November 09, 2021

#012: The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance With Rich Diviney

Written by George Randle

Do you know that actual optimal performance goes beyond your skills? Success is mostly dictated by your attributes. George Randle welcomes Rich Diviney, the Founder of The Attributes. Rich wrote a book entitled The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance, which defines attributes as a person’s way of responding to their environment. Attributes categories include drive, mental acuity, and leadership. Knowing how to assess a person for their attributes is an indispensable method in choosing who belongs to your team. Some don’t appear skilled on the surface level but may have every single attribute you’re looking for. Do you want to drive optimal performance in your business or personal life? This episode’s for you. Tune in!

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The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance With Rich Diviney

TWP 12 | Optimal Performance

The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance

In this episode have the honor of speaking with somebody who understands talent at its core. I have with me Rich Diviney, a retired US Navy SEAL and author of The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance. It is truly a groundbreaking book and one that I keep right next to me as I do my work daily. Stand by to learn what is driving talent.

Rich, it is good to see you again and talk to you. I appreciate you coming on the show because in all the books I’ve read, as soon as yours came out, I was amazed, dog-earing several pages and enjoying it because I can be a data hound. For those of our readers that haven’t picked up your book yet, I hope they do. Tell us about your career. How did you figure out that, “I’m going to go be in the Navy.”

First of all, it is great to talk to you. I grew up wanting to be a Navy pilot. My twin brother and I from the time we were 6 or 7 years old, wanted to be Navy jet pilots so that was what our bent was. It wasn’t until when I was in high school and the first Gulf War happened that I learned about what the Navy SEALs were. At that point, I was intrigued and I was like, “Who are these guys?” I got a lot of books and almost no one knew who they were back then.

I got all the books, read up about it, ended up going to college in an NROTC program and saying to myself, “I didn’t want to be a pilot. I wonder if I could be a SEAL. I’m going to try it,” so that is what I did. I tried it out and got selected to go to SEAL training, which was cool. I got to SEAL training and made it through, which was also cool, and then started. That was in ’96 and that started a career that was a little bit slow at first but after 9/11 happened, everything got very kinetic quickly. I spent twenty years and retired in 2017.

I did many deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan but I also ran training for one of our specialized SEAL Commands. During that process was when I started to get fascinated with human performance and what that meant. When we talk about talent, it comes down to performance. That is what it is. You know this about me. I love semantics and like getting down to the elemental and bite-sized pieces of things. Ultimately, if you break down talent, it breaks down into performance. If you break down to performance, it breaks down into attributes and skills.

This is what I discovered while running training. I got out of the Navy and realized that a lot of organizations knew this stuff but weren’t able to articulate effectively what they were thinking. Why weren’t the dream teams working? Why were things becoming toxic? Why were people not performing under stress challenges and uncertainty? The answer seemed fairly clear to me and I figured I would write a book about it so I did and here I am.

We have talked on another podcast that we are on to book number two. That masochistic gene has taken on a new life and we are all deciding to get after it again. When Mike Sarraille was asked to go back and he was leading the training for Junior SEAL Officers. That is what he got assigned to. He was really upset and we all know Mike is like, “Break glass in time of war. Send them out.”

He gets upset easily. I say that lovingly.

He does and I love to tweak him in my Army way every chance I get. When you were selected to lead that training, did you feel similarly or see it immediately as an opportunity to go, “This is something unique and interesting to me,” or was it during that training that you thought, “I get to dig in and I’m seeing things I hadn’t put my head around before.”

I don’t think I got upset. I tease Mike. His temperature rises and falls quickly but he is also very good at problem-solving. He doesn’t let his temperature affect his ability to problem solve and that is in effect what being upset and angry sometimes does. High emotion doesn’t put us in a good conscious state to solve problems. When I got to be in charge of the training that I was running, one of the problems we were facing was for this command, we were getting some of the top candidates from the other spec ops teams and they were coming to our command and then going through our selection process.

If you break down talent, it comes down to performance. Click To Tweet

We were getting about a 50% attrition rate, which is okay. That was what every selection process is supposed to do. The problem was we weren’t effectively articulating why guys weren’t making it through and we tended to lean on things like, “I couldn’t shoot. I couldn’t jump very well and do these things.” I said, “It is not about these things. These guys are all experienced dudes so they’ve already done these things several hundred times.”

It is not that a guy can’t shoot. It has to be more, which is when I thought about basic SEAL training. You could say the same thing about basic Army or Marine boot camp but certainly, in SEAL training, you spend hundreds of hours running around with heavy boats on your head and exercising with 300-pound telephone poles. When I reflected, I said, “I’ve done hundreds of combat missions overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. Never on one did I carry a boat on my head or a telephone pole on my shoulder.”

