Willy Walker: Thanks Susan and good afternoon everyone. It's great to have everyone join us again for another Walker Webcast. I’m going to jump right in today with my guest.
Rich Diviney is a retired Navy SEAL Commander in a career spanning more than 20 years he completed more than 13 overseas deployments, 11 of which were to Iraq and Afghanistan. As the officer in charge of training for a specialized command Rich spearheaded the creation of a directorate that fused physical, mental, and emotional disciplines. He led his small team to create the first ever “mind gym” that helps Special operations train their brains to perform faster, longer, and better in all environments, especially high stress. Since retirement in early 2017 Rich has worked as a speaker, facilitator, and consultant with the Chapman & Company Leadership Institute and Simon Sinek, Inc.
He's taught leadership and optimal performance to more than 5,000 business, athletic, and military leaders for organizations such as American Airlines, the San Francisco 49ers, Pegasystems, Zoom and Deloitte. Rich’s book The Attributes is a wonderful read, which we will discuss at length, today. I got to know Rich through our mutual friend Will Ahmed, founder and CEO of WHOOP, and it is a true pleasure to have Rich with me today.
So, Rich you said in your Rich Roll podcast, which I thought was fantastic, most SEALs consider themselves pretty ordinary dudes who choose an extraordinary path. I know you wanted to be a pilot when you were growing up with all the right stuff but what made you choose an extraordinary path.
Rich Diviney: Well, I think it was the idea that when I learned about SEALs and what they did, and what they were this is back in the mid-90s, by the way, SEALs weren't nearly as popular as they are, or well-known as they are now. But I started reading books, I said, these are guys who seem to operate in every environment and do really interesting and difficult things, and you know reading about the training, was a very challenging training pipeline, only about nine to 10% of those candidates who tried made it through. And I said to myself, like I knew I could be a pilot, but I didn't know; I wanted to see if I could be a Navy SEAL so I went to training and fortunately made it through. And I think I think what happened was I found myself at the end of training with that you know, we started with 168 or so people and graduated 38 and I remember standing with those 38 dudes and saying man, how did I get here, you know, these people are so much better than me. And that was a theme that I continued to kind of repeat to myself throughout my entire career. I just felt like I was always every job I took I felt like I was surrounded by people better than me. But I realized that a lot of my, most of my friends and brothers in the teams were saying the same thing about the people around them, and so what I realized was that we were just people who naturally tried to find groups that were seemingly better than us. And it wasn't from a self-deprecation mode or even just you know low self-esteem, it was really this idea that you know surrounding yourself with people who are better than you at things is a way that you can lift your own performance and do better and aspire, and so, I think that's been a little bit of a of a habit for me, fortunately, and that's what drew me in.
Willy Walker: As you think back to that first day at BUD/S training and looking at 168 young men and you looked around and you saw people who had physical attributes, you clearly got to know their mental attributes, how good were you at sitting there and saying like he's going to make it through, he's going to burn out. I mean you got down to your 38; if you think back on that first day. I remember when I got to business school I sat there and looked around this room of 90 people and I knew that they were all wicked smart and I sat there and I was sort of like well who am I going to like think is going to be the most successful person and it took me a whole year to kind of sit there and be like okay she's going to be really successful, he may not be that successful etc., etc. How good were you at determining when you looked around at those people who was going to make it through?
Rich Diviney: I was miserable at it, and what's interesting and quite ironic, is that I’m I don't think I’m any better today than I was back then, and most SEALs will tell you the same thing. They've been trying to for a long time figure out how to pre predict, those are going to make it through training, but that's the point. I mean the attributes required to make it through training are hidden there they're not immediately visible, they only become visible when things start to get challenging and stressful and so you have to put people through that experience to actually see. And seeing someone who's physically fit and has all the physical qualities that you might think that doesn't tell you the whole story because working out is you know yeah, it's tough but it's a predictable tough, you know it's something that can be managed and planned. So those athletes who showed up who were sometimes division one athletes who, from a physical standpoint might be able to make it through often were the first to quit because that training and kind of the beauty of it, I think, and probably didn't think at the time, but certainly appreciated after going through it, it didn't matter where you came from, it didn't matter what you did, didn't matter what sport you played. If you didn't even play a sport and it didn’t matter what grades you got, it was all about taking you down to zero and seeing what you had.
I was with a buddy of mine just yesterday having coffee, in fact he's in the book, it's Hank in the book, and I was having coffee with him, and he said, I think that one of the things that teams do and certainly used to continue to do, was understand that sometimes you have to almost break the body to develop the mind. You have to go so far that all you have left is what's in here [points to head] to keep going, and I think that's what SEAL training does and that's extraordinarily hard to predict just by looking at someone because you don't know what they've been through, what they've experienced, until you get into that challenge with them.
Willy Walker: So, as you talk through the attributes in your book and we'll get into in real specificity, a number of them, one of the ones you talk about is cunning. And how cunning is a wonderful attribute for innovative thinking and creativity. I would say that when I read that I was sitting there saying I don't associate cunning and creativity with being good SEAL. So, what is it that we don't get as outsiders about that BUD/S training that identifies attributes like cunning and creativity that are so important to being a Navy SEAL?
Rich Diviney: Yeah, and I think this is where a pop culture has done has done us no favors in the presentation and depiction of SEALs and SEAL teams because and, and the war really was part of it, but because the war in pop culture has shown this image of SEALs as kind of door kicking guys who run into buildings and save hostages or capture bad guys and certainly yes that's part of the job, but Special Operations holistically were formed to agitate and frustrate the enemy. They were formed to do things, to go into areas that no one went in to in very small teams, and do things in secret, do things invisibly, get in and get out without ever being seen. That's what Special operations were formed to do, and the SEALs were absolutely part of that process, and so the war certainly kind of made much more clear kind of our role, you know we were there to catch bad guys. But ultimately cunning, this ability to think outside the box and go and do things that very few people can do and do things in ways that the enemy doesn't predict is what Special operations are all about.
So I often use a kind of a fantasy medieval explanation, and I say you know if you think of a of a fantasy world where there's a princess at the top of a tower guarded by a dragon and the King wants to save the Princess so he sends his knights every once a while to go try to save the Princess and slay the dragon and save the Princess and every time the knight goes and tries to slay the dragon and gets killed trying to save the Princess until the until the Navy SEAL or Special Operator shows up and the Special Operator says wait what's the mission and the King says save the Princess and Special Operator says who gives a crap about the dragon. Right and so, then you start to think about ways to avoid the dragon all together. That's the essence of Special operations. How do you avoid the dragon all together and that's where cunning comes into play?
