Leadership expert and best-selling author David Silverman has paved the way in transforming groups into high-performing, agile, and adaptive teams that drive success. David continues to bring out the best in people as CEO and Founder of CrossLead. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David served in the US Navy as a SEAL Officer for 12 years. Building off of his collective leadership experiences, David created CrossLead as a holistic performance management solution for today’s environment. CrossLead is designed to empower leaders, teams, and organizations to scale the adaptability of elite small teams to the entire enterprise.
“When you're dealing with uncertainty, the main thing you're trying to drive and change as the leader, is you're trying to increase the rate of learning.”
David previously co-founded the McChrystal Group and led the company as CEO from 2011 through 2015. During his time at McChrystal Group, David laid out the framework for CrossLead as a co-author in the New York Times bestseller Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.
Patrick Gallagher: I'd like to introduce you all to David Silverman. David's focus is about bringing out the best in people and transforming groups into high-performing, agile, and adaptive teams that drive success.
He's a leadership expert and a best selling author. He's a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He served in the U.S. Navy as an officer for 12 years. Welcome, Dave. Thank you so much for joining us
Dave Silverman: yeah. Great. Good to be here.
Patrick Gallagher: Jerry, take it away.
Jerry Li: so the first question I have for Dave is, apparently we are going through a lot of uncertainties these days in life and work. There are a lot of factors that we're not able to control.
So can you tell us... A story of you leading through uncertainty, probably a more intense version on the battlefield and how do you deal with that?
Dave Silverman: Sure. Thanks Jerry and Patrick for having me here. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and your... and your audience.
Let me take you back to 2005, 2006 Iraq. I was part of a team that was working with the Iraqi counter-terrorism force. Our goal was to train, equip, and then help them prosecute objectives throughout the nation. You know, in this case, we're trying to suppress terrorist activities and insurgency of movements that were trying to undermine the government.
And we had settled on a... On an objective South of Baghdad that we knew we wanted to go after. Now, part of the challenge. When you're working with partners in this case is you're always worried about operational security and, and information control. And in this case, we would involve them in the planning, but oftentimes wouldn't tell, tell the actual team where exactly we were going and when we were going.
So that way there was no way for that information to potentially leak out and thereby compromise us coming into the mission. Well, we had picked up intelligence that the objective that we were planning on hitting had... had had information that tipped them off that we were coming, and so obviously we had delayed the mission a day and said, all right, we're going to pick a different time and space to kind of, to try and prosecute this objective.
And now it's... We're in the final, so we're, we're getting ready, we're lowering the helicopters and we take off. And on the way in, I'm on a headset listening to... to Assets that are also involved in this objective. So in this case, we had forward looking airplanes and unmanned aircraft that were, had eyes on the objective kind of watching it.
And then we had other people in the intelligence community that were sort of monitoring communications and comms. And about... We're on final approach. I hear that... That we've been, that we, they believe we've been compromised again, based on the chatter they're hearing and we were starting to get word that they were massing in different fighting... Would look like to be like fighting positions.
And so at this point you've got a tremendous amount of uncertainty of what it's going to be like when that helicopter ramp drops and you have to start charging at this objective and take it down and whether to abort the mission or not.
So you're basically limited... You're left with as a leader a series of basically bad options.
Okay. You, you, you have uncompleted information. You don't know exactly what's going on. You know, there's some time sensitivity and at this point you've got a whole bunch of people... I think we had over a hundred people on this helicopter assault that, you know, that were in this place on final inbound.
And you're forced to make a decision.
In our case, we decided to continue on the operation. Lucky for us, you know, we were able to overwhelm the objective without taking any casualties. And for the most part, it, it went off more or less as planned. But coming into this situation, we had little, very little visibility of that.
So I just remember sitting there saying, I'm about to put a lot, a bunch of young people's lives at risk. Based on the decision that I make, and I got an incomplete set of facts in order to make that decision...
And so the one thing that you could sort of go back on is you do have confidence and conviction in the capabilities of you and your teammates that you've developed over the, you know, over the years of months.
And so I... My assumption was, regardless of what the enemy thinks is going to happen once the actual fight is, has begun... Likely it will be dynamic and changing fast. And I had a lot of conviction that we would be able to adapt faster than our adversary in the moment and have decisive effects. And ultimately that's what happened.
Jerry Li: Well, thanks Dave. That's a fascinating story. So I want to share with the audience, the way we're going to unpack the conversation We divided into two parts.
First, we're going to focus on a few mental frameworks that that can be useful to us and helped Dave on the battlefield and also in the business world. And then we'll try to cover a few real examples and to give you a better sense of it.
Hey, Dave. I know right now everyone's sort of going through a lot of personal disruption given COVID and as a Navy SEAL, this is something that are probably a very common experience. Can you talk a bit more about how do you approach those physical and mental pains? How do you process that?
Dave Silverman: Yeah, it's a great question. And to everybody out there, you know, if you think about it the three sort of pillars that sort of underpinned basic physical and mental security have all been disrupted in the last couple of months, right?
So if you think about basic health, your family life and your work life is, you know, three sort of foundational elements that most professionals use to sort of figured out you know, their stability. They've all been disrupted, right? You know, work. We're, we're having to work from home. In some cases, a lot of people have lost their jobs and their livelihood and have a lot of... Not a lot of clarity on what it's gonna look like in the future.
You know, your, your family if you have anybody that's sick or. Or, or is a high risk. Obviously you've got a lot of anxiety. There's, there's rules around what you can and can't see and how you would support maybe extended family members.
Or, you know, if you, you know, you're, you're married with kids, you're finding yourself quarantined. You know, in a house. It could be a small apartment with four people that you love very dearly. But, you know, over time, spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week for eight... eight straight weeks is... Can be a little overwhelming, especially if you have any type of introverted personality you know.
And then last is health. I mean, it's scary. I mean, there's, there's more unknown than known about, you know, this virus, how can it can impact you? And so it's, you know, obviously I think that's starting to get a little better now, but these three things have been disrupted, so it's very easy to get in a state of sort of like, shock. bordering on depression.
And then sort of, so a lot of the clients that we've talked to and work with, if you know, the leaders, they're trying to figure out, "well, how do I get people out of their malaise? How do I get them back on their back, on their feet again? And sort of being proactive about, you know, just attacking their day on a daily basis? Like, how are they going to get up every day and attack their day with the certain strength, conviction and manner to restore back to productivity.
And you know, in SEAL training the, the one common denominator with everybody that makes it makes it through isn't how physically fit you are. You know? It certainly isn't your, your socioeconomic background cause none of that matters once you're, once you're in the training.
I think the one thing that you have to be able to do is to compartmentalize physical, mental pain. And what they're gonna do is they're gonna physically take you to a place of pure exhaustion regardless of how gifted you are. And they're going to mentally make you have a conversation every day to determine whether you still want to be there or not.
And they're going to make you revisit that conversation over and over and over again until they know with conviction that you have the mental fortitude to be a part of, of this brotherhood. And so what you become really good at is compartmentalizing the physical and mental pain.
You, you, you start thinking in, in terms of, of, of minutes and hours instead of days and months.
If you stepped back, said, I've got seven more months of this. I think again, you start to get a little overwhelmed. Like, "Oh my God, I don't, I don't know how I'm going to sustain this for seven straight months"
Because, but if you actually think about as far as, "I just got to get to lunch... And then I just got to get to dinner... And then I just got to get the breakfast..."
All of a sudden it starts to become very achievable. If you look at any one evolution that you do throughout the training, it's actually not that hard, right? When you add it up for seven months straight... It's, it feels a lot more intimidating.
But if you focus just on the immediate task at hand. And you start to go back to your base fundamentals of how you kind of get through it and you shove out the rest of it... All of a sudden you start to get you know, some clarity.
So I think to me, understanding how you compartmentalize... What's probably coming at you is all these different factors... How you basically put those into. For boxes and focus on the box that's most important to you right now. Once you get that done, prioritize it as a set of boxes and then focus on that next.
That's an incredible, important and valuable skill you have.
I think moms and dads that are actively managing kids do this on a regular basis, right? Because think... The kids, especially when you're home for this long, they can, it can be a bit chaotic. So you've gotta be able to toggle between things.
But you know, the whole idea of multitasking is really a myth. You know, you really have to figure out how you can kind of focus directly on the thing. In order to do that, I think you've gotta be able to not get distracted with, with, with the other pains or miseries that might be coming at you.
So it's a common skill set that they drill into you in the teams. And what's interesting is when you get down... Downstream into combat or other stressful conditions, you notice very quickly who gets overwhelmed by the situation, who's able to keep their wits.
And a lot of it's because they're sort of conditioned to saying, "all right, I can, I can figure out the stuff that's actually mission critical right now and focus on that and the rest of the stuff I'll attack when I need to at a later basis."
Jerry Li: How do you practice that? I know it makes total sense, but sometimes I want to try to compartmentalize the pain. We still get distracted because the, the, the potential stress and the other things that are coming to our mind all the time.
So what kind of techniques do you use to sort of help people to practice that skill and apply it smoothly day in and day out.
Dave Silverman: Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, so the one way you can look at it is from a solution set. Like "I've got to solve a specific problem, then move to the next one."
And obviously that's helped, but, but really, really what we focused on a lot, both in the military and now with clients, is how do you establish capability? How do you establish almost like a lifestyle culture change. That enables you to consistently be able to deal with, with, with rapidly changing situations.
So like with the teams... It was all around your ability to shoot, move and communicate. So you obviously had to be physically fit and sound, so you weren't, you know, your, your, your physical conditioning was in a place where that wasn't a significant factor in stressful conditions, or at least if it was you were going to have an advantage over, over your adversary.
And you had to be able to know that your comms and your contingencies were going to work. So you had to have plans that you would drill them multiple times. So that way the cognitive load and stress has been reduced and you're able to basically process at or faster than, you know, in this case, the competition or the adversary.
So when I think about lifestyle, I think about. You know, almost like personal habits in discipline on a, on a, on a regular basis. So, you know, we, when we went into COVID I knew this was going to be disruptive to my family. We... The first thing we did is we sat down and... My wife and I made a, we call it a "battle rhythm" an "operating rhythm" for our family.
We said, "all right, we're going to figure it out Monday through Sunday. What are the main things we need to get accomplished every day?"
And then we broke them down to like small segments. Now, to be honest, we're probably pretty far from the original plan from what we set out to do. But the fact that we went through the process of saying, "we know this is going to be hard, let's break it into, in our case, you know. Anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes segments and, and space those over the course of seven days, we can start to start to get at it." Right?
Admiral McRaven and wrote a book who we use... You know, he was a guy that I had served under in the past. He was the... He gave a speech to the University of Texas called "make your bed"... And he wrote a book about it.
And he talks about like, look, if you get up every morning and you, and you just make your bed. Right? You have accomplished that small task and feel good about it. And then from there you can kind of build on that. And I really think that's the same thing. You got to compartmentalize your days into small sprints. And each sprint you basically attack. Then you stop, you pause, reflect, and then you figure it out what you're going to do next and you move on again.
And if you're doing that on a disciplined basis, I think you'll be surprised how quickly you kind of find yourself getting back to being normal. You're able to adjust. As conditions change to, to, to, you know, what sort of the different stresses coming at you. And pretty soon you'll find that your productivity starts to pick back up again.
How to restore and improve your productivity
Jerry Li: And speaking of productivity, I know that's a lot of people, engineering leaders right now... They sort of worry about their, not only their personal productivity, but also their... The productivity of their organization and their team.
So what kind of skills do you have that can help people to focus on, to restore and improve productivity right now.
Dave Silverman: Yeah, it's a great question. I, you know, I was, we have some financial service clients and you know, if you're trying to understand how the market's moving right now, and it's hard. Because there's, there's no model for shutting down the global economy for eight months and then trying to figure out how to phase restart it. It's, it's never been done... Certainly not in the modern era.
So, you know, there is no like, predictive model you could do. So you've got to, you've got to put yourself in a position where you're able to test and learn rapidly vice trying to prescribe to some specific outcome.
So the same thing I talked about from a capability standpoint, you think about personally, you got to figure out how to do that for your team.
Now, the good news, especially for the software community and the engineering community, is you're probably already classically trained in agile methodologies and practices, which I think lend itself very, very nicely to this type of environment where there's a lot more unknown than known. And you're going to have to make some assumptions.
You'll... You'll focus the team on it for a period of time and then you'll stop. So the first thing I suggested to most of these teams is...
Look at your cadence and see if the frequency by which you're, you're reprioritizing is appropriate given how fast the environment's changing.
And if it's not, you might consider. You know, upping your cadence.
So what maybe, you know, in our case, you know, we do a weekly you know sort of scrum of scrums or "Keystone Forum", we call it. Maybe we need to do that biweekly, you know, for for now because stuff's coming at us that fast, we need to make adjustments. Or maybe we need to take our daily standup and merge it in with the "Keystone Forum" and almost do a daily, maybe make it 20 minutes to five minutes. And, you know, and, and, and almost that becomes the effectively our, our sprint review and our script planning and make it day cycles.
That may work or may not work. It all depends on, on the environment you're in. But I would take a hard look to make sure, first, your, your cadence matches the environment.
And then... And then the second thing that I would focus on is from a, from a capability standpoint, is just trying to increase the overall reps.
So when you're unknown, you're making assumptions. What one person ended up doing, which I thought was interesting, was he said, "all right, I'm going to try to basically build their instincts and pattern recognition to be faster than before. So every day I'm going to come up with an objective challenge in this case, predicting a couple of names and how it's going to respond in the stock market that day.
Not that we're going to actually put on a trade or not, but just because I want them to work the muscle of actually going through a plan with some assumptions, see what's working or not. And the idea is more reps. We'll actually start to get them to faster, better pattern recognition on how do they create normalcy out of this situation. Then once you move out of this chaotic phase and back into a complex phase, then you can, you can kind of fall back into your more traditional test and learn time continuums."
Right? So those are the two things I've heard recently that I've seen done that have actually produced some pretty significant results. And the differentiation between the, say that team and some, the other teams is different from being down 20 or 30% on the year, vice being flat to up. So pretty, pretty remarkable difference.
Jerry Li: Great.
You mentioned the daily standup the "Keystone Forums" so I remember that you mentioned that story in a, in the book as well. There, there are close to three thousand people that are joined on the daily stand up. And but it... You're able to... the organization was able to manage it in a way that's very effective and that people can participate and exchange information. And that was a key differentiator that, you know... In the transition from a "command and control" to being an agile Navy SEALs...
Can you, can you tell like, how, how do I always find it interesting to know how that kind of... stand up of that size... How do you make that effective?
Dave Silverman: Right. A couple of things.
So first of all, when you're dealing with uncertainty, the main thing you're trying to drive and change as the leader is you're trying to increase the rate of learning. Across across the team members in the organization. Because, because so much is changing so fast, if you can't learn quickly, you're going to, you're going to get overwhelmed pretty quickly or you're going to become antiquated or go away.
So the whole idea was how do we increase the rate of learning on the key drivers of our product or of our business or of our service that we're trying to provide. So that it's, it's we're learning at or faster than the competition.
You're not going to go as fast as the market, cause that's just not possible.
But you... You want to be, you want to be at least as good or better than your, your, your adversary in this case. And if you could do that consistently, you're going to create outweighed results. So our... Individually, our teams were spread across hundreds of different forward operating bases, and they were then organized into geographic commanders.
And then those geographic commanders would go to sort of larger geography commanders. And so there was many layers. Every single unit, every day did some version of a standup right, where they would sync on the main things that that small team need to focus on because it was really the key interdependencies were sort of organic to that local team.
But what we found was... At scale we weren't learning across teams very effectively and there was a lot of overlapping opportunities to learn because the way our adversary was learning was they were leveraging social collaboration tools like YouTube that basically posts key results from last night's operations.
Other people would watch and witness that and they would incorporate that into their... Their mindset. Meanwhile, we're, we're still working through a, a very siloed bureaucratic process for information exchange. So we put a meeting in place that was called the "ops intelligence update" that happened every day for 90 minutes.
And then the key goal of it was across level, the key insights from the previous night before, and then update the entire task force on, you know... Trends or dynamics or changes that we were seeing in our network as well as in the network we're trying to prosecute. That would be of interest.
So for me, being a mid level leader in that, so relatively low in the totem pole, it was a chance to understand how other people were prosecuting their respective objectives. If there was key tactics or techniques that were, that came out from the night before, I could immediately go access those... Those sort of after action reviews or those postmortems and see if it was applicable to us. In a lot of cases, we could then follow up with side conversations to be directly. I also could see where there were sensitive resources or assets and how they were shifting around where you know, you know, you don't always have access to.
So the extent that I want to try to increase my own productivity, I could, having better fidelity around where... Where let's say the helicopters were or, or the collection platforms were and who had access to 'em. I could go work personal relationships with those different units and see if I couldn't borrow or piggyback on to try to unlock some in the, in this case, latent potential, you know, with my local unit.
So it became this critical mechanism for us to deconflict and learn. It wasn't really a decision making forum. What it really did was it helped provide incremental context to leaders so that they locally can make much faster, better decisions locally. So the, the added benefit from a leadership perspective was it created transparency.
So that transparency, you know... Had an accountability dual... In two parts. One, it was peer to peer accountability. Cause I can see if someone's not doing something, I can call them and ask for extra help or resources. And then from a leader, it was a chance to say, well, "Hey you know, why aren't you moving or doing, or being, what are your obstacles or roadblocks and how do I remove them?" Right?
So that, that, that sort of forced us as an organization to... To... Start to unlock our learning potential across a network. And then that allowed us to bring... In our case, decisive effects to bear.
So if you're at a company or you're in a business where you know, the sum of your parts is a competitive advantage, right?... But you know, you can't move fast enough. This helped us improve our speed and effectiveness, and then be able to leverage the, you know, the... Our key differentiators: size, scale, capabilities, technology, talent. And bring that to bear at the same speed as what our adversary was doing.
And that was for us, transformational. I mean, it really unlocked just tremendous potential and it became decisive.
Jerry Li: Yeah, I remember that one of the challenge to come to that open forum of being transparent. There is some concerns around sensitivity and sharing information. and of course a lot of information that you're going to share is very... On a bit of, is more sensitive.
So there's apparently a trade off being made. So can you walk us through that trade off making process?
Dave Silverman: Yeah I know, theres this old adage of like... How much information you should share or not share in large venues. I mean, obviously if you're in a bigger venue, you're probably less likely to say something that isn't well thought through or prepared as well as something that you might be to be overly sensitive. And that's 100% true.
The trade off is if you're trying to get a whole bunch of people moving quickly in a certain direction or get them intent or guidance, or give them context that they can leverage and use locally to beq faster, having to call them all individually in the, in the risk is, is incredibly inefficient.
Right? So, so we, we found that we had to TRUST in order to get the speed. We needed to be decisive. And our thesis was, "look, if we're compromised on the information flow, that's fine. It's probably gonna change tomorrow anyways. We'll take that and have a bias towards speed versus control."
And that became critically important to us.
And the other thing is like, look... If people don't handle the information you say in a professional means way, because there's so much transparency system that becomes very obvious very quickly. And then you could take very. You know, very surgical precision actions against said people, right? Whether it be removing them from the equation or rehabilitating them into to a more appropriate behavior.
But you know, the idea that like, you only need to know what you need to know. Well, how do you know who needs to know what? I mean? It was just unclear to us. And because the environment was so interconnected. Yeah. How did you know that the person working on research and development back in North Carolina doesn't have something that might be applicable to a problem set that I dealt with yesterday last night on the battlefield and the fact that I could connect to those people through this forum on a real time basis said, "all right, now I can potentially drive innovation solutions much, much, much faster. Cause I'm that much closer to the end user on, on, on, on what their, what they need and what they're using. And so I can. Yeah. Make a better product. I can implement it, you know, better code."
I mean, whatever it is. But like that's, that to me was the benefit. You have to map, you have to marry that with like meeting flow.
But what we found is when you put up some type of scrum of scrums or "Keystone Forum" in place where there's known interdependencies between the different components of, of, of, of different teams doing that, probably the same speed of cycles you're doing, your sprint reviews usually leads to much better outcomes in the long term. And it reduces a lot of meetings.
So in our case, we found about 20 to 30% reduction in net meetings by having this one thing that we did at DECA for that across the teams. And that's usually just within like, you know development or implementation teams.
If you think about this, outside of that, with like, you know, sales or marketing or, you know, research and development, other elements that, you know, could have say... Well, now all of a sudden you start to say, "well, what's the appropriate cadence for that for us to synchronize on what they're seeing and learning because it's relevant to how I might think about approaching, you know, a different problem set."
So we've found this to be critically important in an age where things are changing fast.
Jerry Li: Yep. That's very relevant to the, to the business world.
(we're going to take a quick break!)
These days a lot of people are really want to learn about the people that talk a lot about the peace time leadership and and wartime leadership. So based on your experience what do you see the difference is?
Dave Silverman: Yeah. You know there's a great book that Ben Horowitz wrote called "The Hard Thing About Hard Things."
If you haven't read it, I'd recommend it. Ben Horowitz from Andreessen Horowitz, you know, sort of a famed entrepreneur, serial entrepreneur, one of the top investors. He, he talks a lot about this dynamic. so I won't, I won't... You should probably go read that segment. But as I sort of extrapolate that into how I thought about the differences in styles that you observe on in combat or like very stressful conditions versus when things are stable or more peacetime or a high growth environment.
It's pretty, it's pretty different. And most of the books you read and the management philosophies you learn about... Were really designed for peacetime. It's like "how do you find and become your best self - by creating your awareness, improving your competencies and applying that you know, treat people as you want you to be treated ways" right?
And the assumption is: look, in these types of environments, this is how you unlock the most potential in an organization. So they tend to be, you know, things around collaboration and empathy and the rest of it.
And, in war the problem is things are coming at you so fast that you don't, you don't really have that luxury anymore. And so what's really important in wartime or environments that are highly stressful and changing quickly is there, there has to be some degree of decisiveness from a leader.
And then the idea is. You're trying to figure how to push that down to other leaders so that they can be decisive at their level as well. But oftentimes, if you think about chaos, you really almost need a novel practice to solve the problem. Where in complexity you need an emergent practice and in and in like complicated or simple problem sets you need, you just need the best practice. And in best practice you can implement all of these, these, these, these sort of mindsets of of collaboration.
And the other ones you really need to be able to test and learn quickly. And then ultimately somebody has to make a call and sort of drive the team forward. So, you know, I found that you know, what people look for in times of uncertainty is someone that has conviction. Right? Do you have conviction on where we need to go?
Because when, when you're taking artillery rounds on your position, you don't really care where you run. You just got to stop... You don't want... You just know that you don't want to be there. Right?
So if someone says, "go left"
and you're like, and everybody says, "all right, let's go left."
Well then, then that's going to be better off than staying where you're at and you don't really get a time to sit there and say, well, "I think we should go right. You know? Right might make more sense."
No, no. When you're taking fire. You just got to move. Right.
And so what we used to say in the SEALs is that we would do these things called immediate action drills where you're walking along and then you're compromised and they're coming at you and you gotta. You gotta basically immediately react. Kind of stabilize some defense and then you got to start moving.
And so they try to put a lot of pressure on the, on the senior NCOs and the junior officers to make quick decisions quickly under pressure. And you go back to that compartmentalization, like how do I figure out the thing that matters the most right now? Focus on that.
And then ultimately what we said was. "Look... a bad plan. Well executed beats every day. A great plan, poorly executed." Right?
So instead of taking the extra time to make a great plan, just start going. And once you get some movement, then you can actually adjust to where you need to be.
So if you make the first call, it's wrong. You say, alright, well let's figure out how to tango out of this thing and keep momentum.
But you want... You've got to create momentum. The analogy I would use because I come from the Navy, is, is like a ship. If you're dead in the water and you're, you're yanking on the rudder, you're not going to go anywhere cause you got, you got no, you've got no steerage coming across the bow or the rudder so you can't adjust.
So get moving even if you end up going in the wrong direction. Well now I can see it the wrong direction. I can adjust my rudder and move... Move the boat and get to where I need to go, but without any forward movement, you know, it's, it's sort of OB.
So the adage I use as a leader to think about this was really something they teach you in early days of any like boot camp for the Navy which is "Ship, Shipmate, Self" right?
So the first time premise is, when you're on a ship, if the ship's under fire taking on water, if the ship doesn't survive, you're all dead anyway. So you got to.... You got to save the ship. So everything first is about how do you keep the ship afloat? So that could be your business, that could be your team.
You got to... You got to do what you need to do to survive and, and, and potentially over win the mission, nothing else really matters. Right?
Then once you've got some of that stabilize, you can start to think about, the second thing you think about is your teammates, your shipmates, right? So if someone's hurt someone's stuck, if someone has a roadblock, obstacle, how do I remove that to help them be more productive? Because if everyone's doing that, we know it's going to have a compounding effect at the ship level, right? The organizational level to be effective.
And then the last thing you do is you worry about yourself. Right, which is comes down to the things we talked about the beginning of this discussion, which was how do you put personal discipline and rigor in your system so that you can show up and be your best possible self on a daily basis to help solve your problems.
But if you don't go in that order, especially during times of crisis, the likelihood of you being effective is going to be, is going to be pretty. Pretty poor. So in wartime, I think that adage is, is a set of guard rails that you can use pretty loosely to help inform your decision making process. And you know, where you, you obviously want to be inclusive. You know, really what people need during times of need is someone to make a decision and to move out. And then we can later retrospect and see wasn't a good decision, was a bad decision how to make it. But as long as you're following the adage, "I'm trying to save the ship. I'm trying to help out my teammates and myself last."
People will forgive you for the mistakes you make. And that's, that's my experience. Because they believe you operate with genuine intent and trying to was best in a... In a decision making hierarchy that has you at the last. And that's that, that's what's most important.
Jerry Li: Do you have an example where you were helping a business to adopt that kind of mentality?
Dave Silverman: you know, we've got clients in the energy space, and if you're in energy, this is like a double black Swan moment, right? It's like you've got COVID which has basically affected, you know productivity and output... Across the globe... Which is great for the environment, by the way. But, but, but if you're in the, you know, if you're... Anybody that's trying to produce energy... Or is in any way, shape or form, it's not good, right? Cause you're, you're seeing like historic lows and needs and wants, right? Everybody can look at them. Oil commodity prices reflect that.
And the second thing is, there was a price war between two of the largest state sponsors of, of, of... Oil and gas. And so that further exasperated, which was already a low demand signal.
And so all of a sudden they're looking at projections that are, I mean, look, there's going to be a ton of bankruptcies in this space that aren't going to survive this in... Just in North America alone.
And so really the goal that I've had talking to the senior leadership teams is, alright, your entire plan that you had is, is, is basically null and void... , and pretty much your investor base has written you off at this stage. They said nothing that we're going to see in the first and second quarter of this year is going to make any damn sense. And so, and, and these, these people, some of these stocks were down 80, 90%. Okay. In the marketplace.
So now what are you going to do differently. Right? So how do you get, get your team back together? Start looking at this from an opportunity standpoint? Right? With all this carnage in the space, the person, the teams that can, can rapidly mobilize around a plan and start to execute that coming out the backside of this are going to have huge advantage of this.
And you're seeing this in the technology space. The big technology companies that were already strong coming in are going to come out of this even stronger. And the ones that were weak coming in are probably going to get either subsumed or go away. And so, and, and the advantage that the big ones have is they just have time and space to sort of think and say "I can actually be aggressive and sort of attacking, you know, this marketplace, this environment."
So I think it gets back to a leadership team. You've got to get the group aligned on a, on a, on a vision and set of goals given the new circumstances. And I think it's important that you potentially revisit that plan, almost weekly right now. because you might say, "Hey, our strategy this week is different because so many conditions have changed."
And you put yourself into that cadence where you start to basically get back to offensive minded opportunities because at any crisis, there's going to be incredible opportunities that emerge.
And the organization that can see and can compartmentalize the pain and focus on where those opportunities are, is going to unlock huge opportunities for itself.
Jerry Li: It's about who can make the action faster and make better decisions faster and act faster. So that's great. so we have one more question and then we'll go, go through Q&A.
Dave, another thing people really want to know... Learn from you is how did you build, how do you build trust in a crisis like this.
Dave Silverman: Yeah. You know, I think the one advantage of crisis is that I think it takes these things like trust and makes it very binary, right?
A lot of, a lot of this stuff, the softer skills and how you do that become less relevant during crisis because people tend to be, to be, you know, more focused either internally or, or on some immediate problem at hand. And so, look, I think the old rule from a leadership perspective is back to that conviction idea.
You know, it's just early and often. Right? I think you've gotta be honest and truthful early and often throughout this process and keep people up to speed. Because the biggest, the biggest destroyer of trust is uncertainty. Because as human beings, we have these incredible capacity to, to be creative and think and, and, and do worst case scenarios.
And if all you're seeing and hearing in the environment is negativity. Right? And your entire social structure has been been turned on its head, like we talked about earlier... Your family, your health, your, your work environment. Then what you're looking for is like some, some like North Star to sit there and say... "Okay, that that's, there's a current direction that that seems to be stationary. Let me start navigating towards that."
And leaders have to be that North Star during this. They have to say, "look, there's more unknown than known but you know, here's what we do know now. And as something changes, I'll tell you, and I'll tell you as quickly as possible so that we can all, we, you know, we can all kind of figure out how to get through this together."
And I think you gotta be honest with people about what, you know. So being a little vulnerable being honest with people goes a long way towards building trust. I mean, look, unfortunately, leaders are being faced with some really tough decisions right now. and, and a lot of them are just. Different shades of bad.
And I think talking through those on a consistent basis that makes sense, that isn't overwhelming to your team will really help that team get confidence in that leader and in each other and help you sort of navigate through these trying times. So I would say early and, often, and, and, and just, and just be really transparent, I think that.
The, the worst sin is you can try to be overly optimistic or positive during times of crisis when people don't have the capacity for that and they'll see through and find to be disingenuous. Only telling, you know, parts of the story... Not being sensitive to the fact and acknowledge the fact that, you know, people's lives have been upturned.
And so you're talking from a position of like, "well, you know, everything looks fine sitting at my place and, you know, Menlo-Atherton"
And they're sitting at home, right? That's, it's not the same reality that a lot of people are being faced with on a daily basis. So I think you've got to acknowledge that, you know, there's a whole lot of people that are in a lot of pain right now. There's a whole lot of people that are continuing to try to march and do work and you know, you sort of have to acknowledge that. So you should show a little bit of empathy in it.
But ultimately I think it comes back to conviction and transparency. And if you have a, a rhythm that's picked up in pace and speed, it'll naturally give you that vehicle, that mechanism to kind of get your team moving.
And it's take a look as things sort of settle down and you start to, all of a sudden your, your, your pattern recognition starts to pick back up again. It'll be easier to say more definitively, "okay, I can, I can project. Past a week. Now I can actually look at like three weeks or a month or even quarter on where I see this thing evolving and how it's going."
And so I just, I think, I think that's the approach you have to take as a leader.
Patrick Gallagher: Thank you, Dave. There've also been a few examples and case studies or some cases that people have from their experience that we'd love for you to, to share some, some insights from stuff that you've talked about. So one, one specific case study that has been shared from our community is like right now we have, we have somebody who their company's right in the middle of trying to figure out product market fit in the, in the changing world from some of the things that you've talked about, how would you apply some of those lessons towards like a company trying to figure out product market fit?
Dave Silverman: Yeah, I mean, it's obviously, it depends a lot on the product and, and you know, with the updates, but it, but it's, I mean, it's hard, right?
I mean, if, people are basically trying to compartmentalize and De... And declutter their, their personal workspace spending, it was a consumer product or not, and you're trying to introduce something new in the system. It's, it's, it's probably going to be hard to kind of get that feedback you'd be accustomed to getting to try to navigate towards product market... product market fit.
But, but I, I go back to like, I don't think the fundamentals are different. I think you've got to test and learn and you've got to get your product into people's hands to get feedback. So I think you would still apply all the same principles.
In fact, you might actually find... You know, people trying to figure out how to make a little extra money. If you're able to put some dollars behind it, you might find that you actually have a larger base that you could potentially leverage right now for getting feedback. And answered. People maybe were out of work or, or are looking for an extra dollar to make.
So I, I think it comes back to the fundamentals to figure out product market fit are still the same, right? You've got it. You have to demonstrate that, you know, you're solving a problem consistently that, that user values. And they're willing to incorporate that into their daily, monthly, weekly cadence. You know, if it's a change or it's enhancing, right? To their daily cadence.
So I think, I think you gotta, you gotta stick to the same fundamentals and...And not get overly distracted by the situation. If you don't have the resources, then you gotta get creative. Right? You got, you got to figure out how to do that with your network.
And you know, I think one of the, one of the things that'll be interesting to look at coming out of this is the fact that everyone's working remote right now. It means that they're dying for some type of connections. And so if we, if we can create connections, whether it's even like learning and, you know, product samplings right now, and I know you might actually be able to do that more efficiently, more effectively at scale than otherwise. I mean, they just, they did a like a concert, I can't remember which, which, which rapper it was, but you know, they, they, they had 12 million people in this concert, you know, and on one night,
To put that in perspective, Taylor Swift's tour in 2018 had 3 million people attend. So if four times at a one night, just because people are looking for something to do other than the read about, you know, COVID testing. Right. And unemployment numbers, right. So I think you'd probably find a willing employee base if you could figure out how to engage it.
That'd be my answer.
Patrick Gallagher: Thank you. You, you shared some things that you've applied with your family about like how to, how within your own family to deal with uncertainty about like establishing an operating rhythm, shortening the time that you focus on some things...
When people are dealing with having childcare like...The big uncertainty a lot of people are dealing with is like, when will childcare or schools in session come back?
Do you have any insights or advice about how to apply some of these towards that uncertainty?
Dave Silverman: Yeah, I mean, it's, it's tough. I mean, I, I'm I'm my wife and I, we waited a little while to have children. So we've got two young kids, nine and six... And, you know, we both work full time and we're fortunate to have a nanny has been with us since our first kid, but for the first couple of weeks she was quarantined.
So, you know, going from this adjustment, I'd say my productivity dropped by 80% that first week when I'm trying to figure out.
You know how to teach kids who, you know, don't really use a lot of screens and devices, how to use screens and devices, which is sort of counter to what our, our, our parenting philosophy. And...And then also then try to, you know, advance them in like fourth grade math or something. Right? So, . And my son, my six year old son, I mean, he thinks it's his party time. "He's like, this is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me, I can hang out my dad, I can wrestle whenever I want. There's no barriers like he's around all the time."
So it took some getting used to, I guess my point, we put it, we put the battle rythmn in place. I found two things. One, one was I knew I needed to get them up every day. And get them productive from start one. Cause I knew some rigor and structure was gonna be important to them. So let that batter.
And the first thing that we did was everybody gets up and they do a little bit of a house cleaning, make their beds, brush your teeth, clean up, you know, whatever's out of place.
And then we go out and we do bootcamp every morning. and I found that was important because it basically burns off some of that latent energy kinda allows them to get some, you know, some wigglies out of their systems so that when we start attacking the day, you know, around eight 30, nine o'clock, you know, they're in a better mental state to sort of, sort of approach that, and we've made that part of their daily routine now. Going forward.
I think what's interesting is I think we're all figuring out on our own how to adapt to this, this new norm. And I think that the key thing to keep in mind is you're not going to get, nothing's gonna be perfect. So this whole idea, you're gonna hold yourself to some standard that's analogous to what it was like before. It's just kind of nonsense. It's just not realistic
given the environment. So you've got to do the best you can do. And I think you start by breaking things into bite sized chunks. And then you, you know, forgive yourself every day. Try to figure out how you learn from it and then apply it to the next day.
If we can't get the childcare system of this country which is effectively the school systems, especially for middle class and lower class families, back up and running, it's going to be tough. It's going to be tough to have to have people go back to work. So even if the, even if the office started them back up at the schools don't, I mean, and the camps don, you know, I don't know how you expect a worker to do that.
Now the good news is, I think it's forcing some of these trends and dynamics that have been in place for a while now sorta come to the forefront. So a lot of the old school leadership style would be like, "you gotta be there. You gotta, you know, basically punch a clock every day. If you're not, you're missing out..."
I think we're basically proving that you don't have to do that anymore. Like there's other ways to operate, to be effective. And I think that... potentially a byproduct of this could be a lot better or more flexible mindsets around work life balance. Which has, you know, scientifically been proven One: to increase productivity, but two: keep some demographics of the work-base engaged for longer periods of time in the workforce. Right. And allow them to kind of come in and out as they see fit and still maintain productivity. Cause they don't have the same rigorous standards.
I mean, for people living in San Francisco, you know, having grown up out there, I mean, the traffic is awful, right? To the idea of not having to commute an hour and a half to and from and sit on, you know, BART with all of your best friends every day... That seems appealing to me. Right? That's, that's three hours of my day. I just got back. then I could probably reprioritize that to working out with my kids or, or, you know, maybe cooking or something else, or creativity and innovation.
So I look, I just think, I think coming out is, I do think it'd be important for people to be reflective. And on the childcare thing. I mean, let's hope schools go back in the fall. I mean, I know there's some discussion about this thing re-emerging but ultimately, you know, we've got to collectively figure this thing out.
And, and, and figure out your balance and just know that whatever you're doing, you know, as long as your kids are still healthy and breathing and and you're doing something to have worked, you're probably doing better than most. Right. So, just to have a little patience and confidence in yourself.
Patrick Gallagher: So you talked a lot about decisiveness and that being a really important part of a leader right now.
So one of the, the case study examples of, or somebody feeling uncertain right now is they might not necessarily be the, the leader who is the one leading the decisiveness or they're taking the decisive action.
So the challenge that they're running into is like their company's business is declining, so, and then their teams aren't seeing any new business pick up and they have no insight into the decisions of like... Whether or not they'll still have jobs.
So for somebody who maybe is in like that middle, middle management position where they don't have a direct connection to the executive and have no insight to provide their teams.
Do you have any recommendations for insights to apply for, for that scenario?
Dave Silverman: Yeah, it's a great question. It's super tough, right? There's no good answer to that question. I mean, going back to what I was saying before, if your, if your leadership group isn't being transparent and honest about what they're seeing it's just going to create a tremendous amount of anxiety for you as a mid level manager and how you keep your team focused.
So look, I mean, the easy thing to do is just to pass anxiety straight through, right? You go like, "I don't know. You know your guess is as good as mine, let's just do what we're gonna do."
And obviously you're not really doing your part if you're doing that. Right?
So I would get back to what do you need to do? What makes you good at your job before still makes you good at your job now. Right? The things you need to get done before probably still need to get done now... Unless you've been given you guys for direction. So focus back on doing that and doing that well and trying to keep some of that anxiety that maybe you're hearing, picking up from management, you know, kind of inoculate the rest of your team from that a little bit because it doesn't really help for you to be an amplifier.
I mean, leaders, the best leaders in my opinion. You know, are able to sort of force and extract the most inspiration and value out of their team and serve them in an effective way. And you're not, you're not doing your teammates any service by, you know, putting more anxiety or chaos into their lives. Their lives are crazy enough. Right?
So I would really go back to saying, "all right, well, I'm going to focus on what I do know and how to do this well. And as things change..."
and think about it from a capabilities versus solution standpoint. Like, "I'm going to maybe invest a little bit more on like some of these operating best practices to, to create, you know, think about like, physical fitness, better fitness for my group. So we're, as we come out of it, we're going to be in better shape."
You know, if you're starting to get the sense that like your organization is not going to navigate through this, then yeah, I do think you need to... Now you're kind of on the Ship, Shipmate, Self... You're on the self thing.
So if you're the leader, I think you've gotta be looking out for these people and say," look, you should, you know, you should be active in the market right now looking for other opportunities."
And you know, make sure that you're, you know, you're able to help them with other references they need or to do that as soon as possible in that process. I just think that's responsible.
And if you're one of the individuals, I mean, I, I don't think it's inappropriate for you to... To be... You know, making sure that you can provide for your family right now. That's, that's critically important. But they get away that it gets the three of them. Right.
So my, I guess my big, my big recommendation would be if you're in uncertain times, I'll keep pushing your boss and leadership for information when and where they have it. I would be a little empathetic. That fact that they don't know either. And that's, you know, they don't know is actually an answer. That's okay.
But you know, you want to revisit it on a regular basis with them, just so as things change. You know, you're, you're able to adapt as quickly as they are.
And then, you know, you, you try to, you try to keep your team focused on the task and, and, and not worry too much about things that they can't control anyways. Right. So just not productive time.
Jerry Li: Another popular question coming in has been about... Morale. It's II think, related to the, the topic you're talking about right now is like, when people don't know, it's hard to feel good about what you're doing.
So how do you have any recommendations of applying a lot of these lessons towards like short term or long term morale within teams right now through uncertain times?
Yeah. You know, in some sort of sick, twisted way... You know, and maybe it's just a train conditioning... I love a good chaos. A little crisis. I think... It's a chance to really measure yourself against everybody else. And I have found that when you look around at, people are losing their minds and you're feeling, "I think I'm all right."
I get a lot of self confidence from that. Right? And so, you know, if you think about that for morale, I think that's, you know... Calm is INFECTIOUS...
Right? If you're calm with you and your team, it's infectious. They go, "okay, well. He's not freaking out, so maybe I shouldn't be freaking out... "
Right? And I get back to saying," no, no, look, we still got some things to do. Let's do this. We'll knock these things out..."
And you'll start creating small wins on a daily basis. And that people like to be on a winning team, like they like to define like what they're doing as successful and having an impact. So create opportunities to create small wins for your teams and you know, winning teams, you know, there's usually the elixir for almost any morale issue you have in my experience.
So I would get back to that compartmentalization piece, create short term near achievable objectives, and start knocking those things out a regular basis and you know, and celebrate some of those wins. Celebrate, take some time. Daily, weekly basis. "Hey, that was great. It's awesome. We're going to keep moving forward."
And look, if you do that consistently, you're going to come out of this stronger than before. I mean, I, I'm confident that whether it's at the same company or a new one, you know, w we are resilient specie. we are, we are immensely much stronger and more capable than, than most people give us credit for.
And you know, while this is scary and I get is scary like. I have strong conviction that we're going to come out of this as , as a team, as a nation, as a, as a global community... Stronger and better than before. I mean, I think, I think we will. So I think you've got to figure out how to do your part in that.
And, and, and, and stop, you know, don't focus on the negativity. You find yourself being an amplifier for that... You gotta stop it, right? I mean, it's just not, it's just not productive. You know, focus on, on, on driving the task at hand and on, on what are these key lessons and learning the positives coming out of the environment.
