Planning Lessons I Learned from the Navy SEALs

OK so, believe it or not, I’m not a Navy SEAL. I don’t even play one on TV.

I did, however, learn some interesting lessons on planning from the Navy SEALs, by way of the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. We recently read this book as part of the book club we have at Appiphony.

The chapters are filled with exciting stories of battle and amazing lessons on leadership, but in some ways the most directly actionable information in the book relates to how the Navy SEALs plan missions. I jotted these notes as I read, so it’s not a complete methodology—but it’s still great stuff.

Planning Tips from the Navy SEALs

  • Skip the PowerPoint puffery designed to impress; any documents you create are for “your troops.”
  • During planning sessions, focus everyone around “information radiators” like maps as you get people out of their chairs and engaged in the discussion.
  • Ask questions as you progress through your explanations to check for understanding, e.g. “does anyone not understand this?”
  • Explain and emphasize the overall intent of the mission a.k.a. project. In one instance, leaders were able to crystallize the understanding of the mission by showing them two maps: the current state in which insurgents controlled most of the city, and another in which a new boundary was drawn showing the enemy contained to a small area. (I really like thinking about what my “two maps” are when I’m kicking off a project.)
  • Delegate portions of the planning to your sub-team leaders, and have them build their plans without you to avoid duplicate perspectives.
  • When your team leaders explain their plan back to you later, sit back and spot the holes and risks in the plan from a higher-level perspective. This is your chance to be “the genius.”
  • Mitigate risks where possible, but understand that unexpected issues will always arise. When you encounter trouble, relax, look around, and make a call.