Jan. 13, 2022

124 Secrets Of Navy SEAL Performance and Attributes as Drivers of Optimal Human Performance with Ex-Navy SEAL Commander Rich Diviney |Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

124 Secrets Of Navy SEAL Performance and Attributes as Drivers of Optimal Human Performance with Ex-Navy SEAL Commander Rich Diviney |Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Rich Diviney, author of The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance. Rich Diviney is a retired Navy SEAL commander with 20+ years of experience as a Navy SEAL Officer, having completed more than thirteen overseas deployments, including serving as the officer in charge of training for a specialized command. During his service, Rich Diviney was intimately involved in the highly specialized SEAL selection process and spearheaded the creation of a directorate that fused physical, mental, and emotional disciplines. Since his retirement, Rich Diviney has worked as a speaker, facilitator, and consultant with the Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute and Simon Sinek Inc., teaching leadership and optimal performance for teams and organizations. 

Some highlights:

- Rich Diviney explained the role of mindset matters and how it helped him during his Navy SEAL Trainings

- How to effectively deal with uncertainty, change, challenge and stress

- The difference between attributes and skills 

- Why understanding attributes is essential in the hiring process and putting together a high performing team

- Rich Diviney on how to determine attributes in the hiring process

- The role humor plays in high performing teams

- Rich Diviney on how leaders and teams can nurture trust and teamwork

- The concept of dynamic subordination and its importance to leadership excellence 

- Rich Diviney talks about Resilience vs. Antifragility

Also mentioned in this episode:

- Simon Sinek, author

- Bob Johansen, renowned futurist and author (Listen to Bob’s episode on Partnering Leadership Podcast)

Book Recommendations:

The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance by Rich Diviney

Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family by  Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia 

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How by Daniel Coyles 

Connect with Rich Diviney:

The Attributes Official Website

Rich Diviney on LinkedIn

Rich Diviney on Instagram

Rich Diviney on Twitter

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 



Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Richard Diviney Rich is a retired Navy SEAL commander, and he served in the Navy SEALs for more than 20 years in which he completed more than 13 overseas deployments, 11 of them to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also the officer in charge of training for a specialized command. In it he spearheaded the creation of a directorate that fused physical, mental, and emotional disciplines. Rich also led a small team to create the first ever mind gym that helped special operators train their brains to perform faster, longer and better in all environments. And since his retirement in 2017, Rich has been working as a facilitator and a consultant with a Chapman and Company Leadership Institute and Simon Sinek, Inc. He has taught leadership, optimal performance. And I really enjoyed this conversation because we spent most of the time focusing on Rich's book, The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance. Now I could have spent the entire time talking about his Navy SEAL experience and he does share a lot of great stories in his book that we do touch on briefly.

However, I think the points that Rich makes in his book, both with great stories and great science to back it up, is that we really need to focus on attributes, whether for ourselves and most, especially for our teams and organizations, high performance.

I really enjoyed this conversation and have learned a lot from Rich. I'm sure you will too. I also enjoy hearing from you. Keep your comments coming mahan@mahantavakoli.com. There's also a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. You can leave voice messages for me there. Don't forget to follow the podcast on your favorite platform. And finally, those of you that enjoy these on apple, leave a rating and review when you get a chance that way more people will find and benefit from the conversations. 

Now here's my conversation with retired Navy SEAL commander, Rich Diviney.


Mahan Tavakoli: 

Rich Diviney, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.

Rich Diviney: 

Thank you, Mahan. Thanks so much for having me. And I'm excited to have the conversation as well. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I absolutely love your book, The Attributes, Rich. I love the perspective you take and the humility you have with which you share a lot of fun stories that relate to all kinds of leaders in all organizations, even though your background and experience is with the Navy SEALs. And we're going to touch on that. I think it relates very well to leaders as they try to lead their organizations through uncertainty. But before we get to that would love to know, whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person and leader you became?

Rich Diviney: 

Well, I grew up in Connecticut and I have a twin brother, identical twin brother, and I have a little brother and an older sister. So the four of us. And my parents were wonderful and I had a really nice childhood. But growing up, my dad who was a private pilot would take us flying and my twin brother, and I loved it and we decided very early on, we wanted to be military jet pilots. And so that's what we set our sights on. It wasn't until maybe the early nineties, I think the first Gulf war, I was in high school and learned about special operations. I learned specifically about the Navy SEALs and said, wow, this is something that I might want to try. And, ended up at Purdue university in the NRTC program and decided ultimately that I didn't want to wonder if I could do it. So I ended up in the SEAL teams and made it to training, made it through, which is great. The odds are low for that one. 

But as an officer, I was really in charge for my whole career, I was always in charge of something. And I always make a distinction between being in charge and being a leader because they're not the same thing. One is a noun and one is a verb. Anybody can be in charge, you can be designated that, but to be a leader, you have to be chosen, you have to be decided, other people have to decide. To call yourself a leader is like calling yourself good looking or funny. You don't get to decide that, other people decide whether or not you are someone they want to follow. And it's done so they do that based on how you behave. And that's a very important facet and factor. I think I learned it a little bit while I was in the military.