Willy Walker: You came across a number of dragons during your time as a Navy SEAL to the degree possible can you describe being face to face with the dragon and how you and a team went around the dragon?
Rich Diviney: Well, so unfortunately, I can't describe in detail. But what I will say is that we, and again there's different strategies, sometimes a strategy makes sense to go straight up the middle, right. And we just say were gonna go right up, we're going to show our faces and intimidate that way. I say the teams I was with an on, our primary goal most of the time, was to try to get in and get out without ever firing a shot. Could we stay invisible because, if you do that does a couple things. First, you never have to fire a shot, so you can grab your person and it’s usually a capture mission. You grab that person you go back, and you get the information from that person. It's clean, it's neat, right. But the other thing it does is that type of operation, that type of behavior, it actually instills more fear in the enemy because uncertainty and not knowing is the essence of fear, and if the enemy doesn't know where you're coming, doesn't know when and never sees you and you're invisible, that that causes them more fear than actually being visible and running straight up the middle. So, we always try to plan our missions in a way that we could execute without ever firing a shot. Now some of them turned out that way, but the enemy has a vote too, we always used to say. So a lot of times that didn't happen and it got kinetic. But we were always, at least the teams I was on, we were always trying to kind of use cunning and avoid the dragon all together if we could.
Willy Walker: Talk for a moment about -- you and I previously spoke about the flight versus fight mechanism that we all have in our minds as it relates to when we're confronted with something. And your comment to me, Rich, was that some of the best SEALs you worked with had the ability to sort of suspend the fight or flight response and be able to kind of pause for a moment before taking action. Explain that a little bit.
Rich Diviney: Yeah, well so we have to understand what courage actually is. And courage is, in fact, the ability to step into our fear. And courage can’t -- we've heard the old adage courage cannot exist without fear. But it's not just an adage, it's actually neurologically correct. Because fear, as it shows up begins to tickle our amygdala in our brains. Our amygdala is really a threat detector. And that amygdala, as it starts getting ramped up, takes us into a decision point, right? And the decision point is what we've heard: it's either fight or flight. Now we've also heard of the third one, which is freeze. But freeze they've realized neurologically whereas, fight or flight, those two decisions kickoff or click in a separate circuit in the brain. There is no circuit for freeze. Freeze is basically an oscillation between the two. And so, a couple things…. when we decide either one, we get that that flip switch. So, when we decide to step into our fear we're going to fight, which simply means step into our fear, doesn't necessarily put up your dukes…. that switch gets flipped. That's the courage switch. And we in fact get a dopamine reward when that happens. Our body rewards us with dopamine because it's designed to say: Hey, this is good. Keep doing this. We are designed as human beings to be exploratory, to discover, to go out and find and seek new shelter, new food. And so, to do that, to step into the unknown, nature had to give us a reward system that allowed us to continue to do that. So that's one way to start thinking about fear. Fear is there because it's an appropriate way to assess risk as humans. Because that's also nature telling us, hey, assess this risk, don't ignore it. But also an ability to step into it and be rewarded when we do.
I think that one of the things that every SEAL has the ability to do, is to more effectively step into fear. We all have/we're all afraid, you know? SEALs are not fearless, right? We're all afraid of something. I always joke that I’m afraid of heights. I always have been, right? So jumping out of airplanes was always difficult for me. Some guys don't like being underwater. Some guys don't like, you know, height. Some guys don't like whatever it is, you know? But the ability to…
Willy Walker: …Snakes [laughs]
Rich Diviney: Snakes, yeah. Fortunately, there are not a lot of snakes [laughs] in combat. But the ability to step into that proactively is a decision point. And so that, so the ability to make that decision requires our conscious mind to actually be engaged. And so when that amygdala starts to tip in and start to kind of ramp up, we can… we're at risk of going into amygdala overload, right? And amygdala hijack is what people refer to it as. That means we begin to act without thinking, you know? Our conscious mind comes offline and we're basically just acting.
What we can do, and I think what special operators and those who kind of work in these environments more frequently are able to do, is to tamp down that response so that the conscious mind can come back online, and you can make decisions as to what you want to do. Because sometimes the right decision is to step in, consciously. And sometimes the right decision is to flee, consciously. Because it's never a good idea to, you know, fight a bear, for example. And so I think you can do that by understanding what fear actually is. Fear is, in fact, the combination of two things. I think we talked about this. Fear is a combination of anxiety plus uncertainty. You can have one without the other without having fear, right? You could be uncertain without being anxious, or you can be anxious without being uncertain. I’m nervous for the presentation coming up in the next couple days, right? But I know what I’m doing, and I know the presentation, There's no fear there. You can be uncertain without being anxious. That's every kid on Christmas Eve. Once you have both of those showing up, you begin to step into fear. You can buy down fear by buying down either one of those. So anxiety is an internal response. It's a physiological response, you know. Our pupils start to dilate, our breathing becomes more rapid. You can buy down anxiety by internally focusing and breathing, doing breathing exercise, for example. Slowing your breathing more deliberately can start to buy down that uncertainty excuse me that anxiety physiologically. And with that in turn starts to help bring your conscious mind back online. Once that starts to happen, you can begin to buy down uncertainty. The way you buy down uncertainty, which is external now, as you begin to ask yourself some conscious questions about the environment: Hey, what about this environment do I understand? Right? And get that list, however small, it is. And then say, okay, from that list, what can I control right now? In the SEALs we call this controlling our 3-foot world. When we pick what we can control, and we decide to move to that and just do that. We also get a dopamine reward for doing that. And so what that allows us to do is once that task is complete, allows us to ask the question again and make another step. And then ask the question again to make another step. And that's literally how you can consciously step through challenge, stress, and uncertainty and bring your conscious mind back into the fray and make these decisions in the face of fear.
Willy Walker: So, you mentioned dopamine a couple times there. And I want you to explain for a moment dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. And I want to give a quick story before I turn it to you to explain the science of that and why it's so important for us to understand how all this works.
