Navy SEALs and 4 Reasons Trust Is Greater than Performance

The Navy SEALs are known for their skill, valor, and effectiveness. They are generally recognized as one of the most elite teams of people in any discipline or field. What do the leaders of the SEALs look for in potential team members? In Simon Sinek’s new book The Infinite Game, Sinek describes the tool that is used to evaluate potential team members. People are evaluated on two axes: performance and trust. (Sinek gives the following illustration in his book)

Performance is about competence, and trust is about character. The Navy SEALs have concluded that trust is more important than performance. They believe that a medium performer with high trust is much better for a team than a high performer with medium trust. When they go on a mission, trust is absolutely essential.

I agree with the SEALs. I have seen the benefit of trust on teams I have led and have also seen the painful implications that a lack of trust brings. Here are four reasons trust is more important than performance:

1. Trust cannot be dichotomized.

A lack of trust for someone in one area of their life always spills over to other areas of life. One SEAL put it this way: “I may trust you with my life but do I trust you with my money or my wife?” In reality, if the SEAL does not trust someone with his money or wife, he won’t fully trust him with his life. Thus someone who is not trusted because of their character cannot fully be trusted with important functions of the role.

2. Trust increases speed. A lack of trust slows everything down.

When there is high trust, communication is much faster. When there is low trust, so much time is spent explaining and discussing. On a mission, there is little time for discussion so high trust is absolutely critical.

3. Pressure amplifies areas of distrust.

Pressure exposes and amplifies cracks in our character. Thus, when responsibilities or pressure increases, cracks in our character become clearer. If there is a lack of trust when there is peace, that lack of trust is exponentially increased in challenging times.

4. Trust makes work (and life) more enjoyable

Work is much more enjoyable when you are serving alongside people you trust. Obviously we love to serve alongside highly competent people too, but character is more important.