I really was able to articulate it more after I got out of the military and I started working with some of the leadership institutes. And of course, my buddy Simon Sinek, was in these spaces and I kind of learned a whole different optic of leadership. And I recognize that during my career there were certain times where yes, people thought of me as a leader. They thought of me that, because they told me that. And they told me how much they loved serving with me. And there were other times where I was just the guy in charge and it was because I wasn't necessarily behaving in a way that endeared the folks to think of me as a leader. But really it translates to so much of life because we're all in some ways influencing other people. And whenever we're in a position of influence, we are kind of de facto leaders a little bit, at least. Certainly if we're parents. 

My dad used to say parenting is the ultimate leadership position because you're taking a life from day one and molding it and shaping it. And that's what my parents did. The journey has been continuous. I think journeys are to mastery are. And so I keep on learning. I keep on understanding. And for me it's fun to articulate things that I discover in the context of all of this. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

One of the interesting things I found Rich is early on, even in high school, your mom gave you a book: Key To Yourself, which is more about mindset than anything else. And you seem to embrace that early on.

Rich Diviney: 

I did. The book was wonderful and a little bit metaphysical in terms of the law of attraction and things like that. I'm not someone who sits in endeavors to purport the efficacy of metaphysics. But what I can tell you is that your mindset does matter. What you focus on does matter and what you focus on you move towards. And so when you decide to set a goal and you think optimistically about it even if it's through incantations or positive affirmations and you take action, you can't just wish the weeds away in your garden. You have to actually take action. But you add optimistic and positive thinking and positive speech and positive action to action. I've found great success in achieving goals that would otherwise seem to many people, maybe even to myself at first unachievable. And so that book really influenced my thought process on how I approach life and how I approach challenges and approach goals.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And how did that mindset impact you as you were going through Buds training? 90 plus percent of people that are highly selected even before they choose to go in end up dropping out. So in your group, I think 168 people started. 38 graduated. You ended up getting three, four hours of sleep in five days. So how did the mindset part play a role in keeping you going through that training?

Rich Diviney: 

Wow. What a great question. I think optimism will only get you so far. When you, and what SEAL training throws you into an environment where there's very little space to be optimistic because you are just in the throes of misery. And again, I say this was an environment that the military places and a lot of human beings get thrown into these environments, whether it be through disease or poverty, or just things that happen in life.

And so the things I did and learned in SEAL training can be translated and can be applicable to everybody going through tough stuff. It's a matter of understanding, I believe, first of all, what qualities you bring to the table, or the seeds of the whole attributes discussion. But also understanding how you can effectively think and maneuver through uncertainty, challenge and stress.

And I think the guys who made it through, we were all able to focus on only that which we could control in the moment and not worry about anything else. And so whether you're running around with a heavy boat on your head, or you're freezing in the surf zone or doing whatever insane thing they ask you to do in SEAL training you don't focus on what's coming next. You don't focus on how long you have to go. You don't focus on how miserable it's going to be or how miserable it's been. You focus on the moment and focus on what you need to get done. And you get that done. 

And that in fact has neurological backing because when we do that, when we goal-set that way, even in micro doses, we in fact incur natural dopamine reward systems in our brain and our physiology. So when we set us even a micro goal, I'm going to just get through this next five minutes, you achieve that. If it's a meaningful goal, you get a dopamine reward. Your body literally says to yourself through dopamine, this is good, keep doing this. And that's how you begin to understand and learn how to step through these challenges.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So, what I wonder, Rich is while you can't talk about the specifics of the missions, you went on, were there any missions where you had to run around with boats on your head, or you had to lay on the sand in cold water? And if not, what did those things do to help you on the missions that you had to go on later on? 

Rich Diviney: 

Well, I can't talk about the missions. I can tell you definitively that none of them, did I have to carry a boat on my head or freeze the surf zone. Well, getting cold was certainly part of some of them, but certainly not, running around with the 300 pound telephone poles. 

And this is where the attributes idea began to manifest itself in my head when I was in charge of a specialized selection and training program. And I recognized that in fact, what they were doing to us at SEAL training wasn't in fact training us to be Navy SEALs. It was in fact, putting us into situations and environments to tease out the qualities, the attributes to see if we had the right attributes to be a Navy SEAL. If it had what it took to do the job. Not if we knew how to do the job, if we could do the job. 

Know-how is skills. Could or can is attributes. So what are those qualities required? And this is where we start to run into trouble as people in businesses who are trying to assess, either assess the current team they have, or bring onboard new players, new participants, because we get seduced by skills. And the reason is because skills are visible. Again, just to kind of level the bubble here. Skills are not inherent to our nature. We're not born with the ability to throw a ball or ride a bike or balance a spreadsheet. We learn how to do those things. We're trained. They also direct our behavior in known specific environments. This is how, and when to balance a spreadsheet or ride a bike or drive a car. As such, because they're visible. They're very easy to assess, measure and test and score in fact. We can put scores around with good stats around them. We can see how well you can throw them on resume. 

What skills don't tell us is how we're going to show up in environments of stress, challenge, uncertainty. When the environment becomes unknown, it's very difficult to apply an unknown skill to an unknown environment. Therefore, we begin to lean on these attributes, these qualities. 

Attributes are innate. We're all born with levels of resiliency or adaptability or situational awareness.  Now we certainly develop them over time and environment, but we can see levels of this stuff in small children. Also attributes don't direct our behavior. They inform our behavior. 

