SEAL Team Commanding Officer + VMware Chief Digital Transformation Officer Mike Hayes

Alex sits down with former Commanding Officer of SEAL Team TWO and current Chief Digital Transformation Officer at VMware, Mike Hayes.

As Commanding Officer of SEAL Team TWO, Mike led a two thousand–person Special Operations Task Force in Southeastern Afghanistan. He has been held at gunpoint and threatened with execution. He’s jumped out of a building rigged to explode, helped amputate a teammate’s leg, and made countless split-second life-and-death decisions. In addition to a twenty-year career as a SEAL, Mike was a White House Fellow, served two years as Director of Defense Policy and Strategy at the National Security Council, and has worked directly with both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In his new book Never Enough, Mike Hayes helps readers apply high-stakes lessons about excellence, agility, and meaning across their personal and professional lives.

00:00 – Subscribe for Tech & Business News Daily
00:16 – Mike’s Intro and Background
00:55 – How The Book Helps Gold Star Families
01:47 – Why “Never Enough”
02:49 – Three Pillars of Never Enough
06:51 – Don’t Have a Great Day, Make it Great
09:52 – Knowing When to Push Back
13:02 – Saved American Soldiers by Disobeying an Order
17:08 – Never Enough Principals in Historical Generations
20:18 – Building Bridges Between Ideologies
23:04 – Instilling a Value System
28:33 – Growing Up With Service
29:52 – Building a Family Around Never Enough Principals
31:49 – Thoughts on U.S. Tech Patriotism
37:31 – Building a Logical Process You Can Trust
40:08 – Closing Remarks

Originally Aired: 03/09/21
#NavySEAL #Leadership #NeverEnough

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Full Transcript:

Alex Moazed (00:08):
Hello, I’m Alex Moazed, and welcome to Winner Take All. Very excited today to have guest speaker, Mike Hayes. An amazing background, I’m going to do my best here, Mike, to just kind of do a very high level on it. He’s a former Navy SEAL. He also spent a little bit of time at Bridgewater. He worked at the White House negotiating nuclear treaties with Russia. Now he’s the chief digital transformation officer at VMware and has just published an amazing book called Never Enough. Mike, so great to have you with us.

Mike Hayes (00:45):
Alex, the pleasure is mine. Thanks for all the impact that you’ve had in the world. You’ve got quite a program, and it’s an honor to be here.

Alex Moazed (00:51):
I’ve got the book here, Never Enough. The first point I wanted to make, and this is actually kind of in the prologue of the book, right, is that you’ve created a non-profit around this. You’re donating all the proceeds from this to Gold Star Families. How many houses have you paid off already? I mean, it’s such an amazing initiative that you’ve got with this book here.

Mike Hayes (01:17):
Yeah. Thank you so much for asking, Alex. We’ve paid off five houses so far. There’s no website, no fanfare, just a very quiet, confidential 501(c)(3). I know way too many Gold Star Families, as many SEALs as every SEAL of my era does. So now it’s really about giving back, which is exactly why I wrote the book on so many different levels.

Alex Moazed (01:38):
It’s very inspirational, which is a great tie-in to the book, Never Enough. I had a great time pouring through this. It really is just such a kind of positive, uplifting read. So important, especially in today’s time. How would you describe what you mean? I’ve got some bullets here on how you break down Never Enough and these kinds of things. But how did you come away with why you called it Never Enough? What is that at a high level that you’re trying to get at there?

Mike Hayes (02:10):
Well, Never Enough sounds like fame and fortune. It’s absolutely not. It’s about meaning and impact. What I deeply believe is that the more we work on our foundation, the more that we lean into hard things, the more we realize that failures only fail if we fail and don’t learn, that we’re always working to give more than we take. So for me, it is truly about meaning and impact. It’s not more complicated than that.

Alex Moazed (02:39):
You’ve done that obviously in a kinetic way, but also in the non-kinetic areas that you drove. You were talking about Afghanistan and all the things you were doing from a community building standpoint. You’ve done that in a political arena in. Obviously, you’ve then done that now in a commercial domain. There’s three kind of pillars that I thought was interesting in terms of how you broke that out.

Alex Moazed (03:06):
You kind of broke it out into this idea of never excellent enough, never agile enough, and never meaningful enough. What’s the context around why you broke it down that way and how you were able to kind of condense so much of that complexity into some of that structure?

Mike Hayes (03:26):
Well, you’re asking, what was the hardest question about the book, Alex? It was how to organize all of these stories in this crazy life that I’ve had. I like to say that I’ve lived dozens or hundreds or thousands of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, some which I was very fortunate to have, and some that I was less fortunate to have, but through all of it learned.

Mike Hayes (03:48):
So as I organized and did a lot of the thinking around the book, the first thing that came to me was really the concept of you’re only excellent if you know you’re never excellent enough. It has nothing to do with age or hierarchy or anything other than just what’s inside your heart and your head. Are we always leaning into things and trying to become better? Who cares if we succeed or we fail? What matters is, are we leaning into that and taking that hard path? We could talk a lot about that topic itself.

Mike Hayes (04:16):
But the foundation ultimately is about that excellence, because the more solid we are, the more we can give back. It’s kind of whether you’re… Well, let me just answer your question at a high level and go wave tops across the… because there’s so much we could be talking about. The next third really is the concept of agility chapters four, five, and six. I think agility is one of the most important concepts, because it’s landing in situations that you may not be familiar with, which is almost everything in life.

Mike Hayes (04:51):
Then how do you deal with that? How do you deal with ambiguity and uncertainty and look at the hard year that you’re plus now, that not just the nation, but the whole globe has had? How do we deal with figuring out what do we try to be, what are the outcomes, what are the strategies to get there and then the execution along the way? How’s our mental outlook?

Mike Hayes (05:13):
A really wise person, John Whitehead, he’s a friend of mine, he passed away a few years ago. He was the CEO of Goldman Sachs. He was deputy secretary of state under Schultz, chaired the post-9/11, Manhattan reconstruction, an incredible human being was also one of the ship drivers enormity back in June 6th, ’44 and just a wise, wise man. He said, “Mike, whenever you’re having a bad day, go find somebody who’s having a harder day and go help that person.” That always stuck with me. That’s that agility of like, do you get bogged down in where you are, or can you get off and keep moving in and driving forward?

Mike Hayes (05:51):
Then the last third, which I think is candidly with the first and the second, third, the first six chapters kind of lead into the most important, which is really about meaning and impact. Why are we here? What gives us energy? I’ve hired lots and lots of senior people in multiple firms and coached lots of college kids on life and things like that, and I always break it down to really three circles. It’s what gives you energy? What are you good at? Then what does an organization need?

Mike Hayes (06:22):
The only acceptable outcome is to thread the needle, thread the center of that Venn diagram. Really, what we can often miss is that circle of what gives us energy, and that’s ultimately, the more we’re getting our energy, the more we can give energy back to others and make the country, our families, our city, states, towns, country, globe a lot better. So sorry, a little bit of a long answer, but there’s so much in there.

Alex Moazed (06:47):
Great stuff in there. I mean, to me, it’s such a positive message to say, “Look, whatever you do, you had the lesson to your daughter.” Right? If you don’t have a great day, make it a great day, right? Whatever you do, whatever you set your mind to, you can accomplish it, and I don’t care, as your parent, what did you do? I mean, within some boundaries. But whatever it is that you want to do, as long as you’re putting your all into it, and you’re always pushing yourself, right, and I think that’s kind of that Never Enough mantra, then you will live a fulfilling life, right? You will be happy.

Alex Moazed (07:26):
I think that was one of your points that you’ve worked for some of the richest people in the world. You’ve been in the room with them, right, and you’ve kind of seen what makes people happy. When you have everything it is or nothing, right, and what gives you that fulfillment, and that’s kind of this Never Enough mantra. Is that right?

Mike Hayes (07:46):
Billion, bajillion percent accurate. So I was fortunate to spend a year as a White House fellow in 2008, 2009. In that program, you spend a year with 13 people who are incredibly talented, very diverse backgrounds, but we have about 200 lunches, dinners, or whatever events, where we get to sit down with somebody who the world would judge as incredibly important and incredibly accomplished, and we get to have real human conversations with those people. It’s an ask-me anything type of environment, Chatham House rules, everything’s off the record.

Mike Hayes (08:20):
White House fellow alumni. There are about 600 or so of us at this point. The program has gone on since the early ’60s. Colin Powell was a White House fellow. Colin Powell came one day and we got to sit down and ask things like, “What makes you tick?” He said, “When I was a White House fellow, I had a guy named Fred Malek,” is a gentleman who started Marriott Timeshare who was my principal in office of management budget.”

