foot cabin perched on top of a 6,800’ granite peak. 13 years later, we achieved this summit as a team, in good spirits, and witnessed a sunset and sunrise that very few can imagine. The standard has been set and the next objective established by her is Macchu Pichu.