Admiral William H. McRaven (@billmcraven) masterminded and executed the mission that brought down Osama bin Laden and is the author of Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World.

What We Discuss with William H. McRaven:

  • What are the benefits to taking every day, as a Navy SEAL might say, “one evolution at a time?”
  • What are the potential downfalls of having a 20-year plan?
  • Why is taking advantage of opportunities more important than charting a course — and how can we spot them?
  • What are you proving when you’re willing to take professional risks — even when you don’t succeed?
  • What is the most important thing to understand about leadership?
  • And much more…

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Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRavenIf you don’t want to take a 5:30 a.m. call, don’t interview a Navy SEAL. That goes doubly so if you don’t want to interview Admiral William H. McRaven, the man who masterminded and executed the mission that brought down Osama bin Laden in 2011. Good news: we happily did it so you don’t have to. In fact, we’d do it again!

Admiral McRaven joins us for this episode to talk about much more than waking up way too early, though we do touch on his book Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World and his 2014 University of Texas at Austin commencement speech. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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THANKS, ADMIRAL MCRAVEN!

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Transcript for Admiral William H. McRaven | That’s So McRaven (Episode 315)

Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I’m Jordan Harbinger. As always, I’m here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world’s most brilliant and interesting people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave, and we want you to become a better thinker. If you’re new to the show, we’ve got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, public speaking, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you’re smart and you like to learn and improve, you’ll be right at home here with us.

[00:00:41] Today, we’ll be talking with Admiral William McRaven. This is one from the vault and recorded a few years back. You might know him either from his 2014 commencement speech, which has gone crazy viral online. Or as the man who helped plan and execute the mission to take out Osama bin Laden. Today, we’ll discuss the mindsets and type of intensity it takes to succeed in an organization like the SEAL Teams in the US Navy and other special operations forces. We’ll also learn what we can bring into our own lives and organizations and what keeps someone who has seen it all up at night in a post-bin-Laden world, this and a whole lot more on this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.

[00:01:17] This is great. I think it was worth waking up at 5:00 a.m. to do this or whatever time it was. I think that early wake-up time might actually be as far as I’d get in SEAL training. A lot of great stuff coming up right now from Admiral McRaven and we went a lot off script, not the usual from him. We went beyond the kind of normal talking points that he’s used to. So enjoy this episode from the vaults.

[00:01:37] If you’re wondering how I get folks like this on the show, it’s all because of my network. You don’t need to have a podcast to decide that a network is a good plan for you or your business or your career. Go ahead and check out our course, Six-Minute Networking. It’s a free course on networking, obviously, over at jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests on the show have actually subscribed to the course and the newsletter, so come join us and you’ll be in great company. Now here’s Admiral McRaven.

[00:02:05] First of all, if I were going to name a Naval officer and a SEAL and a Marvel comic action movie, you really couldn’t do much better than the name, McRaven. So you’re right on the nose, I think

Admiral William McRaven: [00:02:17] Well, it’s got a little bit of a punch to it. My kids love the name because they like the raven analogy as part of it. And of course, we’ve got Scotch-Irish roots. That’s always helpful.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:26] Yeah, absolutely. From the very beginning though, you were ahead of your time because you started scuba training at age 13 which is something that most people don’t attempt until they’re old enough to move out of their mom’s house, who forbid them from scuba training in the first place.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:02:39] When I was a kid, I started reading books about this Frenchman. Most people didn’t know who the Frenchman was at the time, and in fact, somewhere in junior high school, I went to write a paper on this Frenchman because we had to write a paper on prominent people, and my teacher had to ask me who this guy named Jacque Cousteau was. And of course, this was well before the underwater world of Jacque Cousteau, but I had grown up in France. My father had been stationed over there, and I was just fascinated with everything that had to do with life underwater and the Aqualung and all the things that Cousteau did with his ship — the Calypso — traveling around the world. The first chance I could, I went down to the YMCA and took scuba lessons, and that was at the age of 13. I did my first dive in a lake and then my second dive out in the Gulf of Mexico. So, you bet, I started early.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:21] Wow. There was no sort of like, “Hey, maybe we should wait until he’s a little older.” I guess this is maybe before everybody started suing everybody for everything, so they said, “Okay, cool. The check cleared so he can join the class.”

Admiral William McRaven: [00:03:32] I think you’re exactly right. I think there may have been a minimum age of 13 but I’m not certain, but back then regulations were probably a little bit looser.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:39] Right. Yeah. That makes sense. Were you intense in other ways as a kid as well? I know you grew up with the older sisters and things like that. Were you more intense than them or were they kind of equally on the same page?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:03:49] Well, you know, I have two fabulous sisters, but as tends to happen when you’re the youngest, the sisters make you tough. My sisters, in particular, used to have kind of good-natured harassment as I was growing up until finally, I got big enough to handle myself. I love sports growing up. My father had played professional football with the then Cleveland Rams back in the late ‘30s and he was also a star baseball/basketball player. We were a family that did a lot of sports, and while I was real small growing up, I didn’t really start hitting my growth spurt until late in high school and early college. The guys that I hung around with in high school, we played every sport imaginable, and that toughened you up a little bit.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:27] What point in your life did you know that you were going to do something special? Was it kind of early on, you were always ahead of the game, or was this later on you decided, “Okay, maybe I should get serious about achieving something next level”?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:04:40] Yeah, you know, I’d like to tell you that I had this whole thing mapped out, to begin with but that’s just not the case. In fact, I was kind of a C student in high school. I worked hard at my grades but I also work hard at running track and having fun. I wasn’t one of these guys that had what I would consider great ambitions. What I did do was I worked as hard as I could at whatever I was doing. So particularly playing in sports, I think I was very competitive. I figured that I didn’t have the talent a lot of other kids had so I would have to outwork them, particularly when I started running track and cross country. I mean, that was an individual sport. It was a gut check every day and I liked that aspect of it. I liked figuring out whether or not I could be tougher than the next guy, even if I didn’t have the talent by outrunning them, by overcoming the pain. As I went through high school, I was on the football team but frankly, I never played it down. I just wasn’t very big. I migrated into cross country and track, I think, in my junior year in high school, and that seemed to suit me well when I started growing. But it was a great sport for me as I wanted to increase my aerobic capability.

