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Secrets of Special Ops Leadership: Dare the Impossible -- Achieve the Extraordinary

Secrets of Special Ops Leadership: Dare the Impossible -- Achieve the Extraordinary

by William A. Cohen

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"The Navy SEALs. The Green Berets. Delta Force. These are just a few examples of what are known as ""special ops"" -- unique fighting forces trained to beat overwhelming odds on every mission. Using principles like speed, purpose, repetition, surprise, and simplicity, elite units such as these have throughout


"The Navy SEALs. The Green Berets. Delta Force. These are just a few examples of what are known as ""special ops"" -- unique fighting forces trained to beat overwhelming odds on every mission. Using principles like speed, purpose, repetition, surprise, and simplicity, elite units such as these have throughout history accomplished extremely challenging tasks against vastly superior forces. When something seemingly impossible must be achieved, special ops forces are the ones called upon for a miracle.

Just as special ops are needed for critical tasks in battle, ultra-high achievers are needed for special circumstances in business: situations where time is important, when resources are low or insufficient, where you are challenging conventional wisdom or established competitors, or where crisis is imminent. But can commando techniques really work in business?

If you can inspire and lead your employees to work at peak performance, they will accomplish dramatic, almost fantastic feats for you -- just as fighting commandos do in battle situations. Secrets of Special Ops Leadership reveals the essential methods commando leaders employ, using dramatic real-life stories of commando leadership from biblical times all the way up through Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005, and showing how similar techniques are used by present-day business leaders such as Steve Jobs, Mary Kay Ash, Robert Townsend, and others. You'll learn the fourteen core practices of special ops leadership, including how to:

• Create the Best

If you think you can just call some of your regular employees together and give them a pep talk and an impossible task to do, you're wrong. Business commandos aren't born. They must be created. Your first task as a special ops business leader is to recruit, select, train, and motivate the right people.

• Build a Commando Team

Using models such as Carlson's Raiders, who fought for the U.S. Marines during World War II, the book explains how to work with different personalities, agendas, priorities, and motivations to create a team that works efficiently and effectively to get the job done.

• Dare the Impossible

Like the Sayeret Mat'kal, the Israeli Special Ops unit that staged the miraculous raid on Entebbe to free hostages on an Air France plane hijacked by terrorists in 1976, successful business ops must aggressively seek out opportunities and know when to transcend conventional thinking to stage an assault and take action.

When they've got the right problems to work on, business commandos can do many times the work of normal employees, accomplish more with less, complete projects against looming deadlines, and create innovative new products and strategies. Secrets of Special Ops Leadership gives you the ammunition you need to get a business commando unit up and running and achieve the impossible for your organization."

Editorial Reviews

Chief Engineer
"...it was as much fun to read as it was informative....A wonderfully written and extremely insightful book, every Chief and every small business owner or manager will come away with ideas on how they can win in any arena against any force they face."

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Secrets of Special Ops Leadership

By William A. Cohen


Copyright © 2006 William A. Cohen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8144-0840-0

Chapter One


"Hell, there are no rules here-we're trying to accomplish something." -Thomas A. Edison

"Innovation is capable of being presented as a discipline, capable of being learned, and capable of being practiced." -Peter F. Drucker

ON MARCH 3, 1944, Brigadier Sir Bernard Fergusson stood with the First Chindit Brigade of the British Army with a commando force of 3,000 men on the western bank of the Chindwin River in Burma. It was 140 miles and twenty-six days from their departure from the minuscule town of Ledo in India. They had dragged, crawled, clawed, and hacked their way through steaming jungles, up and down and around cold mountains, and fought mosquitoes, snakes, and dangerous animals. Fergusson's brigade was part of Major General Orde Wingate's Chindit commando force. It had an almost impossible mission. The brigade was going to attack superior numbers of its Japanese opponents almost 300 miles from its own home base, well behind Japanese lines. The unit had a nonspecific objective: to get right into the midst of enemy territory and disrupt the Japanese army's communications and supply lines while creating havoc and unrest wherever it could.

After almost a month in the jungle, the Chinditsencountered the fast-moving Chindwin River. Despite the obstacles they had overcome to get to this point, they were only at their halfway point in their planned penetration of Japanese occupied Burma. Moreover, the Chindwin River represented an apparent insurmountable obstruction. Because of the river's velocity, they couldn't swim across. There was no bridge, and a pontoon bridge could not be easily constructed even if the materials were available, which they were not. The river even ran too swiftly to be crossed by a boat unless it was engine-powered. To cross the Chindwin River, the Chindits needed powerboats.

Brigadier Fergusson was aware of this fact before his departure. He also knew that there was no way that powerboats to ferry 3,000 men with supporting gear could be carried along through the jungles and over the mountains. It simply couldn't be done. The Japanese knew it, too. The mere existence of the Chindwin River as a barrier lulled the Japanese into a sense of complacency. It represented an impediment that no force on earth could overcome. Or, so it seemed.

However, Fergusson knew a secret that the Japanese, and even his own officers, did not. On orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and General Henry "Hap" Arnold, the Chindits were supported by the 1st Air Commando group, commanded by Colonel Philip Cochran. Cochran had come up with a plan. They couldn't parachute the boats in. They were simply too heavy and would be lost or damaged. However, if a landing strip could be cleared by the river, two large CG-4A cargo gliders could be landed in the jungle clearing. Each cargo glider was big enough to carry a single powerboat. However, the gliders were relatively untried and had never been used in the jungle terrain of Burma before. That in itself was an interesting innovation, but there was more.

The possibility of glider use for resupply had been considered by others, but rejected. It was possible for motored C-47 transport aircraft to take off with the gliders in tow. Once over the strip, the gliders could be cut loose and could glide in, and provided the strip cleared in the jungle for them was suitably prepared, it was doable. The problem was, it was a one-way ticket. Gliders had no engines. They could glide in, but they couldn't take off on their own power again to get out. And, of course, if regular airplanes could have landed, they wouldn't have needed gliders in the first place.

However, real commandos innovate, and Colonel Cochran was not only a real commando, but also an original. On schedule, the CG-4A gliders were cut loose from the C-47 transport planes and landed safely. The powerboats were quickly unloaded and within five minutes were in the water with the first contingent of Chindits on the way to the east bank of the river. Meanwhile, the glider commandos didn't rest on their laurels. As the Chindits put the powerboats to immediate use, the glider pilots began assembling and raising two structures resembling goalposts along the landing strip. Then they played out nylon tow ropes attached to the noses of their gliders. The other end of the rope had a large loop that was suspended between the two poles of each "goalpost." A pickup hook protruded from behind each C-47. Those Chindits awaiting their turn in the boats looked on in amazement. Were the C-47s really going to hook the gliders as they flew by and whisk them into the air? Maybe, but they weren't to see a show that day. The two C-47s were scared off by what they thought was the approach of enemy aircraft. However, the following day the C-47s swooped down, their hooks snared the nylon loops, and the C-47s with gliders and pilots in tow returned to their base without incident.

Commandos Innovate

Commandos do things differently. They frequently throw the rule book away. They innovate. There is hardly a method that commandos have not used to enter the battle arena in which they will perform their duties and accomplish their tasks: by air assault, jumping out of airplanes; underwater from submarines or on rubber rafts, speedboats, and special underwater vehicles; on land over mountains or through jungle driving jeeps, or over snow on ski, you name it. Commandos are constantly innovating and doing things differently. They are at the forefront of innovation and the use of experimental and cutting-edge equipment.

The glider stunt wasn't Colonel Cochran's only air commando innovation. He was the first to requisition and employ in battle the then-still-secret "hovercraft." In case you're wondering, that's the helicopter's original name, and those that have since employed rotary-winged aircraft in hundreds of roles, both military and civilian, owe a debt of gratitude to air commando leader Cochran for his pioneering work.

How to Innovate

Innovation is not only not easy, but frequently, you are likely to get a lot of opposition and only lukewarm support. That is, until you are proved successful. Then the old saying about "victory having many fathers" will be confirmed a thousand times. But as demonstrated in Chapter 2, commandos take risks, and as a commando leader you are going to take risks as well. A great many of these risks will have to do with innovation. However, leading innovation is not difficult. You just need to follow these simple directions:

* Stay current with what's going on in the world.

* Encourage innovation in subordinates (which involves sharing clear goals, looking beyond the ordinary, and rewarding successful innovation).

* Know that there is always a way and find it!

Stay Current with What's Going On in the World Things are happening every day of every week that alter the competitive situation. In some cases, your ability to make use of this knowledge will give your commandos a tremendous competitive edge. In other cases, you may have lost an advantage that you once possessed. You need to constantly ask yourself how you can apply what's going on to your business or your organization. Knowledge of the latest developments or happenings in the world, and your ability to apply this knowledge in a timely fashion, is critical to commando leadership. Commandos go all the way; they hold nothing back. They expect you, as a special ops leader, to be on top of every new development that can affect your operations. Staying current about what's going on in the world is the only way for you to stay on top. If you do so, you will be able to avoid effects that can have a negative impact on your organization, and you can take advantage of opportunities presented by new developments before your competitors can react-or, like the Chindits, before your adversaries are even aware of the potential.

