Ep. 402 – Jocko Willink & Leif Babin: How Navy SEALS Lead (In Business & The Battlefield)

The troops didn’t care. They got a direct order. And did the opposite.

“No patches,” Jocko said. He had a good reason. “Other units judge you on how you wear your uniform.”

They were about to do a mission with the Marine Corps and the U.S. Army. Jocko wanted his SEALS to make a good impression.

But Leif Babin and the troop had a different plan. They designed. And disobeyed.

“‘More Cowbell’ was one of my favorite patches,” Leif said.

Jocko saw a picture of them (taken by a reporter in the field). “The patches were staring at me.”

And he was furious.  

“As I sat there and looked at these patches, I was going through my mind… all the punishments that I was going to unleash.”

But that’s not leadership.

And that’s what Jocko realized one minute into his anger. He and Leif were teaching me about the internal struggles of leaders. And what happens when you lead with ego vs. with balance.

Some people don’t want to be balanced leaders. They’re not leaders then.

They’re people in power. And there’s a difference.

“What’s a possible punishment you would’ve given?” I asked Jocko.

“Oh, there’s all kinds of punishments. The worst punishment that I could’ve done would be to say, ‘You’re not going on missions.’ And make them stay back. That was my first thought.”

Then his mind switched gears. It went from “How dare you?” to “Why did you you?”

He realized two things:

  1. These guys have never disobeyed him before. They’ve done everything he asked. So this must be important to them.
  2. His ego was making him angry. Not the troops. “The thought that I should just crush them and prove that I’m the guy in charge… that was my ego. But that didn’t last long.”

 

He took a second look.

They all matched. No one stood out. So it still looked uniform.

“So instead of unleashing punishment on them, I didn’t do anything.”

That’s leadership. Seeing the macro. And not just the micro.

“There are some situations where you have to hold the line,” Leif said. “Some standards have to be held without compromise. And then there are some areas where you need to let that go. And you need to let the team actually have some room to run.”

Jocko and Leif kept giving me lessons. They wrote about it all in their new book “The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win.”

They break down each chapter with a dichotomy. For example “Be Humble not Passive” or “Hold Them Accountable But Don’t Hold Their Hand.”

I’ll tell you my favorite lessons:

 

1. DISCIPLINE CAN BE CREATIVE

I asked Jocko, “How do you discipline your kids?” “Yard work works,” he said. “You have any rocks that need cleaning?”

 

2. LEADERSHIP CAN’T BE SEMI-EFFECTIVE

“Something that Leif always brings up is that there are two measures of leadership,” Jocko said. “It’s either effective or it’s ineffective. So if it’s been working for 17 years and it’s not working now that means it was effective before, but it’s ineffective now. And we have to get over our ego figure out what the real problem is and solve it.”

 

 

3. BLAME YOURSELF / TAKE EXTREME OWNERSHIP

“The number one thing that I say to myself is ‘Whatever the problem is, it’s a leadership problem.’ That’s number one. There’s a problem, there’s something going on, let’s say they’re not they’re not closing deals in this in that particular case, the problem is a leadership problem.”

 

4. PUT THE MISSION FIRST. NOT YOUR EGO

“Ego causes so many problems. If we see problems on teams, if we see friction points or some things that aren’t happening the way they should, I mean 99.9% of the time there’s some ego issue in there. Someone’s not able to check their ego. They’re putting themselves before the mission, before the team. That’s one of those things you have to balance. I mean, you have to have an ego because if you don’t have ego, you’re never going to strive to do anything. You’re not going to compete. You’re not gonna try to be the best at what you do. And yet, ego can also be totally destructive.”

5. ASK YOURSELF, ‘CAN I ADMIT WHEN I’M WRONG?”

“If you put, ‘I’ve gotta be right’ before the mission then that becomes totally destructive. We see leaders that will just ride a plan into the ground and destroy their entire team and company just to prove that they were right. Because they can’t admit that their plan was was a failure and adjust that.”

There are so many more lessons than just these five. I’ll give you one more.

 

6. CALCULATE YOUR LEADERSHIP CAPITAL

Jocko said, “How much leadership do I have? Right now, (when the patches incident happened) we’re three weeks into deployment. And for the next six months, I’m gonna be asking these guys, my brothers, to go out, risk their lives on a daily basis, to take on this massive amount of pressure, to be in situations that they could get wounded or killed. On a daily basis. I’m asking them to do that. I’m asking them to be professional. I’m asking them to get virtually no sleep. I’m asking them to eat a bunch of crappy food. I’m asking them to be away from their families, their wives and their loved ones. I’m asking them to do all this stuff and on top of all that really meaningful stuff, I’m going to nitpick because they want to put a cool patch on their uniform? No, it’s leadership capital. And I’m not going to waste it on things that don’t matter.”


That was probably my favorite lesson. Because it helps with all the others. It helps you put the mission first. It helps you check your ego. And realize when you’re wrong.

And these are all hard things to feel.

It’s uncomfortable to be wrong.

That’s the dichotomy…

 

  • Jocko provides great leadership wisdom by pushing ego aside James. Ego is blind because it sees 1 way, or, 2 ways, or a few ways. The heart sees what works for everybody. The way. Even if the leader ego or follower ego fights The Way.

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