So, for example, my son's levels of perseverance and resilience inform the way he showed up when he was learning the skill of riding a bike. And falling off a dozen times doing so. So they inform how we show up. And then, because they're hard to see, and they're not necessarily visible, they're hard to assess, measure and test. You can't sit across the table in an interview process, for example, and assess someone's levels of adaptability or patience or resilience. And so oftentimes during the team building process, we get seduced by skills. This is where you get the dream team concept.

 And I heard all the time when I was getting out of the military or after I got in the military, I was talking about high-performing teams. These people would come up to me and say, listen, Richard, we're building these dream teams. Best graphics, designer, best marketing person, best salesperson, whatever it is. And they're doing great when things are going great, but as soon as things go sideways or the plan goes to heck, they turn toxic. What's going on? And for me at that point, it was a very easy answer. I said, it's because you're building your team based on the wrong things. You're looking at skills. You're not looking at attributes. Attributes are what we need to look at if we want to really deconstruct performance.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And before we go into and understanding those attributes a little bit more, I want to underline the differentiation between attributes and skills. So you're not necessarily saying that attributes can't be developed. It's just that we inherently have some more than others. Initially, when I was reading your book and listening to some of the conversations, I was wondering how this fits in with respect to conversations around a growth mindset in that I don't have these skills and capabilities or attributes yet. So with that attitude, if you want it, you can develop it.

Rich Diviney: 

I'm glad you brought that up. First bit of good news is that we all have all of the attributes. Because we're human, we have all of them. The difference in each one of us are the levels to which we have each. 

So I'll take adaptability as an example. And adaptability, if high adaptability is a 10 and low adaptability is a 1, I would probably be around a level eight on adaptability. What does that mean? That means that when the situation and the environment changes around me outside of my control, it's fairly easy for me to go with the flow and roll with it.

Someone else might be a level three on adaptability, which means when the same thing happens to them, it's difficult for them to do it. They're still adaptable because as human beings we are. It's just difficult. It takes effort. So if we were to line up on a wall, a bunch of dimmer switches and each dimmer switch represented an attribute.

And I talk about twenty-five in the book. There are more than 25, of course, but each dimmer switch represents an attribute. All of our levels for each one would be different. When here our lines would all look differently and there's no judgment in that. It is how we show up. It'd be like judging her hair color. It's how we show up. 

Now you can, if you're lower on an attribute, you can develop an attribute. You just can't do it the same way you do a skill. And a quick back of the envelope test for someone to determine whether or not it's an attribute or a skill. Because they get conflated all the time. Would be to ask yourself, can it be taught or can I teach it? If the answer is yes, that means it's probably a skill. If the answer is no, it means it's probably an attribute. 

So the example would be Mahan, you say "Rich. I would like to learn how to shoot a pistol and hit a bullseye every time." Well, I could take you to the range and teach you how to do that within a couple hours. That is a skill. Or you can say “Rich, I want to learn how to be more patient or more adaptable.” Well, I can't teach you that. That's something that you have to do. 

So to develop an attribute takes three things. It takes self motivation, it takes self-direction and it takes the willingness for that person, that individual to deliberately place themselves into environments of discomfort because it's an attribute they're low on to test and tease and develop that attributes.

So if someone wants to develop their patience, they must then go place themselves, find environments and place themselves in environments that develop and test and tease their patience. Whatever that might look like. It might look like, well, I'm going to go drive in traffic or I'm going to go stand at the longest line of the grocery store. Having kids is when I always joke about it, that'll develop patience pretty quickly. But yeah, you have to find yourself so you can develop attributes. 

Here's the other bit of good news is that you don't have to have a lot of, all of the attributes. In fact, that's impossible, A. But B, you don't need to, this is about figuring out our own engines. I always describe ourselves as automobiles. Some of us humans are Ferrari. Some are SUVs, some are Jeeps. There's no judgment there because the Jeep can do things the Ferrari can't do, and the Ferrari can do things that Jeep can't do. It's all about understanding, lifting your hood and understanding what your engine looks like. Because if you start understanding what your engine looks like, you start to say to yourself, wait a second. I am actually a Jeep that's been trying to run on a Ferrari track. That's why I've had so much trouble. Or conversely for Ferrari, trying to run on a Jeep track. So, at that point you can make a choice.

You can say, well, actually I want to be a Jeep that runs over a Ferrari track. So now, you know exactly which attributes you might need to work on to be a Jeep that better runs on a Ferrari track. Or you say, actually, no. I'm going to take my Jeep engine and go find a Jeep track. Cause that's where I'll be happiest.

So you don't have to have a lot of every attribute. Depends on what goals you have. Depends on what niche you're in. 

I always joke that the standup comic doesn't necessarily need a lot of empathy. In fact too much empathy can be detrimental to a stand up comic, because how are you supposed to find the funny at a funeral if you have too much empathy?

So it's really about understanding what you want to do in life. What are your contexts are and then what that attribute list looks like. And then in business and in teams it's important to understand what attribute lists are required for that specific role or responsibility. The list of attributes that make up a great Navy SEAL is going to look different than the list of attributes that make up a great sales person or a great teacher or a great surgeon. So people in business and teams, you have to understand and do the diligence on saying, what are the attributes that actually make sense in this environment? And then look for and select for those.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You have a good list and survey people can fill out on theattributes.com and the book site where they can find out their own attributes. Now when leaders are looking first in the hiring process to determine attributes, you already alluded to the fact that you can't sit across the table from people and determine their attributes.

Are there psychometric profiles that can be done or are there other processes that need to be instituted in the hiring process to make sure you have people with the right attributes for the role you're hiring?

Rich Diviney: 

There are tons of personality assessments and things like that you can get. I have done most of them because I find them vastly interesting. I wouldn't be able to speak to the ability of any of them to dive deeply into attributes. And the assessment you can take on our site gives you a score as to where you might fall on this stuff so that could help. 

The best and most pure way to look for attributes is inside of environments. Their experientials because it's the environment and challenge uncertainty and stress that will tease these things out. 

And so this is a little bit tougher. It makes the interview process a little bit more complex because you have to then ask yourself, how can I throw some uncertainty, challenge and stress into this hiring process so I can actually see these attributes. 

So again, number one, understand the attributes you're looking for. Cause you have to design the environment to see those attributes. But a good example I often use is, one of a sales guy, or gal. If you and I, for example, wanted to hire someone who was great at sales. You and I could tell this person on Friday, say come in Tuesday morning. And when you come in, we want you to sell this pencil. We all get to Tuesday morning, this person comes in and we sit down and say give us a sales pitch. And the person gives us a great sales pitch that is highly convincing, very professional. And we're like, okay, that sounds fantastic.

The problem is you and I would not have learned much about that person. All we would have learned is that person knows how to prepare their pitch and give their sales pitch for that pencil. 

So what we might do instead is again on Friday, say, come in Tuesday, sell us this pencil. When we get there Tuesday morning, though, instead of a pencil we say, hey, plans have changed, you're not going to sell us this pencil. You're gonna sell us this coffee cup. And oh, by the way, there's no audio visual. So you have to just go off the cuff. 

Now at that point, what you and I would have to do very deliberately is divorce ourselves from skills assessment. Cause what we're about to see is probably gonna be ugly. But now we're not looking at skills anymore. We're looking at attributes. So let's really look at how this person behaves. Is the person funny? Is the person adaptable? Is the person thinking on the fly? Thinking quickly. Is the person resilient from what you just said? Or is the person kicking the dirt, blaming and they're kind of going down a spiral right? 

Now, we're starting to tease out attributes, because you've just thrown some uncertainty. So the idea is to add into any hiring process. Some of this uncertainty, challenge and stress. And again, it doesn't have to be Machiavellian. It needs to be contextual. 

So in other words in SEAL training, you go and you sit in the surf zone for hours freezing. For me to take a group of prospective accountants into the surf zone and freeze them, wouldn't tell me a lot about how they're going to be at accounting. So the environments have to be contextual to what you're looking for, but that is the key environment is the most pure way to look for these things.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And therefore it takes a lot more effort to be able to determine what the right attributes are for the role and whether the person has those attributes, but that sets the person up for success within that team. Now, as you're looking at teams, how do you make sure the interplay of the attributes lead well to the organization or a team's goals and results?

Rich Diviney: 

The attributes required for each team, depending on the role of that team the list is going to be specific, but then there are some, decidingly specific attributes that relate to human relations. 

So in the book, I outlined five different categories. And the categories are grit. What are the attributes that make of grit? What are the attributes that make up mental acuity? What are the attributes that make up drive? And then what are the attributes that make up leadership and team abilities? 

So the first three categories, grit, mental acuity and drive. Those are all individually focused, they kind of talk about individual performance inside of an environment. And when we start talking about leadership and we start talking about team ability, those are the attributes that speak to our performance with other human beings. And so just like I said, you can't call yourself a leader. It's done on behaviors.

These behaviors, these leadership attributes are those, in fact, those things that cause behaviors that then cause other people to say, that's someone who I want to follow. And those leadership attributes are empathy, selflessness, decisiveness, accountability, and authenticity. Those are behaviors. Those are attributes that speak to people's ability to look at someone like a leader.

And we know this because we've asked questions around the world to thousands of people. What do great leaders do? What are those behaviors? And we get the same list every time. And those five are always on the list. 

But then you have the team ability attributes. What are those attributes that speak to our ability to relate and work with other human beings? And those are integrity. And again, integrity can be defined as doing the right thing. We have to remember that integrity is subjective. People often make that mistake. They think integrity is not subjective. They think it's objective, and that's not the case. Doing the right thing means something different for a SEAL platoon than it might mean for a group of ISIS folks or a Cub scout troop. So doing the right thing is defined by the team, hopefully defined by the leadership and then expressed and behaved that way. But it has to be understood. So do the right thing in the context of the team.

Conscientiousness, which is a combination of being diligent, reliable and working hard. Humility, which is kind of a no-brainer because arrogance on a team is disastrous. Humility, it's not like meekness it's humility. Hey, I, even if I am an expert, I still have something to learn and I can learn from others. And I need my teammates. That's humility on a team. 

