Putting the mission first is simple. Check your ego. You may find yourself in a situation where all of your efforts are in support of another department, team, or person. Since you are supporting them, that means they will get the bulk of the credit for any successes they experience. You may find yourself resentful in some respect—after all, were it not for your hard work, they would likely not have achieved the success for which they are now getting the credit. But when you recognize this line of thinking within yourself, it is time to DETACH. Realize that it is not about you. The team and the mission are more important. And if that isn’t good enough, remember that those victories are yours to share as an integral part of the organization that is succeeding. When the team wins, EVERYBODY wins. There is a great deal of pride to be taken from being part of a successful organization, if you can put your own ego in check and recognize it.
In 2006, I deployed as a SEAL platoon chief to the Pacific Theater. The mission we were assigned with was not glamorous or dangerous. There weren’t going to be any combat awards, or chances for personal glory. At this same time, Task Unit Bruiser was deployed to Iraq and slugging it out in constant gun battles with enemy fighters in the streets of Ramadi. Jocko, Leif and the rest of Task Unit Bruiser (including Marc Lee and Mike Sarraille, who were originally from my own Task Unit but we had reassigned to Task Unit Bruiser) were doing the kinds of things that every SEAL dreams of. As the deployment went on and I heard more and more about their exploits in Ramadi, I could feel jealousy and resentment begin to creep in. I stopped putting 100% of my efforts toward the mission I had been assigned because it wasn’t challenging and success was a long-term goal, something that would be measured over decades. It wasn’t likely that my platoon or I would get any credit for that success.
My leadership must have noticed my motivation starting to slip because I received a much-needed pep talk. I was told what a great job my platoon had been doing in training our foreign counterparts and that even though training our allies wasn’t a glamorous or high-speed mission, it was an integral part of America’s overall strategy in the War On Terror. As we talked, I felt pride begin to well up in my chest and replace the jealousy and resentment that I was feeling toward Task Unit Bruiser. From that talk forward, I began again to take pride in my mission and refocus on our efforts. After all, as a member of SEAL Team Three, I was able to share in the prestige gained by the success of Task Unit Bruiser on the battlefield.
As a leader, it is critical that you have honest conversations with each person, department, or team who works in support of the main effort. Let them know that their job may not be the most recognized or rewarding, but it is crucial nonetheless to the strategic success of the whole team. They can and should take pride in their job—and in that victory.
Author: Jason Gardner, EF Instructor