What Is Leadership? The Navy SEAL Who Killed Osama Bin Laden Answers. After 16 years of highly decorated service, Robert O'Neill is working to help vets transfer their skills to the private sector.
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Former Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill has received two Silver and four Bronze Stars with Valor, to name just six of the 52 decorations he has received during his 16 years of service.
He has been on many successful missions that none of us have heard about (and most likely never will) but in 2011, O'Neill was on one that landed him and his teammates in the national spotlight: Operation Neptune Spear, the mission to find and kill Osama Bin Laden. After years of grueling work conducted by intelligence specialists, the terrorist was finally located in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In the dead of night, O'Neill and the other members of the team infiltrated Bin Laden hiding place and with the squeeze of a trigger, ended the life of the monster behind 9/11.
Since leaving the SEALs, O'Neill has been extremely busy giving speaking engagements, writing and promoting his book The Operator and co-founding YourGratefulNation.org, which provides career placement for vets entering the private sector. O'Neill sat down with Entrepreneur and shared some of the tactics and techniques that he learned in the military that carry over into the business world.
Everyone has a role in success.
While he has been credited with firing the shot that took out America's most wanted, O'Neill stresses that a successful mission needs a lot of people working their asses off together. "There were a lot of very smart men and women -- mostly women -- behind the Bin Laden operation. The analysts and communications people figured out where he was and then we just went in with sledgehammers," he says. "It's a little like some of the businesses I talk to. There are the people who create the product and the people that go and sell the product -- it's just that our particular customers are way different. And when we close a sale? It's pretty ugly."
Take care of yourself physically
Things like remembering to brush your teeth might not sound super important when your job involves bullets flying all around you, but O'Neill says that small good hygiene has real physical and mental benefits. "We put talcum powder on everything--our feet, our 'beanbag', arms and pits. Remember that retired SEAL, Rudy Boesch, from the first season of Survivor? They allowed everyone to bring one comfort item with them -- and he brought a toothbrush. Every SEAL watching knew that was a smart move, hygiene-wise."
Dress for success
Military dogma normally eschews the long hair and beards that SEALs are known for, but the look has a lot more to do with function over fashion. "It's not so much blending in in the Middle East as it is they just don't trust men who can't grow facial hair. Al Qaida called us the 'Filthy Team With Tattoos On Their Hands.'"
Go faster by slowing down
Business models were made to be broken. O'Neill gives the example of a surprisingly adept Al Qaida that studied up on American military tactics. During the Vietnam War, the typical method would be for soldiers to bust into structures where Viet Cong were hiding and blast away before the enemy could get its bearings. The terrorists caught onto this and began booby-trapping doors with explosives. "We quickly realized we needed to change," explains O'Neill. "We slowed down and adapted to their adaption. It's why we always say 'Slow is smooth and smooth is fast'. It applies to everything like, say, drawing a pistol: Pull too fast and it catches on things. It even applies to a golf swing."
Being nice works
Robert's training has taught him that giving kudos is a key to communication. O'Neill had a drill sergeant who broke the mold by sometimes offering trainees congratulations instead of constant screaming, and it worked wonders. "His occasional pleases and thank yous went a long way," recalls O'Neill. "An occasional 'great job' easily inspires and it's not that hard to say."
The team is all the matters
"In combat, there's just so much to do. You can't micromanage and it's so important to effectively delegate responsibilities. I always tell this to CEOs: if the boss doesn't show up for a week? Shit still gets done. But if your team doesn't show up for a week? The office is screwed."
Work with what you got
On a much lighter note, O'Neill and his pals are looking to buy a property in his hometown of Butte, Montana to turn it into a bar. Two things that make this property "unique": 1. It's a former brothel and 2. It is said to be haunted. "We thought it'd be cool if we could re-open and get a liquor license and make it like a speakeasy -- we talked about maybe getting a medium in there to cleanse it and I was like, 'Lets do the opposite, have a s?ance and maybe bring some ghosts back and have 'em hang out in the bar!'"