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Episode 63

Unbreakable Leadership: Insights from Navy SEAL Thom Shea


Thom Shea, retired Navy SEAL and author of “Unbreakable: A Navy SEAL’s Way of Life,” joins John on this episode of the Veteran Led podcast. Tune in for a thought-provoking discussion on the essence of resilience, partnership, and growth. Through personal anecdotes and valuable insights, they highlight the importance of equal and supportive relationships, particularly in the face of challenges like PTSD. Learn from Thom Shea’s experience on the significance of having a strong partner by your side and how success is often achieved with an equally capable companion.


Unbreakable Leadership Insights from Navy SEAL Thom Shea

Thom Shea: So we did a five day mission in Helmand province, and I didn’t sleep for five days like we were in a defensive position. We ran out of food, water and ammo every day. And when I came off that I’m like, you know what? If I die, I want to at least tell my kids, I want you to be. I want you to be able to do something for 24 hours without stopping, because it makes you a different human being.

John Berry: Welcome to the Veteran Led podcast, where we talk with leaders who use their military experiences to develop great organizations and continue to serve their communities. Today we have Navy SEAL, author, and business consultant Thom Shea. Thom, welcome to the show.

Thom Shea: Hey, thanks, brother, for having me. Appreciate you.

John Berry: It’s an honor. And I, you know, years ago, I read your book. I was doing something called the 50 Mile March, where we don’t quite walk for 24 hours, but it’s 50 miles. And at the breaking point at mile 30, at about three in the morning, uh, someone quoted Thom Shea. So that’s how I heard about you again. And then we have a mutual friend that I that is a publicist that said, you got to talk to Thom Shea. I’m like, well, I’ve heard that name several times. Oh, yeah, I know who this guy is. And, uh, and so I finally got to put one and one together, and it’s an honor to have you here. Uh, really want to start off with, uh, unbreakable. Uh, love the book. What I really like about it is the, uh, internal dialogue. You know, the internal dialogue is so important because we get slapped in the face, we get knocked down, but we get back up and hearing your story, right? That and I didn’t read this till the end of the book, but, hey, you know, you went through BUD/S or it took you, what, four attempts? Is that right?

Thom Shea: Uh, well, did you have to hit me right in the right in the shorts in the beginning? Well, the.

John Berry: Problem is, like, people see you. The God come. This guy’s amazing. You read the book Silver Star recipient, the hype. Uh, yeah.

Thom Shea: No, I, uh, I was in five classes, so I got injured in four. I got turned out of training. Supposed to be for two years, but I petitioned to come back every day and got back in nine months, so I was in five hell weeks. Which is a horrible thing. Terrible.

John Berry: And that’s one of the most heroic things about you, because I got injured my first time through Ranger school and then failed my patrols that same time. I mean, it was I was injured, I was trying to hide the injury. And as you know, when your body isn’t working, the mind isn’t working, and I’m already sleep deprived. And it was it was a nightmare. And, you know, just coming back that second time knowing what I was going to go through again, you know, you’re thinking, oh man, not again. But I went back in the summer, and it was actually a little bit easier. But for you, you know, going back to hell week again and again, I mean, it takes it takes guts and it takes resilience to do that. And I think a lot of people in life, they fail once and they say, I can’t do this, and they quit. What is the makeup? How is it that you just set your mind to this and hey, hey, I’m going to keep coming until they don’t let me come back. How did how do you build that resilience, that toughness?

Thom Shea: Um, I you know, if you think about it, you know, now that we’re older and kids don’t think like this, but, you know, thank God older, wiser people do, uh.

Thom Shea: Well.

Thom Shea: What makes you ask the question, even though you specifically asked it of me? You know what makes a good mindset? Uh. Only mindset that matters that you can learn. Like I don’t have the ability to do non-linear equations in my brain. I don’t have the ability to do a lot of things academically that other people do. So in the competitive space, not all humans are the same. So. But what all humans can do is start over. It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve hit the rock bottom. Uh, I learned it the hard way, so I not that it’s. I have some linearity to what you. I went to West Point for three years and I failed out in English. So man, here’s my first. I felt like it was a hard bottom, a soft bottom. What do you do? Do you become a victim and blame everybody or start over? And I wanted to be a warrior. So what is a failure? An academic failure. They sign up for the SEAL teams. It just made sense in my brain. And so start over. Uh, is the greatest mindset you can have as a human being. Because everybody can start over. It doesn’t matter anywhere. Start over in business, marriage start over.

Thom Shea: And I just got exceptionally good at it, which I think is the true nature of a warrior is man, the next moment counts. Start over, the next moment counts out arounds. Who cares? You got one more round, make it the best one. And that became the mantra. It’s probably the mantra of the SEAL teams is and you’ve heard this before. The only easy day was yesterday because it’s over. You got to do today. And that then became like what I call internal dialogue is I’m not going to listen to my jargon in my head anymore because it’s never helpful. You know what I mean? Even in Ranger school, having gone through as a cadet in the summer. Yeah, it’s miserable. And you don’t want to be there like, it’s not this glory thing that, oh my God, the movies make it so cool, and I feel like I’m becoming a man. I felt like I was unraveling. If you remember those times like nothing’s working. Like my feet don’t work. And I got prickly heat everywhere. And if you believe that you will go the way the dodo bird like you will become extinct. But you can take another step.