What that tells us is when you call it SEAL training, it is a misnomer. It is not training at all. They are not training you to be a Navy SEAL when they make you do those things. They are throwing you into situations, environments, and an experience that teases out these hidden qualities called attributes. It’s these innate things that we are trying to figure out that are hidden and not in the forefront to see if you have what it takes to do the job. This is where I began to have to make a distinction between skills and attributes. In writing the book I was able to dial into that distinction in so far as what a skill is and what an attribute is.

Was it hard for you when you were in training? With the specialized folks that were coming to you, I would imagine by the time they were getting to you, there’s zero quit in these people.

It is not about quitting at all. This is a big difference because if you think about regular SEAL training and that is BUD/S or Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. It is designed originally by Draper Kauffman in the ’40s and was the predecessor of the UDT and the Naval Combat Demolition Units. Your primary job in SEAL training is not to quit. That is the primary job.

It is not about performance and you would learn some basic skills in BUD/S. It is basic diving and shooting and unless you’re not sharp at all, it is very easy to do what they are telling you to do from a skills perspective. It is only after you get out of BUD/S that you start to learn in-depth skills. Your primary job is not to quit.

The training we were running was completely different. The primary job in that training was to perform. You had to perform and this is why it was so easy to place value and judgment upon the skills factor. Oftentimes we think of performance just as skills but it is more than skills. It would be good for me to break these two things down.

Skills are not inherent to our nature. None of us are born with the ability to throw a ball, ride a bike or shoot a gun. We learn how to do those things and train how to do this. We are taught or can teach those things. Skills direct our behavior in specific environments, “Here is how and when to drive a car, ride a bike or shoot a gun.” Because they are visible, didactic and very easy to see, assess, measure and test, you can score them, put stats around them or put them on a resume.

In a hiring process, you can have someone say, “You sold this many things, widgets or whatever.” The problem with skills is they don’t tell us what we do and how we show up in times of uncertainty, challenges, stress and when things become unknown. When the environment is unknown, it is very difficult if not impossible to apply a known skill. This is when we lean on our attributes.

Great attributes are inherent to our nature. We are all born with levels of adaptability, situation awareness, patience and perseverance. Certainly, they develop over time and experience. They can be developed but you see levels of this stuff in small children. The other thing about attributes is they don’t dictate or direct behavior. They inform behavior.

I always use the example that my son’s levels of perseverance and resilience informed the way he showed up when he was learning the skill of riding a bike and falling off a dozen times doing so. They inform our behavior. Because they are hidden in the background and difficult to see, they are very hard to assess, measure, test and almost impossible to score.

You can’t sit across the table on an interview and score someone’s patience or adaptability. It is hard to assess. Even though they are running in the background in everything we do, they are the most visible and visceral during times of uncertainty, challenge and stress. When skills can’t be applied, that is when they show up, which was what made the laboratory I had perfect because everything about what we do is throwing people into challenge, uncertainty and stress.

When you were in that environment, I would imagine as you were looking at attrition rate and why people are attriting and starting to think of, “It’s not the skills. It’s the attributes.” I was curious after I’ve read the book is any part of that the speed of thinking and decision-making? How are you even able to measure that? How did you lean into that and say, “We have to be able to measure these in some relatively dependable way.”

TWP 12 | Optimal Performance

Optimal Performance: The primary job in seal training is not about performance; it’s about not quitting.


The answer is yes. I would say that in that specific training, the most distinctive difference between the guys who made it through and didn’t was in the book I described as the mental acuity attributes. It is the speed with which someone can process and think. The only way we could measure that was experiential.

In our specific case, for example, we use close-quarter combat. I know most of the audiences are familiar with military operations but close-quarter combat is the act of going into a building and clearing a building room by room. Whether you’re looking for a bad guy or rescuing hostages. We see it on TV all the time. It is a very fast, dynamic, dangerous and quick-thinking environment. The more time-sensitive the task when you’re going into clearing something like that, the more precise, dynamic and fast-thinking you have to be.

For example, if you’re going to rescue hostages, you need to be able to run into a room with 3 or 4 other guys, within milliseconds assess your piece of the room and who is the bad and the good guy, immediately take a lethal, well-positioned and well-aimed shot on a target that may be the size of a grapefruit and be able to hit that. Once that is done, move to another one and do that again until that room is clear, immediately assess the next level of threat, for example, the next doorway or entryway and move to the next thing.

