The Book in 10 Words or Less: Leadership is about the team, not the leader.
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In this text shot, we’ll explore 5 of the best ideas from Jocko Willink’s new book, Leadership Strategy and Tactics.
- Extreme Ownership
- Take Care of Your People with Discipline
- Fundamental Rules for Succeeding as a Leader
Jocko Willink was a Navy SEAL for 20 years, rising through the ranks to become the commander of Task Unit Bruiser―the most decorated Special Operations Unit of the Iraq War. In Leadership Strategy and Tactics, he shares tons of great lessons about leadership by telling stories of when he was in the Navy. Jocko is an incredibly inspiring and humble guy, and I heartily recommend this book to you if you want to become a better leader – of your business, your family, yourself, your team.
“It’s all on you, but not about you.”— Jocko Willink
WHY READ THIS BOOK?
Learn the fundamentals of leadership. If you’re going to be an effective leader, you need to realize that leadership is a skill. Then you need to gather the basic building blocks that will help you master it. This book is a great way to do that.
Get past your ego and think about your team. One of the biggest pitfalls of leadership is to try to control others with a sense of “I’m in charge here, so people will do as I say!” The quote above communicates this very clearly: The result of the mission or project is all on you – you are responsible for producing results – but it’s not about you – you need to work together as a team, and everyone deserves credit and respect from doing their part.
Enjoy inspiring stories from an accomplished Navy SEAL. As a man who has written several bestselling books and lived these ideas through his own experience, Jocko brings incredibly simple and powerful stories to illustrate what he teaches. Not only will this book be an instructional read for you; it will also be enjoyable!
Without any further ado, let’s jump into the first big idea:
This is actually the title of one of Jocko’s bestselling books. Extreme Ownership means taking absolute responsibility, no matter the situation. You never blame others when things go wrong; you don’t blame your team; you realize that every single problem has its root in you and what you do. You don’t expect your subordinates to take responsibility; you always place it on yourself. You don’t let your ego get in the way of solving problems.
Stephen Covey calls this “inside-out vs. outside-in thinking” in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where he says:
“’Inside-out’ means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self—with your paradigms, your character, and your motives.”– Stephen Covey
It says if you want to have a happy marriage, be the kind of person who generates positive energy and sidesteps negative energy rather than empowering it. … If you want to have more freedom, more latitude in your job, be a more responsible, a more helpful, a more contributing employee. If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy. …
… in all of my experience, I have never seen lasting solutions to problems, lasting happiness and success, that came from the outside in.
What I have seen result from the outside paradigm is unhappy people who feel victimized and immobilized, who focus on the weaknesses of other people and the circumstances they feel are responsible for their own stagnant situation.”
Looking at problems from the inside out means you take full responsibility to solve them; looking at them from the outside-in means you play the victim and blame everything and everyone but you.
Jack Canfield, one of America’s top success coaches, echoes the same wisdom in The Success Principles, where he talks about taking 100% responsibility:
“One of the most pervasive myths in the American culture today is that we are entitled to a great life–that somehow, somewhere, someone (certainly not us) is responsible for filling our lives with continual happiness, exciting career options, nurturing family time, and blissful personal relationships simply because we exist.”Jim Rohn, America’s foremost business philosopher
But the real truth–and the one lesson this whole book is based on–is that there is only one person responsible for the quality of the life you live.
That person is you.
If you want to be successful, you have to take 100% responsibility for everything that you experience in your life. This includes the level of your achievements, the results you produce, the quality of your relationships, the state of your health and physical fitness, your income, your debts, your feelings–everything!
This is not easy.
Of course, it’s not easy! That’s why 99,99% of people blame others for their own problems.
This is such an important idea of leadership and life, that I’m going to share a passage from Discourses by Epictetus, the ancient Stoic teacher. It portrays the wisdom of distinguishing between the things you can control and not, which will help you understand why taking responsibility is so important.
“So in life, our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices. Don’t ever speak of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ’advantage’ or ‘harm’, and so on, of anything that is not your responsibility.”– Epictetus
In his infinite wisdom, this is also something that Stephen Covey shares in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He calls it the “circle of concern vs. circle of influence.”
