The Book in 10 Words or Less: Leadership is about the team, not the leader.
Leadership Strategy and Tactics tackles one of the most challenging skills for humans: leadership. This book provides a straightforward how-to guide that anyone can instantly apply to their leadership. Jocko Willink starts by considering the fundamental theories he has developed based on research and his time working as a Navy SEAL leader. Then, he shows you how to produce strategy from these theories. Finally, Jocko outlines how you can put these leadership principles into action at a tactical level.
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.
After retiring, Jocko continued on his disciplined path to success by co-founding Echelon Front, a multi-million dollar leadership and management consulting company. On top of this, he wrote the New York Times bestsellers The Dichotomy of Leadership, Extreme Ownership, and Discipline Equals Freedom. Finally, he has also created a top-ranking podcast called the Jocko Podcast.
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. Therefore, you need to gather the basic building blocks that will help you master leadership. 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!” However, the result of the project is all on you – you are responsible for producing results. Importantly, though, it’s not about you. You need to work together as a team, and everyone deserves credit and respect for 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 his teachings. Not only will this book be an instructional read for you, but it will also be enjoyable!
Chapter One – Take a Step Back From Situations
Jocko Willink provides an analogy from his time in the Navy SEALs to show why taking a step back can be crucial. During a task, it can be tough to identify where the enemies might be. There can be multiple places where potential enemies can conceal themselves. Plus, your team has minimal places to cover themselves as you are pulling up to a task. However, all your team can do in this moment is prepare themselves for the potential targets. A more effective approach is to delegate one member of the squad to step back from the situation and see the landscape more clearly. This one member was Jocko Willink. His role in the Navy SEALs was to take a step back and survey their environment. This task allowed him to be a more effective leader, as he could guide the squad through a safer route.
Stepping back from the situation is not only applicable to battle, though. Jocko explains that stepping back is one of the most effective practices that any leader can use. If you feel overwhelmed as a leader, then stepping back is the best approach. Detaching yourself from a situation allows you to rid yourself of the emotions attached to your task. Then, you can better comprehend the situation and make better decisions.
As a leader, you must realize that leadership is a fluid thing and that you have to adapt to individual team members during individual situations. Therefore, you must listen intently and observe what’s happening and how people are responding. You have to maintain these standards even if you feel like your head will explode from the pressure of the situation and your anger.
To do this, Jocko suggests that you lift your chin, “which elevates your vision and compels you to look around” and breathe deeply. Doing this will give your brain a chance to catch up with your emotions.
Jocko places high demands on the leader to always be tough on themselves and take charge of the situation, instead of having their emotions take charge.
Chapter Two – The Dichotomy of Leadership and Extreme Ownership
“Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.” – Jocko Willink
The most effective leadership style is not continually aggressive. Instead, it is well-balanced. Jocko explained that the worst leader he ever served under as a Navy SEAL was highly aggressive. He would also take nobody else’s opinions above his own. This vanity affected the efficiency of the platoon and ultimately led to this leader losing his job.
Bosses who do not let others question their judgments will not be successful. Instead, a successful leader has to adopt the following balance:
- Not too aggressive or give up too much control
- Not too chatty or too silent
- Not too disciplinary or too weak
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 don’t let your ego get in the way of solving problems
Instead of blaming others, extreme leadership involves an understanding that the failures of others in your team are due to your instructions not being clear enough. Additionally, if the group fails, then the leader should always be the one accepting blame. Similarly, never blame external factors out of your control. Instead, as a leader, you should own up to your failures and improve yourself.
Chapter Three – Leadership Requires Modesty and Eagerness
Jocko believes that innate gifts are exaggerated. Instead, everyone can become good at whatever they set their mind to. This is particularly relevant to leaders who struggle with imposter syndrome. You may feel that you do not have the innate skills to lead, present, and direct. However, instead of worrying, you should use this as an opportunity to develop yourself.
Jocko recommends that you ‘pick up brass.’ This expression stems from the unsatisfying position of collecting all the bullet casings dropped on the floor after shooting training. There is a tendency for leaders to believe they are above this unskilled work. However, Jocko explains that engaging with these tasks will keep you humble and help develop respect. He does not recommend engaging with these tasks frequently. Instead, occasionally helping team members with low-level work is an excellent approach to start incorporating into your leadership. Additionally, engaging in this work allows you, as a leader, to better understand all of your team members. You can start to appreciate the work that each member does and the dynamics between your team members.
Chapter Four – Empower Your Team Members
Jocko recommends that leaders ensure that each member of their team is aware of each task’s importance. A team member’s awareness of the significance of their position is fundamental to a team’s success. Additionally, each team member must understand the overall objective of the team. Jock provides an example of his training for the Navy SEALs. In this training, each individual was taught about decentralized command. The idea of decentralized command is that each team member has the capabilities to lead when needed, and have been told that they will have to lead at some point. Providing team members with the responsibility of leading will offer empowerment. To encourage decentralized command within your teams, you should ensure that every team member understands the team’s objective. Plus, you should motivate each team member.