John Berry: And I have to imagine that this played a huge role in making you a great NCO. That that that you’re. I would say soldiers, but I guess your SEALs wanted to follow because it’s, you know, it’s easy to tell someone. Don’t quit, don’t quit. You know, we’re it’s going to be fine. We’re going to get there. It’s going to work out. But when you’ve personally been to hell and back five times and can say, you know what, I’ve been there, let me tell you something, you’re going to be fine. And that’s so much reassuring than the leader who we don’t know what adversity that leaders faced. And they just they keep telling us, oh yeah, it’ll be good. But we’re like, well, what challenges have you faced? Like, we want that authenticity. I want to know that the leader that I’m following has been there, has done that and understands what I’m going through. And certainly I became clear from your book and your leadership that you understood what your men were going through, and you did what you could to make sure that they were comfortable, whether it was giving them a little bit of Copenhagen, a joke, but it was, it was it was helping push the team through the suffering and letting them know, like, hey, we’re getting through this, uh, just like you did in your adventure days of adventure racing days. It’s just it’s just getting through it and helping other people do that. So what is the most effective technique that you have used to help people push through, whether it’s in your whether it was when you were a SEAL adventure racing or in your consultancy where people feel like they’re stuck, they’re blocked, they can’t go any further. How do you push them further?

Thom Shea: Well, it may not be mainstream. So it solely comes from the SEAL teams and, uh, from Draper Kauffman, the guy who wrote “Hell Week” to active SEALs today. There’s a there’s a point of leadership that I’ve only seen in the SEAL teams. And you get great leaders through shared hardship. And so the next step after shared hardship and you’ve earned the right to be here is the only way to lead somebody is you go with them. And every mission, you have to go with the guys. And. That is a big, comforting thing to everybody in the platoon is, I ain’t going to go do this by myself, but if my buddies are going, I’ll do it and I’ll try harder. And as a leader, I don’t say I led from the front because it may not be important for me to be in the front. But. Hey, bro, I’m here. If you’re under fire, I’m coming to get you first. I don’t care about the enemy, so you have to be 100% involved in every second of an endeavor to be a great leader. You can’t be an abstract leader.

Thom Shea: I don’t think I. This is my opinion. Generals and admirals are not, they’re administrators. If you ain’t there in the field, you don’t get a say. And in the SEAL teams, if you’re not in the field, you don’t get a say in what happened. Like you can’t even question what happened. And, uh, that makes a big difference to the guys. And I learned that way all my all my chiefs and officers, if they’re not there, they don’t get a say. If they’re there, it’s a collective effort. And I never thought that I, I ordered anybody around. Like I never barked orders. Like if you watched the movie SEAL team and the officer barking orders for one, the officer’s not supposed to say anything. And if they tell you what to do five minutes later, they’re going to get a punch in the mouth. So. And I always thought the great leadership was give people steak and ask them how they want to eat it. And let them eat that way, whatever way they want to. It’s fine with me. It’s your life, you know.

John Berry: Well. And I think the people you give the steak to, they got to be champions, right? Because if you. Hey, here’s the steak. How do you want to eat it? You’re expecting them to be proficient. You’re expecting them to be experts, and you’re expecting them to get the job done. And when you have those individuals on your team, it certainly makes a difference. But I want to go back to what you said, because I heard it before. And when I was at my battalion command school, I got this great advice and said, you know, your battalion command will be the last time your soldiers recognize your walk in the night. You want to be a brigade commander? Great. But you’re an administrator, and I think you’re right. So you say O7 level. I say O6 level is where they start becoming.

Thom Shea: The same thing. Yeah.

John Berry: From the officer perspective, then how should the officers lead the SEAL teams, right. If they shouldn’t be as vocal and they should let the NCOs run. And we had this thing called NCO business in the Army. I don’t know if it’s the same way in the Navy where my NCOs would come and say, sir, don’t worry about that. That’s NCO business. You worry about the planning, and we’ll worry about the execution. So tell me, is it similar in the SEAL teams where those the role of the officer boy.

Thom Shea: I don’t know. And having you know now retired for ten years been consulting with different businesses. I don’t think you have a universal solution. You got to recognize are you a front line leader or are you an administrator or are you a project manager? Different businesses run leadership differently. Uh, but if you’re a front line leader where the rubber meets the road, the only way to lead them is by example. If I can’t do it, I’m not going to go. And if you can’t do it, you don’t get to go either. The uniqueness of the SEAL team, much like if you’re in a battalion, uh, they have earned the right to be there. And, uh, unlike civilian businesses, the teams have a unique aspect to them is the officers only are there for two years. The platoon of guys could have been together for ten. And if you’re a new officer from the Academy, we always say you don’t have to use a cuss word but shut the hell up and sit in the back and watch and don’t do anything. Just watch. By the time you’re an O-3 or a lieutenant, uh, you’ve done maybe two deployments and now you’re in charge. It’s still sit in the back and let us operate.

