Overcoming Life’s Obstacles with Consistent Persistence

Have you ever been in a situation where you knew you were in trouble?

It happened to me on my first day at Nuclear Power School. I found myself surrounded by graduates of top engineering schools like MIT, Stanford, and Georgia Tech. These were the brightest technical minds in the country assembled in one place for one reason – to become nuclear engineers in the U.S. Navy.

It didn’t take long to realize; I was in over my head.

Growing up during the Cold War, my dream was to one day become a Nuclear Submarine Officer. I was fascinated with the idea of undersea warfare.

The problem was, I needed to be technically strong to get into this elite service.

I did well enough in High School to get into a decent Engineering School. I had even graduated with honors, but there was a dirty little secret.

I wasn’t that smart.

All my academic achievements had come through hard workperseverance, and stubborn persistence.

All my academic achievements had come through hard work, perseverance, and stubborn persistence. Click To Tweet

I walked into the military’s most challenging technical school – one with a 40% failure rate – as a fraud.

This school was a place for the best and the brightest, and I knew I was neither. I was just a blue-collar kid with a big dream. I also feared that hard work, the one thing I had relied on for years, wouldn’t be enough to get through this challenge.

I started well. My grades were decent, and I began to think I could make it. But soon, the depth and pace of the training took its toll. My GPA started to slip.

It was clear I was in a fight for my life.

I consider the alternatives. What would happen if I failed?

For one thing, it would crush my dream. I would probably get assigned to some rusty, reserve frigate out of Long Beach, and spend my Navy career hunting for drug smugglers.

The Cold War was on, and I wanted to chase Soviet submarines.

I made a decision then and there – I would do whatever it took to get through this school.

Failure was not an option.

I doubled down on the only thing I knew, hard work. I studied my notes from every lecture and completed extra assignments every day. I sought out tutoring and spent my nights in the study room, ensuring I fully understood every concept.

I attacked this challenge with the same stubborn persistence I had used my whole life.

And it worked.

I graduated from Nuclear Power School, and I achieved my dream of becoming a Nuclear Submarine Officer.

It was the most formidable challenge I have ever faced, and I almost failed. I almost gave in to the overwhelming feeling that I didn’t belong there, I wasn’t smart enough, and I couldn’t do it.

I achieved my goal by not giving up.

I achieved my goal by not giving up. Click To Tweet

I tell you this story because I recently had a guest on my podcast, Dean Bundschu, who talked about this concept.

He explained that military veterans are well-suited to become entrepreneurs because they display one crucial characteristic – consistent persistence. When things get tough, they work harder to overcome the challenge.

It reminded me of the Babe Ruth quote, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.”

Whatever you face today, understand you can overcome even the most challenging situation through daily, consistent effort and refusing to quit.

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Listen to my full interview with Dean Bundschu here.

And for more stories like this,  pick up a copy of my bestselling leadership book, I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following here.

Who’s Your Chief?

When I was just 23 years old, fresh out of submarine school, I was given my first leadership job.

I was assigned to lead the team of sailors who maintained and operated the complex systems that controlled the nuclear reactor on the USS Tennessee. It was a small group led by a senior enlisted sailor, a Chief Petty Officer, who had come up through the ranks.

The Chief Petty Officer was not only skilled, but he was also highly experienced. He had been in the Navy for almost as many years as I had been alive. He was older than me and had infinitely more knowledge in the maintenance and operation of nuclear reactor controls. And the team looked to him for guidance.

Yet, I was in charge.

Many new leaders find themselves in this exact situation. They are asked to lead teams of older, more experienced employees.

Many new leaders find themselves in this exact situation. They are asked to lead teams of older, more experienced employees. Click To Tweet

So, how can you be an effective leader if you’re young and inexperienced? It’s simple.

Find your Chief and learn from them.

You’re probably thinking – How do I find my Chief? In the Navy it was easy but how do I find my Chief in a business environment? Look for the person in the organization who is the opinion leader. Usually, they are a senior employee and a technical expert.

Find out who the team naturally goes to for all the answers.

Find out who the team naturally goes to for all the answers. Click To Tweet

That person is your Chief.

That’s the person you want to build a relationship with and learn from. In most cases, they don’t want your job, they are happy being the senior, technical expert. If you show them respect and learn from them, you will become a more effective leader for the team.

Deep Leadership PodcastListen to my conversation with retired Chief Petty Officer, Chuck Whitworth on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership podcast to understand the important relationship between the Leader and the Chief.

And, if you need more ideas on how to be an effective leader, get a copy of my latest book – I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following. It’s filled with 23 practical ideas on how you can become a more effective leader.


Photo: USS Key West Chief of the Boat Master Chief Nicholas Harr (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey J. Hockenberger)

Why It’s a Bad Idea to Run a Ship Aground

You probably know I was a Naval Officer early in my career.

Well, did you know the Navy has a zero-tolerance policy for running a ship aground?

That’s the funny thing about the Navy. They want their billion-dollar warships operating in liquids, not solids. If there’s a collision, usually the Officer of the Deck AND the Captain both lose their jobs.

And get this. Even if the Captain wasn’t standing watch at the time, he or she is still liable.

You’re probably thinking, how is that fair?

How is it fair that the Captain, who isn’t even driving the boat or giving orders at the time, can still be liable if something bad happens?

Well, the answer deals with how the Navy views responsibility.

In the Navy, the Captain is fully responsible for everything that happens onboard. If the ship runs aground, ultimately, it’s the Captain’s fault for not training the crew and supervising them properly.

This is how the Navy viewed responsibility.

As a Naval Officer, we were always taught that you can delegate authority but you can never delegate responsibility.

You can delegate authority but you can never delegate responsibility. Click To Tweet

What does that mean?

It means, you can give people under your command the authority to get something done but if anything goes wrong, the leader is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on their watch.

They are responsible for everything that happens under their command – good or bad.

If a ship runs aground, the Captain will have to answer for it.

Because of this reason, U.S. Navy Captains take the job of training and developing their crews very seriously.

They require competent teams because they are literally staking their career on it.

So, let’s contrast this with Corporate America.

In most companies, I see the opposite behavior. I see bosses who regularly delegate responsibility but they keep all the authority to themselves.

I see bosses who regularly delegate responsibility but they keep all the authority to themselves. Click To Tweet

Employees aren’t given the authority to get things done but they are still held accountable for the results. If anything goes wrong, it’s usually the employee who takes all the blame.

…and the boss never faces any consequences.

You’re probably shaking your head in agreement right now. I’m sure you’ve seen this behavior as well. Bad bosses tend to delegate responsibility but not authority.

And this is incredibly frustrating for employees.

When authority and responsibility are not in balance, employees are left discouraged and disillusioned.

So, think about your organization.

How are you dealing with these two important aspects of leadership?

Are you using the Navy model where you delegate authority but not responsibility?

Or, are you following the Corporate America model where you delegate responsibility but not authority?

How you manage these two leadership aspects is the difference between engaged employees who love their jobs or those who are frustrated and are looking to leave.

I talk about this issue in a lot more detail on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership podcast.

Deep Leadership Podcast


P.S. If you like this leadership concept and you want to learn more, get a copy of my latest book – I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following. It’s filled with 23 practical ideas like this on how you can become a more effective leader.

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