Everything you’ve been taught about leadership is backward. Beginning with a costly mistake that causes you to sacrifice money, time, and human capital, day after day. It’s not a calculation error or a problem with management style, it’s repeatedly choosing revenue and results over connection and team.
In his new book, How Leadership (Actually) Works, former Navy SEAL Larry Yatch shares his six-pillar system that companies of any size in any domain can use for sustainable and easier success. The book will show you how to effectively structure teams, manage behavior, maximize self-regulation and become the leader you need to be so everyone thrives. The work isn’t easy but nothing exceptional is.
Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Larry Yatch, author of How Leadership (Actually) Works: A Navy SEAL’s Complete System for Coordinating Teams. Larry, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Larry Yatch: It’s my pleasure to be here, looking forward to it.
Drew Appelbaum: Larry, help us kick the podcast off, can you give us a brief rundown of your professional background?
Larry Yatch: Sure, my background starts as it says in the book subtitle, as a Navy SEAL. For me, it all started in third grade when I saw Top Gun and decided I wanted to be a fighter pilot and then from there, got the idea that all the best fighter pilots came from the naval academy. So I decided in third grade to go to the naval academy and be a fighter pilot. And then in about seventh grade, I found out about the SEALSs through a book called, The Men with Green Faces, which is a Vietnam era SEAL book and in that book, became very clear that fighter pilots were pansies and I need to be a Navy SEAL.
So, I switched my direction to that and even though I was a little skinny dork in high school and would have been voted least likely to be a Navy SEAL for sure. I did get into the naval academy and graduated four years later and got a chance to go to SEAL training in 1998.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to share your story and bring the book to life? Was there something inspiring for you out there, do you have an “aha moment” or you want to really want to spread the word in a mass way?
Larry Yatch: I didn’t choose to stop being a Navy SEAL. I got injured and medically retired in 2008 and in that transition, my real purpose for living, which was protecting the country as an officer in the SEAL teams was taken away from me and it was with my business partner — or eventually what became my business partner — she saw that I was more than just a weapon, that I always saw my hands as a means for violence for protection not as a means of creation.
Ultimately through her, [it was] that my ability to lead in my particular flavor of leadership was largely based on education of empowerment and through that, we could continue to protect the country just do it through a different means. And so in what would have been the hospital in 2007, we hatched our first company and became entrepreneurs in the space of training.
So from 2007 for many, many years, we ran open and ran a series of successful training companies and everything from initially a very technical side of surveillance and human intelligence into personal safety and eventually through some interesting turns of events, that led to leadership development and our latest company, which we’ve been running for the last seven, eight years now has been has been on team optimization.
So, the impetus or the turning point for the book was less about telling my story and more about being able to bring the processes that we’ve been effectively deploying in very large companies to a greater audience in the form of a book.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, the book does aim to change how you view leadership. So, set the stage for us, what is wrong with the current view of leadership?
Larry Yatch: Well, the claim that I make is it’s 180 degrees backwards. The fundamental understanding that I would say, the civilian world has around leadership and management is backwards. And that distinction was made clear to me in my transition from the SEALs, so being in one of the highest functioning teams in the world and more than just being in it, having to lead men in that environment and then, going into business.
All of a sudden, the common understanding of how to lead and manage and what it meant to hold responsibility was so different than what I experienced as a SEAL. And that difference is that, the common understanding of leadership is that, leaders are these visionaries in the front that inspire people to move and managers are a necessary evil kind of administrative requirement to implement the vision of the leader and that is a very limiting strategy.
In the SEALs, it’s quite the opposite. As an officer in the teams, I’m often the one with the least amount of tactical experience, least amount of technical knowledge and in that, my position is as a manager, not a leader and the vision or the purpose of a manager in a SEAL team is to create a naval and support leadership at every level underneath us.
In that ability, in an organization in which we understand that everyone has a requirement to both lead and follow when the time is appropriate and a manager’s job is to solely create, enable and support that leadership at every level. That creates a boundless or unrestricted organization, whereas the concept of traditional hierarchy of leadership where there’s a visionary leader and then everyone else follows that leader, there’s a huge restriction in the ability to effectively coordinate action in a traditional understanding.
