Learning with the Experts: Jeff Boss Shares Insights on ‘Navigating Chaos’


Raytheon Professional Services is proud to announce the launch of our new blog series: Learning with the Experts. Here, we will interview leading experts in the field of learning and development, gain knowledge from their experiences, and provide insights into current topics and trends of importance to the learning industry.

We kick-off the series with an interview with Jeff Boss, an executive coach, former Navy SEAL and business consultant. Jeff is a regular contributor to Forbes and Entrepreneur and also authored the book: Navigating Chaos: How To Find Certainty In Uncertain Situations.”

RPS Q: What was the most memorable lesson you learned in life and who taught it to you?

JB: Wow, great question. I would have to say the most memorable lesson I learned in life came from my martial arts instructor in high school. He taught me how to manage my perspective and reframe negatives into positives such that discomfort, pain of any sort, exhaustion all became temporary states—and anything temporary just requires a stronger will to outwait it. I learned how to redefine what those temporary states meant in the moment so that I pursued them rather than avoided them. Pretty powerful stuff.

RPS Q: In one of your blog posts you wrote about the importance of learning how to learn. Can you explain what you mean by that?

JB: Sure thing. To learn how to learn is to continually sharpen the mental edge; to constantly improve oneself through genuine curiosity and awareness—awareness of what you know and of how much you really don’t know.

The essence of learning how to learn is like a revolving-door—the only time it stops is when there’s nothing pushing it further. To stay not only relevant but competitive in today’s society requires constant learning—adaptability—to realize what worked yesterday may not work today.

RPS Q: You primarily work in the area of leadership development and executive coaching. Where do you see the most common skills gaps in leadership?

JB: Awareness. Self-awareness and situational awareness are always primary challenges for clients—and if they weren’t, then I’d be out of a job. Noticing the gap between how you see yourself and how others see you is a huge wakeup call for people. Fortunately, there are simple solutions that can be employed to stay current with oneself, one of which is more communication. There’s a saying that I’ll stress to clients who worry about communicating too much, and that is, “You can either over-communicate or you can under-deliver. Which do you choose?”

RPS Q: In your experience, what is the best way for a leader to develop the emotional intelligence needed to lead in times of uncertainty?

JB: I think the first thing to realize is that uncertain situations are where real leadership takes place because in most other situations you have context to draw upon for decision-making. Uncertainty, by definition, does not, which means the components of trust, self-confidence, purpose and values all play significant roles, and if you lack the self-awareness to know what these are then managing uncertainty becomes even more problematic.

My favorite definition of leadership is authentic self-expression that creates value for others and compels them to act. In uncertainty, for instance, there is no framework to model and no decision-making process to guarantee success, so the only thing you can do is trust yourself, your purpose and the intentions of others. At the senior leadership level, however, finding a credible person to lend an ear and provide a space to think and offer unbiased feedback is a challenge.

RPS Q: As learning professionals, many of our readers struggle with staying ahead of the curve. In your book you talk about the importance of having a clear purpose in staying ahead of the curve. Can you tell our readers what you mean by that as it relates to developing successful training programs?

JB: This relates back to learning how to learn. To move forward, in any endeavor, you must first know where you came from. Otherwise, you could (theoretically) be traveling in a circle and not even know it. So, to stay ahead of the curve requires a willingness to look back on past events and review three things: What did we plan to happen? What actually happened? What caused the difference? The more analytical rigor you place into analyzing those questions, the more context you build for yourself so you can determine next steps.

Think of it this way. When you drive down the highway and want to change lanes, you don’t just change without looking. Okay, maybe some people do but that also comes with a risk. Instead, you look all around you—left, right, forward, back—to ensure you can keep moving forward safely. The same goes for life. To stay ahead of the change curve warrants the skill and will to continually grow and adapt.

RPS Q: How has your training as a Navy SEAL prepared you for helping others to deal with high risk/high consequence environments?

JB: It hasn’t. I’ve never been in any high risk or high consequence environments. Just kidding, that’s a joke.

Actually, what I’ve seen the most from the civilian sector is the claim that leadership success in the military stems from having one’s life on the line, rather than in the private sector where it’s “only” one’s livelihood. I completely disagree, and here’s why. Why is it that some executives leave meetings red in the face, full of emotion, and in the SEALs we could tell jokes to each other during a firefight? It’s all a matter of perspective—of how you see the problem. One’s perspective on what is high consequence varies from situation to situation.

RPS Q: In your book Navigating Chaos: How to Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations, you wrote:

 Uncertainty unfolds. What you relied upon to get “here” no longer works, and so you must find a new way to get there. But, the trouble is “there” is uncertain because it’s new, so getting to a new destination requires not only the skill and will to adapt to change, but also the awareness of the need to do so.”

Outside of the military, how can learning professionals prepare employees and business leaders to recognize these situations, and react quickly to the need for a change in plans?

JB: You can’t react to something if you aren’t aware of it. Take, for example, a basketball team–five players, all with the same goal (to win) and all share the same context. That is, they all move and communicate based on shared information (plays, who takes a shot, individual roles and responsibilities). If one player isn’t familiar with the play they’re running, he’s limited in what decisions he can make and subsequent actions he can take. No matter how motivated he is to play and win, he’s limited because he lacks the right information.

Now, scale this five-man basketball example to a sales team, or a marketing department, or an entire organization. What happens? The same reactive tendencies exist because people aren’t sharing information.

I wrote an article entitled Why Knowledge Is Not Power with the premise being this: While possessing knowledge is powerful, sharing knowledge is the true source of power because it enables others to act. If you want people to react quickly to a change in plans, they need to have the context as to what that plan looks like.

RPS Q: With our Shifting Gears program, a multi-year partnership between Raytheon, General Motors and the U.S. Army, we train and provide soldiers with new skills to help them transition successfully to civilian careers. In addition to the emotional strength and values our soldiers bring to the workforce, they also have an aptitude for learning. What can learning professionals do to develop programs that better support transitions for our military men and women?

 JB: I’d say connecting with other veterans who have already transferred out and have learned what’s important and what isn’t. You’ll probably want to get answers from the soldiers getting out, then match that with the answers veterans already have. In other words, veterans have a lot of skills that directly translate to the civilian sector—project management, strategic thinking and planning—and all they need is a little guidance. Programs should be based off a keen understanding of veterans’ needs and how those needs align with: 1) what the organization has to offer and 2) what the organization needs.



Jeff Boss is an executive coach, a former Navy SEAL and business consultant that helps individuals, teams and organizations thrive in ambiguous environments, where the competition changes constantly, uncertainty is the flavor of the day, and geographically dispersed teams are the norm. His expertise spans human performance, adaptability, and leadership and his clients rely on his guidance to enhance their self- and situational awareness, become more personally and organizationally aligned, and develop action plans to reach their objectives. He is a contributor to Forbes and Entrepreneur.com, a speaker at the Harry Walker Agency, and the author of “Navigating Chaos: How To Find Certainty In Uncertain Situations,” available on Amazon and Barnes & noble. You can learn more about Jeff Here: http://www.adaptabilitycoach.com