Skip to main content

What makes great leaders stand out from good ones? Former Navy SEAL William H. McRaven acknowledges that reaching that level is tough. After serving on active duty for 34 years, the longest time ever – he encountered every conceivable leadership challenge. Drawing from these experiences in his book “The Wisdom of the Bullfrog,” McRaven lays out an action plan to improve leadership skills. In this article, we’ll break down the key insights, evaluate the book, and suggest who should read it.

Unpacking the Bullfrog Metaphor: The Wisdom of the Bullfrog Summary

You might be wondering what’s a bullfrog and what it has to do with leadership skills. The term “bullfrog” actually refers to the SEAL with the longest active duty service. Admiral William H. McRaven, who received this title in 2011, uses it as a metaphor for the wisdom, resilience, and leadership qualities that take time to develop.

However, the meaning extends beyond McRaven’s title and accumulation of leadership qualities. Bullfrogs are known for their endurance and resourcefulness, reminding us that true leadership relies on adaptability and resilience. Admiral McRaven’s book is a guide for developing these specific leadership traits, along with other valuable lessons for leaders and anyone striving for excellence.

Key Insights from the Book

Admiral McRaven’s leadership insights in “The Wisdom of the Bullfrog” come from his years of experience. We hope they can help you too!
The Wisdom of the Bullfrog summary - 18 lessons for enhancing leadership skills

Integrity is the cornerstone of leadership

McRaven emphasizes the importance of integrity for leaders. He believes that a personal code of conduct is essential for reflecting on core values, articulating them clearly, and holding ourselves accountable. He shares personal stories from his career to illustrate this, such as a critical mission where he admitted a mistake, thereby upholding his integrity and earning his team’s respect and trust. He suggests that true honor is about taking responsibility and staying true to our moral values in all situations.

Be trustworthy

Trust is essential for effective teamwork and leadership, as it fosters communication, cooperation, and mutual respect.  However, trust isn’t something you can conjure on demand; you can’t just build overnight as and when required. It has to be built up over time, through consistent actions and behaviors.

Be confident in your abilities

Effective leaders face tough decisions head-on. They embrace their role, build confidence in their team, and steer them through uncertain times with strong leadership. To do that, you must first be confident of your abilities. In his book, McRaven emphasizes the importance of taking control of the situation, the team, and one’s fears.

Have humility

As a leader, McRaven had to do all sorts of tasks, even ones that seemed beneath him. But he believed that by taking pride in the smaller jobs, people would see him as fit for the bigger ones.

Demonstrate resilience

Being a leader isn’t easy, and there are always new challenges.  Great leaders are resilient–they maintain a positive attitude in the face of difficulties. This mindset helps them to endure and eventually succeed.

Be aggressive in solving problems

In the book, Admiral McRaven metaphorically refers to this lesson as being “aggressive to the sounds of the gun,” which means taking quick and bold action in challenging and uncertain situations. Effective leaders face problems directly, are ready to act boldly, make prompt decisions, and do not avoid difficult moments.

Encourage your team to take the initiative

In “The Wisdom of the Bullfrog,” William H. McRaven talks a lot about the power of teamwork. He stresses the idea of building a team where everyone proactively takes the lead and gets things done.

Be prepared to take risks

McRaven uses the phrase “Who Dares Wins,” a famous motto of the British Special Air Service (SAS), to represent this idea: success often requires courage, daring actions, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone.

Plan in detail

During planning, it’s important to consider both the short-term and long-term effects of your plan, in great detail.  This means thinking ahead, and carefully considering all possible outcomes.

Have a Plan B

Challenges and changes are expected in all situations, especially in high-stakes and dynamic environments. Hence, it’s crucial for leaders and their teams to be adaptable, flexible, and quick-thinking. Admiral McRaven states that while planning is crucial, it’s just as important to be ready to adjust those plans when facing unexpected situations.

Set high standards for conduct and performance

Great leaders clearly define the expected behavior at the workplace. This involves establishing rules, ensuring individuals understand when they make mistakes, and acknowledging those who perform well. This approach helps create a winning culture.

Listen to your employees

Encourage team members to speak up and share their ideas. This brings different perspectives and skills to the table, and McRaven recounts how out-of-the-box ideas by junior team members helped to solve tough problems. When everyone feels like their input matters, leaders can tap into the full potential of their team’s smarts and creativity.

Spend time on groundwork

McRaven advises leaders to actively participate in their team members’ daily lives and difficulties, being approachable and involved with the team. He shares personal stories from his military career, emphasizing how he built trust, respect, and teamwork by experiencing crisis situations alongside his fellow SEALs and understanding their viewpoints.