So that’s the big distinction that leadership and management is backwards, that we should aspire to be managers that create leaders at every level beneath us and that leading and following is really a dance back and forth based on whoever has the best distinctions and the best actions in the moment versus having a visionary leader and managers that are unnecessary evil.
The Pillars: Success, Behavior, Team, Self-Regulation
Drew Appelbaum: Now, the book first breaks down the idea of leadership as you were just discussing and it teaches that leadership is really built around six pillars. If you can recall off the top of your head, can you tell us what the six pillars are and then maybe talk about how you narrowed it down to these six?
Larry Yatch: So, what I would say is, leadership is less about the six pillars or six pillars are less about leadership as supposed to the concept that high performance in any domain is dependent on having a strong base in these six pillars. I think people get confused and think that leadership is the end-state, whereas leadership is merely a tool to create coordinated action at a high level.
So that’s an important distinction first off, right? That often times were aiming in the wrong direction or aiming at increasing our leadership when at a fundamental level our performance as an individual isn’t excellent or at a high level and our performance as a team is not at a high level and leadership is merely one tool to increase that. I’d start there and then I’d love to hear your thoughts on that and then we can move on to what the pillars are and how they work.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, no, that makes complete sense. So, how did your — in your experience being on this very pressure filled extremely successful teams, did that change your perspective in order to put that together? And how are people who are “leaders” now, what are they not seeing here?
Larry Yatch: So, the first part of it is the concept of the environment that my teams and I had to operate in as a SEAL, right? It’s very different than the business environment. In the business environment, we all have competition. In the SEALs I had competition too but my competition was trying to kill me on a daily basis and I don’t mean figuratively. I mean, literally, if they were successful, I died, if we’re successful, they’re either unable to operate or they’re dead, right?
It’s a very different environment. On top of that, the Navy didn’t send us to nice places. If you could put an X on the map of the world’s worst environments, that’s where we were being sent to do our job. And finally, the missions that we got — SEALs are a very expensive unit, right? To get a SEAL through training is hundreds of thousands of dollars. By the time they’re actually creating a return on investment for the Navy, you’re talking close to a million dollars per SEAL.
If a SEAL’s been operating for many years, they’re worth millions of dollars to the Navy. So, you put a SEAL unit up in the field in a risky environment, you’re risking $30, 40 million dollars. So, the Navy or the military’s always going to pick the least costly unit that can get the mission done. Therefore, we only got missions that every other units said was impossible.
So, we had to operate in the world’s worst environments, in missions that everyone else said was impossible in an environment where competition’s trying to kill us. And to have a hundred percent success rate in that, speaks to the effectiveness of how we coordinated actions as a team because that success rate was never dependent on any one SEAL, it was dependent on how well we coordinated as a team and, that’s not the same environment in the business world, right?
Obviously, the risk and the environment and the competition isn’t the same but as well, when you look at just the aspect that in many civilian environments or business environments, one person’s actions can have dramatic impact on success or failure whereas as a SEAL, not only did we have to perform at a high level individually but if we couldn’t coordinate action better than our competition, we died and that created the environment where I really didn’t see it until I got into the business world.
What’s unique about this book versus most SEAL books is, I’m not sharing stories of the SEALs or lessons from the SEALs, I’m sharing lessons from working with companies often times worth hundreds of millions of dollars even up to a billion dollars, working with them, implementing strategies that work in the SEALs. So, a lot of what we’re talking about in this book comes from my work with big companies in business, not just entertaining stories from my life in the SEALs, which leads us back to those pillars of performance.
The pillars of performance that we break this down in and these are fundamentally, the same across any domain, it’s just a matter of how do we produce high performance as an athlete, as a business person, as a SEAL. These things have to be in a line and we start with definition of success.
Our first pillar is success and that, if we don’t know where we’re going, it’s impossible to get there. But what we look at very differently from everyone else who talks about vision or mission are purpose is that, true success is an optimized daily experience that’s sustainable over time whereas a common understanding of success is suffering or struggling towards meeting some objective and then all we do is set the next one.
