Larry helped experienced entrepreneurs massively shift their leadership to drive superhuman results with their teams.
No matter what you do, you are a part of a team – in life, in relationships and in business. Your ability to coordinate action and results with others is what allows you to be effective or not in every aspect of your life. The Navy SEAL teams are considered one of the highest performing teams in the world. They lead themselves and others in the most extreme environments on what many would term “impossible missions,” yet they do this with a sense of calm and ease.
What would be possible for you if your team completed projects faster with less input from you? What would it be like to have a team that starts on the same page for every project, in perfect alignment with each other? What would it feel like to have your leaders instilling purpose and passion into the team at every turn?
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Everybody Needs a F*ck This Moment | Larry Yatch
I’m more than ecstatic about this show. This dude is a good friend of mine. He’s a ten-year veteran of the US Navy SEALs and has a 100% success rate at leading and planning 200-plus of the most challenging missions in the world’s most intense environments. Over the years, he’s reverse-engineered this elite process, mindset and systems. He’s a trainer and coach to help extraordinary entrepreneurs and managers to create unstoppable teams. Larry Yatch, welcome to the show.
Rick, it’s great to be here. I’m excited about this. This is going to be a blast.
We’ve hung out in the past. We closed down a patio or two years ago and had good conversations around everything. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I know a lot about your background. What I’ve never talked about though with you in person is your transition. Everyone hears Navy SEAL. That’s amazing. Why did you even get into SEALs in the first place?
It all started with me in third grade with Top Gun. I saw Top Gun and decided in the movie theater that I was going to be a fighter pilot. I found out about the Naval Academy. All the best fighter pilots came from there. Before third grade was over, I was dead set on becoming a fighter pilot, going to the Naval Academy and started working towards that, which isn’t normal. In about seventh grade, I found a book called the Men in Green Faces, which was a Vietnam air SEAL book. By the end of the book, I was convinced that fighter pilots are pansies and I needed to be a Navy SEAL. The problem was I was not SEAL material. I was a skinny little dork growing up in Pittsburgh. If it had a ball or a team, I was useless at it.
I was bullied badly through middle school and high school. I would have been voted least likely to be a Navy SEAL a lot in high school. I did get into the Naval Academy and graduated from there. Through hard work and dedication, I forged myself as someone that was able to go to SEAL training. From there, I graduated top of my class and chose to go to SEAL Team 3. To directly answer your question, it was a combination of proving to myself that what everyone always said about me wasn’t true. The fact that bullies use their power to hurt people and SEALs use their power to help people, I got to go hunt bullies on the main stage. Being able to blow stuff up, shoot things and jump out of planes was a bonus on top of it.
That’s a crazy motivator when somebody tells you that you can’t do something, that you’ll never make it.
For me, it’s less about the person telling me that I can’t. It’s more about my internal doubt. I’m internally driven. What someone else says doesn’t matter. It produced enough doubt in me that I needed to prove to myself that I could do what was for most people impossible.
You’re a little too tall to be a fighter pilot.
The jet trainer from the Naval Academy was my roommate He’s 6’4 and when they get into the jet trainers, if you’re going the jet route, you have to sign a waiver that says if you eject, you’re acknowledging the risk that you’re going to lose both legs. At 6’1, your knees are too long. They can get cut off as you eject out through the things. You have to accept the risk that if you mess up in training and have to eject, you’re losing your legs.
You train a lot of high-performance teams and all that. I’m curious, is self doubt a healthy motivator?
It’s one to a certain point. One of the key things for being a SEAL is that external motivation isn’t going to work. External motivation is only going to get you so far. The guys that were in training just because they wanted to impress a girl on Friday or prove something to their dad or prove something to the bullies, they quit. That only produces so much power. Those of us who were internally motivated for any number of reasons, for me, it was still a proof thing but it was a proof to myself. That’s a much stronger ability to be able to produce more. Ultimately where you have to get to is what I would equate to honor, doing something for the good of the group instead of the good of the self. In the first one, you’re concerned with yourself, “What do people think about me?” That’s pretty weak. “What do I think about myself?” Focus on the self. When you make that transition to not care about the self and care about the group more than the self, that’s the infinite power. Everyone has to make that transition at some point if they’re going to become a SEAL.
Do you see that transition over into an entrepreneurial space or a team space to where you’re trying to instill that internally driven mindset?