Mike Hayes (08:48):
So then we asked Fred Malek to visit us a few months later. Fred sat down and said, “You know, Mike, I’ve a lot of success in life. The world would judge me as pretty successful. The times in my life that were most special was when I was serving others. I think that’s also went to Holy Cross, which is a Jesuit school. That orientation of people for others really is what I think life boils down to. We get caught up in the day-to-day so frequently. We don’t get to look out at the horizon because we’re too busy looking at our feet.

Mike Hayes (09:21):
But when we can pause and take that chi breath and slow life down and look at the horizon, I think we realize that we as humans are intrinsically good, and we intrinsically want good for others. That’s what one of the themes in Never Enough is to try to help unlock that for people and to try to help make things better. So absolutely, what you said was spot on.

Alex Moazed (09:44):
Another theme, somewhat to, I mean, your first and second points about kind of excellence and agility, I mean, there was a number of really eyeopening stories from your SEALs days. There was a couple stories in there, which I thought were very interesting, kind of like showing your personal kind of growth as an individual, right? You had a couple of stories in there, where you had two commanders that were ordering you to do something.

Alex Moazed (10:14):
In both scenarios, you felt that you were reticent about it. In the first time around, you didn’t push back hard enough. Right? In the second one, you did. What were those two stories? How would you kind of summarize them? I think you know the ones I’m talking about, and how does that relate back to these Never Enough principles.

Mike Hayes (10:39):
Predominantly, it’s so clear that you read the book very well. When I was a young SEAL aged 25 or 26, I was in charge of a SEAL platoon. Myself and five others were doing special reconnaissance in 1997 in Bosnia, Kosovo kind of operating area. The very quick version is that we were in a situation where we should have called a… We saw something. We got pictures of it. We completed our mission. We should’ve come out of the field, and there’s a mantra in the SEALs that I learned from people older and wiser than me as I came in that says, “If you think you’ve been compromised, assume you have, and if you have, then exfil.” That means exfiltrate and come home.

Mike Hayes (11:26):
Well, we got told to stay in the field, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is not what we’re supposed to be doing.” It was not a SEAL who was overall in charge, and it was a question of whether this young man at 26 pushes back or not. I ultimately didn’t push back. We had 19 armed people come hunting us, and it could have turned out a lot worse. None of the six of us have got a scratch. We finished the mission fine, but man alive, it could have turned out much, much, much different.

Mike Hayes (11:55):
So then roll the clock forward until 2012 in Afghanistan when I was the commanding officer of SEAL Team Two, 15 years later. So I was in a situation where a platoon of SEALs and Green Berets collectively were, in my opinion, better off canceling a mission and coming home. So I canceled it. It was 24 hours into a 72-hour mission. I won’t get into the conditions on the ground or anything like that. But the risk became unnecessary to assume.

Mike Hayes (12:27):
Said differently, the outcome that this group was going to achieve wasn’t worth the risk that they were going to have to take to achieve it. When this group came home, they were frustrated. They’re like, “What in the world is…” We’re supposed to be these hard and heavy SEALs and Green Berets, and we do the hard things, and that’s what being older and wiser and being a commander is about is that you’ve learned things when you’re younger, and they inform your decisions as you get older.

Mike Hayes (12:51):
That’s ultimately, like you said, what the book is about is I’ve bumped through many things that I could have or would have done differently, and that’s what I’m really passionate about sharing, and what I hope Alex came through in the book.

Alex Moazed (13:02):
Doing the thing is how you win, how you grow, and how you end up getting the most out of life. Right? I think that was a thing. In that second mission in 2012, that was a colonel or a general that you were ultimately having to disobey his order. Right? That was that harder path.

Mike Hayes (13:23):
That’s even a different story than the one I was just telling. So it happened multiple times. So the one you’re talking about was a mission where I was the final person to decide whether we drop a bomb on buildings or enemy. The SEALs mission is ultimately to stop bad people from doing bad things to good people. So on this particular evening, we ended up being very successful kinetically and stopping bad people from doing bad things to good people.

Mike Hayes (13:57):
The general said, “Hey, okay. Now you need to go driving your vehicles and go make sure that no innocent bystanders got killed.” I was like, “That’s stupid.” It was 3:000 in the morning. We know the area. It just was the dumbest thing that could possibly be applied. The macro policy is great. Let’s dissuade people from making sure that they do stupid things. I’m all for that. But you have to, like everything, have exception management and know when to say yes and when to say no. That’s what I was paid for is to have what’s called judgment, which we all know.

