Lead Like a SEAL


This week we are really happy to talk with Chris Auger about coaching as a warrior. Chris is an ex Navy SEAL. We have worked with Chris in the past with some of his people. Chris is in transition now with doing a lot more coaching with the Fearless Leaders Group. We have some great questions that we want to ask and find out about in this transition, moving from a warrior to a coach.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Chris was the XO for the Center for SEAL and SWCC. For those of you who are not familiar with that language; most of us have heard about the Navy SEAL because they have been in the news especially for the past few years and very recognizable in a movie that came out called Act of Valor. It was actually a marketing and promotional campaign by the United States Navy to help get us more individuals signing up to be Navy SEALs. As many of you know, it’s very difficult to get through that education and that rigorous physical training and mental toughness conditioning.

Chris is not only an ex Navy SEAL, he was the Officer in Charge of the training and development for all of the Navy SEALs at the Center for SEAL and SWCC in Coronado. SWCC stands for Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen. Chris is an individual who has great depth. He’s a father and husband, a strong member of his religious community and he is someone who is very well respected by the business communities where he has worked as well in many Fortune 500 organizations as an advocate for emotional intelligence and for positive psychology.

What makes Chris a great candidate as a certified emotional intelligence assessor with the EQi, is his vast experience. He is an individual who has seen warfare. He is an individual who has been an administrator. He has been an educator. As a result of those great skills, Chris was perfect to become a coach inside the SEAL and SWCC community. Along with one of his other brother’s who is still serving, we have created quite an individual, not only advocate for the work that we do to help his own community but now in transition to the corporate world, he has been working very closely with me at Homeland Security and in corporate America helping to deliver this message.

So, without further adieu, I want to introduce Chris Auger. Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Auger: Well thank you Cathy. I appreciate the invite and very kind words.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Chris, we are really glad to have you. This is like old friends talking on the phone, except we hopefully have a good audience who can hear and learn some of the pearls of wisdom. Chris, what we typically ask folks to start off with is who have been some of your major influences? What is so cool about this—I am now looking at your bio—being on the front and leading troops as you have, it’s great to be able to pick your brain and see your experience and now as you move into coaching, how you make sense of that. So what have been some of your top influences?

Chris Auger: I guess more than particular leaders, there have been some crucible events that have really helped shape my understanding and my leadership persona, if you will. The first one would be going through BUD/S, a water demolition SEAL training there in Coronado in 1987, and then graduating in 1988. Unfortunately about half way through I had a training accident where I rearranged my ankle and tore all of the ligaments in it, so I had a little bit of down time in the middle. Fortunately, I had performed well enough that they kept me around so that I could continue on after I was healed.

Getting through that and seeing how they take so many people of diverse backgrounds and cultures and different parts of society and ethnic origins, and essentially creating a brotherhood, if you will. Once we graduated, those that remained—it was a voluntary program where you could literally ring the bell at any time and move on and do something else in life—but getting through the program on the back end of that, once you were in that first platoon, you didn’t want to be the guy to let down your brothers, or the ones that were leading you.

It really created this sense of “followership” and servant leadership, if you will, that you just didn’t let those down around you.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Chris, just for our audience. Just say a little bit about what the BUD/S training is about, like how long and what actually that you do.

Chris Auger: Essentially, it’s an attrition program. It’s designed to find out who really wants to be a leader. It’s approximately 24 weeks long, give or take a couple of weeks depending on when you get there and how you form up in your class. It’s segregated into the three different distinct phases. The first phase is truly the physical phase where they actually really want to see who wants to be there. Often times I have young men come to me and ask what’s the secret sauce to getting through the program? I just look at them and I politely tell them, well, it’s 30% physical and 70% mental. It’s just a mental grind day-in and day-out that you essentially get introduced to yourself in a way that you have never been introduced to yourself before and you find out that you can do much more than you think you can.

That culminates with a period of one week of being awake for a solid seven days where they run you though training evolutions and leadership events, and just a rigor of events that test your metal to see if you really want to be there. All of which, of course, involve being wet, cold, and sandy.

After phase 1 you move into the second phase which is now currently dive based, where you actually learn how to use the dive equipment. You are educated on dive physics, dive medicine; so you learn the chemistry and the mechanics behind diving. You learn how to use the bubble-less rigs for clandestine operations.

Following the dive phase you then move on to the land warfare phase where you actually learn shooting skills, demolitions, and essentially that’s where everything culminates into full mission profiles where you actually learn how to plan from the beginning to end, a mission set and then execute it.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Wow, that’s a huge mouthful and for me to hear that, and I’m sure for our audience, it’s very helpful too.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Chris Auger is now a managing partner at the Fearless Leaders Group, which is an organization that is co-owned by myself, Dr. Cathy Greenberg, Chris Auger, Don Kester and several other individuals who we won’t be able to name at this time for various reasons.

What I wanted to make sure of, Chris, is how you came to the Fearless Leaders Group, before we get into how you became and why you became a certified coach, the traction of that and then you can certainly toss back to me when you feel like it’s appropriate.