And then humor, which is one of the most important parts which is really this idea, are we able to laugh when times are tough? Can we laugh because laughter is such a powerful act of human behavior. And again much like sneezing, it's involuntary. And when we laugh, we get juiced with two neuro-transmitters in one hormone. So dopamine, which is a neuro-transmitter, which I've talked about and we all kind of know a lot about. The root of all addiction. Really it's a chemical that says, keep doing this. This is good. 

So all the addictive behaviors, they help create dopamine. The chemical dopamine is what makes us keep doing them. So we get dopamine when we laugh. We get endorphins, which is the human body's opiate to mask pain. Again, we were designed by nature as endurance creatures, and we had to go long times and distances to find food, to find shelter and to find companionship. And so, our body's designed to go the long haul .And endorphins flood our bodies to help mask that pain. Also in the modern context, known as runners high. 

So we get dopamine, we get endorphins and then we get oxytocin, which is a hormone. Neuro-transmitters they're fast in, fast out. That's how they operate, kind of the carbon at the end of a match. 

Hormones are longer. Slower in, they last longer, they're slower out. Oxytocin it's a hormone, but it acts a little bit faster than some of the other hormones. But oxytocin known as the trust, the love chemical, the love hormone, you get bursts of oxytocin.

You've got oxytocin generation when you have physical touch with other human beings or acts of kindness or generosity. Now what's cool about oxytocin is you also get bursts of oxytocin, even when you witness acts of kindness and generosity. So when we see someone else do something kind, when we see someone else loving. That's why we all love the coming home videos of soldiers or pets or things like that. We just love it. That's all oxytocin. 

Long story short, you get all three of those when you laugh. When we laugh, we get all three of those, whether we like it or not. And that is a powerful, chemical cocktail that allows us to keep going. It's one of the reasons why humor is one of the most desired qualities for humans in finding a mate, Because if someone can make us laugh, it means, oh my gosh, this person they have my back, they help me keep going. And it's feelings. It's not just knowledge, it's not a brain thing. It's like, I actually feel it. So yeah, humor is the last one and really important.

So I always say, honor, your class clowns. A team always has to have a couple. You have to have those people who make us laugh. And then of course the humor attribute allows you to laugh. You don't have to be a clown., You just have to be able to laugh. But certainly have a couple of class clowns on your team.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Yeah, you actually tell a story Rich about when you were going through a training of laughter that reminded me of a high functioning senior team I was on and how the individual that made us laugh. We love them, but I didn't understand until your story, why that by itself helped our team become a more effective team.

Rich Diviney: 

I've never experienced a high performing team that hasn't had some class clowns, and hasn't been able to laugh when times are down. It just happens. And the story I share is, during SEAL training, you do something called surf torture where they walk you out into the surf zone, you have to lay down the waves, crash over you, and then they recede and they crash over you.

It's the coldest thing you've ever experienced because the wind hits you and everything. And you spend you're out there for what seems like hours. But inevitably at some point the instructors will drive a van onto the beach and the guy will get out with a megaphone and say, “Hey, for anybody who quits right now I have hot chocolates. I have blankets and I have donuts in the van. So if you quit right now you can have that.” And I was in the surf zone when the instructor did that. And I remember the guy on my right starts yelling immediately at the top of his lungs. He said, “Hey, do you have any chocolate glaze donuts? Cause if you don't have any chocolate glaze donut I'm not quitting.” And so I remember bursting out in laughter. He laughed, I remember feeling at that time, we're gonna be okay. 

But I looked to my left and the guy to my left was stone faced. He hadn't even heard the joke. He was just lost in his pain. And I said to myself, this guy is not gonna make it. And sure enough, within a minute he was quitting. 

And so what happened there? I mean, my buddy made that joke. Freezing in the surfzone, my buddy made that joke. I was immediately flooded with dopamine. This is good. Keep doing it. I was immediately flooded with endorphins. This is fine. It doesn't feel that bad. And then I was immediately flooded with oxytocin we're in this together. And that's how powerful it can be. 

I mean and, people ask me if I miss the SEAL teams and I say, I don't miss it because I think miss usually implies longing or a wishing you have to go back. And I know I can never go back. You age out of that stuff. What I look back the most fondly on are those times where we're laughing. I mean, the environments around us were just miserable and we were laughing until we were crying. That's the type of stuff. It was really priceless.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And that's one of the things that I wonder, and I read a lot about, Rich. Organizations spend a lot of effort and time on trying to build stronger teams where people can trust each other, rely on each other. The SEALs your 20 plus years experience, including the time you spent, in essence, launching the mind lab there do a fantastic job with building that teamwork and team trust. Some of it might be a function of the environment and some of the hostilities that people have to deal with, but what else goes into it that business leaders can learn from in trying to create teams of people that work well together, trust each other and are effective.

Rich Diviney: 

Well, I think the advantage the military has, and it's not just the SEAL teams, but the military has, is the training is centered around shared experience. And in many cases, shared misery which just enhances everything. Experience is the key. I mean, that's why teams that can work together and operate together, move together and just experience each other are going to build trust much more rapidly than the teams that don't. 

Or sometimes teams that are just in a business environment, it's why the off-sites can be very powerful if designed correctly, because some off sites are designed solely to speak to certain people with certain attributes. Those off-sites that are all about competition, you're going to sidebar all those people who are not competitive, they're going to hate it. But off-sites that are designed well and actually help express these attributes and people can bond in ways. But again, it doesn't have to be outside of the workplace. If teams go around and they show each other that they care about each other, just by listening, by talking, by engaging with each other, spending time.

