Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance with Rich Diviney

May 18, 2021

Rich Diviney is a retired Navy SEAL commander. In a career spanning more than twenty years, he completed more than thirteen overseas deployments—eleven of which were to Iraq and Afghanistan. As the officer in charge of training for a specialized command, Diviney spearheaded the creation of a directorate that fused physical, mental, and emotional disciplines. He led his small team to create the first-ever “Mind Gym” that helped special operators train their brains to perform faster, longer, and better in all environments—especially high-stress ones. Since his retirement in early 2017, Diviney has worked as a speaker, facilitator, and consultant with the Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute and Simon Sinek Inc. He’s taught about leadership, optimal performance, and high performing teams to more than five thousand business, athletic, and military leaders from organizations such as American Airlines, Meijer Inc., the San Francisco 49ers, Pegasystems, Zoom, and Deloitte.  In January 2021, Rich released his first book. The Attributes. 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. I’m John Shegerian. I’m really honored to have with us Rich Diviney. He’s the author of The Attributes – this book here which you see. My audience knows I’m an active reader and I’ve marked it all up. He was kind enough to sign it to me. Rich, welcome to the Impact podcast.

Rich Diviney: Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

John: Before we get talking about your new book, which I really truly enjoyed and got a lot of valuable lessons as a leader of our company, I want you to share a little bit about your backstory. Where you grew up, Rich, and how you even got here to start with.

Rich: Absolutely. Well, I’m a New Englander by birth. I grew up in Connecticut and, you know, growing up at a nice average childhood. My dad [inaudible] he was a private pilot, so he took us flying on the weekends. I have a younger brother, an older sister, but I also have a twin brother. My twin brother and I were so on aviation from early, early ages, and kind of set out to be military pilots. That was kind of our bent [inaudible]. It could have been the Air Force, it could have been the Navy, but the Navy guys landed on ships. So, we’re like, “Okay, there’s nothing harder than that, right?” So, it was Navy pilot the whole way. It was really the 90s. The first Gulf War, I learned about the Navy SEALS. I had no idea what they were. Back then, very few people knew what the Navy SEALS were. I began to read books and research. I was at Purdue University in the ROTC program and ultimately said to myself I didn’t want to be a pilot and wonder if I could be a SEAL. I like the fact that they were kind of in every environment, but especially in the water. I love the water, you know, growing up on the coast in Connecticut. I just love that idea of making that hostile place your safe haven, you know? So, I decided to go for it. Fortunately, I got selected, and fortunately, I made it through training. So, you know, I became a SEAL. I went through at ’96 and went through almost 21 years. I retired at the tail end of 2016 and of course, very kinetic time frame. I was deployed quite a bit to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. I’ve got to run training for one of our specialized commands which I learned a lot. That’s really where the impetus of The Attributes idea kind of urgent. Then, since retirement, I have been working in the Leadership Optimal Performance Space and got to write this book. So, here I am with you today.

John: First of all, I want to start with something that I’ve only learned as an adult. First, I want to say, Rich, thank you so much for your service to this great country.

Rich: Well, thank you. I thank you for the appreciation. Appreciation is not lost on me or anybody who serves because it’s nice to be appreciated. So, thank you.

John: What I feel Rich, and this is just my own humble opinion, we don’t thank people like you and other veterans enough. Somehow along the way, there’s a gap in America where we forget our veterans once they return. Some of them don’t return as whole as you did. That’s an ongoing reason why I continue my way of honoring great people like you as having other members of your fraternity on this show to promote the important lessons that you learn in your life – the entire journey, not just serving to protect the freedom of this great country. I just want to say thank you again and thank you for your service. I never want to forget to say that. I try to make that a practice. Also for our listeners and our viewers out there, to find Rich, you could go to theattributes.com. theattributes.com. That’s where he has his practice, his consulting practice, and you can learn more about Rich and all of the work that he’s doing – including his new book, which we’re going to talk about today: The Attributes. So, you have your consulting practice. You retire, so to speak, from your service in the end of ’16. Beginning of ’17, you start your practice of leadership consulting and teaching. What made you put it all into a book like this, though? What was your epiphany, your ‘aha’ moment that, “I got to get this down and get this into this book?”

