World Reimagined

Peak Performance: Lessons in High-Stake Leadership

Published
Jan 18, 2021

Listen and Subscribe:

A rapidly-changing world is putting leaders—and their organizations—under stress as never before. In this episode, Gautam Mukunda is joined by former Navy bomb specialist Daniel (Danny) Glenn and biomedical researcher Aleksandra (Sandra) Stankovic to explore human performance in extreme environments and how to lead when the stakes are increasingly high.

Danny is a former Navy Special Operations Officer who was the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Commander for the Special Operations Task Force in Iraq. After the Navy, he was a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University and the CEO of a major family office in California. Sandra is an Assistant Professor at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. She is an aerospace psychologist, human factors engineer, and spaceflight biomedical researcher who studies human performance in extreme operational environments.

"It's not necessarily strength you want to build, but resilience. The ability to rebound back and forth from periods of intensity." — Aleksandra Stankovic

Books Referenced:

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything, by Chris Hadfield

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

Guest Info:

Dr. Aleksandra Stankovic is an aerospace psychologist, and a human factors engineer and spaceflight biomedical researcher working to optimize high-level human performance and sustained behavioral health in extreme operational environments, much like the ones Danny was in disarming bombs. Human factors engineering, for those who don't know, is an interdisciplinary field that seeks to improve the design of systems and technologies in a human-centered way through the application of principles from psychology, physiology, and engineering, and she'll tell us more about it as we get into the conversation. Sandra was previously an Assistant Professor in the Space Medicine Innovations Laboratory at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and has recently joined the Neural Systems Group of the Department of Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where she is starting up a new research lab focused on human performance.

@AeroAleksandra on Twitter

Daniel Glenn served in the United States military for a decade, acting as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy’s elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, where he was deployed to Iraq and other hotspots around the globe. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his work in countering the terrorist group ISIS. He studied International Relations at the United States Naval Academy before earning a Master's degree in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. He was also a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he earned his second Master's degree. He was hired in Silicon Valley as a turnaround CEO and is now working in the private sector.

 

Transcript

Gautam:

A former Navy bomb disposal specialist and a biomedical researcher who studies human performance in extreme environments walk into a podcast. The subject, peak performance. Pop quiz. You're in a job where your expertise spells the difference between life and death. For you, for your team, for anyone in a significant blast radius, how exactly do you prepare for that? How do you lead when the stakes are that high? As a lieutenant in the US Navy's Elite Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit, or EOD, Daniel Glenn lead teams that disarm bombs in Iraq and in other hotspots around the globe, a job for which he needed to be able to think clearly under the highest pressure imaginable. And the moment that challenged him most, it's not what you might expect. Danny calls it the longest walk.

Danny:

Yeah. This was on a deployment of mine in Iraq, and it was actually the walk back, but I was walking from my team, which was standing over said device, and walking towards the Green Berets that were kind of holding the cordon. And I had to figure out during that walk, who we were going to notify and what the hell we were going to do about this device. And there was 10 seconds of that walk where I had no earthly idea, and that to me was one of the most terrifying times that I had as a leader, and indeed in the service in general. And it wasn't because of the physical proximity to danger. It was because of that, I think unknown factor, and because I legitimately didn't know what to do.

Gautam:

And how did you handle that?

Danny:

I think I leaned on difficult training, and that had happened 1000 times in training. But training is just the theoretical, and this was very real. And so I think I leaned back on: Okay, what am I supposed to do? What's the book answer? And the book answer never really applies all that well in the real world, which is infinitely unique. And by the time I'd reached the cordon, I'd come up with a plan. And there could be no betrayal of the misgivings, the lack of confidence that I experienced during the walk when I gave the commands that I gave, that this is who we need to call, and this is who I need to speak to, and this is what I need in terms of resources. This is the cordon that I need. This is the security I need. And we've got a much bigger problem than what we can handle here.

Gautam:

Danny is a good friend and a former student of mine. He's a graduate of the Naval Academy, has two master's degrees, he's even in the Guinness Book of World Records for running a mile in a full 80 pound bomb suit in eight and a half minutes. His teams nicknamed him Captain America, even before they found out that he was literally born on the Fourth of July. I brought him in to talk with another friend, Dr. Aleksandra Stankovic, an expert of training teams for peak performance. Sandra directs the Human Performance Laboratory at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and has studied human performance where it matters most, with first responders, in ICUs, in cockpits, in the Antarctic Research Station, and in space flight analog environments for astronauts. So what happens when a real life Captain America meets a future astronaut?

