On today’s episode of Steal the Show, we uncover how to rely on training, on-stage and off.

Steve Drum is a retired Navy SEAL Master Chief. He helped develop a “Warrior Toughness” training program for the U.S. Navy, ultimately changing the way the military branch prepares young sailors and offices for the acute stress of intense combat operations. A two-time Heroic Public Speaking GRAD alum, Steve is launching his speaking career to share how to handle stress in high-stakes situations.

How You Can Steal the Show

  • Discover what the Navy SEALS teach with focusing attention by toggling mindfulness.
  • Harness how he’s teaches sailors to become tougher … while using words like “mind, body, and soul.”
  • Uncover which he thinks is tougher training: Navy SEALS or Heroic Public Speaking.
  • Understand the number one key to success in tough training programs.
  • Learn the question you need to ask yourself when your speaking training gets tough. 
  • Maintain balance between toughness and holistic reflection.
  • Handle stress in high stakes situations.
  • Define “Performing on the X” and how speakers can use it to prepare for their performances.
  • See what “Thank you for your service” means to him.

Michael:

Steve Drum recently retired from a 27-year career as a Navy SEAL Master Chief. Steve lightened up what he did by saying he jumped out of planes and kicked in doors. But he did far more than jump and kick. Steve trained and led U.S. and foreign partner special ops forces on high-risk missions around the world. And, he helped develop a “Warrior Toughness” training program for the U.S. Navy.
On today’s episode of Steal the Show, we’re talking to Steve, a two-time HPS GRAD program graduate, about what it takes to perform in high stakes situations, whether it’s on the battlefield or on the stage.

Michael:
Steve, thank you for being here.

Steve:
Thank you very much Micheal, it’s a real honor to be on your show here.

Michael:
So we’re here at HPS HQ, which is nice because I sit across the table from you. And one of the things, people, they can’t see you now. And if you online, there’s not tons and tons of pictures of you at this point. But one of the things they should know is that you’re pretty intense physically. I remember the first time you came to HQ and you were watching us on stage, and you just sort of sat there, straight, with this very, very intense look just watching us the whole time. And I remember thinking, “That’s how you study. That’s how you learn.” A lot of people sort of kick back, just kind of, “Well, if something is said that’s interesting, then I’ll pay attention.” But you are focused and always paying attention in this very intense way. Were you always like that or is that something you developed over time?

Steve:
That’s definitely something I developed over time. I think naturally, we always say in the SEAL teams, many of us are ADD, right? We see a squirrel, we’re like, “Okay, after that.” But we’ve trained in such a way where we know how to, I like say, we know how to toggle the automaticity on and off with, I call it, variable focus. Where you’re able to be present in the moment and it takes mindfulness training. Present in the moment, pay attention exactly what you need to do while being able to sometimes toggle the automaticity, as I call it.

Steve:
Meaning, kind of like for example, for those of use who have or had office jobs, it’s a long day, you’re tired. You get in the car, you turn the key, push the on/off button to your car, next thing you know you’re in your driveway. So you’ve just gotten there on autopilot. Now, the one day that you have deviate from that and you have to pick something up at the store, you need to toggle that mindfulness button where you’re, that variable focus, “I need to be present in what I’m doing and making sure that I do things.”

Steve:
So I think it’s definitely a skill that is learned. It’s like anything, it’s human, your mind wanders. And I think but once you practice deliberate processes to bring that focus, and I do that through mindfulness or meditation, and it’s been a huge game-changer for me. I attribute a lot of that focus to that.

Michael:
You spent 27 years in the Navy and the last number of years, you’ve been teaching mental toughness at maybe bootcamp, correct?

Steve:
Correct, we call it Warrior Toughness. And the thing about that, is its wholistic, meaning, we basically got after it, mind, body, soul. So the story goes, the joke is the admiral that we work for always told, “A Chaplin, a clinical physiologist, and a Navy SEAL walking into a bar, right?” And we never really figured out what the punchline was, but almost quite literally, we were locked into a room and told to figure out how to make our sailors tougher. Because there were incidences where we felt like our sailors, many stood up and did heroic things, but in many cases, they were not able to perform under that acute stress. And so we said, “All right, we need something they can apply consistently and wholistically.”

Steve:
So wholistically, mind, body, soul. And so we get after that by saying, “All right, you’re mine, we’re going to sharpen your mind by doing performance phycology techniques, mindfulness to help with focus.” When it comes to the body, yes, physical fitness, but I also kind of conflate that with the type of training that you would do, like your scenario based training, your skills training, whatever that is, I put that in the body part. And then, the soul, even though it’s taught by the Chaplin’s, which are religious teachers in the military, it’s not religious at all. It can be, if you are religious, but if you’re not, it’s basically about developing your character and tapping into all your sources of strength, your personal values, your personal beliefs and things in which you gain strength from. And so that’s what it is.

Michael:
Now, this Warrior Toughness program that you are teaching, you’re teaching to Navy sailors but not folks who are in the BUDS program specifically, right? These are general enlisted folks.

Steve:
Correct. So it started off when we decided, “Hey, how do we make sailors tougher? Well, let’s start on the vine with the recruits in Navy basic training.” So we developed mostly character-based program, and I wasn’t involved with that at the point. And we also, at the same time, they conducted a quality of life survey at bootcamp. And what that uncovered was that the recruit division commandos, or drill Sargent, were under an abhorrent amount of stress working in excess of 100 hours a week. And so, we realized, they need these tools as well, not only because it’s going to make them better, more effective at their job, they’re able to more seamlessly translate the lessons to the recruits. But also, we need them to leave their bootcamp tour, the stressful tour, with their family lives intact and ready to go on and do great things when they change duty stations, go back into the fleet into the regular Navy.

Michael:
People hear stories about how hard SEAl training is, that it’s the most mentally, physically demanding training that exists in our military today. Which is harder, HBS training or the Navy SEAL training? And I think I know the answer to this one.

