I’m a real tough guy, just ask me. Former Navy SEAL, former FBI Special Agent, FBI SWAT Operator, combat veteran, terrorist hunter. Can you feel the heat?
After I left the FBI’s flagship office in New York I found myself in a small, remote office. The size of the entire office was as big as one of my squads in New York. I left the big cases in the big city I loved, and I left my beloved New York SWAT Team which was comprised of some of the best professionals and warriors I have ever come across. I clearly needed to find a new outlet to quench the thirst of my tough-guy-ness I described previously. And then the opportunity came, a posting for a bomb squad technician in my new area of operation. Yes! Add another notch to my macho-man-ness!
I had previously met the leader of the bomb squad and he was a great guy. I called him and told him I’d like to apply for the position. He was excited and advised me the position was mine…as I was the only one that applied. The leader told me he was proud of the work his unit had done but warned me it may not be the high-speed work I’m used to. He invited me to come out to a day of training to get a feel for the job.
I was accustomed to handling explosives from my days as a Navy SEAL. I never had a problem with them. I enjoyed using them as a tool to breach a door or disable a vehicle, or whatever other way we could use them to wreak havoc on the enemy. I was anxious to show the great professionals in this bomb squad that I was high-speed and ready to handle the explosives like a professional.
Then I watched them methodically dismantle a mock explosive device. It took what seemed like forever with painstaking attention to detail. They explained to me every step of the way what they were doing, why they were doing it, and what would happen if they erred on a step in the process. Like I couldn’t figure that part out on my own. The day went on with more training. The bomb squad members made jokes, were light hearted, and then re-focused in a way I had trouble comprehending. Didn’t they realize how dangerous this was? DISMANTLING BOMBS!? I tried to stay engaged and enthusiastic, but I came up short. I was in a fog for the rest of the day.
The leader called me the next day and sensed perhaps I would be changing my mind about joining his elite unit. “I figured it wouldn’t be exciting enough for you. No worries, I understand” he said. I was going to let it go at that, but the shame of not being upfront with this first-class professional was more than I could bear. He deserved the truth.
“It’s not that”, I told him. “It’s not for me. Honestly, it scares the crap out of me. Using explosives offensively is one thing. But what you guys do? I don’t think I have it in me.”
The perspective I gained about my over-inflated sense of myself hit me like a ton of bricks. I never really felt like pride was going to push me to become a bomb technician because I might lose face if I didn’t do it. I know this because THERE WAS NO WAY I WAS GOING TO DO IT! However, it made me realize the possibility of following through because of pride was in play. And in this case, pride may have killed me because I know in my heart I didn’t have what it took to be a good bomb technician.
The leadership point is simple. Be aware of what role pride plays in your life.
Are you not apologizing to your significant other because of pride?
Are you not moving on from a snide comment from your boss because of pride?
Are you staying with a plan that’s not quite working out because of pride?
Are you refusing to change a behavior that you know you need to change because of pride?
Pride will kill you, both figuratively and literally, if you don’t keep it in check.
And guess what? It’s really hard to do. Welcome to leadership!
Errol Doebler is the founder of Ice Cold Leader, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Ice Cold Leader to realize his passion of teaching leadership and helping individuals and businesses improve exponentially. Errol provides executive coaching and leadership training to individuals and teams across the United States.