While the parallels between special operations and business closely mirror each other in some regards, there are also glaring differences. The most significant difference I’ve found in the year plus that I’ve been out of the military is what is considered acceptable and unacceptable in the workplace.
In a SEAL Team room, for instance, there are (legal) mementos collected from high-level missions, pictures from past training trips, and photos to memorialize fallen teammates. On the other hand, a corporate culture is not likely to hang the suit and tie of the CEO whose company you just acquired, nor will there be pictures memorializing past employees who worked at the company for six months.
Of the social norms that differ between the two professions, nothing is more apparent than the definition of what “acceptable“ means. What is normal in the SEAL Teams, for instance, is typically considered abnormal elsewhere (go figure). Here’s a quick rundown of 10 sayings I did not hear in the Teams and the reasons why:
1. “I can’t do that.”
If somebody had said this in the team room then he would’ve found himself cold, wet and duct taped. Unless a physical handicap is present, replace your “can” or “can’t,” with “will” or “won’t.” There’s always a way. Find it.
2. “Sorry I’m late.”
You don’t hear this in a culture of accountability because expectations are set, and if they’re not met then there are repercussions. Not to say that expectations don’t change, but it’s not for a lack of effort in fulfilling them.
3. “I don’t know.”
While admitting uncertainty is perfectly fine, the statement alone leaves much to be desired. Instead, try saying “I don’t know yet, but I’ll find out and get back to you.” This latter part is what demonstrates a proactive mindset and a willingness to work, rather than leaving your ambition open to interpretation.
4. “I’m going to HR.”
Nobody cares. Unless the issue is illegal, immoral or unethical, solve the problem yourself. HR is there to facilitate company strategy, not arbitrate turf wars between employees.
5. “Schedule it with my EA.”
While not all SEAL Teams are created equally, there is an equal dispersion of accountability that team members are expected to uphold. Namely, if you take care of your personal business then your personal business will take care of you when it counts. Having unpacked (emotional) baggage only gets heavier the longer you carry it around.
There is nothing like the camaraderie between SEALs. Nothing else even comes close to paralleling the tight bond, unity and cohesion found amongst men who live, eat, train and fight together. Having said that, some people just need a good whoopin’ once in a while to keep egos in check, and teammates are no different. Confronting difficult issues and learning from them is what turns mediocrity into greatness.
8. “Hold my calls.”
The train doesn’t stop for you. Get on or get off, but you are no more important than the guy (or gal) next to you. Once you’re done with your share of the task, see who else needs help.
9. “Let’s hold off on this issue until the next meeting.”
I’m all for collecting the facts, but nothing decides itself. There comes a point where too much data leads to analysis paralysis, and decision-making gets delayed until the elegant solution arrives—and it never does. Pushing off decision-making authority or accountability only leaves a larger snowball of complexity to have to deal with later.
10. “I just found this awesome PowerPoint template!”
Everybody’s “primary weapon” is different—carpenters use hammers, chefs use ingredients, announcers use their voice. Whatever your weapon of choice, make sure it’s always ready to go because second chances don’t come by too often.