This week’s conversation is with Pete Naschak. Pete served for 21 years as a Navy SEAL, where he held various operational & leadership positions and participated in military contingency operations around the world.
Now, Pete has taken what he learned as a leader of one of the most elite & high-performing military units, and founded Performance Activation – a company specializing in leadership development, mission enhancement, team performance, and resilience training for top tier companies, pro sport teams, and individuals.
Pete and I have had the pleasure of working together at companies like Nike, Red Bull, Under Armour, and Microsoft – I’m always fascinated by his insights and approach to helping others thrive.
Most importantly, I have an incredibly high regard for Pete as a human. He is resilient, optimistic, a great teammate, a problem-solver, and truly authentic across any environment. We cover all of that in this conversation, and how these concepts can be applied to building great individuals, great teams and deeply resilient organizations.
“If you can see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, if you can see that there’s something good that can happen or even imagine it, then you can start getting there.”
In This Episode:
What is a resilience shepherd?
A resilience shepherd is really an individual who’s not in a leadership position, who positively influences the team’s shared resilience phenomenon. So it’s people that tend to just be in the mix of that team who can, by their actions, and typically there’s a few characteristics that they have, that then change the way that team functions as a unit and can manage adversity.
It’s more than just leadership
I got interested looking at it because in the team, they constantly pointed to the people or the person that would influence the team resilience phenomenon was always a leader. And I’ve been in some bad teams. They had bad leaders. There wasn’t shared leadership, there wasn’t a transformational leader, but they still were resilient. We still handle adversity well. So it wasn’t because of the leader, it was because of the team and how we influenced and interacted with each other. So there had to be something more than just leadership that makes resilience work.
What makes a good team?
The team needs to be interdependent, they need to have a shared goal that they’re trying to work towards with each other. And there’s accountability to each other for that shared goal and for their tasks and the things that they have to do to get there. So that team environment is different from just a group of great people.
The fact is you can have a team full of really resilient individuals, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a resilient team. And that’s one of the interesting aspects of team resilience is that it’s not an aggregate. It’s not just let’s add up everyone’s resilience and say, “Okay, we’re a plus nine on the resilient scale because everyone’s really resilient.” It doesn’t work that way. Because in adversity, a resilient individual might be looking after their own needs, which are detrimental to the team’s shared needs, which then that shared goal suffers because individual goals become more important. And that self resilience that can be too strong in some cases and pull away from the team if it’s not done in a way that is now supportive of the team’s shared vision.
Functioning as one unit
Let’s say USA basketball is an example, when they brought together the stars. And the first few games are not working well a lot of times. They don’t play to their potential because they’re working as kind of individual stars coming together. And they may talk team, they’re not acting like team. They haven’t really created that tie-in and understanding roles and everyone fitting in and filling in, and really building the system of how we need to function as a unit for that shared mission. They might be coming in and just playing really well on their own.
Shared adversity and optimism
In a group environment in that team environment, a shared adversity might still be adversity for some and not for others, depending on the way that they’re looking at it. But that’s where the resilience shepherd, that’s one of the personal characteristics is positive emotions. They have optimism. To them, it’s something that can be solved. They see it as a problem. It’s obviously a problem because they have something to solve. We can solve this. This is an opportunity. But they don’t see it as a massive adversity. They don’t see it as a major problem that is impossible to deal with, and they start falling apart. So their ability to then look at things like that and maybe say that in the right way will change that process.
Working with emotions
When I was in the SEAL teams, I was much better at it because it was a daily practice to control emotions, not get too spun up in any direction because the mission had to be accomplished. And the more, I would say, emotional you get, whether highs or lows, too far in any direction, you’re not thinking straight, you’re not making the right decisions, and you’re getting distracted.
Learning from his mom
My mom’s the ultimate optimist, extremely nice, super helpful, has always helped everyone in the world and supported them and did everything she could for them. And she would be, in my mind, someone that would be probably a resilient shepherd in a lot of ways, or at least the qualities of it. But she liked to go to the wilderness. She liked to take us there. She felt that in general, the American systems in what she was seeing, kids were a little soft. They weren’t growing up with the right kind of resilience. I mean, one of the things that she used to say to me as we got older is that hardship breeds resilience.
