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Vol. LXVI, No. 4
February 14, 2014

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Reconnect to the ‘Why’
Former Navy SEAL Greitens Offers a New Meaning of ‘Frontline’

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Dr. Eric Greitens, former SEAL, speaks at NIH.
Dr. Eric Greitens, former SEAL, speaks at NIH.
When Dr. Eric Greitens, former Rhodes scholar turned Navy SEAL, says “frontline,” it’s hard not to imagine a battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan.

A military frontline is well understood by servicemen and women: it’s a place of pain, hardship and fear, a place where victories are won and friendships are formed.

But a frontline is not just a military term.

“Every person has a frontline,” Greitens said recently in Masur Auditorium, wherehe gave a talk in the Deputy Director for Management Seminar Series. A dynamic lecturer and role model, he spoke on “Inspired Leadership in Challenging Times,” launching this year’s DDM series in robust fashion.


“We all have a place where we are challenged,” Greitens said. “That place is your frontline.”

Greitens offered ways to enhance service to others, overcome obstacles and successfully navigate new frontlines. He engaged the audience by showing examples from Navy SEAL (sea, air, land) training and his current work reconnecting veterans with new life purposes.

“People can be overwhelmed by the ‘how’ of any new situation or new challenge,” he said.

Sometimes the answers are right in front of you: the people whom you serve.

Greitens demonstrated his point by showing videos of SEAL training, including “drown-proofing,” an extreme underwater challenge, and segments of “Hell Week.” How do trainees successfully meet such relentless tests and make it through?

Greitens said the strongest in the class were not necessarily the incoming stars but those who stepped out of their self-concern and focused on other people.

Greitens uses Navy SEAL training to motivate NIH leadership. Greitens uses Navy SEAL training to motivate NIH leadership. Greitens uses Navy SEAL training to motivate NIH leadership.

Greitens uses Navy SEAL training to motivate NIH leadership.

Photos: Ernie Branson

For example, one test of endurance required one person to carry another during the final leg of a long course. Greitens said the key to meeting this challenge, enduring the pain and taking one more step was focusing on the person you are carrying.

“You’ve got to remember this,” Greitens said. “There’s someone counting on you and you can be strong for them.”

This is a call to arms for every public servant: It’s not about you, your ego, your career; it’s about the people you serve.

Greitens said people quit the training when they convinced themselves they couldn’t endure one more step.

“You must be willing to do the hard things, to make hard decisions about growth.”

Every time you decide to move one more step through pain, your character evolves. The SEAL instructors call these voluntary decisions “evolutions.”

“Do the hard thing in front of you again and again,” Greitens said, “and eventually you change who you are and how you can be of service.”

Greitens used his combat pay from Iraq to co-found Mission Continues, an organization that empowers returning veterans to continue to serve on new frontlines and is a model for public service and an inspiration for changing your life.

“Everyone can serve,” Greitens said. “Everyone has something to offer.”

One challenge for a returning veteran facing a new frontline can be discovering what the next chapter is going to look like.

Greitens said it’s all about bringing clarity to the “why”: “If you have the right why, you can make it through anything.”

He urged NIH’ers to reconnect with the “why.”

For example, if the “why” gets lost when teams collaborate on projects or when supervisors communicate with employees, Greitens said, it’s difficult to make progress. In fact, without the “why,” can there be progress at all? It’s all about serving others.

“Push yourself and challenge yourself,” Greitens said. “We need all of that on the frontlines, when we build teams, when we make a difference.”

Archived webcasts of the DDM Seminar Series are available at

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