You know, a good friend of mine always says time is the currency of leadership because time it's a commodity we all have the same amount of and when we give it away, we can't get it back. and so when we give someone our time, we are showing them that we care about them and they are feeling like we care about them. 

These actions, behaviors. Trust is also just like leadership, trust is built on behaviors. Things that we do. I always say you can't make anybody trust you. All you can do is behave in a way that allows them to make a decision to trust you. And those behaviors are attributes based. Oftentimes the same behaviors that cause great leadership too. I mean, accountability, consistency, competence. Doing the right thing and character. All these things that allow someone to say, okay, I trust this person. Just behave more. Behave in a way that shows people you care about them and you will build trust.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So Rich, now that you spend most of your time guiding leaders and organizations, and we have to deal with a virtual and at best hybrid investment. How can leaders and teams nurture that kind of trust, and that bonding that as you mentioned, happens more through shared in-person experiences?

Rich Diviney: 

Yeah, it does but you can do it virtually. It's just gonna take more time and effort. Because again, time is the ultimate thing. You want to spend time with the people on your team and it might mean you have to do one-on-ones once in a while. It might mean when you do a one-on-one it's not about let's talk about work. Hey, let's just have lunch. 

I've had people who literally do zoom lunches, where they just have lunch and they just talk and they chat and they visit and they talk about things that are not necessarily work-related,

Whenever a leader and I think most people in the audience can probably think of a time where this has happened. Hopefully they can. Where one of their leaders, at some point said, Hey tell me about your family. Tell me about a hobby. And when they asked that, they actually really listened to the answer and they weren't just asking. They listen. Every single one of us felt cared for. You just automatically do. 

And so if you are able to really take an interest, take a vested interest in another human being or the human beings on your team. You need to take time to do that. You can do that virtually. You can have those conversations, you can spend that time. So that when you actually do meet in person, that meeting will be far more rich because you will have created a bond before. 

People used to do this all the time. People who love each other used to just send letters. Right? And, I say this with experience because I met my wife. When I was still stationed in Hawaii, she was in Hawaii. I met my wife and it was five days before I actually left the island to move to Virginia, which is pretty much as far as you can get in the United States from each other. The first two and a half months of our relationship were all letters we were sending each other. And we were on the phone sometimes too, but we sent each other letters. And we developed a love for each other just through that first. So when we got to see each other two months later, the love was already there. And so it can be done. It just takes more effort.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It does take conscious effort and a lot of what you talk about resonates very well with me. Another one of the concepts that I think would make a beautiful book too. You talk about dynamic subordination, Rich. What is dynamic subordination?

Rich Diviney: 

Dynamics subordination is quite literally the metabolization of a trusted team. Because what happens is in a dynamic subordination environment unlike a typical pyramid hierarchical environment or whatever we usually get in businesses. What happens is every team member understands that challenges or problems can come from any angle at any moment. And when one does, the person who is closest to the problem and the most capable, immediately steps up and takes the lead. And everybody follows. It's a dynamic swap between leader and follower. I also call it alpha swapping. But this is an environment where trust allows every member to say, that person's got it. I have that person's back. And then the environment might change and someone else's now the leader in the moment. 

And I say this, I was an officer in the Navy and an officer in charge of SEAL platoons and SEAL troops. And so I was always the guy in charge. But that didn't mean I was always the guy, everybody was always supporting me. More often I was supporting the snipers in the moment, or I supported the lead jumper or supporting the assaulter. We were following that person. And we were in support of that person. And it just swaps depending on the environment. That's in fact, the dynamic subordination environment.

 A way we can conceptualize this a little bit more viscerally then maybe a SEAL example would be just a commercial airline. Everybody would agree that the captain of the commercial airline is in charge. That person is in charge. There's no debate. However, if the airplane is taxiing out to take off and suddenly that captain gets a call from the maintenance guy and the maintenance guy says, “Hey, found something wrong with the airplane. I need you to turn around.” Well, no captain worth their wings is going to ignore that. They are immediately subordinate to that maintenance guy and turn the plane around and go back to the gate and figure it out. Maybe during that time frame, they realized, well, we have to deplane the plane because we have to get this thing fixed. Well, the captain doesn't take charge of that either. The captain immediately subordinates to the flight attendant who steps up, takes the lead and gets the people off the plane. So this is dynamic subordination in action. It's the purest manifestation of a trusted team and a high-performance team.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And I think in an uncertain environment and a greater uncertainty that we live in, Rich, organizations need to embrace more of that dynamic subordination that you talk about. You also mentioned things that reminded me of the conversation I had with Bob Johansen. He's with the Institute for the Future, trains all three star US generals. And he says, be clear in direction, be clear where you're going, very flexible to get there. So clarity but not certainty. And you also mentioned examples of the importance of that kind of thinking, living in an uncertain environment. Part of what you say with respect to SEALs is the SEALs are masters of uncertainty.

And now I believe businesses and business leaders need to be masters of uncertainty too.