It’s a very rapid way of thinking and moving and dynamic. When it’s done correctly, it’s quite beautiful to watch. It’s like watching a flock of birds or a school of fish. There’s a flow to it. That level of complexity requires a heightened amount of each of the mental acuity attributes like situational awareness, compartmentalization, task switching and learnability as well because you have to process and learn things pretty fast.

That’s certainly what we’re asking you to do but what we have to understand about that is that even though we were using that environment to tease out those attributes and see if they have the levels that we were looking for, those same levels of those attributes now apply to many different contexts in the job that we were conducting.

Think about it. The fact that I can perform in that environment at that level of mental thinking, now, I can also do the same thing if I’m 20,000 feet up in the middle of the night and my parachute malfunctions. I could apply that level of decision making, rapid thinking and rapid situational awareness. I can do the same thing if I’m diving in the pitch-black ocean or in a harbor and something goes wrong. These environments were telling us things about the candidates and ourselves because we all went through the same selection that applied across the contexts of our job and this is the power of attributes.

This is what employers have to understand. If you understand the attributes you’re looking for and the candidates you’re looking for have those attributes, you can always train the skill. We always used to say, we can always train someone how to shoot. That is easy. Can we train someone to run into a room and within a millisecond decide who’s bad and good, take a precise shot and then move on? That is attributes. That involves patience, situation awareness, compartmentalization, courage, adaptability and things like that.

High emotion doesn't put us in a good conscious state to solve problems. Click To Tweet

If you focus on these elemental things and dive down into performance, what we start finding is we could articulate it better but we also start to find the dark horses. In other words, they are the guys who didn’t appear on the surface level to be very skilled but had every single attribute we were looking for and all we needed to do was say, “You got what it takes. We are going to spend a lot of time training you and you will be one of the best we have ever seen.”

This is a chicken or egg in the way that I do this show but I’ve taught talent acquisition groups that you should be looking for character and attributes. The skills, we can train. There are some table-stakes. Nobody got to where you were evaluating them if they had not gone through a number of gates and assessment cycles before that.

That involves skills.

There are some gates there but what’s interesting and I may be asking this a little too early but it’s one thing to say, “This is what we are looking for in an attribute.” It’s an entirely different thing and I want to know how it is for you to get five other evaluators or cadres to subjectively evaluate that. Meaning, once I get 5 or 6 people that are interviewing executives, as an example, even if I go through the attributes and have created a success profile that says, “These are the attributes that we need for this role,” they’re all looking at those attributes or scoring them differently. That’s why I’m saying this is a little bit before we talk about all the attributes. It had to have been a shift in how you evaluated as well not only what you were looking for. What was that like?

You’re right and this is the power of doing it across several different contexts over the course of nine months, which most hiring processes don’t have. We would always say CQC was quite a good crucible inside of which we could measure a lot of this stuff but if someone was on the edge, we will keep them around and see how they do in other contexts.

There were selection processes in nine months and people who sometimes we had to de-select in month eight and a half, which is never a good feeling but that’s how it went because some of these attributes take time and context to see in different environments. Let’s take a simple one. Conscientiousness, which is a team ability attribute. It is an attribute that combines three more elemental attributes of diligence, reliability and working hard. Those three things combine into conscientiousness.

I can’t necessarily measure someone’s conscientiousness in a two-week close-quarter combat course. I have to let that person marinate in several environments and also get peer reviews because that person might be showing up in a way in front of the cadre that they’re not showing up in front of the other students. This person’s always on time and always a hard worker because the cadre is looking but as soon as the cadre is not looking, that person is gaffing off, doing whatever. Also, out in the town, are they idiots and not humble? Do humility and integrity cross the boundary of work to social?

Cadre isn’t always going to be there to see that. It’s going to be their peers who see that. Peer evaluations helped with this. However, again, we’re talking about an environment that was very complex and high stakes and most business environments aren’t that way and don’t need to have a selection process of that intense. Certainly, don’t just do an interview but try to do a couple of different things like maybe an interview, a social event or a team event so you can assess things like that. Don’t make it one interview and then you’re done. You’re not going to get everything you’re looking for if it’s that short.

TWP 12 | Optimal Performance

Optimal Performance: Attributes don’t dictate or direct behavior. They inform behavior.


I would work with executives and we would have 5 or 6 key executives. If we’re hiring for an executive role, who are the 5 or 6 people that are either responsible to their customers and internal clients where they’re going to have the most intersection overall and those people would interview. At the executive levels, there are so many more people so we would create social events and interactions, sit in on briefings and contribute to briefings and presentations. We got to be pretty good at picking executives.

I want to jump ahead a little bit. For writing The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent, of which you were a major contributor, I always knew that I had a book in me but there are so many books written on hiring and I don’t want to crack the market. There are many books written on special operations so Mike had that going on in his head. Jordan is forcing him so he says, to watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and he takes a break and calls me and says, “We need to write a book.” That was the moment where we brought both worlds together. How did that come about for you to write such a great book?

First of all, thank you for the compliment. It was a very interesting one. I always loved writing. I didn’t know if I had a book in me so I got out of the Navy and didn’t think about it much.

You were the one Navy SEAL who didn’t think they had a book in them. That’s what you’re claiming.

I didn’t, at least immediately.

That was a little bit of Army interjecting in there.

It’s true. I was never interested in writing a Navy SEAL book. I wanted to write something different but I wasn’t thinking about it much. I got to meet and became good friends with a guy out at Stanford. He’s a neuroscientist. His name is Andrew Huberman. He’s a very good dude. He’s popular and has a podcast that’s doing well.

He and I began to work on some stuff together that was around this idea of performing through challenge, uncertainty and stress. This is a little bit of a long story but we decided, “Let’s write a book on this,” so we started putting together a proposal. We went, got an agent and started looking at auctioning out and stuff. At that time, Andrew had another book. He was also doing a solo project.

What we realized is and you know this from the book world. If you were working on a book or have a book, you typically can’t write another book until a year after you published the book you’re working on. That’s typically a rule and neither of us knew that. We were new to the game so we were like, “We’re not going to be able to do a joint book just now.” I was like, “I don’t want to wait too long,” and Andrew said, “Why don’t you write a solo book? You have a ton of stuff.” I was like, “Okay,” and my agent said, “You should write a solo book. What do you think you could write about?”

I kid you not. I basically put together a two-page outline on high-performing teams. In that outline, I had 15 or 20 different concepts around what makes up a high-performing team. Underneath a bullet point of one of the concepts were this thing attributes and skills. I remember showing that to my agent and she said, “You have twenty books here. If you were to pick one thing that you think you could write about, what would it be?”

I was like, “Probably this attributes and skill stuff because I had been thinking about it and talking to organizations.” Literally, out of one bullet line came this idea for the book and I was able to rethink the things I did in the Navy, dust off some old notes and say, “Let me explore this,” so I started to explore it and it started to come together in a fun way. It was a cool process.

How long did it take you from that outline to final edits? I’m always curious.

It was not too long. My editor had said, “We recommend you work with a writer on this who can at least help you put it together,” because I had never written a book so I didn’t know how to put one. I said, “Sure.” I linked up with an awesome writer. His name is Sean Flynn and he’s near where I lived so I went down to see him. I said, “I want to write this book myself but I need help with organizing, structure and things like that.” He said, “No problem.” We began to generate this system where I would write a chapter, send it to him and he’d be like, “This is cool.”

Those who didn't appear very skilled on the surface level may have every single attribute you’re looking for. Click To Tweet

One of the things he taught me the most about is the organization of content. Here’s a good example. The way I typically would write was I do a nice and cool story and then have content explaining all the story. He was like, “Watch this,” and he started breaking up everything so you’d have a little bit of story and then a little content. What happens when you do that is the book flows much better. He taught me a lot about that type of flow.

It took me about three months. When we talked, we said, “The first three chapters are going to be the longest ones to write because you have to set it up.” Everything has to be set up properly because, after that, my plan was to write a chapter for attribute, which is how the book is laid out. We started in late September of 2019. The first three chapters were done by the holidays and then come New Year 2020 in January, it only took another month and a half to knock out the rest of the book.

It was two months because I was turning in the first draft of the manuscript by the end of February 2020, just the beginning of March 2020 and as the world was going into quarantine. After that, it was a couple of months of edits and my editor was so awesome. I thought he was like, “We should shoot for about a 55,000-word book and things like that.” The first draft was 60,000 words so I was thinking he was going to make me cut out a bunch but instead he was like, “This is great. We need to add some stuff. Let’s add a couple of things,” so we added some and it ended up around 65,000 words.

I found the process highly enjoyable. I had to get into a routine and the routine was typically I would get up at 4:00 in the morning, which I don’t like to do. I’m good in the morning and I don’t like to rise early but I did it in this case. I would get up at 4:00 in the morning and spend the first 2 or 3 hours knocking out 1,500 to a couple of thousand words because that was when creativity was flowing. I would spend the rest of the day or two editing what I had written and getting it to where I wanted it, send it to Sean, Sean would start working on it and then the next day I would start the new one. We got into a rhythm that way and it started moving pretty quickly.

Mike and I had a good rhythm. Once Kelsey, who is helping us with our book now, was able to decipher Mike’s crayon writing, we were up and running. We were back and forth and we got into that rhythm. A little bit before we get into the actual attributes, was there any point where you thought you were boiling the ocean?

