Navigating Chaos | Book Review

Jeff Boss’ aptly subtitled How to Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations, is a reflection on over 200 combat missions during eight deployments spanning thirteen years as a Navy SEAL. An overarching theme of humility permeates Boss as he translates his combat experience into everyday leadership lessons.

A World of Chaos

“the ability to comport yourself in uncertain situations – is the most important skill you need to develop if you are going to become a top-tier performer” (p. ix)

Boss believes to share knowledge is to serve others, and that results come from trust, attitude, and a shared purpose (p. xi).

The typical organizational response to chaos is to become more efficient – to improve productivity – and the byproduct is increased stress for each and every employee (p. 4). The secret is to keep the performance capacities (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) – think of energy sources fueling a Personal Leadership Philosophy, or PLP – fulfilled, as doing so sustains energy levels to perform, to adapt, and to lead (pp. 5-6). 

4 Pillars of Performance



Areas to Improve

Habits, health, rest, nutrition
Focus, mental fortitude, learning
Passion, emotional intelligence, resilience
Purpose, fulfillment, visualization


When people, teams, or companies share the same purpose it is presumed that communication is clear, the team is working in alignment, “Winning” has been defined, operating environment is understood before moving, and skill and performance standards exist (pp. 18-19). Imagine sharing your PLP, establishing effective communication, then focusing primarily on aligning action with values as Jim Collins suggests.

SEAL to Civilian | PAL Model

To shoot, move, and communicate in the SEAL teams is to perform, adapt, and lead in the private sector (p. 23), or the PAL Model,ã respectively. Notice Boss directly correlates communication with leadership, akin to sharing our leadership philosophy including operational descriptions and expectations. Like the dual aspects of our Leader’s Compass 360 evaluations, he describes leaders as people who possesses both the character and competence that inspires others (p. 32).

Purpose brings meaningfulness that fuels the fire for even greater intellectual curiosity and Sustained Superior Performance (SSP), defined as steadfast execution amidst frequent uncertainty (p. 41). Think about consistent focus on HPAs (high-payoff activities) and prioritization under stress as a leader.

Conflict avoidance is a common reason for lack of accountability, or doing the right thing. Boss suggests passion as a remedy, noting purpose without the passion to support it is the very feeling of creative tension we experience when we know what we want but take no action to “get there.” (p. 57)

5 C's

Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, showed that between stimulus and response there is a gap where choice resides (p. 64). Boss equates this with the gap between certainty and uncertainty, where strengths and weakness coexist (p. 65), leading to the 5 C’s: Competence, Character & Confidence, Curiosity, Complacency and Chaos. Boss learned, sometimes the hard way, that complacency may result after developing competence and [over]confidence. Curiosity is the antidote, which refreshes learning and further develops competence (pp. 68-69). This is his most powerful and relevant leadership conclusion. Boss considers purpose the key to curiosity, or continually asking "Why?" based on humility allowing an embrace of the unknown necessary for ideas, creativity and innovation (p. 112).

Boss defines [team] competence (p. 78) occurring when an ordinary group of individuals work together in an extraordinary manner toward a shared objective or purpose, and success is a factor of who they are (character), what they can do (competence), and how they communicate. Similar to Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop, boss advises DACA (Detect, Adapt, Choose, Adopt) as an adaptive leadership style (pp. 85-86) sustaining the highest levels of proficiency.

Choice Within Uncertainty

To stay competitive, companies must change and adapt over time. But they can only adapt at the speed of learning (p. 119). Boss convincingly describes the need for After Action Reviews (AARs) on pages 121-126, focusing on shortening the gap between failure and success, such that complacency and chaos are minimized and curiosity is maintained (p. 124). We all know (or have been) the leader who is always right, or is simply above the need for feedback. In Boss' experience, people with that attitude die and get others killed.

He describes successful adaptation based upon three criteria: 1) Preserving the skills that dictate survival, 2) Removing or modifying the skills that no longer contribute to survival and 3) Reprogramming or rearranging new skills to flourish and win (p. 154). It's not a big leap to translate his military perseverance strategy to the corporate environment.

Boss again highlights the need for purpose (p. 194): "I believe there are three types of people in this world when it comes to finding purpose: ticket-punchers, dollar-hoarders, and purpose-minded." The purpose-minded choose to serve a cause greater than themselves and leave the world a little bit better than when they found it because they are perpetual learners.

The Leader's Door

Boss illustrates "the door" as the last thing standing between us and the rest of our life (p. 215), and now is the time to make a decision: adapt, lead, and win, or not. This requires humility, for Boss it is the one thing that he believes separates leaders in positions of authority from those leaders in positions of influence (p. 229).

Thirteen years as a SEAL has taught Boss knowledge is powerful, but sharing knowledge is the real source of power (p. 249). Without communication, humility and curiosity, we're unlikely to reach that that stage of influence. He closes:

… the discipline to reflect and learn through increased performance capacities, the skill and will to adapt, and the courage to lead that enable you to become better as an individual and as a team (p. 273).

Thank you Jeff for the signed first hardcover edition

JE | June 2016