Rich Diviney: 

If 2020 taught us nothing, which had taught us a lot, we could say it taught us that the world is uncertain. We do not know. And even if we predict that's fine, we have to be able to flex and adapt. And the only way to be able to do that rapidly is to create an environment of trust in your team so that you can dynamic the subordinate and you can adapt and flex.

The lessons of life teach us this all the time. We just never apply it to the big picture. You know, kind of congruent to what you had just said. I usually say in the context of any goal, be resolute in the outcome, but be flexible in the approach. 

The rock climber can teach us a lot about this. Like the rock climber looks at the face of the rock and that on the ground looks at it and maps out a, just a general path, that he, or she might take. And then understands that the only way to begin to figure out is actually to start climbing. But while they're climbing, they recognize, and it's inevitable that they're going to find a place where they thought was the next best pathway is not in fact the next best pathway. So they have to look for the next best handheld foothold. And that might be like down to the right, like it might be down and over. Which means they may have to move down and away from the top so that they get a better optic or get a better position so they can move up, which is good. 

I mean, that tells us even in the context of any goal, sometimes it might feel like we're moving away and down and away from our goal, but it's only in the context of getting a better handhold or foothold so that we can actually make the rest of the summit. So you have to be flexible in the early results. The environment around us that we cannot control will always be throwing uncertainty, throwing challenges, throwing things that we have to adapt to. And so we just have to understand that's life.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I love the analogy you give, control your three foot environment.

Rich Diviney: 

Yeah. I mean, controlling your three-foot world, which is a SEAL thing is, a basic idea of saying, in an environment of complexity, uncertainty, and in the military, they call it the VUCA, volatile, uncertain complex and ambiguous. In a VUCA environment it's really about asking yourself the question, at this moment, out of all of this uncertainty, what can I actually control? And then you answer that question and you say, okay, what am I going to focus on? I'm gonna focus on what I can control. And then you move to that. And then by moving to that, you generate a dopamine reward because our neurology is designed to reward us for that. And you generate a different optic of the problem.

So you can ask the question again. Do I understand what I can control? And then you move to that. It's really the neurological manifestation of eating the elephant one bite at a time. You're not focusing on the big picture. You're focusing on what you can control the moment moving, moving, moving and slowly you make your way through challenging certain stress by just focusing in that three-foot space.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And that does help us control our anxiety a lot more too. In this environment, more and more leaders are feeling more anxious and are having difficulty without clarity of where things are headed. Some of the leaders that I talked to ,initially, were really optimistic when the vaccine rollout came, they were thinking we're going back to a certain level of normal. And then over the past couple of months, I've seen more and more leaders get depressed with the fact and understanding that no, there is no clear normalcy and they're going to have to continue adjusting to this. You also address resilience versus anti-fragility, Rich. This is an opportunity for anti-fragility. So how can we as individuals and as leaders of teams use the opportunity to become more antifragile?

Rich Diviney: 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, so just to define the terms, resilience is, I get knocked off baseline and I get back to baseline. And there's nothing wrong with that. That's survival. We actually need to be resilient . Whereas anti-fragility is when I get knocked off baseline, when I come back, I've grown stronger because of it. A muscle is antifragile. When you rip the muscle, when you're lifting weights if you give it the proper recovery, It grows bigger. The key is in recovery and that's the problem. That's the problem most of us fall into is we don't allow ourselves to appropriately recover. To recover to a point of resiliency, takes a certain amount of time and to recover to a point of anti-fragility takes even more time. So we have to find, and capitalize on recovery. 

Now, one of the primary ways that human beings recover and recover deeply is with sleep. In fact, it's the best recovery method out of any of them, because it's by nature's design. We are hearing a lot in today's fitness world and even performance world about the importance of good solid effective sleep. And that is sleep sciences, it's a real thing. And getting proper sleep is absolutely essential. But there are other ways we can recover. I mean, if we think about our physiology as human beings we have a nervous system which goes into sympathetic or parasympathetic sympathetic can be known as a kind of action system or action states. And it's generating a series of chemicals when we're in sympathetic system, especially if we're in stress generating cortisol, which is a little bit more destructive to our system. 

Parasympathetic is designed to recover us. So as generating things like DHA, which are the building blocks of Testosterone and estrogen. So in parasympathetic, when we are shifted in parasympathetic, our emotions are keys, clues to what system we're in. And so emotions such as joy, calm, peace exuberance love, those are all parasympathetic expressed emotions. Which means when we're experiencing those and feeling those we're actually generating DHA. We are in recovery. Which means it gives us a good clue as to what we can do to recover.

So in other words, situations that generate those feelings, put us into recovery. So whatever that is for you, it doesn't have to be sleep. I mean, It might be going to church. It might be meditating. For me, it's going for a run in the woods. On my own without any headphones and no clock. I'm just in nature. Whatever that might be, find those activities that produce those emotions, you will be in recovery. And then definitely, get good sleep.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is all important that I was thinking about you actually on my Sunday morning runs, which serve the same purpose for me Rich, because it does for me, let my mind relax and energizes me for at least the first couple of days of the week before I need to go for another run.

You've got a lot of great insights in the attributes with respect to understanding attributes versus skills, but also a lot of what business leaders can implement not only with respect to hiring team members, but with respect to how to get their team members to work more effectively with each other. And to build on their strengths. As you mentioned with the example of the cars, it's not that one is better than other, it's which one is suited for what purpose. In addition to your own book Rich, are there any leadership resources, good books you've read recently that you find yourself recommending for others to read?