You and I have talked about this a lot. We see entrepreneurs out there to prove to others that they’re good. There are the guys that make a little money, buy a Lamborghini and then their business crash and burn. How many of them are still in business? Very few. You have the ones that are driven by internal fear, an internal need to prove to themselves. They’ll make a functioning business but they’re going to be miserable in that business. They might have succeeded but they’re going to be miserable in it. Once you transition into the focus outside, you can have success and feel fulfillment and joy doing it.
That almost seems backward. You were saying that in order to be a SEAL, you have to be internally driven to get to a certain point.
Eventually, you have to not care about yourself. I have to care about my team members more than I care about myself. If I put my concern for my life in front of my concern for their lives, we’re at risk. Think of it from a real structural standpoint. You got one enemy unit. You got the SEALs. You’re fighting. You’re shooting and you’re both behind some cover. If I’m concerned about my safety more than I’m concerned about your safety, am I going to pop up behind the rock and shoot or am I going to wait for you to do it? I’m going to wait for you to do it because I’m concerned about my life more than yours. As a SEAL, If I’m concerned about your life more than mine, as soon as there’s a need to take action, sixteen guys are going to take action immediately. We’re going to be faster and produce more force quicker than someone that’s concerned with their own life. It’s altruistically selfish. I’m more likely to survive if I have fifteen guys worried about me more than they’re worried about themselves. If I’m worried about myself more than I’m worried about anyone else, I got one person worried about me.
You were mentioning bullying. Was that a drive for you to become a SEAL?
It was a drive. It produced the need to prove to myself what I was and what I could do. The unhealthy part of it was I wanted to hurt bullies. I wanted to kill them. That’s what I got to do. SEALs go out, find bullies and make sure they can’t do it ever again. That isn’t the best motivator. It’s not pure. There are some limitations to that. Ultimately, in dealing with the post-traumatic stress of doing everything that I did, that was something I had to work through. Having to work through that desire to hurt someone based on the fact that I didn’t like how they interacted in the world, that they put their own concerns in front of the group or they hurt people using their power.
It wasn’t necessarily them bullying you. It was them bullying anybody and you witnessed it.
If I see bullying anywhere, I want to destroy the person. That works and also isn’t healthy. It’s been quite the progress to work through being driven by that anger. If we look at it, that’s being driven by anger. If I’m being driven by the protection of others or the group before itself that’s being driven by love. What’s more powerful, the light of love and connection or the darkness of hate and anger? Light is always going to win.
I’ve always hated bullying. I’ve never hated the bully. I’ve had my share of bullying in my life too. As I think back, all the fights I was ever in as a kid were always from someone who was one of the bullies around the school. It took a certain point to get me to respond. I knew that I wasn’t threatened until a certain moment. I would try diplomacy. I remember one specifically. I’m like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I’m like, “We were friends last year,” and then he’d hit me. Did it hurt? Yes, but it didn’t faze me. It was the third punch but I recognized something about myself. When it got to that certain point where it was like a switch, it was like, “Now I’m in danger. This person could do the same thing to anybody else around me.” I’m set off to the point where every single one that I got into, I had people to have to pull me off of the other individual. It was almost like until I felt like that threat was neutralized, I was not going to stop. It wasn’t even just for me, it was for everybody else around me too.
There’s a certain power in expressing that rage. There’s a huge limitation in it because the thinking part of the brain shut off if you’re in a rage. That’s a common misconception, at least for me. I know my experience was shared by many of my team members. I can’t speak to all of them but most. The worst fights that I was in were where I was the most Zen, the most in what I would consider peace. The reason being is there is no emotional anger in it. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t feel anything. It wasn’t a matter of being driven by that rage or that need to protect. It was a stimulus-response. There’s a threat and we respond to the threat.
My thinking part of the brain could completely go to rest based on the fact that the training that I did is new that I would respond appropriately to the stimulus. That’s where I would talk about doing your homework. It’s the same thing in business. When you’re in business, if you’re operating from a state of emotional charge, you’re not going to make the best choices. You have to do the homework to make sure that you can accurately assess the situation and be able to respond appropriately if you’re going to make the best choices.
The last fight I was in was when I was thirteen years old. Maybe I’ve learned a thing or two and have a little bit more emotional intelligence since then. I hope so. In business, I’ve noticed when I become fearful, and this has happened, to where there’s a situation and it’s only involved money. This is why I always go back to if I ever get worried about money, that’s when I start to have if you want to call them money problems to where it doesn’t materialize. When I’m in a state where it’s just money, then everything starts to happen. I would relate that to the Zen state from a business perspective to where I can make clear-cut decisions that aren’t based on a position of fear, rage or survival.