Technology is changing and advancing all the time. The changes wrought by technological advancement have an almost immediate effect on a company or even an industry. For example, the entire vinyl record industry disappeared within two years after CDs were introduced. That was a huge, $500 billion business, and it was gone in a flash. Now, digital downloads and "memory sticks" may be on the way to making CDs obsolete.

Pickett was once the leading name in slide rule companies. Pickett dominated the market. You may not even be familiar with slide rules. Yet they were once as common and as much a symbol for engineers as the stethoscope still is for doctors. The slide rule performed the same functions as an electronic handheld calculator today, only a slide rule was mechanical. An engineer manipulated a movable slide printed with numbers back and forth between one or more additional stationery rulers that also had numbers imprinted. Reading through a movable cursor, you could rapidly accomplish simple calculations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, but also advanced mathematical, algebraic, and trigonometric calculations. Pickett sold millions of slide rules every year, some at hefty prices of up to $100 each, depending on the complexity and functions provided.

Then the electronic handheld calculator came on the scene in the early 1970s, and within a few years Pickett went under. Today, people buy and sell Pickett slide rules on the Internet as collectibles.

Pickett had plenty of business commandos on board. That's how the company was able to build such amazing products that stayed far ahead of the competition. However, the leader of these commandos failed to stay current with what was going on in the world, and so his commandos failed him because he failed his commandos.

In the same time period, a commando leader by the name of Joseph Sugarman had access to the identical media as the president of Pickett. However Sugarman realized the potential advantage of handheld calculators over slide rules. So he didn't hesitate. He used this knowledge and introduced an electronic handheld calculator product even before giant Sears, Roebuck and Co., which was one of the first retailers to sell this new invention. Consequently, Sugarman's business commandos helped him to make a fortune. His Northbrook, Illinois, company, JS&A Group, Inc., soon grew to become one of America's largest single sources of space-age products.

Later, Sugarman, the same commando leader, learned about the technology of a new type of tinted polycarbonate that could block harmful blue rays from the sun. When applied to glass lenses, it enabled the wearer to see better and without eyestrain. The only previous users had been the NASA astronauts. Sugarman did his homework and got the name of the manufacturer. He negotiated the rights to sell the sunglasses to the general public and, through his own direct-TV marketing efforts and retail stores, sold 20 million pairs of his BluBlockers brand.

Cossman's Hypnotic Kit

Remember Joe Cossman, selling all those Spud Guns? Joe built this and other successful products simply by keeping his eyes open and applying what he saw. Here's another example.

In 1952, Morey Bernstein, a local businessman and amateur hypnotist in Pueblo, Colorado, hypnotized a woman by the name of Virginia Tighe. While under hypnosis, Bernstein performed an age regression. That is, he suggested to Tighe that she was a certain younger age. He then had her relate her experiences at that age.

This is a fairly common phenomenon under hypnosis. Hypnotic subjects are frequently able to remember small details about their lives at the age to which they have regressed-details they have long since forgotten. When they are regressed to preschool ages, they even begin to talk like toddlers and lose vocabulary.

Bernstein wondered how far back he could regress this subject into early childhood with her memories of that period intact. Bernstein proceeded to regress Tighe into her period as an infant. Then, on the spur of the moment, Bernstein suggested that Tighe had not yet been born. Suddenly his subject began to speak in an Irish brogue. Tighe claimed to be a nineteenth-century woman, Bridey Murphy, who lived in Cork, Ireland.

Over several months, Bernstein conducted numerous sessions with his subject. Based on a number of regressions with Virginia Tighe, Bernstein wrote a book four years later. Bernstein's 1956 book, The Search for Bridey Murphy, became a best-seller and set off a worldwide interest in hypnosis and reincarnation.

When the Bridey Murphy story became public, Cossman didn't miss it. As an entrepreneur leading the thirteen business commandos in his small company, Cossman asked himself a very important question: Could he somehow apply this information in a business environment and if so, how? Cossman couldn't answer these questions immediately. He decided to seek additional information. He wanted to talk to Bernstein, but so did everyone else in the world, and he couldn't get through to him. No one knew Virginia Tighe's real name in those days. In the book, her name was disguised as "Ruth Simmons," so he couldn't talk to her, either.