Rich Diviney: 

I'm friends with Simon. I think Simon Sinek's books are great. I think he has some great leadership stuff. Bob Chapman's company, Everybody Matters is a great book about truly human leadership that people can access and look into.

I would say though that, I also try to read things that are a little bit off the leadership topic, because I think sometimes we find ourselves going down lanes and it almost vectors us into one note of thinking.

And so books like Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. I love all of this stuff. You know, Black Swan, antifragile, these have nothing to do with leadership, but you can learn about concepts that have ended up relating to leadership and performance. I love Harari stuff. Cause I think that's just to think about and understand the human species to that extent, the way he does.

My other friend, Dan Coil has some great books, Talent Code, Culture Code Steven Kotler. Another friend has some great books about flow.

 So my recommendation is to really grab anything you can, because creativity comes from and this is also neurologically proven, creativity happens when two neural connections that are otherwise not associated actually associate.

How does that manifest physically one idea that has nothing to do with another idea, suddenly finding connections between the two. And the way we can encourage that is to learn about a bunch of different stuff. So you can take a course on basket weaving, And suddenly say, oh, wait a second. This concept of basket weaving I can see how it relates to the SEAL operation. I mean, which was like, what the hell? How does that work? Well, it works. That's creativity in action. 

So keeping open-minded and learning and being diverse in your thoughts. Being empathetic, I'm talking a lot more about just empathy nowadays, just because we need more of it in our planet and our country. Deliberately finding and practicing empathy. I always say you don't have to agree with someone to be empathetic with someone. How can I place myself in that person's shoes for a moment to feel that perspective? Those are ways that we fire up our creative neural networks really well.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Those are outstanding recommendations. I, whether it's Nassim Taleb or Yuval Harari, absolutely love their writing. Adds frameworks and different kinds of thinking. So I see the world differently. So I love those recommendations. You also mentioned empathy repeatedly, Rich. And one of the things in reading your book and listening to a lot of your interviews, I love that you have a lot of empathy and you showed a lot of empathy while serving too.

So I was wondering, since you mentioned empathy, how were you able to maintain empathy. Or appropriate level of empathy because there has to be a balance. With too much empathy, you wouldn't have been able to carry out your missions. With too little empathy, you would have become a robot. So how were you able to balance empathy then and how do you have us think about empathy and having the right level and amount of empathy now?

Rich Diviney: 

Yes. Great question. Well, I think as a human being I was always a little bit lower on the empathy scale, which actually served me well in the job I was in. And so for me it was a deliberate act to induce empathy that  I wanted to do that deliberately. But again, as a Navy SEAL you need empathy cause you can't be a robot. You have to have too much. It's just going to, you won't be able to do the job. So in that case I was pretty well predisposed. 

But then as I got out of the military, I recognized that my lower levels of empathy didn't serve me well, as well as they could. I've endeavored since then to up my empathy game. My wife has a great example. She's one of the most empathetic people I've ever met, so I can see how that's a powerful thing. But upping my empathy game because in the context of what I'm doing now, it matters. 

And as a leader, this is really important because as a leader, you have to balance It too. If you're too empathetic as a leader, then you're going to find yourself defaulting to cause it usually often has to do with either an individual or small group.And so by really feeling what one small group is feeling you're going to, isolate yourself or isolate a different group. So you can't be too empathetic but you also don't want to be not empathetic. 

As a leader, I always think about empathy as if it's on a dimmer switch. And do you have to dial it up and dial it down depending on the situation you're in. And I think that's what great leaders are able to do. They are able to appropriately dial their empathy into the situation where it's most appropriate in the moment. Because if you need a lot you dial it in and you have a lot. If you need to back it up and say, Hey, I have to make a decision based on the greater good. I can't really worry about what too many people feel there it is. I try to approach empathy as a dimmer switch. and I think that's probably the best recipe for success for leaders.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is a great recipe and your wife has helped you turn that dimmer switch up a lot. So kudos to her. That's wonderful. But again, there are lots of stories about even while you were serving and the great empathy that you had, and that's really important to keep in mind. So Rich, how best can the audience find out about you, connect with you? In addition to the links that we put in show notes.

Rich Diviney: 

The best way, the easiest way is the website theattributes.com, because there, you can find me, you can find the book, you can find the assessment tool, which is free. People can take that. And if you want to get in contact with us for talks or consulting you can go right there to do it. Obviously the book can be found on any of the places books are sold, Amazon or otherwise. Also on that website you find my Instagram handle as well as LinkedIn. So you know, Rich on Instagram and on LinkedIn as well. So those are all different ways. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It's an outstanding book The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance. And I really appreciate you taking the time sharing some of the thoughts with respect to the attributes, which I believe can leaders and organizations both recruit better and also help their teams become more effective. And really appreciate in addition to your service, the service you're continuing to give now to leaders of organizations to become both more empathetic and also be able to lead their organizations more effectively.

Thank you so much for joining me in this conversation, Rich Diviney. 

Rich Diviney: 

Thank you Mahan. I appreciate being here. Thanks so much for having me. It's been an honor.