[00:05:40] So when I finally went to SEAL training, I knew how to run. I was a good runner. So I think all of these things kind of put me on the right path. But having said that, what I did was I took care of business that day. When you go through SEAL training, they have this saying, “You take it one evolution at a time.” And remember in SEAL training, you’re going from being what we referred to as a tadpole to a frogman. So you were evolving from a tadpole, which was the new guy to a frogman which was, of course, being a Navy SEAL. So they were called evolutions. They were just events. You have a long run or a long swim or an obstacle course. But if you started looking too far down the road, if you looked at your day and said, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got a hard physical training to start with, then we’ve got a short break, then we’ve got a four-and-a-half mile run in the soft sand, and we’ve got a short break and we’ve got a five-mile swim, then we’ve got a short break, then we’ve got another calisthenic session.” If you started to look too far, you weren’t going to make it. Guys would get tired just looking down the schedule.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:39] That day sounds like my 2015.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:06:43] I can appreciate that. So what you ended up doing was you just took it one evolution at a time, and I would tell you my life was kind of like that. Wherever I was, I just tried to do the very best I could and work as hard as I could, and things just kind of took care of themselves after that.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:56] So you don’t look too far down the line of what needs to get done. It seems like that’s good for your psychology in the short term, but how do you plan ahead if you are kind of deliberately not looking that far ahead in the first place.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:07:08] Well, there’s a balance obviously. I mean, you don’t want to be completely cavalier about your future. You obviously have to have set some goals for your future, but I am concerned. You start saying, “Well, this is where I want to be 20 years from now.” I can almost guarantee you, you will not be where you thought you were going to be 20 years from now.

[00:07:24] You want to make sure, again, as you’re looking at your future, that you set kind of realistic goals or aspirational goals and do the best you can to achieve them. But I think you have to realize that life is going to take you on a lot of twists and turns, and you have to adjust to life when it does that. And then again, look down the road, it’s your next path or the next fork in the road is and say, “Well, I thought I was going to go left, but it looks like now I’m going to have to go right. Now, what are my goals for moving right?” Be flexible enough to adapt and adjust the life.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:53] That makes sense. I think a lot of people get really obsessed with things. I remember there was a kid when I was in elementary school who had his whole life plan mapped out to becoming a C level executive at — I don’t know, some company that probably doesn’t exist anymore. Actually, we grew up in Detroit, so it’s probably an auto company, which I don’t know if that’s the coolest thing to do now, is to become a C level executive at a car maker, who knows? And he had it all mapped out through business school. I think we were in third grade at this point. So it was really strange for us to see that. As we grew older in high school, he started to run into problems because he was no longer the top of the class without trying. He was no longer running in the same circles. I think his parents had gotten divorced as well, so things started to break down a little bit for him and without the flexibility of being a kid and going, “Well, you know, I’m just going to take it one day at a time.” He actually ran into a lot of problems because he saw that he wasn’t going to hit the goals and the timestamps in the path, and he started to just lose it.

[00:08:48] And at that point, I think he kind of said, “To hell with it,” and he started getting in trouble and doing a lot of other things as well. So he threw the whole plan out. He threw the baby out with the bathwater because he was looking way too far down the road way too early on and it seems like he got discouraged. It sounds like what you were saying, if you’re looking at what you’re supposed to be doing at 8 p.m. at the four-mile, five-mile swim, and you just barely got done with whatever it was rolling around in the sand at 5:30 in the morning, you’re going to defeat yourself before you get off the starting block.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:09:16] I think that’s exactly right. And again, I can tell you in my career, when I joined the SEALs, there was no career. So this was back in 1977 after I graduated from the University of Texas, and I went through their ROTC program and I show up at SEAL training and all of my advisors in ROTC had said, “Why would you go be a Navy SEAL? There was no future there,” and there really wasn’t. We were a small organization. Nobody even knew who SEALs were back in 1977. Hard to believe now, but that’s the way it was when I joined. But that was all right. I mean, I wanted to go, I wanted to challenge myself by going through SEAL training, and then after I got through SEAL training at the time, the best you could hope for was to be a SEAL platoon commander. And that was kind of the apex of your operational time. If you were a platoon commander, which you were young enough, then you were going to be a Navy lieutenant, so about 25, 26 years old, you had a group of about 14 or 16 guys with you that were your SEAL platoon. Then after that, it was kind of all administrative.