Strong oversight is essential for quality work

McRaven believes that leaders should actively monitor and inspect progress, instead of merely setting expectations and assuming they will be met. Successful leaders maintain strong oversight to ensure standards are maintained and objectives are achieved.

Communicate effectively

McRaven stresses the importance of clear and consistent communication when leading top-performing teams. He talks about combat operations where specific and easy-to-understand instructions were super important. Communicate clearly to provide guidance, and avoid avoid misunderstandings that could jeopardize the mission and trust among team members.

Work hard to overcome your shortcomings

The grueling demands of Navy SEAL training required complete dedication and an unwavering sense of purpose. Admiral McRaven explains that duty involves understanding one’s role within the larger mission and consistently performing at one’s best, despite the challenges.

Be accountable

Leaders must take ownership for their actions and decisions, no matter what.  Good leaders are accountable, honest, and trustworthy–this builds trust and leads to personal and organizational success.

Nuture leaders and partners

McRaven also discusses the importance of leaders sharing the load and giving others more responsibility. Leaders can’t do everything themselves, so it’s crucial that they trust others, and empower team members to contribute. This distributes the work more efficiently and gives opportunities for future leaders to grow and develop.

The Wisdom of the Bullfrog Review

Throughout history, the military has used mottoes, stories, and creeds to guide their naval personnel through tough situations. Admiral William H. McRaven’s expertise and long tenure in the Navy were shaped by these experiences, which he shares through The Wisdom of the Bullfrog. While the principles in the book have their origins in the Navy, they’re highly relevant for leadership excellence across a wide range of leadership roles and industries.

The book focuses on high-level leadership principles that can be applied in most scenarios. For example, it doesn’t specifically address how to navigate modern-day leadership challenges like innovation, but you can use the principle of “taking calculated risks” to guide your innovation decisions. McRaven also provides detailed personal anecdotes of what has worked for him in the past, shedding light on real-world applications. Having said that, if you’re seeking an in-depth, step-by-step guide to implement leadership ideas in everyday scenarios, this book is somewhat lacking.

Despite minor drawbacks, “The Wisdom of the Bullfrog” remains a highly valuable read, offering important leadership lessons from one of the most respected figures in modern military history.

Who Should Read The Wisdom of the Bullfrog?

McRaven’s book “The Wisdom of the Bullfrog” provides powerful leadership guidance for professionals in various sectors including business, government, and nonprofit organizations, drawing from McRaven’s extensive career in the Navy SEALs.

The ideas are also relevant for: the special operations community, students, educators, entrepreneurs, and individuals who’re interested in personal development and improving their leadership capabilities.

You can purchase the book here.

Other Recommended Resources

As you might have gathered, becoming a leader isn’t as straightforward as one might think, so it might help to go through several good reads to guide you on the path. Being a book summary service that has reviewed several leadership books, here are some other great reads guaranteed to layout an action plan to improve your leadership skills.

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek: explains how great leaders create environments where people naturally work together to achieve remarkable results.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott: focuses on the power of honest, direct communication and caring personally about your team, to build strong, effective working relationships and achieve better business outcomes.

The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes & Barry Posner: outlines five key practices that enable leaders to inspire, challenge, and engage their teams to achieve extraordinary results.

Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, & Annie McKee: highlights the critical role of emotional intelligence in leadership, showing how leaders can use self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and social skills to drive organizational success and foster a positive workplace climate.

About the Author of The Wisdom of the BullFrog

Admiral William H. McRaven authored “The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy)“. He was born in 1955 and was a four star admiral in the United States Navy before retiring. In his role as Commander, he oversaw 69,000 men and women and directed global special operations efforts. McRaven has received numerous accolades for his leadership from both national and international entities. He graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 1977 and later served as Chancellor of the University of Texas System. As Chancellor, he has implemented several ambitious initiatives, including establishing comprehensive leadership and ethics education to cultivate the nation’s future leaders.

The Wisdom of the BullFrog Quotes

“Show up early. Work hard. Stay late. Have a plan. Deliver on your promises. Share the hardships with the employees. Show that you care. Admit your mistakes. And—did I mention?—work hard.”

“But without honor, nothing you accomplish will be of lasting value. And if you dishonor your company, your family, your country, or your faith, then your legacy of leadership will forever be tainted.”

“Be decisive. Don’t take too much counsel of your fears. Be thoughtful, but not paralyzed by indecision.”

“Be aggressive. When you see a problem, do something about it. That’s what is expected of leaders.”

“Pope Francis once said, “A shepherd should smell like his sheep.”

“While I have often said that a leader “is not allowed to have a bad day,” that pertains only to their demeanor in public”

Leave a Reply

0 cart

My Cart

Cart is empty