Former Navy SEAL and EDBA Student Shares Leadership Journey
Jacob Werksman, founder of Victory Strategies, a leadership assessment and development company, offers a playbook for success in his new book.
It didn’t take much for Jacob Werksman to be convinced to join the U.S. Navy’s primary special operations force.
With his dad having served in the Israeli military, Werksman had always been drawn to the idea of public service before starting his career.
Fresh out of high school, he deferred acceptance into the United States Naval Academy and immediately enlisted into the United States Navy, the quickest path to achieving the coveted rank of Navy SEAL.
Werksman passed through the brutal training designed to push every candidate to their physical and mental limits, ultimately becoming a Navy SEAL at the early age of 20. Typically, most SEALs have already been serving in the Navy and are in their late to mid-20s by the time they achieve the rank of SEAL.
During his time in the SEALs, Werksman became a team leader and lead sniper, serving six years and making two deployments.
Equipped with leadership experience amongst America’s elite soldiers, Werksman turned his attention to business, starting his leadership assessment and development company, Victory Strategies, after receiving his bachelor and MBA degrees.
“We go into organizations and help everyone from entry-level to executive-level individuals with customized leadership consulting,” said Werksman. “We’re now a team of 15 strong.”
Werksman, a lifelong learner, is continuing his education in Crummer’s Executive Doctorate in Business Administration program and is releasing his first book on leadership, Leadership A Life Sport: a playbook on what it takes to win as an individual and as a team.
We caught up with Werksman to ask about his leadership philosophy, his book, and his decision to enroll in the Crummer EDBA program.
We always hear the term “natural-born leader”. Do you feel like leadership is an innate ability or is it something learned?
I think leadership development has a lot do with exposure, experience and how you were raised. So, when you hear “this person is a natural leader,” I think some of the tendencies and characteristics are developed from a young age, from either parenting exposure, a relative, a mentor or someone who’s instilled or exposed the child to some of these characteristics and attributes.
I do believe there are natural leaders; people that fit the role pretty easily. But I am 100% an advocate that you can transition from being a “follower” into a “leader”. Everyone’s a leader. I say it in the book, and I say it in when I go in and work with organizations. Every single person is a leader, whether you’re a leader of a household, whether you’re a parent and leader of your children or relative, or a mentor, or within an organization in a professional setting.
How about yourself? You seem to have the natural leadership qualities as previously described.
As far back as I can remember from high school, I was elected to a student government president; I was elected the captain of my sport’s athletic teams. And, thankfully, that wasn’t from the coaches; those were from my peers. So, I was honored at that opportunity. On the flipside, here’s the tricky part, because, OK, I’m a captain going through high school, and you build this leadership ego and role, and you transition into the SEAL teams, where they cut you at the knees. And, you’re essentially nothing. So now, for the first 3 ½ years of my SEAL career, I learned pretty aggressively how to be a follower. I think that’s a key component of leadership: knowing when to lead and knowing when to follow.
In your new book you use sports metaphors to bring things back to leadership. Why sports?
Everyone has at least played, watched, or been involved in conversation around sports. Also, everyone can relate to sports. So, the comparison I make is soccer. You start out at a Pop Warner or Little League level, where you’re just a kid having recreational fun. As you advance in sports, you go to junior varsity, varsity, and then maybe a farm or AAA team, a college team, and then the professional level. All the time you’re continuing to work at it, adapt, pivot, and change your methods. As you grow in sports, and become more at the professional level, strategy, self-awareness, evaluation, and the micro-details become more important for you to be able to be successful. I use that and then also with the analogies of ‘leave it all on the field’, ‘seizing your life and the expectations of what you want to become’, ‘not settling for good enough’, and ‘striving to be great’, and you get to define what that means. These are all things and hypotheticals I try to pull out of the reader to really make them feel like they’re learning and reflecting with me, rather than me telling them or teaching them.
What are some of the big takeaways someone can get from this book?
I say it’s a playbook on what it takes to win, as an individual and as a team. I don’t say it’s a how-to guide. I do that because everyone is unique and different. What I really try to do in this book is help people reflect on their own personal leadership style, rather than telling them this is how you do it.
In my book, I break it down into 3-minute read sections where you’re left with 30 takeaways. Just to mention one of the topics, one thing is microquits = macroquits, and microwins = macrowins. To break that down, if you have a small quit today that seems instant and harmless, and you add up all those small little quits over the course of a year, it’s going to equal to a big quit.
Finally, where did the inspiration come from to write this book?
A lot of us ask ourselves or a lot of us say to ourselves ‘I wish I knew now what I did not know 10 years ago.’
I wanted to bridge a gap between that knowledge through experience and knowledge through other’s experiences. Going into leadership, I think expedites people’s leadership journeys. That’s where the passion came for writing my book. The book is really a personal narrative and memoir on my life and journey—from my personal life, my business life, my life in the military, and my life here as a business owner. Essentially, I’m writing this book to myself when I was 18 or when I was a young professional. I still am trying to get a hold and grasp on a lot of the lessons learned that I learned through experience and share it with others and readers, so they can have a different thought and maybe change something they’re bad at: practices and opportunities and turn them into good opportunities and good practices.
You can purchase Werkman’s book here.