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The Book in 10 Words or Less: Leadership is about the team, not the 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.
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.
Leadership Strategy and Tactics tackles one of the most challenging skills for humans: leadership. This book provides a straightforward how-to guide 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.
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 are multiple places where potential enemies can conceal themselves. Your team might also have minimal places to cover themselves as you are pulling up to a task. All your team can do 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 the 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. You can then better comprehend the situation and make better decisions.
As a leader, you must realize that leadership is a fluid concept. You have to adapt to individual team members during individual situations. So, 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 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.
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. A successful leader must 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. If you were to adopt Extreme Ownership, your behavior could be described by the following characteristics:
- 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. If the group fails, then the leader should always be the one accepting blame. The leader should also never blame external factors out of their control. So, as a leader, you should own up to your failures and improve yourself.
Leadership Requires Modesty and Eagerness
Jocko believes that innate gifts are exaggerated. Everyone can become proficient 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. But, 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. That said, Jocko explains that engaging with these tasks will keep you humble and help develop respect. He does not recommend engaging with these tasks frequently, though. Occasionally helping team members with low-level work is an excellent approach to start incorporating into your leadership. Engaging in this work also 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.
Empower Your Team Members
Jocko recommends that leaders ensure 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. Each team member must also 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 can lead when needed. Each team member has also been told 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. You should also motivate each team member.
Jocko believes the primary role of leaders is to give directives of what to do. That said, this does not mean they have to be the only one creating plans. The leader should be defining the goals of the team instead. 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 will have a greater urge to complete the task if it was their idea.
Jocko recommends a specific formula for identifying whether you are willing 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, 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.
Apply Iterative Decision-Making Rather than Finding Solutions
Iterative decision-making helps you visualize 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. 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 understand that the original intelligence was bad, you can always safely turn back. So, while leading, you should continue to challenge your decisions with new intelligence as time passes.
Understand When to Discipline Your Team
Discipline equals freedom.”– Jocko Willink
When some people hear they should take care of their team, employees, or family, they think 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. 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. So, discipline is essential but can be challenging to apply at the correct time. Jocko suggests leaders should think about any mitigating conditions that might exist and consider showing tolerance. If there are no mitigating conditions, 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
Control Your Ego
Leadership is often associated with an inflated ego. This inflated ego is more likely than not going to impede a leader’s ability to lead an effective team. Jocko explains 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. Jocko advises against letting your ego devise your plans. 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.
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 to get the work done. So, you should only adopt this approach if an individual 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.
Good Communication is Key to Being a Good Leader
Jocko advises against being broad with your praise. You should provide specific and personalized praise to individual team members instead. 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 direct team members back to the team’s overall objective. Praise can make team members sloppy. So, direct the added motivation, created by praise, toward your team’s objectives. Place 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, this can encourage uninformed rumors to arise. Rumors harm the team’s morale and motivation levels. So, in every conversation, you should aim to be honest, clear and concise.
Effective communication is critical during times of change. If you decide to make changes to the team’s plan or objective, you should ensure 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.
Final Review and Analysis
Jocko Willink has spent decades as an influential leader in the military. He has found the key to successful leadership to be offering clear, step-by-step guidance. If your team is failing, then it is likely a communication error on your part. So, Willink offers advice on how you can start implementing some of the leadership strategies and tactics he has learned from the military.
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