Steve:
Well, I will say this, they are both obviously difficult in very different ways. What I will say is that it all starts with commitment. You made the joke to me, and you’re like, “Oh, I could’ve never made it through that.” I’m like, “If you were as committed to that as you are to this, you most likely would have.” Because that’s how it all starts, we want to be speakers, in a variety of different ways, I think, for many of us. Some people want to go out and they want to perform because it lights them up, it’s just what makes them feel good. And then other people, who couldn’t barely look at somebody in the eyes on a one to one conversation, feel so compelled to get their message out with the world. And I think that’s particularly inspiring to me.

Steve:
But it starts with that commitment, why we’re doing what we’re doing? Why are we doing it? And that goes back to what you teach in the Foundational Five, which is essentially, what is my message, what do I have to share, who am I sharing it with? Now, how am I going to go about doing that? But it all has to start with commit. A lot of times, when I would take these young BUDS candidates, the perspective SEAL candidates, BUDS stands for basic under order demolition SEAl training. And I would sit them down because my job, initially, before I did the Warrior Toughness piece, was to onboard a lot of these candidates. They show up at bootcamp, they’re up hours before any of the other recruits at bootcamp. It was my job to give them progressive run and swim program, get them faster on their feet, more comfortable in the water. But as I saw, one of the most important pieces was the mentoring aspect. So I’d sit these kids down-

Michael:
This is at BUDS?

Steve:
No, this is at bootcamp.

Michael:
Oh, at bootcamp.

Steve:
I’d sit them down for their first mentoring session and I’d say, “Guess what? Most of you are not going to graduate. Most of you will never be Navy SEALS.” And of course, you get the little look in their face, but they do know that the attrition, how high the attrition rate is, as high as, depending on where you track it, as high as 90% and as low as 75% typically. So they know what it is, they don’t want to hear it from me. And I said, “Why do you think that is?” And I’d ask them the questions, “Why do you think you’re not going to make it?” And I’d get the same answers, “We’re not strong enough, we’re not tough enough. We’ll fail something, we’ll get hurt. Be a performance drop, whatever that is.” And I’d say, “Okay, maybe, for some of you that’s true. But for most of you, you’ll find that you’re just not willing to pay the price of admission. You’ll find that you’re simply just not committed to yourself.”

Steve:
So we would have them, they have workbooks, and I would encourage everybody to do this, is to journal. And I would say, “Right now, you’re not stressed. You’re not cold, wet, tired, hungry. Write down why you’re doing this. And when you start to doubt yourself, when you start to waiver, when you want to ring that bell to quit, you want to find something easier to do. You go back and say, ‘I made the right decision.'” I’ll even admit this, I was so, and I’ve told you this before, I was so naive when people we’re like, “Oh, you know what? You should consider being a speaker.” And I did that because one of my most… I love the combat and things like that and it was all fun, but that was personally satisfying. But I think the things that gave me the most… where I contributed the most, were my development and training young SEALS, training officers, training counterpart, foreign special operations forces.

Steve:
And so people were like, “Yeah, you should do that.” I’m like, “All right, well I always loved instructing and teaching.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” But then, you get in here, you get to HBS, and you’re like, “Oh my god. There’s so much I don’t know.” I counted on getting the performance coaching, I counted on that. I was ready for that. Then you’re like, “Oh, all right, okay, oh, wow, oh yeah. How did you not know you needed a really good website?” How did you not know? Yes, how are you going to do your accounting? And just a lot of just the normal stuff associated with a small business. And so sometimes you questions yourself, right? And it’s that when you got to go back and you got to say, “No, I made the right decision.” Okay? I know from the outset, that there’s going to be challenges and I have to reckon. And everything we do, we have to consider, there are things we’re going to have preserver through.

Michael:
One of the things that you said that I really resonate with, when you sat these young folks down and said, “All right, what’s going to be the thing that makes you quit?” I love that, it’s one of the things that I’ll often ask people when they’ve said, “Yes, I want to do HBS grad, or yes, I want to do this kind of training.” I’ll ask them, I’ll say, “Okay, so lets put a list together of what would make you quit so we know in advance.”

Steve:
That’s excellent.

Michael:
Because I think what happens is, if you’ve got this list of, okay, these are the things that would make me quit. So for example, some of the might be legitimate reasons to quit like if my spouse or one of my parents had a health crisis and they only had a short amount of time to live, I might quit to go spend time with them and then I’ll come back later, right? So that might be a very reasonable reason to quit. So then what happens is, when you get into the muck, and you feel like you want to quit, you go back and look at your list and say, “Is this thing on my list?” And if it’s just the discomfort of not knowing what to do next, or doing a run through that didn’t go well, or just being freaking tired or whatever it is, that’s not on your list so you can’t quit. If you have a list of reasonable reasons, okay. But after that, then you’re in, you’re good, non-reversible commitments outside of these few factors.

Steve:
That’s exactly right. And I wish I had that a couple years ago, I could’ve put that…

Michael:
So this is your second time going through grad. Now many people go through grad HBS grad two, sometimes three times and people often ask, “Why? Did it not work the first time? Why did you come back again?” Why did you decide to come back and continue to do that training?

Steve:
Well, there’s a couple reasons. I will start off by saying, I remember the first conversation you and I had at HBS live. Beyond the, “Hey, I’m Steve [inaudible 00:14:40], I’m coming to grad later.” The first real conversation I had with you was, hey, just basically showing you appreciation for how smoothly and how well run things were because I know that this extremely complicated, all the inner workings of trying to an event. And of course it was excellent. And so I wanted to compliment you for that and you very graciously said, “Well thank you, but this should be the standard. This should not be exceptional, this should be the standard.” And so, I really, right away, was like, “All right, there’s a level of professionalism here that I’m very much connected too.”

Steve:
Now, in terms of the music on at eight in the morning and me dancing, I was still very, very much reserved with that. Even when we got to grad and it was, “All right, this is about the sense of community.” I’m like, “I come from a brotherhood, I don’t need this.” But then, what you realize is that they are very supportive. My family is supportive, but they’re not walking this journey with me. I’m doing this by myself until I get here and then this is a very special place. And so, of course, I went through and I started getting better. But was with anything, you realize that this craft is… The pursuit of this mastery of the craft is never finished. It never is. We’re never going to stop being better and reaching higher.

