Few would consider the boardroom as hostile as a battlefield but some lessons from the trenches can translate into higher performance for executives. In an exclusive MoneyTalk Life interview, Former Navy Seal Curt Cronin talks with Kim Parlee about his tips for withstanding high-stress environments.
00:00:00.000 [MUSIC PLAYING]
00:00:06.986 I'm here at the Executive Performance Summit sponsored by TD Wealth.
00:00:10.605 And when we're talking about high performance and the military,
00:00:13.790 really only one thing comes to mind, and that's the Navy SEALs.
00:00:16.750 We had a chance to sit down and talk with Curt Cronin.
00:00:19.520 He's a 16-year-long career as a Navy SEAL.
00:00:23.240 He's also one of the head of the premier SEAL assault forces SEAL Team 6,
00:00:27.500 which you will know from the news.
00:00:29.030 As well, he helped turn one of the offensive units, SEAL units,
00:00:32.540 into a defensive presidential protection unit--
00:00:35.150 fascinating talk today.
00:00:36.582 In a "Money Talk" exclusive, I had a chance to sit down with him.
00:00:39.290 Here's that conversation.
00:00:41.911 We're here today talking about high performance.
00:00:43.910 And I would say there's high performance, and then there's Navy SEAL.
00:00:46.785 It's kind of a category unto its own.
00:00:48.590 So I have to ask you, are people intimidated by what you've done?
00:00:54.200 Can they relate to you in terms of what you've done?
00:00:56.910 Well, I think so.
00:00:57.936 Any time they can't, it's my fault because it's-- really,
00:01:00.310 I think it comes down to that coherent energy that you radiate.
00:01:03.050 And if you can see this-- they've done all the studies on this
00:01:04.819 now-- that if you walk into a room and you're centered and present,
00:01:08.110 then everyone else feels centered and present as well.
00:01:10.780 So I don't think it's intimidating at all.
00:01:12.660 Well, we'll have to see about that.
00:01:14.210 So let me ask you about some things you talked about in your talks.
00:01:17.194 I think they're fascinating.
00:01:18.360 You said the quality of your life is the quality of the uncertainty you can tolerate.
00:01:22.899 Tell me a bit about that.
00:01:23.940 So that was a great mentor.
00:01:24.950 I followed Tony Robbins around the world for two years.
00:01:27.260 And that was one of the things that really stuck with me that he talked about.
00:01:29.580 And so to me, it really comes down to are you willing to take that leap of faith
00:01:33.164 or are you going to shrink back because then really,
00:01:35.330 when it comes to a point of decision, there's one of three choices you can make.
00:01:38.663 I can self-sabotage if I think, hey, I'm performing at too high above my level.
00:01:42.279 I'm going to self-sabotage and automatically reduce it.
00:01:44.570 I can say I'm going to try and hold the status quo, which in a changing world
00:01:48.950 also leads to decline.
00:01:50.340 Or I can take a leap of faith.
00:01:51.590 And to me, it's like when you're climbing a mountain.
00:01:53.210 Every single time, you think, there's the next peak.
00:01:55.220 There's the next peak.
00:01:55.820 That must be it.
00:01:56.510 And of course, you get to the next one, and there's a new challenge, a new opportunity.
00:02:00.720 But you have to climb there first.
00:02:02.420 And so every time you take that leap of faith,
00:02:04.336 to me, it's never ended up where I initially intended.
00:02:06.650 But it's always been infinitely better and more exciting.
00:02:09.320 How do you do that?
00:02:11.060 You've trained for-- you talked about it.
00:02:12.852 How much of your life did you spend in the Navy SEALs, first off?
00:02:15.560 So 13 years active duty, and then four in the reserves.
00:02:19.320 What did you do to do what you're saying?
00:02:21.080 How do you actually do that, because I think we know-- you tell me.
00:02:24.010 I'm like, yep, I get it.
00:02:25.010 I get it.
00:02:25.509 But how do I do it?
00:02:26.600 So my goal is every single day, I try and do a couple things that
00:02:29.308 are outside my comfortable stress level.
00:02:31.140 And I try and take on mentors and find people.
00:02:33.954 Who's doing the thing that I would like to do,
00:02:35.870 or who's someone I could model my life after?