“We each have a wide range of concerns—our health, our children, problems at work, the national debt, nuclear war. We could separate those from things in which we have no particular mental or emotional involvement by creating a ‘Circle of Concern.’
As we look at those things within our Circle of Concern, it becomes apparent that there are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about. We could identify those concerns in the latter group by circumscribing them within a smaller Circle of Influence.
By determining which of these two circles is the focus of most of our time and energy, we can discover much about the degree of our proactivity.”Stephen Covey
When you start to take Extreme Ownership, you see problems from the inside out. You take 100% responsibility. You distinguish between what you can and can’t control. And you focus your efforts within the circle of influence. When you do these, you gain agency. You gain the power to impact the situation by taking initiative and asking “Alright, this sucks, let’s acknowledge that. Now, what do we need to do to solve this problem?” And that’s where the magic happens.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR PEOPLE WITH DISCIPLINE
When some people hear that they should take care of their team, employees, or family, they think that they should coddle them and make them feel comfortable at all times. This is what a normal leader would do.
A great leader realizes that in order to really take care of their team’s health, results, and wellbeing, they need a certain amount of discipline.
An example from my own life is that my girlfriend and I are building the habit of meditating for five minutes before we go to sleep. I guide her through this. But sometimes she feels too tired, too sleepy, and doesn’t feel like meditating.
One time she says, “Frode, we’re not meditating tonight.” “Yes,” I respond matter-of-factly. “NO!” she asserts firmly, looking seriously at me. “Just for one minute,” I say. “Aah, you f*cker,” she replies resignedly before we meditate.
She usually goes along with my rigidity in keeping up this habit, and thanks me afterward for being strict. Sometimes she even asks if we can do more! In my heart I sense she knows that I care for her; care for her enough to make her do things that are uncomfortable at times. I care for my people with discipline.
What do you think would happen if a general, when a huge battle is just days away, says to his soldiers, “You don’t have to do your training today, men; you deserve some comfort and fun.” Next thing you know, this lax attitude seeps through the whole army, spreading like a virus. Pretty soon, nobody cares about doing their daily drills. They start eating more than they need. They don’t listen to their commanders, but rather do what they feel like. Before they know it, the enemy, having trained rigorously and kept up their discipline 100%, is all over them. It doesn’t end well – for the general and the soldiers that let up their drills and their usual routines that would keep them ready for battle at any moment.
The 300 Spartans countless miles to the Hot Gates at Thermopylae, where they would check the march of the mighty Xerxes and his hundreds of thousands of soldiers. You can imagine how exhausted they were; how their bodies just screamed to lie down and booger around all day; how their minds would tell them, “You’ve done well, you’ve walked far. Now you deserve some pleasure and some comfort.” Not so. The Spartans didn’t change up their training regimen between peace-time and war-time. Out in the field, looking onto the Persian hordes gathering across the battlefield, the Spartans would keep training. Their drills were so synchronized, so mightily coordinated and unified, that the onlookers couldn’t help but feel a shiver seep down their spine at the spectacle. This army would not be easy to conquer, despite their puny number. For it was an army of men made of steel, forged through decades of voluntary discipline and hardships, incited by their leaders.
At its highest point, Sparta was one of the greatest military forces that has ever existed. At its lowest, it was conquered by opponents that had become stronger than them. And how did this happen, you ask? It happened when luxury and laziness infected the city; when the citizens stopped living by the very laws – which were extremely strict – that had made it so great.
Take care of your people with discipline.
DON’T MICROMANAGE YOUR TEAM
Doing the above doesn’t mean that you should micromanage your people. Being the flying tyrant who – seething with impatience and perfectionism – evaluates a person’s every move, will only lead to resentment, and a whole lot more work for you.
Instead of micromanaging people, macromanage them. This means that you help them clearly understand your team’s objective, before you let go of the reins and let them take care of the details. You let them figure things out for themselves. This way, they learn to develop independence in solving problems, while being an integrated part of your group.
The paradox here is that the person who leads the most, actually leads the least.
CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS
As a leader, you must realize that leadership is a fluid thing that you have to adapt to the people during each specific situation. That means you’ll need to listen intently, observe what’s happening and how people are responding – all while your head is about to explode from pressure and even anger.
To do this, Jocko suggests that you lift your chin, “which elevates your vision and compels you to look around,” breathe deeply, and thereby give your brain a chance to catch up with your emotions.
Jocko places a high pressure on the leader to always be tough on themselves and take charge of the situation, instead of having their emotions take charge.
FUNDAMENTAL RULES FOR SUCCEEDING AS A LEADER
To give you an idea of the kinds of lessons Jocko shares throughout the book, I will give you his list of fundamental leadership rules that any new leader must understand, practice, and reread:
- Be humble. It is an honor to be in a leadership position. Your team is counting on you to make the right decisions.
- Don’t act like you know everything. You don’t. The team knows that. Ask smart questions.
- Listen. Ask for advice and heed it.
- Treat people with respect. Regardless of rank, everyone is a human being and plays an important role in the team. Treat them that way. Take care of your people and they will take care of you.
- Take ownership of failures and mistakes.
- Pass credit for success up and down the chain.
- Work hard. As a leader, you should be working harder than anyone else on the team. No job is beneath you.
- Have integrity. Do what you say; say what you do. Don’t lie up or down the chain of command.
- Be balanced. Extreme actions and opinions are usually not good.
- Be decisive. When it is time to make a decision, make one.
- Build relationships. That is your main goal as a leader. A team is a group of people who have relationships and trust one another. Otherwise, it is just a disconnected, incoherent cluster of people.
- Lastly, get the job done. That is the purpose of a leader – to lead a team in accomplishing a mission. If you don’t accomplish the mission, you fail as a leader. Performance counts.”
Now get out and LEAD.
- Take Extreme Ownership. Realize that there is no other person or thing under high heaven that’s to blame for anything. Taking Extreme Ownership means taking absolute responsibility to focus on what you’re trying to achieve, and to come up with solutions to the problems that stop you from achieving it. Make a habit of saying “I am responsible.”
- Care for your people with discipline. A real leader doesn’t coddle their team and make them feel comfy all the time. He or she realizes that in order to produce results – to accomplish the mission – discipline is required. Ask yourself, “What difficult thing do I and my team need to do, once, or consistently, to achieve the results we seek?”
- Abide by the fundamental rules for succeeding as a leader. Reflect on which ones you’re currently living by, and which ones you’re not. Strive to strengthen your strong points, and neutralize your weak points.
“Leadership is about the team.”– Jocko Willink
KEY QUOTES AND PASSAGES
“Never make an ultimatum you can’t keep.”– Jocko Willink
“The team is more important than you are.”– Jocko Willink
“When you are a leader, there are no excuses, and there is no one else to blame. You have to make decisions. You have to build relationships. You have to communicate so that everyone can understand. You have to control your ego and your emotions. You have to be able to detach. You need to instill pride in the team. You need to train the team. You need to be balanced and tactful and aware, and you have to take ownership. The list goes on and on and makes up this incredibly complex undertaking that we call leadership. And if you do all those things well – if you lead effectively – the team will be successful, and the mission will be accomplished. If you do not lead effectively, you will fail, and the team will not accomplish the mission.– Jocko Willink
Leadership is all on you.”
“While Extreme Ownership might seem like a fairly simple concept to understand, it can be difficult to fully comprehend what it really means. What it really means is that the leader is responsible for everything. Absolutely everything.”– Jocko Willink
“The leadership strategies and tactics in this book are to be used not so you can be successful; these strategies and tactics are to be used to the team can be successful. If you use them to further your own career or your own agenda, eventually, these strategies and tactics will backfire and bring you down. You will fail as a leader and as a person.– Jocko Willink
But if you use these strategies and tactics with the goal of helping others and of helping the team accomplish its mission, then the team will succeed. And if the team succeeds, you win as a leader and as a person. But infinitely more important, your people win. And that is true leadership.”
Hats off to Frode Osen for this guest post.
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