Mike Hayes (14:28):
So in this particular instance, I said, “Nope, we’re not doing it. We’re not going to get our vehicles and go over these roads. It’s not smart.” The general cut the chase against spoiler alert for the book. But there’s so much other stuff in the book. But the general said, “No. Okay.” All of a sudden, my Afghan counterpart and ask him to go in and check it out. The Afghans went down to this place, the three vehicles, one of them hit an IUD, and one vehicle got basically vaporized, and a couple of folks died, and then the second vehicle had some people get very badly wounded, all Afghans, no Americans.

Mike Hayes (14:59):
There were no Americans there because of my decision. I’ll tell you, Alex, one of the most emotionally powerful days that I’ve ever had was flying to that site 24 or 48 hours later with that Green Beret team that was awesome, amazing Americans and just sitting down and walking in with them and having silence in the beginning. One of those guys said, “Hey, sir. There aren’t very many commanders on the planet that would have pushed back and said no to the general.” Out of the 16 of us, at least four of us, probably eight of us would not be here today if you didn’t make the decision you made. We thank you.

Mike Hayes (15:41):
I tell you, even close it off the back of my throat right now talking to Alex, it’s indescribably powerful, and that’s where… When I look at, why do things like that happen, we have to not be afraid to take a stance and do what we think is right, even when it’s really hard.

Alex Moazed (16:00):
Those stories are such, such good examples. There’s many great examples in the book. But you’re never excellent enough, right? You can always do better. You got to take the harder route. The harder route is to say, “No, general. This doesn’t make sense. I’m on the ground. I’m not going to risk my guys’ lives.” Also, never agile enough. You talk about how there’s a little bit of a challenge with the hierarchy in the military, and that’s an ongoing struggle that they have.

Alex Moazed (16:30):
But you could have been court-martialed and thrown out and all these things for actually disobeying this guy’s order. He never actually gave you credit, which I thought was the funny part of it, sure, that of course you’d expect that. But those principles so strong in this. It really is such a great testament to, I think the SEALs, the military, our armed forces, the values that are instilled in those service members, right, and what kind of character that helps build in that institution.

Alex Moazed (17:08):
I guess you also talk about Lincoln and history and these kinds of things. When you look at the state of our never enoughness in society today, how do you think we would line up against the historical generations of Americans in terms of the challenges and tribulations they had to go through? Do you think society is up to snuff in our Never Enough kind of ranking or more to be desired? Have you thought about that?

Mike Hayes (17:45):
Not specifically. But I think it’s a really interesting topic, and here’s how would approach it. First of all, I think we tend to remember history as easier and better than it was. Think about our own challenges that we’ve had in life. No matter how old you are when you’re listening, think about the thing that happened five or 10 years ago that you thought at the time was so incredibly hard or terrible.

Mike Hayes (18:08):
Right now, you might be a little more circumspect and say, “Hey, I learned from that.” So that’s, I think kind of what happens to some degree. But in the spirit of your question, I think that what’s really important is thinking about process, and that’s what gets missed here a lot. When I look at, what does the nation need? Look, let’s be respectful of the fact that we all have different abilities and interests and skills, and we all have different visions for the future.

Mike Hayes (18:36):
That’s what makes us awesome. It’s kind of like right now, we’re rightfully talking a lot more about diversity and equity and inclusion in the workspace. Well, that is amazing. One reason we do that is because with a wider variety of inputs, we make better decisions. So we almost have to build conflict, just healthy conflict in our system in order to get a bunch of different ideas on the table and make sure the best idea for the business or the country or whatever, the family, whatever it is, rises to the top.

Mike Hayes (19:10):
Now, what that means is our forefathers made this nation so that we kind of bumped down the road. Half the country wants one thing, half the country wants another. Okay. How do we push our ideas and our values forward and then do our very best to have our vision for the future incorporated? But then when that doesn’t happen, how do we agree peacefully? How do we still respect the other side? How do we still recognize that we have other opportunities to shape our future? How do we not live life through the rear view mirror, but continue to look through the windshield and just keep looking forward at the future and recognize.

Mike Hayes (19:50):
I think that right now, it’s really an element. We can always use more of this, and that’s one of the key themes in the book is, how do we respect people who are different than us, and how do we try to create, I’ll say one team, which is either a family or a company or a state or a country. It’s really that get along with others but in ways that also are trying to drive independent views forward for what we needed more.

Alex Moazed (20:18):
You did that with the Taliban too, right? I mean, you were actually trying to build bridges with literally people that had at the time sworn death to America, right? So I mean, you’ve seen that all over the spectrum of, how can you get people from differing points of view, different ideologies, different belief systems, whatever it is to kind of come together and work together. Right?

Mike Hayes (20:49):
I have. I’ve been in very many dusty far corner villages of the planet in Afghanistan and Iraq, but this particular example, Afghanistan, where I’ve stood up at great parallel to myself, and I’ve spoken to an entire village of 50 to 500 to maybe even more local citizens, which was absolutely unquestionably penetrated by the Taliban. Of course, in the back of your head, you’re like, okay, when’s that guy going to stand up and start shooting with a hidden weapon.

Mike Hayes (21:20):
But we’re ready for that. But how do you communicate to this group that says, “Look, we have more in common than not.” I painted myself as a tribal leader, as an elder of SEALs, if you will, an elder of special forces in saying we’ve been killing each other for a decade. Don’t we both want similar things and peace and prosperity and family and success and try to draw that out and paint what we have in common rather than the differences and focus on that commonality.

Mike Hayes (21:58):
Then I had a program where very simply, I was working everything through an interpreter. I said, “Look, my interpreter has a cell phone. Call the cell phone if you want to talk and think about reconciliation.” We can pay a small stipend, and let’s get you over on the good side. Let’s have you stop fighting. Let’s have you embrace your people and come back out of the hills and create a shared prosperity. I’ve literally done that dozens of times, and we ended up having some success and got several hundred Taliban fighters to reconcile with their government, and it’s just…

Mike Hayes (22:32):
Now, did it create a program that spread wildfire across all of Afghanistan? No, we’re there for 10 months at a time. But I think I had a model that worked in my area.

Alex Moazed (22:42):
That was super interesting. What about the third kind of principle, the meaningful principle here that on an impact level, we must act to be never meaningful enough, knowing what will make the biggest difference for the people in our lives and in our communities to that point, right, and potentially on an even larger scale.

Alex Moazed (23:05):
When you talked about the religion and how there was actually a little bit of reticence initially to kind of, I guess, bring that up or be more open about that, did I capture all of that correctly? How do you kind of equate those two things, or what was some of the reticence around that?

Mike Hayes (23:25):
It’s a great question. I think it ultimately boiled down to having my own views, but not feeling like I should project my own views on someone else. So as a leader of SEALs, is it my job to tell everybody what I think and what I believe in. I just felt like there was a certain line that you didn’t cross specifically around what you’re bringing up with your religion. I think the world has matured a lot in the last decade of saying, “Look, everybody’s got different views. Let’s celebrate people’s different views.”

Mike Hayes (23:59):
Even today I do not believe that I should project my views on somebody else, and somebody else should have my views. Now, we might like have a great conversation. I’ll tell you why I think what I think. But it doesn’t mean that you have to believe what I believe. So I definitely threw the theme of this in that meaning section was like, “Look, believe in something. Believe in something. Whatever your value framework is, have a value framework.”

Mike Hayes (24:29):
Ultimately, if you have no framework, then how do you measure yourself about having meaning and impact? I don’t mean to sound over engineered and measured in granular ways, but my econ professor said in grad school, Mike beware of fast trains to the wrong station. Let’s know what station we’re trying to get to and then work backward from that.

Mike Hayes (24:48):
So ultimately, Alex, you were spot on. I was a little bit reticent. Would I do it differently? Yeah, I would. I would be a little bit more open, but in ways that also emphasize that someone else’s view doesn’t have to be my view.

Alex Moazed (25:01):
In your capacity as chief digital transformation officer, the kind of godfather of disruptive innovation, the late Clay Christensen, at a talk that he gave, I don’t know, it must be eight years ago or something now. He was saying the two greatest threats to America. Actually, the first one that he said, no one in the room would have thought. He said it’s actually the decline in religion in the United States. He said, “Whoa, how is that the greatest threat? It’s in his top two.”

Alex Moazed (25:37):
What he was saying is that, regardless of what religion or beliefs you have, what religion does a very good job of doing for society is instilling a value system. Right? So his point wasn’t that you need to be religious. It was more about that, how do you get that value system? Right?