A buddy of mine, Jay Haas, is a good friend of Phil Mickelson’s. And Phil called Jay last week and said, “Look, my wife Amy isn’t coming to the PGA with me, you want to come hang out with me for the weekend?” So Jay flew to South Carolina, hung out with Phil, and was there on Sunday when Phil sunk the final putt to win the PGA as the oldest PGA champion – oldest major champion in history. And I’m in my gym watching the PGA and as Phil walks off the 18th green to go sign his card, he gives my buddy Jay a huge hug as he's walking by. And I immediately pick up my phone. I call Jay. He picks up his phone, and I say, “That's the coolest damn thing I’ve ever seen!” And he said, “Wills I’m crying right now. I’m laughing right now. What an incredible experience.” And for the next 24 hours pictures of Jay embracing Phil walking off the 18th circulated on social media and I’m sure Jay loved seeing lots of thumbs-up and lots of…he got a lot of dopamine hits during the next 24 hours of seeing people come in and say, That's really cool. But then he called me on Monday afternoon and said, “You know, your phone call to me at that moment, right after I’d given Phil that hug, just is the memory that I have in my mind from that whole kind of experience. It was one of the highlights of my day.” And I said to Jay, “You and I are both basking in oxytocin right now.”
Explain for a moment the difference between dopamine and serotonin and oxytocin, and why in this world of social media and quick interactions and Zoom calls, rather than sitting across the table from you, we really ought to all be going for more oxytocin and a little bit less dopamine.
Rich Diviney: Yeah, we should. It's because of the chemicals they are. Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters. Oxytocin is a hormone. Now admittedly --let me back up -- neurotransmitters are kind of like the flash in the pan neurochemicals, right? They come into our body, they enter our body fast, and then they go away fast, right? They just… it's really quick. It's like lighting the lighter fluid. it's like a big burst, right? And they subside. Hormones take longer to enter into our system, but they also stick around much longer, okay? Dopamine comes in at a bunch of different levels. Dopamine is just a feel-good chemical, or hey this feels good, keep doing it, right? Serotonin is one of those chemicals that has a bunch of different things about it, but one of the things that it has is it's kind of a bonding/safety/connection chemical. So it has some similarities to oxytocin, which is a hormone, is also known as the love hormone, okay? Oxytocin is a hormone that's exchanged. Physical contact with other human beings, acts of kindness, and generosity produce oxytocin. Kind of long-lasting conversations with good, close friends produce oxytocin. So, when we do, for example, we get a social media post and we get a bunch of likes, we're getting hits of the neuro-transfer immediately of serotonin. And those hits are coming in, but then they're also leaving, okay? It's why it only feels good for a few moments, or maybe an hour or two as those hits, because that serotonin is coming in and leaving fast. Oxytocin, on the other hand, comes in and sticks around a while. That's why, you know, when you called your friend, I mean, there was oxytocin exchange, because you both have a history with each other. So you -- oh, by the way, when you when you create deep relationships with other human beings, even the thought and the memory of that human being can create oxytocin in their system. So that phone call, what that phone call did was -- yes, there were serotonin involved, but there was oxytocin exchanged, because you had that relationship built up. That oxytocin lasted quite a while. It's why a good/a great conversation with a friend, you know, over a couple hours, you'll feel good about that for the next couple days. Whereas the social media posts that you have, and you get a 1000 likes, you'll feel good about that for a couple hours, right?
So in terms of human relationship its why human relationship is so important, and this kind of bonding is so important. It can be done in a virtual world, but to do it, you really have to take the time to do it and really have those deeper interactions virtually. Because it's going to take a little bit longer, virtually, because you don't have that human-to-human contact. But it can be done. It takes time. It takes trust. It takes care. It takes paying attention. It takes listening. But that's why that still felt good, because you both still…all the serotonin had run out, so all the likes on his posts are like, okay, that's cool. That oxytocin was still there.
Willy Walker: So, in your book, Rich, you talk about SEALs being trained to be “aerobic thinkers.” And I loved that analogy in the sense that we all understand what an aerobic athlete of a marathon runner versus an anaerobic athlete of a weightlifter is. Talk for a moment about SEAL training, and for those of us in the civilian world, how training our minds to be aerobic thinkers can be very valuable.
Rich Diviney: Yeah. And I’ll just tell you a story because it didn't occur to me until several months ago. I was actually training with a trainer friend of mine. I was actually going through this program that they allow retired SEALs to do, where I got linked up with a trainer and he was training me for like four weeks, just to give me some good [techniques]. I was doing two-a-days with him, and it was pretty awesome, but he was giving some great techniques. So, we were doing lifting, and we were doing a bunch of sled pushes and you know, all the crazy stuff you see in the gym nowadays. And I remember, I was doing these sled pushes, and he was timing me. And basically, he’d say, “Go” and I’d start out and I’d push it for a distance and stop. I was like, “What are you timing?” He said, “I’m basically timing how long it takes, but also timing you out-of-the gate, your speed out-of-the-gate speed, as soon as I say, Go, and then whether or not you slow down or speed up or whatever, as you finish the thing.” I say, “Well, what do you find?” You basically, he said, “You’re unlike me. So basically, when you start, you start at the same pace and you keep that pace the whole time, you know, in that push.” When I push that sled. He said, “When I do it, I start and I burst out really fast and I slow down as I go to the end,” right? He said, “That's the difference between aerobic and anaerobic. I’m much more anaerobic. And…you're much more aerobic.” And I said, “Interesting.” I said, “What do you find most team guys – most SEALs – do?” He said, “Most SEALs are like you. They push out and they start at a pace, and they keep that pace.” And that occurred to me, it made me think, you know, that's what Navy SEALs are. We're basically aerobic thinkers and aerobic performers. Because what Bud’s training teaches you is that you never know when it's going to end, right? You don't know…It could be miserable for a long time. This is like a long mission that you go on in Afghanistan. You're not sure when it's going to end so you're never ever putting all of your power into the experience right out of the gate. You're always gauging yourself. You're always pacing yourself. Because if you pace yourself, then you set yourself up so that when you need to peak, you know, in those moments, you have that ability to peak, and then you can bring it back down to a pace. And so…I want to make sure everybody understands: If you're in physical training, do both, okay? Do anaerobic and aerobic training because you need both. But when you're thinking about business and you think about life, these are both long games, right? They’re I mean, that's what it is. And the long game requires an aerobic type of thinking because you don't want to peak too early. You don't want to go full out all the time. You want to make sure you’re paced, so that, as you know, you say, well, I don't know when this is going to end. I don't know when I’m going to need to peak. So, I’m just going to basically pace myself, so I’m prepared to do that. So I think aerobic thinking in terms of performance is a great way to think about that.