We’ve talked about this. We’ve worked on this together. One of the unique perspectives that I have is that the biggest limitation to most entrepreneur’s growth is their unresolved traumas. Most people reading this, especially in the light of talk coming from a Navy SEAL, the immediate thought that you have in your head is, “I don’t have any big trauma?” What I’ve come to see 100% true is if you’ve been drawn into the entrepreneurial world, you had some traumas in your life to drive this because normal people do not choose this hard of a life. They choose to be an accountant, a bank teller or a teacher. They don’t choose this life that we’ve all chosen.
Your traumas have gotten you to this point and often produce some success but they’re also the biggest limitation to the biggest growth. The point of trauma is to keep you in the past or keep you worrying about the future, and you can’t make good choices from that. Being able to be in an environment where you can make accurate choices at the moment, that’s where we assess the moment. We have our experience from the past to find the patterns and then make the good choices, that’s where huge growth comes in. No one’s talking about this, at least not from this perspective. Most people don’t believe they’ve been traumatized.
Everything you hear from most gurus is, “Do more, produce more, put in more work and work the hours.” For everybody that’s reading, Larry is one of my coaches and amazing coach. We had the conversation about, what if it’s easy?
They’re like, “What are you talking about? I’ll be a failure.” By the actual definition of success, people have the wrong definition for success that it is meeting a goal or objective. If you define success as meeting a goal or objective, the next thing I’ll ask is, “Is success easy? Does it take work to produce success?” The answer is always yes. You have to work hard and struggle to be able to achieve an accomplishment and have success. I ask, “You produce that accomplishment. What do you do next?” “I set another one.” That means that you’re going to live a life of struggle with little spikes of feeling successful until you set the next one. You have a whole life that sucked, regardless of how many accomplishments you produced as opposed to I’ve changed the distinction for myself because I learned that in school. Work hard to get good grades, get to a good school, get a good job and it keeps going.
Success is an optimized daily experience that’s sustainable over time. If I’m having an optimized daily experience and it’s sustainable over time, then I have accomplishments but the accomplishments aren’t the point. It’s a daily experience. If it’s awesome today and it’s going to be awesome tomorrow, I am successful. If it sucks today and it’s going to suck tomorrow and in three years from now, I’m going to have something good happen, I’m a failure. Especially for entrepreneurs because they spent their whole life working hard and struggling so that someday they are going to have what they want. They get there and they do it again and again. That’s why we’re all burned out.
There’s a phrase that I used to use because I didn’t know any better at the time. I used to say, “Embrace the suck.” It was like, “Put your head down. Get through it because someday, things are going to be cool.”
You can have a life of having it suck. Someday it will be happy and then you’ll do it again. That’s what we all do. I had mine on the bottom of my computer, “There’s a difference between doing something and wanting to do something,” which is the same thing. I don’t have to want to do this. I just have to do it. That makes for an unsuccessful life regardless of the accomplishments you produce. In your head, separate accomplishment from success. Those are two different things. Accomplishment is something that you produce in the world. Success is something you feel. “I can produce an accomplishment in the world and feel miserable.” That’s not success. “I can feel amazing and not produce an accomplishment.” That’s a success.
Is this something that you picked up when you were in SEALs?
That’s the exact opposite. It’s a hardcore opposite. Within that, we did nothing that didn’t suck. I always talked about my experience with SEALs. Ninety percent of the time, it’s the worst job in the world. It sucks. I was gone 300 days a year. I didn’t get to sleep in my own bed. What was I doing when I was gone? I was in freezing cold water, scared for my life, getting shot at and blown up. They took anything I used to like to do like dive, jump out of planes and shoot. They made it miserable. It sucked for 90% of the time. Eight percent of the time, it was pretty cool. I got to jump out of a plane and it was a sunny day. We got to go shoot and I had some fun shooting. That was okay. Two percent of the time, it was unbelievable. You could never believe that I got to do this thing or experience that thing.
The whole philosophy of SEALs is the person that can suffer the best is the most successful. They built a machine that was the opposite. Think of training. Their whole point is to make you miserable mentally, physically, emotionally every minute of every day and break you as a human being. Not so they can build you up, just to break you so you’ll go away. It’s only those that don’t break that gets to move on to the next thing that just gets harder. Those that don’t break get to move, go to a platoon, go to an actual team, have it get harder, more dangerous and more miserable.
That sounds like what an entrepreneur does to themselves.