What does it take to be a Navy SEAL?
It’s the same things that it takes to do anything you want to do really passionately. If you really want to make something happen, it’s the same steps, the same general pieces. There’s getting into the SEAL teams, obviously. The BUD/S training is one of the hardest trainings in the world for a military… one of the hardest aspects about it is the water and the cold that you deal with, constant water, constant wet, constant cold. You’ll see people who are extremely competent athletes, very versed in wilderness, they’ve done a lot of other things, but the idea of water and cold and dealing with that and the way we have to deal with it will break people and they won’t make it.
Adaptation and struggle
That adaptation is what’s important in those moments is how quickly you can keep adjusting to the adversity to overcome it and just get past it. I mean, there’s days where you’re in BUD/S training, in SEAL training, or in any kind of adversity, or anyone who’s doing something really hard or trying to do something that’s really big that makes it hard. I mean, you have to just take the next step. You have to just say that this pain is going to end at some point. That’s the optimism, the realistic optimism. You aren’t trying to convince yourself you aren’t struggling. What you’re trying to convince yourself is that the struggling is fine, it’s part of the process, and it’ll end sometime because you’re not going to be struggling as much anymore. It’s just the next step.
That’s that fourth characteristic that I found truly important. And that connectedness is what helped the resilience shepherd affect others around them, because they just had a general friendliness. It wasn’t like they were out having beers with them every night and were best friends. It was an at work thing. They just tended to just know people, just say hello, ask them questions. People just kind of generally felt like, “Yeah, yeah, they’re a friend.” And I’d ask lots of questions around, what does friend mean? What kind of friend? And it literally was, they just kind of saw them. They didn’t even know why they were just a friendly person and they were a friend. And even in a couple teams that had an outlier, an individual that felt like they just did not belong in any way, shape or form, that was the one person that he said, “Yeah, but they’re friendly. And they’re a friend and I can talk to them.” And so that connectedness is critical and it doesn’t take a lot.
Consistent and calm
I have been told that I tend to remain calm. I sometimes don’t think I am, but I think people around me feel I’m pretty calm for the situation and level-headed. I think if I were to try to judge myself, I would say those are probably two of the things that I try to do the most is this idea of consistency. I try to be consistent. I try not to be different people all over the place. Someone different with my family and someone different with my friends and someone different with my teammates. It’s like I’m pretty much the same person with everyone. The honesty is the same. The actions are basically the same. And I think in general, I can remain fairly calm and I try to work on that and see if when things are going wrong, I try not to lose it.
The information may have to be direct and hard. And again, it’s short and sweet communication. It has to be very clear and concise, simple direction. Especially when people are in high stress, you don’t say a lot. And a lot of times in some of those environments, depending on what’s going on, even that individual that was going through the swimming issue or the water issue, there wasn’t a lot of accolades and support in that way because sometimes that could be distracting. And for some individuals it might even be embarrassing. It might make them feel little or small. It’s just really about, “This is what we got going on. Good. It’s working. Let’s keep moving.” So not too much squishiness, let’s say, around it sometimes because that may not be beneficial either. It’s just extra noise. So clear, concise, couple inputs of success like, “Yes, we’re moving, it’s working. This is happening.” And then just keep focusing on the mission and what’s next, the pieces.
Debriefing and feedback
Debriefing in the SEAL teams is critical. It’s probably one of the most important things we do. I mean, we may have a mission, we come back. We actually get our team gear ready to go again because we could get called right back out for some reason. So our mission gear is ready to go again. Then we go in and have a debrief. Then we go have food, sleep, showers, take care of ourselves. So the individual comes after team needs and the debrief, which is team learning. Then me as an individual, my needs come last. And it’s critical because debriefing then is a short mission, big rocks, like, what are the big things that would’ve changed this mission? Made it better, made it worse? What are the things we need to remember? What did we do really well and what didn’t go so well? And this isn’t a thousand things in every little detail. It’s really like what are the one, two, or three things that would’ve changed drastically the environment?