Willy Walker: When you talk about peak performance, you and Andrew Huberman are not fans of peak performance or the concept of peak performance.
Rich Diviney: Right.
Willy Walker: First of all, explain a little bit about who Andrew is and then, if you would, why you like looking not for peak performance but for optimal performance.
Rich Diviney: Yeah, Andrew is a neuroscientist and ophthalmologist and a professor at Stanford. He and I linked up. We met, gosh, four years ago, maybe five now. And we linked up at this event that we were a part of that was about peak performance. So basically, they wanted to talk to a bunch of people about peak performance. They brought me and they brought Andrew in. And we are there, and we could talk about peak performance, but we really lashed up and synergized because both of us didn't like the concept very much. And the reason is because peak, which is a really big phase right now, it's a thing right now. Everybody wants to peak this and peak that and be peaked as often as possible. Well the problem with that is that peak is an apex. And it's an apex from which you can only come down. And peak often has to be planned for and scheduled and prepared for and foreseen, right? The pro football player spends his entire week planning and preparing so that he may peak for three hours on Sunday.
So, it's actually, in fact, an unrealistic and in some ways unhealthy thought process to think that we can peak all the time; we can peak constantly. And I thought about SEALs and Andrew, and I had this discussion and really just like I kind of said in the aerobic way, we are, SEALs are really optimal performers. Optimal performance is, how can I do the very best I can in the moment, whatever the best looks like in that moment, right? So sometimes the best might look like peak; it might look like flow states and everything's clicking and you're really, you're going full-out, everything's great. Sometimes your best might look like, hey, I’m just head down, just nudging it out, and all I got is just step-by-step. And the way I thought about this was you know in SEAL training, I remembered being freezing in the surf zone or during hell week and I was like, you know, I was…there was nothing peak about my performance. I was just going. I was leery in some cases, going, I’m just going to make it to the next minute or the next meal, right? Same thing happens in combat, right? Same thing happens for someone going through illness. You know, you talk to cancer survivors, they’re like, during my chemo sessions, I was just living for the next minute or just get this thing over with, you know? My friends who have been injured overseas and their rehab, and Hank again, who's in the book, would say, “Hey some of those days, I was just like, Hey I just want to make it to the next five minutes. That's my goal here.” Alright, so I think we all have to think about this in terms of optimal performance versus peak because we all have to understand that if we are willing to just perform the best we can in the moment, we can now say, hey, sometimes it's okay to just be grinding it out. It’s ok to just to be taking a step. It's okay if it's dirty, ugly, messy. That's what it is. I’m still performing. And it allows that aerobic modulation, right? Because I don't need to be peaking when I’m driving to the grocery store, right? I can be modulating myself, so that I understand when I need to peak. It allows a much healthier, much more responsive, and much more responsible way to manage our energy states.
Willy Walker: When you talk about peak performance, you write that peak performance has to happen in sort of an ideal setting. I think in that having a baseball player stepping up at the plate, and that relatively speaking, there is a consistency of stepping up to the plate. The balls can be delivered by a Left- or Right-handed pitcher, and the bases are all the same distance apart from each other, it is a set environment. Talk for a moment about attributes versus skills, and why SEAL training is so focused on identifying attributes and not skills in the context of sort of human interaction, and the fact that we don't live a life that allows all of us to step up to the same plate every day, and swing at the same type of ball coming at us the same speed, and that our worlds are variable, by definition, and as a result of that, in SEAL training, you're trying to find people who have the ability to deal with that variability.
Rich Diviney: Yeah well, it's funny, in SEAL training, you spend hundreds of hours, for example, running with heavy boats on your head on the beaches of Coronado. You spend hundreds of hours PTing and exercising with 300-pound telephone poles, and you know, running with those, and then freezing the surf zone. And I remember I kind of look back at my career, and I’ve done hundreds of combat missions overseas, and I’ve done thousands of training evolutions. Never on one of them did I carry a boat on my head or a 300-pound telephone pole on my shoulder, right? So, it made me think, “Okay, what were they actually doing to us? Why were they doing that in SEAL training?” Well, it wasn't because they were training us in the skills to be Navy SEALs, it was because they're trying to tease out these innate qualities, these attributes, to see if we could do the job if we had what it took. You know, not if we know if we had the skills to do the job if we had what it took to do the job because the job of a Navy SEAL is inherently about being a master of uncertainty. Can you be thrown into environments of deep complexity, deep variability VUCA. You call it in the military “Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous,” these VUCA environments and perform. That's what it takes with attributes. So, the difference is this because they get conflated all the time. Skills are not inherent to our nature. No one's born to be able to throw a ball, ride a bike, or shoot a gun, in the SEAL case. We trained to do those, were taught to do those, and they direct our behavior in known and specific situations. Here's how and when to throw a ball, ride a bike, shoot a gun. Because they're kind of didactic and they're tangible, right? They are very easy to assess, measure, test, and score. You can put scores, you could put stats, you can see how well anybody does with any one of those things, you can put them on a resume, you can put them on a sheet, it's very easy to see. It's why we're often as business folks building teams or team builders or hiring. We're often seduced by skills because they're easy, but they're very easy to see. They don't tell us how we're going to operate on a certainty, and when the environment gets tough and challenging, because in an unknown environment it's very difficult, if not impossible, to acquire a known skill. This is where we lean on our attributes. Attributes are innate, right? All of us are born with levels of adaptability, of perseverance, and resilience. Attributes, also as you know, certainly they develop over time and experience, right? But we’re born with, you can see, levels of these things and small children. They inform our behavior rather than direct it. They should tell us how we're going to show up, right? My levels or my son's levels of perseverance and resilience inform the way he and I showed up when we were first learning the skill of riding a bike and we're falling off a dozen times, doing so. And then, because they are hidden in the background, that is very difficult to assess, measure, and test. You can't see them! You can't sit across an interview table and assess someone's level of adaptability of resilience. Now, the reason why this is important, is because, like you said, our lives are deeply variable, they're deeply uncertain, and especially what's uncertain is human interaction. When you're dealing with other human beings, that is a dynamic uncertain environment, right? So, if you want to build a team and a team, by the way, a great behavioral theorist named Russell Ackoff, deceased now, but he used to talk about systems and things like in systems and the behaviors of systems and he used to say, “A system is never the sum of its parts, it's always a product of their interaction,” and that goes for teams to, like how human beings interact is going to dictate how the team does. So, if you want to build a team that actually is good at interacting with each other, especially when times get uncertain, and challenging, and stressful, you need to start looking at these attributes, not just skills, because skills aren't going to tell us what we need to know.
Willy Walker: I find that to be fascinating as it relates to the implications in the business world. And when I read what you write in your book, in The Attributes about exactly what you just talked about, it made me think about the fact that, when we go to pitch clients on using Walker & Dunlop, we put these pitch books together that talk about our skills. We've done XYZ transaction, we financed X number of buildings, we've sold Y number of buildings, and we sit there and kind of pound our chest and say “We're big, and we're really successful and here's our track record,” and yet what we should be doing is walking in and saying “We and every other competitor who's trying to get your business has the commensurate skills to do this, but what you want to hire for this is actually our attributes because invariably in any of these deals something's going to change. Some seller has a tax issue that just came up at the 11th hour, we got to change how we're pricing the asset. Somebody has something on a deal document that makes it so that we've got to underwrite the net operating income of the building a little bit differently and that's going to change loan proceeds.” But it's those attributes that our bankers and brokers have, and our underwriters who interact with our clients, is really what we should be selling more than just, you know, “We know how to do a loan,” because guess what? So does all of our competition.
Rich Diviney: Well, I imagine Willy that you're actually you, a lot of the reasons why your clients are going with you, are actually attribute-based anyway because you're not just giving, you're not just sending these pitches, you're actually talking about them, you're developing a relationship as you're actually talking about it so that human interaction is having a say in whether or not that client is building trust with you. They are in fact unconsciously assessing attributes. When you are having a relationship, even in a client's exchange, where you're pitching, right? You're creating a relationship where you're actually teasing out attributes that are unconsciously being assessed because I’m sure that if you send the wrong person, you're probably not going to land the deal and it's because that person doesn't have those relationship attributes. However, I do agree with you that, you know, in any business that you're in, any business that's pitching, there's going to be a series of things that, and reasons why that that organization is going to be successful, or client, and yes, there are going to be some skill-based, but a lot of it is going to be like, “Hey when things go sideways, when the plan doesn't go like we thought, we will still perform, we’ll have your back, and that's because we have the appropriate attributes on a team to be able to do that.
Willy Walker: You talk there Rich about, you know when we go to pitch there's clearly a human element, but I wouldn't push back on that all. I would say is that typically the questions coming from the clients are pretty consistent. They're sort of the same, they don't really get into, “tell me about your worst deal. Tell me about the deal that went sideways and how you pulled it out of the gutter,” if you will. In your book, you write about the way that you pick some commanders and some of the challenges you did in the interview process, and I thought one of the, you explain it, but the one where you had these commanders coming, you gave them what the assignment was new gave them two tasks that they had to put forth to the team, and then they would have to come back to you, and you gave up on one of them. Just talk that through because I thought it was such an interesting way to try and test one's character by putting somewhat unreasonable conditions in front of them and then seeing how they dealt with them in an interview process.
Rich Diviney: So, as I tell the story just remember, when you're looking for attributes, we're always kind of looking at the peripheries. Attributes live on the peripheries of these types of assessments, so in this case, we were seeing if officer candidates had the proper attributes, qualities, to come to the command that I was doing such an assessment for, and one of the things we wanted to do, and we'd always done for four years was give that officer a mission to plan and say, “Hey here's a mission. You plan it.” We'd have a group of instructor cadres who were enlisted guys as the “troop team leaders” that they go in and plan with. And then we'd say, “Okay, how did they plan it?” Then they brief it back to us, and for years it was always just that, you know, give them the mission. Have them develop a plan with these guys and then brief it back. And when I took over, I said, well, I think we can look at this little bit differently, because you know again, the skills to do that, some guys might have some skills, some guys might not, depends on what their background, their experience is, but we can actually look at this a little bit differently. I wanted to actually test attributes.
And so, what I did was, and specifically, the attribute I was testing, in this case, I thought I could test amongst the other ones but was especially accountability. So, what I did in this case, I said, “Okay. I have the officer come into my office, give them the mission, here's what you need to do, and give them two stipulations. In this case, just because it was kind of congruent with what we had going on, was like the stipulations are you have to bring a local force with you, you know, so a nation force with you, and you have to do what we call “The Call Out”. You know, for many years, we were basically going in as quiet as possible, doing are doing our job, and getting out. As we began to stay in these in these combat areas for longer and want to kind of keep hearts and minds top of mind, they said, “Hey, we want you to start doing a call out procedure.” Call-out procedures, much like a police procedure where you surround the building, you take megaphone, and you call the people out of the building. Much better for the civilian populace because no one's kicking in doors, you know, but a little bit, a lot more dangerous for us because we're losing the element of surprise, and we're announcing our presence to the whole neighborhood, right? So not very preferable for guys, and we knew, you know, we didn't like to do it. So anyway, I told these officers you had to do those both things and I knew and had pre-briefed my cadre, “Hey, you're going to push back vehemently on both of these conditions.” So, I would tell these officers “Hey, once you go in if you have any issues, I’ll be in here. Come if you have questions.” They'd go into the next room, and I’d hear the requisite yelling, screaming, and swearing, and it was hilarious to listen to because the guys were like no, you know, we're not doing that! So inevitably, that officer would come back into my office and say, “Sir, you know, I want to talk to you about these two conditions.” Oftentimes that guy would say, “Hey listen, Sir, I have concerns about these two things. I have concerns about this, this, this,” and I’d always concede on one but stay firm on the other, and then they'd have to go back, and they'd say, “Well you know,” and I hear the grumblings, but people could go on. One officer came in and he basically said, “Sir, the guys are really pushing back on this. They have issues, and they don't feel like this is safe,” blah blah blah, and you know, I absorb that, and I told him the same thing. I said, “Listen, that's fine. I’m going to concede on one, but you have to do the other,” and then he went back into the team, and he said, “Hey guys, the boss made his decision. We don't have to do this, but he's standing firm on that.” Well, what that told me about this specific candidate was that he lacked accountability, he wasn't owning the decision, right? He came in and instead of him saying, like the other candidates, instead of him saying, “Hey I have concerns about this and here's why,” it was, “the guys have concerns about this, the guys have issues,” you know, what you are going to do? He was basically being a middleman and then, of course, when he went back in. It wasn't about him going back into the guys and saying “Hey guys, here's what we're doing. This is my final decision, here's what we're doing,” he said, “Hey the boss has decided,” so what this told me about this particular candidate is he was being a mediator. He was always pushing accountability off to the side, and so this was a way I could look at accountability.
Now we didn't decide not to take him just based on that one, we actually saw over the course of a week several times in different situations where we saw a lack of accountability and an inability to own you know the decision. So, these are some ways you can actually start, if you inflict a little bit of discomfort little bit of uncertainty, you can start seeing these attributes show up on the periphery. One business example that I always give is sales. Say, Willy, you and I wanted to hire someone who's great at sales, okay? And we say okay, we're going to tell this person “Hey, come in on Tuesday morning. You're going to give us a presentation. You're gonna sell us this coffee mug, okay? And then that person goes prepares, and Willy now you and I show up Tuesday morning and that person comes in, they give us a fantastic presentation on that coffee mug, and it kicks butt. We’re like man that was impressive! Well, you and I haven't learned much about this person. All we've learned is this person can prepare and give a great sales pitch. Instead, what you and I could do is Tuesday morning when that person roles in we say, “Hey there's been a change. You're not going to sell us that coffee mug anymore, you're going to sell us this pencil. All right? Oh, and by the way, there's an AV issue, so you can't use any slides, you just have to go off the cuff. At that point, you and I have to be very careful, because you and I have to consciously divorce ourselves from judging skill, at that moment, because what we're about to see is probably going to be messy, okay? But we're not looking at skill anymore. We're going to look at how that person reacts, how that person responds. Are they adaptable? Are they funny? Do they make light of it? Do they kind of go through it and do they do the best they can? Are they positive or do they kick the dirt, do they grumble and complain, and it's just a mess because they're crappy about it, right? You and I just shifted the venue. We now started looking at attributes, we stopped looking at skills, we start looking at attributes. So, some ways, you can start thinking about this stuff and looking at people from a different optic, you just have to think peripherally.
Willy Walker: Really, it’s fascinating and super insightful and makes me think as it relates to when we're doing hiring how we can do things differently. You point out in your book, Rich, the Navy BUD/S training, the SEAL BUD/S training is not really a training. It's a six-week assessment and selection process and there are few organizations in the world other than potentially the US military and The US Olympic teams, when people will go to a camp and try out for a team where you can get people to take six weeks, run them through a massive battery of tests and put them in, you sleep with them, you eat with them, you tell them to go carry a boat over their head, as you said, and to really assess, not the skills, but who they are as people. And the question I have for you is, since I can't do that at Walker & Dunlop and everybody else who's listening here runs other organizations or as part of other organizations who have to do hiring and wants to sort of get down to these core attributes, what would you advise corporate corporations that you've worked with as it relates to how to sort of figure out what attributes people have beyond just the skills that are on their resume?
Rich Diviney: It's certainly a process and we can't, you can't do the same thing you do with the SEALs anyway, because you know, throwing a bunch of prospective accountants into the surf zone in San Diego is not going to tell you much about if they have the attributes of the great.
Willy Walker: They may not survive either.
Rich Diviney: It might be slightly illegal. First step any team or organization needs to do is figure out what that attribute list looks like because the list of attributes required to be a great Navy SEAL is going to be different than the list of attributes required to be a great salesperson or great real estate person or whatever, whatever the genre is. So that's step number one, what are the attributes that we're actually looking for? Once you have that list it's about actually designing activities and environments inside of which you can tease that out. Now it doesn't have to be as Machiavellian as SEAL training, but it does require some uncertainty, some level of seeing this person in different contexts other than just sitting across from you at an interview table. I mean you could sit across from someone in an interview, you could ask some out of the blue questions, right, that the person could never have rehearsed and would really never be able to know until you ask those questions and see how that person responds. But again, if you ask those types of questions you have to start looking at okay, I’m not necessarily looking at the answers themselves, the words, I’m looking at how this person behaves. If I ask an out of the blue question like, I don't know, you know gosh, what spirit animal are you? I’m just pulling this out of my head, that's a question that will probably stump a lot of people in an interview.
Willy Walker: Right, me included.
Rich Diviney: And so, see how that person responds. Is it kind of a shutdown or is it a yeah let me think about this, is it I’m gonna joke around, is it I’m going to really kind of attack this, I’m going to be creative, I’m going to be adaptable. You know there's ways you can throw some of that stuff into an interview process but I’m really a proponent of some more protracted hiring processes. Now of course you can't do a six-month course of SEALs right, but a protracted hiring process that allows organizations to see this person in a myriad of different environments. It might be an interview, might be a dinner, might be a day in the office, whatever those environments are so that persons being thrown into different environment’s, different experiences. And inside those different environments and experiences, you can throw a couple curveballs just to see how that person responds but you have to understand the list of attributes you are looking for because again, you can think you want a bunch of the grid attributes, but grid attributes might not be as applicable as maybe the mental acuity attributes, or the team ability attributes right. So you have to be clear on that list and then go about thinking through some processes, and it can be fun if you kind of think through that way.
Willy Walker: It's really interesting what you just said made me realize something from many, many moons ago. When I was at Business School and interviewing with consulting firms and I went in for a case study interview at Bain and the Bain partner puts a case study up on the whiteboard and is trying to walk me through it and I’m just running into wall, after wall, after wall and at the end of it there's this whiteboard filled with all this and I just couldn't get to the answer, and he sits there with the pen and connects one dot to the next dot, to the next dot and the whole thing comes together and I just failed it as badly as I’ve ever failed anything and I went back to my dorm room and my roommate was like how'd it go and I said oh, there is not a chance on the face of the earth that they give me an offer because I failed that case study so badly. And sure enough, they called me and gave me an offer and I’m assuming that the reason was that they liked my processing, even though I failed the test and you know I always thought it was only if I crack the case that they say oh you're smart enough to be here and clearly that partner was just sitting there saying I’m following his processing, he didn't get the right answer, but I like the way that he got to where he got.
