Two-Time USA Memory Champion; memory training expert and  Ron White memory guy shares his thoughts on the use of “Tough Love” to build leaders.

My friend and memory training coach, T.C. Cummings, is a former U.S. Navy SEAL. He has brought some powerful insights into our “Think Like A U.S. Navy SEAL” workshops, and shows that all of these messages can be implemented into our own personal and professional lives to make us better leaders, and better people.

One technique T.C. told us about was the use of “tough love,” in building character and leadership. We all have heard of tough love as a way to help parents with discipline, but this concept can be turned back to use in all types of situations. It was something I hadn’t thought of, but when he used examples I saw all sorts of applications for tough love.

The term “tough love” originated in 1968 with a book written by Bill Milliken, where it was defined as the use of harsh treatment or sternness on the part of one person in order to help another out in the long run. For example: Parents place their child in rehab because he is using drugs, stealing money from them, and causing a lot of problems at home and at school. These parents care enough to get him some help so he can get his life back on track. They are practicing tough love.

We’ve all heard, “This will hurt me more than you;” “I’m doing this for your own good;” and  “Someday you will thank me!” These phrases are often said by parents when they discipline a child. Parents love their children, and don’t want to have to see them hurt by punishing them. It really does hurt them to impose restrictions or discipline, but the parent has to show there are consequences for bad behavior. This teaches accountability and is beginning of raising a child to an adult.

Parents who allow their children to be rude, hurtful or get away with bad behavior by ignoring it, encouraging it, or making excuses for it, are enabling their children and not making them accountable for their actions. This usually results in a child who grows up to do worse things, because they never were given limits or allowed to be held accountable for their actions.

Building character in children, and in leaders, involves making tough choices when it comes to discipline and following through on consequences. According to T.C., and the U.S. Navy S.E.A.L’s, “When it comes to delivering accountability and consequences, tough love is essential.”

A leader assumes responsibility for his actions, and that of those under his authority, and sometimes that means allowing them the freedom to make mistakes, but holding them accountable for the results.

T.C. gave a good example of tough love, and how even though a person can be held accountable for their bad behavior, there can be compassion in dealing out the punishment, and the punishment should fit the crime.

Years ago a SEAL stationed in San Diego was having marital troubles, so he turned to drinking heavily and getting into fights. In his last fight he was arrested and handcuffed by the Shore Patrol. While still in handcuffs he got away, jumped into the ocean, and swam to freedom. He ended up at the Seal’s BUD training center (rookie SEAL training). Being a trained SEAL (imagine someone else swimming away while still in handcuffs), and still drunk, he thought he could intimidate the trainees into sawing off his handcuffs.

Needless to say, the Shore Patrol caught up with him. After careful review his commanding officer decided to keep him in the SEAL program, but give him a desk job with regular hours so he could repair his marriage. (Note: A desk job for a SEAL is extreme punishment. It takes them out of the field and away from their brothers in arms, so a desk job is no picnic for a SEAL) The consequences were fair, purposeful, and not reactive. The commander took into consideration the situation, and found a solution that was punitive, but fit the crime and allowed the soldier to work on his problem.

This commander exercised tough love, and also ruthless compassion. The soldier was not coddled, and had to accept responsibility for his actions, but helped him out in the long run.

Building leadership – in business, in military or in our own children, requires a strong person (who is themselves a leader) to sometimes make hard decisions in order to create a better person. By using compassion and love in order to teach lessons in accountability builds character, and if those lessons are learned – builds a leader.

To learn more about the SEAL leadership training, check out our “Think Like a U.S. Navy SEAL” series.



Wikipedia – Tough Love:

-  Enabling: