• Joel T. Sanders

A Culture of "Intellectual Navy SEALs"

For many business owners, stepping away from the day-to-day of a business is a terrifying prospect...unless an A player is there to run the business operations.


A client sent me this email today:


We are in the process of holding everyone more accountable and taking the steps toward evolving our culture. I’m realizing that I’ve tolerated a lot not knowing that people like [my COO] existed or not believing that they would work for our company for some crazy reason . . . having him on the team shows me what life could be like if we had a team full of people like him. That’s what we’re going to strive for!y. 

For the first time in years, this client will be taking a vacation with her husband, confident that her business is in good hands, at least at the top. The rest of the team? I'm not so sure. I think we'll be having some hard conversations on this topic in the coming weeks.


As Ray Dalio says in his book Principles, "It's tough being tough on people." But it's required if you want a great business that can run without your presence.


Ray was able to step away from the day-to-day of Bridgewater because he created a culture where people are able to point out out one another’s weaknesses. While people intellectually understand how that kind of accountability can truly help them improve, in practice few people are able to handle it.


At Bridgewater, people are hired quickly, and then fired or promoted quickly, based on whether or not they show that they can stomach the hard questions that help them become better. 


It’s been referred to as “an intellectual Navy SEALs.” and also as a "school of self-discovery run by someone like the Dalai Lama.” Two very different descriptions of the same place, but the key element is accountability, discipline, and higher standards than the top 1%.

The only way Ray could step aside from Bridgewater to have it run without him, while still achieving great returns, was having that kind of culture in place. 

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