“Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Military Service” with Former Navy SEAL Rob Huberty

“Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Military Service” with Former Navy SEAL Rob Huberty

See the full article HERE.

A hero is a common person with an uncommon desire to succeed. A hero is willing to face a challenging task even when fear arises. A hero does this not to better his/her position but does so with the best interest of all to improve his/her world. A hero shares the ideals of a superhero even though he/she may lack physical strength or monetary resources.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Huberty. Rob served as a U.S. Navy SEAL for nine years. During this time, he led both Navy SEALs and foreign forces during training and combat missions. He also serves as a board member for Climb for the Fallen, a non-profit organization dedicated to memorializing fallen US service members. Rob holds an MBA from The Wharton School and a BA in Political Science from the University of Arizona. Rob is currently COO of ZeroEyes, an artificial intelligence (AI) gun detection system for real-time weapon detection and alerts. ZeroEyes is for use in various locations including schools, airports, tourist attractions, hospitals, and commercial buildings. The object is to “Stop threats at first sight, not at first shot.” https://zeroeyes.com


Thank you so much for doing this with us Rob! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was raised to be a leader by my parents. I played team sports throughout my childhood, and I was regularly a team captain. I learned that I should always strive to make the world a better place. Perhaps I also believed too much in movies depicting honor or the stories of superheroes. Initially I wanted to be a lawyer like Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, making the right choice no matter the consequence. After college, I applied to law school. However, I changed course after the tragedies on September 11, 2001. I felt called to action. I wanted to be Batman, but since superheroes do not exist, I decided to join the SEAL Teams to serve my country.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I wanted to take what I have learned from my life experiences to solve difficult problems. I find that there are few events more devastating and difficult to prevent than mass shootings. Offering thoughts and prayers after the fact is not enough. We need solutions to prevent such tragedies. I have not seen even small steps in the right direction. I feel like we can leverage technology in a very meaningful way. We need to use the tools we have access to in a similar manner to prevent mass shootings. Cameras have become ubiquitous in our world, but we only use them after a tragedy.

I helped build ZeroEyes to provide a solution. Using our expertise from the SEAL teams of active shooter situations, we have created a working Artificial Intelligence model. We effectively use every existing camera to create more eyes on target. We have a computer monitor every camera 24/7 with no loss of attention. These cameras can detect an exposed gun in under a second. As soon as a weapon is spotted, an alert is sent to administrators, school resource officers, police, and 911 dispatch.

Our interface allows people to see a map of the school and to know exactly where the shooter is in real time with three effects: 1) The opportunity to prevent the shooting if the shooter is outside the school by locking the school doors before a shot is fired. 2) The opportunity to move students away from the shooter towards safety and avoid danger. 3) The opportunity for first responders to go to the shooter without hesitation, preventing further violence from occurring as well as render first aid much faster, saving lives.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I was a U.S. Navy SEAL for nine years. I served as a sniper and team lead in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

In the SEAL Teams, I discovered a sense of purpose, but unfortunately, I also experienced great loss. I lost many friends in my time in the SEAL teams, but on one particular mission, my friend, Kevin Ebbert, was killed by an enemy sniper. As a group, we planned the mission, so we all feel responsible for his death. I have analyzed what happened time and time again, but ultimately, I cannot get him back. I can only hold my friend in my heart the rest of my life. With time, I have learned to forgive myself for my mistakes. Yet, when the anniversary of his death occurs, those feelings inevitably resurface. I have to remind myself to appreciate all that I have been given. Kevin was a talented SEAL and a compassionate person. After completing this particular deployment, he intended to leave the military to become a doctor and a father. He was never given the opportunity to realize these dreams. I have been, and I cannot take them for granted.

I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

I was surrounded by heroes on a daily basis, but they did not appear the way Hollywood might portray heroism. Heroes are flawed. Heroes are human. I believe that the most accurate description of courage or heroism occurs when a person experiences fear but confronts that fear anyway. I have also heard courage described as when a person always pursues the butterflies in his/her stomach because the best things in life are always followed by butterflies.

