Leadership Lessons from Lone Survivor and SEAL Team 10


I am deeply humbled and grateful for Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus Luttrell and Navy SEAL team 10. I was riveted to the movie, Lone Survivor. I had read Marcus Luttrell’s book five years ago and was waiting for the movie to come out. It is intense, inspiring and raw.

lone survivor movieI have compiled several leadership lessons from Lone Survivor (the book and the movie):

Look for mentors early in life.  Marcus became a Navy SEAL in part because of Billy Shelton.  Billy was a former Green Beret sergeant who lived near Marcus in East Texas. Marcus sought him out after he heard that Billy mentored young kids to show them what is would take to become a Navy SEAL, Ranger or Green Beret. No matter what age you are, find a mentor or mentors. There are people out there who are willing to help you. Who can you ask to mentor you to help reach your goals this year?

Pay attention to details.  Billy Shelton told his young boys that if someone just mentions an idea i passing, i.e., “it might be good if”, then do it! Pick up on the idea, listen for details. People who truly listen and are observant pick up on clues and details that set them apart from others.

Pay the price physically.  Billy communicated that his boys would be the best trained and physically prepared. When fatigue sets in, his boys would be prepared because they had put in years of grueling training and physical preparation.

Have a high level of integrity and character. [Who you are] is built right here in the first phase. And you don’t want people to think you’re a guy who does just enough to scrape through. You want people to understand you always try to excel, to be better, to be completely reliable, always giving it your best shot. That’s the way we do business here.”  P. 123 “Anything worth doing is worth over-doing.  Moderation is for cowards.” (Lone Survivor movie)

Be self-aware.  “The real battle is won in the mind. It’s won by guys who understand their areas of weakness, who sit and think about it, plotting and planning to improve. Attending to the detail. Work on their weaknesses and overcome them. Because they can.” P. 123

Teamwork is essential.  The Navy SEAL training is so strict on the concept of team.  You never separate more than one arm length from your “swim buddy”- not even to go to the bathroom! If you did in the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course, you automatically failed and were thrown out!

Keep cause and community central. The team had a clear mission. They were committed to taking out Ahmad Shah, the second in command in the ruthless Taliban army. They were also committed to one another, in spite of the pain.  Danny Dietz was shot four times and kept on defending his team of four against 200 Taliban fighters.  Matthew “Axe” Axelson had half of his face shot off and continued to fire at the enemy. Marcus had been shot in the leg, had a broken back and numerous shrapnel wounds. He continued to fight, encourage and attend to his team’s medical needs in the midst of the ambush.

Serve and sacrifice. The leader of the SEAL team was Lieutenant Michael Murphy. “Murph” laid down his life for his friends when he moved away from his secure canyon wall and into the open fire in order to get reception on his SAT phone.  What meant probable death for him was to be the salvation for his teammates and accomplishment of the mission.

When communication fails, the mission becomes compromised. Because of the rugged mountain terrain and canyon walls, communication with the base for back up and resources was limited.

Honor those who serve in the mission. Three of the four team members were killed. Marcus Luttrell was the Lone Survivor. The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President George W. Bush personally awarded Marcus with the Navy Cross.  Bush also gave Marcus his phone number and said to call if ever needed anything. Murph was awarded posthumously the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest decoration. Danny Dietz and Axe were also posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest citation for valor.

Never give up. Marcus says, “I will never quit. My nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect against the enemy and to accomplish the mission. I am never out of the fight.”

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About Steve Morgan

I work in Global Leadership Development with Cru with my wife, Terry. We have been married 30 years and have 4 grown children. We have a Masters in Global Leadership together through Azusa Pacific University. I generally write about 5 “L’s: Living Well, Loving Deeply, Learning Continuously, Leading Courageously and Leaving a Legacy. I occasionally write about Laughing Loudly. Subscribe on the right side to receive an email whenever there is a new post. I invite you to leave your comments so we can dialogue on the various topics and learn from each other. If you are new to the site, you might start with looking at some of the top posts or doing a search on the right side bar for one of the 5 “L’s” that interest you. Or you can view the blog archives for topics. Photo Credit: sarahjoellephotography.com
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11 Responses to Leadership Lessons from Lone Survivor and SEAL Team 10

  1. LAMarcom says:

    Great site.
    I will return and peruse in greater depth.

    • Steve Morgan says:

      Thanks Lance for visiting the blog. Thank you for your service and sacrifice for our country and freedom. I enjoyed reading your post about SEAL trainings. “Special” forces. Haha. That was pretty good. Keep writing!

      • LAMarcom says:

        Thank you Steve for the kind words. and thank you for recognizing my service. We have all come a long way since Vietnam. We, as Americans are finally showing proper respect for our service members. My time in the Navy was brief (five years), but I learned a lot, and I have never felt better about life. I did not make it at BUD/s, but I did show up. There are no bad memories there for me. US Navy is the best! (But then, I may be somewhat prejudice regarding that)
        Thanks again,
        And thank you for visiting my blog.
        –Lance

      • Steve Morgan says:

        Service to our country ought to be recognized. I think Vietnam vets especially got the short end of the deal. We gotta figure out this PTSD thing now which is real. More soldiers come home and commit suicide than are actually killed in combat. (at least from Afgan and Iraq, according to stats I’ve seen). Wow, you were at BUD/s for awhile. Intense! Much more than what I read in the book at night in my warm bed. I just got Luttrells new book called Service: A Navy SEAL at War. Have you seen it?

  2. LAMarcom says:

    Haven’t seen the book, but I will take a look.
    I was in BUD/s classes 140 and 158. Fun times! Hahaha

  3. Pingback: Ethnic Diversity and Leadership | Leader Impact

  4. D Senekal says:

    Basic SIGN LANGUAGE could have ensured an alternative outcome.
    “You talktalktalk. I shoot him”
    Then take one as tempory “hostage”.

  5. Pingback: Overcome your weaknesses.. | Grandverse

  6. Pingback: #MedalofHonorDay | Leader Impact

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