Alex Moazed (25:59):
He was saying, if you look back through history, when you have society that is more religious and therefore kind of has that internal guiding light, kind of that internal, “Hey, well, here’s what’s right, and here’s what’s wrong. Society kind of knows how to self-correct and how to course correct. Right? Versus the other end of the spectrum, which is laws and rules. So when you have more values driven or more laws and rules driven society, as that pendulum swings more to the laws, it never really ends up well for society was his point.

Alex Moazed (26:35):
So that was his explanation as to why having a values driven society, which religion does a very good job at helping to instill is so important to kind of have ingrained into the fabric of any society, US or anywhere. It doesn’t matter what religion you believe, this, that, right, but that kind of that compass and that guiding light, which religion does a very good job of helping to instill that set of principles.

Alex Moazed (27:04):
That seems to me kind of like the foundation for a lot of what you’re talking about, right, is assuming you can have that value system, then you can figure out how to live up to it and prescribe these Never Enough principles, right, to that. How did you get your value system? How did you find what your guiding light was?

Mike Hayes (27:28):
Let’s start with this. Clay Christensen was also a White House fellow in the program we talked about before, incredible human being. The thing about having a value system is let’s step back with religion. Take the world’s five major religions. There is way more in common than not. You have concepts of peace, coexistence, forgiveness. I could go on and on with… If you named 10 attributes, you’d find them across the five major religions.

Mike Hayes (28:00):
So the point is like you’re bringing up, who cares if I’m Christian or Buddhist or Jewish or et cetera, et cetera? It just doesn’t matter. What matters is the underlying value system. If we have those values, we know where we’re trying to get to, and we know when we straight off. It’s impossible to argue that those commonalities across the major religions are anything but good.

Mike Hayes (28:28):
Ultimately, I think that’s what the world is about, is trying to live up to those standards and always being better and better. I grew up in a family of service. My grandfather went to the Naval Academy in the class of 1940. He was at Pearl Harbor when it happened, December 7th, 1941, just an incredible human and lived a life that was oriented more for others than self. He took on lots of risks for the nation.

Mike Hayes (28:54):
Ultimately, what I saw was an example, an example of a human who knew what life really was about, a wisdom, a guidance. So I never wanted… My father also, it was a career in the Navy. So just living a life around these people, it’s impossible to not grow up and see the underlying orientations.

Mike Hayes (29:19):
Now, like any parent or grandparent, no one forced any sort of path down my way and said, “Go do X or Y or Z.” They send all the right things. “Go do what makes you happy,” et cetera, and that’s what ultimately led me to the path of ROTC at Holy Cross, because as the oldest of four, I thought, “Well, gosh, if I can get one of these ROTC scholarships, I’ll have college for free. It’ll leave some money for my younger three siblings and let them go get a great college education too.” So ultimately, it was… The one word answer to your question is family.

Alex Moazed (29:54):
You’ve got a daughter you talk about in the book, and I’ve got a little one on the way. Any pointers to expecting parents about how to get that never enoughness in the offspring.

Mike Hayes (30:08):
It’s a great question. I just had one of those embarrassing Zoom moments. I just declined my daughter on my cell phone three times under the table. So-

Alex Moazed (30:15):
Oh, boy.

Mike Hayes (30:16):
… it’s the only phone call that comes through when it’s on Do Not Disturb, my wife and my daughter. So what I would say is patience and being the example. Just like I talked about my grandfather or my father setting those examples, that ultimately is what it is about is being patient and kind to others. I think that being a parent now of a 20-year-old and haven’t seen 20 years of development, they’re watching more than we realize, and there’s a modeling behavior that you may not recognize it at the different stages of crawl, walk, run, drive, let’s add drive after that and then college.

Mike Hayes (31:00):
It just gets harder and harder. The saying is bigger kids, bigger problems, but no, it’s also lots and lots of love and so much fun. So I’d say, if anything, it’s slowing down as somebody who left my daughter for six months or more seven times because of my service, my wife and my daughter, obviously. It’s really about quality of time together. Quantity is great, but focus also on the quality when you are together. A lot of us work really hard in life. There are people out there working two and three jobs to make ends meet. You get an hour or three hours at most with your kid. Do we all wish we had more time? Of course. The thing we can control is quality.