Steve:
And so I realized, now I have the tools where I can build better content before I get to HBS. So when I go up on stage, I’m that much more ahead, my materials already more refined. Which means that when I’m getting a master class, when I’m getting in rehearsal groups, I can now take it to an even higher level than it would’ve been if I was just giving you raw material to work with.

Michael:
Of the things that is essential to us at HBS and all the work we do, is that we always are creating a safe environment for people to make big choices and take chances. Now, just because it’s a safe environment, doesn’t mean it’s easy. There’s an important distinction between those things. Sometimes when people think safe, they think easy, that they won’t need to challenge themselves or be uncomfortable. And I think that if our students aren’t uncomfortable at different points in the process, then we’re not teaching and they’re probably not learning. So, for you, during your SEAL training, now this is a long time ago, 27 years pretty much.

Steve:
A little less, I did two years in the fleet.

Michael:
All right, 25 years or so. So what do you remember is the hardest part of the training for you personally? And then, if we can make this leap, what was the hardest part of the training that you’ve been doing as a speaker?

Steve:
Okay, yeah. So to me, when you go in there… Now, obviously, when I went to SEAL training, I showed up there in 1995, there were a couple of books out maybe. But by and large, there was not a lot of information. There weren’t a lot of real SEALs that I could talk too, obviously there’s so much information, so many books, so many things on YouTube and everything, and I didn’t have that. And so I built the training up as this mythical beast. And the training, the initial part then, was six months long. And statistically, more infamously, the part that weeds out the most people was hell week. It’s five days, five plus days where you’re not sleeping, they’re running you constant, constant physical activity, emerging into cold water. And it’s where most of the guys decide that they no longer want to pursue this and they quit.

Steve:
But for me, personally, the hardest part was, we had a very large class, I think we had almost 190 people, which was a large class by standards back then, was the first four or five days. Is that they just hammered the hell out of us. For those that couldn’t sit back and say, “Well they can’t keep doing this. They’re going to have to eventually teach us something,” because it’s all it was. And I think all they were trying to do was get the numbers down, weed out the people that really didn’t want to be there early on. And I remember going back to my room one day and there’s probably six people to a room where we were staying. And I went in there and I see all these guys packing up all their stuff, I’m like, “Fellas, where we going? We moving rooms?” And they’re like, “No, this isn’t for us.” So it was that hard part. I think it’s the enormity of things being so hard initially and you realize, “I am still almost six months away from my goals, from my dreams here.”

Steve:
And so when you get into… A lot of times when you start off on something like this, or people who are starting into be speakers for the first time, and then you really start to realize, kind of as I mentioned earlier, when you really start to realize, “Okay, what all is involved commitment wise?” You’re like, “Okay, yay, I want to go, I want to be booked and perform 60 events a year. But what does that mean to my family?” When we really start thinking of the totality, then you realize, “Okay, there are a lot of things do,” and I think it’s just the enormity, that’s the big thing.

Steve:
I’ve had friends say, “You get through BUDS one meal at a time. If I can just survive to lunch, I’ll be good,” right? “And that’s all I’m going to try to do is survive for lunch.” That small bite of the elephant, and I think that’s kind of how we need to look at things. We need to say, “All right, lets kind of just step back a little bit, lets just kind of prioritize some things that we can after because we can’t have it all at once.”

Michael:
Because at the beginning of any journey, often we are very excited about the idea of it. So imagine there are folks who go into the SEAL training program, or they go into any particular career pursuit, and they see what’s exciting about it, right? The high status of being a SEAL, the high status of being a speaker on the big stage. The first class plane flights, not as a SEAL I imagine.

Steve:
No.

Michael:
No, being in the back of a cargo plane, and you jump out of the plane so it’s a little bit different. But often, it’s what sexy about it. And until you’re actually in the weeds doing the work associated with whatever you’re pursuing, often you just see the surface stuff. And so it seems like, at the beginning of the process, for you guys, a lot of folks who like the idea of it are the ones who are dropping out pretty quickly because they don’t have enough of a why. There isn’t something that’s driving them that’s bigger than just the name recognition or the ego associated with trying to get into that position. Now I see something similar in the world of speakers or the pursuit of any type of mastery. The idea of something doesn’t often reflect the reality of it on the ground.

Michael:
So in the Warrior Toughness Training Program that you taught, and in your experience through your training, and then, of course, you spent years and years in country, deployed multiple times et cetera. How do you stay focused on what’s important to you, why you’re doing the thing you’re doing even with all of the noise around you? Because there are certain things that we have control over, and there’s some things we do have control over. And I imagine, when you spend 27 years in the military, a lot of many aspects of your life, you don’t have control over. And I think the same thing is true in a career like speaking, there are many things you don’t have control over. So how do you balance, from a mental perspective, the things that you can control and the things that you can’t control so that you can stay focused on what you’re doing what you’re doing and the pursuit of your goals?

Steve:
Yeah, and I’ll go back to when I joined. You mentioned earlier, okay, you’re in love with the idea once you get in there. I had a friend that used to talk about this and he used to say, he used to call it the excitement paradigm. So you start off on a journey, you’re very excited. But somewhere between the start of that journey and the end of that journey, is what he would call the void. And the void is where you have to actually put the work in that you spoke of. And it’s where you’re a subject to doubting yourself. And so for me, I didn’t know what really what being a SEAL entailed, I just know I wanted that trident. But when I got there, what I realized, it was the brotherhood was the only reason why I was able to stay with it.

Steve:
And so when I got the only reason… And people are like, “Oh, being a SEAL is cool.” I’m like, “Yeah, I loved it, I loved it. We did a lot of cool stuff, but we did a lot of un-sexy stuff too.” Deployments where just, “This is not what I want to be doing right now.” But it’s the people that you’re surrounded with. So I think in terms of keeping you on track, doing what you’re doing, and again, that’s why I wanted to come back to grad, is that communal aspect of it. So again, I think you always need to… We get carried away. We get into potentially a spiral of negativity when things aren’t going well for us. There’s a lot of distractions, they can conspire to cause to be very stressed out.

Steve:
But if we are really able to just stop and get back and do some writing and do some reflecting, that’s one of the big things I talk about is reflection. Is being able to sit there and be like, “Where am I right now? Where do I need to go? Are my behaviors and actions still aligned with what’s important to me? So what have I done this past week? Is this in alignment with who I am as a person? Is this in alignment with my goals both as a speaker and as a family person?” And you have to take that time out for yourself. And that’s part of that self care aspect, is you have to step back and you have to check in with yourself. You have to step out of that noisy traffic and make sure that you’re still on track with where you want to go.

Michael:
So this is so interesting to me because one of the things that I struggle with sometimes is trying to balance staying strong, staying tough, staying mentally focused and also being emotionally available and allowing myself to be vulnerable and to feel the things that are difficult in life. So do you balance those two things? Because you’ve spent your career in a field where toughness is rewarded. And I wonder if we put up walls so that we are invincible, then we often close ourself off and it’s hurts our relationships because we’re not available to the people we love and the people that love us. And it can start to, at least for me, I feel like it starts to backfire if I try to stay too tough.

Michael:
For someone who is a professional communicator, I’m not sure I’m being particularly articulated at the moment. But I do wonder how you balance those two things? Because you mentioned, well in this Warrior Toughness program, you brought meditation and reflection and journaling and this very wholistic approach which it wouldn’t be the first thing that I would think of when I think of warrior toughness training. And so how did you balance being vulnerable, actually feeling the difficult aspects of life and also staying incredibly strong and focused on whatever job you got to at the time? That makes sense?

Steve:
It makes sense. There’s basically two aspects that I can bring up. And the first one is, you asked me, “How was I able to balance?” Well, I didn’t. I didn’t do it very well. I would be able to deal with stress in a work type context, like when we’re under fire, whatever. I found that I could perform well there, but then all the sudden, I get home and I’m driving in traffic with the kids in the back and I’m losing it. And I just was not the father, was not the husband that I wanted to be, that I needed to be. And of course, and also, as that stuff started to spiral, I also realized that this is negatively impacting my ability to lead at work. I’m quick to anger.

Steve:
And so that kind of really hard self assessment, critical reflection, really served to kind of influence how I wanted to kind of help influence this warrior toughness program. And that’s where the consistence piece comes and that’s one of the things I talk about, that’s one of the things that I think is so important. When you have challenges in one area, you have to find a way where you can make it very simple. And that’s what we do in the military. We like to have simple processes.

Steve:
If something is very, very stressful here, I want to be able to approach that in the same manner as I do… I always say, “When the bullets are flying, I want to ask this way.” And I want to take that some type of approach that I do when I’m really stressed out and I put my hand on the doorknob to my front door, on the other side of that is a stressed out wife and rambunctious kids. I need to make sure that I’m just a deliberate and calm, cool and collected. And I wasn’t able to do that and that’s why it was so important to me. And so that kind of served as my inspiration for making sure there’s that consistency.

Michael:
Now you’ve been married for how many years now?

Steve:
I’ve been married since 2003.

Michael:
2003, so that’s-

Steve:
I’m not good at math in public, Michael.

Michael:
17 years, about. That’s not typical for SEALS. My understand is that there’s a very, very high divorce rate, is that accurate?

Steve:
There is. I can’t quote what the exact… It’s like anything, the statistics vary, but it’s very high. And I won’t attribute all of it to the job. There are areas I could’ve done better. But for the strength of my wife, and other family members, it would’ve survived. But I’d like to thank it now. And turning that page to where now I’m being a better father, better leader in the home. And so, definitely that was a rough journey. And I think we look at, “Oh, look at the SEALs, the toughness of doing this.” But we often don’t put enough focus and gratitude towards the spouses.

Steve:
I remember right after a lot of my friends were killed when their helicopter was shot down in 2011, they were shot down in Afghanistan. Right after that, I don’t know a week later, I was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan and my wife had just started a new job and she was stressed out about that and she’s had a really hard time dealing with that. And I didn’t realize how much more invested I needed to be in her and things like that. And so, yeah, I’m very, very lucky that she stuck with me as long as through the whole process.

Michael:
For a number of years, I did competition hand gun shooting. And I wasn’t bad but nobody was ever shooting back. So it was actually a very, very low stress, low stakes environment, these competitions that we would do. So people often wonder what they would actually do if tested? We have these ideas about ourselves, “Well, if somebody was trying to hurt someone that I love, well, I would do X.” These ideas that we have about ourselves. What did you image it would be like for you the first time you were in a situation where you were life was in danger? And then what was it actually like for you? How did those things match up?

Steve:
Yeah, so I don’t remember exactly how I would imagine it to go. Because I think because it’s… You got to understand, all of our training, we do the very fundamental things that we do, the shooting and the tactics. And in any training block we then progress to as realistic a scenario as we can have. And for urban warfare, for example, which is like we would do in Iraq and Afghanistan to an extent, we would use these mock urban cities. And we’d go through it, so we’re doing this make believe stuff all the time.

Steve:
And for me, what was interesting, is my very first… And there’s been some shooting where we’d go out on these different operations and rounds overhead but not like really, really intense. But one particular day, it was on a rooftop and I started getting right close, right smack around right by my head. And then a grenade went off at my feet almost, and somehow miraculously I was unscathed. And I actually had a flashback. Usually you have flashbacks to your combat, right? I had a flashback to my training, almost. Very quickly, I realized that connection because of how effectively we trained and prepared. I just remember, it just occurred to me and I was stunned and I was kind of coming out of this fog after that grenade went off. And I was like, “I’ve been well trained and so has the guy right next to me,” the SEAL sniper, very talented guy. I was like, “He’s been well trained, we’re going to figure this out, we’re going to get out of here. It’s going to be good, it’s going to be fine.”

Steve:
And I remember sitting there waiting for, we call them APCs, amour personnel carriers, these Bradley fighting vehicles, these little tanks to pick us up. And I’m just sitting there and I’m like, “Oh yeah.’ And then of course, you’re first time, that adrenaline dump, where I’m just completely spent, but I’m like, “Yeah, this training is effective.” And I was great and I was able to go back to where I worked, where I was a trainer now, teaching what we call assault training. Which is the urban warfare, the close quarter combat, room clearances. And I was able to be like, “Yes.” And I was able to change the way I looked at things myself, but also change the way I would train other people.

