ACA logo


Angel Insights Blog

Wednesday, April 08, 2020 

The Coronavirus Challenge: A Navy SEAL’s Guide To Leading Through Adversity

By: Brent Gleeson, Founder & CEO at TakingPoint™ Leadership, Navy SEAL

One of the many acronyms we live by in the United States military is VUCA – referring to the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments that the battlefield provides. That acronym is now widely used in the global business community and rightfully so. Especially as it relates to our current reality – the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on lives, health, small and large businesses and the global economy. 

And while media coverage is helpful in the sharing of information, important data and relevant advice, it also tends to fuel irrational behavior, panic and poor decision-making. As we say in the Navy SEAL teams, calm is contagious. But so is panic. Dealing with constant change is simply part of the modern world we live in, and there are many “burdens of command” related to leading a team or business through adversity. Now is the time to embrace change, rally together, show empathy, innovate and prepare for uncertain outcomes. Engaging the team and decentralizing decision-making is imperative.

Here are a few leadership tips for navigating the volatile and uncertain waters ahead.

Embrace Reality. But avoid obsessing.

For now, this is our current reality. As we all know, leadership during times of radical bliss and glorious fortune is much more desirable but not the true test of our ability to design and execute a desired outcome when unforeseen roadblocks stand in our way. So, pay attention, remain vigilant and embrace the new normal. As the old saying goes, “This too shall pass.”

Know the Facts. Trust but verify.

We’ve already seen wildly different statistics floating around the digital universe. And of course, varying (and sometimes totally false) information coming from the top, which is the exact opposite of what people need right now.

Ambiguity already exists. Let’s not fuel the fire by putting out “bad gouge” as we say in the Navy. Gather the appropriate ground intelligence related to the near-term aspects of your business, organize that data and use it to formulate a plan.

Avoid Knee-jerk Decisions. Don’t dive into the bunker just yet.

One of my favorite lines from the Navy SEAL Ethos says, “We persevere and thrive in adversity.” During the recession that began bubbling (no pup intended) between 2006 and 2008, many businesses ignored the “experts” and stayed the course. Which isn’t necessarily a bad decision. But when all hell broke loose and panic became contagious, most companies large and small grabbed what they could and dove headfirst into their bunker slashing budgets and headcount as they went.

And while financial solvency played a huge role, the organizations that survived resisted the urge to batten down the hatches and play the waiting game. No, they took that opportunity (when and where appropriate) to bring people together, get creative and adapt to the changing battlefield landscape.

Have an 80% Plan. Because there is no such thing as a 100% plan.

As Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” We spend significant time with our clients on more progressive planning and debriefing models, so they gain a better rhythm of execution. Whatever our 2020 strategic plans may have been, there is a good chance most of us need collect new intelligence and fall back to contingency plans. I’ve rarely been part of a combat mission where unforeseen circumstances didn’t arise. That’s why preparation is even more important than planning. But we still must plan. Its how we adapt as leaders that matters.

And as General Patton said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

Gather your team this week, enlist their participation, identify threats and blockages and develop some new contingencies. Who knows, you may generate ideas that could launch your business into the stratosphere.

Stay in Your Three-foot World. Control what you can, ignore what you can’t.

One of my closest SEAL teammates, Mark Owen – bestselling author of No Easy Day, once told me a story about a rock-climbing course he attended. One afternoon, Mark found himself about one hundred feet off the deck and about twenty feet above his last piece of protection. Meaning that if he lost his grip and fell, he’d plummet forty feet before the rope caught him in a violent jerk. Noticing that Mark was freezing up, the lead instructor lit a cigarette, and without using a rope, shimmied up the rock face to Mark’s location.

“What’s up bro?” ask the wiry instructor, taking a long drag while clinging to the rock. “Don’t worry about anything but what’s in your immediate control. Stay in your three-foot world.”

Coronavirus has most of us on edge. As leaders (whether it be in our businesses, families or communities), it is our responsibility to focus on what we can control and deprioritize what we can’t.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Top down and bottom up.

This is always a big one, even when everything is going as planned. But when we get punched in the face, the team is feeling uneasy and battle fatigue is setting in, over-communicating in an aligned fashion is imperative.

Make sure a specific communication strategy is part of the 80% plan. Working remotely is easier than ever before. That’s the good news. The challenge is keeping everyone feeling like they are part of one team with one fight. Be positive and foster an environment of psychological safety where everyone has a voice. But don’t shy away from “the ugly” either. Ensure communication is well-rounded and focused on the big picture.

Be Disciplined and Innovative. Shift fire and try new strategies.

Another great little tidbit from the SEAL Ethos states that “We demand discipline. We expect innovation.” Now is the time to be more disciplined and innovative than we’ve had to be in a while. Use this time to rally the troops around new ideas.

If business is slowing down in the short-term, make time for the stuff we always shove to the side: proper planning, strategy, content curation, HR initiatives, financial analysis. Doing fun and innovative activities can be a great distraction while keeping the team engaged and adding long-term value to the business.

Build Trust and Accountability. In the absense of orders, take charge.

Trust and accountability are the two most important culture pillars for high-performance teams. That never changes. They simply become profoundly more important in VUCA environments. Ensure that accountability mechanisms are part of your short and long-term plans.

Fall back on your team’s core values and guiding principles. Make sure everyone is aligned on the supporting behaviors associated with those values. Because they should be your beacon for navigating the murky waters.

Remember, There’s Always a Silver Lining.


Let’s embrace this time we have. Do more arts and crafts. Make up new games. Look at old pictures. Take the dogs on more walks. Find the cat – wherever she is. Finish those house projects you’ve been avoiding. Before we know it, we’ll all be back on the speeding freight train, so enjoy this time.


Got some extra time on your hands? Why not exercise more? Increasing fitness will reduce stress and anxiety and you’ll look better when you go back to work! It’s a win win.


Adversity tests our faith. So lean in and know that there are no challenges we can’t overcome.

Gleeson is the founder and CEO of TakingPoint Leadership, former Navy SEAL, globally recognized speaker, award-winning entrepreneur and the bestselling author of TakingPoint. TakingPoint Leadership is a progressive consulting firm with a focus on leadership and organizational development, culture transformation and building high-performance teams. Learn more at


Want to learn more about Angel Investing?

The ACA catalyzes angel investing resources and drives thought leadership in the early-stage capital ecosystem to fuel innovation and economic growth for all communities.

You may also like...

The New Age of Angel Investing: Leveraging Community for Sourcing, Portfolio Development, and Investment Success
Public Policy Quarterly: Summer 2024
Why Have Early Stage Valuations Remained Surprisingly High?

Angel University

Angel University
Virtual Courses Offer Angel Expertise at Your Fingertips

Ann and Bill Payne ACA Angel University is built to deliver cutting-edge insights, practical tips and lessons learned for early stage investors. Attendees gain meaningful expert connections in comprehensive, easy-to-access virtual courses.