The Attributes of a SEAL
The Attributes

The Attributes of a SEAL

Retired Navy SEAL commander Rich Diviney describes the attributes that make SEALs successful.

When retired Navy SEAL commander Rich Diviney spearheaded SEAL training, he tried to build up each person’s physical, mental and emotional discipline. His team created “Mind Gym,” which helps special operations troops build the strength of mind they need to perform faster, longer and better under stress.

Members of the US Navy SEALs also develop other remarkable skills, but the select force doesn’t choose its candidates for their abilities alone. Rather, it looks for the personal qualities that define character. Diviney, an author with an engaging intellectual bent, discusses the philosophies that drive SEALS and the importance of their courage, adaptability, resilience and other crucial attributes.

Diviney explains how you can develop, nurture and maintain these traits, and apply them in stressful situations – the entire point of his training program and of his book.

Personal Attributes

Selecting job applicants for their skills is a sensible way to proceed if you know your work will go according to plan; but nothing – in military or civilian life – ever does.

Diviney details how the SEALs present their candidates with harrowing challenges and then closely observe how their character helps them cope. Nearly 85% of candidates fail to perform during the Seals’ grueling Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDs) training regimen, a six-month selection process.

Attributes are wired into our internal circuitry, always running in the background, dictating how we behave and react and perform.Rich Diviney

Selecting candidates based on their character also can work for your organization whatever its mission. Diviney begins with the somewhat obvious suggestion that corporate hiring officers should seek determined, courageous job candidates of sound character.

He regards attributes as an internal code built on innate traits, such as persistence, accountability and courage that define character and form the core of a person’s being. 

Developing new attributes or enhancing existing attributes means forming new neural pathways in your brain while ignoring the established pathways your brain prefers. Developing and strengthening your character traits require slowing down in the face of a challenge, consciously calling up the attribute you need, acting with deliberation and acknowledging your new outcome. The last step – acknowledgment – trains your brain to enjoy its new pathway. Then, move on to another new challenge that makes you manifest your new attribute in a different context.


In 2010, Diviney and his colleagues determined that they were using the wrong metric in assessing SEAL candidates based only on their skills. They decided to make a change and to try to understand failing candidates’ weaknesses in terms of their varying character traits. Diviney and his team isolated special attributes that trained and seasoned warriors – and civilians – must have to succeed.

As a general rule, the more diversity of attributes there is on a team, the better equipped it will be to deal with uncertainty and challenge.Rich Diviney

Courage is a choice. In the face of fear, if you fight and engage your body’s neural courage circuit, your body will supply a jolt of dopamine that signals pleasure. That means you can develop courage by doing things that scare you. Perseverance calls for doing hard things over and over.

Leaders must be adaptable. You’re resilient when you bounce back to your usual psychological state after a stressful situation. Success or failure, Diviney recommends briefly feeling good or bad, and then moving on.

Situational awareness means you understand the variables of whatever circumstances you encounter.Most people believe they’re competent multitaskers, but they’re not. Fully 98% of people who multitask handle each individual task poorly. But you can learn effective task switching, which requires careful decision-making. When your environment confuses you, compartmentalize its elements. Start by focusing on whatever demands your immediate attention – bullets whizzing past your head, for example.

Traits to Build

Diviney pays attention to a menu of these important personal characteristics. Learnability is how quickly you collect, understand and act on new information. Self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to achieve your goals. Discipline means you can stay focused on an important goal. To enhance discipline, focus more closely for longer spans of time.

Open-minded people can entertain new thoughts, views or angles on old ideas. Empathetic people can feel what others are feeling. To develop empathy, listen carefully to other people and learn how they think and feel. Selfless people put others’ needs ahead of their own, which inspires trust, a crucial precondition of leadership.Authenticity calls for being yourself, which you might as well commit to anyway since no matter how you try to fool people, they usually see you for who you are. 


It’s extremely easy to confuse skills with attributes. Rich Diviney

Decisive people can take well-informed, timely action. Accountable people think before they act and view the results of their actions objectively. People with integrity stick to their values and do what they think is right. Conscientious people are diligent, hard workers. If they promise you something, you get it.Fearless people can accomplish great things, unless their fearlessness makes them reckless.

In the pantheon of character traits, Navy SEALs particularly honor humility. Every SEAL wears a gold pin that depicts an American eagle with its head humbly bowed.

In a crisis, humor can calm people and patience can soothe them; however too much patience becomes a negative factor if it fuels procrastination. Most people regard competitiveness as an admirable attribute, but many successful leaders want their people to collaborate, not compete.

Common Sense

Diviney writes with the unshakable certainty of a former military officer turned successful public speaker. He doesn’t deal in ambiguity. At times, that may lead you to wonder if his system is oversimplified or is it smart, distilled, compressed and actionable common sense? It is both – depending on different examples and circumstances. His thoughts on courage and discipline seem particularly practical, being both firm and compassionate.

Leadership writings with a military perspective include The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink with Leif Babin; Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek; and Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins.

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