00:02:39.680 I used to have this roundtable I'd imagine where I'm like, Abraham Lincoln,
00:02:43.895 because I was from land of Lincoln, Illinois.
00:02:45.770 And my dad had a quote that said, I'll work and study and prepare myself,
00:02:48.350 and some day when my opportunity comes, I'll be ready.
00:02:50.600 So there was Abraham Lincoln and Tony Robbins and his ability to own a crowd.
00:02:54.250 Tom Crum is a huge mentor of mine-- is a grandmaster in Aikido.
00:02:57.225 And his ability to be centered and present is so powerful.
00:02:59.720 And so to me, it's taking the best of all the people I can find
00:03:03.155 and then turning-- what is the identity I want to create?
00:03:05.530 How do I want to show up?
00:03:09.320 You talked about to this crowd today a bit about in terms
00:03:12.140 of what does leadership means, or how they could be great leaders.
00:03:15.960 And I think you talked about see things how they are, see things as they can be,
00:03:19.430 and then make things as you see them.
00:03:22.130 Tell me a bit about that and how--
00:03:23.630 because that's-- again, I get it.
00:03:25.610 But how hard is that to actually put into practice, do you think?
00:03:28.670 Easy and hard.
00:03:29.974 And that's what it really comes down to.
00:03:31.640 If I'm really drawn towards it, it's really easy,
00:03:34.650 or I really want to do things that make the world a better place for my children.
00:03:38.890 So it's really easy to fly across any city or get to a location
00:03:43.520 where you have the most amazing leaders so you can ideally--
00:03:46.171 my belief is if you can influence those leaders,
00:03:48.170 they influence the people they impact.
00:03:49.970 And that's how we fundamentally change the world.
00:03:51.720 And so if it's attached to a powerful purpose, I think it's really, really easy.
00:03:55.053 But it's when we lose that purpose that it becomes more difficult.
00:03:58.020 So if I'm thinking about at 6:00, my alarm goes off, I'm like, well,
00:04:01.539 I'd like to get a little extra sleep.
00:04:03.080 Now, for today, that makes sense.
00:04:04.680 And so it really comes down to the duration of time you're talking about.
00:04:06.980 That may make sense for today.
00:04:08.232 But if I do that for the next year, then that's
00:04:10.190 going to lead me to a very different outcome than I wanted to--
00:04:12.580 or I initially said, hey, here's what I want to represent and here's what I want to be.
00:04:16.205 And so I find a lot of times, it becomes down to have
00:04:18.440 I set up a vision from where I want to be?
00:04:21.165 And it may be aspirational.
00:04:22.290 So that's why it's so fun.
00:04:23.270 And we talked a little bit about operational nesting.
00:04:24.910 I'll say, here's where I want to be in 10 years.
00:04:27.020 And of course, I don't have any real ability to understand
00:04:30.242 exactly how I'm going to get there.
00:04:31.700 But then I can bring that back.
00:04:32.991 What can I get done in a year?
00:04:34.310 And then bring that back--
00:04:35.600 what can I get done in a month?
00:04:36.630 And then what can I get done this week?
00:04:38.254 And so to me, chunking that into those bite-size achievable goals is a blast.
00:04:43.257 One of the fun things is my wife and I laid out an Excel spreadsheet
00:04:46.090 of when we wanted to have our kids.
00:04:47.270 And our first three kids came within six weeks.
00:04:49.280 And we laid that out long before.
00:04:50.590 And so I think when you lay out those goals, there's
00:04:52.550 something limbically that shifts when you write it down
00:04:54.930 and it's not just cycling through here.
00:04:56.120 As soon as you commit to it and lay it down, all of a sudden, something shifts.
00:04:59.411 And now even if you don't look back, which I should have,
00:05:01.790 but even if you don't, just the act of writing that down and declaring,
00:05:05.870 this is what I want to be, it changes the game.
00:05:09.110 And that's why it's really fun, I think, to maintain that aspirational self.
00:05:13.000 But for me, there's not one Curt Cronin.
00:05:16.080 There's a spectrum.
00:05:17.770 And I have a series of habits that can lead me to the bad.
00:05:20.960 The first time I ever presented was the Goldman Sachs in New York.
00:05:24.090 And so I flew all night.
00:05:25.910 I thought my friend was presenting.
00:05:28.066 It rained on the way there.
00:05:29.190 So I was a completely wet dog.
