A Master Class In Pivoting

A Conversation with Former Navy SEAL & Embrace the Suck Author, Brent Gleeson

By Barry Engelhardt

When 2020 turned the world on its side, former Navy SEAL, serial entrepreneur, and two-time best-selling author, Brent Gleeson was more prepared to pivot than most.  Gleeson devotes his life to shifting directions and taking action. 

Gleeson’s unrivaled ability began when he grew disinterested in his entry-level job in finance.  He quit, moved to the mountains, and devoted his life to training for The Navy SEAL selection program.  After successfully earning his trident and spending years in the SEAL teams, he attended graduate school and then founded an online real estate search engine (think Trello or Zillow).

But just as his company began to take off the housing bubble burst.  Instead of allowing the tides of an uncontrollable market to pull him under, Gleeson used the knowledge and expertise he gained in digital media, analytics, and paid searches to start a digital marketing company which he later sold. 

‘It was really a way to pivot, to innovate, to be creative and find a new path for that business that was not trapped in the confines of the cyclical nature of the housing market,’ offered Gleeson.

Gleeson is currently a public speaker and owns Taking Point Leadership, a leadership development consulting company.  He has also authored two books, Taking Point and Embrace the Suck.   Despite setbacks, he’s credited adversity as an opportunity for growth. 

He is quick to translate his experiences into an actionable process. ‘Take stock of your current resources, of your current situation, your reality.  Develop a plan of action and step back onto the battlefield of life.’

He adds, ‘Focus on what’s in your control. Don’t ignore what isn’t, but deprioritize things outside of your sphere of influence so that you can maintain situational awareness.  But have a greater impact on the things you can actually influence.’

Gleeson released “Embrace the Suck” as 2020 was coming to an end.  As the world was closing out a year filled with uncertainty.  While Taking Point focused on organization-level change management, Embrace the Suck shifts focus to the individual level and selected a topic timelier than anyone could have realized – resilience. 

When asked about the irony of releasing his book during a global pandemic, he agreed.

‘I’m laughing because literally going into this project we didn’t realize how much 2020 would suck.  It has,’ stated Gleeson.  But he quickly shifted from irony to potential.

‘In all seriousness, I hope the book, because of the timing, does provide a source of inspiration, motivation and the ability to be intentional and how we develop our fortitude and how we take action in these times.’

The shift from business management to the self-help aisle may seem drastic, but Gleeson ties them both together by simply, pointing out that organizations are made up of teams, which just so happen to be made up of individuals.  Ultimately, Gleeson has written two exceptional books on one universal subject – change. 

Embrace the Suck opens with what Gleeson describes as a gut punch forward by SEAL teammate & ultra-endurance athlete, David Goggins.  It then provides a series of action-oriented frameworks.  Through these frameworks, one can deliberately and intentionally grow through comfort zone expansion. 

Above all, Embrace the Suck is a book of strategy and tactics, easily implemented by those who choose to take action.  One such tool is the Personal Values Manifesto which helps the individual identify and define their personal values.  These values, once defined, can act as a personal compass by defining true North during times of doubt and adversity. 

‘It’s about the importance of core values.  If you think about it, elite special operations units, high-performance business units, winning sports teams, they all achieve high levels of performance and have a very specific, authentic, and well-defined set of values,’ states Gleeson.

He adds, ‘What behaviors do I expect of myself and others and what other types of behaviors will I not tolerate of myself and others?’

Gleeson highlights the need for accountability mechanisms, stating that, ‘I’m going to put accountability mechanisms in place and hold myself accountable to ensure my actions, behaviors and rituals align with my living with set of core values.’ 

Utilizing the Personal Values Manifesto, along with other frameworks such as the Strategic Planning Model and the Debrief/After Action Review Framework, builds a continuous model. If done with consistency, it provides a perpetual loop capable of providing real-time feedback and growth. And since the actions are deliberate and intentional, the loop can be repeated and refined.  And this is where resilience is grown. 

When asked what problem he felt resiliency solves, Gleeson ties it all together by beginning with the end in mind, focusing on what he identifies as eulogy virtues. 

Gleeson asks, ‘What do I absolutely not want to regret when my short life comes to a conclusion?  We have a significant impact on what that list looks like.  And so you can think with the end in mind, just like the exit strategies in a business or accomplishing a goal you’re trying to achieve.’

Gleeson concludes, ‘when you pass on and you have friends and family talking about you at the celebration of your life, what do you want them to say?  So if we start thinking about that now and working backward to create plans and create behaviors and accountably that associate not just with our values, but what we want to get out of this short life, then we’re more likely to put healthy constraints, eliminate temptations or distractions and really focus only on those things that you really want to impact.’


Barry Engelhardt is the Program Manager for OSD’s Boots to Books Program and recently retired from the Illinois Army National Guard after twenty years in combat arms.  He obtained his MBA from SIU-Carbondale and is currently living that new normal life with his wife and two young boys in St. Louis, MO.  He is the HR Manager for Store Supply Warehouse. 


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