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Fundamental: Everything begins and ends with leadership

Fundamental: Everything begins and ends with leadership

Take a moment and think about any group endeavor you have ever been a part of in your personal or professional life where you had to accomplish a goal. It could be growing up playing sports, or working on a project in school, or any variety of professional goals you have pursued throughout your career. Picture in your mind a specific time where you had to work together with a group of people and you successfully achieved your goal. Now, I want you to remember who was the leader that supported you and your team to that success? A coach? A teacher? A parent? What was it about that person that empowered you and your team to greatness? Behind all great teams, is a great leader and behind all teams who struggle to come together and accomplish their goals, there will undoubtedly be leadership issues that need to be addressed.

Some of you may be familiar with Jocko Willink. He is a best-selling author, a popular podcaster and a former Navy Seal. He’s a fascinating guy in a lot of respects. He writes and speaks extensively on the topic of leadership. I listened to his book “Extreme Ownership’ earlier this year on Audible and there was a story he told that has stuck with me. During the training process to become a Navy Seal, there is an event called “Hell Week”. And, as you might imagine from the title, it’s basically a week of training that is so excruciating the majority of recruits quit by the end of it. This is by design to ensure that only the absolute best and most resilient become SEALs. An exert in Business Insider summarizes what happened during one particular week that highlighted the essential variable of leadership:

“SEAL candidates were grouped by height into boat crews of seven men and assigned to a WWII-relic inflatable boat that weighed more than 200 pounds. The most senior-ranking sailor became the boat-crew leader responsible for receiving, transmitting, and overseeing the execution of the lead instructor’s orders. They were to go through a grueling string of races that involved running with the boat and then paddling it in the ocean.

After several rounds, one particular team came in first and another in last nearly every time. The instructors decided to switch the leaders of the best and worst teams, and the results were remarkable. Under new leadership, the formerly great team did relatively well but was a shadow of its past self, and the formerly terrible team placed first in nearly every race. The once great team had practiced enough with each other to accomplish something even under bad management, but the bad leader was unable to command respect or maintain synchronicity.

Meanwhile, the excellent leader had taken his new team from last to first by getting them to believe that they were just as capable as his former team, and that bickering with each other during the exercise would not be tolerated.  

“One of the things that I learned from that boat-crew example is that most people want to lead,” Babin said. “The team that was failing there, they didn’t want to be on the failing team. They wanted to win. … It’s about checking the ego — it’s about being humble, to recognize what can I do better to lead my team.” Babin said he can remember times from his years with the SEALs where he thought, “If I just had a better team, I would do better.”

“Wrong,” he said of this train of thought. “If I was a better leader, my team would have been better, and that’s what leaders have to recognize and step up and make happen.”” (

Now, you might read that story and think, “Wow – that places a lot of pressure on leaders.” And, you’d be right.  Since we believe that everything begins and ends with leadership, we put a significant emphasis on growing, developing and challenging our leaders to be the best; and yes, this comes with a high degree of accountability. Thompson has invested nearly a half million dollars over the last five years just on leadership development. This is more than some organizations 5x our size. We do this because like the boat crew analogy, we believe that every single team member of Thompson deserves to be led by the best and that in being led by the best, it will help them be their best. And whether you fully agree with our perspective on leadership or not, I know that 100% of Thompson team members believe that our kids and families deserve the absolute best.