Cause there's going to be a lot of positive stuff.
Patrick Gallagher: Absolutely. I think one of the things I've appreciated through throughout the whole talk is the focus on giving people a sense of progress and a sense of accomplishment with everything going on in that, in that experience of feeling progress creates certainty within the umbrella of uncertainty that's going on.
Dave Silverman: Yeah, and if you're an introvert, this social distancing thing is awesome, right? It's like, I talk to my college roommate. He's like a wrestler, team captain, Navy SEAL total bad , bad Batman. And he's like, "Hey, I've been practicing social distancing for 45 years. This is great!"
He's like, "I'm good to go! So... I don't even see anybody. I got my family. That's all I need!"
So I mean, look, there's, there's pros in all this. I love the the "Some Good News" thing that John Krasinski does. I find that to be super funny and inspiring.
Patrick Gallagher: That's great. So to dive in, I guess more specifically to like morale. I think the other thing is people are trying to replicate and create trust and camaraderie, oftentimes navigating remote... Remote now for the first time.
Do you have any insight about like recreating the trust and camaraderie of anything maybe you haven't shared yet?
Dave Silverman: Well, I find the best way to build comradery is during a crisis. Because you kind of see people's true colors, right? And you have this stressful condition that takes, would otherwise be you know, sort of loose and you apply heat and pressure, all of a sudden you force something really strong out of it. Right?
Now, you might lose some people in the process, but you know, but you know, the brothers I graduated SEAL training with the people that I was in a platoon with when I went to combat with. Those are really tough, hard times and our relationships are closer than they've ever been before. So I just think it's important if, if you and your team, you got to figure out how to like really reinforce that cadence and use this crisis, as an opportunity to really forge and focus the group on the things that matter.
The nice thing in a crisis is like the stuff that doesn't matter, tends to get easily discarded. Like "this stuff is. It irrelevant right now. Let's just stop doing it"
Right? So there's a whole bunch of stuff that you could probably stop doing or have already stopped doing because it just isn't relevant, this current space.
Now the question is now coming out of it, maybe you never do that ever again, but all that extra time should focus the group on how they're working together.
So if, again, if you're applying. Those those principles we already discussed around how you, you know, you, you set an operating cadence for yourself, how you set it for your team, which is forcing those more touch points around, you know, real challenges. I find when you come out of that, you've sort of been through the fire, you can kind of deal with anything and it, you know, it's ... you're, you'll probably, you'll be looking back on this 20, 30 years from now talking about what it was like working with, you know, John and Jess and, you know, Barrett and whoever else and say, "yeah, you know, we, we went through some tough times. We, we made it through it as a group and we were better, stronger coming out of it"
Right? So I think this is a great time to from camaraderie. and you're going to be naturally forced to be solving problems on a daily basis. And I think the key is how do you keep your team cool and collected and focused on, on the problem and the solution. and reinforcing that, making sure the capabilities are being built and worked vice you know, the negativity.
Patrick Gallagher: Do you have any, any additional strategies that you used in the SEALs to deal with cross team or cross organization negotiations or issues?
Dave Silverman: Yeah. You know, the hardest thing in any negotiation or issue, cross team, is just getting people to see and understand other people's perspectives.
You know, our basic thesis at CrossLead "is the world is interconnected in ways that sometimes aren't intuitive and what could be perceived as a conflict might actually be a compliment if you can put yourselves in and sit in their shoes."
So if you find yourself in some type of conflict with another team. Or having consternation of any type of friction. You know, my recommendation was...
Spend time actively listening to your counterparty and trying to understand where they're coming from and their perspective. And if it's, if it's just basic anxiety and like, you know, fixed mindset around specific problems, then you can say, "all right, well let me help you kind of look at it the way I'm seeing it and kind of grow out of it."
Or if it's a genuine concern because there's, "Oh, I had not thought of that. I need to reimagine how I'm approached this problem set now that I understand better how you are approaching the problem set".
I think it goes a long way, but it really comes back to like, just empathy, right? Like, you know when you can walk in somebody else's shoes, you tend to understand is realize that you know a lot of things that... A lot of the ways they're approaching that problem are probably more rational than you realized, right?
We tend to think when they don't agree with either, you're acting irrationally. Well, that's not usually the case. Usually humans act pretty rationally. If you actually get to the underlying issue, it may not be the thing you're talking about that's causing the issue, by the way, which is why I think it's important to invest the time to say, "if we're having conflict, let me seek to understand first what's going on here. Let me go talk. And say, help me understand where you guys are coming at"
and don't lead the witness with "because I don't, or I see it..."
Just say, "no, I really just want to understand your guys' position on this. and then we can get figured out see if we could try and find some common grounds and start working forward."
I just, I think that goes a long way in peace and wartime, by the way. Like I, I think it's you, you, you got to find that time if you've got a concern.
Now... In a crisis situation. If you have a mandate where you could say. "Shut up and color!"
Maybe you don't have the luxury of doing that right? Then you well, this...
But you're going to want to circle back at some point to make sure that you connect the dots for them on like why and how. And the rest of it. Or you're going to, you're probably going to get one or two bites of that apple... Is my experience. Right?
they'll follow you if they're taking artillery fire, but the moment that artillery fires up, they're out. Right? So, you know, I still think you've got to practice good active listening and seek to understand their perspectives.
And look, it's, like I said, it's, it's crazy times out there. It has been for a little while now. So, you know, everybody's got different issues, right? They might have a family member who's, who's vulnerable or sick you know, or a kid with some type of underlying condition or disability. They might have multiple kids. And no help at all. They could deal with, maybe they rely on their parents already, right. On a daycare. All that's been disrupted, so everyone's, everyone's going through hard times, so figure out where they are on that spectrum and then try to give them some clear guidance and direction or, or in this case, some relief to help them sort of figure out how to get back to some type of like small incremental wins.
Right? That's, that's, you know, sort of fundamentals of agile. Actually. Like you know... Launch products as quickly as possible. Get feedback, show small wins, build off those wins, and you're gonna end up in a good place.
Patrick Gallagher: That is all the time that we have for questions. Dave, thank you so much.
Dave Silverman: Awesome. All right. Thanks guys. Appreciate your time.
Jerry Li: Really enjoyed it. Thanks Dave!