Adam Olin Smith is one example of the many heroes I knew while serving in the SEAL Teams. Adam was a true brother. He would never leave you alone regardless of consequences. I believed that he lacked one attribute, self-preservation. The rule in the Teams is that if someone gets hurt, win the fight. Only after the fight is done can you help those who are hurt. First you must address self-aid, then buddy- aid, and finally corpsman aid. I do not think Adam had the discipline to leave a teammate in harm’s way. He would jump in to his own detriment. He never left anyone alone in a fight. Adam was all in, all the time. He died in a helicopter crash on September 21st 2010. I think of Adam in moments when I need to be a better teammate. I strive to show the selflessness that Adam showed to his teammates.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

A hero is a common person with an uncommon desire to succeed. A hero is willing to face a challenging task even when fear arises. A hero does this not to better his/her position but does so with the best interest of all to improve his/her world. A hero shares the ideals of a superhero even though he/she may lack physical strength or monetary resources.

Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?

No. A great example of heroism that I observed was when I worked as an operations manager at Amazon. I had many people who reported to me. I found many of the best workers were female. I was curious as to why, so I would ask them to share their story. They were often quiet, and I wanted to hear their voice. The best workers I found were mothers who were providing for their families when circumstances were difficult. Many times, they were victims of drug abuse and domestic violence, or they were generally overcoming difficult times. I saw mothers supporting these families on their own. They showed up each day without fail or complaint. These single mothers worked the hardest because they knew they could not fail. They exhibited “ordinary” heroics that the world needs.

Further, I am in awe of my wife on a regular basis. She selflessly provides for our three girls. She gives them every ounce of her soul, only looking to provide them great experiences.

Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) The golden rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

2) A true leader should lead by example. If you exhibit curiosity and you are willing to do the tasks that are difficult or undesirable, your actions will be followed. My mentor in the SEAL Teams, John Faas, was a hero to me. He was a senior member of an exclusive unit. He was a Chief at SEAL Team 6, but he was going through sniper school with me. He was a class leader, and on the first day he split up the cleaning assignments. He chose to clean the toilets. I never stopped seeking his advice after I saw his actions that day. He was part of the team that died in Extortion 17. I vow to treat every day as if I were a new guy in the teams, the way he did, willing to help the team by doing the most undesirable tasks.

3) Calm breeds calm; excitement breeds excitement. Stay calm under pressure, and show excitement to motivate a team. People will mirror your actions. The people I was awed by in combat were the ones who were calm over the radio. You could not even tell that they were in danger, even when they thought they would die. It made everyone else calm and allowed the rest of the team to do our jobs effectively. It was infectious. Excitement is equally infectious. There are specific times when excitement is important to rally a team towards a common goal.

4) Learn to accept the mistakes you make in life. Learn to love yourself and accept your failures. I still struggle with this each day.

5) In all forms of communication- be brief, be brilliant, be gone.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?

The military taught me incredible lessons. There are few places in the world that give so much responsibility to people so young. The repercussions are real. I learned attention to detail, but through the losses I experienced, I gained an incredible perspective about what is truly important in life. It is easy to get caught up in minutiae that does not matter. I know not to sweat the small stuff. I learned almost everything is the small stuff.

I learned the qualities of good leadership, and I learned the qualities of bad leadership. I was enlisted, lowest on the totem pole. This perspective is absolutely incredible. Many leaders have not actually done the unenviable tasks. I know when I ask difficult tasks what it actually takes and what it actually means. I know not to take people for granted.

The military taught me to deal with things that are “unfair.” This was an incredible lesson. Many times over, I wondered if my bosses were tyrants. Did they understand what they were asking? I wondered if situations were unwinnable. I learned they were both unfair and unwinnable. I fought through them anyway, with no finger to be pointed. It was better to fight than assign blame. I learned that often my bosses were doing their best but were terrible at communicating the reason “why.” I saw amazing people make flaws time and time again. They concealed their fear and covered it with bravado. I learned to be able to tell the difference.