The first thing Cossman did was to go to the public library. Cossman spent an entire day there searching for and finding out all he could about hypnosis and reincarnation. Although reincarnation was pretty far off the mainstream, he was surprised to learn that hypnosis was a common phenomenon and not infrequently employed by psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, dentists, and even law enforcement. Cossman decided that his next step was to learn how to induce a hypnotic trance and to practice hypnosis himself.

Cossman located Gil Boyne, a stage hypnotist who had a school of hypnotism in Glendale, California. (In 1985, before I heard Cossman's story, I attended Boyne's school myself to learn hypnotism.) After learning the basics and actually hypnotizing a number of subjects, Cossman put his hypnotic kit together. It consisted of a short booklet of instruction, a 78 rpm record (remember, these were "the old days") of a hypnotic induction, and a piece of inexpensive costume jewelry, which, as I recall, Cossman called a "hypnotic crystal." The idea was that the crystal would provide a point of fixation to assist subjects being induced into a hypnotic trance. Cossman and his commando team sold 208,000 hypnotic kits, which represented over $1 million in sales. As a college student, I was one of Cossman's customers. I can't say it helped me in my studies, but since I graduated, it probably didn't hurt any, either. This kind of sales volume is not bad for someone simply paying attention to events in the world and asking a few simple questions. Commandos expect their leaders to be on top of current events, and real commandos innovate by doing exactly that.

Encourage Innovation in Others

No special ops leader is omnipotent, and smart ones know that the only way they can succeed over the long haul is to make use of the brainpower of others. Frank Jewett, a one-time vice president of research and development at AT&T, once noted that: "The real creative ideas originate hither and yon in the individual members of the staff, and no one can tell in advance what they will be or where they will crop up." The truth is, the final innovative idea to complete the cycle may originate with someone not on staff.

Silly Innovations Can Be Accidental and Worth Millions

During World War II, most rubber came from rubber trees grown in areas that had been captured by the Japanese. In 1943, General Electric engineer James Wright was attempting to create a synthetic rubber made by mixing boric acid and silicone oil. The product bounced like crazy. Moreover, it was impervious to rot and was soft and malleable. It could be stretched many times its length without tearing and could copy the image of any printed material it came in contact with when pressure was applied. In fact, it could do just about anything except act as a substitute for rubber. Wright went on to better things, but General Electric was intrigued with this strange material with its unusual properties. General Electric had a product without a practical use. Fortunately, they didn't trash it.


Excerpted from Secrets of Special Ops Leadership by William A. Cohen Copyright © 2006 by William A. Cohen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Leaders in all three sectors will find inspiration in the fourteen strategies this remarkable new leadership resource provides. It's not about theory, but stirring lessons from leaders in action in every chapter." — Frances Hesselbein, Chair, Leader to Leader Institute

"Immediately engaging. Immediately useful. Invaluable insights for business leaders who want to gain a competitive advantage by taking ordinary resources and utilizing them extraordinarily." — Brace Barber, author, No Excuse Leadership

Praise for William Cohen's Previous Books:

The Stuff of Heroes: The Eight Universal Laws of Leadership

"A first class primer on the elusive subject of leadership." — General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

"This is not just 'the stuff of heroes.' It is the stuff of all leaders for the millennium." — Phillip B. Rooney, Vice Chairman, The Servicemaster Company

The Art of the Leader/The New Art of the Leader

"Makes a significant contribution to the art of leadership." — Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, former Chief of Naval Operations

"Full of excellent examples and analogies. Well done!" — Frank Popoff, President and CEO, The Dow Chemical Company

The Art of the Strategist

"Having been involved with strategy development and execution for three decades in the government and over a decade in industry, I recommend this book to all who want to develop the strategic skills that lead to success." — General James E. Dalton, USAF, Ret., former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (NATO) and President, Logicon, RDA

"The Art of the Strategist will help every business leader to get beyond clichés and to the real lessons of strategic success. If you plan strategy, implement it, or even think about it, you need to read this book." — Dave Logan, Ph.D, Associate Dean for Executive Education, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, and Co-author of The Coaching Revolution"

Meet the Author

William A. Cohen, Ph.D., Major General, USAFR, Ret., is president of the Institute of Leader Arts and a professor at Touro University International. He is also a former air commando and an authority on leadership and strategy. He has received the Distinguished Service Medal from the U.S. government. Dr. Cohen gives speeches and seminars for all four armed services and for corporations from Boeing to The Cheesecake Factory. He is a graduate of West Point, with an MA from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the Drucker School of Management, Claremont University. His previous books include The New Art of the Leader and The Art of the Strategist. He lives in Pasadena, California.

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