Rich: You know, John, ultimately, I am very fascinated, in fact, passionate about human performance and really, what I would call elemental human performance. What causes us to do the things we do, and in that, what causes success, what causes failure. I think because of the background in the SEAL Teams, you are… I mean, just from the start gate and BUDS – Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training, you’re thrown into deep challenge and stress on [inaudible] some of the toughest training in the world. So, we always hear this kind of mantra. It’s only when things get tough that the real us comes out, right? Well, I’m kind of fascinated what the real us is because I think the real us is always there. It’s always showing up; understanding can kind of explain our behavior. Ultimately, getting down to the elemental us involves those innate qualities, those attributes that we show up to the game with because those drive our behaviors in those times. Well, all the time but certainly in times of stress, challenge, uncertainty. I had done some of this work when I was running SEAL training. I thought I kind of brought it out. I said, “This is going to be dusted off and kind of ubiquitous.” We can talk about it in terms that everybody understands because it explains human behavior, not just SEAL behavior. So, that was really the idea.

John: Got it! You know, I would typically end with this question but I want to start with this because I want our listeners to understand how deep you really go in your new book. I’ve read one of your fraternity brother members books, Jocko Willink’s books. There’s a lot to take away from his great writings as well, but “discipline equals freedom,” if you want to boil it down. So, Rich, if I was to ask you to boil down The Attributes, what do you want our listeners, our viewers, our readers from this podcast take away when they buy your book and they read it like I did. What is the big take away you want them to come away with?

Rich: Well, I mean, if I were to boil it down and just piggyback off of Jocko’s statement that I love, “discipline equals freedom,” it would be, “Do I have discipline? What is my engine, right?” So, human performance, our performance has to do with how we show up. Honestly, we’re all human – we know that. But we’re all like automobiles. Some of us are Jeeps, some of us Ferraris, some of us are SUVs. There’s no judgment there because the Jeep can do things the Ferrari can’t do, and the Ferrari can do things the Jeep can’t do. But the key to understanding and improving ourselves is to lift that hood and figure out what engine we’re showing up with because you maybe a Jeep that’s trying to run on a Ferrari track. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that either, but knowing that is going to help you in performing-

John: In your journey.

Rich: Yes, on the journey, right? So, again, I’m really interested in helping people start to introspect in a way that allows them to explore their edges and explore their potential. I think the book will allow you to do that.

John: Oh, it does. Like I shared with you off the air before we started, I have this company and I get to be the leader of this company. I got so much out of your book. There’s so much to learn there. You can continue to self-learn about yourself even at fifty eight years old. I’m going to throw some words by you that I took out of the book because I always write notes before I do these interviews. I wrote down some key words that I want you to share your thoughts on that you covered in the book. The importance of grit.

Rich: Yes. Grit is not just one thing. Grit is the ability to power through to kind of breakthrough and keep going. Largely, it’s concerned with the kind of those small pushes or the shorter pushes. Grit is not an attribute. It’s made up of few attributes that are blended and catalyzed in a way that allows us to push through. So, if we have a predominance of those grit attributes, we find ourselves more easily able to, or more smoothly able to, or more often because it’s never easy, but more often able to power through, persevere, adapt, and actually step into our fears, which is courage.

John: So, we’re all dealt a bad hand of this tragedy of COVID-19.

Rich: Yes.

John: Sticking to the theme of grit, let’s talk about one of its sisters or brothers – resilience. How does resilience fit into your definition of grit? How can we be more resilient to make it through a bad hand of cards?

Rich: Yes. Well, I mean, part of grit means you’re going to have to work your butt off to power through. In that process, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be dirty, it’s going to be somewhat destructive and tiring. So, part of grit, part of the ability to do that over and over again, it means we have to be resilient. We have to be able to bounce back. Resilience is the ability to get knocked off baseline and get back to baseline. Its recovery, but it’s recovery in the full extent. Because if we’re unable to recover all the way back to our baseline, then what happens is we generate a delta there. So, if we are at zero, we get knocked down to negative ten. If we’re only able to come back to negative five, well, guess what? The next time we get hit with something, our start point is negative five, which means we’re going to slowly fall into entropy. So, to be able to consistently be gritty, involves this idea of resilience, which is the ability to bounce back.

John: Well, I love this. One of your subchapter titles said, “Get knocked down seven times, get up eight.”

Rich: Yes. An old saying that I pulled. In fact, the chapter titles were one of the most fun parts of the book, actually, writing those things. So, it’s awesome.

John: Right. Empathy. The importance of empathy, Rich, talk about what you view as the importance of empathy.

Rich: So, empathy, I have it fall under the leadership attributes. Again, leadership, holistically… We can flight being in-charge of being a leader. They’re not the same thing. One is a noun and one is a verb.

John: Right.

Rich: Leadership is a behavior. It’s been my experience, but I really truly believe this with my fullest extent of my being is you don’t get to call yourself a leader. You don’t get to self-designate, okay? It’s like calling yourself a good looking or funny, alright? You don’t get to decide that. Other people decide whether or not they choose you as a leader. You can be in-charge, sure. Positionally, you can be in-charge. It’s only when other people decide that you’re a leader, that you’re someone they want to follow, that they look up to you that you become a leader in their eyes. That is based on behaviors. These behaviors, the elemental behaviors are empathy, accountability, decisiveness, selflessness, and authenticity. Empathy is one of those first ones because empathy is more than just sympathy. It’s not ‘I know how you feel,’ it’s ‘I feel how you feel. Can I step into the shoes of another human being and assume and feel what they’re feeling?’ As soon as you do that for another human being, they immediately feel cared about. If someone feels caring, if someone feels cared about, they’re going to immediately start to form this bond of trust and love and feel and start to look to you as a leader. So, as leaders, as people in-charge who want to be leaders, we need to always understand this idea that we have to try to feel how those people in our span of care feel. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done. But oftentimes, someone can just simply remember their own pathway and remember how they felt. So, one of those important leadership jobs is parenting. I’m a parent of teenagers. So, as often as possible, I try to ask myself how did I feel. When I’m in a spat with my teenager, I ask, “Okay. How did I feel at that age? How did I feel when I was sixteen?” Because I didn’t know as much as I know now. That empathy helps. When I can approach my teens that way, they feel heard, they feel cared for. It increases bonds and we can do the same thing as leaders.

John: For our listeners and viewers out there, we’ve got Rich Diviney with us today. He’s the author of The Attributes. You can find The Attributes on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, audible.com, and all other great book stores where you find great books. You could also find Rich on theattributes.com, theattributes.com. You could contact Rich and hire him for consultancy purposes and other things as well. You know, you talk about leadership, Rich. During this covid-19 period, The Last Dance was put out on cable television on Michael Jordan’s final year with the Bulls.

Rich: Yes.

John: At the end of the eighth episode, it was the only time during the whole series he got emotional. He said at the end, “Winning has a price and leadership has a price.” Since you’re a leadership expert and you just were talking about one of the elements – empathy, part of the onion that you peel back in this great book: The Attributes on leadership, empathy is one part. As you said, there’s other parts as well – accountability and many others you have in your book, which are so important to think about when you’re assessing yourself and trying to evolve as a leader. What does that mean to you, though, leadership has a price?

Rich: Yes. I used to tell my junior officers that to understand the job of leadership, you had to accept what I would call the irony of leadership. That is, if you do your job correctly, you work yourself out of a job because you create an environment of people who can operate without you, who do better than you, who surpass you, right? The job as a leader is to build those people in your span of care so they become leaders, they become better than you. I think that’s the price of leadership because you’re conceding your own obsolescence, right? Now, there’s certainly a price because you’re doing that, but there’s also a reward because you get to do that.

John: Right.

Rich: When you help people grow and when people come back to you and say, “Hey, I loved working with you, and under you, and for you because you helped me become the person I am today.” Man, that is a hugely powerful gift, you know! But ultimately, if you’re going to do your job as a leader the correct way, you’re going to grow people and grow a team that can outpace you eventually. That, for me, is probably the price of leadership.

John: You know, Rich, what I love about your book is that you also make some great points in terms of tools for us when we’re assessing other people’s leadership abilities, or those who are thinking about following. One of your subchapters in the book was about ‘beware of the fearless leader.’ What do you mean by that?

Rich: Yes, so that was a chapter on courage, which is an attribute. That’s one of the grit attributes. In the chapter, I go into the Neurology of courage and how we can kind of step into It. Ultimately, though, when we’re talking about leadership… Let’s talk about courage and fear. Courage is literally the ability to step into our fear, that’s what courage is. It’s a specific switch in our brain that when we decide to fight, right? Which is the fight-or-flight. When we decide to step into our fear, that switch gets kicked, right? We get a dopamine. So, it’s the ability to fight., But fear exists for a purpose, okay? Fear manifests itself in human beings because it’s telling us there is risk here. Pay attention, there’s risk. So, I’ve always disliked the term fearless. One of my officers when I was a junior officer told me, “Beware of the fearless leader. He will likely get you killed,” because the fearless person or the fearless leader is not assessing risk. That’s the bulldog approach where you’re just running into things without thinking. You don’t want that. You want to be able to effectively assess risk so that you may responsibly step into it. But if you have someone who is not fearful, beware.

John: I so agree with you. I just love that you actually put it down and actually explain, as you said, the neurology, and the information behind that because most people don’t realize that. They think leaders are just born leaders and they just walk into a situation and that’s just them, but there’s so much preparation that has to go into. You know, they talk about Tom Brady before the last Super Bowl. Gisele and his children moved out of the house. So, for twelve days, he can literally with zero distractions, prepare. This guy already has five or six Super Bowls before this. So, to me, the preparation issue and that’s because he didn’t want to go into the Super Bowl in lose. So, there’s a fear of not living up to being Tom Brady. That goes for everybody and whatever. So, I just love that chapter. You also disavow us of some other terminology that I saw that I really was fascinated by. Historically, when someone’s called a narcissist, it’s sort of a bad thing, but you said in your book, you had a whole analysis of there is the upside and a downside to narcissism. It’s not all downside. Can you share a little bit about what you meant by that?

Rich: Yes. A narcissist likely has the disorder which is I codified personality disorder. That’s a bad thing because it’s destructive. The DSM-5, which is kind of the psychology Bible will outline the nine criteria. They’re sentences that if you have five or more, you technically have this disorder. I looked at that. I read it. I said, “Okay, I don’t have five,” but there’s elements of each one that seem familiar to me. I had to ask myself, “Okay. When I was a twenty two year old kid wanting to be a Navy SEAL, why was that?” Okay, sure, I was a patriot. Sure, I love my country. Ultimately, I wanted to be a badass. I wanted to see if I could do something that very few people could do and stand out. So, narcissism is the desire to stand out, be recognized, be adored, feel special. Every human being, at some point in their life, wants to stand out, be adored, feel special. There’s nothing wrong with that. By the way, this is biologically founded, right? Because when we’re infants, being paid attention to by our parents, we’re getting bursts of three chemicals. We’re getting bursts of dopamine, which is a feel-good chemical. “This feels good. Keep going.” Serotonin, which kind of this feeling of safety and bonding. Oxytocin, which is known as the trust hormone. You’re getting all three of those pumped into your system when you’re getting paid attention to as an infant. Well, that doesn’t change when we’re adults. It still feels good to get those chemicals. So, the idea is sometimes, those audacious goals that we set have a little bit of foundation in some narcissism. “I want to do something different. I want to stand out. I want to feel special.” We shouldn’t feel bad about that. We should embrace it. Now, the warning label, this fall comes with is that too much narcissism, obviously, is a bad thing, and sometimes, it’s invisible to see in ourselves. It’s like a vampire staring in the mirror. It’s hard to see in ourselves. Which means, the antidote to this is to surround ourselves with trusted, loving people who are our grounding wires, who keep us reined in, and do tell us the truth. Tell us when we’re getting out a little bit ahead of our skis, telling us when we’re getting a big head, and keeping us in the fold. not the number one. You can spot a narcissist very easily. Look at the people they surround themselves with because true full-blown narcissists will surround themselves with sycophants. Those sycophants will count their whole job will be to make sure this person is feeling like the person, right – the number one people. When those people leave, those tribes are usually very temporary because it’s very hard to stay in that position of constant sycophantness – whatever you call it. So, people will exit that. As soon as they do, you use that person of exit is now an enemy because that person is no longer uplifting that narcissist. So, they’re easier spot on the outside but just make sure you surround yourself with people who tell you the truth, and you trust and love.

John: Those around yourself, as you say, with sycophants, which is just a little bit more fancy terminology than just a bunch of ‘yes people.’

Rich: That’s right, that’s right.

John: You have a great chapter on the art of vigilance. Can you explain what you mean by the art of vigilance?

Rich: Yes, that goes to the mental acuity attributes, the first one being situation awareness. Situation awareness is really how our brain and nervous system take in information. All that [inaudible] comes through our nervous system and into our brain. We have eleven million bits of information coming into our systems at every second, through all five of our senses. Our conscious mind, our frontal lobe can only process about 2,500 or so, which means we’re doing a massive amount of deselection constantly, which I can do. Right now, things are going on that we’re not noticing until I say, “Well, you’re not noticing the bottoms of your feet in your shoes,” until I just said that. So, we’re doing a massive amount of deselection. Situation awareness is one’s ability to take in the maximum amount of information and notice things. That speaks to vigilance. Some people are more vigilant, more situation-aware than other people. I’m someone who has naturally had a heightened sense of situation awareness. Now, obviously, my career amplified that, but I walk around a city street and I notice things. I notice faces. I notice hands. I noticed dark alleys. I notice vehicles. There are other people who walk down the same street and are in la-la land. They don’t notice anything. Again, there’s no judgment. That’s just how you show up. We can practice our own situation awareness by understanding that it is vigilance and actively paying better attention. This means taking off our headphones, putting down our phones, and start noticing the world around us. It helps. It helps if you can be vigilant and notice more things. There’s a downside to hyper-vigilance, right? This is where a lot of PTSD stems from, in terms of service members coming back. Because when you’re overseas in a combat zone, you’re always on key. You’re always paying attention to everything. You get used to that. So, if you come home and you’re unable to dampen that and turn that off, everything is like… It’s almost like you’re hyper. It’s like Clark Kent as a kid, right? All the stuff is coming in too much. So, the ability to dampen that once in a while is actually a good thing, but I think it’s always good to notice. Notice things around you.

John: Rich, as a leader, we’ve all gotten accustomed to the term ‘dream team.’ As a leader, you are always trying to put together. You want to be Bill Belichick. You want to be Phil Jackson. You want to be Nick Saban. You want to put together the dream team. Same thing goes in business. Again, in your book, as you peel back your definition of the dream team, you said there’s a dream team paradox. For our listeners and viewers, can you explain what you mean in your book? Again, for our listeners out there, it’s called The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance. The Attributes. What do you mean by the dream team paradox?

Rich: Well, Nick Saban would probably tell you Phil Jackson or Bill Belichick will all probably say the same thing which is if you build a team based solely on skills, the best players, it’s probably not going to work out very well. There was a behavioral and systems analyst, psychologist… I can’t remember his actual title. I referenced him in the book. His name was Russell Ackoff. He’s deceased now. He used to say, “If you took the best parts of every best vehicle out there, right? So, maybe the BMW has the best steering system. The Jaguars, the best engine. Jeep has the best transmission. Whatever that is. Take all the best parts from all the best vehicles, match them together. Would you have the best vehicle on the planet? The answer is no. You won’t even have a car because they wouldn’t fit. The parts wouldn’t fit together.” He used to say a system is never the sum of its parts. A system is always the product of their interaction. The same goes for teams. Teams need to be created, not only on skills but also on attributes. Attributes, those innate qualities, are actually what affect and enable our performance and our ability to handle dynamic, uncertain, unpredictable environments. Well, guess what human relationship is. It’s dynamic. It’s uncertain. It’s unpredictable, right? So, it’s our attributes that actually enable us to actually cooperate and get along. It’s things like humility. It’s things like empathy. It’s things like accountability. All those things that are working towards us, being able to work with other people in a team. So, the mistake most people because skills are so visible, right? We can see them, we can measure them, we can test them. It’s very hard to measure someone’s empathy, or measure someone’s accountability, or measure someone’s of that… When you’re putting together a dream team, if you want a team that actually is able to perform and function when things go south and sideways, you need to put it together based on things more than just skills. You need to look at these attributes.

John: Got it. You end the book with a whole section called values and these all wonderful words that make up values. Can you talk your list of values? Why do you add that into the end of the book and what do those values mean to you? What do you want them to mean to the reader of your book?

Rich: Well, I added the value stuff because I’ve done a lot of work in the leadership space with values. Ultimately, values drive behavior. What we value is actually underneath and how we behave can point to what we value. So, what I recognized was that understanding our values actually begins to help us understand some of our attributes, not all of them but some of them. So, just understanding and going through a values exercise can start to point to some of those attributes that you have more of or less of. I think it’s important because again when we’re looking for those elemental things that ultimately drive our behavior, we want to understand who we are and why we do what we do. We need to understand our behavior. Well, to understand our behavior, we need to look under the hood. Under the hood are things like attributes and values. That’s why I added the values things because it started to point a little bit towards those attributes.

John: I love it! For our listeners and our readers out there, your book, The Attributes, if you want to be the best that you can be, I highly recommend reading this book. 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance. Rich Diviney, this is a great book. To also find Rich or to buy the book on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com. You could also buy it on his website theattributes.com. You can find Rich there. You can hire him as your consultant or speaker. Rich, thank you for sharing your knowledge and your book today with us on the Impact podcast. Thank you for your dedicated service to this great country and for protecting our freedom. God bless your continued success and continued support. We always welcome you back to the Impact anytime you want to come back on.

Rich: Thank you, John. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure and I look forward to us keeping in touch.

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