I learned to accept my own failures. I had a deployment where a few team members were killed. We had a tyrant for a commanding officer. He demanded perfection and was a micromanager. We hated him. He blamed himself for our team’s losses. We saw him deteriorate in front of us. Despite our dislike of his style, we understood he was doing what he thought was best for our team. People reached out, but he built a wall around himself so strong that he could not be reached. He took his own life on our deployment. I learned that you need to listen to hard truths, even when you are sure you are right. Your people are always the most important asset. If someone has the courage to bring truth to power, you must listen.

I learned persistence. When you fall, get back up every time. Try. Try. Try. Success follows failure… many, many failures.

These are incredible lessons that are critically important in the business world. I just need to take it one step further. I pursued my MBA in order to be able to apply these lessons in a meaningful way. “Leadership” without technical expertise is not enough. When you combine these lessons with technical knowledge, it is an incredibly powerful force in the business world.

As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?

Scarred might not be the right word, but the experiences I had in the military are certainly a part of who I am now. I live with these experiences every day. I struggled more than I thought I would while transitioning. I attended Wharton for my MBA after leaving the Teams which did give me some time to adjust. However, the business world holds different values. Finding the right place can be challenging.

I left the military to be with my family, but I also want to have a mission and achieve meaningful goals. I have struggled to find this without taking risks. I want to be connected with the people around me.

I have found the most useful tools are fairly simple.

  1. Exercise every day. I will go for runs with my family.
  2. Get direct sunlight for 30 minutes in the morning. I do this by exercising outside.
  3. Practice mindfulness. I meditate for 10 minutes each day.
  4. Practice thankfulness. Tell one person each day what they mean to you.
  5. Share your story. It will resonate with others.
  6. Be authentic. There is no reason to please others if you cannot please yourself.
  7. Help others. Teach others what you have learned.
  8. Read books and learn. You will be more interesting and open minded.
  9. Go to bed early. Practice good sleep routine.
  10. Take risks. Dare greatly.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

ZeroEyes is working to make schools safer from active shooters. We believe by giving warning before shots are fired, we can be a part of the solution. Instead of offering thoughts and prayers, we can offer a proactive step to curb mass shootings.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

Lead by example. Teach your team at every opportunity. Your team will solve the problem you bring up every day. Invest in your team and be enthusiastic.

What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Lead by example. Be honest and authentic. It is ok to be tough and demand performance, but you must be compassionate. Care about your people. Success will follow.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My earliest and most significant mentor is my oldest brother, Brian. I wanted to emulate the things he did my entire life. I learned the “right way” to do things by observing his actions. I was competitive with his achievements. When I had surpassed his feats, I thought he would be jealous of my success. Instead, I found that he cheered me through each event. I realized that I was flawed in wanting to gloat.

Brian taught to appreciate the Isaac Newton quote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Stan Lee and Spiderman taught me that, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I believe that my experiences have been extraordinary. The onus is on me to change the world for the better. I can do this through three ways.

  1. Raise my daughters to be great citizens.
  2. Mentor those who need help.
  3. Our jobs take up most hours in the day. Find a mission and turn it into a job.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need to treat each other better. It is as simple as that. Stop shaming people on the internet. Stop playing politics. Put your phone down and live in the moment. We cannot live in the past, and we cannot live in the future. Try to enjoy every moment of life, both the good and the bad.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Let your heart be broken.” I was told this by a Jesuit missionary. He said that when he would help a village, sometimes gangsters would destroy or steal his hard work. He said it was heartbreaking, but he did not stay discouraged for long. He did not keep his heart guarded. He did not put armor around his emotions. Instead he let his heart be broken. It made the joys of life better. Life is better lived if you have your heart exposed. Love openly.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Yvonne Chouinard- Founder of Patagonia

He founded a company based on needs and solving problems. He never thought he would get rich. He stands for his people. He is changing the world. He has shown how to run a truly ethical business. He is authentic to himself. He is a self-proclaimed “dirtbag” meaning he is a climbing bum to this day.

“I believe that we should laugh at life. It is all a joke. I think comedians are incredibly smart and find the details that make every situation funny. They make the struggle of life a little bit better.”

— Jerry Seinfeld

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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