00:05:30.650 And I didn't know the audience because again, I didn't think I was presenting.
00:05:33.080 And so 12 minutes in, I just stopped.
00:05:34.675 It was just terrible.
00:05:36.650 If I do those rituals, I know the outcomes that I'm
00:05:38.810 likely to get somewhere in this spectrum.
00:05:40.518 And then I also have the rituals where if I know my audience,
00:05:44.087 if I'm completely prepared, if I'm in the clothes that I love,
00:05:46.670 if I understand the content, I understand the intent
00:05:48.926 and I understand 15 minutes afterward what's the outcome I want for the audience,
00:05:52.300 then I'm going to be somewhere in this spectrum.
00:05:53.890 And so to me, that's where the fun place is-- every single day,
00:05:56.514 creating those habits and rituals that allow me to then show up in that net peak
00:06:00.250 state instead of a weak state.
00:06:01.500 And that's the fun part about state management-- is how do I choose to show up.
00:06:06.050 I think what's interesting is you're talking about speaking things into reality
00:06:09.980 and then doing the things you need to do consistent with that
00:06:12.890 to make sure it happens.
00:06:14.060 Let me switch to the other side, when bad things happen.
00:06:18.080 You've talked about there's the facts of what happened,
00:06:20.704 and then there's the story of what you--
00:06:22.370 You make up about it.
00:06:22.580 Yeah, about it.
00:06:23.480 So tell me a bit about that.
00:06:25.070 And can you give me some examples, too, for you because you talked about when, I think,
00:06:27.740 you shattered your ankle when you were in the SEALs and what happened there.
00:06:31.420 So it just taking an instant, and it really comes down to--
00:06:34.130 the quality of the questions you ask changes the outcome as well.
00:06:37.080 So if I ask, why did this happen to me, my mind will create a story that provides that.
00:06:42.247 And likely, that question's going to lead to a disempowering answer.
00:06:45.080 Well, I'm unlucky.
00:06:46.460 I'm unfortunate.
00:06:47.570 Bad things happen to me, which is not going to help me at all.
00:06:50.630 If I ask, hey, what can I learn from this, what's
00:06:52.850 the opportunity in this, all of a sudden, you're like, well, interestingly enough,
00:06:55.790 I'm going to get 45 days to lay and read books, which I wouldn't have had otherwise.
00:06:59.010 And so it just starts to shift.
00:07:00.301 And now I'm taking that crisis, that danger and the opportunity,
00:07:03.467 and now I'm using it for me instead of becoming victim to it because in the end,
00:07:06.800 I can't do anything about the fact that I shattered my ankle.
00:07:10.100 So now it's what do I want to create from this.
00:07:12.200 And so the example I talked about earlier was when I shattered my ankle, there was--
00:07:17.050 the fact was that many people in the command doubted whether or not
00:07:20.844 I had the courage to deploy.
00:07:22.010 It was, hey, is--
00:07:22.910 Curt's a coward.
00:07:23.750 And so I could have said, I can accept what they're saying about me,
00:07:26.660 or I can accept what I know is the truth-- is that I would long to be a part of this team.
00:07:31.190 And so then if I want to be there, I was able to--
00:07:34.160 because of the resource we had, I got operated on two days later.
00:07:37.820 I was in a casted boot and back overseas within 30 days later.
00:07:41.510 And I went to another theater because they'd already found a substitute for command.
00:07:46.204 So I was an operations role.
00:07:47.370 And then that role allowed me to then have the 10,000 hours of unconscious competence
00:07:51.339 when I later came back to command in that same theater.
00:07:53.630 And so the fun piece is because I decided to commit to it and say,
00:07:57.470 I'm going to figure it out, then I believe that you'll always find that next path.
00:08:02.180 And I don't want to dwell on the hard things.
00:08:05.655 But I think what you're saying here is the hard things provide the lessons,
00:08:08.780 and that's what, you know--
00:08:09.946 So you had some pretty hard things happen.
00:08:13.820 You lost 25 men.
00:08:17.109 Tell me a but about what happened there and then what--
00:08:19.400 because I remember you talking about what that meant and what you're doing now
00:08:22.650 and how that has changed how you talk.
00:08:24.410 So the troop that I had commanded--
00:08:26.427 I had rotated because officers tend to rotate on a certain period of time.