Jocko believes that the primary role of leaders is to give directives of what to do. However, this does not mean they have to be the only one creating plans. Instead, the leader should be defining the goals of the team. It is then a positive step if your team members are creating plans that align with these goals. Allowing your team members to create a relevant plan will provide immediate motivation for them. They would have a greater urge to complete the task if it was their idea.
Jocko recommends a specific formula for identifying whether you are happy to accept a plan proposed by one of your team members. You should ask yourself whether the plan is 70 or 80% (or more) as powerful as the plan you would have devised. If the answer is yes, then you should support your team member with this plan. If the plan is only half as effective as the plan you would have devised, you should help the team member rectify the main issues.
Chapter Five – Apply Iterative Decision-Making Rather than Finding Solutions
Iterative decision-making helps you see circumstances with greater detail as you are acquiring more intelligence before taking action. Jocko provides the example of a leader being given secret information that the army’s target is located in a nearby area. Instead of running straight into this area, as it could be a trap, it is better to apply iterative decision-making. For example, vague information like the hostile target hiding in a storehouse, allows you to make your first decision. Moving toward the target would get you closer to them, while also lessening the danger. Then, after each step, you should reconsider the new intelligence and make your decisions accordingly. If nothing has changed, then you can keep moving forward with your original decision. Similarly, if you come to understand that the original intelligence was bad, then you can always safely turn back. Henceforth, while leading, you should continue to challenge your decisions with new intelligence as time passes.
Chapter Six – Understand When to Discipline Your Team
“Discipline equals freedom.” – Jocko Willink
When some people hear that they should take care of their team, employees, or family, they think that they should make them feel comfortable at all times. This approach is what a less successful leader would do. A great leader realizes that taking care of their team’s health, results, and wellbeing requires 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 going to sleep. I guide her through this. But sometimes she feels too tired, too sleepy, and doesn’t feel like meditating.
One time she said, “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. I care for her enough to make her do things that are uncomfortable at times. As Jocko explains, we show care when we discipline our team members with the team’s health in mind.
Jocko outlines that avoiding discipline can lead to relaxed and sub-par performance across your whole team. One individual slacking can quickly spread to other team members like a virus. Therefore, discipline is essential but can be challenging to apply at the correct time. Jocko suggests that leaders should think about any mitigating conditions that might exist and, based on this, consider showing tolerance. If there are no mitigating conditions, then discipline based on your own judgment is required.
“When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable—if there are no consequences—that poor performance becomes the new standard.” – Jocko Willink
Chapter Six – Control Your Ego
Leadership is often associated with an inflated ego. This inflated ego is more likely than not going to impede their ability to lead an effective team. Jocko explains that this failure stems from these leaders worrying about their success more than guiding the people they lead.
An individual’s ego is often inflated when working with somebody of the same age or rank. When working with these individuals, leaders tend to want to appear more successful than their contemporaries. However, Jocko advises against letting your ego devise your plans. Instead, if you are feeling uncertain, you should ask yourself what you would expect your manager to do. This thought will take away your ego and allow you to make a decision as a leader.
Chapter Six – Do Not Micromanage
The person who leads the most actually leads the least. Micromanagement is not a practical approach to leadership. Firstly, it tells your team members that you do not have faith in them to get the work done. Therefore, you should only adopt this approach if there is an individual who is making constant mistakes and not rectifying them. The best micromanagement for this type of person would be to provide them with clearer objectives. Then, regularly check in on the individual to ensure they are meeting these objectives.
Instead of micromanaging people, you should macromanage them. Macromanaging means that you help your team clearly understand their objective and let them take care of the details. Letting them figure things out for themselves helps them to learn independent problem-solving.
Chapter Seven – Good Communication is Key to Being a Good Leader
Jocko advises against being broad with your praise. Instead, you should provide specific and personalized praise to individual team members. However, as well as being precise, you should also make sure you are not going overboard. Too much praise can encourage individuals to slack.
While offering praise, you should also direct team members back to the team’s overall objective. Praise can make team members sloppy. Therefore, direct the added motivation, created by praise, toward your team’s objectives. Plus, place this praise in the context of being a step towards the team’s ultimate goal.
A crucial part of leadership is having good communication with each member of your team. If an individual is not communicated with effectively, then this can encourage uninformed rumors to arise. Rumors harm the team’s morale and motivation levels. Therefore, in every conversation, you should aim to be honest, clear, and concise.
Effective communication is highly important during times of change. Therefore, if you decide to make changes to the team’s plan or objective, you should ensure that every team member is notified. Additionally, suppose an individual is not adhering to the team’s objectives. In that case, you should offer your services to help them with the project.
Apologizing is an integral part of extreme ownership. Some leaders argue that apologizing shows weakness. Jocko believes that declining to apologize is a more significant sign of self-doubt. Team members will have more confidence in a leader willing to accept fault and apologize for these mistakes.
Fundamental Rules for Succeeding as a Leader
Based on reading this book and my own experiences, I have devised a list of twelve tips for aspiring leaders:
- 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 a vital 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 right.
- Be decisive. When it is time to make a decision, make one.
- Build relationships. That is your primary 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.
This text shot was adapted from a guest post by Frode Osen.
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