Leaders who are confident and humble can learn to do something exceptional, something that will attract younger workers, and will contribute to fewer injuries. What is it?

They can do what the Navy SEALS do.

They can learn to flex between communicating in traditional chain of command ways and more “flat” inclusive styles.   And I must credit the research of Dr. Greer from Stanford Business School on her study of Navy SEAL culture for these insights.

When Navy SEALS are on a mission and are told to “get out now” they follow the chain of command and get out immediately.  There is no questioning, no pausing, for lives are at stake.  That’s a traditional chain of command and on the battlefield is the perfect time for it.

When they return to the base camp those same SEALS will have a debrief.  At the debrief they literally take their stripes off at the door and sit in a circle.  They temporarily de-rank themselves in order to have a candid and courageous conversation.  Everyone is expected to speak truthfully, and without fear of retaliation.

Imagine if you were the lowest ranked SEAL in the room, a Petty Officer 3rd Class and happened to be sitting next to the top ranked person, the Master Chief Petty Officer, the top ranked officer in the room. If you were operating by the rules of traditional hierarchy, would you speak up, in his or her presence?

In construction, and other workplaces, hierarchy is a must at times.  You are often in dangerous situations, and some days feel like a war zone.  These are times when you need a clear structure and even a commanding boss.  And then, when the situation calls for it, leaders can “flex” and operate with less hierarchy, in a “flatter” manner, for the purpose of debriefing a situation, especially after a major mistake or an injury.   Open feedback to others, possibly including top ranking leaders, is a requirement for gaining insights into root causes of trouble.

If everyone under you tells you how great you are, you are on the path to destruction.  If you never take your “stripes off” in the working world, you are not growing as you need to.  The best leaders, those who are confident and humble, can do this.

For some of you this “SEAL approach” will be a huge stretch.  For others you are already doing some of this flexing between traditional hierarchy and flat work culture.

Knowing when to have the stripes on and when to take them off will differentiate your business and just might be the lynchpin to your success in the next ten years.  Doing this will attract younger workers and it will protect you on multiple levels.

Maybe you can’t swim or go into battle exactly like a Navy SEAL, but if you are both confident and humble you can learn to debrief like one and build an exceptional work culture.

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