Sandra:

I think in my work a lot about designing training programs that represent the situation as high fidelity as possible to the sort of environment you're going to encounter operationally. But you can't replicate that realness in the environment. You can't replicate either the emotions or the real element of danger. I'm sort of curious to hear more about how your training actually put you in a place where you were able to deal with the other factors that didn't necessarily come up for you when you were practicing this in a more controlled setting.

Danny:

Yeah. That's a great question. And this is why you make training intense. And Gautam, you and I have been in a five year debate about whether or not it's a good idea to have midshipmen and cadets at the service academies box.

Gautam:

Yeah. I think it's a bad trade off.

Danny:

That's exactly it.

Gautam:

This is true. Danny and I have been in a five year debate about boxing at the service academies. I think you can get the same benefits in other ways without the certainty of brain damage.

Danny:

I'll sound a little Tyler Durden in Fight Club here, but it isn't my intent. I think it's very important to know what it's like to be punched in the face. I had to get punched in the face underwater by trainers who were going to rip my mask off and take my air source away at the bottom of a 12 foot pool, and then punch me in the face, and the wrestle me around for a little bit. The Venn diagram in terms of danger in between training and reality is I think very high.

Gautam:

What I was curious about was: What was the wash out rate in the difference of training you went through? Because to my mind, the training that you identify could be a selection or a developmental experience. Everybody who was able to handle it was already able to handle it. The ones who weren't washed out.

Sandra:

It makes me wonder, as you've seen people go through this training, where you think that line is between skills that you can build into people through these kind of experiences and where maybe people are just more, say, predisposed to being able to be more effective in these kind of environments.

Danny:

Gosh, I wish I had the answer. Man, this calls into my memory having a conversation with a good friend of mine, who is a Navy SEAL, so I won't disclose his name because he's still active. We talked a lot about fear, the fear of failure. There was very real fear, the very personal insecurity of I'm going to have to face people, and they're going to know that I failed out of training, or I quit on myself, on my team. I would've blacked out at the bottom of the pool.

Gautam:

So Danny, I've got to say, I would say you're one of my two or three closest friends in the world. It would never have crossed my mind that fear of failure would be a dominant emotion in this environment for you. So Sandra, I've got to throw this to you. How does this resonate with your research?

Sandra:

Yeah. I mean, it's a fascinating perspective to get. I think we focus so much in the academic community on looking at these things from just an intellectual skills based level. But ultimately, you have to contextualize these experiences in human beings. We feel pain and emotion and fear, and are also situated in social communities. And I think that doesn't come up a lot in the literature and the discourse around how you train people.

Danny:

It's halfway carrot and halfway stick. Right? And I think that one of master chiefs that I had, a fantastic master chief, fantastic leader, used to ask people when he first met them, "Do you love to win? Or do you hate to lose? And at first, I was like, "Man, I love to win." And he goes, "Okay. All right. Got you." And then I went to his office after reflecting on the question that evening, and I said, "Hey, master chief, I thought about what you said. And I think it's actually that I hate to lose." He said, "Actually, most professional athletes and most top level people, a lot of it is insecurity driven."

Gautam:

I know that people who've studied soldiers, for example, people who were on the first wave at D-Day. How were you able to charge at a machine gun nest? One of the results that comes out most cleanly is they were afraid of showing fear in front of their unit. Right? And the sense that what we think of as the prototypical act of courage was a product of fear. Sandra, you have worked with the only people in the world who have the same level of training and the same level of pressure as what Danny is describing. From astronauts, to ICU people, to elite athletes, does this storyline sort of reflect some of those experiences?

Sandra:

It does, yeah. So often in these environments and the kind of place that Danny's worked, and some of these other really high stress, dangerous, complex and dynamic operational environments, where I've done research, it's not always this kind of pressure all the time, sort of sustained. You'll have these environments where maybe 1% of the time, you're in a really acute, critical situation. You look in cockpits, a lot of the time, when there's automation in play, it's more a monitoring activity than an actual sort of acute responding to the environment task.

Gautam:

So Sandra, can you put us in that cockpit and sort of give us a sense of how to think through that and feel that?

