Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class which started with 150 men was down to just 35. There were now six boat crews of seven men each.
I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the little guys—the munchkin crew we called them—no one was over about 5-foot five.
The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African American, one Polish American, one Greek American, one Italian American, and two tough kids from the mid-west.
They out paddled, out-ran, and out swam all the other boat crews.
The big men in the other boat crews would always make good natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim.
But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the Nation and the world, always had the last laugh— swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.
SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.
A few weeks ago on the LION’s Den we talked about Naval Admiral Willam H. McRaven’s suggestion to “find someone to help you paddle”. If you’re like most of people, you’re next question was “Who should be on the team?”
Our last blog post took an initial stab at this by suggesting a mix of skill sets, however, this week’s post proves that it’s not just what’s on paper that counts.
The Munchkin Crew
Before reading ahead, ask yourself “If I was a betting person, who would I place my money on in this scenario?” You would look at the bios of the SEALS, read their histories, perhaps watch them swim in a pool, and you’d begin to make some assumptions about their performance in the open water. Just looking at these facts you would do what Admiral McRaven did, and assume that the taller, broader men would be faster swimmers. But as McRaven points out, you would have lost your bet. Let’s see why.
The munchkin crew is described as having a few characteristics which made them unique: they were smaller than other crews, they were more diverse than other crews, and they were more efficient than other crews. While these first two characteristics may have at first appeared to be a weakness, they are ultimately what lead to the munchkin crew being able to swim faster than others.
At this point you may be skeptical. How could small size and diversity lead to efficiency? Smaller size for swimmers can give several advantages such as less drag in the water and more strokes per minute. Because the individuals were from diverse backgrounds they probably had experience swimming in various conditions which allowed the team as a whole to perform better on average no matter what swimming conditions were.
The diversity also allowed for different natural abilities to be complimentary to one another so those who did not have a particular natural ability may have been able to train and adopt the missing skill through repetition of working with their team.
Now that you think about how these characteristics are benefits, who would be your pick? Would you put your money on the munchkin crew or would you still choose the tall men? With this new information the munchkin crew doesn’t just seem like the safe bet, they are in fact the right choice.
The Heart Factor
The men who made up the munchkin crew went through the same screening to be selected into the SEAL training. They went through the same training as the other teams. Yet, they were discounted for something beyond their control. They were ridiculed for something beyond their control. And as it turns out, it was the very thing that they were taunted and teased about that gave them the advantage.
We don’t know this for sure, but we can make a reasonable guess that this was not the first time these SEALs had been discounted because of their height. The constant comments and jokes in other situations probably built what McRaven refers to as “heart”. Ultimately what people said about these SEALs’ height was not important, they wanted to swim faster and harder, and they trained as if they were at a disadvantage. When it came time to hit the open water the swimmers who were strong in the pool were somewhere behind the “munchkins” as they focused on achieving their goal. There were no assumptions about “how good they are” and the distractions disappeared, and all the remained was a burning desire to do better.
Munchkins At Work
When we look at our business world there are two scenarios where we tend to label someone as a “munchkin” or a group as the “munchkin crew”.
First let’s talk about individuals. Often on our teams we’ve identified someone who is “underperforming” or does not have “the right skillset”. We tend to discount them. They’re too weak, they’re not ready, they’re not strong enough, they’re not experienced enough. These individuals become “munchkins” within the organization. Many times this person feels discouraged and as though they cannot succeed because they are never given the chance. Before you rule someone out for a role on your project, a role that may be a “stretch”, talk with them. See if their face lights up when they think about the opportunity. With the right structure and support, you might just be surprised how this “munchkin” turns out to be a front runner.
The next scenario is that of the small vendor. It’s a company that you’ve never heard of. They have only been in business a few years. Their website isn’t flashy. They have a small team. Before you write them off, consider listening to them for a few minutes, or better yet, letting them show you some of their work. After all, someone in Supply Chain thought they were worth a shot…and/or they made it past security.
Maybe it’s not a fancy leather bound brochure and they don’t bring swag with them, but maybe they are saying all the right things. But the firm who is small and hungry is probably one of your biggest assets. If they can demonstrate they have done a good job and are able to do a good job again, don’t be afraid to move forward. Their small size may allow them to be more nimble and flexible in delivering exactly what you need.
Words of Encouragement for All You Munchkins
If you are the small man on campus, sitting at your desk or in your company war room/storage closet, take heed. There are a few things you can do to ensure that you continue to build heart and show others that you’re ready for whatever comes your way.
First, verbalize what your goal is to others. This is true especially if you’re the individual munchkin. Don’t assume that others know what your goal is or even what your skills are. Be sure to let leadership know you’re ready for the open water, but also be ready to tell them what you need to survive the new conditions. Being eager is great, being unwise is well…unwise.
Second, find where the discouraging words can help you build a stronger case for yourself. In other words, turn that negative into a positive. Many times what your competitors are calling out to you as a weakness, IS actually a weakness, at least in how you’re responding to it. If the SEALs who were shorter said “Nuh uh I’m not small, I’m just as big as you are.” they would have been laughed at. Instead, they probably responded “I’m small but let’s see who makes it to the shore first.” Not only did they make it a positive but they focused on the results. Don’t ignore the negative, accept it, respond to it, and focus on results.
Lastly, no matter how big the waves, keep your eyes focused on your goal and remember all of your skills from the past. If you’re a munchkin you know you will be tossed about more than your larger comrades, but as long as you’re keeping an eye on the shore you’ll stay truer to course than those who work heads down assuming their safely heading in the right direction. You will need to course correct but, your fear of the waves will help you survive. Stroke by stroke you’ll move forward.