Prioritize & Execute When You’re Overwhelmed

The second chapter from Extreme Ownership: How Navy SEALS Lead and Win (that’s a mouthful) that I’ve found valuable starts with a story from a city operation where everything has gone to absolute shit:

  • The SEAL team is exposed on a rooftop in Ramadi with no cover
  • Surrounded by superior positions, and enemy knows where they are
  • The only exit has a large steel gate
  • One member has fallen 20 feet to the street below and lies injured
  • They haven’t completed evacuation of the previous location, and headcount is unknown
  • A timed IED detonation will go off in minutes in the building they’er leaving

That’s a shit morning. I won’t compare myself to these guys, but we’ve all had moments where there were TOO MANY things that need dealt with to be able to handle them all.  As Babin says:

Even the greatest of battlefield leaders could not handle an array of challenges simultaneously without becoming overwhelmed. That risked failing at them all. I had to remain calm, step back from my immediate emotional reaction, and determine the greatest priority for the team. Then, rapidly direct the team to attack that priority.

In the SEAL leadership training they focus on Prioritize and Execute, and verbalize it with this self-direction:

Relax, look around, and make a call.

  1. Try to stay ahead of the curve.  Anticipate challenges and think about responses.  This leader is much more likely to win.
  2. Step back from the situation mentally, and look at the array of tasks critically
  3. Use that distance to identify the One Most Important Thing
  4. Direct the team clearly to attack that.  Focus them, it’s important!
  5. Prepare and attack the next priority, or direct other people to the next issue.
  6. Continue iterating down the list

This chapter especially struck me as relevant to the environments I work in.  Babin notes:

Just as in combat, priorities can rapidly shift and change. When this happens, communication of that shift to the rest of the team both up and down the chain of command, is critical.  Teams [and leaders – Jeff] must be careful to avoid target fixation on a single issue.  […] The team must maintain the ability to quickly reprioritize efforts and rapidly adapt to a constantly changing battlefield.

This is key.  🔑  I’ve always struggled in startups with the push-pull of planning in a constantly shifting priority landscape.  The answer is, plan, but be ready to change.  And that is the capability you need to train your team for.  Work the plan, but shift as needed, smoothly, focused, with good communication.

I find these words in my head a lot lately as I’m faced with a barrage of issues in work and home life

Relax, look around, and make a call.

Read the book, I’m enjoying the Audible, and email me anytime!

Jeff Magnusson

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