Michael:
So yeah, so we say often to our students that one of the things we learned from a lot of the folks who come through HBS who are veterans, is that you’re not going to rise to the occasion, you’re going to fall back on your training. And sometimes, I feel like new students look at me a little bit like, “Okay, I get it. It sounds good, but, yeah, I’m just on the stage and so I’m pretty quick on my feet, I got the gift of gab. I don’t really need a lot of training. I’m just going to be able to go out there and I’ll get the adrenaline hit and then I’ll rise to the occasion.”

Michael:
So what have you seen people do or what kind of mistakes have you seen people make because they thought they would rise to the occasion and they didn’t train fully or properly? And imagine, because you did a lot of training of foreign soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, et cetera, as well as training US soldiers. So you went in there with the best training that are service men and women can get. What did you see folks who didn’t have the kind of training that you’ve had or the kind of training that they needed? How did you see them operate when the stakes were high and when the you know what hits the fan that was different than the way that you and your peers were able to handle those high stakes situations?

Steve:
So I have, with a psychologist that I worked with, he’s a really good friend of mine, she would always talk about this quote in class when we teach, she said the Mike Tyson quote, “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” And to an [inaudible 00:37:11], you can train and you can train, and if things go according to script, it’s fine. The second you throw something a curve, then you see the meltdown.

Steve:
A lot of times we get the feeling of being overwhelmed for two reasons. One is we fear the consequences, what happens, I’ll get hurt, I’ll get injured, I will look stupid in front of other people. But a lot of times, it’s because we just don’t know what to do next. And so you see that, you see people who are, “Now we’ve got to be flexible.” And that’s one of the things where when we are what we call… That’s one of the things I talk about in preparation, is being brilliant on the basics. And it’s just like the seven step rehearsal process. It is basically mastering the most… attempting to master the most fundamental aspects of your craft. And so by doing that, you can riff. When I know my basics so well because I’ve got that automaticity, as I mentioned, I’ve drilled them over and over and over again, the basics, I don’t have to think about that.

Steve:
And that frees me up to out think the enemy. It frees me up to now look at something and say, “All right, how do I apply a creative solution?” Because you’re going to get things, when you inevitably are on stage, you’re going to have something that’s going to happen, right? You’re going to get that question in Q&A, the powers going to go off, then what? That’s where the professionalism rises, okay, if you’ve put the work in. So absolutely what you said, it’s 100% accurate, you will not rise to the occasion, you will fall to your level of training.

Michael:
It’s so interesting. I love when we get veterans and lead level athletes, our Olympians and others, because I see a certain, not just work ethic, but a certain type of work that I think is really effective, that is often different than what I see when people who are already professional speakers come in, but they don’t have a lot of these fundamentals in place. Because sometimes what happens is, on the speaking circuit is, is people will rise to the top of the circuit because they’ve produced visionary intellectual property. Their ideas are very interesting and relevant and important and people want them. And then the natural progression is the stage. People say, “Oh, can you come and talk to us about these things?” And sometimes their assumption is, “Oh well, I know my subject matter so well, that I don’t actually need work on the craft of performance because I’m above that.”

Michael:
But when I see veterans and athletes come in here, I’ll see you guys during lunch just working on your blogging over and over and over and over and over again. I remember we had Allen Stein in for a workshop once, and he was on the podcast recently, and he was a basketball coach, and he had that same kind of work ethic. When Sara Wells came in, she’s an Olympian, she was in your class.

Steve:
No, she, wasn’t in my class, she was at HBS Live where we did the infamous hurdle jump.

Michael:
Yeah, she hurdled over me, right? So same thing with her, she just kept working the fundamentals and the basics. And when we have new students who don’t have much experience, if we say, “Let’s work on the basics.” They’ll work on the basics, they’ll just do what we’re asking them to do.

Michael:
Sometimes I see a little push back from people who see themselves as high status already because they don’t want to go back to the basics. If we say, “All right, lets set down and we got to look at the structure of this material because right now, the structure is actually pretty weak. You’re getting away with holes in your content because you’re charming and you’ve got a high status.”

Michael:
So what do you have to say to those folks? The folks who might be in that situation, they’re pretty successful at this point in their career, they got some status, but the probably know, if they’re being honest with themselves, they probably know that there’s another level that they can hit if they would be willing to sort of put aside their ego and get back to the basics. What would you say to them? Because it’s one thing for me say, it’s another from you given the experience you’ve had and the kind of training you’ve done. But how do we reach those folks to get them to say, “You know what? All right, I’m going to put the ego aside.”

Steve:
Okay, so I don’t remember which podcast it was, you and a guest were doing a word association. And the first word that came up was humility. I don’t remember whether you threw it out or whether he threw it out. And I remember thinking to myself, “Well that’s one of the most important tenants of leadership, but often the most underused or undervalued.” And so, of course, your ability to step back and humble yourself, is the only way you’re going to really get more growth. And I don’t know if this is directly an analogist, but after we go on a deployment, a combat deployment, we are taking a lot of liberties, we’re moving fast with our hair on fire.

Steve:
But we always come back to, “All right, let’s break it down. We’ll probably have some new team members.” At the very foundational level, it’s almost like we’re not too good to work on those basics, so we always start off at the very most fundamental… Close quarter combat’s a two man rudimentary with pistols, two man rudimentary with [inaudible 00:43:18], four man rudimentary. And we do it, and then we stair step up, slowly. And I think, as a process, if you’re truly disciplined, as an elite, as a professional speakers, you will know that you have to break it back down to those basics. And you will know that you need to reach out with the people that will give you, albeit in a safe space, but will give you the critical assessment to say, “All right, well, I don’t think that’s working because of this, lets try this.” You’ve got to have that, you’ve got to have people that will tell you that and be in your corner in that way and will serve you in that way.

Michael:
The reason that this really resonates for me is because for many of my earlier years, a lot of things came quickly to me, other things came very, very slowly to me. Writing came slowly, I was dyslexic, I still can’t spell to save my life. I often have to ask my 11 year old to help me spell things. But certain things came quickly and I actually liked skipping a lot of the basics because I wanted to look cool when doing the thing, whether I was playing tennis or baseball. If I was just a little bit sort of more naturally talented, I could look like I was that much better than some of the other folks.