Thom Shea: And in the SEAL teams you have to use reins. So my form of understanding leadership great leadership’s rein in their people. If you’re an encouraging leader, that means your people do not have skills. If you’re having to empower and encourage you, guarantee the people around you are not adequate enough. In the SEAL teams, everybody was better than me and everybody’s better than the officer. So you got to rein them in. Uh, if you find yourself barking orders of encouragement, the guys are not so good. And that’s a whole different form of leadership. And that is true in the business world. If you’re having to encourage people, you already know that the person doesn’t have the skill set, needed to carry out their job. And if you have quality people, you love it when they rein you in. Like you, I want my leader to go, hey, Thom, we don’t really have to walk 18 miles. Let’s just fly there. Let’s make it easier. And that analogy is true for all leadership is if you’re encouraging people, you have a technical problem and a tactical problem. Uh, if you have alphas, you have to rein them in. And it’s a great way to look at even parenting.

John Berry: Reining in your kids or reining in your spouse?

Thom Shea: Either way. So either way, if you’re having to tell people what to do all the time other than it being an ego thing, if I have to tell my kids to clean up, they probably don’t know how to clean up. So it’s a different form of leadership. But if they are, I know what they know what to do and they’re doing way too much pulling them back into center so that they don’t overextend themselves. So it’s a unique way to look at, I think, a unique way to look at leadership.

John Berry: So I like that perspective. Hey, don’t overextend yourself. And sometimes, you know, in the military we’d say, hey, take a knee and drink water when we see a leader struggling and just, hey, we got to get back. But that being said, that’s contrary to what you were doing with the, the adventure racing and, uh, you know, in the book, the thing that I love the most is the most transferable skill was you were talking about raising money, and you said, I must have sent out 200 emails, and I got about 205 rejections. And, you know, uh, rejection is, and failure is just it’s just part of business. And, uh, you know, hearing that early on in the book was like, oh, yeah, this guy knows what he’s talking about. He knows rejecting rejection and failure. And I think, unfortunately, a lot of us that come out of the military, we’ve been fairly successful. And then you go in the civilian world and, uh, I think you said it at one point, I think I heard it in the podcast. You said nobody really wants you to be successful. And in the military, everybody wants you to be successful because the problem is we can’t fire you.

John Berry: I mean, it takes an act of God sometimes to remove someone and, you know, to chapter them. It doesn’t happen right away. And, you know, being the officer in command where, uh, the problems that got to my desk were usually problems that had to be dealt with swiftly. And it’s, you know, you can’t do that all the time. You can’t just say, this person’s gone from the organization where you actually can do that in the civilian world. But I would push back on that and say that there are some people who want you to succeed, and those are your fellow veterans. Uh, generally the veteran community is supportive. Uh, we want to help our own because we’ve been there and, uh, but yeah, I totally agree with the premise that once you get out of the military, don’t think that a bunch of people want you to be successful. Most of them see you as a competitor or someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, or some veteran who needs their assistance, rather than a veteran who might be their worst competitor.

Thom Shea: And another line of thinking along that, since I’ve been out for ten years, I would probably rephrase what I wrote in the book because that was prior to getting out. Uh, the business world wants you to succeed like your CEO of a company wants people to succeed not because they get something from it, but they do. They just don’t have a training methodology like the Rangers or the teams. They don’t know how to train you efficiently to be successful. So I always use the analogy, uh, most companies give salespeople a pistol and a bullet and paradrop them into the Amazon. If you come out, you’re a part of the company. But now, you didn’t train me to be here. I survived, and now I have a skill set. And that analogy with most salesmen would be different than in this. Like if you taught sales in the SEAL teams, there would be learn this method. And then do it 10,000 times before we expose you to the enemy. So that training mantra, I wish corporations would have trained heavy select people through training before you start paying them. It would be to I’ve done it about five times in business. It’s lethal, but it’s costly. It’s upfront cost to get a prime player into an organization as opposed to hire. And then you’re like, oh my God, they’re the wrong people. Hired a day, fired six months, as opposed to take six months to hire somebody.

John Berry: Yeah. And the military, you know, training isn’t something we do. It’s what we do. And it’s almost like the Olympic athletes, you know, and look like I, you know, my, my, my story was I was an infantry guy up through, uh, deployed to Bosnia in ‘99, got out, went in the National Guard, was a logistician a company commander in, uh, in Iraq and, uh, you know, but it was like every up till up till September 11th, you know, it was all train, train, train, train. And that’s all we would do until all the deployments started happening. But before that, our deployments were to the, uh, uh, National Training Center, the Joint Readiness Training Center, like our deployments were, were training deployments. And then all of a sudden, it’s like, okay, now, now it’s real. And, uh, and so the amount of training we did to be ready to be and to be great, uh, you can’t do that in the civilian world. You can’t afford to do that in the civilian world. And you just don’t have the luxury of, uh, time and talent. But going back to one thing I said, yeah, I want to clarify.

