“Command by negation” might not be a familiar phrase to HR leaders in the corporate world, but for Pat Dossett, a former US Navy SEAL, it’s a great way to run a business: the commander provides a clear direction and then trusts officers to get on with the job.
Dossett is now CEO and co-founder of wellness firm Madefor, a kind of subscription box for your mind and body.
Members receive a kit a month for a ten-month period, each one focusing on a different health theme that aims to build positive, long-term habits.
Dossett has taken cues from his elite military background to run the firm, he explains via video call with UNLEASH from his California home.
“We have this belief that a better world begins with the best of you,” he says of Madefor’s mission, adding that the firm has hired people who are aligned with that mission and who are then given autonomy.
The benefits of autonomy
“In the Special Operations community, they call this ‘command by negation,’ that you give a very clear mission, and then you give clear commander’s intent, and then you step out of the way, and you give the resources and the check ins as needed,” Dossett explains. “And so that’s how we’ve run our business and it’s worked really, really well for us.”
Dossett launched Madefor with his friend Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS Shoes, in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Western world. “It couldn’t have come to market at a better time.
“Because people were under so much stress and uncertainty and they were stuck at home, we had the perfect solution for that to help people focus their attention and effort in small ways that delivered really great results for them. And it helped them not just go through the pandemic, but actually find ways to grow,” Dossett says.
The program has been crafted with the help of experts such as Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, who, Dossett says, explained that people’s brains can be “rewired” in two ways after the age of around 25.
The first is via a “short, intense experience,” positive or negative, such as the birth of a child or a car accident, and the second is via “small, consistent effort done over time.” It’s the latter that is the basis of Madefor.
How it works
Members pay $299 all-in to receive information on the science behind each theme and are given a 21-day challenge, plus live virtual support sessions and access to a private online community.
For example, the “gratitude” part of the program encourages people to “cultivate a powerful mindset, so you can lean on it no matter what life throws your way,” according to Madefor’s website, while the “clarity” section encourages subscribers to “build your awareness around your material possessions to better understand what serves you.” (There is a more basic, $99 version, which is available outside the US.)
Most of those who subscribe are individuals, but around 25% of Madefor’s business comes from corporate clients buying the service for their teams.
Dossett says firms often try to reward staff with extra benefits and other “stuff” to keep them happy when times get challenging, but that approach doesn’t always work.
“Over time, what the research will show is that’s not an effective way of caring for your people.
“Instead, what can you do that can help your people care for themselves? Like, how can you help them establish greater agency, greater control, build more growth mindsets?”
Dossett has himself learned to adopt a growth mindset.
Going into the Navy, he had to compete against more than 200 others to get a coveted place on the prestigious SEAL (it stands for Navy Sea, Air, and Land) program – and that was after completing Naval Academy training.
And then, coming out of the Navy, he applied for an MBA at the Ivy League Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania but only passed the entrance test on his sixth attempt. What made him persevere each time?
Not giving up
“The through line for me has always been what’s the bigger mission? Like what is that thing that I feel so connected to that can inspire my actions here now… Anyone that spends any length of time in service, you know that sense of mission and larger purpose and serving things outside yourself becomes a part of the fabric of who you are.”
He also describes those that got on to the SEAL program as “rather unremarkable”.
“In fact, all of the biggest, fastest strongest people, those that were most naturally gifted…were the first ones to quit…And for me that sent a very clear message that…it’s not about what natural gifts you are born with.
“It’s about how can you leverage what you have, and can you internalize a mindset that allows you to recognize that the challenges you face are opportunities?”
Wise words for us all.
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Writer, journalist and consultant
Lucy Handley is freelance multimedia journalist and commissioning editor covering business, consumer trends and technology for an international audience.