[00:10:12] Well, what happened, of course, was things began to change and I became a SEAL platoon commander, but then about that time right after my SEAL platoon commander tour, I did a short admin tour and then Desert Shield and Desert Storm broke out. Well, they needed operational people, and so the next thing you know, I said, “Yeah, I’ll raise my hand and go do that.” Life continued to change. You couldn’t be an admiral when I joined the SEALs, so there was no expectation that I was going to be a Navy Admiral, certainly not a SEAL Admiral. As the road in front of me began to move a little bit, you had to adjust. You said, “Well, okay, I’ll do this and I’ll do the best job I can there,” and then other opportunities presented themselves and you had to really take advantage of the opportunities. I think that’s probably more important than charting your path is being able to see opportunities and move to where the opportunities are.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:54] How were you training yourself to spot those opportunities? Because I think right now if you’re in a career and you’re right in the middle of it, looking back you can see opportunities that you capitalized on or maybe missed, but how do you spot them in real-time?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:11:07] Yeah. I think that’s a great question. I’m blessed to have — if there is this sort of sixth sense of looking at things, and for me, it’s being able to see opportunities and say, “I think that’s the right way to go.” You don’t always get it right. Believe me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes but the opportunities to me are always the jobs that nobody else wants. And sometimes the worst job is going but in big companies, invariably there’s that job that again, those folks looking for the C-suite, they say, “I’d never do that job. That is not the job I want.” Well, those are the sort of jobs that I would go do and I would go do them to do a couple of things. One, reinforce the folks that I’m not above doing windows. If you need a hard job done, if you need a high-risk job done, if you need a high-risk, low-payoff job done, I’m your guy. I would go and do those jobs as best I could. And most of the time they turned out well, and then the senior leadership would say, “He didn’t need to go do that job, but he did it. Let’s see what else he can do.” And then it puts you in a position to then be looked at for other opportunities.

[00:12:10] I also think that you have to be a little bit of a riverboat gambler. I can tell you in my career, I took a lot of risks — professional risks and some personal risks. And when you take professional risks, sometimes it doesn’t always succeed, but I will tell you, I think the people outside when they see you taking those risks — those gambles — even if you’re not successful, most leaders are looking for someone like that that will step up and accept the tough challenge and do the best they can even if they don’t succeed.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:37] Rather than trying to always gun for the position that everybody else wants. The backwoods route of going through all the jobs nobody else will take might be the path of least resistance because nobody’s gunning for those positions. Everybody thinks, “What a sucker. He’s going to go to that. What is he thinking? Aw man, he’s just one thing after another. He’s knocking down these jobs nobody wants,” and then eventually you’re the guy that can get anything done.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:12:58] Exactly right, and people will notice you. A lot of folks want to go to jobs that have less risk because they realize if they want to move up the ladder, well, they feel like, “I can’t afford to have a significant stumble, so let me go take a job that will move me up the ladder, but is relatively low risk.” Those are not the jobs that will make you a better employee or a better leader. The better leaders are the ones that go do the tough jobs with the tough team that nobody wanted because they were the bad news bears. And you take the bad news bears and you turn them into a team that works. One, you learn a lot out of doing that. You begin to build a certain amount of respect from your teammates as you have helped them go places they might not elsewhere have gone. So I think these are important attributes and the only way you do that is you take the tough jobs and you do the best job you can at it.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:50] How is it trying to earn respect in a field or in a group like SEAL Team 6 or SEALs in general where everyone is an ultra-high performer? How do you stand out in a group like that? Everybody’s in the top 0.01 percent of soldiers.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:14:03] Yeah. I think you have to play to your strengths and you have to realize there’s somebody out there that’s always better than you are. When I was in the SEAL Teams, there was always somebody that was bigger, stronger, faster, more talented, and you have to recognize those strengths. You have to use those strengths in the team to make the team better. The most important thing about leadership is, I believe, this idea of servant leadership. My responsibility as a leader is to make the team better. And in making it better, it’s never about you. If you make it about you, then invariably, the team might excel, but it won’t excel as far as it could because you’ve got to play to the strengths of the other people in the team.

[00:14:43] So again, I had guys in my team, young enlisted guys that were the best divers or the best skydivers or the best at planning a mission. So some of these things you said, “Well, I’m the officer. I have to do this.” Yet, there was somebody better in your team that could do it, and you say, “You know what? Let’s bring up the best talent we have within our team. Let’s make the team successful,” and by making the team successful, again you earn the respect of the team members and the people above you realize that, again, this is not about McRaven, this is about the team succeeding.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:15:18] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Admiral McRaven. We’ll be right back.

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[00:18:47] Thanks for listening and supporting the show and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. Don’t forget we have a worksheet for today’s episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Admiral McRaven. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you’d like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don’t miss a single thing. And now back to our show with Admiral McRaven.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:25] How do you recreate that sort of leadership environment outside the SEALs? Because it seems like in corporate environments you hear a lot about people who try to bring these ideas in, maybe it doesn’t always work.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:19:35] I’ve had a chance to talk to a number of corporate leaders and they always believe that there is a different model in business because business is driven by the bottom line, it’s not driven by some sort of ethos. The military is driven by the bottom line as well, but the bottom line is getting the mission done. It’s obviously not about money in the military. I would offer that the fundamentals of leadership are no different, and I think where some businesses fail is they focus almost entirely on the bottom line, and that works for a little while but if you don’t build a culture of servant leadership in your business, if you don’t build a culture about the mission and the team before the individual, at some point in time that business will look like a house of cards and come tumbling down.