Rich Diviney: Yeah, you can do the same thing in an interview process where you put a group of prospective hires in a team together and say okay solve this problem. And internally you're saying it has nothing to do with the problem we're giving this group, it has everything to do with how these people interact with each other. Now you're watching interactions, it doesn't matter if they get to the right answer, you're seeing how person A reacts with C, how C interacts with B. You see how they interact, now you're testing attributes like team ability attributes, say look at how that person is listening to everybody, is accepting, is not being arrogant, is not over talking people, is not trying to impress. So there's ways you can do this, I usually walk organizations through this process because it's very subjective, every business and team and organization has its own list of attributes and has its own contextual environments inside of which you can see this stuff. So, it's a highly introspective process for businesses and teams. But it's a highly introspective process for an individual also to figure out okay, where do I sit on the attributes so that's the beauty of it.
Willy Walker: When you decided to look at the attributes of Navy SEALs, it was after a Navy SEAL who was an eight-year veteran of the SEALs who had an impeccable background and was trying to get into an elite group that you were putting together and he just didn't make it and you said, you know, I got to have more than you're just not good enough and you started to focus on the attributes, so that you can sit there and say okay, this is the list of attributes I'm looking for. You came up with 36 of them, Rich, I'm assuming that the list was 60 that you winnowed down to the 36. How did you go about asking your team to sort of say, okay let’s put creativity on the list, or tenacity on the list, put self-motivation on the list and then sit there and leave some, take others off as you, because your definition of a SEAL, I'm assuming, is distinct from the definition of the SEAL of another SEAL Commander, or do you think that if you sat there and had you and one of your partners go into a room that you'd come up with between 30 and 40 of the same attributes?
Rich Diviney: Yeah, the ladder. It's actually more similar than we think. And so again, it was fun because we're just throwing things against the wall and it was completely new, so I remember saying okay, well I’m just going to put together committees of guys, you know groups of six or seven folks around the command and say hey, I want to ask this question, just take like 10 minutes and just brainstorm and give me a list. And what I did is, I didn't interrupt or even bias that process by even talking about skills and attributes. I basically let them create the list, knowing that the list that they submitted to us would have both skills and attributes on it. And then, when those lists, I think we had about 100, to be honest with you. We basically culled out the skills, you know because again, great shot, is not an attribute that's a skill right or great runner, that's also a skill. Culled out the skills and then had this set of you’re probably right, about 60 attributes, a lot of them are somewhat synonymous, so you could take away, you could actually combine some. And then you say, okay what about these makes sense, and surprisingly in the same genre and that SEALs genre and that specific command, we were actually pretty congruent in terms of the attributes we're looking for when we got back-to-back down those elemental ones. And so, we got down to 36 admittedly when I pulled the list out, I dusted it off when I was getting ready to write the book and use it as a baseline, some of those 36 were still skills, but again, we were all new at it. But it was a pretty impressive thing to watch, is that people in specific genres of performance actually know what it takes to be talented.
I always say talent is actually not just skills, talent is in fact, it's a dynamic dance between attributes and skills. We know this, because even athletics which is very highly skills focused, you know, the best athletes are those athletes that have skills, but they also have the attributes to back them up, those things dance together. So, I think every genre has the ability to kind of understand this and if they do the work and they do the introspection, can figure out what that list looks like and call it down to those basics and then say okay, recognize that sometimes there's polarities there. I mean, I talked about some of these polarities in the book, I mean patience and impatience are both very powerful attributes, you know. So on teams, a lot of times you want a couple impatient people, and you want a couple patient to people. I say this about my wife and I, which is, I say high performing team is just any group of one or two or more people working together towards a common goal, or objective right. So a high performing team is the same. A marriage can be a high performing team, a group of friends, a business team right. My wife and I have been married for 20 years and she is inherently impatient and I’m inherently patient and that's worked beautifully in the last 20 years at raising kids, having teenagers because when patience are required, I step up and take lead when impatience is required, she steps up and takes the lead right, so sometimes the polarities actually make sense. I say the same thing about the competitive person versus the noncompetitive person. Both extremely powerful polarities that if you have both your team achievements maximize so you do that together. And I think you're going to find a lot more than you think you know, you just have to put in the work.
Willy Walker: I love the concept of the Diviney family; your minivan driving down the road with your son and you going exactly the speed limit because your wife wants to go really fast, you want to go slow and the two of you together right at the actual speed limit.
Rich Diviney: She would disagree with that, it actually flips during driving by the way. I’m more impatient on the road than she is.
Willy Walker: So Rich, in the time we have left, which is getting short, and I could keep talking to you for a couple hours, you are a leader amongst leaders, and you write a lot about leadership. What is it about Rich Diviney that makes you a leader amongst leaders?
Rich Diviney: Wow great question, it's about those who've designated me so. Leadership and being in charge and being a leader are not the same thing. They get conflated, one is a noun, and one is a verb. Leadership is a behavior. And, I also say this has been my experience. You don't get to self-designate, you don't get to call yourself a leader, that's like calling yourself good looking or funny. Other people make that decision, other people decide whether or not they want to follow you, because we know this, we've had people who are in charge of us, and we've said that person is just in charge. I would not follow that person anywhere. Whereas the person over by the water cooler who has no higher co-position whatsoever, I would follow that person every day of the week and twice on Sunday. It's because that person behaves like a leader. So, it's a decision made by others, whether or not they designate you as a leader and it's based on how you behave towards those people. And so, I'm not sure if I was a leader amongst leader, I’d have to ask my peers again. Some of my peers have said people I’ve been in charge of back in the day in the Navy, a lot of them have come to me and said, “hey I loved serving with you, I loved you as my leader” and those are the people who I know chose me as a leader. Other people I know, you know, just saw me as the guy in charge. I happen to be in charge at the moment right, and they probably likely saw it that way because I didn't behave towards them the way leadership, you know, in a way that allowed them to decide that I was leader. So leadership is a behavior, it's a choice by us. If we want to be, we can be in charge, and in the military it's really easy just you play the game right, you'll get promoted, you'll have the rank, and you can wear it on your collar. And that's being in charge and that's pretty easy. If you want to be a leader, you have to behave like one and the only way you'll know is if you've turned around and they're actually people following you because they've made the decision to.