Yes and I deliberately stopped. One of the things I thought I wanted to do and still would love to do.  I just realize it would take too long, was I wanted to write about how the attributes interplay with each other. What I realized was that would be 1,000 pages of that. I had to make a decision to keep it simple and straightforward. When I first started writing at the outset, I had 33 or 36 attributes. As I started writing and looking at them, I started saying, “These aren’t making sense. I need to bend these. This one can go. I should pull this one in and take this one out because it’s less SEAL-ish. I want it to be more ubiquitous to everybody.” That process was a process that happened throughout.

What did you come down to?

TWP 12 | Optimal Performance

Optimal Performance: You don’t get to call yourself a leader. Other people decide whether or not you are someone they want to follow.


There are 25 attributes. There are five categories that make up 22 of them and then there are three of what I call outliers or the others. I say 3 but it’s 6. The bottom line is I found that all the 22 I wrote about, in general terms, to have more was better. I say that in general terms so in other words, courage, adaptability and resiliency, in general, to have more is better. You can make the argument with narcissism to have a balanced level is fine. That was in general. What I found with these other ones was that if I looked at the polarities, the polarities were just as positive.

Patience, for example. I thought patience was one of the attributes I want to write about but when I started thinking about patience, I said, “Wait a second.” When it comes to optimal performance and people who do very well, there are patient people and impatient people who do well. It’s not an if or then thing or this or that. Both sides work. It’s the same with competitiveness and non-competitiveness and then with fear of rejection versus insouciance to what people think. I don’t care what other people think.

Both sides of the coin like that seesaw had massive advantages so it didn’t matter, in other words, which side of the coin you were. It just mattered that you knew which side you were on. That’s why those became those three other ones that I talked about. There are 25 total and 22 are separated into five categories. The five categories are the ones that make up grit, mental acuity, drive, great leadership and great team ability.

I wanted to pay you a compliment and clarify something for the readers. It was written by you so I wanted to read the book. I had heard so much about it and Mike talked about it. I was thinking, “This is going to help me with my assessment game and to coach other teams.” I wanted to make sure that I share with the readers that it’s going to do all that but there was the huge introspection part that I walked away with where I was like, “Before I start looking externally and talking about this, this book was very helpful for me on a personal level not just externally to the clients that I work with.” If you haven’t read this book, it’s phenomenal even if you’re not teaching or coaching others and for yourself. Let’s go through the first category.

First of all, thank you for that. That was always my endeavor to write a book that was about the reader first. What’s interesting is that it caused me to introspect while writing it. I did a lot of introspection while writing it. Let’s see grit. What are the attributes that make up grit? A lot of people think of grit as its attribute but it’s not.

Grit is a combination of things blended, boiled, stewed and baked together that become it. In other words, the result of this combination of attributes is grit. Grit is your ability to power through a challenge and push through usually having to do with more acute and near-term challenges and obstacles but that’s what it is. The attributes that make up grit are courage, perseverance, adaptability and resiliency. Those combine into someone’s being able to be gritty.

Mental acuity, which we referenced mental acuity attributes to the ones that describe how our brain processes the world. Situational awareness is how much information we take in so we can call that vigilance. The person with a high situational awareness notices a lot of things and the person with low situational awareness doesn’t notice a lot of things. An attribute that most Navy SEALs and special operators have is high situational awareness. I’m the guy who walks down city streets, looking at people’s hands and dark alleys and noticing cars and traffic lights. Things don’t necessarily get by me very easily.

There’s compartmentalization. Once we have that information, what are we doing with it based on the current activity we’re engaged in? In other words, how are we assessing the information that’s coming in? What is it? It’s prioritizing what makes sense in what order in the context of what I need to complete at this moment and then focusing on what I need to focus on. That’s compartmentalization. The ability to do that fairly seamlessly and rapidly is a measure of high compartmentalization.

There’s task switching. How can I effectively switch between focus points? We can’t multitask. That’s a myth. We all know that. What we do is switch between focus points. That’s task switching. We are going from driving our car to suddenly walking in the parking lot to suddenly in the grocery store. There’s learnability. How fast are we able to learn, absorb and metabolize those lessons that we’re learning?

Sometimes some people are higher on learnability. The people that are higher on the learnability are the people who you may know or you might be one of these people that you tell that person how to do something once and they got it. All it takes is one time. There are others who are low on learnability like myself. I make the same mistake a lot. I have to be told something a lot before it seeps in.

