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Book Summary: The Wisdom of the Bullfrog – Leadership Made Simple (but Not Easy)

The Wisdom of the Bullfrog (2023) draws on the experiences and leadership challenges faced over the 40-year career of a former American naval admiral to provide timeless guidance on what it takes to be a successful leader.

Introduction: Gain insights into leadership qualities.

The longest-serving frogman and Navy SEAL on duty is given the title the Bull Frog. Admiral William H. McRaven was anointed as the Bull Frog 34 years after he started BUD/S – Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal – training.

He’s learned a lot in nearly 40 years of service through being a frogman, leading both other frogmen and many others, including Marine Raiders, ship and submarine officers, Air Force Pilots, civil servants, doctors, and students.

Each day, week, month, and year brought him new leadership lessons – some easy, some painful. But even though leadership has been difficult at times, he maintains that it’s not complicated.

So what is leadership? He defines it as “accomplishing a task with the people and resources you have while maintaining the integrity of your institution.” Leaders, he says, should inspire the people who work for them, and manage the resources necessary to get the job done. But it’s not just about getting the job done – it’s also about maintaining the reputation of your organization in the process. Fail to do that, and you’ve failed, period, regardless of whether or not the job is successfully completed.

There are countless mottoes, creeds, stories, and parables that can provide motivation and guidance to aspiring leaders and their followers. They can also act as a memory prompt in times of uncertainty.

In this summary, we’ll look at five of 18 sayings that guided Admiral William H. McRaven throughout his career. They’re not simply words – they’re the product of an outpouring of blood, sweat, and tears. Your road ahead may not be easy, but perhaps the wisdom in this summary will make your journey a little clearer.

Book Summary: The Wisdom of the Bullfrog - Leadership Made Simple (but Not Easy)

Death before dishonor

Honor is the foundation of great leadership. But what does it mean? The answer is clear: doing the right things for the right reasons. When you do things with honor, your colleagues will follow you through thick and thin.

The phrase “death before dishonor” probably originated with the Greek Stoics. Later, Julius Caesar is purported to have said, “I love the name of honor more than I fear death.” In more modern times, Marine Sergeant John Basilone, who was the only person to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross in World War II, had the motto tattooed on his left arm. In his honor, the United States Marine Corps has, unofficially, adopted the motto.

In 2014, when Admiral McRaven was giving a speech about leadership to cadets at the United States Military Academy, he told them that leadership is difficult. He explained that human interaction, especially during times of difficulty, is pretty daunting. Those who do it well earn respect – but, unfortunately, doing it badly is all too common.

The Cadet Honor Code reads, “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” Based on this foundation, the United States Military Academy is able to produce “leaders of character,” people who will be principled, honorable, and honest.

If you want to be a great leader, you, too, need a code of conduct. This will provide you with a compass to guide your decisions and actions. You may sometimes make poor decisions or act stupidly, but you must always be honorable.

Sometimes people say that it can be hard to know what the right thing to do is. Admiral McRaven is here to tell you that no, it isn’t. You’re always going to know the right thing to do – it’s just that sometimes it will be hard to do it. Sometimes, it won’t be possible, and you’ll fail. Other times, it will be hard because of the way it will affect your colleagues or friends. But that’s what good leadership is about.

So follow that honor code. Remember always to treat others as you would have them treat you. Be honest in all your business dealings. Don’t lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do. And when you do have a lapse in judgment, own it, correct it, and return to being the honorable person you are.

Who dares wins

In 1942, David Stirling, a British officer, conducted daring raids on German Panzer forces in North Africa with a small group of commandos. To conceal their true mission, the unit was known as the SAS – the Special Air Service. After several unsuccessful ground and parachute raids, Stirling devised a new strategy. He led 18 Jeeps mounted with machine guns in attacks on German airfields and fuel depots. The results were devastating. Throughout that year, Stirling and his commandos often struck behind enemy lines without detection. This earned Stirling a nickname, the Phantom Major, bestowed on him by Erwin Rommel.

Despite being captured, escaping, and being captured again, Stirling’s exploits continued. When tasked with creating a motto for the SAS, he chose Qui audet adipiscitur – Who Dares Wins.

Fast forward to May 1, 2011. Then-Vice Admiral William H. McRaven was in the Tactical Operations Center in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. That evening was, for those involved in Operation Neptune’s Spear, the one on which they hoped they’d finally get Osama bin Laden.

Chris Faris, the command sergeant major, addressed the SEALs, interrupting their preparations for a moment as they gathered around. He told them that the British have a saying: Who Dares Wins. He paused momentarily, and then continued, “Tonight you will be daring greatly, and I know you will come out victorious.”

It’s important to note that “daring” does not mean taking unnecessary risks. What it does mean is being bold and taking advantage of opportunities that others shy away from. It also entails minimizing risk and being prepared. For the three weeks before the bin Laden raid, the SEALs had spent 75 percent of their time in meticulous planning. Nothing was left to chance, and every contingency was considered. Ultimately, the mission proved successful, and bin Laden’s remains were buried at sea.

Those three words, Who Dares Wins, aptly capture the spirit of every commando unit. They also define the difference between great leaders and average ones. History is full of great risk-takers in many fields – business, sport, entertainment, the arts – and all of them recognized that in risk there’s opportunity. But each field is also scattered with countless failures.

So what sets the successful ones apart from the failures? Yes, they’re bold, have confidence, and move forward when others perceive the risk as too high. But there’s another factor, too – planning and preparation. In fact, Who Dares Wins is usually backed up by Who Plans and Prepares Wins.

There’s no room for weak-kneed leaders, either; they must be bold and seek out opportunities to take risks. They must prepare and plan in order to mitigate potential pitfalls. Finally, they must learn from their mistakes and be ready for the next big risk. Failure will never define them.

A shepherd should smell like his sheep

It’s June 1974, and Admiral McRaven, then a midshipman third class, has been deployed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii aboard the USS Ouellet for the next seven weeks. Having just arrived at midnight, he quietly slips off his shoes and starts to climb to his bunk – it’s the top one of three. In the darkness, he loses his footing and unintentionally steps on the person beneath. There’s a roar and a towering Samoan giant emerges. He’s clearly unamused. In the dim lighting, his eyes glimmer red.

The Samoan grabs McRaven’s shirt, pulls him in close, and demands to know who he is. McRaven introduces himself and apologizes profusely. “I’ve only got one face,” the Samoan responds, “and it’s pretty. The ladies like it this way.” He lets go of McRaven’s shirt and helps him stow it away for the night. He gives McRaven his name, Ricky, and tells him to get some sleep.

Over the next seven weeks, McRaven shares quarters, meals, and duties with the sailors. Ricky teaches him everything he needs to know about being a sailor. McRaven learns that every sailor has a unique tale to tell about why they joined up, their hometown, and their family. And each one also has a story about their overseas deployments, from the time a storm nearly capsized their ship to their dragon tattoo to the Polynesian princess they came close to marrying. He learns that they all take pride in their ship, too. He learns exactly what it takes to build relationships with his sailors.

Most importantly, the sailors teach him what they expect from their officers. They respect the ones who get greasy and turn wrenches with them in the 120-degree boiler room, pick up a broom and assist with sweeping duties, and thank them for their efforts. But they also want officers who are prepared to make difficult decisions, will hold them accountable, and value them. Ultimately, they want officers who’ll make them proud.