Sandra:

Yeah. So in a cockpit, there will be an attention heavy phase of takeoff and of landing, but in the middle, when you're sort of in cruise, and there's a lot of collaboration between pilots and the automation that they're relying on, more of that activity is spent monitoring instruments, paying attention to meeting the trajectory of the flight. But you have to stay so hypervigilant, that at any moment, if there's an emergency situation, that you're prepared to respond and to intervene, and that's a real challenge cognitively for people to be able to not act, but be paying attention and be prepared to respond in an emergency.

Gautam:

So Sandra, how do you train people to be able to go from one cognitive state of monitoring to another one of action, and for a pilot, what has to be just the blink of an eye?

Sandra:

Experience. I think ultimately, it's encountering a diverse range of situations. I've done some work in hospital ICUs, and you'll find that with really experienced practitioners, often, there's almost this feeling that they can point to of how a patient might be doing. And if you ask them to decompose that a little bit more and point towards specific indicators, they can do that. But it's not initially a judgment call that comes necessarily from that intellectual assessment of the information itself. It's more this kind of sixth sense of having been in these situations over time, and having just seen so many different kinds of cases and having so much experience.

Danny:

And I think this is something that soldiers historically would've called the itch. You can kind of feel an ambush coming. And I used to have a senior chief who used to say this all the time. He said, "If you want it to look like the 100th time you've done something, then the last time had to be 99." The point of course being that there's no substitute for experience.

Gautam:

Danny is talking here about the power of intuition and the subconscious. George Soros used to get backaches when his subconscious told him that he had a problem in his portfolio, and he would use those backaches as a signal to reevaluate his position. Your subconscious can be useful. In a British experiment, gamblers were shown a flickering abstract pattern while they were deciding whether or not to make a one pound gamble. The symbols vanished too fast to be seen consciously, but they did predict if the subjects would win their gambles. The subjects were told whether or not to gamble based solely on their gut instinct. But over time, they got better, showing that their subconscious was learning a pattern their conscious mind could not perceive.

Gautam:

Highly trained experts often have experiences that have honed their intuition, something we've seen in professions ranging from gambler to firefighter. That doesn't mean you should rely solely on intuition. Quite often, intuition is incredibly unreliable, or a product of underlying biases. But an expert's intuition can be a powerful tool under the right circumstances.

Danny:

There used to be a trainer who in the EOD community used to tell a story about that. He said that all of our training was telling him that he needed to cut one wire, essentially. And he was sitting there, and he tried multiple times to kind of cut it, and to get to the place where, okay, I'm going to close the scissors. And he said every time he started moving to do it, this overwhelming fear, dread, would just overtake him. And he said, "I couldn't do it. I just knew I was going to die. So then in the end, I did something else, which was not the book answer." And then he said it was only later when we were doing forensic analysis on the device that he saw that there was a booby trap. And he used to say, "My only explanation is that I saw that subconsciously or unconsciously. And in the end, I listened to that voice. Otherwise, I'd be dead."

Sandra:

That's a fantastic story, Danny. I love that. I think it really illustrates a lot of findings that you'll see in the neuroscience literature to really situate that in such a visceral experience. And I wonder how you trained that trust, how you built that kind of reliance on intuition in a way that can be reliable with a novice, for example. You can't put a lot of credence necessarily in that kind of more subjective assessment.

Gautam:

Sandra, for you to train as an astronaut, in a real sense, you have a harder problem than the military. You can't go into zero G for more than a few seconds on the vomit comet. How do you train for an environment that's so radically different?

Sandra:

You try to find the best analogs possible. When we're doing research for space flight, we'll look at these analog environments that have dimensions of isolation and confinement and some aspect of this extreme stress that really replicates some of the attributes of being up in space. You'll do some training in the neutral buoyancy laboratory, which is a giant swimming pool with a full scale mock up of the International Space Station submerged in it. And that's where astronauts will spend a tremendous amount of their time doing space walk training.

Gautam:

Sandra's answer recalls Danny's story from earlier about getting punched in the face at the bottom of a pool to simulate the life and death nature of his work. There is no substitute for experience. But success isn't just about individuals. It requires teams. How do leaders design and manage teams to deliver peak performance in the toughest situations?

Danny:

Sandra, you said something else that I kind of wanted to ask about. So many astronauts have their history in the military. And so I was going to ask you: What is it about the Astronaut Corps that is built, maybe fundamentally on a military foundation, but then is somehow changed? And how is that culture different? Is it this desire to be adoptive of new procedures and new technologies because it enhances you? What is it? What's different?

Gautam:

The first and last men to step foot on the moon were civilians, but every other one was in the military. Today, however, almost all astronauts are civilians.

