What KAW is learning from the Navy SEALs

Leading KAW’s book clubs are a highlight of my job. There’s something about gathering over pizza to discuss our reading that has a way of teasing out insights our more formal meetings can’t achieve.

This month, we’re reading Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. You’ve probably heard of it – between the best-selling book, their consulting firm, and Jocko’s podcast, Willink and Babin are everywhere in the world of business leadership.

Wonderfully for us, the work bays of KAW have little in common with the battlefields of Iraq. Still, our team has found a lot to learn from the mindset and tactics of the SEALs.

In this blog you’ll find the top three lessons we’re taking from Extreme Ownership.

Everyone – regardless of rank – is a leader

On the battlefield, this means individual soldiers take care to communicate early and often with their superiors, to speak up if something doesn’t seem right, and to take responsibility for knowing exactly what the mission entails. Though a soldier may not have as many stripes on his sleeve as the guy fighting to next to him, when it comes time to execute a mission, they must both be leaders if they hope to be successful.

Around here, leadership from the ground up means that no one – not the newest tank cleaner or the most experienced mechanic — starts a job without considering all the equipment he will need to do it safely. It means that we take the time to understand the job – our mission – before we begin. It means that we communicate with each other about procedures that are going well, and those that aren’t.

In other words, our leaders at KAW practice our core values, which include safety above all else, honest communication, and taking pride in teamwork.

Ego and ownership don’t mix

This is less a lesson and more a nice pat on the back for KAW. In fact, the lack of ego around here should probably go on the list of reasons to work at KAW.

Maybe it’s because blue jeans and worn-in work shirts are standard uniform for the shop. Maybe it’s the humility that comes with true expertise. And maybe it’s because we feel like family around here. Whatever the reason, ego simply doesn’t factor into the way we do business.

Which is, of course, a good thing. In the words of Babin and Willink, “Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism.”

At KAW, our priority is to deliver the best service we can. Our customers know we have high standards, and that’s why the great majority are repeat business. Bulk transporters trust us to clean tanks thoroughly, according to procedures that guarantee the quality of the wash and the safety of everyone involved. In the shop, they know we go the extra mile to make sure their rigs are road-ready. In fact, we’re proud to be a DOT-authorized service center

Simplify and communicate

The action scenes in Extreme Ownership read like the best thrillers. As far removed from warfare as we are lucky enough to be, they serve as a nice reminder of just how comfortable life is.

And it’s also a good reminder that when it comes to any work, we should aim for simple and direct communication. Both in how we communicate with each other and with our customers, transparency is the goal. (Want to see this in action? Contact us today with your questions.)

With our new website and these blog posts, we hope you get a clear picture of what we do , how we do it, and who we are.

The only regret I have with book club is that we didn’t read Extreme Ownership sooner. Given it came out in 2015, we’re a little late to the party – but better that than never, right?

The other day we got a visit from an insurance agent, who drove home to us the impact that this book has had. The agent didn’t know us, was just doing cold calls in the area and happened to stop in. We told him – nicely and directly – that we weren’t interested in buying his product, but before he left he noticed Extreme Ownership sitting out on my desk.

“Great book, isn’t it?” he asked.

By then we were only to the first chapter, but I told him we were really enjoying learning from the book so far.

He told us that everyone at his company reads the book, and he wished us luck as we began implementing the strategies.

The next week we received a post card from him. Although we weren’t going to be his client, he was gracious enough to send a kind note – along with a receipt for the pre-order of ten copies of Willink and Babin’s next book.

Stay tuned to blog as we continue to learn along with the Navy SEALs – looks like we’ll be reading about their leadership strategies for some time to come.