John Berry: Usually your company wants you to be successful. I’m sorry, but if you go out on your own and you’re going to think you’re going to go build your own company after you leave the military and you have all that support, it’s all gone. Um, and there are organizations out there and there are veteran organizations. Uh, right now I’m actually in a thing called CEO Circle, put together by Bunker Labs and JPMorgan Chase that’s helping veteran business owners, you know, learn from other veteran business owners. So we have a, uh, a cohort, right. So it’s great to, to have that support, but you have to go look for it. It’s not like in the military where you’re going to wake up, there’s a training schedule and someone’s going to make sure you’re in formation and that they’re going to check the block to make sure that you have you’ve had your physical and all these things have happened before. You get trained. Look, nobody’s looking out for you. You either go work for a big company that’s going to take care of you, but if you’re going to start your own, it’s the wild, wild west.

Thom Shea: It is the wild, wild West 100%. You probably you know, I, I got out with, uh, a great skills, and I tried to figure out how they would relate to other human beings. Uh, the teams are human beings centered. Like, I don’t know if the regular military is having not spent time in the regular military, but the teams are all about human beings and human dynamics, and they probably PhD’s in the field well over most organizations. Uh, but what I like, whether you get in a cohort group or a mentorship, I had 4 or 5 successful men and women take me under their wing and meet every week. Right. And during retirement and every decision or every choice that I gave them, they’re like, don’t do that, don’t do that, don’t do that, don’t do that. I’m like, damn, I’m going to have to get a job at McDonald’s. I have to find something. And, uh. Having a great mentor. If you’re going to be a veteran, find somebody, go into their office and say, hey, I’m a retired so and so. Even if you’re an officer, I want to work with you for free for three months. They will find something because their network is massive. Like you’re not going to build it on your own, and they’ll let you in and they’ll find something every time. And I’ve positioned a lot of retired SEALs that work for Billy for three months for free. What do you mean, for free? For free. And they’ll find a position whether he has a job, or he’ll call somebody else and say, hey, I just met somebody, that he’s going to work out uniquely well with you. And that that introduction to the business world, by taking my hat off and putting it in my hand and saying, hey, whatever you want me to do, I don’t know anything about business, show me. And had I not done that, it would have been miserable as opposed to immediately trying to make money.

John Berry: Well, and I think that’s where the misconception that the most veterans face is like, well, my skill is close with and destroy the enemy. I don’t have business skills, but as you said, it’s all people skills and leadership skills. And we do have those skills. So how can veterans go about uncovering those? Obviously, one way is to get that mentor and work for them for free for about three months. But how else can they uncover those skills that maybe they aren’t recognizing immediately when they when they come out of service?

Thom Shea: I you know, I think it would be dependent upon, uh, the length of service makes a big difference. So if you get out after the six year, like your first tour, uh, you have technical skills that any business could use, whether you’re in IT, whether you did computers, even if you ran a range, you could translate that immediately to another skill set in the civilian sector. If you make it to the ten year mark, you have some leadership skills, organizational skills that you could directly find something like that. But if you make it to 20 or 30, you have probably forgotten more than you need to forget to run a business. Like an admiral can get out. He can. They could easily run Ford Motor Company, but they don’t understand the different dynamics. They don’t know who’s who in the zoo. So you can’t go from Admiral to CEO. It’s not. It’s not possible even though they look the same. And to do that, you have to take your hat off and go. I have been successful, and I will do whatever you want me to do. You want me to take out the trash for a week? I’ll take out the trash for a week. You want me to get on the phone and be a salesperson? I’ll f that up. Just like I can do everything else. And they’ll maneuver you around if you find that if you’re at the 20 year mark and you get out, literally bro or sisters, take your hat off and ask for help. But if you’re ten or less, just find an equal job. It’d be the best advice that I could say. If you’re in IT, go IT or go to school, which I don’t recommend school, but be a badass and start out.

John Berry: But yeah, there’s that humility where, you know, there’s a time to learn and there’s a time to earn. And you go from a 20 year career in the military to coming back saying, yeah, I am not. I have to start learning again before I can really start earning what I want to earn. And for some people, they never make that that adjustment and their egos stop them, and they think, well, I should I’m entitled to this because I’ve been a career military officer. Well, you’re not entitled to Jack. I mean, that’s just the way the world works. Unless you’ve earned it, you’re not going to get it.

Thom Shea: The I don’t know if you’ve seen this study, the direct translation to sales. Uh, and MOS’s are 11-Charlie. 11-Bravo. If you’re either one of those, you’ll be a great salesman because you can hammer. You don’t care. And you’ve been put down so many times I’ll hear no, a thousand times. 11 Bravos and Charlie’s will hear a thousand times no. If you’re an 18 series, you’re probably more entrepreneurial. Like you can work by yourself without a net, and you don’t need your need. Your ego stroked. Uh. And that has a big correlate effect. If you understand, there’s a I can’t remember what that document was. What’s the correlate between an MOS and a business on the outside? And as I was looking at that, trying to help veterans, I’m like, oh my God, it’s 100% right. If you can figure out what the document is.

