Special Operations Forces Cannot Be Mass Produced

September 27, 2018 Updated: October 4, 2018

This is the third article in a five-part series on the “Special Operations Forces Truths.” The SOF Truths are five rules that are utilized as a guide for Special Operations units for strategic planning and vision. However, successful Special Operations soldiers also leverage these rules at an individual level in their own day-to-day activities.

Now, as more highly experienced and combat-tested SOF veterans are entering the business world than ever before, these five simple rules are being leveraged as force multipliers by leaders of cutting-edge industries to grow their people in a deliberate manner, on both a professional and a personal level.

If you or your organization is interested in becoming more agile, responsive, proactive, and effective than ever before, these are the Truths for you.

One of the most important considerations for any business seeking to grow, from start-ups seeking to gain a toehold, to established corporations looking to take the next step in expansion, is the ability to scale.

I’m going to give you the bottom line up front: You simply can’t scale quality personnel with no lead time. Elite performers, innovators, and creators cannot be mass produced. If they could, they would be the average and you would have infinite amounts of quality human labor. Quality personnel—the top one-tenth of the top 1 percent— is not available on demand.

As we have previously examined, your most valuable resource is your team. Full stop. No matter what cutting-edge technology and tools you can bring to the table, they don’t add value without the right people to effectively implement and leverage them. And all of those humans, as we know, are more important than hardware.

In the military, it takes years to train individuals and units to the high levels of proficiency required to accomplish difficult and highly specialized missions.

If you want to even attempt Special Forces training in the U.S. Army, you have to go through a multiweek selection program to prove you have what it takes to be considered for actual training. Then, you’re allowed to attempt training that takes, at a minimum, one year to complete, depending on your specialty. Then, you’re just an entry-level Green Beret with years of specialized training with your team and your unit ahead of you.

In order to integrate competent individuals into a fully mission-capable unit, intense training is required. These same principles apply in the corporate world if your organization is committed to being the best in your industry. Greatness isn’t an accident and it can’t be purchased in bulk.

Obviously, you cannot realistically invest the same amount of time into developing a single individual in your organization as the Army invests in Special Forces soldiers or the Navy invests in developing SEALs. However, the truth in both cases is that quality people cannot be mass produced. Sure, you may have a limitless supply of interns, but can you say the same thing about your strategists, directors, and vice presidents?

Another way to think of this rule is that “leaders can’t be mass produced.” To cultivate leaders, you have to be willing to invest time and money into the process.

Yes, you can and should develop formalized leadership training programs, but do not underestimate the ability of your best leaders to mentor and develop the people who work for them. At the end of the day, that will be one of your greatest force multipliers: leaders who can impart their wisdom and experience to their people and, in turn, bring up the next generation of leaders in your organization. The bad news? There isn’t a shortcut or hack for this.

I once had a company sergeant major who went to bat for a soldier who was facing a medical separation that he did not want. Addressing a room full of senior officers who could not have cared less about the career aspirations of this Green Beret, the sergeant major asked all of them what the tab on the shoulder of this sergeant first class said.

The answer was obviously “Special Forces,” but that wasn’t his point.

“Gentlemen, this isn’t to remind him of who he is. This is for all of you to know what kind of man he is,” the sergeant major said.

When you get a hold of those exceptional performers you casually refer to as rock stars, you have to be willing to both cultivate and protect them. You cannot replace experience any easier than you can manufacture the elite out of the ether.

Building upon the other SOF Truths we have discussed, a pattern is emerging. By putting these rules into play inside your organization, you can start building excellence into the DNA of your team, your organization, and your community.

Recognizing that humans are more important than hardware forces you to focus on the cultivation of an agile, well-trained team of leaders who are empowered to do their jobs in the most efficient way possible, rather than focusing on tools and other widgets. We know that it is more important to have the right leaders and teammates than it is to have numerical superiority.

However, even in small numbers, it is difficult to find the right people; it is not a coincidence that these people cannot be mass produced on an assembly line. You either have to be willing to invest the time and resources to identify, find, and develop them or be willing to dump all of your assets into payroll so you can try to buy every superstar in your league. There is no middle ground.

Chris Erickson is a combat veteran and former Green Beret with extensive experience deployed to various locations across the world. He now works in the communications industry. Follow him on Twitter @EricksonPrime.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.