That’s us all day long. My first entrepreneurial endeavors were a freaking failure. We produced tons of money, changed thousands of lives and we’re absolutely miserable because I built it the same way I built as a SEAL. Embrace the suck. I don’t have to want to do it, just do it. Produce accomplishment after accomplishment and make sure it’s hard and miserable the whole time. It was a mess. As I started turning the corner saying, “I don’t want to live like this my whole life,” I started saying, “What if I focused on producing an optimized experience for myself, my family, my team today and make the business support that? Not be a slave to the business and be miserable and turn the tables. Instead of me being there to service our business, what if the business was there to service me, my clients and my team so that we all felt successful?” Everything then changes.
How did you come to that realization? It sounds like there was a shift. It’s like, “I’m woke.” I’m sure it doesn’t happen overnight like that.
It’s a somewhat sad story. My dad was very successful. He built a law firm from 1 person to 220 lawyers in Pittsburgh. It’s a huge law firm. He was a state democratic chairman for eight years in Pennsylvania and key state. He was a hugely successful person. He worked his whole life to make sure that my life, my sister’s life and my mother’s life was good. Finally, he decided to retire after all these years. He and my mom, the love of his life, they were 40 years together, started traveling. They went on a trip to Italy. My mom’s from Italy. She always wanted to go there. They had a two-week trip, got back. Three days later, she had formed a blood clot in her leg on the flight. It hit her heart. She was dead in seven minutes. We’re all like “Someday, I’m going to do that.”
A week after the day that he finally got to be successful, the love of his life was gone. His life went downhill from there. Three years later, I had to put him in assisted living. He had mental issues and money issues. I realized that his life was going to suck for the rest of it. Here’s this guy that has done everything to make sure that everyone’s life was good. He struggled and worked hard his entire life. When he finally got to be successful, he got to experience it for two weeks and then it was over. I was driving back from helping him. I was like, “I’m doing the same thing.” Worse yet, I’m building that model for my boys. I’m doing it bigger than he did. They’re going to do it bigger than me and I don’t want them to suffer as I have. That’s when I turned. I was sitting in a truck stop halfway between North Carolina and Minneapolis. I was trying to figure out what was going on writing a journal. It hit me like a lightning bolt, “Fuck this, I’m not doing it,” and I changed it.
We all need those “fuck this” moments. I could count maybe on one hand how many times I’ve had that. I hope that most people don’t have more than that.
You got to build a whole lot of crap to get to that point.
You started SEAL Team Leaders. Did you start that before this moment that you had?
I started it about 3 or 4 months after. At this point in time, we were running three successful companies. We had one company that did personal safety self-defense in Minneapolis. We had a 10,000 square foot facility. We were training 2,000, 3,000 people a year in that. We had a second company doing student safety, anti-bullying and leadership development for middle schools and high schools. At the height, we had 40,000 kids in the Midwest going through these programs. We had a leadership development company where we were servicing billion-dollar companies in the traditional consulting sense. We would show up and train everyone in the organization monthly at a series of other SEALs that would travel with me. I was miserable. It was horrible. Wherever I put my attention, that company would do well and the other two would suck all the money.
No matter how much money we were making anywhere, we never got any. My partner and wife never had it. We were always six weeks from being broke. At times we’re making almost $250,000 a month between the three companies and we’re still six weeks from being broke. At the moment that I got back, I sat down with Anne and said, “This is what I realized. We’ve created this prison where we’re going to be miserable. Until someday when we’re going to be successful, we’re going to identify that we don’t even like it and then we’re going to die. We got to change it.” We sold our self-defense company to our partners. We shut down the school company. We fired everyone but we couldn’t fire one of our clients because we had a contract for the next six months. We went from producing probably $200,000 a month to zero. We had zero income.
We sold everything we owned, all the stuff we had, our house, cars, jet ski. We said we were solely going to live in places that brought us joy, fulfillment and growth as an individual and as a family. We were going to rebuild a business to serve our lifestyle. That was the start of SEAL Team Leaders. For anyone reading, I don’t suggest going this route. You don’t have to go this route. We did it. For us, it gave us freedom. It was scary. We had no revenue for six months or very little. To build it from $1,000 a month to we closed our first $100,000 month, these are not big sales. It’s a huge progression from where we were. We have a team that supports us. I’m not doing everything. It’s a completely different model. We needed to blow up our entire life to build it in a way that was going to support us.
Isn’t that insane? You can have less revenue but make more.
We can see how we’re going to double and triple this while still maintaining a small coherent team not having millions of dollars of overhead. We’re building a business, first, to serve our clients, second, to serve our team and third, to serve us. The purpose of a business is to produce feelings of success for clients, teams and owners. If a business is not doing it, it is not structured correctly.