Pope Francis once said that a shepherd should smell like his sheep. This is pretty much in line with the thinking of all great leaders – you can’t afford to lose touch with those who work for you. If you don’t “smell” like them, this can lead to ineffective leadership and poor decision-making. So share the hardships and the camaraderie with your employees. Let them see that you’re human, too. And, above all, listen to them. Who knows – they may well have the solution to the problems you’re struggling with.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

A rugged island in the Pacific Ocean 80 miles west of San Diego is where the Third Phase of Navy SEAL training takes place. It’s on San Clemente that after six months of training, the remaining few trainees hope to complete the last three weeks. They’re dropped three miles off the coast and told to swim to shore. That’s followed by a 16-mile run and a five-mile swim, demolition and weapons work, physical training, and constant harassment to try to break your spirit. Grueling, indeed.

It’s also where officers are tested – especially their leadership skills. One of the trials of the officers’ command and control skills is the Ambush Drill. During the drill, an ambush is simulated by the instructors, using blank ammunition and grenades. The platoon leader must get the platoon out of the kill zone quickly.

McRaven’s platoon knew they had to pay attention to him and follow his commands. Everyone had to be on the same page – otherwise, disaster would ensue. As his platoon entered the underbush, the ambush commenced from the right. The only way to evade the ambushers was to move left, as all other avenues of escape were blocked. Moving left was the textbook response, but McRaven saw another possibility: flank the instructors, come up behind them, and counter-ambush them. He did just that – on his own – and raked the bodies of the seven instructors with blanks. His platoon had won.

“What are you doing?” one of the instructors yelled. The instructor told him he’d left his men in the killing zone. They had no clue what he was doing. He was told to get back to them. When he returned his platoon berated him, too: “What were you thinking?” “I thought you were running away from the firefight.” “Your job was to get us out.”

McRaven knew they were right. His job was to get them out alive, communicate what he was doing, and move together.

Although everyone understands that communication is key, leaders often fail because they don’t communicate their goals and intentions to the whole team. Communication takes effort if you want to ensure it’s delivered correctly and you’re getting appropriate feedback. So make sure you have communication channels in both directions. Make sure everyone from the top to the bottom of the organization understands its goals and values. And always, always ensure you’re communicating your actions to the team.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Can you stand before the long green table?

In October 1925, General Billy Mitchell was court-martialed. He believed that war was coming and that the air force should be unified. It would be a force that would rival both the Army and Navy.

Mitchell had posited that a battleship could be destroyed by a bomber. The Navy, on the other hand, had rigged demonstrations of the survivability of battleships. Mitchell then went on to expose that deception. After a valid test, it was beyond doubt that Mitchell was correct. Yet still, the Army and Navy opposed the idea of a unified air force. Mitchell was court-martialed when he accused the leadership of “almost treasonable administration of the national defense.”

There was a seven-week trial, during which Mitchell stood “before the long green table” of 13 military officers. He maintained his position, stating that he had a moral, legal, and ethical obligation to raise the issue. Failure to do so would be nearly treasonous, he argued. Mitchell was found guilty.

Fast-forward to 1942, and the German skies are filled with American bombers. Come 1947, the United States Air Force is established. Despite the criticism he faced, Mitchell maintained his position on air power and history rightly recognizes him as “Father of the Air Force.”

The questions for leaders should always be: Can you stand before the long green table? Are you able to justify that the actions you’re taking are moral, legal, and ethical? If the answer to these questions is no, then you need to rethink your actions. But if the answer is yes, stick to your convictions and make the necessary hard calls. Do the right thing.


A leader needs many qualities. Those qualities include being a person of integrity – death before dishonor. A leader must be a risk taker – who dares wins. They must spend time with their team – a shepherd should smell like his sheep. They must clearly communicate their actions – communicate, communicate, communicate. And finally, they must be accountable for those actions – can you stand before the long green table?

Admiral McRaven reminds us that, although leadership is difficult, it’s not rocket science. He freely admits that after 40 years in leadership positions, he’s still learning – from students, colleagues, board members, family, and friends. But one thing, he says, is certain: you need to do your best every day.