It’s better to have more courage, adaptability, and resiliency. Click To Tweet

If you know that about yourself and I know that about myself, I have to work a little harder. I’m sure it pisses me off. When I was in SEAL training where I got my SEAL selection for this command, I remember after the days were over, I’d go back to the shoot house, think and visualize what happened in the day. I try to absorb it and visualize what I needed to do or where I got things wrong. There were other guys who went drinking because they had it. They didn’t have to think about it at all because they were high on learnability.

There’s the drive attribute. Whereas grit speaks to the acute short-term challenge, drive speaks to our ability to set, pursue and achieve long-term goals. What are those attributes that make up the driven person? Those attributes are self-efficacy, open-mindedness discipline, cunning and narcissism. I know there are a couple of ones that seem pejorative but we can get into those if we want to. Those are the attributes that make up the driven person.

There are the attributes that make up great leadership and we have had this conversation many times. Being a leader and being in charge is not the same thing. One is a verb. One is a noun. Leadership is a behavior. I always say as a joke, “You don’t get to self-designate and call yourself a leader.” That’s like calling yourself good-looking or funny. Other people decide whether or not you are someone they want to follow.

You can certainly call yourself in charge, “I am in charge.” Positionally, that might be true. Whether or not you’re a leader is dependent on other people and whether or not they decide to designate or follow you as a designated leader. That is done based on the way you behave. Those behaviors stem from attributes and those attributes are empathy, selflessness, authenticity, decisiveness and accountability. Those five things are most often those behaviors that cause us to say, “I consider this person a leader.”

Team ability is the final category. It’s our ability to operate, move and behave with other people inside of a team. You don’t get to call yourself a great teammate either. Other people designate you and they do so based on the way you behave. Those behaviors stem from the attributes of integrity, humility, conscientiousness and humor. Those four things speak to the behaviors that allow someone to say, “This person is a good teammate.”

I would think anybody who spent any time in the military has to have a sense of humor especially if you’ve spent twenty years.

Most people do. If you spend twenty years and come out of it okay. There are certainly people I’ve met who have very little sense of humor and you can see it in their faces, the age lines and their stress levels but most people are.

I wanted to ask you something because I know that you coach a lot of people and speak a lot. I was out but I brought up that point of the verb versus the noun. This gentleman told me as we were meeting to figure out whether we were going to work together. He says, “I am the leader.” I said, “Who told you that?” He was stumped by the question. I said, “Can you understand that you don’t get to pick that? That is the people around you and are in your organization.” He says, “I’ve never thought of it that way.”

TWP 12 | Optimal Performance

Optimal Performance: A leader knows how to handle themselves and keep calm in stressful challenges and uncertainty.


Do you run into clients that are very much the same way when you’re sharing that with them? How do they respond? I’ve had some visceral reactions oddly enough. Maybe that speaks to narcissism, ego and a number of things but for you and I, when you brought that up when we were discussing and talking about the second book, I’m like, “That’s almost a no-brainer. It’s so evident. I feel bad that I missed it.”

I get mixed reactions. Oftentimes if people are upset by it, it’s because they consider leadership a position. That’s usually a mistake. Think about leadership as a position and a noun. It means to be in front. We describe it all the time like the leader of the race or the pack. That’s the person who is in front of everybody. We have heard all the stories and the mythology around the great leader who says, “Come on, follow me.”

Never ask your people to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. Lead from the front. Leaders always go first. These are not true. I’m going to say this as someone who led some very elite units in the field. I was the guy in charge so I was technically by all accounts of normal verbiage “leader,” but I wasn’t always in front. I wasn’t always asking people to do something. To think that I would ask my sniper to do something that only I had done myself is insane. My snipers could do things that I couldn’t even dream of doing because they were so good at what they do. We got to break some of these paradigms.

Oftentimes and we know this intuitively, that the best leaders are not in front of all. The best leaders are behind and they’re pushing, inspiring and causing an environment where people understand when to step up and take charge and when to follow. They’re creating and building leaders. I always tell my JOs, “The irony of leadership is if you do your job right, you eventually work yourself out of a job,” because you create an environment of people who could run without you and hopefully outpace you.

I used to get excited when I saw junior officers who were coming in behind me and I was like, “These guys are so much better than me. They are ten times better than me.” I used to get excited about that because I knew that eventually they would take my place and outpaced me and I would be left behind as I should be as a leader in the military.

I know I’m being a little bit dramatic here because you can also promote up and get into bigger positions of being in charge. Think about the true blue like a CEO of a company. The finest CEOs are not in the day-to-day management and leader. They’re envisioning stuff, thinking through direction, liaisoning with people, going down, shaking hands and connecting. It’s not at all, “I’m in charge” type of behavior.