[00:20:22] You have to have a strong ethical foundation. Everything you do ought to be moral, legal, and ethical. And sometimes people say, “Well, you know, that sounds good, but you don’t understand the dog eat dog nature of business.” Oh yeah, I do. What you don’t understand sometimes is that if you’re moral, legal, and ethical, your business will be incredibly strong and it will withstand whatever bad winds come its way in terms of financial difficulties or personnel difficulties or anything else. So build that strong foundation, build the teamwork, and then the dollars will come. If all you do is focus on the dollars, my sense of things is that will work for a while, but it won’t work for a long while.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:03] Yeah. It’s easy for someone’s reputation to come back and catch up and just kind of cross that line and you see it a lot, especially in businesses that are started on the Internet. Somebody who’s doing really well and you think, “Man, if I just took shortcuts, maybe I would be there.” And then in five years, four years later — I find myself personally looking back at businesses and individuals in businesses — I was so envious and now I look at them and go, “Wow, I’m really glad I didn’t do that because now everyone knows this person is full of baloney or a scammer or has a terrible reputation or burnt so hot that they burned out and there’s no coming back from it.” And it’s always been better looking back 20/20 hindsight only. In the moment, it felt awful, it felt slow, felt like a sloth slow off the ball, but now 20/20 hindsight, this slow growth with integrity and doing the right thing and making sure we knew what was good for our audience was really the good play, long term. It sure didn’t seem that way in the moment though. I’ll tell you that.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:21:53] I understand.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:54] Was there any point in your career that you thought, “I can’t do this? This is a huge pain. I’m taking all these crappy jobs nobody wants, I should just tap out. You know, I got a good education. I can go do anything I want.”

Admiral William McRaven: [00:22:04] Yeah. I mean, there were a number of times in my career where I thought about leaving. Fortunately, I think each time it happened, my wife counseled me and said, “Look, you know, you really love what you’re doing. Don’t make this decision at this time.” And of course, she was right every single time. And I’m thankful I stuck around. But everybody’s going to have times where you question whether or not what you’re doing is the right thing. And are you moving at the right pace? Are you really kind of achieving the goals you’d hope to achieve? And then sometimes people just beat you down. I mean, this is the nature, I think, of any organization is. The job wears you down. The people wear you down sometimes. But really from the military, when I step back and look at those days and those times, they were few and far between 99 percent of my time in the service, I loved every minute of it.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:49] It seems like they’re pretty good at deciding on a career path or any path and sticking to it. I mean, you’ve been married to your wife for almost 40 years now. I could be looking at old info here.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:22:58] Yeah, you’re right. Coming up on 40 years next year.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:00] Yeah. This is just a retirement gig, I think, right?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:23:03] Yeah. It’s been a great transition to go from the military to run in the University of Texas system but yeah, this is my second career. You’re right, 37 years in the military. I’m just a guy that likes my routines.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:14] Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I think now my generation and the guys and gals younger than me, we have it a little bit differently, I think. There’s a chart I saw recently which was we’re shifting jobs every four years, and the people that are even younger than us might shift jobs every two years. My parents’ generation, your generation, it was, “Hey, go work for this company,” or, “Stick with this particular career,” or, “Work for this set of companies.” You know, the auto industry, for example, and that’s what you do for 30 or 40 years and you stick with it.

[00:23:41] And I think now your advice still holds up, maybe even more so in an environment where you have to switch or we are tending to switch careers and jobs all the time. It doesn’t seem any less valid to then go and attack the jobs in the areas that people don’t want to do instead. Because I think a lot of folks may be saying, “Well, that’s easy for him to say he was in the military for 40 years. Yeah, go do these jobs. You’re still within the same organization.” Do you feel like this advice holds up, even if you’re switching careers, switching jobs, switching duties every four years, maybe even every two?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:24:12] Yeah. I mean, the great thing about the military was, while from the outside, it looks like I did the same job for 37 years. The reality of the matter is about every two years, three years at the most, I’d go to a new command. So you’re really kind of starting all over again — or not starting all over again — certainly, you take your expertise with you but there are new people you meet. You’re put in new situations, so that reenergizes you every couple of years. So while the enlisted guys sometimes at commands longer, the officers generally move every couple of years. So you never get stale. You come to a job, your work as hard as you can for two or three years. You take a week or so break, and next thing you know you’re another command and then you go hard again.

[00:24:52] So to those folks, I will tell you I’m a huge fan of the millennials, and I think that always surprises people, but I saw them in my time in the military, certainly after 9/11. These were great young men and women that came to serve their country. As I’ve told folks, they will be considered this century’s greatest generation. When you look at the fact that they raised their hand and they said, “I want to come and serve in a time of war,” and they all knew they were going to war, that’s pretty remarkable.