Alex Moazed (31:43):
Yeah. That’s a great point. We’ll wrap up here. Just one or two more questions. Hopefully everything’s okay with all those phone calls. But any thoughts on… We’ve actually seen, and we’ve talked a lot about it on the show, US tech companies having reticence to work with the department of defense and kind of playing some funny games with some contracts. Kind of, I don’t know, not turning a friendly shoulder to really kind of lean in and say, “Yeah, we want to help the US government.” There’s nothing wrong about that. Any perspectives on that from your perch? You’re in the technology world.

Mike Hayes (32:28):
Absolutely. I will answer your question. But Alex, let me just back up one step. I talked about the White House fellowship, and I sound like I’m an advertisement, for which I guess I am, but it’s a wonderful program. But one of those people we sat with was Madeline Albright. I got to say, Madam Secretary, if you could change one thing in your public service career, what was it? By the way, I’m not breaking Chatham House rules here, because I’ve heard her say this publicly, just to be clear.

Mike Hayes (32:54):
When I was standing in front of the media in 1997 when we were bombing Slobodan Milosevic’s troops, I got asked the question about bombing children. Instead of stopping the challenge, the premise of the question, I went on and I answered the question. What I should have done is stop and challenge the premise of the question. So when I just want to just say in there is I personally have no knowledge of any of the funny business with contracts or anything like that. I think what you’re referring to is, is it going to Amazon, Microsoft, cloud compute, et cetera? Which way is the government going?

Alex Moazed (33:23):
More like Google canceling AI projects around weapons systems with the US government, employees protesting Google or other tech monopolies using AI to incorporate into weapon systems because the US government is going to abuse that technology, these kinds of things.

Mike Hayes (33:46):
It’s a great topic. What it boils down to is trust in the government and responsibility to contribute and to change whatever you think is wrong, what we talked about earlier. We’re all going to have different views on what needs to be done. It’s like the concept of privacy. How much privacy are we willing to give up for security and safety? Sure. You can challenge the premise of that and say, “Well, gosh, I don’t actually think that giving up privacy leads to safety.” That’s a different problem. But in theory, where do we land on that spectrum? We all have different views.

Mike Hayes (34:21):
So how do we live in a world where some people don’t want any facial recognition? Some people say, “No, just have AI out on the streets if that reduces crime by 1% or 50%.” We all have these different views. So how do we reconcile that? Well, when we’re in these large enterprises that are public companies, I believe there is an obligation to think about what we’re trying to achieve as a nation and get that balance right.

Mike Hayes (34:51):
There’s not a black and white answer that says always do X or always do Y. It has to be a discussion and a cost benefit analysis to say, “What are we gaining, and what are we giving up?” Then a fair process that determines whether you’re going to go down path A or path B, when the process is good, and this is what I alluded to a little bit earlier, when the process is good, it’s impossible to argue with the outcome. We might not like the outcome, but at least we get on the same page.

Mike Hayes (35:18):
Right now, let me give a live example. As chief digital transformation officer at VMware, we’re making a big decision right now about whether to use an external product A or product B. There’s some people that really feel passionately about A and others that feel really passionate about B. So what I’m doing, I’m saying, “Hey, let’s step back. Before we even have a conversation about A or B, let’s think about the attributes that we need and what we’re going to weigh and value most.”

Mike Hayes (35:47):
So think about those. Then if we separate out those attributes, then we can score A, and we can score B against those attributes. So getting on the same page with the attributes helps the conversation be easier because now, the only thing we can argue about is, “Well, how does A rank against those attributes, or what does B weigh?” Great. You can have a really rich conversation around that and ultimately come to some sort of a consensus.

Mike Hayes (36:14):
Then that process leads us to an answer that is almost irrefutable, because we’ve agreed ahead of time what we’re going to do. When I was at Bridgewater Associates, world’s largest hedge fund, one of the things that I learned from a guy named Greg Jensen, one of the co-CIO is an incredible human being, amazingly intelligent and a good friend. I remember him asking me a question, and I said, “Here’s what I think.” He said, “Mike, no. I don’t care what you think. Tell me, what data are you looking at? What logic are you applying to that data? Then tell me where you think that takes you?” Because then what I can do is I can argue or in my head think, “Oh, you’re not looking at the right data.” Or you can say, “Actually, I think your logic is wrong.”

Mike Hayes (36:58):
Or you can say, “Hey, when you apply your logic to that data, it doesn’t take you to the same place. It takes me somewhere a different than it took you.” You separate the different pieces of it. So to your question, look, there’s no black or white answer, but I would just fall back on a fair and good process, and that will lead us to the right thing that less people will be able to disagree with, just like when we ultimately choose a platform, we will have two kinds of people. We will have people whose platform got chosen, and then we will have people whose platform didn’t get chosen, but they feel heard and understood, and there’ll be a part of the solution going forward.

Alex Moazed (37:33):
You got to trust the process. Right? In your experience, in order for that process to be executed successfully, are there certain non-starters? Are there certain kind of gating requirements, right, that would prevent you from actually seeing the process through? You had the example when you were getting all the nuclear officials in a room, right, and you didn’t want them to run away to their boss and kind of defer that they didn’t have ownership, for example.

Alex Moazed (38:07):
So before starting the process, if you don’t have all the stakeholders in the room, then is it pointless? You’re doing the process, but you don’t have actually the right players at the table. Any kind of key gating requirements that need to be in place if you actually want to run the process correctly?

Mike Hayes (38:25):
Absolutely. So it starts with being aligned on a vision. Where are we trying to get to? It’s funny. When I walk into a leadership team in any company or any group, and you say, what are you trying to achieve? Usually, 50% of it is the same, and then you get drift around the margins. It takes a lot of work to keep teams aligned. So when you can create that really tight alignment around where you’re going, then that’s step number one.

Mike Hayes (38:55):
So from a gating perspective, you have to have that alignment. Number two is, how do you land on a strategy? How do you have the right people in the room, like you just described that certainly a gate as well? But how do you get all the possible strategies out there and then think about risk-adjusting those strategies?

Mike Hayes (39:13):
What steps can we take to minimize risk and only assume the risk worth assuming? It’s kind of like… I don’t know. Let me think of a quick example. It’s like our investment portfolios. What do we do with our own, whatever wealth we do have? You’re supposed to do one of two things. Look at how much risk you want to take and maximize the return or look at how much return you want to achieve and only assume that the minimum amount of risk to achieve that return.

Mike Hayes (39:37):
So it’s the same thing when you’re looking at a strategy to achieve a vision. How do you assume the minimal risk to go achieve that vision? Then it’s just the execution. So do you have the right teams in place? Do you know your people well enough that you’re working with and for and around in order to come together, coalesce, and make that team that’s going to go achieve that vision and outcome?

Alex Moazed (39:58):
Makes a ton of sense. You got to read the book to get the nitty-gritty. What else can you leave us with today, Mike? What didn’t I cover? What else would you want to highlight, kind of parting thoughts here?

Mike Hayes (40:10):
I would just say, greatly, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the book, talk about Never Enough. I would say the one thing we didn’t talk about is really asking for help. I grew up in a world in the SEALs that valued perfection. I’m 49 years old. I’ll be turning 50 in a couple of days here. In my first two decades in professional life in my time in the SEALs, early on, it was like you don’t want to show any weakness to anybody else, because that can be seen and perceived a certain way.

Mike Hayes (40:44):
I think the world has gotten healthily better at that. It’s still a long way to go. But if we look at the invisible wounds of war or the invisible wounds of what we’re dealing with now, visible and invisible, like COVID, and so many different factors, economic disparity, or inequities or justice, et cetera, how do we do a better job of say, raising our hands and saying, “Hey, I need help.”

Mike Hayes (41:13):
I spoke at a SEAL graduation a few years ago, and I said to the graduating class, “Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.” So I really appreciate how we’re turning the corner on that as a world. So in that spirit, in that vein, I’m absolutely comfortable asking for help getting the book out there. Like we said, I’m donating all of my profits to a charity to pay off mortgages for Gold Star Families, and I feel so passionately about sharing these words and the meaning and the impact and trying to pull all of us up in different ways. So I’m asking for help from people listening to say, “Hey, please help me get it out there.” Because we’re doing great things with the funds from Never Enough, and I just greatly appreciate the question, Alex.

Alex Moazed (41:54):
Mike, great to have you. The book is Never Enough: A Navy SEAL Commander on Living a Life of Excellence, Agility, and Meaning. This is Mike Hayes. Mike, thank you so much for joining us, and wish you the best with the book, and hope to stay in touch.

Mike Hayes (42:09):
Thank you so much for having me, Alex. Again, a great day together. Thank you.

Alex Moazed (42:12):
Wonderful. Thanks, Mike. Well, that’s it for us today at Winner Take All. Hope you enjoyed that great session with Mike Hayes and the book Never Enough, and we’ll talk to you soon.

 


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