Michael:
And I remember when I was young, how that really drove me, what people thought of my performance. And over the years, I found that the more I lean into that, the less effective it was, the less success I had. And I only realized over time through hard knocks, skin knees, couple broken bones, literally, that if I wasn’t willing to let go of the trappings of looking good, of what people thought, then I really would never actually be that good. So that’s why I really lean into this, that’s why I ask about it. Because I feel like there is this transition that occurred for me where I got to the point where I felt comfortable and confident enough in what I was doing, that I didn’t have to have all the answers.

Michael:
But at the beginning of a new pursuit or career, often you feel like you’re supposed to have all the answers, and of course you don’t. So there’s this constant push pull between what you actually feel like you’re capable of and then what you’re actually doing, and sometimes those two things don’t meet up. So what do you suggest we do when we’re in that early stage of development to let go of that need for approval and to let go of that desire to look really good at something?

Steve:
You spoke of this, which I always thought was a very interesting takeaway. You go out there and you perform. Now, did you execute the performance exactly how you intended to execute it? Meaning, did you deliver exactly what you prepared? Now, that could be completely independent of whether that connected with the audience, so it’s two different things. So for us, we look at, okay, we execute a maneuver, we put fire down on the enemy, was it effective? Okay, if it was not effective, why was it not effective? Was it not effective because I didn’t hit the intended target? Because that’s altogether different than if I hit the intended target, but it was effective because of that. So it’s the same thing. Did I execute what I prepared for? And if I didn’t like the results, then I need to change that. I need to change, why didn’t I? Okay, but we can still take satisfaction that we did do exactly what we set out to do.

Michael:
Yeah, that is something, man, it took a while to get there, but to not base the success or failure of the initiative on what other people think, but rather, did you actually execute what you planned on executing. Because if that didn’t work, well then you can fix that. But if you’re trying to fill some need for approval through applause, you’re always going to fail because there’s never enough applause. I’m sure, as a solider, if you’re doing it for the medals, it’s going to get hard really fast. Right, because you can have your whole chest filled with medals, but if your heart isn’t full, and you’re not doing it for the right reasons, you’re eventually going to burn out, I would imagine.

Steve:
Yeah, you’ve got to really sit back and say, “Why am I doing this?” For a combat situation, like I said, it’s about the brotherhood, really, it’s about being professional. Peer pressure’s always seen as a negative thing, but in many cases, it’s the reason why we’ll go in and we’ll go through a door we could potentially be shot. Is because our fear of what the people to the left and right of us think, of letting them down, is greater than our fear of being killed, actually. And so it’s hard to imagine that unless you’re in that situation.

Steve:
So when it comes to approval, yeah, you got to know that you’re doing what you executed. And you’re right, because some things are just going to… I give a speech to one group and I’m going to connect with them. The same speech, I can give to a different group, I’m not necessarily going to connect to them. And so, you’re right, it can’t be driven by that applause, it has to be driven by…. And the other stuff, you have to figure that out separately.

Michael:
So your speech is called Performing on the X.

Steve:
Yeah.

Michael:
What does that mean and what are the tenants of that methodology?

Steve:
Okay, so Performing on the X refers that critical point in execution. And so if we’re walking down the street, patrolling down the street and we get shot at, now we’re on the X. Sometimes we’ll do what we call to land on the X. We’ll fast rope out of a helicopter on top of a building that we’re getting ready to assault, that’s on the X. It’s like at that moment where everything that you do and you say matters. And a lot of times in the business world, it’s all about the execution, executions everything. It’s like, okay, but you realize that well in advance of that moment, you’ve largely determined how that moment will be a success or unsuccessful. And so-

Michael:
You’re trying to design that moment before you actually get there.

Steve:
100%.

Michael:
Which is what performers do.

Steve:
Exactly. And so it’s very analogist to you go out there on stage and you are on the X at that point.

Michael:
Do you know, actually on a film set, your mark, meaning where the director wants you to land, like if you’re walking into a room, that mark is actually an X. They put two pieces of tape on the stage that marks a X and you go hit your mark, that’s a X.

Steve:
And that’s funny because we were filming the other day and Amy was joking me and so was the film crew about how they had put an X, I don’t know when we were filming in New Jersey, had put an X on the floor and it was the smallest X and I just could not stop looking down at it to see if I was standing where I was supposed too. I had to have multiple takes. Yeah, and so the things that I talk about, it’s a four component model, a contextual model, and the first one is, again, we’ve already described a lot of this, it’s commit. It’s basically understanding, you’re clarifying your objectives, validating or re-validating your purpose, right?

Steve:
A lot of times when we face challenge, when we get bucked out of the saddle, that’s one of the things that gets easily fractured, is our sense of purpose. And so sometimes we need to get back and we need to revaluate our sense of purpose. As well as understand that the perseverance aspect, is we know at the outset exactly, as you described earlier, is what are these challenges that I’m going to face? Does this fit my checklist for not sticking to the path that I had committed too.

Steve:
When it comes to preparation, is the next part of the model, it’s being brilliant on the basics. A lot of times, people will think that special operators have these super complicated tactics that they used to kill the enemy. And really, what it is, is a series of very, very basic maneuvers, tactics, sequences that are able to applied faster, you’re able to make decisions faster. And you only do that by being brilliant on the basics. Your ability to do that in the clutch, if you’re able to use mindfulness, if you’re able to use some performance psychology techniques that we teach, then you’ll be able to make sure that you have that composure when you do that.

Steve:
When you’re on the X, you need to consider a few things. First is situational awareness, is being able to take that very quick pause to let the environment inform what your next decisions are. You may have a precious agenda, but once you get into that situation, you’re like, “All right, is this still relevant for this situation? Do I have to flex, do I have to do something else?” And being able to toggle that focus in and out. And then lastly, is your ability to reflect, your ability to sit back and have a deliberate process. In leadership, obviously, this is key milestone events after different things that your organization does, your team. But individually, again, step out of that traffic, check in with yourself, “Am I still in alignment with my values, beliefs and goals? And if not…”

Steve:
And a lot of times, a couple things happen to us that get in the way of us getting that feedback. One is, somebody gives us feedback and we’re defensive and we don’t listen to it. Or, we know we screwed up and we come marred down with negativity or we get complacent when we execute it well.