[00:25:17] And the young men and women I see at the University of Texas, across the University of Texas system, do they question a lot? Yeah, they do, but that’s okay. They are questioning, but they are hardworking. They’re entrepreneurial. They go out of their way to explore new ideas, to challenge conventional wisdom. I mean, I think this is exactly what everybody needs to do. So again, I’m a big fan of the millennials. And I do understand that they have this need every couple of years to make a change. And I think that’s fine as long as it is a job that they’re excited about or interested in and it kind of moves them in the right trajectory.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:49] I think it’s basically a stereotype for people who are at your level in any organization to say, “I just don’t understand this,” or, “They need to learn this,” or, “They’re lazy and entitled.” And especially coming from a military background, it seems like this particular outlook is quite surprising to me to hear.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:26:04] Well, they’re absolutely not lazy and entitled. I mean, there are anecdotes out there, you know, every generation. I mean, I was a baby boomer generation. Let me tell you, we had our lazy and entitled folks just like a World War II generation probably did. We tend to focus on that a little too much. What we sometimes miss is these young men and women, they are active about issues. You see the activism at them and I think this is healthy. Again, you see this remarkable entrepreneurial spirit, which I think is going to be terrific for the nation. And I tell folks, certainly in my generation that we’ll carp sometimes about the young kids and they just don’t have the same morals we did and they don’t have the same sense of work ethic. And I said, “Well, then you haven’t spent much time around them.” And we, the United States of America, are going to be in great hands with this generation. I sleep well at night knowing the millennials are going to be running the world for us.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:53] There’s a quote I didn’t expect to come out of this interview. That’s great though. I appreciate that as well. I think I’m right on the border of millennials and whatever came before that. So for me, that’s great because whenever there’s anything good about millennials, I can say, “Hey, that includes me,” and whatever they’re like lazy, entitled, and I can say, “Look, I was born a little earlier than that, so don’t look at me.”

[00:27:12] You’re credited with organizing and essentially executing Operation Neptune Spear, which is the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. And what did it feel like to close the loop on bin Laden? I mean, is there an element of neutralizing some sort of arch faux here, or was it more like, “All right, good. Onto the next,” with little personal fanfare?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:27:31] I think probably from my standpoint, it certainly wasn’t as dramatic as people saw it from the outside. It has taken me a number of years really to understand and appreciate what folks, certainly in the United States, how they viewed it. And the reason was we were doing missions every d6ay. I think that night we ran 11 or 12 missions in Afghanistan and it’s not that this was just another mission. I knew it was not just another mission. I knew the political ramifications if things went wrong. I knew the risks that were involved to my troops, reputational risks in the United States if this went south, so I wasn’t naive to any of that.

[00:28:08] But the mission itself, tactically, it was a difficult mission, but it was not the hardest mission we had ever done. It was a long flight into Abbottabad where he was. It was 162 miles, I think, in there. We knew we needed to get past the Pakistani Integrated Air Defences. We had to get in there quietly. We certainly didn’t want to alert bin Laden, although we didn’t really know he was in the compound at the time, but whoever was in there, we didn’t want to alert them. I was really pleased, obviously with the way the mission turned out. But frankly, the next day we were kind of back to doing missions again. Now I went back and this was at the end of my three-star command tour, so I was only in command of that organization for another two months, I think before I moved to another command. It wasn’t until later that year actually. I went up to New York City. I was invited up to be a guest speaker and I began to appreciate it at that point in time because by this time my name had leaked out as the guy that had organized and commanded the raid. And New Yorkers, of course, had a feeling that was very difficult because I was not in New York at the time, and while I had great empathy and sympathy for the New Yorkers, I tell you, when you see it firsthand, when the people come up and thank you and you realize the magnitude of the destruction at the towers, it really does begin to hit home or it certainly did begin to hit home for me then. And so as we have this event, I think that’s the first time I really understood the magnitude of being able to bring bin Laden to justice. And for me, it really wasn’t about the SEALs. As I’ve told folks before, there were hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, civilians, and the Intel world, the law enforcement world, the state department — they were all part of this mission. We were just fortunate enough to be the guys that finally kind of got on target and pulled the trigger, but this is a credit to everybody. Not just in the United States, but all of our allies and our partners that were part of keeping Al-Qaeda at bay and helping both Iraq and Afghanistan and really chasing bin Laden for all those years.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:13] There’s this photo of everybody watching the bin Laden raid happening in the White House. Where were you watching this particular mission go down? How are you monitoring this? Were you in there or were you on the ground? How did this work?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:30:26] I was commanding the mission from Afghanistan. I had a video link back to the White House. That iconic photo that you see, there’s a gentleman in that photo was working for me. He was my liaison to the White House. They were talking to me and seeing much of the same thing I was seeing.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:41] Obviously, looking at this picture of Obama and Hillary Clinton just frozen staring at the screen, this is Game of Thrones Season Finale times a hundred. What’s the feeling you got for yourself? Because you’re in a different position.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:30:55] The drama where we were in my command post — we still had a mission to finish up. That moment that that picture was taken is when the helicopter had the hard landing inside the compound. The reason they are a little bit aghast is they have seen what they believe to be a helicopter crash. I have seen a lot of helicopter crashes and I knew this was not a helicopter crash. It was a hard landing and I had communications with the guys on the ground and I knew pretty soon after the landing that the guys were okay. So I wasn’t overly concerned and we had a plan B and we had a plan C and a plan D and a plan E. So we just kind of shifted the plan B in there. And I had another helicopter on standby and we brought it in. So from my standpoint, they were obviously concerned. I had to continue on with the mission. So I stayed focused on ensuring that we finished up the mission, the guys got on the helicopter safely, and we got back through Afghanistan. This to me was about completing the mission at the time. Again, later, when I look back on that iconic photo, it obviously brings back memories about where I was at that time. I was sitting in a small command center with a set of headphones on watching the events unfold, but knowing that we had to make the next decision to keep the mission moving.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:04] Who are you monitoring at the time? You can’t see everybody at the same time. So who are you talking to and how are you keeping everybody straight? Because there’s a lot of guys in there and there’s a lot going on and it’s happening really quickly. I mean, what are you even paying attention to at that point?

[00:32:18] Admiral William McRaven: [00:32:18] Well, I had good, as we refer to as situational awareness. I knew what the guys on the ground were going through and kind of knew where the bad guys were, and I had better situational awareness than the guys in the White House did. They were looking at a very specific video feed. I have the advantage of not only that video feed, but other video feeds. I had radio feeds coming in, so I had a better sense of what was happening around us. And therefore, again, I knew the situation on the ground. I knew we had control of it. There wasn’t a lot of anxiousness on my part. We just had to, you know, move on to the next part of the mission.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:32:51] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Admiral McRaven. We’ll be right back after this.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:57] This episode is sponsored in part by Audible. You guys probably know, I read like two plus books every single week, and the way that I do that is I’m listening to audiobooks on Audible primarily. I love Audible. I’ve been a customer/client/fan for years. Jason, you’ve been using Audible for like a decade.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:33:15] Almost two, 2002 was when I bought my first audiobook on Audible.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:18] That’s crazy.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:33:19] My audio library can now vote.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:21] Yeah. I think mine’s getting there. I think mine can maybe drive by now. Anyway, I have hundreds of audiobooks, but of course, Audible has more than that. They have podcasts, they’ve got all kinds of audio content there that you can check out. I’m a huge fan. They keep improving the app. The app rocks, the library. Finally, you can also buy books from the app. You couldn’t do that before. So if you were like one of those people who found that annoying, you can now buy books from within the audible app, which I think is awesome and massively convenient. Jason, can you recommend a book? I mean, I’ve got a billion, but why don’t you throw one out?

Jason DeFillippo: [00:33:51] I’ve just picked up Erebus by Michael Palin. It’s an audiobook about a ship.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:57] Great

Jason DeFillippo: [00:33:58] It’s audio about a ship. It’s a very famous ship that eventually sank, but Michael Palin is reading it so it doesn’t —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:03] Ruin to the book now.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:34:05] No, no, no. Come on. No spoilers there. The story is fantastic. And Michael Palin reading it, you know, one of our last remaining pythons. He does an amazing job reading the book, and since I’m not done with it yet, I can’t ruin it because I’m not finished, but it’s fantastic so far.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:20] So visit audible.com/harbinger or text harbinger, H-A-R-B-I-N-G-E-R and if you can’t spell it, look at your phone screens. It’s the freaking name of the show. Text harbinger to 500-500 or audible.com/harbinger.

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[00:36:55] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us on the air and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard so you can check out those amazing sponsors for yourself, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. And don’t forget we have a worksheet for today’s episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you’re listening to us in the Overcast player, please click that little star next to the episode. We really do appreciate it. Now for the conclusion of our episode with Admiral McRaven.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:26] For me, it almost sounds like you’re trying to watch 12 TV shows at once and you’re trying to dictate what has to happen next. This seems like maybe the guys are acting more or less autonomous — I mean, their training is up to the point where you’re not telling them what to do next, right?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:37:40] Yeah, that’s exactly right. Once the mission started, I had only a handful of decisions that needed to be made if things went south. And of course, we had rehearsed it a number of times. So you bet, I mean, at this point in time, you trust the helicopter pilots, you trust the SEALs, you trust the folks that are working for you. I’m not a guy that micromanages things unless I have to. And the only time I would do that is when I had a decision to make regarding bringing in the second helicopter or whatever was necessary. But those were easy decisions to make, you know, rely on the guys that you have trained. We had kind of handpicked all these guys. They were all combat veterans. I was very confident in the leadership and I knew they would do well. So once the mission started, my ability to dramatically change things was limited to about a handful of decisions and that was only going to happen if things went south.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:29] Is this something that the guys could have done without your input if the link had gone dead or something like that? How hands-off can you possibly be? Because it seems a little dangerous to rely on your flowcharts and then, I don’t know, you get a sand storm and the thing goes dark.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:38:43] Yeah, as we do in all missions, you have a mission execution checklist and there was a point of no return. So what I would tell you is once we hit the point of no return if things had all gone dark, and we were past that point, then I would have been perfectly comfortable just relying on the guys to finish the mission. Now I’m sure other people outside me would not have been very comfortable, but I knew the leadership, I knew the guys, once we got past that point of no return — I mean, it wasn’t on autopilot. There were still some decisions and some discussions I had to have with the leadership on the ground, but all of that would have been fine had I not been there after the point of no return.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:21] I assume you gave these guys some kind of pep talk before the mission or some sort of speech. I mean, you have that great commencement speech — we’ll link to that in the show notes — but what do you say before a mission like this? You don’t need to motivate these guys probably, right? This is one team that’s already motivated.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:39:36] Right. Yeah, they were already motivated. I mean, the story that has already been told, so I feel comfortable telling it was — and I think it was the night before the mission. I’m not exactly sure I remember the chronology, but we were doing one of our final debriefings and I brought up the story of Hoosiers. So if you remember the great movie Hoosiers, it’s about a small-town basketball team in Indiana that goes to play for the state championship and they go up to Indianapolis. Well, they were raised in a small town that the gym didn’t hold but a couple of hundred people, and now all of a sudden they’re in this giant dome in Indianapolis and it seats thousands of people. The coach brings the team onto the court and he has one of the players. He says, “Johnny grab the tape measure. Get up here on this ladder. Tell me how high the hoop is.” So the player gets up there. He says, “Coach, it’s 10-feet high.” He goes, “Okay. So now walk off the court. How long is the court?” Guy comes back and says, “Sir, the court is 90-feet long.” He turns through his players and he says something the effect of, “It’s the same court. It’s the same height on the basketball.” And my message to the guys was, “You have done this hundreds of times before. Don’t let the magnitude of the game change the way you do business. Just go out and do what you have done and it’ll all be okay.” And I was surprised at how many folks I was probably a little bit more eloquent that day, although I did not rehearse it. It was just one of those things that came to me in the spur of the moment. But a number of folks came back to me later and reminded me about the Hoosier speech. And the point was, don’t think of this as the Super Bowl. Don’t think of it as the national championship. It’s just another game and the size of the playing field is exactly like the one you’ve been on and the size of the court, in this case, is exactly like the one you’ve been on a hundred times before. Just go do your job.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:24] The level of anxiety that the guys might’ve had before would have been pretty high knowing that everybody’s watching. Although if you train in something enough, you’re kind of just a robot at that point. A lot of this is muscle memory at that point, even though they hadn’t been on the ground in that exact house. There are things you read online that you guys had built a replica as close as you could figure out in the middle of the desert, run through that thing a thousand times or something. So it’s probably a good idea to not build it up too much. I assume though they still got no sleep the night before or the day before.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:41:54] Yeah, my guess is they didn’t get a whole lot of sleep.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:56] Yeah. Don’t think of this as the Super Bowl and it’s like, okay, well don’t think of a pink elephant. Dang it. Come on. Give me a break. I assume that these types of extremely publicized missions are once in a career. If that even not something that’s usual.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:42:11] Certainly, there was no mission quite like the bin Laden mission because of the nature of who bin Laden was. It was about bringing justice to the guy that led to 9/11. But in terms of the heroism, the courage, the determination, there were missions almost every single night in Iraq and Afghanistan that you could write a book about in terms of how the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, the folks who were part of it — how they stepped up in tough times, how they save their buddies, how they were wounded, but continued to fight. There are some remarkable stories that I hope at some point in time are told about their courage and the skill. Again, not just of our special operators, but of all the infantrymen and marines that were out there. So this was an important mission. And again, I’m proud of the work the guys did. There are a lot of other heroics going on around the theater at the same time.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:01] What keeps you up at night in a post bin Laden world?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:43:05] Yeah. I do worry about North Korea. I have had it for a long time. My concern with North Korea is Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, is just not stable. He’s not a rational actor in a classic political science term. You have a guy that you can’t make your next chess move and expect him to react in a certain way. When you look at the Putins of this world, are the Supreme Leaders in Iran or whoever other bad actors we might think out there, they are rational actors and maybe bad actors, but they’re rational actors. And you know, if you do X, they will probably do Y. The problem for us today is you can’t do that with North Korea. If we do something, we have no idea what he may do, and therefore it’s very difficult to build a strategy that will play out to our benefit.

[00:43:50] Spending a lot of time in South Korea, there are just some wonderful, wonderful folks there and in Seoul, that is a very short distance from the demilitarized zone or DMZ. If we miscalculate and the North Koreans decide to open up with artillery, thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands will be killed. We’re in a very, very difficult situation. I don’t envy the president or Secretary Mattis or anybody else or the problem they’ve got to deal with.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:14] Yeah. That was my next question. Is there a part of you that’s like, “Okay, you know, I handled the bin Laden thing. I’m going to step back for a minute, let somebody else deal with this kind of thing,” because it seems like a lot of pressure.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:44:23] Well, there is, but we’ve got some great folks. General Vince Brooks is over there. He runs the US Forces in Korea, a fabulous, fabulous officer. He understands the nuances of conflict in a way that few people do. I mean, when you’re living there in Seoul. You’re getting briefed every day. You’re in a position to be able to advise Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford, and the president on the appropriate steps. So we’ve got great leaders in terms of our general officer crew, and the secretary is in a position to make sure the president has the right advice.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:56] Do you see a military-civilian divide growing in this country? I mean, there’s a lot of media that say things like, “The civilian-military divide.” Do you agree with that, that’s growing?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:45:06] You know I haven’t seen that. In terms of the population support for the military, I would tell you I thought it hit its height during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The population, the citizens of the US and around the world were very, very supportive of the military. They may not have supported the war, but they always kind of supported the troops. Under this administration, I’m hoping that the president will continue to support the military, which he seems to be doing. And I think that’s important for the young men and women that come in. The support, I think always ebbs and flows a little bit. In general, right now, I’d say there’s not that large of a gap between the civilian and military, at least the support for the military.

[00:45:46] Now where there is a gap is not a large percentage of Americans I’ve ever served in the military because it’s an all-volunteer force. So what you are beginning to see, of course, is this divergence of people that really understand what life in the military is like, but that’s all right. I don’t know what life on the police force is like, and I don’t know what life in the corporate world is like, and I don’t know what life in the world of podcasts is like. There’s always some gap between people’s knowledge of other people’s careers. So I don’t think that is the worst thing that’s happened to us. We just have to make sure that we don’t end up building this military that is just to the point where it doesn’t represent America in terms of the diversity of America, both ethnic diversity and diversity of thought and culture and socioeconomics. And we do have to be a little bit careful, I think. We may be heading in that direction.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:36] What do you think about the idea that there are these changes in policy for transgender soldiers and things like that? I mean, where do you fall in that? Because I know in your generation, I don’t even know if that existed in the public sphere.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:46:48] Right. You always have to make sure that unit integrity and unit morale is important for a fighting unit. Having said that, you also want to again reflect the fact that every American that wants to serve ought to be given the opportunity to serve and serve with great distinction. So I have no concerns about the transgenders or the gays serving in the military or anybody. I think we welcome everybody that wants to serve in the uniform of the United States but the military is uniform. There’s a reason that you have to have uniformity because that’s the way that great armies and navies have to fight, is with a sense of discipline and good order and discipline and uniformity.