00:08:29.510 And then they deploy it again.
00:08:31.310 And they did what amazing warriors do.
00:08:34.527 There was a call for help.
00:08:35.610 They had a quick reaction force.
00:08:36.590 And that's always the high-risk component because that
00:08:38.330 means the area's already disturbed and the enemy's already aware.
00:08:41.038 And the team went in, and it got shot down by an RPG when they're inbound.
00:08:47.170 And so the initial response from me was, hey, I should have been there.
00:08:50.890 And the fact was that they were gone.
00:08:52.920 And this story was I should have been there, I failed, and then
00:08:56.960 that leads to post-traumatic stress.
00:08:58.970 That leads to now a decreasing of who I am and what I can do to follow.
00:09:03.500 And that's where one of my mentors was like, hey,
00:09:05.900 you can't help anyone else by destroying your own life, by choosing that story.
00:09:11.480 You can choose that.
00:09:12.380 So that's your choice.
00:09:13.380 You can have that.
00:09:14.130 But there's also another outcome.
00:09:15.620 And the other one, if you really cared about them and loved them,
00:09:18.328 is to serve the amazing memory you have for them and the things
00:09:21.769 you learned from them by teaching that to others.
00:09:23.810 And so to me, that was an alternate ending.
00:09:25.781 And that's why I love what I do now-- is because number one,
00:09:28.280 I get to convey their story.
00:09:29.630 And it's what others have done for me when I was in weak place
00:09:32.630 that I likely would not have been able to--
00:09:34.720 in a hole I wouldn't have dug out of by myself.
00:09:36.350 I had friends that pulled me up.
00:09:37.683 And that's why I think giving people resources
00:09:40.350 for when they're in those dark times allows us all to improve.
00:09:44.730 It's the ultimate story of that.
00:09:47.731 You also mentioned-- and I'm jumping around here
00:09:49.730 because I see you said some really interesting things about when
00:09:52.396 you were deployed-- that you never, ever took SEALs into an embassy that weren't married
00:09:57.680 and had kids.
00:09:58.460 Tell me a bit about that and why.
00:09:59.140 Married or.
00:10:00.020 Married or kids, sorry.
00:10:01.000 The whole point was if they had to be--
00:10:02.410 if you were only in relationship with yourself,
00:10:04.490 then you weren't going to build the relationships crucial inside that embassy
00:10:08.490 So you had to have the habits of building relationships.
00:10:11.050 And if you knew how to build relationships, then you
00:10:13.265 could go in and build them with all the different partners you had to
00:10:16.140 because it's very easy when you're going into an environment where like likes like.
00:10:20.280 And then when you're going into an embassy, it's
00:10:22.280 very easy because there are very different components
00:10:24.350 and you're in a different country in a completely different environment
00:10:27.308 to step back and say, oh, this isn't like me, and then to reject it--
00:10:31.230 and to pull oneself apart.
00:10:33.350 And the ultimate evolution is realizing how common we are across all the threads.
00:10:37.540 And if you realize, hey, we're all one humanity, one people,
00:10:40.379 one life trying to do the best we possibly can with the resources we have, then
00:10:43.670 that's an incredibly aligning component that allows
00:10:46.130 people to find that purpose in the places they can work together.
00:10:49.970 There's so much that I could ask you.
00:10:52.040 And I know I'm jumping around.
00:10:53.390 But I want to ask you one other thing you talked about, I think, in a previous talk.
00:10:56.890 I was watching that you did-- you talked about the importance of mental resiliency
00:11:00.860 and performance on demand and the first time, I
00:11:03.470 think, you went on a helicopter combat operation,
00:11:05.520 what it was like getting into the helicopter.
00:11:07.640 Tell me a bit about that and just what you observed and what you learned from that.
00:11:12.170 First of all, I was amazed because the whole rest of the team, the experience team,
00:11:16.070 was nearly asleep, completely resting heart rate,
00:11:20.090 listening to their-- had their iTunes--
00:11:22.280 In the helicopter.
00:11:23.030 In the helicopter, and just in a complete state of relaxation and peace.
00:11:26.714 And I was like--
00:11:27.380 I was somewhere around 220 going like, hey, this is serious.
00:11:29.879 Don't you guys-- and what I realized over time
00:11:33.440 was it was amazing as we got to the 30-second call
00:11:35.690 and you could just see everyone pulled their things out.