About the author

Admiral William H. McRaven is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Make Your Bed and the New York Times bestsellers Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations and The Hero Code: Lessons Learned from Lives Well Lived. In his thirty-seven years as a Navy SEAL, he commanded at every level. As a Four-Star Admiral, his final assignment was as Commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces. After retiring from the Navy, he served as the Chancellor of the University of Texas System from 2015 to 2018. He now lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, Georgeann.


Communication Skills, Management, Leadership, Career Success, Business, Biographies and Memoirs

Table of Contents

Introduction-The Bullfrog
Chapter One-The Code of Conduct
Chapter Two-A Shepherd Should Smell Like His Sheep
Chapter Three- When in Command, Command
Chapter Four-Who Dares Wins
Chapter Five-Run to the Sound of the Guns
Chapter Six-Troop the Line
Chapter Seven- The Only Easy Day, Was Yesterday
Chapter Eight-Sua Sponte (Of Your Own Accord)
Chapter Nine-It Pays to be a Winner
Chapter Ten-The Deed is All Not the Glory
Chapter Eleven-No Plan Survives First Contact with the Enemy
Chapter Twelve-Can You Stand Before the Long Green Table?
Chapter Thirteen-Always Have a Swimbuddy
Chapter Fourteen-Take it One Evolution at a Time
Chapter Fifteen—Never Ring the Bell



From the acclaimed, bestselling author of Make Your Bed—a short, inspirational book of advice and leadership lessons that Admiral McRaven collected over his four decades as a Navy SEAL.

The title “Bullfrog” is given to the Navy SEAL who has served the longest on active duty. Admiral McRaven was honored to receive this honor in 2011 when he took charge of the United States Special Operations Command. When McRaven retired in 2014, he had 37 years as a Navy SEAL under his belt, leading men and women at every level of the special operations community. In the ensuing four years, he served as Chancellor to the entire University of Texas System, with its 230,000 students and 100,000 faculty and health care workers.

During those four decades, Admiral McRaven dealt with every conceivable leadership challenge, from commanding combat operations—including the capture of Saddam Hussein, the rescue of Captain Phillips, and the raid for Osama bin Laden.

THE WISDOM OF THE BULLFROG draws on these and countless other experiences from Admiral McRaven’s incredible life, including crisis situations, management debates, organizational transitions, and ethical dilemmas, to provide readers with the most important leadership lessons he has learned over the course of his forty years of service. Each chapter provides a Make Your Bed-like parable, rich with insights like those featured in his bestselling memoir, Sea Stories, about the specific leadership traits required to be at the top of your game, including:

  • Who Dares, Wins
  • Run to the Sound of the Guns
  • No Plan Survives First Contact with the Enemy

THE WISDOM OF THE BULLFROG is Admiral McRaven’s clear-eyed treatise on the leadership qualities that separate the good from the truly great.


“You might be able to find a book with more insights and superb advice about leadership than Bill McRaven’s THE WISDOM OF THE BULLFROG, but I doubt it. Drawing on a lifetime of successful leadership at all levels of the military and subsequently in other institutions, McRaven’s succinct, witty and fast-paced book offers current and aspiring leaders a wealth of lessons learned and common sense approaches to navigating the many challenges of leading people and organizations. At a time of rapid change in every workplace, regardless of size or purpose, this is a book readers will dog-ear and underline. Once I started, I could not put it down.”―Robert Gates, former United States Secretary of Defense

“Admiral McRaven gives inspiring context to popular military maxims that turn mere words into wisdom and simple sayings into powerful leadership guidance. This book is an essential reference for anyone in a leadership position.”―Jocko Willink, retired United States Navy officer and author of FINAL SPIN

“An entertaining and straightforward discussion of what it takes to lead, from the consummate military leader of our age. Admiral Bill McRaven’s THE WISDOM OF THE BULLFROG is a thoughtful, yet easily digestible, guide to making each of us into better leaders – and people.”―Stanley McChrystal, former US Army genreal –This text refers to the hardcover edition.

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