Leadership Insights from a Navy SEAL: Admiral William H. McRaven

February 9, 2024

Our very special guest, joining us in person, is Admiral William H. McRaven, retired United States Navy Four-Star Admiral and former Navy SEAL. Admiral McRaven graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and received his commission as a Navy SEAL officer in 1977. Throughout his illustrious career, he held various command positions, including leading a SEAL team and overseeing special operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of Admiral McRaven's most notable achievements came as the commander of Joint Special Operations Command where he played a crucial role in Operation Neptune Spear. His strategic and tactical acumen earned him widespread praise and further solidified his reputation as a top military leader. Admiral McRaven later served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014, overseeing all U.S. special operations forces. During his tenure, he continued to advocate for the importance of special operations forces in addressing global security challenges. In addition to his military service, Admiral McRaven is known for his academic achievements. He holds a Master's degree from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Texas. After retiring from the military, Admiral McRaven became a prominent speaker, author, and educator. He gained widespread recognition for his inspiring commencement address at the University of Texas in 2014, which later became a bestselling book titled "Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World." Admiral McRaven's leadership philosophy, strategic insights, and dedication to service have left a lasting impact on the U.S. military and continue to inspire individuals in countless fields.

- Hello everyone. I am Chris Hyams, CEO of Indeed. My pronouns are he and him, and welcome to the next episode of "Here To Help." At Indeed, our mission is to help people get jobs. This is what gets us out of bed in the morning and what keeps us going all day, and what powers that mission is people. "Here to Help" is a look at how experience, strength, and hope inspires people to want to help others. For accessibility, I'll offer a quick visual description. I am a middle-aged man with dark glasses and a salt-and-pepper beard. I'm wearing a black T-shirt and a blue blazer. I'm sitting here in the Indeed downtown office with a beautiful view of Austin with a bunch of guests, both from inside and outside of Indeed, as well as our very special guest today. Admiral William H. McRaven is a retired four-star Navy admiral. Admiral McRaven served as the commander of the United States Special Operations Command, Joint Special Operations Command, and Special Operations Command Europe. He was designated as the first director of the NATO Special Operations Forces Coordination Center, NSCC. Among many extraordinary achievements, Admiral McRaven is credited for organizing and overseeing the execution of Operation Neptune Spear, the special ops raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. During his service, he received over 26 awards and medals, including the Bronze Star Medal with gold award star and the Legion of Merit with one gold award star. McRaven retired from the US Navy in 2014 after more than 37 years of service. After retirement, he spent four years as the chancellor of the University of Texas System and worked in a building that used to occupy the block that we sit in today. Admiral McRaven has written five books, one on special operations theory and practice and four that offer lessons on life and leadership. Today he teaches at his alma mater, the University of Texas, where he is also a distinguished alumnus. Admiral McRaven, thank you so much for joining me today.

- Thanks, Chris. It's great to be with you.

- Well, let's start where we always start these conversations. How are you doing today right now?

- I'm doing good. I'm doing good. I mean, take a look outside. For the folks that are listening in on this broadcast, it is a great Texas winter, so I got no problems with this. It's a beautiful day out.

- So at Indeed, as I mentioned upfront, our mission is to help people get jobs. We think about jobs a lot. I'm always curious where people got their start. Can you tell us a little about your first job?

- My first job? So my first job was probably as a lifeguard when I was in high school. I was in an area where they were building a lot of new residential areas, and so they built a community pool and one of my coaches came and says, "Can you swim?" I said, "Yeah, I can swim." He said, "Good, you can be a lifeguard." Back then, you didn't have to have Red Cross Lifesaving, but I was a pretty decent swimmer. So that was one of my first summer jobs. The one that followed that, however, was I hauled bricks for nine hours a day. I worked at a brick-making factory, and I was the only one in the brick-making factory, I think, that was in high school. So these were laborers, great young guys, but it was just downright hard work. And it was an important point, I think, in my life because it showed me the value of hard work and that you didn't have to have a great education necessarily to do hard work. Hard work just comes from your will to do the work required.

- We're going to get to this later, but it sounds like probably good preparation for Navy SEAL training.

- [William] Yeah, not bad. Not bad.

- So your father was career Air Force officer.

- He was.

- And you came to the University of Texas and you were at Naval ROTC, but you also studied journalism. When did you realize that you wanted to make a career in the military?

- You know, I don't think I realized I wanted to make a career of it till I'd been in it 15 years. So, because at the time, so when I joined the SEALs in, I went to basic SEAL training in 1977 after I graduated from UT, there really wasn't a career for a Navy SEAL. There were only two Navy captains, kind of like Army colonels, one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast. And so the thought that you could, you know, matriculate and become a Navy captain and run all the SEALs on the East Coast or the West Coast was just beyond my imagination. I just kind of wanted to come in and jump out of airplanes and lock out of submarines, blow things up, you know? And so I didn't think much about a career, but at the 15-year mark, I was at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey and my detailer, the guy that manages your career, he called me up and he said, "Hey, Bill, just to let you know, you have screened for command," which is a big point in a military career when all of a sudden now you have been designated as, you know, available to take command, in my case, of a SEAL Team. And I realized at that point in time, well, I guess I'm going to make a career of this thing. And that was really when all of a sudden, the epiphany happened that, well, I've been at this for 15 years and it's been a pretty good life and I like what I'm doing and so I'm just going to keep pressing ahead.

- So in 2014, you were invited to give the commencement speech at the University of Texas here in Austin. That talk is on YouTube. I recommend anyone who hasn't seen it, I would imagine a lot of folks here have seen it. It's received more than 60 million views on YouTube. And in this talk, you distilled 10 life lessons that you garnered from Navy SEAL training, and specifically as a call to the students, how these lessons might help them change the world. And I think, oh, so then you turned these into this book here, "Make Your Bed," which I highly recommend, "Little Things That Can Change Your Life... and Maybe the World." And one of the things that I found really striking about it is that I think most people looking at someone with your distinguished career would think that, sure, you probably worked hard, but you probably didn't really make a lot of mistakes along the way. And one of the things that really moved me about this and in your other book is where you talk so openly and personally about not just roadblocks and boulders that you had to, but just your own failures and what you learned from them. And so I want to talk about some of the lessons in both of these books in that vein. And the first one that really struck me is don't be afraid of the circus. So if you could talk a little bit about what the circus means and how it's relevant as a lesson, but also maybe talk about what you've learned from your own career failures.

- Yeah, so the, yeah, one of the lessons in the book is don't be afraid of the circus. So the circus was a term used in SEAL training. So, you know, in the course of your day in SEAL training, your day kind of started at the crack of dawn. You did about, you know, two hours calisthenics. You get a short break. You go do a four-mile soft sand run. You do a short break. You go do a couple of mile ocean swim. You get a short break, put a boat on your head, you run to chow, you know, you come back, you get a short break, then maybe you do an obstacle course, get a short break, then a couple more hours of calisthenics or harassment or something. But if you screwed up in the course of the day, if your run times weren't good, your swim times weren't good or whatever, back in my day, they had the circus, and the circus, you would make the circus list, and nobody wanted to be on the circus list 'cause it meant another two hours of harassment and a physical challenge by the instructors. Again, I went through in 1977 and all of my instructors were Vietnam vets. There were these crusty old, you know, warriors that really were prepared to, you know, punish you hard if you hadn't met the standard. The interesting thing about the circus was it was a bit of a death spiral from a training standpoint because if you got a circus on a Monday, you were going to be exhausted come Tuesday and you were probably going to get another circus and you were going to be exhausted on Wednesday. So there were a lot of kids who kind of when they got that circus, they just quit, because they said, "Hey, I can't deal with a failure. I know that I'm just going to fail tomorrow and fail the next day. So I might as well quit now." But the interesting thing about the circus was that if you were able to kind of get through that moment, that moment where you recognized that you'd failed on something, you actually got stronger because you did more push-ups, you did more pull-ups, you did more sit-ups. And so if you could weather the storm of the failure, you were going to come out on the other end probably stronger than when you went in. And I think this was a very important lesson for me as a young officer and as a person, was you're going to have those moments in life when things do not go well and sometimes you have to weather that storm, and if you weather it right, if you take a hard look at, well, where did I screw up? What could I have done better? Then you'll come out on the other end and you'll be better prepared to deal with it the next time. And make no mistake about it, I had a lot of failures in my career, and particularly in wartime. And I think part of the lesson is you are going to fail in war. And I did. I mean, I had, you know, hostage rescues that failed. I had airstrikes that failed. I had raids that failed. You know, I like to think the ledger showed we had more successes than failures, but you are going to fail. So you better learn how to deal with that in a way that is productive, that makes you better after the failure, because you learned all the right lessons.

- Yeah, and I think the inevitability of failure, you also talk about the fact that it was not possible to avoid the circus. That no matter how you made your bed or how you polished your shoes, someone was going to find a fault and you were going to end up having-

- Well, and one of the things that I think I also talk about in the book, again, the term of art was a sugar cookie.

- [Chris] Right.

- So the instructors go, when you go through training, I mean, the instructors are kings. I mean, whatever they tell you to do, you got to do it. And if you went to UT and they went to A&M or you were a 49ers fan and they were a, you know, a Kansas City fan, whatever it was, if they didn't like you, they would tell you to hit it and you had to run over the sand dunes, jump in the water, roll and come back, roll around in the sand, throw sand everywhere, and the effect was called the sugar cookie. But the thing about the sugar cookie that drove a lot of people crazy was the indiscriminate nature of it. You could have come in first on the run and you were going to be a sugar cookie. Could have come in first on the swim and you might be a sugar cookie, or have the highest test grade. But these instructors, and it occurred to me years later, these instructors were all Vietnam vets, they'd been through a tough war, and they knew that sometimes even their best still got them punched in the gut and they wanted you to understand this, that sometimes even on your best days, life's not fair. And once again, a little bit like the circus, it was, you're going to have those days where you just did your absolute best and it didn't work out. Well, sorry about that. Life's not fair. You just have to press through and do the best you can and look for these other opportunities to get on your feet again and to continue to move forward.

- So another one that really hit me is you can't go it alone. And that story includes an incredible story about a nearly career and maybe even life-ending injury that you experienced, but what it took to overcome a challenge like that. Can you talk a little bit about that story?

- Yeah, so, again, we're called the SEAL Teams for a reason, because there's a recognition that, look, it takes a team to get the job done. And you learn this in SEAL training very early on. They give you this little rubber boat. I know Dino's here in the audience, a fellow SEAL, and, you know, one of the things we always say is nothing ruins a good story like an eyewitness. So for God's sake, Dino, don't call me on any of these. But you get this little boat rubber raft. It's about eight feet long, weighs about a hundred pounds fully inflated. And the instructors kind of give you this simple task. Why don't you kind of paddle out, paddle down, paddle in? Nothing to it, right? Except you find out very quickly, you got seven guys on this boat and the idea is the guys that are the number one guys, they're going to pull the bow of the boat into the water. Number two guys make sure the boat doesn't shimmy too much. Number three guys are pushing from the hind. And then as the officer or the senior enlisted, as soon as that boat gets in the water, you jump in, you put your oar in for steerage, and then you call the guys in, ones in, twos in, threes in. As I've said before, once everybody's in the boat, then you find out what teamwork is all about because if everybody doesn't dig just as hard as everybody else, if everybody isn't following the stroke count of the coxswain, the boat's not going to make it through the surf. But the other thing you find very quickly is, I don't care if you're the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, the smartest SEAL in the boat, you can't paddle the boat by yourself. And I think that's the lesson. You know, no matter, like I said, we're called the SEAL Teams for a reason. You can't go on a mission by yourself. So, you know, the story I tell is about, oh, 25 years later, after I graduated from SEAL training, I'm now in charge of all the SEALs on the West Coast of the United States. I'm referred to as the Commodore, because I had a bunch of SEAL Teams working for me. And I went out for a routine parachute jump that didn't turn out to be very routine. In the course of the parachute jump, I had a mid-air collision. It broke my pelvis by five inches, fractured my back, pulled all the muscles out of my legs, my stomach, and I landed about two miles from the drop zone. Very serious accident. But then once again, it reinforced the fact that, I mean, it took a whole lot of people to get me back on my feet. After I got out of the hospital, my wife had to kind of be my nurse. She had to kind of give me the shots every day to make sure that the blood didn't clot. You know, my colleagues, my SEAL brothers, had to make sure that I went to physical therapy. The admiral who was in charge of me managed to keep me in the Navy. And it really was, at the time, I mean, when this accident happened, I mean, I was kind of the big dog on the porch. I mean, I'm the commodore in charge of all the SEALs. I was in great shape, life is going well, you think you got it all handled, the next thing you know, wham, and then you realize you better make as many friends as you can, you better have as many colleagues as you can, you better be prepared to accept the goodwill of strangers, because you can't go it alone. You just can't. Life's not built to go it alone.