00:11:38.180 They had soldered length exactly, like, precise and put them in.
00:11:41.560 And then-- and it was amazing because it was that ability to be an athlete
00:11:47.510 and be at peak performance and to know boom, I
00:11:49.650 need to be at a resting heart rate at this point.
00:11:51.691 And then as soon as it's 30 seconds out, and I'm now fully alert, awake, and aware.
00:11:55.700 And then as soon as you call a compound secure, now back to resting heart rate.
00:11:59.900 And it was amazing to see all of the amazing leaders
00:12:03.740 that I got to work for had that ability where every single time, they had the ability
00:12:07.610 to toggle up and toggle down because if you can't get up to a peak state,
00:12:10.850 then you can't perform at the level you need to to be able to survive.
00:12:13.766 But if you go high and stay there, where I was, then you completely burn out.
00:12:17.490 And so to me, it's fascinating because I look at-- we at least had
00:12:20.240 deployment cycles, where you're in combat.
00:12:22.580 Now you're recovering.
00:12:23.740 As I watch in business, a lot of people graduate college and then work.
00:12:27.220 And so it's fascinating.
00:12:28.870 If you don't create those cycles of both peak stress,
00:12:32.650 just like a workout and recovery, then it doesn't apply you to-- all of a sudden,
00:12:36.347 you get to the point where eight, nine months into a deployment, where the thing
00:12:39.680 that should take 15 minutes takes an hour.
00:12:41.780 And then you start to have that compounding component of it's-- everything is taking too
00:12:45.050 long and I become inefficient because you didn't take the time to rest and recover.
00:12:48.470 And that's why I think that's such a crucial component.
00:12:50.761 Last question for you--
00:12:51.880 if-- you talked about--
00:12:53.457 and again, I know you work with so many folks in professional sports teams
00:12:56.540 and companies and everything right across the board.
00:12:58.805 You talked about Silicon Valley and how one of the highest rate of suicides
00:13:02.690 is in Silicon Valley.
00:13:04.290 And you talked about the three things you need to marry together to make it work.
00:13:08.335 I want to finish with that.
00:13:09.460 Tell me bit about what you think that needs to be for people to be, I think, successful
00:13:13.852 and get the best out of themselves.
00:13:15.310 So David Whyte's book, The Three Marriages, was unbelievably impactful to me.
00:13:18.518 And he talked about marriage to self, marriage to another,
00:13:21.025 and marriage to your profession.
00:13:22.630 And he said he calls those marriages because it's not--
00:13:25.450 they're long-term contracts, whether we realize we're in them or not.
00:13:29.434 My mentor calls it crazy roommate.
00:13:30.850 But so to me, when they're competitive and you have the work-life balance
00:13:35.110 and it's like, I have to sustain some things here and some in each component,
00:13:38.350 and so I have to distribute, and now I'm trying to do a balance,
00:13:40.690 there's things I have to do to get to where I want to go.
00:13:43.060 And that leads to that pain of every single day, it's a trade-off.
00:13:45.810 But when you switch to--
00:13:46.920 So don't see my kids, go work kind of thing, or those type of things.
00:13:49.120 That's right.
00:13:49.810 And then the trade-off of I have to work to have money, but now I'm not with the kids.
00:13:53.393 But the fun component is that they're additive, where if I take time for myself
00:13:57.562 and put myself in a powerful centered place and I take time from my relationship
00:14:00.895 so that I'm on a solid foundation and I'm in the work that I'm passionate about,
00:14:05.950 then all of a sudden, it's multiplicative.
00:14:08.600 Now it's all working together.
00:14:10.020 And they have some of the studies on this where when a CEO, be it male or female,
00:14:14.516 goes through a divorce, like if it's a publicly traded company,
00:14:17.140 it often loses some of the stock value because if you have uncertainty there,
00:14:20.650 you can't have the same amount of uncertainty in a professional domain.
00:14:23.860 And so that's where to me, the three are completely additive.
00:14:26.620 And if your health fails, of course now you don't have the capacity
00:14:29.411 to respond in the same way.
00:14:30.590 So when you change the equation, it completely changes the perspective.
00:14:35.386 Curt, thank you.
00:14:36.880 Thank you.
00:14:37.960 [MUSIC PLAYING]