Sandra:

I think it's a shift in our broader cultural understanding of the role of the space program in our society. I mean, initially, there was this very heavy, exclusive selection of people with military backgrounds as astronauts. And that was skills based initially, but also partly because there's no replicating that kind of operational experience that exactly the things that you're pointing to, the rigor of the training, the ability to process information quickly, and make decisions under extreme stress, and under real conditions of danger. But over time, the space program has shifted from a demonstration of, say, American capabilities, but now, it's fundamentally a scientific program. You have people with scientific training across a variety of fields, geologists, medical practitioners, veterinarians, I mean, all kinds of different backgrounds. And having that real integration across a team of people with both diverse experience, but diverse training, I think really allows for this robustness that you may not have if you cultivate teams with singular consistent backgrounds.

Gautam:

Sandra, Danny, from the research on diverse teams, what we find is that they're more creative, but they're also more difficult to manage. I'd be curious from both of your experiences and your research if you'd talk about how you get teams with that kind of diversity to pull together in these environments.

Danny:

I think it was very easy in the military because there was a unifying identity. You were told that none of you matter, the team matters. This was beaten into me at the academy, on the strength of one link in the cable, dependeth the might of the chain. Who knows when thou mayest be tested, so live that thou bearest the strain. So it made it easy because the common identity was always the most important thing.

Sandra:

As I think about the Astronaut Corps, for example, there's a lot of attention right now on considering what happens as teams move from being more structured, more choreographed, and coordinated in the operations that they're doing, towards a more autonomous level of operation, of fundamentally operating with a lot more leeway and a lot more dynamism and more realtime problem solving and realtime innovation.

Danny:

Yeah. I was going to say that sounds very much like the special operations playbook. In special operations, we were small teams that were often far flung, far away from headquarters and far away from powers that be. And it was a meritocracy of ideas in our community, where we would go flat, and the men and any women under my command would call me by my first name, often. And we were completely flat when we were sitting there and looking at a device and trying to determine how we were going to defeat the bomb maker. That was not a time where I was the only person speaking. So we would go flat. But then eventually, decisions have to be made. And then all of a sudden, that hierarchy comes back into place. So it was kind of like an origami pyramid, ready to go flat at a moment's notice, but then also ready to retake its shape.

Gautam:

So I want to grab on this in particular for both of you because if there's one finding that pops out of the team's literature, it's that hierarchy is bad for team performance, and the less hierarchic teams are, the better they are at complex decision making. Sandra, I'd love to hear your take on this.

Sandra:

It seems to really hinge on a clear understanding of roles and the boundaries around them, and which boundaries are permeable, and really having a clear differentiation between a hierarchy and accountability that you can still have a leader who is ultimately accountable for the team and the success of the mission, but not necessarily embedded in some rigid structure that makes this collaboration more difficult. So finding a way to negotiate that within the context, that there's an element there again of experience and learning to understand the particular context of the environment. It doesn't seem to be a one solution fits all kind of approach.

Gautam:

So Danny and Sandra agree on the need for both flexibility and accountability for leaders in high performing teams. But what about the very real risks, especially in these sorts of high risk environments? And how should risk guide our thinking on training and teams, on winning, and on failing?

Sandra:

Really, the most dangerous period is, especially as people are cultivating that expertise, kind of that halfway point between being novice and being really expert at a task where you've encountered something enough times that you feel a little bit of the confidence and more relaxation in the environment, but you actually don't have that same collective wealth of time in the environment and performing these tasks to entirely be a safe operator. For example, you'll find this with pilots all the time, that the most dangerous period really is after someone has gotten their license and completed their initial training.

Danny:

That was something that the experienced members of the team would always says, is that in the beginning, you guys are so scared, that you'll do fine because you're going to have more experienced people with you. Then you're going to get to this place where you're confident, and you're going to be overconfident, and that is actually the most dangerous period. And then you're going to graduate to stage three, where you're going to understand that you're so lucky when you were in stage two, and now you've got the confidence, but the humility to be successful really and be a fantastic, flexible soldier.

Sandra:

And I wonder then too, how you take this into account as you're building effective teams. And I don't think the teams' literature is really clear on what the right mix of expertise levels are in teams, and how you effectively negotiate that as you have people that are on very different points in their individual development curves.