- So one of the things that really jumped out at me in reading that, in reading "Make Your Bed," was SEAL training is training, but it's also, it's an extended job interview. Very extended, because, I mean, there's this widdling down. I can't remember the numbers, but there's about-

- Well, in my class, yeah, my class, we started with 110 and we ended with 33. And that's pretty consistent. You have 75% attrition rate for the enlisted guys, about 50% attrition rate for the officers.

- And then clearly there's an incredible amount of focus on all the kinds of preparation, physical and mental and strategic. And so when I think about in the business world and in corporate America, we spend a lot of time and energy on the selection part and invest very little in the training and preparation. And so I'm curious what your thoughts now being in civilian life is, what can the business world learn from the military in terms of how to better prepare employees?

- Yeah, well, I mean, let me start with the selection piece of the employees first because I think this is important, you know? And, again, you know, when you're talking to the CEO of Indeed, you understand better than anybody that a paper resume is not the only way to determine a person's credentials to whether they're going to be a good fit. I mean, there are so many other factors you have to look at. So in SEAL training, for about 20 years, we had psychologists and psychiatrists and doctors come in and they built this remarkable test. And they claimed that the test had 99% accuracy in determining who would be the people to make it through SEAL training. And at one point in time, we had even kind of, "Well, why go through SEAL training? Let's just give people a test and if the test," but what's fine of course is that 1% that you didn't get right, that's the guy that's going to go on to save the SEAL platoon and win the Medal of Honor, right? So you go through SEAL training, and it is a selection criteria, but there are some things, again, much like the work you do here, there are some things you can absolutely look at to determine whether or not a person's going to be suitable. Interesting thing was we found out, again, it's not about your size. You know, it's not about your gender. I would offer it's not about your orientation. It's not about the color of your skin. It's not about, you know, your socioeconomic background. It is about your will. Are you willing to work hard? Are you a good teammate? Can you think on your feet? I mean, this is a critical skill that we're always looking for in our SEALs. It's not the guy that can run the 2:30 marathon or the 4:30 mile. I mean, that's important, but that's not what you're looking for. You're looking for somebody that's going to get through the really rough times with a sense of humor, that's going to kind of give you the critical thinking when you need it, that's not going to quit on you. And they're not intangibles. You know, we talk about, well, these are intangibles. No, no, you can pretty much identify those in short order, and those are the people that are going to be successful. But then they come into the organization. And I'll take you a little further back. In 2005, when we thought the war in Afghanistan was winding down, Wall Street was very nice. They kind of opened up their doors to the military and they said, "Hey, look, we want all these military veterans to come." Obviously if you've been working in Iraq and Afghanistan, you've got these great leadership skills. But I think, and I'd have to go check the figures, but I think the retention rate of the veterans that went to Wall Street was only about 35%. And I had a chance to go visit a number of the Wall Street bankers, investment bankers, and what I found was they had an expectation that these young men and women coming in were great leaders and therefore they were going to be great on Wall Street. But what they didn't do upfront was invest in their education and their training. And to your point, Chris, I mean, this is, look, you're going to come in, that's great. You may be a great SEAL or a great Army Ranger or a great Air Force officer, but you need to know the business of investment banking, you need to understand M&A, you need to do, oh, by the way, if you can go get an MBA, even better yet. Invest in these young people, train them, and then when you add that to their leadership skills, you're going to find that they are a great workforce. Well, they took that advice, and, in fact, the numbers have increased dramatically. But there was another side of the equation, which was talking to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines that were getting out, making sure they understood what they were walking into as well. So it was a two-sided street. I mean, this was the company has to invest in the employee, but the employee has to have an understanding of the culture that they are about to enter. And in the case of the veterans, you know, a lot of them were like, "Well, maybe it'll be just like the military, except I'll be wearing civilian clothes." Well, no, it's not. But there's still some very good things about the corporate world that will make for a great environment, but you need to understand that before going in or your expectations will be dashed and it won't be a good fit. So I think both of those are part of the equation.

- So your most recent book, "The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple, But Not Easy," the bullfrog is a title given to the Navy SEAL who has been the longest serving, which in 2011, you reached that level. And so "Make Your Bed" really focused on these broad life lessons, but "Wisdom of the Bullfrog" is really around leadership. And in the introduction, you quote 19th century General Carl von Clausewitz who said, "Everything in war is simple, but the simple things are difficult." The idea of simplicity is really woven through the entire book. Every section, you end with, "It's simple," and give these sort of simple distillations. Can you talk about the importance of simplicity in leadership?

- Yeah, you know, again, people try to make, I think, leadership complicated. It is hard, make no mistake about it, and this is the point of the book is, yeah, it's hard. But you could get up on a whiteboard and say, "Okay, let me tell you the basic tenets of leadership. You know, be men and women of good integrity. You know, lead from the front. Take care of the men and women that are working for you. Be a servant leader." You can put all those up on the whiteboard. They're just hard to do. They're hard to do because we're humans. We have our shortfalls, we have our foibles, we have problems, we've got to deal with family, we got to deal with... So you have to be able to distill those in a way that says, "Okay, even with all of this stuff circulating around, how do I take the simple steps to make me a good leader?" And, you know, I talk about, I think, the qualities in here, and, you know, part of this is, for me, the first lesson I talk about in the book is how I learned leadership. And I'll go back just a second. So a couple years ago, my publisher came to me and said, "Hey, I'd like you to write a book on leadership." I said, "Great. I got a lot I want to say on leadership." Except I had so much to say, I couldn't figure out how to frame the book. As an author, once I get the book framed in my mind, it's not hard for me to write it, but I struggled to figure out how was I going to talk about leadership. Then I asked myself, "Well, how did I learn about leadership?" And I remember very early on, when I was a young ensign in my first SEAL Team, I was briefing my commanding officer on a training mission we were about to go on and the decisions I was making, the actions I was going to take. And when I got through, he said, "Okay, Mr. McRaven, if you make these decisions and take these actions, can you stand before the long green table?" Well, I'd never heard that expression before. Can you stand before the long green table? Now, we didn't have Google back then, so I had to do a little hard research. And what I found out was really in the Navy since World War II, when you walked into a Navy conference room, there was a long, you know, boardroom table, but it was covered in a thin film of green felt. And whenever there was some sort of official proceeding or something, the young officer or the senior enlisted would have to come in and stand before the men and women that were at the long green table to justify their actions. And the point of the saying was, if you can't show reasonable men and women that the actions and the decisions you are making would pass the test of reasonable men and women, then maybe you better rethink your decisions. And he said, "Look, there's three ways to think about this. Are your decisions and are your actions moral, legal, and ethical?" Ethical, do they follow the rules? Legal, do they follow the law? And moral, do they follow what you know to be right? If that is the litmus test behind every decision you make, you're going to be fine. You're going to be absolutely fine. But if you decide that your job is to make billions of dollars for your stockholders and the best way to do that is to skirt some of the rules because you know that, well, the ends will justify the means, you're going to find yourself like FTX or you're going to find yourself like Lehman Brothers or Enron. You know, if you're a university that thinks that the gold medal or national championship are more important than academic integrity and the reputation of the university, then you're going to be, pick out a university, right? Unfortunately, a fair number of them, yeah. So the fact of the matter is, as a leader, it's not complicated. It's hard to do. But if you say to yourself, "Okay, I'm about to make these decisions. Will I be able to walk into a room of reasonable men and women and explain the actions I took?" Well, if you can't do that, you better think real hard about whether or not these actions you're about to take are the right ones. So as I go through the book, what I try to do is take those ideas and simplify them in a way that, and also you add, because, again, in the military, we have these mottos and these creeds and these sayings. And what I offer in the book is that they really do help you at, you know, you're in the middle of a difficult situation. You say, "Well, what should I do?" Well, you're the leader, run to the sound of the guns. I mean, this is kind of a classic military one, where if you're the leader, your job is to move to where the problem is. This isn't hard. You're the leader. You're in charge. Move to where the problem is. But so many times what I've found is leaders are like, "Whoa, you know, but if I move to where the problem is, I'm going to get painted with that same brush and it's going to be ugly and my name's going to be all over it." Yeah, that's right. You're the person in charge. You're responsible. And if you think distancing yourself from that problem is going to make it any easier, it's not. So, again, it doesn't mean the leader's got to solve every single problem, but there are existential problems and there are problems that only a leader can solve. Don't run from that problem. Move to where the problem is and get it solved. So these little sayings, I think, really helped, at least it helped me in those kind of complex moments where, oh my gosh, got all this swirling around, what do I do? Oh, I know what I do. I've got to take the initiative, or I've got to move to where the problem is, or I've got to make sure that my decisions are moral, legal, and ethical.

- Yeah, so there's so much in here that resonated. We were talking earlier about my grandfather, and one of the things that he told me when I was growing up was that whatever job you're doing, make it the most important job in the world.

- Absolutely.

- And so one of my favorite chapters is "We All Have Our Frog Floats." If you can talk a little bit about what a frog float means to you.

- So when I was, back to when I was an ensign, seems like I learned a lot when I was an ensign, but again, I met my new, it was called Underwater Demolition Team 11. We all became SEAL Teams later on. But I think I'd been at the command maybe three weeks, and I was out on a training mission. Next thing I know, some young petty officer comes running up to me and says, "Hey, sir, the commanding officer wants to see you." Well, I mean the commanding officer, I mean, he was the big boss, and I'd only been at the command for a couple of weeks, or maybe it'd been a month or so, but I hadn't been there very long. I didn't even know the commanding officer kind of knew my name. I think I'd met him once, I'd shaken hands. But he was a Vietnam vet, highly decorated. And so I rushed back over to the command and I'm thinking, "This is it. I mean, this is it. This is what I went through SEAL training for. I'm going to go back in. There's some secret mission to save the world and he wants me to run this thing." So I make my way back over to his office and I come in and walk into the office and, you know, salute smartly sort of thing and he says, "Right," he says, "Well, Mr. McRaven," says, "I've been hearing some good things about you." I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, you have, yeah." And he says, you know, "I talked to the chief petty officers and they think you're the best ensign in the team." I said, "Yeah." Then I realized I think I was the only ensign in the team. And he says, "Look, the commodore called me." The commodore was his boss. That was the big boss. I'm thinking, "Oh, here it comes. This is it. You know, this is what I've been waiting for. It's what I went through SEAL training for." And he says, "You know the 4th of July is coming up." I thought, "Well, what does that have to do with Vladivostok," you know? He said, "The 4th of July is coming up and, you know, every year the City of Coronado puts on a parade." Yeah? He said, "Well, you know, what we'd like to do is we'd like to build this frog float. You know, we're frogmen. We're going to have a frog float for the parade. And I'd like you to take charge of building the frog float." And of course, I was stunned. This wasn't the secret mission. And he said, "So, you know, check with the supply officer. He'll give you all the material you need and, you know, go build this frog float." So I leave his office and I go to the locker room and I'm sitting down on the bench in the locker room and I'm kind of muttering under my breath and this crusty old master chief, Herschel Davis, Herschel had this huge handlebar mustache, highly decorated Vietnam vet, and he was the master chief petty officer for our sister team, Underwater Demolition Team 12, and he sees me sitting there and I'm muttering under my breath and I remember he says, "Well, ensign, what's wrong?" I said, "Ah, nothing master chief. "Ah, what's wrong?" I said, "Well, I just went in the commanding officer's office and got the 4th of July coming up and he wants me to build a frog float." And the master chief says, "Yeah, and I thought you were, I bet you thought you were going to be going on secret missions, locking out a submarine, saving the world." I said, "Yeah, I did." He goes, "Well, let me tell you something, ensign." He says, "I've been in this canoe club for a long time, and if the commanding officer wants you to build a frog float, then you build the best damn frog float you can." And that was it. Build the best damn frog float you can. And I told folks, look, in my career, I had to build a lot of frog floats, do things that were kind of beneath what I thought were, you know, my level of rank. And I always tried to go do the very best I could, 'cause what I found was, you know, if you do the best you can at the jobs that nobody else wants to do, at little jobs, then people will think you're worthy of the bigger jobs. And I've got three kids, they're all grown, but I always told them, "Look, you know, when you come to a new job, find the job that nobody else wants to do, the one in the building that everybody thinks that this is, you know, not what, you know, people, and you go find that job, the hard job that nobody wants to do, and do it well. And if you're given a job that's a hard job, that's a job nobody, then do it to the very best of your abilities because that's how you get recognized." And it served me well in my career.

- Yeah, that's one of the things that, what I really love is that there's clearly a lot in the book that are, I think, what people might expect from it, about honor and integrity and strategy and planning, but then there's also these counterintuitive things. And one of the other ones that I really loved was troop the line and, in particular, this idea of the importance of solving what you refer to as little problems.

- Little problems, yeah.

- Can you talk about why it's important to do that?

- Yeah, well, the term troop the line, in this case, comes from the army. It's been an army kind of custom for as long as there've been armies. And the idea is a commanding officer or a commander will, form the companies, the battalions are in formation and the commanding officer will come and spend time with kind of each company talking to the commanding officer, talking to those commanders, trooping the line as they're lined up to kind of find out what the issue is. But the broader implications are you have a responsibility to, you know, leadership by walking around. And you can't just sit in your office and expect that you're going to know what's happening in your organization. The way you do it is you walk around and you talk to the soldier, sailors, airmen, marines, you talk to the young employees, you talk to people on the factory line, and that's how you as a leader are going to find out really what's happening. And in many cases, they're going to have great answers to your problems. But I think in the book, I tell the story when I was in Afghanistan, generally, because, long story, but we were on what was called Zulu time, so all of our days were different hours. But I would generally leave the operation center between, you know, 11:30 and midnight and then I would kind of walk around. And this one particular time when I walked around, I would always go visit the young soldiers that were up in the guard towers, but I also, on this particular time, I walked by the laundromat. Now, imagine we're on a base, you know, special operations base. There were about a thousand people on a special operations base. So it's kind of this huge laundromat with, you know, 50 different, you know, washers and dryers. As I walked in there, half of them didn't work. And, you know, I could, you know, the soldiers were kind of muttering, "My gosh, you know, I can't get my," and so the next day, I had my video teleconference with all the senior leaders, and there were a couple other stops I'd made along the way, but I made a point of telling folks, I said, "Look, I want to make sure that all the laundry machines work." You know, you could see the eyes rolling on the video telecom, like, "You got to be kidding me. The three-star is worried about whether or not the laundromats work?" And the answer is yeah, because the soldiers don't like it when the laundromats don't work, and nobody happens to be solving this problem. So I'm telling you this is now a problem for me. I'll give you another one closer to home. When I was the chancellor, I kind of built this electronic suggestion box, and it was a lot of fun because you could come in anonymously or you could put your name on it, and they would say, "These are all the things that we need to fix here at the University of Texas System." And if enough people, I think it was kind of like the Reddit sort of model, if enough people voted on it, if it got up to the top, then it was something that I would get engaged with. And if it got to a certain level, then we'd pulled together a council that would look at it and determine, you know, what we needed to do to solve this problem. And so every week, I would look at this. Well, at one point in time, somebody puts a suggestion in that says, "We have Soviet-style paper towels, and the paper towels are killing us." And I'm like, "Paper towels?" So I look at this thing and I'm thinking, "Well, I mean, I'm the chancellor. I can solve a paper towel issue." So I go to the guy in charge of all of our, you know, paper towels and stuff, and I said, "For god's sakes, we got to get rid of this, we got Soviet-style paper towels here." And he says, "Yes, sir, we'll get right on it." Next week, still have Soviet-style paper towels. A couple weeks goes by and, you know, I'm like, "What?" So I get back to him, he goes, "Well, as it turns out, you know, we buy these things in bulk and the state requires," stop. I've told people we're going to solve the damn, you know, paper towel issue. I don't care if I've got to pay for them. We're not going to have Soviet-style paper towels in there. And so this became a little bit of an ongoing battle. And eventually, of course, we managed to get another contract and we got, you know, softer paper towels for people. It sounds simple, but all of a sudden, the people at the University of Texas System realized that I was paying attention, and that if the Soviet-style paper towels mattered to the people that were doing the hard work, then they mattered to me. And the only way you're going to find that is if you listen to the people that are working for you, if you walk around and talk to them when they're not in a group where they feel like they can't talk to you, and if you create a culture that allows people to be candid and honest and frank and not, you know, come back and wire brush them because, you know, they've told you something that maybe you didn't want to hear. So, I mean, this trooping the line is important if it's done right. And by doing it right, you really have to get out and, again, try to solve the little problems that they may be little problems in the big strategic sense, but to the people that really matter, they matter.

- So the book is about leadership and one of the things that you make very clear is that these lessons are useful to presidents and admirals and CEOs, but they're also just as relevant to someone who is managing two people at a Starbucks.

- [William] Absolutely.

- Can you talk about what you think are some of the most important things for someone who's maybe not at the very bottom, maybe not at the very top, but most leaders are somewhere in the middle. So for middle management, what's a really important lesson?

- Yeah, hard work. I mean, hard work solves almost every leadership problem, you know? One, your job as a leader is to earn the respect of the men and women that work for you. And that, you know, you got to be a person of integrity, and the cornerstone of leadership is really about integrity. You can kind of dismiss that as a, yeah, yeah, everybody says that. Oh, no, make no mistake about it. If you're a leader that doesn't have integrity, that you don't do things that are honorable and represent, you know, the company that you represent or the unit you represent, it's going to trickle down to everybody in the organization because they're going to say, "Well, if the boss does this, I ought to be able to get away with this," right? So the cornerstone is integrity. But if you want to earn the respect of the people that work for you, you got to work hard. You got to come in early. You got to work hard. You got to stay late. You got to come in on the weekends. And this is just the nature of how you're going to earn the respect. When I was a young officer, once again, at that same command, I mean, I was new to the SEAL Team, and everybody in my team at the time, with maybe one or two exceptions, were Vietnam vets. They were combat veterans and I'm the new kid from the University of Texas who's got one tiny little, you know, National Defense Ribbon or something. And the guy that was, we didn't call them mentors back then, but the guy that was helping me out said, "Look, this is easy. You know, the command master chief shows up at six o'clock in the morning," because he had to get ready for when the commanding officer came in, so, "And he leaves about five o'clock. You ought to come in at 5:30. You ought to show that you're prepared to put the work in and you need to stay late." And I found that, one, there was plenty of work to do. And you don't have to, you know, showcase it. You don't have to stand on your podium and say, "Look, I'm in early," but you got to work hard. And, you know, my niece and her husband are here tonight and they've heard me talk about this before and my wife always cringes when I'm asked about the work-life balance, and I probably shouldn't say this in front of a whole lot of, you know, employees here at Indeed, or those that want to get jobs, but I'm always asked about, how do you, you know, how do you manage the work-life balance? And the answer is, it's really, really hard. If you want to be good at what you do, then maybe you can balance work and life. But if you want to be great, something's going to have to give. And, you know, if you want to be great at work, you're going to have to come in early, you're going to have to work hard, you're going to have to stay late, you're going to have to sacrifice something to be great at what you do. There's trade-offs. And, you know, it's the old crystal balls and rubber balls, you know? The rubber balls, if you drop them, they're going to bounce. The crystal balls, if you drop them, they're going to break. You got to find out in your life what is truly important. What is it you don't want to drop? And those are the trade-offs. It's not necessarily a balance, but it is a trade-off. And so as you think about work and being great and leading, it's about hard work. It ain't complicated. It is hard. If you're fighting traffic, if your wife or your husband's home with a bunch of kids, if you got to get back for your kid's, you know, Pop Warner game or something, all that challenges your ability to work hard. But once again, if you're going to get to where you want to get to in life, you're going to have to put in the hard work. Sorry.

- So in 2014, after 37 years of service, you retired from the military, and the next year, you became chancellor of the University of Texas System here. And we at Indeed spend a lot of time talking about the transition from military to civilian life, which is challenging at multiple different levels. It's not, I'd imagine, easy at your level either. How did you approach this transition?

- Yeah, the transition actually was much easier than you would think because the fundamentals of leadership don't change. So when I came to be the-

- Did you know that that was going to be the case?

- Yeah, I did. Because, again, part of it is, you know, in your job in the military, every two years, you move, and every two years, you're kind of at a new command. And in the case of the special operations community, you end up, we're joint as we refer to it. So in my early career, I was just leading Navy SEALs, but then all of a sudden, I had to lead Army Rangers and Air Force Special Tactics guys and Marine Special Operations and different cultures. And oh, by the way, a lot of civilians. CIA, DIA, all the three-letter agencies. And so you realize that even with these different cultures, leadership still applies. So when I became the chancellor, I didn't know anything about healthcare. And again, the University of Texas System, 230,000 kids, a hundred thousand employees, 14 institutions, eight of which are academic institutions, six of which were very, very large healthcare institutions. I knew nothing about higher education, knew nothing about healthcare. But I had a great staff, remarkable staff. And I've told folks, probably the best staff I ever had in all my years of leadership because they were all incredibly experienced and wonderful people. But what I had to do in the transition was learn the business of higher education and learn the business of healthcare. Back to hard work. Well, that meant, guess what? On the weekends, I was reading everything I could about higher education. You know, what does a chair do? What does a dean do? What does a provost do? How does the faculty senate work? How do these things? And then I would ask my staff, "Explain this to me. Explain this to me." Stay late to read the instructions. What do I have to do as a, what have former chancellor done? What have former chancellors done? So you have to learn the business of the business, whatever business you're going into, right? You're going to go into investment banking, you need to learn the business of investment banking. Whatever business you're going into, learn the business. But the leadership skills, being a servant leader, making sure that you are providing the resources, the training, the latitude to do the job, and holding people accountable, that is universal. And I often get asked, "Well, you know, you got the Millennials and the Gen Z. They're different." No, they're really not. They're not different in terms of the leadership. They want leaders that are men and women of integrity. They want leaders that are going to work hard. They want leaders that will listen to their input. They want leaders that will kind of lead from the front. They want leaders that do everything that every good leader across time has done, right? Now, again, there's differences in every, you know, generation, but the fundamentals of leadership, I don't think they change much.

- So you took the role in January of 2015, and then in November, you presented your chancellor's vision, which I assume that was the result of the homework and the study-

- It was.

- That you had done.

- Absolutely, yeah.

- And you published it with the title "Leading in a Complex World," and you laid out a series of extraordinary challenges facing the state of Texas and the world and you proposed a set of quantum leaps, these big bets, that were hopefully going to be transformative for the state. And I want to talk through a couple of them. The first one, something that's very important to us at Indeed, you titled, "Enhancing Fairness and Opportunity." And we talk about this idea that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. And there were two big challenges that you were focused on. One was representation within the faculty administration and leadership, and the other was on pay equity. And so I'd love to hear a little bit about how you approached those and maybe what challenges that you faced in terms of how did people feel about these ideas being pushed from you?

- Yeah, so, you know, the fact of the matter is, again, it was coming from the military background. So the pay equity piece was, you know, the check I got as a Navy admiral was the same check that my female admiral's counterpart, that she got as well. I mean, it was the same check. We were doing the same work. So why would things be different? And that was actually, essentially, I had to sit down with a lot of the faculty and say, "Okay, explain to me why this female faculty member is making 10% less than you are." Well, and we kind of went through the discussion and, no, you haven't convinced me. You have not convinced me. And, you know, if everything is equal, and, again, not everything is always equal, okay, I got it, but if everything is equal, then people ought to get equal pay. It's that simple. It isn't hard, right? And again, I go back to my military career. Every admiral, every captain, every commander, every ensign, every chief petty officer got the same pay unless there was something different. You know, if you were jumping out of airplanes, you got a little more for that. If you were... But the pay was the same. So this idea of the same amount of pay for the same amount of work, right? But the kind of the DEI, if you will, or the diversity issue was more from my, I'm a sports guy, and so this was the Rooney Rule, and I think I talk about it in the quantum leaps. I said, and what the Rooney Rule required, and it wasn't perfect, it still isn't perfect in the National Football League, but Art Rooney, when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers, said, "Look, we're going to," and then I think he was kind of commissioner at some point in time and had a lot to do with what the hiring practice was going to be. And the idea was, look, every time you're getting ready to hire a head coach, you are going to have to bring in a minority coach and have that interview. And the idea was, back to your point about opportunity, it's not just talent, it's opportunity. And so what I told the entire university system was, if we are looking at, you know, presidents and faculty members, and there was a certain level, I mean, I had to be, to some degree, a little bit practical, but I said, "I want to make sure that there is a minority candidate that gets an interview. Now, whether you hire that person or not, I'm not going to dictate that. We're not going to have a quota system. But we are going to make sure that opportunity is there." And I would offer on both of those accounts, on the pay account and the kind of Rooney Rule account, there was almost universal agreement. I mean, the Board of Regents supported it. You know, the universities said, now, again, it was hard because sometimes there were not minority candidates, but I would always challenge them on it. You're telling me there's not an African American, not a Hispanic, not a female out there that doesn't want this job? I'm sorry, you're going to have to prove that to me. And there was, I mean, I pushed it a couple times, was, I don't accept that. You got to come back and show me that there's nobody out there. And that, of course, drove, "Well, maybe there's somebody." Okay, well, bring that person in for an interview. You might be surprised. And in a lot of cases, they were pleasantly surprised, you know? So, now, was it perfect? Did it make a fundamental change in things? I haven't seen the statistics over the years. But it was an important message as much as anything else. It was a recognition that, to your point, sometimes talent can be buried in a lack of opportunity and we need to give people the opportunity. And, you know, again, what was not negotiable at all was the same paycheck for the same job. And if everybody's equal in a particular area, then everybody needs to get paid. And we did, in fact, over the couple years, close the gap. Did we get to the point where it was perfectly equal? No, but we definitely closed the gap. And again, I don't know where we are now. It's been a few years.

- So you laid out in this vision a series of big challenges facing the state. Since you left office, things have gotten, if anything, more challenging in the state of Texas. We have, just as of January this year, all offices of DEI and DEI-related initiatives have been banned from public universities and colleges. The Supreme Court struck down affirmative action for race-based criteria in higher education. So for people who care about these issues, what do you think is going to be required in the state of Texas to have us continue in this vision that you laid out?

- You know, it's interesting to see the University of Texas at Austin today relative to when I went through in 1973. And I don't know the exact statistics, so don't hold me to this, but I can tell you when I went through in 1973, it was predominantly white. And now I think when you walk along the campus, you see an incredible mixture. And it's almost a third, a third, a third sort of thing. Now, that happened because there were some, you know, laws in place, some opportunities that were made available, but the nature of the campus environment has changed dramatically. I don't know that, you can strike down DEI, you can strike down these things, but I think what faculty members, what leadership at the institutions understand now is back to the point about opportunity. Let's make sure we are giving the right people an opportunity. You don't have to have a law that says to do that. You don't have to have an office that says to do that. What you have to do is you have to have a culture that says, "We're going to do that because it's the right thing to do," right? And so I'd be willing to bet what you're going to find is, yeah, I mean, some institutions will take that, you know, to the point where it is detrimental, but I'd be willing to bet that most of the institutions, certainly the ones I've worked with, will recognize that the diversity is important. The diversity of talent, the diversity of ideas, the diversity of culture. This is only going to make people better. And they've seen that over the last 40 years, 50 years. And so I don't think, you can make all the law changes you want, but I think people are going to realize that it was a good direction and we're going to kind of keep moving in that direction, whether we have a DEI office or not.

- So one of your other quantum leaps was around winning the talent war. So bringing more and more talented faculty into the system. There was a troubling survey last year, which you might've seen, I think 1,900 professors in Texas and a quarter of them said that they were actively, because of the current climate, looking potentially for jobs outside of Texas. 2/3 said that they would not recommend a colleague from another state come here. So what would you say to Texas faculty in terms of what we can do, given the current challenges? One of the, I mean, they're focused on the political climate, but really on academic freedom was one of the things that they were really concerned about.

- Yeah, absolutely. I mean, what I found, at least in my time, was there was a lot of talk, you know, when we had, when I first got here, there was the issue of campus carry, guns on campus. And I think, you know, much to the surprise of a lot of leaders in Texas, I was not in favor of campus carry. And they said, "Well, you were a Navy SEAL. I mean, you like guns." I said, "Oh, yeah, I got more guns than any one man ought to have, but I don't think you need them on campus." And that created a bit of a stir. And there were a lot of the faculty at UT that said, "Well, we're going to leave. If this passes, we're going to leave." Well, they didn't leave, and they didn't leave because, you know, once again, a little bit about the, like the DEI office, because it's still a great environment. Every university, you know, and you see it now today after October 7th, you've seen the, you know, turmoil and the protests on campus, this is the nature of campuses. Campuses are like living organisms. You know, I mean, they kind of, they breathe, they contract, they expand. Issues come up every day, every week. But they're still the greatest institution, I think, in the country. I mean, they're educating the youth of America. And the faculty, I think, understand that. I mean, the faculty that I talk to routinely, and, you know, again, back to my military times, you know, when I would have a meeting of the alumni or the donors, they would say, "Well, you know, you got all these eccentric faculty members." I loved the faculty. I loved their eccentricities because they were always devoted to the students. They were devoted to great research. They were devoted to academic freedom. They were devoted to the right things that universities ought to be devoted to. I didn't agree with them all the time. I mean, in fact, I didn't agree with them a lot. But I loved their passion. And so I think most of the faculty members, when they say, "Well, I wouldn't come to Texas," the next question you say, "Well, are you leaving Texas?" Well, no, I'm not leaving Texas because I love my students. I love my colleagues. Austin's not a bad town to live in, or San Antonio or Tyler, Texas. I mean, so the fact of the matter is all universities go through these kind of upheavals. And I think it's important, frankly, to go through these upheavals. I mean, again, I came into the university of 1973, right? So I think back on the campus on the '60s. Let me tell you, we're not even anywhere close to that. I mean, you think about the Vietnam War protests, think about the civil rights marches, you think about four dead students at Kent State. You know, those were turbulent, turbulent times. We're not close to approximating that today. But once again, the faculty members and those people that want to be part of universities, boy, they ought to sign up in droves because it is a remarkable place to work because you are doing something honorable and something noble and you are teaching the next generation of young men and women that are going to make a difference in the nation and in the world. So, you know, the more you can get, the better.