The next pillar that feeds into that is our success is a 100% dependent on our ability to coordinate action with others. So our second pillar is team and that the teams that we’re on and the way that we coordinate with those teams is what produces not only our experience of success but the accomplishments that come with it. And the team is 100% dependent on the behavior of the individuals in that team and the ability to change behavior.
So that we start seeing it build where your behavior as an individual determines what team you get to be on. The team that you get to be on determines the success you experience in life, which leads us to the fourth fundamental pillar, which is self-regulation. Our ability to self-regulate mentally, physically, and emotionally not only determines our behaviors but enables us to change our behavior and then influence the behavior of others.
So self-regulation, behavior, team, and success become the foundation of high performance as an individual. If you don’t have those things working well in your life, good luck leading someone else. And that’s why leadership doesn’t even show up until I think like chapter seven in the book — which is another thing that I think most books used to get wrong, where they started right in on leadership when your individual performance sucks.
Which is going to make it really hard for you to lead others. And so leadership in our philosophy really just comes from the first four pillars where you start turning outward to optimize others self-regulation, their behavior, the way they coordinate action on their teams, and their view of success. And at that point, an organization where you have individuals that have a strong foundation in those first four and you have each person in the organization influencing others towards better performance, you start to gain momentum, velocity and that’s when planning comes in.
Our last pillar is planning, and again, this is as what people that are going to read the book. They’re going to see is we really turn things upside down consistently, right? Most people start with planning, go to leadership and then they start working on the individual behaviors of people to optimize where we’re looking at it from the exact opposite approach just like we did around management and leadership.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, I think it’s really tough for some people to self-assess. So what do you suggest folks do so they could really take that step back as you did and look at either themselves or just their work or themselves as in a leadership role and really decide if they are doing it right and where they need to improve?
Larry Yatch: I’m going to answer that in two ways. The first way is unless you have a belief that humans have been put on this planet to suffer, which most people don’t hold, then anytime that we experience suffering in our life, struggle, pain, that is the universe showing us where we’re acting in an untruth, right? Something that is not true, something that is not useful for us as a human beings. So, that starts to be the first place that we always go to is where in your life are you having experiences that you don’t want to have.
If that does exists, that starts to be the neon arrow is, to where you need to put time and attention. The problem is that most people have their subconscious is protecting them from their true greatness because in our true greatness, we have risk and so our subconscious is there to keep us safe, to keep us limited and it’s really good at blinding us of the specific things that we need to have that next layer of performance and growth in our life.
That is where I always resort to structure and process. I know that even I can’t trust myself to self-diagnose well because I know that my unresolved traumas, my preconceptions, my false paradigms are going to limit my ability to see the truth. And that is where I create systems and processes and what we have done and used with all of our organizations are assessment tools.
These assessment tools give us the ability to be purely objective and I believe in the book — we have links to our assessment tools that we’re giving as part of our gift to anyone who buys the book — is the opportunity to go and use these assessment tools to identify which one of these six pillars is your biggest obstacle in this point in time because it is not about being healed or fixed or perfectly optimized.
I like to liken it to a stream; you have a stream and there’s rocks in the stream. There is always the next biggest rock and my job is to identify what my biggest rock in the stream is obscuring the flow, pull that rock out and as soon as I do that, there is going to be the next biggest rock. And so we use these assessments on a regular basis with our clients, at least quarterly, to be able to give them the idea of which of those six pillars is their biggest limiter right now.
That gives us the ability to use what is our most valuable asset, which is our focus and our attention to put it in the right place to create that change.
Drew Appelbaum: You are very honest in the book and you let folks know that this will take time. You are not going to finish this book, put it down and immediately be an improved person right away. So what do you think an optimal time period is, if you are really putting in the work where you could start to see things change and turn around and see some improvement?
Larry Yatch: Within that piece, one thing that it’s like my crack cocaine, it’s my drug of choice, which is changing people’s paradigms. When I speak, you can see it. There is actually a physiological response when someone’s paradigm is shifted. There is a shock in the body and then they look up into the left as they reprocess their world, those paradigm shifts change everything because when you are able to change your paradigm, you change your truth.