[00:47:29] So if you come into the military, I don’t care who you are — black, brown, white. I don’t care whether you’re gay or transgender or straight — you have to accept the rules of the military in terms of the sort of uniformity and expectations. So you can’t expect, If you’re going to join the military, that because you’re different, we’re going to allow you to express yourself in a fashion that is contrary to good order and discipline. You have to conform. The military as a conformist organization. And because it is a volunteer organization, as long as you understand that coming in, then everybody, come join. But you come into the military and if you say, “Hey, really I’d like to grow my hair long because I’m a guy that likes hard rock bands and that’s what my idols are.” The drill instructor says, “Well, thank you very much. You don’t get to grow your hair long.” “Well, I want to grow a beard.” “You don’t get to grow a beard.” “Yes, but you know, I want to grow a beard.” “I don’t care. You’re in the military now and you don’t get those options.” So again, this has to do with the effectiveness of the military, which has to do with good order and discipline, which drives the morale of a unit,  and we welcome everybody. I mean, that’s seriously, but you have to understand what the rules of the game are before you come in. And as long as you can adjust to those, and by all means, join us.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:51] You’ve got a degree in journalism. What do you think of the relationship between the media and the government or the military these days? It seems a little bit antagonistic right now as well. What do you think of that?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:49:01] Well, certainly between the administration and the media, it’s very antagonistic and I think that is not good for the nation. As I’ve told folks, I have been raked over the coals by the press many, many times. It is a natural part of being a senior leader, particularly in the public eye. Invariably, you will do something stupid or you’ll do something inappropriate, maybe not intentionally, and the media is there really to kind of hold you accountable. I think that is vastly important for a democracy like ours. I’m a huge fan of the media, even though in my time — both in uniform and now as the chancellor — like I said, I routinely get hammered by the media. However, the points I make to young journalists as well are, “Get your facts straight.” Before you decide you’re going to report a story, not only check your facts once but twice and three times. Make sure you have an original source. So somebody that was no-kidding eye witness to it or you have a document that is a verifiable document and that your secondary sources, that you have a couple of secondary sources, that you are able to verify those secondary sources.

[00:50:09] The other thing about reporting — and it is one of my concerns on the media side — is the media is now coming in with biases, and I said, as a reporter now, it’s different. Editorials are different than reporting. Investigative reporting ought to be investigative reporting, but if you are a reporter, then you should report, report factually, accurately without any bias. So if you come into a story and you have already decided that so-and-so is guilty or aha, you know, there’s a smoking gun out there somewhere, or you don’t happen to like the individual that’s a reporting on and that is reflected in the news story, then you’re not a very good reporter. So the point is, we absolutely need the media. We need them to continue to do the hard work, to be investigative, to hold people accountable, to tell the stories — the good stories as well as the bad stories — but they have a responsibility as well. And that is to check their facts and then check their bias at the door before they start writing.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:12] This has been fantastic. Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you that you want to make sure you deliver?

Admiral William McRaven: [00:51:18] As I mentioned before, I think the millennials, in particular, are a wonderful, wonderful generation, and I am probably their biggest fan. I do think as folks in my generation, maybe even a little younger, look at the concerns I have out there in terms of activism on the campus or the kids that show up on TV and they don’t look like we look like, rest assured we are in very good hands. And this generation is going to take America to a place that we have never been before, but we will be stronger because of it and anything I can do to help those young men and women, I’m here to do so.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:52] Thank you, sir. This has been wonderful. Thanks so much for coming out and doing this.

Admiral William McRaven: [00:51:56] My pleasure, Jordan. Thanks.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:59] Big thank you to Admiral McRaven. Links to his commencement speech and other resources will be linked in the show notes. Also in the show notes, there are worksheets for each episode, including this one, so you can review what you’ve learned here today from Admiral McRaven. We’ve also got transcripts now for each episode, and those can be found in the show notes as well.

[00:52:16] I’m teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. The problem with kicking the can down the road, you got to do this now. Don’t wait until later. Kick the can down the road. You got to dig the well before you get thirsty. Once you need relationships, you could be too late. These drills take just a few minutes per day. I wish I knew this stuff 20 years ago. Find it all for free at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, most of the guests on the show actually subscribed to the course and the newsletter, so come join us, you’ll be in smart company. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and/or follow me on social. I’m at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.

[00:52:58] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. This episode was produced by Jen Harbinger and Jason DeFillippo, engineered by Jase Sanderson, show notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola, and I’m your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own. And yes, I’m a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer. I’m sure as heck not a doctor or a therapist. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends. When you find something useful or interesting — somebody who’s a leader, somebody who needs to motivate a team and keep them not just motivated by being stoked on life but have real leadership skills or real intensity. That’s the kind of person who I think might enjoy this or maybe some special operations folks in your life, retired or otherwise. So please share the show with those you love. Share it with those you don’t. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we’ll see you next time.


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