Michael:
I was having some bodywork done and this woman that I work with, she’s probably the hands I’ve even seen in my life and she went in and…. It’s not like a massage where you leave going, “Oh, I feel so relaxed.” It is serious, serious physical intensity and you want to jump off the table every two seconds. So she goes in and she pinches my lat right here, but she went in kind of quickly and I went, “Oh,” and I jumped. And she goes, “Oh, no, sorry, I was a little abrupt.” I was like, “No, no, it’s fine.” And I was thinking in my mind, I was thinking, “Is she a masochist?” Meaning, is she trying to hurt me? And then I thought, “No, of course she’s not trying to hurt me, she’s actually trying to help me.”

Michael:
I often, during those kinds of sessions, my mind wanders and I reflect and often process things that are challenging for me or difficult. And I had this realization, in that moment, I said, “Oh wow, most people are not trying to hurt me, they’re trying to help me.” And I think what happens is when we get in a situation where somebody gives us feedback, whether or not we’ve asked for it, certainly there are times when somebody is giving feedback or being critical just to be a jerk, that certainly happens. But most people, especially people that are your friends or colleagues, when they give you feedback or suggest a different way to try something, or have an idea that’s different than your, we have this reaction, often, that they’re trying to hurt us, but, in fact, they’re trying to help us.

Michael:
And so that just struck me and just came to mind right now because you said, “Most people really are trying to help you in your journey as you’re progressing.” And you need people around you who are willing to do that and to always remember that they’re trying to help you, they’re not trying to hurt you.

Steve:
Well that’s true, for sure. I think for us, when we train, we get such just unvarnished feedback. That’s one of the things we do and it helps create a culture of accountability. And of course, you’re trying to get a lot of training, reps and sets in, you don’t have time to be polite and curt. It doesn’t matter what your rank is, if you did something not correct, you’re going to get called out in front of everybody.

Steve:
I remember on particular operation, training operation that came back and I was a tactile leader of the group and it didn’t go particularly well. And I remember this instructor was just set in on us, “You guys should’ve done that. If I were there, I would’ve done this. Back when we were in Iraq, we did it this way.” And the walls just went up, I’m sure he could see it on my face and everybody around me could see that I was not receptive to the message and I was very defensive. But, a lot of what he said, I ultimately disagreed with, but we have to make sure that we are just very deliberate in the assessment analysis. We remove the emotional component as best we can and just examine the raw data.

Steve:
And this case, it was like, “No, most of what he said, I don’t think was valid and I don’t agree with. But there’s some key things in here that I’m going to need to consider when I go overseas in a couple months.” And so if I hadn’t, if I had just been defensive, and been immature about it, then I wouldn’t have garnered that. So I then when we get harsh feedback, we need to try to put our emotions aside and get the raw data for use later.

Michael:
Yeah, it’s really interesting because one of the things that people don’t realize is that when you get feedback and you feel rejected, you actually feel that pain in the same way that you feel physical pain. Because the part of the brain that processes emotional rejection is the same part of the brain that processes physical pain. So it actually is very similar experience, the emotional rejection and the pain from it, feels like physical pain. And eventually, what can happen is if you don’t deal with that or processes it well, then your body will start to hurt, you’ll start to feel it. Just if you’re going to be in any of high performance situation, you’re going to get rejected. You’re going to get people telling you, “That doesn’t work, I don’t like that. That’s not good enough.” And ultimately, most people are trying to help. And I imagine in your situation, your, I guess, tactical trainer at that time, was trying to help. He wasn’t trying to hurt you.

Steve:
Right.

Michael:
Yeah? And sometimes that’s hard to remember, it really is. Our defenses go up, like you said, “The wall goes up.” And when we put up that wall, we’re not really protecting ourselves. We’re actually probably just staying where we are, we’re not progressing. So when you’re performing on the X, if the first principal is to commit, what are the second, third and fourth?

Steve:
Yeah, the second, third and fourth are prepare.

Michael:
Yup, two is prepare.

Steve:
Execute.

Michael:
Execute.

Steve:
And reflect.

Michael:
And reflect. So why don’t we talk about the reflection because this is something that we need to do every time we give a performance. So one of the things we recommend people do after they give a speech… Well, during the speech we suggest that they put a little camera on the audience while they’re speaking, and a camera on themselves while they’re speaking. So afterwards, within 72 hours, they can watch, not just themselves, but the can watch the audience responding to the speech itself. Because that will often you a lot about what’s working and what needs improvement. Because when you’re in the moment watching them, sometimes that gets clouded by a whole bunch of other things. But if you can sit and you can reflect afterwards, you can watch it unemotionally, then you can usually learn from it. But people have a hard time doing this. And so how did you guys do that kind of reflection because I know that every time you have a mission, you do, I don’t know what it’s called, a debrief?

Steve:
Hot wash is some term that’s used in the military. We call it a debrief.

Michael:
Yeah, so you’re going back through the whole thing and you’re analyzing what worked and what needs improvement, is that accurate?

Steve:
Yeah, that’s completely accurate.

Michael:
So how do you encourage people to do this when it’s just themselves? Because when you’re on a team, you got no choice, here we go, hot wash, let’s go. Debriefing, everybody’s in the room and the commanding officer’s probably leading this debrief, I would imagine. But when it’s just you, and there’s nobody forcing you to do it, how do you get yourself to do it?

Steve:
And that’s one of the things that I talk about, is have a process. You’ve got to have that deliberate process.

Michael:
You follow all the time without fail?

Steve:
Yeah, and it obviousness depends on the stakes of the situation or what it was. I mean, sometimes it’s a weekly check-in, it’s that weekly check-in to make sure that you’re still in alignment with your goals and values and beliefs, as I discussed. But it’s also, “All right, as soon I step off stage, what am I feeling?” I want to make that I capture things that are fresh in my head. I don’t want to wait until the flight home to start thinking about it. I do also, but I want to make sure I capture certain things as best as the situation will allow us to do.

Steve:
And again, and that’s the biggest thing, I already said it but it’s very important, is “Did I execute the plan? Did I execute it well?” And then I look at the camera to say, “Okay, these things connected or didn’t connect. That needs refinement.” And that’s a big part of it. And develop for yourself, criteria that works for you in terms of, okay, after every speech that I give, again the things that we’ve talked about, this went well, this didn’t do well. But then you also have the weekly, the monthly, the quarterly to say, “Okay, how am I with my goals right now? Performance goals, strategic goals?” And there’s a whole goal setting theory that you can… You talked about, okay, ours, we have the basic different of goals that you use for sports and things like that. They’re all appropriate that you can use them for yourself.

Michael:
So you spent 27 years active duty and you just retired about 10, 11 days ago.

Steve:
Yeah, November 30th.

Michael:
Yup, so really, you’ve been a civilian for two weeks. How does it feel and what do you think is going to be the biggest difference for you day to day? And I ask this because when you are certainly on a SEAL team, and then for the last number of years, you’ve been working at bootcamp for the Navy, you know what your schedule is. You know what you’re doing, you’ve got your orders, you go and do them, and every minute is taken up with whatever the current mission is. Now, it’s all you, it’s just you.

Michael:
And a lot of folks, although they’re not leaving the military, they may be leaving a crazy busy executive position for a large organization where the overall mission is set by the C-Suite. And they’ve got carry it out and their teams and they’re doing 12 hour days for the last 20 years. And all of the sudden, now, they’re trying to build a speaking career and it’s just them. And they’ve got to get up every day and plan the mission and go out and execute and they’re often by themselves. So what do think is going to be the biggest difference for you and how are you making that transition? Have you thought about how you’re going to manage yourself in a way that might be different than the way that you had to in the past?

Steve:
I think about it and I think about it, I think about it, I think about it, right?

Michael:
This guy, when I was asking, has this big grin on his face, kind of like a sideways half smirk, half grin.

Steve:
Yeah. I remember going overseas, when you deploy, and you’ve been on the cargo plane all night. You usually stop in Germany and then you go over to Afghanistan, Iraq and you’re just tired, you’re offloading all your stuff, you’re trying to find your personal gear. You don’t know where you sleeping yet, you’re just trying to figure all that out. Because as humans, we crave the routine and so what we always seek to establish, whether it’s in a [inaudible 01:05:03] or whether it’s at a training, we establish what we call a battle rhythm, which is our routine. And I think that’s the most important thing.

Steve:
So I am still trying to figure what that’s going to be. So for me, it’ll probably look like, “Okay, I’m going to have get my writing done before the rest of my family wakes up.” Because I really am taking the time, I’m dropping my daughter off at the bus. And between, while she’s at school and when I need to pick her up from the bus, that’s when I got to cram my work in. So I’ve got to really sit there and say, “All right, what are my objectives for the week? Because I might be able to hit those every day based on meetings and gigs and stuff like that.” So I’ve got to really break it down, I’ve to, as best as I can, give myself a battle rhythm, give my self a routine. And I think that’s key. I’m still trying to find exactly what mine’s going to look like. But yeah, I still continue because I’m just starting off, I’m still continuing to capture the elements of operating and growing a small business.

Michael:
Yeah, so one more question I want to ask you. And this has nothing to do with speaking, but just might be helpful for folks. Do many people in our country have so much appreciation for what our soldiers are willing to do for the country and they often want to show gratitude. And so often, they’ll, when they meet an active duty solider or a veteran, they’ll say, “Thank you for your service.” And I’ve met folks over the years, some of them really hate when people say that, others who think it’s great and they appreciate it. What do you recommend people do when they want to show their appreciation for a solider? A civilian wants to say, “Thank you for your service.” How do you recommend people handle that? Because I think sometimes people are a little uncomfortable, is not exactly sure what to do, what to say. Most civilians have really no idea what it’s like to be a solider and to spend your life in any of the different branches of the military. So if someone wants to show their appreciation, how do you recommend they do it?

Steve:
Okay, so, if someone thanks me for my service, I choose to look at that as what it is, they’re grateful, they appreciate… And I look at it, it has nothing to do with me. I mean, they’re not thanking me as much as much… I choose to look at it as they’re recognizing that calling, that that is important and that’s what I choose to believe. Now I can’t speak to the people that say that they hate that. I would only maybe venture a guess to say that maybe it’s because it just seem like an obligatory thing, that there’s no kind of authenticity behind it.

Steve:
And so if you want to thank somebody for your service, if you know that they’re with their wife or husband, who was a spouse, I would suggest that they thank them as well because that is a service and a sacrifice. But I would just say, if you tell somebody in authentic way, and it maybe a thank you for your service, but it’s a genuine connection you make with people. Or you ask them a question, “Oh, where did you serve?” Not in a prying way, but “Oh, I really respect the military and thank goodness that we have people that are willing to do that.” That’s all it is, it’s a genuine. And I think if you’re just genuine about it, then I always appreciate that.

Steve:
I think sometimes I do get the feeling that people are like, “Thank you for your service,” because it’s just the politically correct thing to say now. Which, although that’s a nice thing because why have that mostly because it was paid for by the Vietnam veterans who were treated very poorly. And so I always look to recognize them, but for them, I wouldn’t have the treatment that i have, the good treatment I have. ‘

Michael:
Steve, thank you for the time that you’ve spent here today. Thank you for all the time that we’ve got to spend in our grad sessions together and working together. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from you. I always love having you in the room because it always raises the level of focus and commitment. I know a lot of the students look up to. And you came in here in this environment that only exists here, there’s no other place that we’ve ever seen in the world that is much like this. Coming from a place that is probably about as different as you could imagine.

Michael:
If you’d say, “Lets just create two totally different communities and cultures, that are completely focused on different things,” these would be the two. But you came in here with the beginners mind and a very, very open heart and you never wear your experiences on your sleeve. You treat everybody as an equal and it really shows. Your leadership has made this community better and I wish I could have you here every single time we do anything with any of our students because they’re all better for it. So thank you so much.

Steve:
Thank you Micheal. Coming here to work with you guys is definitely one of the best decisions of my life. I love it. And I’ll always keep coming back, always be connected.

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