John Berry: Well, the 11 Charlie says, hey, just close enough, right? If that mortar round lands close, well, they have skilled.

Thom Shea: They’ve learned something in a in a hazard environment and they have to they’re moving forward towards the enemy which is sales. Yeah. You know what I’m saying. And if you have that mindset if you were an infantryman, you’ll be a great salesperson. But it will feel the same. It’ll feel like you’re getting shot at all the time.

John Berry: I want to get to the next book, the “Three Simple Things,” which I believe, if my recollection serves me correctly, are. Uh, often go on offense every day, go on defense and work on strategy. Now, every day in the Army, you only go on defense long enough to go back on offense. And so we’d be in the patrol base until we didn’t need to be in the patrol base, and then we’re going after the enemy. So why defense? Well, talk me through about why defense every day.

Thom Shea: Well, you know, categorically, I think there are five categories. All humans have the physical category. So your health everybody has a body to worry about. Everybody has a brain to worry about. I call that intellectual. The third category that all humans have is they have to have a job or the pursuit of wealth. However you want to put that down on paper. And then we’re all in relationships and we all have some spiritual thing in us. So those five categories. So without going into detail in each one of those categories. You have to do something forward facing, which is offense. Like you physically, you have to work out every day. I don’t care what anybody tells you, you have to move your body. Not marathon every day, but you have to be in some workout program. Then you have to take care of this body. Somehow you have to be limber and take and stretch out, which is the defense side of physicality. And then what you eat is your future. It’s a way to look at those three simple and they’re simple. Workout, stretch and don’t eat. Literally. If you want to look at it from the infantryman’s point of view. No more MREs in business. Simple. Three simple things. And this is what I teach all over the country. You as a leader or as anybody in the business, you have to be in sales.

Thom Shea: If the company’s not generating sales, you’re killing the company. So as a as a leader, you have to be offensive mindset. You have to consider sales every day. That should be your first meeting that you have as sales. Second, how’s the company doing the projects that we’re on? How are all the million? The company itself, everybody that’s I’ve hired, how is the company? So I’ve done sales and I’ve dealt with ops. And then where are we going? Like at the leader asking themselves this question. You did this as a battalion commander, dude, if everything works out, where is this taking us? Like, what’s the strategy of the Iraq offensive? Or what’s the if you don’t understand the strategy, you’re really going to blow. You’re going to make poor decisions every day. If you understand strategy, you can go, well, we’re not going to pursue that because that’s not in our target deck. And whether you use that war analogy or not, when leaders have those three simple things in business, it’s a 3X factor. It literally is. And the 600 leaders that I’ve taught how to make something very complex, simple. Most people just deal defensive. In business, they’re defensive. They’re defensive. Nobody likes offense and nobody really knows where it’s going to head. They don’t have a big plan.

John Berry: Why not offense because of the risk or.

Thom Shea: It’s a pain in the ass. It literally is. Nobody wants to be responsible for new clients. So it’s if I’m a boss, I can make $1 million by just helping my business run. And salespeople are in charge of sales. I don’t want to touch that sales thing because it’s like dealing with infantrymen. It’s a grind. The business is I can empower the business, but all the companies I talk to very rarely does the leader have a personal responsibility for new client acquisition or sales. They hired out. It’s somebody else’s responsibility. When the top man or woman does those three simple things, not time draining black holes. If you, as the CEO of a company, you have to. You have to every day get in front of a new opportunity. What becomes true as it becomes easier to grow a business when the boss is forward facing as opposed to downward facing. And if the boss didn’t have a strategy that they are able to articulate, it’s called a vision in business. If that ain’t clear, nobody can operate like even if your vision was not clear as a battalion commander, you had a thousand people chasing a thousand targets.

Thom Shea: If it’s clear they say no to all those opportunities that were not a part of your vision. That’s how I look at it. We knew what our stuff was in theater when we got there in 2009. General Reeder told us, 200, you have to kill over 200 Taliban. You guys understand? I got it. If it has nothing to do with killing Taliban, we don’t have to do it. Yes. You don’t have to do nation building. We’re not here. That’s what the Green Berets are doing. We need you to get a body count because it’s dangerous. And if. If it’s not a combat mission, I’m not going to let you go on it. And I’m like, I can figure that out now. I can do the tactics. If you give me the strategy, I’ll do tactics and, uh, simplicity. And you saw that in Ranger school. Everything is simple. It’s just hard to do. It’s time consuming and I don’t want to do it today.

John Berry: Well, yeah, anything that is simple is, uh, is difficult when you’re when you’re hungry and you’re tired. If there’s any civilians listening that don’t know about the suffering involved in just walking and walking and walking and like I said, the infantry, that’s what we did. Uh, uh, tell us how you get those insights, because you will see God if you walk far enough.

Thom Shea: Yes, you will at about 3:00 in the morning. Uh, so it originally was an idea. So I the book “Unbreakable” that he showed you earlier. If you were here, then, uh, I had I was a platoon chief in 2009 and in Afghanistan and it I, I wasn’t 100% sure that I was going to come home. So my wife, Stacy said, could you write down not intending to write a book? Could you give us things? Give me things I can teach the kids in case you die? And, uh, then I started writing notes over in theater. And, uh, the third note that was of merit that I put in the book is because of a big mission that we were on. So we did a five day mission in Helmand province, and I didn’t sleep for five days like we were in a defensive position. We ran out of food, water and ammo every day. And when I came off that I’m like, you know what? If I die, I want to at least tell my kids, I want you to be. I want you to be able to do something for 24 hours without stopping, because it makes you a different human being. Uh, the intent was just to teach the kids that. And, uh, then I in retirement, people read the book and go, hey, are you going to do a 24 hour? I’m like, I didn’t mean to do it. Okay, I’ll do it.

Thom Shea: Uh, so, uh, we’ve done about 47 of them in ten years, and, uh, I do it simply because it allows me to have something to work towards every six months that I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it today. I don’t want to do it during it. It’s a mental and physical thing that I have to go, man. I can’t let myself go physically and mentally. But during it, oh my God, what happens during it is transformative. So it’s not a ruck march that you walk at about two and a half miles an hour, which is just a walk. So the idea of the walk is I want you to unravel mentally, uh, I want I want to unravel mentally. I want you to see for the first time. Inside of this discussion that we have. What prevents you from being your best self? And we’re going to talk about it. And every hour we sit and talk about what prevents you from being a great dad, great leader, great athlete. Why are you this miserable, complaining cow? Yeah, and that’s what I say. And around three in the morning, you get to this place where nothing matters anymore. But I’m just going to keep going. I promise to be here. I’m going to keep going. And then people take that into their everyday life. Going. Man, I’m complaining again. And I’m quitting. It’s not that difficult if I just keep going on this, this hardship that I face.

Thom Shea: Things will get better. And I keep doing it because of everybody wants to have that experience. The 3:00 in the morning experience when the only thing that matters is I don’t care how raining it is, I’m going to take one more step and take another step and everybody there supporting me, taking that step. And most people who haven’t gone through Ranger School or the teams have never had. In the night support. Like when things are unraveling. That person is still here and are still supporting me. So a lot of people come because they get to show up as their best self for about 24 hours and be with a group of people they’ve never met. And at the end of it, you feel like you just made it through Ranger School. Like, man, I love you guys. I don’t really love you, but you’re like, man, that was awesome. All the guards get let down and I have one guy that’s come and done 18, and he’s probably he’s got a net worth of about 40 million. I keep asking him, why do you even come? I don’t even make him pay. He goes, this is the only time I get to see human beings for how awesome they are. Because there’s no defense up. And I’m like, wow, that’s probably why I keep doing it. That may not have been the answer you’re looking for. It’s not difficult. It’s mentally hard.

John Berry: Well, but I think that it brings up something important that we don’t see as civilians. You know, you I mean, you trained Navy SEALs right towards the end of your career. You were a trainer and I trained, uh, officers or people who wanted to be officers. I crushed some dreams along the way but commissioned some officers. And, uh, you know, in those moments, you see amazing people do amazing things. I mean, I think I heard that, you know, you trained Chris Kyle. So, you know, you’ve trained some amazing people and then you get into civilian world and all those people, you know, look, in the military, it was, you know, my soldiers were my heroes. You know, it was you know, I’m not a hero, but, man, I get to be around these amazing people who took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, who have made all these sacrifices and were willing to die. Then you come in the civilian world, and the dude doesn’t want to work an extra hour of overtime, and they’re going to get paid more. And so you don’t see that greatness in people anymore, but you get to see it on these walks. And I’m wondering now that you’re training, um, you know, executives, how do you bring that out? How do you bring out the greatness that you and I experienced when we served?

Thom Shea: Well, I put it on the table. So if you’re going to do my training, uh, I offer two types. One is, uh, weekend events where I disaggregate leaders come together and we do not physically hard stuff because that would eliminate half the field. So, uh, we have difficult conversations that all leaders have to have. And in the training, uh, we’re going to you’re going to be you’re going to be the best athlete that you’ve ever been. If you’re not willing to be that athlete, I’m probably not the right person. I don’t mean competitive. If you’re 50 years old, you’re going to start working out every day for a year. If you want to do training with me, that’s what you’re going to do. Uh, and. And you’re going to start leading. So. Most leaders don’t want to let their guard down in front of their business, which is probably not a good place to. Everybody talks about authenticity, but a leader that is really authentic, without having a base of people that can support it, will be fired. You know what I mean?

John Berry: Yeah.