Danny:

Right. Well, this is coming back to the evils of hierarchy, which I say tongue in cheek. I think hierarchies are down but not out. I think that they're pretty good for a number of things, including kind of crisis management. In crisis, it's not a time to convene a committee. It's time for clear minded decision making. Good leadership always brings in a diversity of thoughts and opinions, always relies on as full a picture of information and intelligence and reconnaissance as they can.

Gautam:

So Sandra, I mean, when you're helping to create teams and helping leaders lead for this kind of environment, how do you tell them to get to be that kind of leader?

Sandra:

For really effective leadership, it seems like a deep understanding of the members of your team and the individual skills and experiences they bring is absolutely essential.

Gautam:

So most of us, hopefully, cannot relate directly to diffusing bombs or going into space. But Danny, of all the things you said, the thing that struck me as most like, oh, yeah, this I get, is fear of failure.

Danny:

Yeah.

Gautam:

Right? How do you get from, I won't do this because I might fail, to because I don't want to fail, I will do the impossible?

Sandra:

Well, sometimes it's okay to fail. In training, I think it's important to reinforce to what limit is safely possible that you learn a lot by experiencing that failure and encouraging people to open themselves to that growth experience of accepting kind of the humility of knowing where your limits are and finding them safely by having these experiences where you don't do as great a job as you had hoped to.

Danny:

I'll reveal the uber nerd that I am by citing the Kobayashi Maru, the test in Star Trek that you must fail because there is no way to succeed, and that being an important lesson for all leaders is that if failure is possible, and in some cases, it can be inevitable, and you have to approach every situation with humility.

Gautam:

And no leader can do very wrong who asks himself, "What would Jean-Luc Picard do?"

Danny:

This is true.

Gautam:

Sandra said, "Training is the place where you can fail safely." Right?

Danny:

Yeah.

Gautam:

But you described powerfully how the social pressures that you don't want to be seen to fail, even in training.

Danny:

Yes.

Gautam:

Because you cannot be seen to fail in front of your people. Right?

Danny:

Yes.

Gautam:

So how do you balance those two dynamics?

Danny:

There's a reason why if and when you meet a Navy SEAL in your life, or a Green Beret in your life, or Army Ranger, Marine, those are optimistic people. You have to allow people to believe that they're going to be successful, while also building in humility.

Gautam:

Danny's response about optimism and humility brings to mind the Stockdale paradox. In his book, Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't, Jim Collins interviewed Admiral James Bond Stockdale, who had been the highest ranking American prisoner in Hanoi during the Vietnam way. When Collins asked Stockdale how he made it through, Stockdale credited his faith that he would make it out. When asked who didn't make it out, he said, "The optimists," hence the paradox. What did Stockdale mean by optimists? Here's more of his quote to Collins. "Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."

Gautam:

There's a lesson in here as we face a surge in COVID-19 cases across the United States. We're not POWs, but we've been locked in for an awfully long time. But how critical is optimism when we're not even sure what victory looks like? Sandra elevated the conversation by interrogating our terms.

Sandra:

I wonder if this only works in situations where your winning outcome is so clearly defined. I mean, there has to be room for ambiguity sometimes, and for differential outcomes. And you may want to build cultures that normalize kind of striving beyond expectations with the acceptance that you can land at different unexpected places and still have those be considered success outcomes. When are you rigidly bound by a kind of binary success failure paradigm? And when is there room to encourage that innovation of thinking and approaches, and finding a balance there as well?

Danny:

My opinion, after having served in the military, is that tough love is great for people, and the kind of hotter fire, harder steel, true character is revealed in the face of adversity. The idea of if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger, that resonates with me a great deal because it's about this kind of brutal training regime that has to exist, is that everything is severe and intense. And what we used to say was, "You sweat in training so you don't bleed in war."

Gautam:

Danny, I'm going to question you on this because I think the framework that you're describing works really well for a selection based environment. Right? I'm not sure it works as well for a developmental. I always hear people in the military say, "From the hottest fire comes the strongest steel." Right?

Danny:

Yeah.

Gautam:

That's not true.

Danny:

We love that.

Gautam:

It is actually, physically not true. The strongest steel comes from very carefully calibrated temperatures. You can identify the strongest steel by using the hottest fire because all the steel that's weaker will melt.

Danny:

Yes.

Gautam:

But you make the strongest steel in a very different type of process. And I wonder if that's not what Sandra was going for.

Danny:

Good leadership is intensity. It's about intensity in practice. And then you go to the game, and then you perform. And then I think you celebrate the victory. And then there's that cooling off period. And then it's back to intensity. It's that moderation.

Sandra:

So what I'm hearing there is it's not necessarily strength you want to build, but resilience, that ability to rebound back and forth from these periods of intensity from wins to the opposite extremes and cultivating in your teams the ability to transition effectively between this whole spectrum of states and conditions.

Gautam:

I think Sandra's right. I pretty much always do. We all want our teams to win, but no one wins all the time. We're not Spartans whose options are coming home with our shields or on them. When we don't win, or when it's not even a possibility, though, how do we overcome failure, learn from it, and prepare ourselves for our next challenge? I have two closing questions for both of you. Sandra, do you have a book that you would say to our listeners they should really be reading?

Sandra:

I recently read Chris Hatfield's book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. And there were a lot of great insights in that book that talk about ingenuity and determination and preparedness. We're all in our own isolation bubbles right now. There's a lot that we can think about on an individual perspective. I guess leadership is something that starts with self care.

Gautam:

So Danny, is there one book that you would recommend for people to read?

Danny:

Yeah. I recently reread The Things They Carried. It's actually a book that I return to relatively frequently. The first chapter is one of the best examples of just excerpts of English literature in a way. And it strikes me very deeply.

Gautam:

If you don't know the book, it's by Tim O'Brien, and it talks about a unit of men who served in Vietnam.

Danny:

Yeah. And it really delves into just both the significance and insignificance of it all, and I think talks about how war stories don't tell the truth, and yet, they tell the ultimate truth. I guess the same thing could be said about fiction.

Gautam:

So my second question. If you were to pick a single person who is sort of the most impressive person you got to know well, I don't mean you shook their hand, you actually got to know this person, you got to know who they were, who was he or she? And why? What was it about that person that struck you?

Sandra:

I think if I really reflect on this, it would be more recalling conversations I've had with friends after tremendous moments of either personal adversity, or loss, or some kind of challenge in their own lives, not necessarily professionally, often deeply personally.

Danny:

God. I learned so much from so many. But I learned how to be a man from my grandfather. I learned how to be an empathetic man from my father. And without the empathy, I think that I'd be missing something very, very important.

Gautam:

It's not only possible to survive, but to thrive under extraordinary difficult circumstances. As America faces what may well be its darkest, hardest winter since the second world war, that may be something we all need to hear and remember. A big component of success in extreme circumstances is how you build and manage your team. Space flight and special operations teams are both able to process information at maximum effectiveness because they are flat and non hierarchic with every member of the team contributing their unique insights. But elite military units that have to operate under extreme time pressure also know how to reassert the hierarchy when it's needed in the interests of rapid and coordinated execution.

Gautam:

Just as much as you need to build a great team though, leaders who want to handle the toughest situations need to develop their own capacities just as diligently. That means training in and experiencing a wide variety of circumstances over and over again in order to develop an intuition that can literally be life saving. It also means training at and even beyond what you think your limits are until you've pushed them further and further out. If you want to handle such extreme circumstances, your training must take you to the very edge of what you're capable of. It should scare you a little because only familiarity allows you to master fear and turn it to your advantage. Mastering fear doesn't mean not feeling it. Bravery is not the absence of fear. It is being able to act in its presence. Mastering your fear means using it to your advantage.

Gautam:

For most of us, fear of failure can prevent us from taking risks. Train hard enough and well enough, and instead, it can become the spur that allows you to transcend your limits and do the seemingly impossible. If you're afraid to be seen to fail, you can choose not to try, or you can choose to embrace your fear and use it as a booster to fuel your drive for success. It can paralyze you, or it can ensure that when the time comes, you will know what to do, even after you've been metaphorically or literally punched in the face. That's true for everyone, but it's doubly true for leaders. Being in charge seems enviable because power increases your control over your destiny. But good leaders know that the most important part of their job isn't power, it's responsibility.

Gautam:

Leaders are responsible for what happens to their people and to their organization. And they know that all eyes are on them. If they falter, if they fail, everyone can see. That can be a daunting prospect. But if it seems too much so, well, at least it's not disarming bombs or flying into space. So for all of us, for every one of us who leads, in this moment and in the surely very different ones that will come next, let's face our fear. Let's embrace it. And let's use it as fuel to reimagine the world, so the world built by our collective choices and our actions and our successes and our failures will be the one we need it to be.

Nasdaq Watch

See what's playing at Nasdaq

Watch Now