The Wisdom of the Bullfrog

Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy)
by Admiral William H. McRaven | Grand Central Publishing © 2023 · 224 pages

This is our fourth Note on one of Admiral McRaven’s great books. As we discussed in the previous Notes, as a four-star admiral, McRaven’s final assignment was as Commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces. He served as a Navy SEAL for 37 years. By the time he hit 34 years of service, he was officially annointed as the “Bull Frog”—the longest serving frogman and Navy SEAL on active duty. This book, as per the title, is wisdom from this legendary bullfrog. McRaven distills leadership into its most fundamental components, delivering on the subtitle: “Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy).” As you’d expect, it’s PACKED with practical wisdom.


The most tragic thing in the world is a man of genius who is not a man of honor.
George Bernard Shaw
The great corporations of this country were not founded by ordinary people. They were founded by people with extraordinary intelligence, ambition, and aggressiveness..
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

“So, how do we make the difficult nature of leadership simple? Well, for thousands of years militaries have relied on mottoes, creeds, parables, and stories to inspire, to motivate, and to guide leaders and followers alike. These saying serve to reinforce certain behaviors. They also provide a memory prompt, a Pavlovian response, and an inspirational surge that helps direct individual actions in the midst of uncertainty.

Serving in the military, I relied heavily on these sayings to guide my actions. …

In this book, I have collected eighteen of these sayings that have guided me throughout my career: mottoes, parables, creeds, and stories that have served me well when I was starting a new assignment or had a particularly difficult leadership challenge.

The eighteen chapters are a mix of Personal Qualities and Professional Actions. Every leader must have certain qualities they exhibit in their personal life if they hope to lead well. But a strong character alone is not sufficient for success. As a leader you must take actions to build a plan, communicate its intent, inspect its progress, hold people (and yourself) accountable. Together, qualities and actions are the building blocks of great leaders.

The road to becoming the Bull Frog was not easy. No road to the top ever is, but I hope you will find wisdom in these pages that will make your road to the top much easier to travel.”

~ Admiral William H. McRaven from Wisdom from the Bullfrog

This is our fourth Note on one of Admiral McRaven’s great books.

We started with Make Your Bed, then we featured his memoir, Sea Stories, then we featured The Hero Code. They’re all FANTASTIC. So, of course, when I saw Admiral McRaven had published this book, I immediately got it. Read it. Loved it. Here we are. (Get a copy of the book here.)

As we discussed in the previous Notes, as a four-star admiral, McRaven’s final assignment was as Commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces.

He served as a Navy SEAL for 37 years. By the time he hit 34 years of service, he was officially annointed as the “Bull Frog”—the longest serving frogman and Navy SEAL on active duty.

This book, as per the title, is wisdom from this legendary bullfrog. McRaven distills leadership into its most fundamental components, delivering on the subtitle: “Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy).”

As you’d expect, it’s PACKED with practical wisdom. Let’s take a quick look at some of my favorite Big Ideas. We’ll start with a super-quick look at those eighteen military aphorisms that guided his extraordinary career.

P.S. Before we jump in, here are some quick links to Notes on other great books by extraordinary military leaders that I think you’ll also enjoy: It Worked for Me by Colin Powell, Call Sign Chaos by James Mattis, Courage Under Fire by James Stockdale, Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot by James Stockdale, Learn How to Lead to Win by Mike Manazir, Leaders by Stanley McChrystal, and Lead Yourself First by Michael Erwin.

Plus: Here are some great books by Navy SEALs: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink, Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine, The Way of the SEAL by Mark Divine, Embrace the Suck by Brent Gleeson, Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins, Never Finished by David Goggins, and Fearless by Eric Blehm.

P.P.S. The current four-star general commanding the U.S Special Operations Forces is General Bryan P. Fenton. I was deeply honored to receive an invitation from GEN Fenton and his team to present at a recent USSOCOM First SOF Truth event on Resiliency. (Learn more on LinkedIn here and on Heroic here.)

I gave my presentation just a few days before creating this Note and had the privilege of spending time with USSOCOM’s commanding officers including one of the most recent “Bullfrogs,” Vice Admiral Tim Szymanski. Being in the presence of these Heroic protectors was deeply humbling and equally inspiring.

It is very easy to take the freedoms we enjoy for granted. I do not. It is because of the sacrifices of these brave men and women (and their families!) that we have the opportunity to flourish. Serving the Force and their Families to repay our debt to them is a sacred honor and one that I am fiercely committed to fulfilling at the highest possible level.

And now... Let’s get to work!

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About the author

Authors

Admiral William H. McRaven

A retired United States Navy Four-Star admiral who last served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command from August 8, 2011, to August 28, 2014. From 2015 to 2018.