Thom Shea: Oh, yeah. So we’re gonna have these hard conversations through training. So we’re going to go do tough things. We’re going to do business designs that are tough, that you’re going to fall apart on and you’re going to learn from it. And so if you’re not willing to fail constantly. I’m probably the wrong trainer to come to. And, uh, I think most people appreciate. I can go somewhere and take my hat off or take my guard down. And I want to learn why I’m screwed up. And most leaders are screwed up. The problem is the leader in the company anyway. If you solve the leadership, you’ve solved everything in the company 100% because a great leader creates leaders. 100% of the time, as opposed to other ways to look at it. So I thought the greatest impact that I could have is not that I’m a good leader, is that expose current leaders to being their better self. And I didn’t know ten years ago. Uh. Solve the marriage issue at the leadership level. The relationship at home. When men have a great relationship at home, their company blossoms. And I had no idea. But that’s the big deal. And I have no idea why that my little niche that I have found is we’re going to talk about that too. We’re going to talk about your kids, too. How to be a better dad. Because you’re never there. Like I wasn’t a dad when I was a SEAL. I was gone 270 days a year. I was just a travel dad. Go out and have fun. And then all of a sudden, like most leaders find themselves, they’ve built a great business. And now their kids are 16 and they open their eyes. Oh my gosh, my kids are 16. It’s time to be a dad now. You got to go to the football game. You got to listen to him. And that is a skill set that can be taught.

John Berry: How long is the training programs?

Thom Shea: Uh, the if it was like, if you and I were going to do training, we would meet four times this year. And a day of meeting, and then we pick something to work on in those five areas physical, intellectual, wealth, relational, spiritual. And metrics, so I will stick with that until you hit it. Sometimes it’s four months, sometimes it’s a month, and then we do another. The second day is outside, so I do, uh, what I call the five fears. It’s a climbing endeavor and some other hard physical hardship that I make people go through to overcome fear, because leaders who are afraid are devastated. And, uh, then we picked another several goals, and we hit those goals, and then we meet the third time for relationship. And then we have relationship metrics. That takes the longest time. And then we meet the fourth time to design a project that, uh, the leader and I will, will do together. And I’ll bring my skill set to the table, and they’ll bring their skill set to the table, which I love that side of it is that’s where the fun part of life is when you’re working with somebody who is all in and I can bring my limited skill set to the table other than coaching. And I do 10 clients a year. I limit it to ten.

John Berry: Okay. And the person that I think, I think may, may have been one of your clients. I won’t get into specifics, but when we got to mile 30 of the 50 mile March and this is where it’s night and we’re and we’re going to take an hour break. And for me, it was right across from Camp Ashland where I trained all the officer candidates. Right? So I’m like, I’m pumped up, but everybody else is kind of sucking. And, um, and this this woman got up and said, you know, she quoted you, Thom Shea, and she said something like, and “we can do hard things.” You know, this is tough. Like, this is tough, but we can do hard things. And, you know, looking at how you’ve lived your life, it’d be one thing to say, well, this is a guy that, you know, oh, he 23 years of military service. He did his hard stuff. But I mean, the adventure racing and now this company where you’re molding civilians into warriors, that’s the hard thing. Because, you know, when you show up with a bunch of, uh, who is it, Charlie Beckwith? Uh, the, uh, founder of Delta Force, who said I’d rather go up the river with seven studs and 100 shitheads. I mean, when you have champions on your team, that’s great. But to scale an organization, as I found, you know, not everybody is going to be a barrel chested, steely eyed killer. You are going to have team members who simply want to work 8 to 5. They want to earn a good living. They want to take care of their family, and they have other interests outside your organization. And while you may eat, live, breathe your organization, not everybody does. And so how do you connect right with those civilian leaders? You bring them in and say, okay, I’m going to teach you how to be a warrior. But here’s the thing. Um, when you get back, everybody still is going to be the same. Do you do you find that some of your clients struggle with that?

Thom Shea: I don’t say, uh, I don’t think I’ve ever used the word. I’m going to teach you how to be a warrior. So, uh. Uh, not everybody is designed to do SEAL teams or Rangers. You’re not. You can say that you are. Unless you’re there. You’re not designed to be there. Literally. If you’re not a Ranger, you’re not designed to be a ranger. If you’re not a SEAL, you didn’t pursue it, so you didn’t attain it. I look at human beings different. Every individual is unique, but they’re not operating at 100%. I’m interested in getting that person to operate effectively in all five areas, whatever they would look like. Nothing worse than a leader who’s not in shape. You still got a body, bro. You still got to do something. So if you teach leaders to lead those five areas, like turn on the light and start filling up that room that are the five areas, then they’ll look at everybody in their institution as unique. I don’t want everybody to be like me. The leader should not want everybody to be like them. Jane or Bill, whoever the receptionist is, I want you to have a great life. It doesn’t have to be mine.

Thom Shea: But I somewhat demand you be healthy. I demand you be interested. I demand that you’re doing this because you value it. Like I want. If you don’t want to work here, I’ll find something for you to do that you value. Because nothing worse than you suffering for $20 a day. So. And then I have to be available as a leader, that everybody is on the brink of a damn divorce, that it’s possible. I got to let you have a life at home so my business grows. If you are suffering at home and your kids are suffering, you suck at work anyway. How can I help you be better at home? Even though HR doesn’t like that conversation, you as a boss gotta know. I mean, you when you were a battalion commander, if in the SEAL teams the same way, if somebody’s suffering at home, you’re going to get me killed, bro. So we got to talk about it. And putting all things on the table that matter has been actually easier. It makes, I think, leaders more appreciative of the effort that it takes anybody in the business to come to work. And then when you when you show people that you get something called I, I can do more, boss. Actually, I want to grow or. Hey, I don’t really want to. I just want to stay here because I want to afford myself time with my family. If that’s what you’re committed to. I’m also committed to that. I’ll help you do that. But you got to help me here at work. And that conversation shifts for a lot of people. And if you’re willing to, I call that being an alpha. If you’re willing to be an alpha and take care of your pack, I’ll teach you it. If you just want to be a shepherd and have a high attrition rate, I’m probably not your man.

