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Another Navy SEAL Lesson: Instill Pride without Chest Beating

"They get the big jobs done and don't talk about it."

That's a description of the U.S. Navy SEALs found in the July 4th edition of Fortune magazine's "100 Great Things about America" list. Of those on the list -- Colin Powell, ESPN, Kindle and even Budweiser (premium not light) -- the SEALs are the only ones cited for their "mum's the word" profile.

In an era where celebrity chest thumping (literal and figuratively) is the norm, it is reassuring to know that the mantra in our nation's elite military is to do your duty and keep it to yourself.

Lately the SEALs, notably Team Six, which took out Osama bin Laden has received much praise from the President on down. But none of us knows the names of the team members. They are known to one another and likely throughout the entire SEAL cohort but not to the general public.

Yet, the SEALs do receive recognition for their service from their leadership. That recognition is kept inside the ranks.

The lesson for leaders is two-fold: one, do your job with pride; and two, celebrate the achievements of your team.

How to Instill Pride

Ideally you need to like what you do before you can take pride in accomplishments. It falls to the leader to instill that sense of pride in the team. This can take many forms but includes:

  • Remind people of the importance of the mission
  • Talk up the accomplishments of the team in ways that complement the purpose of the organization.
  • Be liberal with praise but discreet with criticism. That is, praise in public; criticize in private.

Celebrate Employees' Work

It demonstrates that the leader cares about the outcome as well as those who have accomplished the mission. Again, you can show it many ways. Here are a few:

  • Communicate achievements of individual team members as well as of the team itself
  • Introduce the team to customers so they can see first hand how what their work does impacts the lives of others.
  • Buy lunch for the team, or make a milestone with a cake in the break room. Invite senior leaders to attend so they get to meet members of your team.

When good things happen, pride and celebration go hand in hand, but they should not be neglected during times of adversity. The best way to dispel defeatism is to remind the team of their abilities to do the job, even if they do not always achieve intended outcomes.

While leaders may not want to celebrate failure, it is important to note the effort that went into the process. Look for what went right so you can replicate it the next time. Also, be certain to separate a failed process from a failed person. An employee may have failed to do something but that does not mean he deserves banishment. [Ethical transgressions excepted.]

"The reward of a thing well done is to have done it," wrote the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Such accomplishments do bring their own rewards but it is a leader's job to affirm the accomplishment to members of their team. Never assume that everyone, even top performers, know their value to the team. That is why leaders need to go out of their way to call out individual and team accomplishments in ways that affirm pride in self and pride in the organization.


image courtesy of flickr user, Rennett Stowe