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A Navy SEAL shares why optimal performance goes beyond just skill

Posted by Kanika Sinha

April 7, 2022    |     3-minute read (594 words)

You may think the more skills and credentials you have, the more likely you will succeed in your life and career, but this often proves wrong. Even highly capable employees sometimes fail to meet expectations while underdogs pull off exceptional achievements. So, what determines whether you make the cut?

According to retired Navy SEAL commander Rich Diviney, optimal performance goes far beyond conspicuous skills. Rather, optimal performance boils down to core “attributes,” upon which he elucidates in The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance.  As Diviney explains, these key attributes are innate, meaning they are natural and inborn, and they inform the way we react to situations — particularly stressful and challenging ones — and how we perform in any environment.

Dissecting “optimal performance”

During his 20 years as a U.S. Navy officer and SEAL, Diviney was intimately involved in a specialized SEAL selection process that entailed the whittling of a group of hundreds of extraordinary candidates down to a handful of only the most elite performers. The results were often surprising: Many candidates who on the surface appeared to have all the “right” skills failed to meet the rigorous physical and mental requirements needed to become a SEAL. Meanwhile, other candidates who were initially dismissed as unlikely to succeed proved to be the top performers. 

Years of experience in the SEAL selection process led Diviney to begin analyzing human performance to discern the hidden drivers of performance that seemingly lay beneath apparent skills. After all, you can't sit across an interview table and assess someone's level of adaptability or resilience. In an unknown environment is where we lean on our attributes. In his view, the attributes that inform how we show up to highly stressful, uncertain situations are: adaptability; patience; courage; empathy; cunning; (and even) narcissism. 

These attributes, Diviney explains, seem to determine how resilient or perseverant we are, how situationally aware we are, and how diligent or conscientious we ought to be. Or simply stated, these attributes inform how we perform as individuals and as part of a team. 

“So, if you want to build a team that actually is good at interacting with each other, especially when times get uncertain, and challenging, and stressful, you need to start looking at these attributes, not just skills, because skills aren't going to tell us what we need to know,” Diviney says.

Wait, you can still improve your odds of success

Although these attributes are innate, there is still room for improvement. You can hone the attributes in which you are a bit weaker, or capitalize on the ones where you’re stronger. 

However, you can’t go about improving your attributes that same way as you would develop a skill. You can’t pick up a book or take a class. You need to find specific environments that can stimulate the attribute you are trying to cultivate. For instance, driving in heavy traffic or waiting in the longest line at the grocery store can be ideal environments for developing patience. To become more adaptable, you can get out of your comfort zone and be willing to make mistakes.

That said, remember that you can’t teach or train anybody else these attributes. You have to do it all yourself, and it’s your choice!

Takeaway: Diviney’s secret recipe for success can be applied by anyone in their personal and professional lives, but it does require work and dedication. Understanding these attributes can allow leaders and their teams to perform optimally, even under adversity, and thereby make the business grow stronger and faster.

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