Willy Walker: So, it's very clear that you are an authentic leader by that response to my question. And in part of being an authentic leader, one of the things you write about is making sure that you have empathy and then also congruity of thought. Talk for a moment about empathy, particularly at this time. I think about empathy right now Rich, in the sense of back to the office. That every CEO that I talk to says, I want my whole team back in tomorrow and that's because, quite honestly, a lot of them don't have other pressures on their lives, they want everyone back in, to kind of keep the company going and they're not sort of thinking about the other people. And you talk a lot about empathy and about how to get in that empathetic mindset of really understanding what's going on in someone else's mind to have our life to have empathy for them. And then the other one is congruity of thought and being consistent in the way that you think and lead.
Rich Diviney: So, empathy is really important, I mean it's different than sympathy. Sympathy is, I know how you feel. Empathy is, I feel how you feel and that's a huge difference. Feeling how someone feels is not as difficult as some people think, because we're actually as human beings wired to be empathetic and if you don't believe me, you can go to any nursery in a hospital ward and watch as one baby starts crying, all the others end up starting to cry too. They don't know why, it's just we were wired to have these mirror neurons. In fact, we have these mirror neurons that allow us to be empathetic. So we can do this, some of us it’s a little bit harder because we're more what Andrew Hubert would say, we have more top-down control, in other words our conscious mind is we're able to control a little bit more of our limbic mind, which is our emotional mind through our conscious mind, we have more top-down control, other people they're not that way. I have always had to work on my empathy. My wife is extraordinary empathetic and so I've learned from her and helped myself develop empathy.
Empathy at the end of the day is, can you feel what another person feels. The way into that if you have trouble, is a curiosity. Is a curiosity enough to say okay, what are those things about this person and their experience that I don't know and how can I maybe project myself into it and how would I feel? Here's a good example, it might be a little extreme but it's the one I know. We were in Iraq with a bunch of us team guys in Iraq and we watched sometimes as these you know, 16 year old kids would try to shoot a rocket propelled grenade at a US Convoy or whatever and inevitably they get taken care of by the convoy because you can't have that happen and we'd sit there and watch this happen and we say to ourselves hmm you know let's just imagine for a second, you know, we were that 16 year old kid, okay, we're in a country, it's war torn, there's no release, you're 16 years old, there's no school, there’s no release. Your dad's probably dead, which means you're the sole provider for your family and there's nothing, you can't go like drag racing with your friends, you can't go having a couple beers, you can't go on dates with, you don't have girlfriends, there's nothing, there's no release whatsoever. And some dude comes to your door one day and says hey we'll give you 100 dinar to you and your family if you go shoot this rocket at this convoy. Every single one of us to a man said we would be the same, we would do it in a second right, we would be that kid. That’s what being empathetic, that's what feeling what that person feels. Now, it didn't allow us to change necessarily, unfortunately we couldn't let that person shoot. But it allows us to see that person differently, see him as a human being versus, you know, some enemy somewhere. And I think on a much less extreme scale, you know, as leaders, or as people in charge, and most of us have gone through a lot of the wickets as we’ve worked our way up. We've gone through a lot of the wickets that our employees and our people have experienced. It's not as hard for us, we can actually think back, how did I feel back then, how would I feel in this situation. I try to do this with my teenagers. Whenever I’m thinking about doing this with my teenager, I say wait, what was I thinking when I was that age? I’m trying to be empathetic because I've been there, I think that's a huge part of leadership. If you do that, you will immediately show people you care and then real quick, consistency. I mean congruity of thought is ultimately consistency of action. Consistency is one of the foundational elements of building trust. I know that, and I trust that you will do the same thing every time. I mean, I trust that, and we know this because, listen, we have consistency in our environmental norms right, there's a consistency in the way we operate in the US that allows us to trust. That's why we can walk across crosswalks in the middle of the street and know that people will stop at traffic lights. There's consistency in that action, that behavior builds trust right, so consistency is a foundational element of trust and congruity of thought and action leads to consistency, which helps build trust.
Willy Walker: I love the anecdote that you give in your book about a commanding officer that you had, from day one was sort of this crotchety guy and you said whoa, he's really, he's not that much fun to work for and you kind of sat there and said does he have it in for me personally and then as you watched him for the entire time he was very consistent throughout it with both you and everybody else. And you pose the question of, what do you want a commander who's very volatile one day happy, one day sad, one day happy, one day sad or a commander who's sitting there crotchety and looking for just self-reflection and being praised by everyone that he's a hard ass or someone who is consistent with everybody and gives everyone the same kind of a hard time? You know 10 out of 10 people would say I’ll take that third. Yes, I know what I'm going to get, and I can trust that leadership style.
Rich Diviney: And you can adjust, because you can predict, you can adjust to that leadership style. And that particular commander, he was always grumpy, he's always asking the tough questions and I in fact loved working for him because he always pushed me and I could trust that he was grumpy so much so, that I talk about the book, there was a few years later I show up overseas and he's like the OPSO for a task force and I’m going to be working for him, I didn't know until I showed up. He greets me with the same grumpy old handshake and says hey I'm glad you're here, I got a ton of work that was supposed to be done yesterday, so get on it. And I actually felt good, I felt happy, I was like okay cool, I got this and because it's predictable, it's comfortable. Predictability and consistency are something we know we need, authenticity speaks to that consistency, which this guy was authentic, and it helps build trust.
Willy Walker: Rich, it has been a real pleasure. Your book, The Attributes, is a fantastic read. Anyone who has listened to this and wants to go pick up a copy of it, please do it. If you want to find Rich, you can find him very easily through his website and through all the media around the book. And I just am greatly appreciative you spending an hour with me today, your insights are fantastic and, quite honestly, as I read your book, I sat there and thought about 20 different things we could do a Walker & Dunlop with all of your insights so, thank you for your time today and I look forward to seeing you in person sometime soon.
Rich Diviney: Thank you Willy, it has been a pleasure to be here, and thanks for having me, thanks for the support.
Willy Walker: Well it's awesome and thank you for your service.
Thanks everyone for joining us, we'll see you again next Wednesday for another Walker webcasts, have a great one.