That means that everything you see, you see differently and every action you take now is to fit with that new paradigm. So, what I claim is that anyone that reads the book is going to have paradigm shifts, major shifts in their understanding of things that they thought were fundamentally true, which will immediately have an impact on their world.
I have a high level of confidence that most people if they read the book and take the time to really just think about what they’re consuming, they’re going to have major changes. When it comes to implementing these within your life or better yet, within the organization, the answer to your question is it depends on the team that you are on, right? Part of the reason that we exist as an organization is to team with people to shorten that timeline.
So if you are willing to invest or work with the right people and the right team, you are going to be able to get things done quite quickly and you are going to be able to see changes within weeks or months. If you are doing this by yourself alone, which hopefully after reading the book you stop doing that based on the fact that you learn that core lesson that your success in life depends on the teams that you are on, it’s going to take a while.
I’d say more than anything, I’d warn people that just as hopefully they are experiencing listening to this, there is not a lot of fluff. You are not going to pick up this book, start reading it and have page after page of SEAL story that’s entertaining. This is hard-core dense information that we didn’t hold back at all. This is the same content that we charge literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to deliver within large companies, they’re getting all of it.
So that’s really the warning of this is dense/heavy stuff and it’s going to take some time to implement it and I’d go right back to rely on the team, right? Ask for help.
Drew Appelbaum: You mentioned it briefly before but you do offer obviously a ton of resources inside the book but you also have resources on your website. For people who get the book and readers there are QR codes inside the book but for folks listening now, what is the website and what else can they find there?
Larry Yatch: The website is How Leadership (Actually) Works, the same title as the book, dot com. And on that website they’re going to see we are constantly updating it with more resources but the biggest most important one is the assessment tool. Being able to spend, it takes about 15 minutes or so to go through that assessment tool.
My suggestion would be when you get the book, go through the assessment at the beginning and then go through the assessment at the end of the book because it will actually change as your understanding changes.
The second thing is that we have a workbook. So, if you want to implement these concepts into your life or your business, we have a workbook there that they can sign up for that is going to walk them through step-by-step how to implement. And the other thing that we have is one of the most important tools that humans have to coordinate action is language and so, that precision of language is where real power exists.
We have what we call the “distinctionary”, which is a list of all of the key distinctions in the book and just taking those and being able to rattle them off without thinking about it is going to change how you interact with your team and your understanding of leadership management coordination of action. So that distinctionary is a very useful tool.
The last one — and I’d say probably the most important one— is it’s the best way to get access to our team. If you want support implementing all the way from digital content to hardcore consulting within your organization, that’s the best way to get access to us so that we can find the best way to support you.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, Larry, we just touched on the surface of the book here. Seriously, there is so much more inside. You say there’s no fluff; you are actually pretty vulnerable in the book, you share some of your life story in there as well as going out there and helping build great individuals, teams, and leaders and that’s no small feat. So, congratulations on having your book published.
Larry Yatch: Thank you. My mom, who’s no longer with us, got me into a writing seminar when I was in, I think it was like fourth grade and this is the kid that could — I’d spell the same word wrong twice in the same paragraph, right? Not something that I would have ever thought was my thing. She definitely saw more greatness in me than I did and I’d say I’m the most proud of being able to have a published book out there and especially one that has such opportunity or potential for helping so many people.
Drew Appelbaum: Absolutely and Larry, this has been a pleasure. I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, How Leadership (Actually) Works, and you could find it on Amazon. Larry, besides checking out the book and besides your website, is there anywhere else where people can connect with you?
Larry Yatch: We have a – I think we just launched not too long ago a Facebook group where we’re putting out daily lessons in leadership team performance optimization business strategy, kind of a full gamut. So I am sure if you look up SEAL Team Leaders, which is our company’s name, look up SEAL Team Leaders either our website or on Facebook, you could find that group and I believe that anyone that purchase the book, we’re giving free access to that private Facebook group.
So that’d be the other place if you really want some hands-on direct support, that’s a really great place and entry point for you.
Drew Appelbaum: Amazing. Well, Larry, thank you so much for giving us some of your time today and best of luck with your new book.
Larry Yatch: Thank you very much.