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Michael  Hayes

Michael Hayes

Former Commanding Officer of SEAL Team TWO


A 20-year veteran of the US Navy SEALS, Michael Hayes translates the lessons he learned in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in the White House to the corporate world in order to help organizations develop stronger leaders and improve their bottom line. Hayes served throughout South America, Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, including the conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Read More >

Holding firm to his belief that life starts and ends with the people in your organization, Hayes is proud to have commanded the only special operations task force to not have lost a single person in 2012 or to have harmed any civilians in Afghanistan. Recently, Hayes joined Bridgewater Associates in July, 2013, and serves as Chief of Staff to the CEO. 

Hayes’ last job in the Navy was the Commanding Officer of SEAL Team TWO, which included ten months as the Commander of a 2,000 person Special Operations Task Force in southeastern Afghanistan. Before that, he was selected as a White House Fellow (‘08/’09) and served two years as Director, Defense Policy and Strategy at the National Security Council. In the Bush Administration, Hayes was responsible for the START Treaty, where he produced a new proposed START Treaty and flew to Russia for negotiations. In the Obama administration, Hayes led the White House response to President Obama’s first major foreign policy showdown — the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia. 

Prior to the White House Fellowship, Hayes served as the Deputy Commander for all Special Operations in Anbar Province, Iraq. He holds an M.A. in Public Policy from Harvard’s J.F.K. School of Government and received his B.A. from Holy Cross College, where he was an active Big Brother. His military decorations include the Bronze Star for valor in combat in Iraq, a Bronze Star for Afghanistan, and the Defense Superior Service Medal. Hayes’ work has been published by the RAND Corporation, he is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is fluent in German and Spanish, and enjoys mentoring others to success. 

In customized presentations, he pulls out the salient, overarching lessons he learned in Iraq and Afghanistan to discuss such topics as leadership, organizational design, conflict resolution, communication, and optimization. Drawing on examples from his illustrious career he shares such leadership principles as teaching individuals how to think rather than what to think and keeping sight of subordinates.

Michael Hayes has spoken at the White House, Harvard, and Goldman Sachs alongside President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Having worked as both a Navy SEAL commanding officer overseas and in Washington in the National Security Council, Hayes is a unique speaker whose leadership principles are sure to resonate within both the public and private sectors. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The High Performance Organization

On Leadership

The Uncomfortable Zone

Speech Topics

Leading High Performance Teams

Mike has successfully led teams in the most complex and difficult of circumstances, and has extracted over two decades of proven “lessons learned” from the SEALs and two White House administrations. Mike is passionate about sharing those lessons, discusses his approach to leading high performance teams, and tackles questions like: Read More >

  • Determining strategic direction and balancing setting ambitious goals against overreaching.
  • How to really connect people to the mission.
  • Communicating organizational priorities.
  • How to think about prioritization; weighing short-term results against longer-term wins and building for the future.
  • How actively to set and then maintain a culture.
  • High performance organizational design and how to align responsibilities and authorities to enable effective decision-making.
  • How high performance organizations think about hiring, discipline, and firing.
  • How to get people to say and mean they would follow you anywhere.

This topic can be tailored based on specific organizational issues and is perfect for anyone who wants to learn how leaders in other high performance organizations deliver results, handle challenges, make hard decisions with imperfect information, build solid teams, create and sustain a culture, and lead their people to achieve more than they knew possible Read Less ^

The High Performance Individual

Excellent organizations know they are never excellent enough. The same is true for individuals-excellent individuals constantly pursue increased excellence. This pursuit distinguishes high performance, successful people and organizations from the rest. Leaders who know they are only as good as their people and strengthen their people’s individual performance are consistently the most successful. Mike has many lessons to strengthen the individual, which subsequently strengthens the entire organization. Just some of the points that transcend into any organization include: Read More >

  • Why integrity and honesty matter above all.
  • The mindset that does the “right thing” despite adversity.
  • Making no-fail decisions with zero margin for error.
  • Moving to the problem (not away!).
  • The more I hurt, the less my teammates hurt.
  • How to measure a person.
  • The power of direct communication.
  • Assuming the right risk.
  • Balancing self-confidence and humility.
  • Strong people ask for help.

Mike’s lessons are universally applicable, provoke significant thought, and leave an audience stimulated, challenged, and eager to “try them on” in both professional and personal situations. Read Less ^

Inside Decision Making, Risk & Training

Mike’s decades of experiences as a leader in the SEALs yielded “hundreds of once-in-a-lifetime” experiences, developed and tested his principles, and enabled tremendous success. Examining the principles around decision-making, risk, and training can help any organization generate new ideas, renewed focus, or refinement of current approaches. Some of the salient questions include: Read More >

  • What is your framework for solving problems you have no idea how to solve?
  • How do you see in your blindspots?
  • How much risk is too much?
  • What can be learned from training people to make life-ending or life-saving decisions in split seconds?
  • Do you appropriately train people “how to think”, vice “what to think”?

Mike tailors all of his topics by listening to and understanding the goals, problems, and opportunities of an organization. Read Less ^