Your goal as an upcoming leader or person in charge is to eventually reach, if you want to reach the highest level, you’re not going to have to worry about telling people what to do. Leaders don’t tell people what to do most of the time. There are certain cases where they can and where it’s applicable but most of the time you want to create environments where people know how to solve problems, can make decisions and run themselves. That’s when you get a high-performing team.

From that same client that I was talking with, I had borrowed the term and introduced it to all the people that I had the good privilege to work with and you among them. Ideally, you’re trying to work yourself out of a job and in his particular case, I was tying it to he was so in the weeds. He wants to be the expert and be directing. It’s almost literally directing saying when there’s action, when to cut, cut the scene and add the scene.

I told him and said, “You need to work yourself out of a job.” You could see him clenched up like he was waiting for the argument to come at me because I knew where he was going to go. I said, “Let me ask you this strange question. As you’re spending all this time doing this, what is it taking away from what you feel like you should be doing as the visionary of this firm?”

That saved me frankly and I asked you from a client I hadn’t booked yet. I want to go to 2 or 3 simple questions. When you’re talking with executives and leaders and you’re talking about this legacy of leadership and building other leaders, are there any of the attributes from a leadership perspective that you stress more than others? That may be asking you to pick your favorite child kind of thing.

The better analogy would be like asking who the most important player is on a football team. It’s impossible to say. It depends on what you’re doing in that field at that time. That shifts. The leadership attributes that I talk about are empathy, selflessness, authenticity, decisiveness and accountability. All five of those are very important and they’re important to interplay inside of a leadership arena.

We just got done saying that we want to, as leaders, encourage and inspire people to make decisions and solve problems themselves yet decisiveness is one of the attributes. That’s because sometimes people are looking to a leader to be decisive and make a decision. Sometimes the job is to step up and decide. Decisions, when they’re made, the best leaders make them and they are final but they may not be permanent.

That’s distinctive in terms of the semantics there. You make a decision. “This is final. We are moving out on this. That’s what we’re doing.” You move out and as you move out, you begin to assess and see how things are going and if things are going in the right direction. You may find that wasn’t necessarily the right decision. We need to change course and change the path to something. It’s not permanent. You just change and make a new decision.

In these leadership attributes, I don’t know if there is one that is more important than the other because it is quite contextual. In leadership, when you’re dealing with human beings, it’s a very dynamic and complex relationship. In some cases, you may need to be decisive and in some places, you need to be empathetic. In some places, you need to be very candorous, “I need to tell you the hard truth and it’s not going to feel good but I’m telling you these truths because I care about you and this team.”

That doesn’t feel very empathetic sometimes. This is the job of leadership. That’s why no one said it was easy. It’s easy to be in charge because someone can put you in charge, “You are in charge.” Remember when we were in grade school, “Timmy, you’re in charge of the room while I’m gone.” That part is easy but the actual work of leadership is difficult. That’s why not many people do it well.

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On that note and this may be hard to boil down but it’s the thing that I try to ask. This is one question and the last question. I’m going to give them both to you and you can answer in either order. As we close out, what are the top three tips for leaders from you that you would give or that you have gotten either way? The last question is if you could go back to 21-year-old Rich, what would you tell him that would make your career more impactful, better, easier and I don’t mean mistake or failure-free? What advice, as you’ve accomplished so many things, that you would go back and say, “These preconceived notions get out of your head. These are things that you could charge forward on faster.” Either question first as a closeout.

I’ll take the first question about the three things. The first thing is simple. Leadership is a behavior, not a position. That’s a truism. You can’t get around that. The second one I would say is that one of the most important and impactful things you can say to the people in your span of care is, “I need you.” You can say it explicitly or in action. Hopefully, you’re saying it both ways, “I need you. I can not do this without you. You are providing a position, job, service, skill and attribute that I do not have and this team needs.”

This is a deference of power. This is a humble leader and position and it’s necessary. People will need to know that they are valued and are an important part of a team, job and mission. Here’s a quick anecdote in terms of this type of understanding. If you do it correctly, have a purpose that is executed and articulated correctly and everybody finds value in what they do and you know this story but I’ll say it anyway.

It was in the ’60s after Kennedy had declared we were going to the moon. A couple of years later, he was touring NASA, meeting different people and finding out what people did. He was walking through the hallway and bumps into a janitor who has a mop and the President introduced himself and said, “What do you do here?” The janitor looks at him and says, “What do you mean Mr. President? I’m trying to get a man to the moon.” This was what the janitor told him because the janitor knew that what he did had value and was part of a larger and bigger picture so that’s how much it means.