- So one of the core themes in that vision that you laid out is adaptability in a complex and rapidly changing world. And one of the potentially largest forces of change that we're talking about right now certainly at Indeed and around the world is artificial intelligence and potential transformation to national defense, healthcare, and especially the world of work. And so what are your thoughts on how, as a nation, we should think about enhancing our investments while thinking about being responsible in our investments in artificial intelligence? Short, simple concept here.

- You know, I go back, and, again, my niece Bethany and her husband Dave know my son John and my son John's a pretty smart kid. And when he was in high school, he was taking an advanced math class and he had a Texas Instrument TI-82, little calculator, right? And he would do all his calculations on this TI-82, and I was not happy with it. He wasn't learning math. And so I went to talk to his teacher and I said, "My son has no idea how to do division, how to do, you know, none of the math. He doesn't know how to do that. You know, you're setting him up for failure." She looked at me and she goes, "He won't have to do math. He knows how to program that TI-82, and that will get him, as long as he knows how to do that, I don't care how he gets to the answer." And I thought, "Well, that's silly." Well, my son got a PhD in theoretical physics, and I don't know that he still knows how to do long division, but he does know how to program and he does know physics. And so when I look at AI, I don't want to dismiss the concerns about AI. I mean, I think there's some valid concerns, and I know a lot of the CEOs of companies that are working on AI and they'll be the first to tell you, "Yeah, we need some AI regulation. We need to be thoughtful about how we proceed," but I don't think we can be afraid of it. You know, we need to figure out how do we incorporate it? How do we incorporate it into Indeed? How do we incorporate it into our universities? How do we incorporate it into our high schools? You know, the day of, I mean, nowadays between the search engines and these sort of things, it can be something good if we understand the nature of it. But, you know, a CEO I saw at one point in time had a quote, you know, "We can't be afraid of sharp sticks when the sharp sticks became the spears that got us our food, the sharp sticks became the spears that protected our families. The sharp sticks are also used to poke people, but you can't be afraid of them," right? I don't think we should be afraid of AI, but we definitely need to figure out how to incorporate, we need to figure out how to incorporate it into our daily lives, how to incorporate it into our corporate lives, how to incorporate it in the military, because it's here, the genie is out of the bottle. So we better figure this out and figure it out quick.

- Well, we are unfortunately running low on time. So I'm going to ask one more kind of big question before we wrap up here. You have amazing experience demonstrating courageous leadership in the military, but you've also since then taken on some big social issues that might have surprised some people. And in 2019, you published an op-ed in "The New York Times" with the headline, "Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President." So my question is, it's 2024, we're in an election year, and as someone who fought to protect this country for 37 years, what should our battle plan be to protect the US democracy?

- Vote. You know, a lot of people, when we look at the state of the nation today, and, you know, you see people complaining about, you know, Congress, about the Senate or the House or the White House, pick something. And they're like, you know, "Those guys at Capitol Hill," and I said, "Stop." This is on us. If you don't like the people on Capitol Hill, vote them out. If you don't like the president, vote him out. This is our responsibility. This is a representative government. And I've said before, you know, when 2024 comes, if the candidate I don't like becomes the president, that's okay. If the American people have voted that person in, that's who we are, and we need to accept that and move on. So there's always going to be a tension in a democracy. You know, I was telling my students last night, I teach at the LBJ School, you go back and look at Plato, Plato, the philosopher king. Not a whole lot of countries have philosopher kings. He didn't like democracy because he thought that the people were too stupid to elect somebody smart. But at the end of the day, you know, we've got the longest-standing democracy in the history of the world. It's still an experiment. It can still go south on us. But the one way we can control it is to vote. And so it's on us. Our future is on us. It's not complex. It's just sometimes hard to do.

- Well, the last question that I always ask is, given especially everything that we've been through in this country and around the world over the last four years and all of the challenges that we face and all the challenges that we do face, what gives you the most hope for the future?

- Oh, well, that's easy. I mean, I am the biggest fan of the Millennials and the Gen Z that you'll ever meet. And I think that surprises a lot of people, and I've said this before, look, the reason I'm their biggest fan is because this narrative that they are these soft, entitled little snowflakes, I've been quick to point out then you've never seen them in a firefight in Afghanistan or going to the University of Texas to make a better life for themselves. And I tell a story, and I know my niece and her husband have heard this story before, but when I was a chancellor, I was leaving the job and they give you a very nice house and I was moving, I was packing up, and I found this letter from my mother and it was unopened. And my mother died in 1986 when I was about 30 years old. I hadn't seen, so it's a letter from my mother and I realized it is dated the day that I went off to SEAL training. So, I mean, and my mother and my father were part of the greatest generation. You know, my father was in World War II. She was an East Texas school teacher. And so I'm thinking, "Oh my," so I opened the letter and, I mean, it's got my mother's handwriting and she was an English teacher, so it's very, you know, "Dearest Bill." And so I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh." She just goes, "Well, you know, you're heading off to this military training." I'm thinking, "Oh good, she's going to tell me how," she goes, you know, "And I love you dearly, but, you know, I think this military training is too difficult for you. You know, you've lived this country club life." We live near a nine-hole golf course. And she goes on and on to say that I'm essentially, you know, a soft, entitled little snowflake. And then she says, "And, oh, by the way, you're spoiled," underlined. What? My mother thought I was just this kind of soft, because I didn't march, you know, three miles in the snow to get the school. I didn't go through the Great Depression. I didn't have to go through World War II. I was clearly, you know, just this not up to the, and every generation thinks the next generation just isn't as tough as they are, just isn't as good as they are. Well, let me tell you, the young men and women that I spend time with are just as patriotic, just as devoted to this country, just as hardworking, probably more innovative than my generation was. And so where do I get hope? Look out here. I mean, if this doesn't give you hope, you need to go back and, you know, find another way to look through the lens of your life because the young men and women that I spend time with at school, in the corporate world, in the military, this is a great generation and I am very optimistic about the future of the country.

- Well, that's a great way to close. I think the world might be a little better because you didn't read that letter early enough to have made a different decision as a result of it. But I want to thank you so much for joining us.

- My pleasure, Chris.

- Thank you for sharing your wisdom and thank you for everything that you've done to make the world a better place.

- My pleasure. Thanks very much.

- Thanks, everyone.

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