John Berry: Got it. And I want to get into where people can. How people can get a hold of you. But before we go there, I want to hit the AAR, the After Action Review, the three great examples of leadership you experienced and then the three horrible examples of leadership. Um.

Thom Shea: My first platoon chief, uh, was, uh, probably the one of the hardest men I’ve ever met. And he was honest. So. That was a first one. My dad is also one of the greatest leaders that I’ve ever met, because he also was straightforward and honest. Uh. In the. And when I got out, uh, I’ve met many great men and women leaders, and they’re honest. They’re straightforward and honest.

Thom Shea: Poor leadership. I could list thousands. They’re self-serving. It’s all about them and their ego. High ego. Me, me, me. And the list is still writing itself. So the differentiation between a good leader and a not that you. It’s not honesty. It’s straightforward. Leadership. That’s how I would define great leaders. And then ego centered all about me. The list of those people is long and growing as we speak. And I. I just don’t gravitate towards me, me, me. Even though. You’re asking me my story. Sorry.

John Berry: No. But absolutely. So bottom line you can give your three example. But they all the examples come back to the truthful honest straightforward leader who can give it to you straight. And all the bad examples are the leaders who it’s all about me. They’re self-centered. It’s about them rather than the team or the mission. And we see that you’re right too frequently. So, Thom, how can veterans or others who wish they were veterans or want to be able to grow their business, grow, grow themselves into something great, grow, become unbreakable? How do they get a hold of Thom Shea? How can they look into your programs? Obviously, uh, you’ve got, uh, “Unbreakable” and “Three Simple Things,” both available on audiobook.

Thom Shea: So, uh, my internet site is, uh, Uh, that’s probably the center focus of it. And just because the book got national notoriety, if you just type Thom Shea into a browser, it pops up, which is kind of embarrassing, but. And, uh. Brothers and sisters. If you’re a veteran and you want a leg up or you want support on any endeavor. Reach out and I’ll connect very quickly. And if you’re a soft guy, take your hat off and reach out and don’t go off the edge.

John Berry: Well, thank you so much, Thom. A lot of great information here. And we could have talked all day about war stories and your amazing accomplishments in combat. But what I wanted to do was open up those lessons to everybody, because not everybody, uh, I shouldn’t say not everybody got the opportunity because, quite frankly, you made the opportunity happen. You said, hey, I’m going to be a SEAL and you made it happen. But, uh, but we all haven’t had those. Great. The. I shouldn’t say great, because I mean, that was very difficult. But those life experiences that you’ve had. But I think one thing we can all we can all share is that, you know, we’re all here to get better, to do better. And you’ve been on the journey. You’ve documented the journey. We didn’t get into the whole, um, uh, Spartan Woman piece of it. But, you know, there’s something else that that having that partner, uh, who supports you is, is key to this. And like I said, you certainly have led by example not only during your military career, but more importantly after your military career. And you provide great inspiration to veterans looking to do the next thing, but also the veterans who may have been really scared of Self-examining and saying, you know, you know who, who am I? What am I doing? And there was one other thing that I heard you say that I really, I really liked was that, uh, you know. For those of our brothers and sisters with PTSD, it gets bad if you don’t get engaged, and getting engaged and doing something is really the key to having a happy, successful life.

Thom Shea: Yeah, yeah. Get back in a fight.

John Berry: Get back into the fight.

Thom Shea: Brotherhood or sisterhood and get back into something that scares the out of you. You’re never going to be successful man until you have an equal woman. That’s the deal. Just come out. That’s the deal. And I’ve hit rock bottom every time. It’s because I didn’t have a great woman behind me, which means me supporting her equally. And that’s the deal.

John Berry: Thanks so much, Thom. And, uh, once again, uh, I really appreciate your perspective for our veterans. And, uh, I can’t, uh, recommend enough, uh, “Unbreakable,” uh, great lessons here. And then, of course, the “Three Simple Things,” the other the other book. Check them out. Thanks so much, Thom. And thanks again for your service and what you continue, how you continue to serve our veterans. Yeah.

Thom Shea: Thank you, sir.

John Berry: Thank you for joining us today on Veteran Led, where we pursue our mission of promoting veteran leadership in business, strengthening the veteran community, and getting veterans all of the benefits that they earn. If you know a leader who should be on the Veteran Led podcast, report to our online community by searching @veteranled on your favorite social channels and posting in the comments, we want to hear how your military challenges prepared you to lead your industry or community, and we will let the world know. And of course, hit subscribe and join me next time on Veteran Led.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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