10 Special Ops Practices for Extraordinary Business Success

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

Ultra-high achievers in your organization are needed for special circumstances just as Special Ops personnel—members of the Navy SEALS, The Green Beret, Delta Force and the like—are needed for critical tasks in battle. In these business situations, time is important, resources are low or insufficient, conventional wisdom won’t work or a crisis is imminent. In his book Secrets of Special Ops Leadership, Major General William A. Cohen, USAFR, Ret., suggests these 10 Special Ops Practices for Extraordinary Business Success:

1. Create the best. To achieve the extraordinary, you need extraordinary people. Commandos, however, aren’t born but made. Creating them involves three stages: locate and recruit volunteers, screen and select the cream of candidates, train and motivate for excellence. 

2. Dare the impossible. Give your commandos demanding, high-impact jobs and the results will blow you away. Give them anything less and not only will your resources be wasted, but your commandos will soon be off seeking challenges somewhere else.

3. Throw the rule book away. Commandos thrive on innovation. As the chief innovator, you need to stay alert to opportunities and threats in your environment, encourage a shared vision with clear goals, develop a tolerance for the unusual and bizarre and reward bold ideas that work.

4. Be where the action is. A true leader leads from the front. Whether in battle or business, a special ops leader must share the risks, the hardships and the defeats as well as the victories.

5. Commit and require total commitment. If you are totally committed to a project or purpose, your commandos will follow you, regardless of the sacrifices. To show uncommon commitment to your commandos, communicate face-to-face, make commitments public and don’t stop when the going gets rough.

6. Demand tough discipline. If you want your organization to succeed, you have to help your commandos develop self-discipline. Require obedience to the rules at all times, with no exceptions. Set the example by obeying rules from above.

7. Build a commando team. Commandos don’t work as individuals. Building an outstanding commando team happens in four stages: getting organized, fighting it out for the right course of action, getting the team to pull together and keeping the team moving forward to get the job done exceptionally well.

8. Inspire others to follow your vision. As a leader, you must first have a clear vision of where you want your organization to go and what you want it to be, and then make it compelling and meaningful to others. Promote your vision with a motto and other tools. Live your vision every day.

9. Accept full blame; give full credit. You can delegate authority, but not responsibility. Hold your commandos accountable for their failures, but don't leave them holding the bag. When your commandos prevail, give them credit for the victory—completely, unselfishly and publicly.

10. Take charge! To be the kind of leader that commandos will respect and follow, you must dominate the situations right from the outset, establish your objectives early in the game, communicate with their team, act boldly and decisively, lead by example and follow your instincts.

Adapted from Secrets of Special  OPs Leadership: Dare the Impossible—Achieve the Extraordinary by William A. Cohen. For more information about this book and other AMA book titles, visit www.amanet.org/books.

For more insights into developing leaders, check out AMA’s portfolio of leadership seminars: www.amanet.org/seminars/leadership.