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Seal Team Six and Collective Emotional Intelligence

When reading Daniel Coyle’s book, The Culture Code*, I came across a fundamental aspect of good strategy. Coyle interviews the Seal Commander Bradley Cooper who planned the mission to take out Osama bin Laden. Cooper doesn’t say it; but describes collective emotional intelligence. Two key quotes are as follows:

  • When discussing After Action Reviews - AAR’s “Cooper says ‘Rank switched off, humility switched on'". And.

  • “’When we talk about courage, we think it's going against an enemy with a machine gun…the real courage is seeing the truth and speaking the truth to each other.’”

I have written my business strategy book in two parts. The first part covers ‘limiting internal factors’ impacting strategy. Part two is collectively held emotional intelligence (EI), in which I state that the EI component of self-awareness is a trap, as it is usually just the leaders that must have the humility to be objectively self-aware.

Here is the lesson to avoid the trap, the Seal Team leader does not lead the discussion rather it is led by the team. The leader has the courage to listen and seek the truth.

The problem with strategy is that it is taught mostly in terms of external factors such as Porter’s Five Forces, but success depends on internal factors. The bin Laden mission was effective because the team was able to identify limiting internal factors and trained for it. Their own helicopters’ performance was going to be the limiting internal factors not enemy fire. Therefore, to create and execute a successful strategy a business needs to be able to effectively identify its own limiting internal factors and plan for it. The issue in most businesses is that it is usually the leaders who believe they have the answers and that it is up to them to run the self-assessment.

The culture in the Seals is described as that of shared interconnectedness and vulnerability according to Coyle’s excellent book. The shared vulnerability leads to safety. Business leaders need to switch off the rank and switch on the humility to enable honest self-assessment and allow the collective to determine the strengths and weaknesses so as to determine how to succeed. This enables the collective or Corporate held Emotional Intelligence to grow.

In my book I raise the concept of collectively held emotional intelligence but only as a phrase. It is present in businesses as I purport it was in the hospital in which I worked. Actual collectively held or corporately held emotional intelligence existed before I created the terminology much like emotional intelligence existed before the terminology was coined by Daniel Goleman.

I am not alone in this belief. I have read many articles from forward thinkers like Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk and Meng Tan that describe the importance of Emotional Intelligence in leaders and in organisation, but they have yet to use terminology that describes emotional intelligence as collectively held or Corporate held Emotional Intelligence (ChEI). If you are sceptical about the concept of collectively or corporate held emotional intelligence, then follow this next explanation.

Goleman created the concept of emotional intelligence and states that it is internal relationships and external relationships, and these are broken into two parts each for the following four characteristics.

  • Self-Awareness

  • Self-Management

  • Relationship Awareness

  • Relationship Management

If a business has a Public Relations department to manage their public relationships, then they must be relationship aware, so half of the four aspects of EI are accounted for. If a business creates standard operating procedures SOPs, or has policies for the staff to work by, or has systems, then they are in fact self-managing. If they are self-managing then again, they must be self-aware or policies and procedures would never need to be created and reviewed. By Goleman’s own definition, corporations can have emotional intelligence.

Strategy is most effective when culture is good. The original way the Seals were trained was, by design, created to have them work collectively. Strategy too should identify that the culture has to be right for the strategy to succeed. It is a case of firms, by design, determining the culture that is required to properly execute strategy rather than acquiescing to the idea of culture eating strategy for breakfast.

If a company’s leaders can shut off rank, or status, to allow the whole team to be safe, to be safe with their vulnerability and safe in making contributions and suggestions, then the strategy will work. If a company’s leadership can display courage to seek and see the truth and speak the truth, then strategy will work. If the company’s leaders can do these things, then the collectively held emotional intelligence will grow and strategic execution or success will seemingly appear to be easy.

Paraphrasing the subtitle of my book, Using collectively held or Corporate held Emotional Intelligence is a way to Win with Business strategy. The Seal’s After Action Reviews are run by the enlisted men. These men demonstrate emotional intelligence more than any combat skills. The leaders listen, have empathy and most importantly let the collective team increase its self-awareness, self-management, relationship awareness and relationship management: its collectively held emotional intelligence to successfully execute their strategy. There is little argument that the Seals are successful. In business the combination of Corporate held Emotional Intelligence and strategy will lead to success.

Fritz Shoemaker is the author of ChEQmate: Using Corporate held Emotional Quotient as a Winning Business Strategy. – Available on most bookstore websites or at

The below is a reference but also a recommendation. It is in the top three books I have read this year and to those that know me, that rates very high.

*Coyle, Daniel. 2018. “The Culture Code, The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups". Random House Business Books, London.

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