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'Complacency kills': Ex-SEAL teaches energy executives combat lessons to navigate industry changes

Oct 31, 2022

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PUBLISHED OCT 20, 2022 AT 4:20 PM | UPDATED OCT 20, 2022 AT 5:56 PM

Carlos Mendez - The Advocate Staff Photo by Brad Bowie

Former Navy SEAL Carlos Mendez told a rapt audience Thursday that the leadership skills he picked up in 22 years of military service provided meaningful preparation for virtually any career he pursued afterward — and he was going to share those insights with the crowd at the Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition.

Sara Bourque, executive director of LAGCOE, said that experience was why Mendez was “perfect” as keynote speaker for Energy Fest.“The industry is ever-evolving,” she said. “They can bring these principles back to their companies.”

Mendez, an immigrant to the United States as a child, joined the Navy with the intention of becoming a SEAL but had to do extensive training both as a SEAL and as a Special Forces medic. Later, a switch in commanders left him under the guidance of a caring leader who helped him pursue college, become an officer and train for work as an investment banker.

Victory, or success, he said, is not necessarily about the specific skills — he was a medic, sniper, a SEAL team officer and executive officer for SEAL Training Command — but the principles of combat training that form leaders in any field, including energy.

Mendez said SEAL officers learn the laws of combat that can be applied in any organized structure, no matter the business or mission. That includes battlefield teamwork; building relationships with colleagues; communicating with others in simple, clear and concise ways; prioritizing the mission despite secondary problems by allocating assets properly; debriefing to glean lessons about what happened; and decentralizing command so that all have buy-in.

“In business and in life,” he said, “if you don’t stop adapting, you will fall behind.”

He said the most important attribute of a leader is humility — knowing that you don’t know all the answers and that your team will better follow you and be successful if you empower them to make tactical decisions to carry out the mission.

“In combat, complacency kills,” he said. The goal for leaders, he said, is “extreme ownership.” That means that, ultimately, success depends on good leaders who make no excuses, don’t blame others for setbacks, and own both the problems and the solutions.“It’s all on you,” Mendez said. “You set the example; others follow.”

Mendez, who works with Echelon Front, a company of 13 combat-proven veterans who offer training and solutions, spoke on the principles found in the books “Extreme Ownership, How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win” and “The Dichotomy of Leadership,” co-written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, who both work for Echelon Front.

Attendee Tahanie Thibodeaux, vice president for facilities and maintenance at Arena Offshore in Texas, said he’d read both books on which Mendez’s presentation was based. He said the company embraces the concept of extreme ownership and encourages “doing the right thing the first time.”

Mendez said the combat lessons work not only for military service and on the job but also in one’s personal life, the last of which, he said, demands “humility” in one’s family for the good of all.