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Mike Bates
A 360 Deep Dive, Exclusive Interview

Going into this interview, I knew I was venturing into uncharted waters. My journey has crossed paths with many veterans who have reached pinnacles in their respective arenas, yet the world of covert operations and what it really means to operate at the pinnacle had, until now,  eluded me.

For over 20 years, Mike Bates has navigated that world - a realm familiar to very few. As I delved into this conversation with him, I did so mindful of striking a balance between shedding light on his profound journey and maintaining the sanctity of classified undertakings. 

Introduced by Jay Worthy, I had a sense that I was in for a great conversation with a man who has Jay's deepest respect. What I discovered in Mike was indeed a man of profound substance and unwavering integrity. A Counter Terrorism Covert Operations Leader within the Intelligence and Security fields of the MOD he was the first person in the history of the MOD to pass all relevant courses and serve at the very frontline of operations fighting the global war on terror. 

Our conversation turned out to be everything I’d hoped for and more. It pushed the boundaries of my perspective, challenged me and even prompted a pivotal personal decision I had long deferred. It was an interview marked by highs and introspective lows that epitomise a truly compelling conversation and and an even better talk. 

This interview is an invitation to meet an extraordinary man, and to understand what it means to truly live a life without limits. 

Stay Curious. Stay Inspired. 


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“Life presents us with choices: the easy route or the challenging one. I opt for the challenge every time because the easy path, though tempting, leads nowhere” -  Mike Bates


Let's kick things off by delving into your professional journey. Could you walk us through the milestones and moments that have defined your path Mike?


So I jumped into the deep end with the Royal Marines at just 20, Commando training at CTC at Lympstone in Devon, which is training as tough as it comes. Soon after, the world turned on its head with 9/11 and threw me straight into the furnace. Next thing, I'm with 45 Commando, ready to deploy at a moment's notice. It wasn't long before we were off to Afghanistan, the heart of it all, tasked with hunting down Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains. We didn't find him, but we sure left our mark.

Promotion to Lance Corporal came quick, just 11 months in. It was pretty wild, outpacing guys with years on me, but leadership just clicked for me, something I reckon stems from handling things when my Dad left. That sense of responsibility just stuck.

Then it was off to Iraq before the war even kicked off, embedding with special forces, chasing those non-existent WMDs. What a debacle. But leading Marines in war, then taking up the role of Acting Troop Sergeant in Northern Ireland's bandit country, it taught me the essence of leadership and the dynamics of high-performing teams.

At just 25 years old, the Marines saw something in me and wanted me as an Officer, but I wanted to go down the Special Forces path. 

As it often does, life had other plans for me. I ended up being hospitalised with pneumonia and pleurisy and found myself with some time to reflect. I realised that what I craved most, was what I missed as a kid, a family. So, I made the tough call to step away from the Special Forces route and I joined the MOD as a Counter Terrorism Covert Operations Leader, so I could spend more time with my young family. Timing's a funny thing; I found myself in the thick of it again when the 7/7 bombings rocked London, just as had happened with 9/11 when I was training at Lympstone.

So I’m six years deep into covert surveillance, when I got posted to  Canada to work with the Intelligence Service, building a national program around surveillance.

And then I flew back to Leeds where I live, and made the call to take an 18 month sabbatical. I had two young children and, over-night, life changed dramatically for me.  Let me tell you - being a stay at home Dad is a challenge on a whole other level!

When I got back to work, I quickly realised that surveillance work felt too passive for me. I needed to be where the real impact was, so I moved into agent running. It turned out, I had a knack for it leading covert operations against a slew of threats. I even made history, becoming the first officer in the history of the Mod to have completed the surveillance course, the agent running course and the advanced undercover course; no-one’s ever done that. 

Then came the turning point at 40 when my son fell seriously ill, sparking a need in me to do something monumental and raise money for the hospital. We’d just hit lockdown. No one had any money. Businesses weren't sponsoring anybody. I knew, whatever I did, it had to be ridiculous to get attention.

And then I discovered ocean rowing - rowing across an ocean on your own is pretty mad. I started to build the campaign around a mission to row solo across the sea for charity.  But the MOD didn't like it and forced a tough choice - the row or my job. And I chose the row, left the MOD and raised £137,000 for Leeds Hospital charity who had saved my son’s life. 

I had started a Brazilian jiu-jitsu business, right before the world shut down and that became my focus. Despite the hurdles, & lockdown it thrived, built on principles of community and inclusivity.

Hitting 40 stirred something in me, a shift in perspective. It wasn't just about the thrill of the chase anymore; it was about legacy, about making a real difference. That's where NXT45 came into play, a venture aimed at reshaping men's health and creating a space for genuine connection and growth.

And now, speaking has become my next frontier. Sharing these tales, these lessons learned from the edge of human endurance and the depths of personal reflection. 


Your journey hints at a profound desire to leave a lasting mark, to build something truly meaningful. Can you share more about this drive towards creating a legacy and NXT45? 

It really hit hard, this urge to make a difference, to carve out something lasting. I kept asking myself, "What's the mark I want to leave? How can I uplift others?" It struck me hard, thinking about men out there, maybe feeling isolated or overlooked, like the everyday bloke driving his bus route, wondering if there's more.

That's where the seed for NXT45 was planted. I envisioned this hub, a community where men could drop the facade and really tune into their own growth, to empower not just themselves but those around them – their families, their colleagues. It's all about forging stronger connections, fostering a space where we can all be a bit more real, more human.

And then, speaking gigs started rolling in. It kicked off with Leeds Rhinos. They were intrigued by how Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could translate into rugby tactics. But it was more than that; they resonated with the ethos I brought to the table. One chat led to another, and before I knew it, I was sharing my narrative, my insights, on bigger stages. CEOs and Execs began to see value in what I had to say, how these principles could ripple through their teams, their leadership. It's been a whirlwind but at its core, it's about igniting that spark of change.


There’s a real leadership quality here, which you earlier attributed to pivotal moments in your childhood, particularly the time when your father left. Are there specific experiences you're willing to share that shed light on how these early challenges shaped your path to where you stand today?


Reflecting on it, it boils down to a couple of key things from back in the day. Growing up, it was your typical working-class setup - Dad was a plumber, Mum was the rock holding the fort, and our holidays were never more than a stone's throw away to the east coast. Everything changed when my Dad decided to leave. That moment's etched in my memory. His words. The look on his face. But instead of breaking down, I found myself stepping up, reassuring him, then comforting my Mum. It was like I was hardwired to take charge, even then.

My siblings, well, they each handled it differently. I was thrown into being the man of the house, negotiating time with my Dad, picking up the pieces when he let us down. It taught me to stand my ground, to lead. 

Then there was the void left by Dad. By my teens, I was mixing with the wrong crowd, seeking direction. But those experiences, they shaped me. They forced me to learn how to interact, to influence, in a world far beyond my years.

So, when I found myself in the military, amidst a sea of faces, many older and more experienced, somehow, I became the one they turned to. It was those early trials, those lessons learned in the absence of a father figure, that primed me for leadership. And that's the essence I've carried through to NXT45, aiming to fill that void for others, to foster a space where men can navigate their struggles, find their footing. It's all about turning those personal trials into something that can uplift and lead others.

Your journey poignantly illustrates how adversity and early responsibilities have sculpted your leadership and resilience. Reflecting on these experiences, how has your understanding of resilience evolved, particularly in the context of transforming personal trials into a source of strength and guidance for others?

For me, resilience isn't just a moment; it's more like a craft, something you build bit by bit. It's not about one big event that suddenly makes you unbreakable. It's the small victories, the everyday challenges you face and overcome that stack up over time. I often say, the choices we make today, they're the building blocks for our future. That's why I'm big on this idea of future authoring, picturing your life at eighty and working backwards, making sure you're not just wandering through life, but crafting it with intention, avoiding those "what if" regrets.

I've got this thing I call my "wall of evidence". Every goal you smash, every hurdle you leap over, it's like laying down another brick in this wall. It could be anything from making it through the Royal Marines, to simply making your bed in the morning if that's your battle. Each achievement is a testament to who you are and who you're striving to become. This wall, it becomes a fortress, a testament to your capability and resilience.

When folks ask me about handling the unexpected, like a rogue wave in the dead of night or a high-stakes operation gone sideways, the truth is, there's no manual for it. But having that wall, that solid foundation of past victories, gives you the confidence to face whatever comes head-on. It's about knowing, deep down, that you've got what it takes because you've proven it to yourself time and time again. That's my take on resilience – it's about building your own evidence that you can handle whatever life throws your way.


With that in mind, let’s go back now to that Ocean Row - a gruelling solo row in anyone’s book. What did it teach you about your own limits and capabilities? 

That ocean row, it was something else. I learned a ton out there, alone with just the horizon for company. I distilled it down to five key lessons, even did a bit for each on my Instagram. But if I had to pick the most profound one, it'd be this: "Nothing good ever happens alone". We're pack animals at our core. We need that connection, that face-to-face, sharing stories, feeling part of something. Out there, in what felt like nautical solitary confinement, I realised how starved for connection we can become. I mean, even solitary confinement prisoners see someone three times a day. I was talking to the moon - trying to stay sane.

I'd planned on calling home twice a week, thinking I'd embrace the solitude. I ended up ringing my wife at home daily, in tears, just craving any link to the world I left behind. Standing on that podium in Antigua, having beaten the clock, it hit me: this was never a solo mission. Every struggle, every triumph, it was all part of a collective effort. It hammered home the reality — no one's ever truly alone in their battles. That row wasn't just about testing my limits; it was a profound reminder of our innate need for connection and community.

We hear this time and again. Nothing good ever happens alone. If you can't share that journey with someone who intimately gets it and understands it and experiences it with you - the hardships, the challenges, everything else, then it just doesn't have the impact that maybe you thought it would do before you set out.

Absolutely, that hits the nail on the head. We often hear that it's about the journey, not just the destination, and I couldn't agree more. It's the transformation we undergo along the way that truly matters. The ocean taught me that in spades. If you're going through all those trials and transformations alone, without someone who truly gets it, who's in it with you, the whole experience loses a bit of its lustre. It's the shared struggles, the shared victories, that deepen the impact, that make the journey truly meaningful. So yes, sharing that path with someone who understands, who's there with you in the thick of it, that's what gives the journey its true value.

Building on that, Mike, considering the depth of connection you've highlighted, how do you now foster those meaningful connections and shared journeys within the communities you're a part of, like NXT45 and your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu club? How do you ensure that everyone feels they're part of something bigger, sharing in both the hardships and triumphs?


With NXT45 and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it's been about more than just creating a group; it's about building a real community. My mantra? If you can't find one that feels right, take the leap and build it yourself. There are folks out there craving that connection, that sense of belonging, and I'm all in on making that happen. It's become my life's mission, really, to lay down these platforms where people can come together, share their stories, their struggles, and grow stronger together.

The thing is, everyone's walking their own path, but there's this common thread, especially among men, that you've got to bottle everything up and just soldier on. And that's just not right. Being open, being vulnerable – that's where true strength lies. It's about being honest, not just with others but with yourself, questioning the core of who you are, what you value, what you want your life to be about. It's shocking, but so many blokes never really stop to ponder these things. They're just on autopilot, ticking off society's checkboxes until one day they hit a wall.

That's where NXT45 steps in. It's not just about weathering midlife or any specific challenge. It's about asking those big questions, about setting a course for who you want to be, whether that's conquering oceans or being the dad your kids rave about. It's about climbing out of that valley and finding your next peak, your Next 45. That's the journey I'm on, and it's the journey I'm inviting others to join.

Let’s talk about discipline and strategy - key components of your character. How do these elements translate into your approach to life and leadership?

Let's break it down. When we talk about strategy, it's like mapping your life with intent, not just letting the days roll by. It's about painting a picture of the life you want, who's in it, what it looks like, and then charting a course to make it a reality. Too many folks end up at what they think is the summit, only to find the view's not what they expected. It's about knowing what truly matters, beyond the paycheck, beyond the accolades. That's where jiu-jitsu comes into play for me, it's strategic, every move intentional, mirroring how we should navigate life.

Then there's discipline, which isn't about the grand gestures seen by all, but the grind behind closed doors, the persistence when the path gets tough. Take the ocean row, for instance. I wasn't out there for ‘the gram’. I was out there pushing my limits, rowing relentlessly because I needed to know I'd given my all, without a sliver of regret.

Discipline's also about foresight, anticipating the hurdles and prepping for them. Just today, I was hashing out this concept of personal manifestos, laying down your principles, your goals, the very ethos you live by. So in essence, discipline and strategy aren't just facets of my character; they're the bedrock of how I approach life and leadership. They're about setting a course, staying true to it, and embracing the grind, even when no one's watching.


Mike, let's wrap this with a word on living a life without limits - that's a rule I know you live by. What does that mean and does it apply to everyone?


Stepping into a challenge, that's where life really begins, doesn't it? Living a life without limits, that's not just a motto for me; it's the core of who I am. It's about pushing beyond what's comfortable, refusing to stay in your lane, because that's where growth happens. I've made choices, like leaving a secure military career or starting a business amidst a global lockdown, not because it was easy, but because it was right. It was pushing the boundaries of what I thought possible.

Everyone's got this potential, to live boundlessly, to not just dream of a different life but to step into it. Viktor Frankl hit the nail on the head in 'Man's Search for Meaning' — life's about having a purpose, a goal that drives you. Without it, you're just drifting, susceptible to life's lows without a compass to guide you.

I always say, life presents us with choices: the easy route or the challenging one. I opt for the challenge every time because the easy path, though tempting, leads nowhere. It's in the face of adversity, in the struggle and the fight, that we truly find out what we're made of. So, when you're at that crossroads, choose the path that tests you, that pushes you to be more. That's living a life without limits, and yes, it's a choice available to everyone.

I sense that you feel you haven't reached your limit yet, but I want to put it out there and say that everyone has a limit. Or do they?


Limits? Let's talk about that. I'm living proof that the concept of limits is more a mental barrier than a physical one. Out there on the ocean, facing down the raw power of nature, I realised something crucial: our true capabilities extend far beyond what we often give ourselves credit for.

When I was battling those relentless waves, miles from Antigua with the weather against me, I had a choice: anchor down and wait it out or keep pushing. I chose to row, non-stop, for hours on end. It was gruelling, a real test of human endurance, but it taught me that the real limits are the ones we set for ourselves in our minds.

You see, we often don't test ourselves enough, comfortably nestled in our routines. But when you're out there, facing down a storm or any other challenge, you realise that the only thing standing between you and your goal is your willingness to push through. Every challenge you face and overcome, every time you choose the harder path, you're building a wall of evidence of your own resilience and strength.

So, do we have limits? Physically, maybe. But mentally and emotionally, I believe we can push far beyond what we think is possible. It's about stepping out of that comfort zone, challenging yourself daily, and truly committing to living a life without constraints. That's the essence of truly testing yourself and understanding the depth of your own capabilities.

Mike, it has been an absolute pleasure talking with you. You are an extraordinary man who fits perfectly with our 360 Team. It is an honour to work with you. 

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