Who doesn’t love the Navy SEALs?  Answer:  The enemy’s of freedom.  But to the rest of us, these warriors are heroes.  They are the elite of the elite. They understand teamwork and define it with simplicity.

Selfless acts towards a common goal.

I say I love the Navy SEALs even though I am an Army guy.  The Army has Delta Force and the Navy has the SEAL Teams.  One thing these two groups live by is the concept of teamwork.

A friend told me of a quote from a leadership boot camp he attended that was run by a former Navy SEAL.

The Definition of Teamwork

At this boot camp these business people were exposed to the military concept of teamwork.  This definition should be how we all see and live teamwork.

Teamwork:  Selfless acts towards a common goal.

These are simple, yet powerful words.  There is no fluff in this definition.  That is why it works.  Often academics will take a concept and over complicate it.

It has been said that communicators take the complicated and make it simple.  While educators take the simple and make it complicated.

The Navy SEAL who shared this concept with these business people was a communicator.  Each word in this definition means something.  Together they create a powerful message.


In the military, loners are not welcome.  By the end of my Beast Barracks at West Point I knew that I would never let my squad mates down.  It was beyond the realm of possibility in my mind.  The success of every military unit revolves around Selflessness.

To this day, I know I can rely on my West Point classmates if I am in need.  They would drop everything to help me, and I would do the same for them.

Concern for inconvenience, personal discomfort, or personal agendas has no role on a team.  The best teams have individuals who are selfless.  The former SEALs who gave their lives to protect the American Ambassador in Libya gave us a vivid living example of Selflessness on September 11, 2012.


Actions, not words are what counts.  I believe we all have implanted in us by our creator, the knowledge of right and wrong.  Most of us will even go so far as to talk about what is right and wrong.

But without action, the knowledge and the words are worthless.  The SEALs exemplify actions instead of words.  Words do not accomplish a mission, save a hostage or safeguard our country.

If I claim to be selfless but rarely act selflessly, or if I claim to be working towards the same goal as my team yet my actions do not move my team closer to that goal, I am a hypocrite and not a worthy team member.


The teamwork the Navy SEALs exhibit is not characterized by random activity.  Every action they take is meant to move them towards their goal.

Unfortunately, too many of us believe that being a busy and active member of a team is good enough.  That attitude would have gotten me in trouble at West Point and kicked out of SEAL training.

If I am to be an effective team member, my actions must be focused on the desired results of the team.  If I am not working towards something specific, I am filling a spot on the team that should be occupied by a person who is driven to move the team forward.

A Common Goal

The goals that matter on a team are team goals.  Athletes more worried about individual stats, or business people only worried about their own department’s are a detriment to the team.

Once a common objective is laid out, a Navy SEAL does not care whether they are the one who gets to save the hostage, or they are the one operating the radio.  The goal is the safety of that hostage.  No role in that mission is more glamorous than the rest.

A common goal for an effective team transcends individual goals.  For that to happen, the leader of that team must be sure all the team members understand the common goal.

The Bottom Line:

Selflessness is perhaps the most important element for an individual on a team.  Once the individuals in the group begins to act selflessly, the goals of the team are within any team’s grasp.

The Navy SEALs are an elite team.  I may be biased, but I believe West Point creates an elite group of team leaders.  Both organizations will not allow individuals to be part of their team unless they buy into:

Selfless acts towards a common goal.

This is a great quote to apply to my work life.  But, as I think it through it is a great quote to apply to my marriage as well.


Who have you allowed to remain on your team that does not embrace this concept of teamwork?  Is that you?

Dave Anderson is coauthor of the Amazon Best-Seller Becoming a Leader of Character – Six Habits that Make or Break a Leader at Work and at Home with his father General James L. Anderson (USA Retired).

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