The third one is there’s a lot of stuff out there around self-care and some of it can get a little woo-woo. I know leaders especially hardcore leaders can sometimes be like, “I don’t need to care about myself. I need to cover up my company.” When it comes to self-care, stress, challenge, uncertainty and all that stuff, we all know especially for parents, that fear, anxiety and those negative emotions are contagious. We know this because if we do it, we see our kids do it.

Guess what’s also contagious. Calm is contagious. What was the saying I heard? It was maybe an Irish saying but, “Calm seas never a great sailor make,” but calm sailors do. I added on the end, “Calm sailors make great sailors.” Even though the seas aren’t calm, if a leader knows how to handle themselves in stress, challenges, uncertainty and maintains calm, collectiveness and coolness, that will be contagious. It’s those three things.

In the second part, I always find it’s an interesting question. I’m going to dodge it to a certain extent. The reason why I’ll dodge it is I’ll tell a story. I went to BUD/S Class 210. Every BUD/S class has numbers and you never forget your number. The first sign of a fake SEAL is that they don’t tell you the right BUD/S number or forget it. You always remember your BUD/S class number. I was in Class 210. It takes about 17 or 18 years to go through 100 classes. If you’re lucky enough, you might still be on active duty when your centennial class goes through.

Class 310 was going through BUD/S and Hell Week. I was in San Diego. I happened to be there for some business. I went and observed their Hell Week and got to help secure them from Hell Week, which is a big deal traditionally. I remember standing in front of them as they were getting ready. They had just finished six days of misery.

They were standing there getting ready to be secured and I stood in front of them and said, “I am in a position now. I’ve had a wonderful, intense and cool career. I’ve done so many things and been to many places. I have a beautiful wife, wonderful kids, a wonderful home and a wonderful family. None of that would exist had I uttered the two words that you all have not uttered.” Those words were, “I quit.” If I had said, “I quit,” my whole life would have been different.

I said to them, “You did not utter those words, which means you are on the precipice of greatness, a great experience and a great life because you didn’t utter those words.” The reason why I tell you that story is because when people ask me, “If you could go back and say something to your young self, what it would be?” I wouldn’t say anything. I’d love to observe but I’d be so afraid that I would influence myself to do something different and wouldn’t get me to where I am.

It’s the butterfly effect. One decision this way or that way can change the trajectory of your entire life. There were some mistakes I made, bad times and good times. I honor every one of them and recognize every single one of their value and necessity in my pathway. The dodge of the question is I wouldn’t say anything. If I don’t want to dodge the question, I’d say, “Work on your self-discipline. That would help you out.”

It’s a very fair answer and gives me a reason to reflect because all of my experiences bring me to this moment. One of those one way or the other would have twisted. Rich, this has been an engaging conversation. I hope you do add those 1,000 pages at one time. I absolutely will read them and I look forward to what we are creating together. It’s truly an honor. I can say proudly that my life is better and more enriched because we have crossed paths. Things bring you to a certain point but I thank you for being on the show. I’m going to see you in the next book call.

We shall, my friend. Thanks for having me.

Have a great weekend.

You too.

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About Rich Diviney

TWP 12 | Optimal PerformanceRich draws upon 20+ years of experience as a Navy SEAL Officer where he completed more than 13 overseas deployments – 11 of which were to Iraq and Afghanistan. Through his career, he has achieved multiple leadership positions – to include the Commanding Officer of a Navy SEAL Command.

Since retirement in early 2017, Rich has worked as a speaker, facilitator, and consultant with the Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute and Simon Sinek Inc.


About the author

George Randle
Managing Partner & Co-Director of Talent Advisory | View Bio | More From the Author

George Randle is an experienced talent executive, veteran, coach, mentor, and leader known for selecting, building, and reorganizing teams to reach their full business potential. George has 20+ years of Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 global Human Resources and Talent Acquisition experience building elite teams. George began his professional life by enlisting in the US Army Reserves.  While serving in the USAR, he received his bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University and was commissioned an officer. His career assignments included Berlin, US CENTCOM, and III Corps with deployments to Africa (Somalia and Kenya), Central America, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Following his successful military career, George transitioned to the corporate world, experiencing many of the same challenges the Military and Veterans face today. These challenges along with the recognition that building elite teams are his true passion, George ultimately transitioned to the Human Resources and Talent Acquisition function. He later went on to create one of the largest and most successful Veteran Hiring Programs for a Global Fortune 50 firm. Collectively, the teams George has built have hired over 85,000 professionals, including over 2000 executives. He is also a Hogan (HPI, HDS, and MVPI) Leadership Assessment Certified coach.

George currently resides in Austin, Texas, and is the co-author of the best-selling book, “The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent” and the Host of "The Talent War" Podcast.

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