Forty-six-year-old Steve Drum stands 6 feet and weighs 220 pounds and could easily pass for either an All-Pro NFL linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles or the Brawny Paper Towels Man.
But the Lake Bluff resident and retired Navy SEALS Master Chief didn’t play a down of football for Penncrest High School (Pa.) Lions teams, and serving as the flannel-shirt-clad pitchman for strong and absorbent sheets would shrink his opportunities—as a rookie speaker/consultant/coach—to help local businesses and business leaders tackle all kinds of challenges, including the countless ones associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Do you feel ready for your next highstakes moment?” a pacing Drum, in fullblown Win One For the Gipper mode, asks a room full of rapt folks in the precoronavirus era. “When fear or anger or frustration or anxiety enters the room, it can divert our focus away from where it needs to be. And you’re not going to rise to the occasion. Instead, you’ll fall to your level of training, to your level of preparation.
“But if you have that deliberate process where you commit, prepare, execute, and reflect,” the father of a 14- and an 11-year-old continues, “you’re not going to react blindly, you’re not going to freeze, you’re not going to underperform. Instead, you will respond with the right action, with the right choice. And you will succeed.”
Suddenly, for those listening to Drum’s inspiring messages, juggling a couple of Volkswagens and davenports on a tightrope doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.
Drum conducted a Business Workout webinar— “Your Leadership Mindset: You’ve Got to Be In It to Win It”—for the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce on April 28. He showed how to shift one’s business and encouraged attendees to make the shift now. He also explained how a business can control its destiny by creating it today. His thoroughly prepared presentation touched on resiliency and pivoting and fearlessness and positivity.
“Take an Italian restaurant in an early phase of the pandemic, for example,” Drum says in a phone interview. “It’s no longer able to serve food to customers at a table inside. But it’s able to satisfy customers through carryout or curbside service. Or by providing a meal they’d be able to cook at home. Or by giving recipes to customers. There’s value in attentive, engaging service.”
Drum grew up in tiny Media, Pennsylvania, about a half-marathon distance from Philadelphia. Soccer was his sport. His pithy self-assessment of his ability on pitches: “Not very good.” Service and patriotism appealed to him and doubled the size of his heart. Drum looked up to Vietnam vets and way up to his Uncle Jack, a retired naval aviator who liked to sail and fly a small plane.
“We’d hang out,” the nephew recalls.
“My uncle was adventurous.”
Drum went straight from high school to Naval Station Great Lakes near North Chicago, the U.S. Navy’s only boot camp. A former SEAL named Pete, quiet and mild-mannered and selfless, later served as one of Drum’s mentors before he completed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in 1996.
“It was a thrill for me, and educational, being able to talk with a real SEAL,” Drum says. “I soaked up everything Pete said. Remember, that was a time before anybody could check out a YouTube video to see how a SEAL candidate trains. I was not good at math. I was slow, one of the slowest runners. I was doubting myself. But Pete helped me tremendously, trained me up.” Tours of duty landed Drum in Afghanistan, Iraq, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Combattested en route to achieving the highest U.S. Navy SEAL enlisted rank, he ended up with 27 years of experience leading teams and executing mis – sioncritic a l per -formance strategies.
His final stop before retiring late last year was at the Naval Service Training Command at USO of Illinois Great Lakes Center, where he co-developed—with a clinical psychologist and a Navy chaplain—and taught “Warrior Toughness” training.
The order he had received before devising the culture-changing program: “Make our sailors tougher.”
Business leaders navigating pandemic waters now get to absorb Drum’s sound principles and airtight strategies.
Two of the strategies: identify and commit to mastering essential aspects of your craft (“Be brilliant at the basics,” Drum annotates); and develop a deliberate process to study lessons learned in preparation for what’s next.
Business executives strive to develop highperformance leadership programs that empower teams to achieve exceptional results when the pressure is most intense. Drum essentially did just that for underlings in arenas that featured flying bullets instead of bullet points in a memo.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of my time in the military was training the members in my unit, making sure everybody was firmly prepared,” says Drum, a Lake Bluffian since 2015. “It wasn’t a glamorous aspect, but I loved that leadership challenge, and now, as a consultant and speaker, I’ll love being able to meet people in person and speak with them at events again after this pandemic ends.”
Three weeks after attending one of Drum’s speaking engagements earlier this year, a woman figured Drum’s messages would have “drifted away amidst the bustle of daily life.” But she was wrong. Drum’s words stuck around. And continue to resonate. She recalls Drum’s memorable anecdotes before walking into high-stakes client meetings— and before helping “my daughter with her homework.”
In between webinars and Zoom meetings and podcast appearances, Drum likes to pistol-shoot recreationally, play the electric guitar, and be “a bourbon nerd.” A vintage muscle car buff, he owned a ’69 Charger R/T and a ’70 ’Cuda convertible.
“I sold both,” Drum says.
Had to. Drum was too busy driving his points home for audiences.
For more information about Steve Drum and his engagements as a speaker and consultant, visit stephendrum.com.