Meet Our Leaders: A Conversation with Brandon Tseng
A conversation with Brandon Tseng, Shield AI’s Co-Founder & COO
What is more important, the journey or the outcome?
What matters on every journey isn’t necessarily the outcome, it is the path, the learning, and the growth. No matter the outcome, I believe that 2 things make a journey great:
The adversity faced along the way. The more daunting the trials, the better, more interesting, and more fulfilling the journey will be.
The friendships you make along the path. The bonds forged among the teammates who accompany you. The greater the adversity faced, the stronger these bonds become.
Can you elaborate on your journey to becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL?
When I was ten years old, after watching the movie “The Rock,” I decided I wanted to become a U.S. Navy SEAL. My desire to serve grew following the events of 9/11 and put me on a path that eventually led to BUD/S and SEAL Qualification Training (SQT).
During BUD/S and SQT, I found myself tested in all kinds of ways. And the truth was that at the end of training, I realized that the reward was not the Trident I received when officially becoming a SEAL, but the tests we faced along the way. Every time my teammates and I were tested, regardless of the outcome — because in SEAL training you fail many times — we grew closer as teammates.
While it may sound counterintuitive, the days I spent being miserably cold, wet, and tired while training alongside my teammates were some of the most fulfilling and, rewarding, of my life. Along the way I learned a lot about leadership, and about what John Wooden calls “the courageous struggle for a noble cause.”
What makes a good leader?
I found that the best leaders do these three things:
Lead to serve others. Everything is about what’s best for the team. It’s not about you, it's about the person to your left and to your right. When you concern yourself wholly with the well-being of the team, the rest takes care of itself.
Lead with a boundless amount of positive energy and enthusiasm. Energy and enthusiasm is required to inspire your teammates, and inspired teammates are truly unstoppable. Enthusiasm and energy are also contagious -- and makes both work and life outside of work really fun.
Lead by example. You can only ask of the team what you have done and will continue to do yourself. You must earn the right to lead and your spot on the team every single day.
The best leaders don’t look for easy journeys. They seek out the harder path, a “courageous struggle” abundant with adversity. And when this adversity is faced head-on by a team, something much greater than any one individual could have accomplished on their own is achieved.
My own journey in the Navy led me to found Shield AI. It pushed me to think about what we could be doing to use technology to solve some incredibly hard, dangerous problems. We’ve made great progress because of a truly amazing team focused on a shared mission.
There’s a way to go ahead of us, and the journey is just getting underway. So what’s the great journey we’re on? To protect service members and civilians with artificially intelligent systems. How hard will it be? Incredibly hard. It has never been done before. What does it take? Most importantly, a mindset that is committed to being great and conditioned to love the struggle. Along the way you will become a better, stronger person on a great journey with truly amazing teammates pushing you onward, together.
What is one quote from a leader you admire?
John Wooden, who I mentioned earlier, is an 11-time National Championship Basketball Coach. He has been quoted as saying the following:
“In classic times, the courageous struggle for a noble cause was considered success in itself. Sadly, that ideal has been forgotten. But it is well worth remembering.”