How do you even start to identify the things in a business that aren’t serving you so that you can become in alignment with those three areas?
What we do as a team is held this. We can get detailed on all of these pieces but I’ll give you the top line. I look at it in six different areas. These are the areas I’m going to look at first. The first thing is we have to have clarity on the purpose of the organization, the clients, the team members and the owners. That’s a lot of purposes. You have to be able to have that clear and aligned. The next thing and the most important thing for doing that is a team. Most of the time, your issues in a business are based on you have the wrong team and/or that team can coordinate action. That’s where I’m going to focus next. If we’re not clear on what success looks like for our clients, our team and our owners, that’s the purpose, then it’s not the right team. We’re not coordinating action well. If the team is in place and we’re still not producing the success we want, now it’s a behavior issue. We have to look at what individual behaviors in clients, team members and owners are not in alignment with the team we need to produce the success we want.
After that, we get into self-regulation. Our ability to change behavior depends on our ability to self-regulate mentally, physically and emotionally. If I have a clear vision of success, I have a good team, I have effective behavior but there are going to be ineffective ones, then self-regulation enables me to change it. That’s the core, then we get into leadership. I now have to figure out how to bring those four things from myself to everyone else. The last piece is planning. Now that I have individual high performance, I can lead those high performers. I can finally put a plan together for success. It’s the core philosophy.
Do you think it starts with the owners or the clients or the team when you go into this, or do you work on all simultaneously?
You got to do all of them. What produces a feeling of success in a client is different from what produces a feeling of success in a team member. It’s different from what produces a feeling of success for an owner. We have to do it from each perspective. What most organizations have is if you ask them, they don’t know what that is. If a company knows what those three things are, they often don’t look to see if they align. My job as the CEO is to make sure that the purposes of each of those groups align. They nest. I talked about the Russian dolls that there’s always another one inside of them. They’re all painted differently but they’re all the same shape so they fit together. It’s the same thing with us. Each one of those I’m layering the same way. How do I team with the clients? How do I team internally? How do I team owners with the clients, with the team? They stack. What behavior do the clients want? What’s the behavior of the team? What’s the behavior of the owner? It’s self-regulation leadership planning. It layers on all structures.
I know what I’m going to get you for Christmas now, some Larry Yatch Russian nesting dolls. That’s going to be you that’s going to nest inside yourself.
Your last present, the sous vide machine, has been a staple of my life. The Russian doll as well too. I’ll take one for Anne as well. Make sure it’s bigger than mine. That’s all we need.
For everybody else reading, sous vide is the way you have to go for cooking pretty much everything. Lighten it up with a 2,000-degree torch to sear it too.
Get from Home Depot one of those butane torches.
Open the valve all the way. It’s fantastic, especially for steaks. I had to lay in sea bass in it for the first time. That was like butter bass.
I did salmon and steak. What I love were the leftovers. You take the bags, warm them up and they’re as good as they were the night before.
Let’s round it out with this. You have a lot of programs. For everyone reading, go to SEALTeamLeaders.com. Check out Larry and Annie. There are amazing people and amazing leaders that can transform your life by getting you aligned. What do you feel as a starting point or maybe the most impactful program that you offer?
It’s based on my need to do things the hardest way possible. This is the last thing we created. It’s hilarious. The first thing I created is the last thing people should use. I’ve gone down to this. This is by far the starting point for every single individual entrepreneur. If you’ve got a team, it’s even more important. That’s the ability to pass, hold and accept responsibility. The entire purpose, we can’t produce success as an individual without a team. The team is the most important thing in our lives. The only purpose of a team is to be able to share responsibilities. Every organization and every person I’ve ever seen doesn’t know how to do that effectively. That’s what blew my mind.
Being a SEAL, if you committed to doing something, you did it every time, you usually did it above my expectations. I was spoiled. If someone says they’re going to do something, they did it every time. I got into my first company and I couldn’t get anyone to do anything completely ever. It was 100% opposite. It was a rare instance that someone did what they said they were going to do to the standard of performance they accepted. In every organization, imagine what it would be like if everyone when they made a commitment met their commitment to the standard agreed upon. What would that mean for the organization? It’s incredible. We have a workshop that is a structural hardcore workshop on how to understand the fundamentals of passing, holding and accepting responsibility in a structured way. You meet with scripts that you use to pass and hold responsibilities. It changes organizations completely. That’s why I say start.
Larry Yatch, thank you for being on the show. Everybody needs to know this message. It’s huge. I’ll take off my shirt for you now.
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