Chris Auger: Sure. So, basically what happened is the Fearless Leaders Group was brought about as I was moving through transition. Cathy came up with a concept of becoming a coach. I guess, Cathy, I think the best thing to do is to start with how I came about being a coach initially, and then we can move into how that played right into the Fearless Leaders Group. Would that work?

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Fantastic.

Chris Auger: Essentially, I met Cathy at a Noel Tichy leadership judgment program at the University of Michigan. It was a great event but what I queued in on was emotional intelligence. At the time I was the executive officer for The Center for SEAL and SWCC in charge of leadership development for all of NSW and it struck me as odd that we do really, really, well in my community with the tactical and the operational and even the strategic pieces, but when it came to the leadership soft skills—things behind emotional intelligence—we were lacking.

So in speaking to my then CEO, we came up with an idea that leaders should be introduced to themselves, early and often. We put together a plan to use a series of assessments over a period of time in a SEAL’s career to continue to reintroduce themselves to themselves through a myriad of assessments that would do this for them. Not just taking assessments and then let it by bygone, but actually coach them in the process of using that assessment to be a better leader.

In today’s environment our SEAL’s are often times, like I was in Pakistan, put into an embassy environment where you are dealing with multi-cultural, multi-generational, multi-services, and just a whole host of different personalities and you are put in charge and told to lead that group of people to execute a mission.

Now the mission may be something as simple as a medical capacity event, or it may be some other type of an event, but the idea is that how do you communicate with all of those people? I saw it as an opportunity to bring emotional intelligence into our community and we hosted an event at the Center for SEAL and SWCC which brought in a couple dozen Fortune 500 HR and leadership development personnel as well as a couple dozen SEALs where everybody was given the EQi 2.0 and then allowed to discuss the results of that and how that would play in future development and why it was so important.

In the process of doing this, it struck me that I didn’t know enough, so I attended the College of Executive Coaching with Dr. Jeffrey Auerbach, so that I could gain some subject matter expertise in the information that I was trying to pull the entire community into. Typically when you say emotional intelligence, that isn’t exactly what rugged warriors want to hear. So, what I was able to do was I was able to talk people into the concept of using that as a force multiplier in the new environment that we were headed into.

That then translated into me wanting to become a coach. Coincidentally I found out that I had essentially worn my spine out over the years of shooting, moving and communicating, jumping out of airplanes, and carrying things way to heavy. So I had some down time through a couple of surgeries on my neck where I was actually able to come along side a group of people in San Diego and facilitate their leadership development. What I found was is that I fell in love with coaching and realized how similar it was to what I had done in the military for 28 years. So does that about sum it up Cathy? Is there something that you can ask me that may trigger more?

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: No. I think you did a great job. For the audience’s sake, let me clarify a couple of things for those of you who are not military minded or have a military background. Chris used the term NSW. NSW stands for Navy Special Warfare. That is the contingent under which the SEAL and SWCC community fall for the United States Navy. In addition, when Chris put this component together at the Center for SEAL and SWCC, he invited myself, Relly Nadler and Dr. Steven Stein who is the CEO of MHS who is the creator of the EQi. The three of us facilitated a program for this group of Fortune 500 HR, OD and talent executives to give them a taste of the EQi, and of emotional and social intelligence. As you know, Relly and I always combine our love for emotional intelligence and positive psychology. As a result, Chris was also able to invite a handful of SEAL leaders and officers to join that group as cross cultural group of Fortune 500 executives and Navy Special Warfare officers and we had a fantastic opportunity to cross reference each others use and application of such a tool, how it could be used and leveraged.

The only thing I’ll say, which I find great humor in, and Chris as you know it’s one of the things that happened while we were working together. I had done a program for another group and Navy Special Warfare. About 50 SEAL and SWCC individuals had signed up for the class and interestingly enough, about a handful of them actually showed up on the day of the class because somebody spread a rumor that I was going to make them share their emotions. For which they all decided they would not come to class. So we did learn very quickly that using “emotional intelligence” with the military or any arm of the service, and I’m sure Relly, you would agree, is probably not the best word to use.

So we have used words like strategic intelligence or assessments related to intelligence, and it works much better for our friends in the military. Let me ask you this question; now that you are in your civilian mode and now working with corporate individuals in sales and delivery, what is it that you believe your military background has prepared you for as a warrior in transition into the corporate world?

Chris Auger: Well there are two aspects to that, Cathy. The first is that the obvious is the amount of exposure to critical thinking, real decisions, leadership development; all of that comes into play. The other side of that though, I think is that when I come to the table and I come along side somebody as a thought partner, very quickly they understand and they tend to open up and allow a lot more to transpire along the journey of discovery mainly because of the experiences that I have been able to have over my lifetime and my career in the military.

For instance, being so cold that you are so miserable that you are uncontrollably shaking, or being in environments where essentially you are being stalked by people for all the wrong reasons.

It’s those experiences that have a tendency to kind of lower some of the apprehensions of some of the people that I’m coaching and they tend to, quite honestly, open up a lot faster. Then we are allowed to actually really dive in and discover what is going to bring to significance as a leader.

Listen to the complete interview with Chris Auger above.


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