“Would you do it all over again?” was the question I posed to Admiral William McRaven as he signed my copy of his New York Times #1 bestseller “Make Your Bed,” to which he responded, “Yes, unequivocally yes, I would do it all again.” Following a lengthy book signing, where even his youngest fans got their copies of “Make Your Bed with Skipper the Seal” autographed, the personable McRaven spoke to a packed house at the Coronado Performing Arts Center on August 3.
He was introduced by Retired Navy Officer Dan’l Steward, his classmate and long-time friend from the 1995 BUD/S class. Steward cited McRaven’s humor, keen strategic insights, masterful storytelling, and the courage to speak to power. I can only imagine the stories those two could tell.
This captivating and engaging man, who, in his 37 years as a Navy SEAL commanded at every level, was given the title “Bullfrog” in 2011 as a four-star Admiral, when he took charge of the U.S. Special Operations Command. He chuckled remembering the large trophy, depicting an ugly toad, he received and shared that he saw it as a lesson, “Don’t get too full of yourself.”
His first book, the 2017 “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World,” came from the original commencement address at his alma mater, The University of Texas, which went viral with more than 10 million views. All of his books highlight lessons learned in his career and pack a powerful punch of wisdom relevant for business and family leaders alike. His other books include, “The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple, but not Easy,” “The Hero Code: Lessons Learned from Lives Well Lived,” “Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations,” and “Make Your Bed with Skipper Seal.”
His inspiring talk on August 3 was based on “The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership made Simple, but not Easy,” published in 2023. He shared that when starting the book, there was so much he wanted to say that he was initially paralyzed and didn’t know where to begin. “Framing a book is the hard part,“ he revealed. But once he decided to chronicle how he learned about leadership through the lens of “Can you stand before the long green table?” – which refers to the WWII Navy boardrooms that had a green felt-lined table, where personnel had to justify decisions to Naval Officers, it all came together. He espouses pausing before taking an action, to consider if reasonable men and women would agree.
Throughout the evening he skillfully wove anecdotes from battles through the ages, with the adage “Leaders have to be with the rank and file and can’t sit back and wait for someone else to solve their problems.” He highlighted that the 300 Spartans fought so hard because their king was the first to lift the heaviest burden and the last to put it down in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. He credited Joshua Chamberlain for understanding the importance of sacrificing it all in the Civil War in 1863, saving Little Roundtop, which saved Gettysburg, which in turn saved the Union, the U.S., and the world. He noted that in 1942, Admiral Chester Nimitz created the turning point in the war by making the hard decision to go to the Battle of Midway. In modern times, he credits Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as one of the greatest leaders he’s seen in a long time, noting that every leader needs courage, which Zelensky showed from the beginning when he said he didn’t need a flight out, he needed ammunition to fight alongside his people.
Early in his career, Admiral McRaven was called into his commander’s office for an assignment, which he thought was a mission to save the world, but turned out to be building a SEAL Frog float for the Coronado 4th of July parade. Disappointed at first, he soon rallied and decided to build the best float ever. He highlighted that, “It’s important to always do your best, even in the lesser tasks, because then people will see you are worth bigger jobs, and you will get those assignments.”
From building parade floats to missions in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, and working with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as the National Security Staff Commander and other roles, during his illustrious career he also spearheaded the operation to get Osama bin Laden for which he was runner-up for Time magazine’s Person of the Year. He also served as the Chancellor at the University of Texas System, his alma mater, from 2015-2018; and he is now a best-selling author and admired speaker.
“The only easy day was yesterday” is the SEAL motto and one he believes everyone should embrace. “Every day you wake up, you have to bring everything, no matter your job,” he advocates. “I wasn’t the most talented SEAL, but I made up for that with hard work,” he commented.
“We all have foibles and shortcomings, but if you know what right looks like, you can come back,” he shares. He said that integrity is simple and involves being honest and trustworthy, along with practicing the golden rule. He believes that leaders should lead by example and interact with personnel at every level.
When asked by an audience member if he was interested in politics, he responded, “I appreciate the thought, but that’s as far as it goes.” He was also queried about his take on the current drop in enlistment numbers in all branches of the military, which are down by as much as 25 percent. He noted that not being able to go into high schools during the COVID hiatus has had a huge impact on recruitment, coupled with other facts such as a lack of fitness among young people. He is bullish on the future of the country, noting that he’s a huge fan of the younger generations and sees democracy as a work in progress.
He said as a four-star commander, presidents always wanted to hear the best military advice, but they also have to look at other factors to make a final decision. “I always accepted the president’s decision. The oath you take is to the constitution, so you salute smartly and move on, just as in the 247 years of our country’s history.”
While Admiral McRaven has many prestigious titles, husband to Georgeann, father to three children, Admiral, Bullfrog, #1 New York Times Best Selling Author, Chancellor, and many others, he is inspiring, relatable, and exudes humility, while sharing how the simplest lessons can be the most profound and have the biggest impact.
One of Admiral McRaven’s important takeaways: “Every single day, bring it. Be prepared to give it your all.”
Watch Exclusive Video Interview with Admiral McRaven: