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How Navy SEAL Training Can Help CRE Build Stronger Teams

Author and retired Navy SEAL Rich Diviney on the Walker Webcast

One of the most difficult parts of being a commercial real estate leader is finding the right people to lead. Putting together a strong, capable team that is able to take on whatever the industry may throw at it — from recessions to pandemics — can mean the difference between success and failure.  

Rich Diviney understands what it takes to lead a team. The retired Navy SEAL officer spent more than 20 years serving, and during that time, he completed more than 13 overseas deployments, 11 of which were to Iraq and Afghanistan. During that time, he served in several leadership positions, including as the commanding officer of a Navy SEAL command. 

When he retired from the Navy in 2017, Diviney began thinking about how the training he had received during his time in the service and the strategies he used to train new officers could apply to the business world as a whole. In particular, he considered the difference between skills and attributes and how companies often place too high of a premium on the former when they should be focused on the latter. 

He used his experiences to write a book called The Attributes, which gives readers insight into the real-world-tested performance indicators Diviney discovered during his time in the SEALs that can be used to help any business leader build a successful team. 

On this week’s Walker Webcast, Diviney went over some of the key things business leaders should keep in mind while putting together a team, from the importance of aerobic thinking to how to spot whether a candidate has the attributes to succeed. 

Become An Aerobic Thinker 

Diviney said that during his time in the SEALs, he worked with a trainer who would run him through a series of drills, timing him as he went through them. He asked the trainer what he noticed while timing him, and he said that Diviney had a more aerobic approach to drills than an anaerobic one — he started out at a steady pace and held on to it the whole time, instead of starting out strong and finishing slow. 

Diviney said he believes this is how people should approach tasks in the business world, with an aerobic thinking style that will allow them to keep a steady pace. 

“Business is a long game,” Diviney said. “You don’t want to peak too early or go full-out all the time. You want to make sure to pace yourself so when you need to peak, you can.” 

Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker on the Walker Webcast

Attributes vs. Skills 

Diviney said that while he was training to be a SEAL, he was regularly put through grueling tasks. He and his team would run with boats on their heads or while carrying telephone poles. However, he never found himself carrying a telephone pole when it came time to go into battle. He realized that the point of these tasks wasn’t for him to learn those specific skills but to see if he had the attributes — perseverance, resilience — to be a great SEAL. 

“Skills are not inherent to our nature. We are trained to do them. They are easy to assess, measure and test,” Diviney said. “Attributes are innate. ... They inform our behavior and tell us how we’re going to show up in uncertain times.” 

He said that people show their true attributes during difficult or uncertain times, and since life is filled with uncertainty, it is more important to see a potential team member’s attributes than their skills. Skills can be taught; attributes already exist within us. 

In his book, Diviney lists core attributes that he believes show how resilient a person can be. He said he recognizes that the attributes needed to succeed in the SEALs are different than those needed in business, which is why he calls on each company to come up with its own list of attributes it would look for in a team member, then design activities and environments where they can tease those out. 

The Accountability Test 

One way Diviney would attempt to learn a person’s attributes in the Navy would be to give potential officers two difficult tasks that they would need to order their team to complete. The team would inevitably complain about the tasks — that they were too difficult or dangerous — and the potential officer would come back to Diviney with those concerns. How they would relay that information to Diviney told him a lot about whether they would make a good officer. 

He said that if they would come back to him and say, “Sir, the guys are pushing back on this and don’t feel safe,” and then go to the team and say, “Hey, guys, but the boss made his decision and we need to follow it,” then he knew they weren’t accountable because they were acting as the mediator, rather than taking control and ownership of the situation.

In the business world, Diviney recommends using “the sales test,” which involves asking a candidate to prepare a pitch for a particular item, complete with a slide deck. When the time comes to give the presentation, interviewers should tell them the product has been changed to something else and they can no longer use slides. 

“What you see might be messy and you may not see their skills, but you’ll see whether they are positive, adaptive and accountable,” Diviney said. 

Click here to register for upcoming Walker Webcasts, where you’ll get fresh perspectives on leadership, business, the economy, commercial real estate and more. 

This article was produced in collaboration between Walker & Dunlop and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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