Two-Time USA Memory Champion; memory training expert and  Ron White  memory guy shares lessons taken from TC Cummings Mind of a US Navy SEAL program on taking ownership of responsibility in order to be a good leader.

While working with former U.S. Navy SEAL,  T.C. Cummings, on our leadership workshop –“Think Like A U.S. Navy SEAL” I found the message, “Not On My Watch!” extremely useful. It actually makes the whole leadership concept come together in four short words by showing that a true leader will work to make sure all lose ends are tied up, and accept responsibility for the people and the mission. They make sure that as long as he/she is in charge they are accountable for everything that goes on.

We’ve all heard about people who are quick to take credit for work done by others, but just as quick to pass the buck when things go wrong. Some of us call them “hot doggers” others call them “whinners.” They are the ones who were supposed to be in charge that say, “I gave the job to Joe and he didn’t get it done,” or “I wasn’t involved in that part of the project.” They don’t accept ownership for the consequences, and let others take the blame. How many of us look up to people like that? I sure don’t!

In the military the term, “Not On My Watch” is used to indicate that the person in charge makes sure things don’t go wrong while he/she is on duty. They are responsible for what happens during that time – whether they are directly involved or not, and are held accountable for anything that happens while they are on duty.

“I won’t let anything bad happen while I’m in charge,” assumes liability for whatever takes place while they are at the helm.

In politics today we hear “Not on my watch” a lot, spoken usually by those who oppose a certain action or legislation, and will do anything in their power to stop it from passing.  Even though it has become a “politically correct” buzzword, the phrase has a lot of impact in the military community, and is very powerful as a leadership characteristic.

T.C. Cummings relayed a story, that was the basis for the movie BAT*21, starring Gene Hackman and Danny Glover.

Lt. Thomas R. Norris - today

During the Vietnam War, a missile hits a U.S. observation plane, and the only survivor, Lieutenant Colonel Iceal “Ham” Hambleton, an expert in missile weaponry, was left alone to fend for himself in the jungle. Because of his knowledge, it was crucial to rescue him before the Viet Cong get their hands on him, and they were listening to his transmissions.

During the course of the rescue several American planes, and 11 additional men were lost. The enemy sustained many more casualties.

Navy SEAL Lt. Thomas Norris, along with a member of the South Vietnamese Army Rangers, Petty Officer Third Class Nguyen Van Kiet, risked their lives (after several others had given up and turned back) in order to find and bring the Colonial home.

After three days they were able to find him and proceed to smuggle him out by dressing like Vietnamese fishermen and hiding him in the bulk of their boat under some bamboo and leaves. They were caught, but not before they were able to call in an air strike that destroyed a large bunker and save the colonial and themselves.

Lt. Norris and the Petty Officer Van Kiet received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1976 for their bravery.  Lt. Norris and Petty Officer Van Kiet refused to give up, even when the odds were against them and others had backed away. They are a perfect example of “Not On My Watch!”

Just as some additional information: It is important to note that Lt. Norris sustained severe head wounds six months later in Vietnam that ended his Navy career. After many surgeries and three years of recovery, Norris applied to the FBI, asking for a waiver for his disabilities. He was told that if he could pass the mental tests he could get in. In September 1979, Norris passed the test and subsequently served as an FBI agent for 20 years. He was an original member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team as an assault team leader. There is no doubt that his Navy SEAL thinking and training helped him to sustain through all he had to overcome.

Take ownership of your responsibilities. Refuse to cross the line on integrity, and don’t give up. It’s easy when things are going against you, but refuse to let go.

Take action! You can improve yourself as a leader through thinking like a Navy Seal. To learn more about “Thinking Like A U.S. Navy SEAL” check out our series.




IMDb (Internet Movie Database) – Bat*21:

Wikkipedia – Lt. Thomas R. Norris: