Meine Buchnotizen – Extreme Ownership von Jocko Willink

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win von Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

In seinem Buch Extreme Ownership schreibt Jocko Willink über seine Zeit als Navy Seal und wie man seine Erkenntnisse im Business Alltag anwenden kann.

Gelesen im April 2017.Meine Buchnotizen - Extreme Ownership von Jocko Willink
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Laws of Combat:
Cover and Move
Prioritize and Execute
Decentralized Command

Those principles are the key to any team’s success in any situation where a group of people must work together to execute a task and accomplish a mission.

Cover and Move – Teamwork
Cover and Move: it is the most fundamental tactic, perhaps the only tactic. Put simply, Cover and Move means teamwork.

For all the definitions, descriptions, and characterizations of leaders, there are only two that matter: effective and ineffective. Effective leaders lead successful teams that accomplish their mission and win. Ineffective leaders do not.

People must believe in the plan they are asked to execute, and most important, they must believe in and trust the leader they are asked to follow. This is especially true in the SEAL Teams, where innovation and input from everyone (including the most junior personnel) are encouraged.

Ownership. Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.

On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.

If an individual on the team is not performing at the level required for the team to succeed, the leader must train and mentor that underperformer. But if the underperformer continually fails to meet standards, then a leader who exercises Extreme Ownership must be loyal to the team and the mission above any individual. If underperformers cannot improve, the leader must make the tough call to terminate them and hire others who can get the job done. It is all on the leader.

Extreme Ownership requires leaders to look at an organization’s problems through the objective lens of reality, without emotional attachments to agendas or plans. It mandates that a leader set ego aside, accept responsibility for failures, attack weaknesses, and consistently work to a build a better and more effective team. Such a leader, however, does not take credit for his or her team’s successes but bestows that honor upon his subordinate leaders and team members.

When a leader sets such an example and expects this from junior leaders within the team, the mind-set develops into the team’s culture at every level. With Extreme Ownership, junior leaders take charge of their smaller teams and their piece of the mission. Efficiency and effectiveness increase exponentially and a high-performance, winning team is the result.

Total responsibility for failure is a difficult thing to accept, and taking ownership when things go wrong requires extraordinary humility and courage. But doing just that is an absolute necessity to learning, growing as a leader, and improving a team’s performance.

When a bad SEAL leader walked into a debrief and blamed everyone else, that attitude was picked up by subordinates and team members, who then followed suit. They all blamed everyone else, and inevitably the team was ineffective and unable to properly execute a plan.

When swaped leaders from worst and best team – Boat Crew VI had gone from last place to first. The same team in the same circumstances only under new leadership, went from the worst boat crew in the class to the best.

How is it possible that switching a single individual — only the leader — had completely turned around the performance of an entire group? The answer: leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance—or doesn’t. And this applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team, but to the junior leaders of teams within the team.

There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.

When Boat Crew Six was failing under their original leader, that leader didn’t seem to think it was possible for them to perform any better, and he certainly didn’t think they could win. This negative attitude infected his entire boat crew.

Original leader of Boat Crew Six almost certainly justified his team’s poor performance with any number of excuses. In his mind, the other boat crews were outperforming his own only because those leaders had been lucky enough to be assigned better crews.

His attitude reflected victimization: life dealt him and his boat crew members a disadvantage, which justified poor performance. As a result, his attitude prevented his team from looking inwardly at themselves and where they could improve.

Crew Six focused not on the mission but on themselves, their own exhaustion, misery, and individual pain and suffering.

New leader’s realistic assessment, acknowledgment of failure, and ownership of the problem were key to developing a plan to improve performance and ultimately win. Most important of all, he believed winning was possible. In a boat crew where winning seemed so far beyond reach, the belief that the team actually could improve and win was essential.

He faced the facts: he recognized and accepted that Boat Crew Six’s performance was terrible, that they were losing and had to get better. He didn’t blame anyone, nor did he make excuses to justify poor performance. He didn’t wait for others to solve his boat crew’s problems.

The new leader of Boat Crew Six focused his team on the mission. Rather than tolerate their bickering and infighting, he pulled the team together and focused their collective efforts on the single specific goal of winning the race. He established a new and higher standard of performance and accepted nothing less from the men in his boat crew.

Instead of focusing team’s efforts on the days to come or the far (distant finish line they could not yet see), focus on a goal immediately in front of them: the beach marker, landmark or road sign a hundred yards ahead.

If we could execute with a monumental effort just to reach an immediate goal that everyone could see, we could then continue to the next visually attainable goal and then the next. When pieced together, it meant our performance over time increased substantially and eventually we crossed the finish line at the head of the pack.

Why did the Boat Crew Two, which had lost its strong leader, continued to perfrom well, even with the far less capable leader from Boat Crew Six? Extreme Ownership – good leadership – is contagious.

Boat Crew Two’s original leader had instilled a culture of Extreme Ownership, of winning and how to win, in every individual. Boat Crew Two had developed into a solid team of high-performing individuals. Each member demanded the highest performance from the others. Repetitive exceptional performance became a habit. Each individual knew what they needed to do to win and did it. They no longer needed explicit direction from a leader.

Leaders must accept total responsibility, own problems that inhibit performance, and develop solutions to those problems.

A team could only deliver exceptional performance if a leader ensured the team worked together toward a focused goal and enforced high standards of performance, working to continuously improve.

It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate. 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. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards.

If you allow the status quo to persist, you can’t expect to improve performance, and you can’t expect to win.

Leaders must ensure that tasks are repeated until the higher expected standard is achieved.

Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mind-set into the team.

Identifying weaknesses, good leaders seek to strengthen them and come up with a plan to overcome challenges.

I learned that good leaders don’t make excuses. Instead, they figure out a way to get it done and win.

No matter how obvious his or her failing, or how valid the criticism, a Tortured Genius, in this sense, accepts zero responsibility for mistakes, makes excuses, and blames everyone else for their failings (and those of their team). In their mind, the rest of the world just can’t see or appreciate the genius in what they are doing. An individual with a Tortured Genius mind-set can have catastrophic impact on a team’s performance.

In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission. Even when others doubt and question the amount of risk, asking, “Is it worth it?” the leader must believe in the greater cause. If a leader does not believe, he or she will not take the risks required to overcome the inevitable challenges necessary to win. And they will not be able to convince others – especially the frontline troops who must execute the mission – to do so. Leaders must always operate with the understanding that they are part of something greater than themselves and their own personal interests.

Leaders must impart this understanding to their teams down to the tactical-level operators on the ground.

When leaders receive an order that they themselves question and do not understand, they must ask the question: why? Why are we being asked to do this? Those leaders must take a step back, deconstruct the situation, analyze the strategic picture, and then come to a conclusion. If they cannot determine a satisfactory answer themselves, they must ask questions up the chain of command until they understand why. If frontline leaders and troops understand why, they can move forward, fully believing in what they are doing.

It is likewise on senior leaders to take the time to explain and answer the questions of their junior leaders so that they too can understand why and believe.

Whether in the ranks of military units or companies and corporations, the frontline troops never have as clear an understanding of the strategic picture as senior leaders might anticipate. It is critical that those senior leaders impart a general understanding of that strategic knowledge – the why – to their troops.

The leader must explain not just what to do, but why. It is the responsibility of the subordinate leader to reach out and ask if they do not understand.

If you ever get a task or guidance or a mission that you don’t believe in, don’t just sit back and accept it. Ask questions until you understand why so you can believe in what you are doing and you can pass that information down the chain to your team with confidence, so they can get out and execute the mission. That is leadership.

Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism.

Often, the most difficult ego to deal with is your own.

When personal agendas become more important than the team and the overarching mission’s success, performance suffers and failure ensues.

But it’s on us as leaders to see where we failed to communicate effectively and help our troops clearly understand what their roles and responsibilities are and how their actions impact the bigger strategic picture.

Departments and groups within the team must break down silos, depend on each other and understand who depends on them. If they forsake this principle and operate independently or work against each other, the results can be catastrophic to the overall team’s performance.

Often, when smaller teams within the team get so focused on their immediate tasks, they forget about what others are doing or how they depend on other teams.

It falls on leaders to continually keep perspective on the strategic mission and remind the team that they are part of the greater team and the strategic mission is paramount. Each member of the team is critical to success.

Pointing fingers and placing blame on others contributes to further dissension between teams and individuals.

Alternatively, when the team succeeds, everyone within and supporting that team succeeds. Every individual and every team within the larger team gets to share in the success. Accomplishing the strategic mission is the highest priority. Team members, departments, and supporting assets must always Cover and Move – help each other, work together, and support each other to win. This principle is integral for any team to achieve victory.

Make others a part of your team, not an excuse for your team.

It wasn’t that they were “horrible,” as he had initially surmised. They were operating with limited resources and limited manpower. Once he accepted that they weren’t out to sabotage his team, he realized that there were steps that he and his team could take to help the subsidiary company become more efficient and fill in gaps that had caused their delays. Instead of working as two separate entities against each other, they began to work together.

His attitude completely changed: if he wasn’t working together with this subsidiary company, then he was failing his team.

The production team began to work with the subsidiary company’s field team. Within a few months, the production team’s field leaders encouraged key personnel from the subsidiary company to sit in on their coordination meetings. Very soon, the “us versus them” mentality had all but disappeared.

The production team’s downtime radically improved to industry leading levels. They now worked together as one team – Cover and Move.


Combat, like anything in life, has inherent layers of complexities. Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success. When plans and orders are too complicated, people may not understand them. And when things go wrong, and they inevitably do go wrong, complexity compounds issues that can spiral out of control into total disaster.

If your team doesn’t get it, you have not kept things simple and you have failed. You must brief to ensure the lowest common denominator on the team understands.

Prioritize and Execute

Even the greatest of battlefield leaders could not handle an array of challenges simultaneously without being overwhelmed. That risked failing at them all. I had to remain calm, step back from my immediate emotional reaction, and determine the greatest priority for the team. Then, rapidly direct the team to attack that priority.

On the battlefield, countless problems compound in a snowball effect, every challenge complex in its own right, each demanding attention. But a leader must remain calm and make the best decisions possible. To do this, SEAL combat leaders utilize Prioritize and Execute. We verbalize this principle with this direction: “Relax, look around, make a call.”

Even the most competent of leaders can be overwhelmed if they try to tackle multiple problems or a number of tasks simultaneously.

The team will likely fail at each of those tasks. Instead, leaders must determine the highest priority task and execute. When overwhelmed, fall back upon this principle: Prioritize and Execute.

Just as in combat, priorities can rapidly shift and change. When this happens, communication of that shift to the rest of the team, both up and down the chain of command, is critical.

The team must maintain the ability to quickly reprioritize efforts and rapidly adapt to a constantly changing battlefield.

To implement Prioritize and Execute in any business, team, or organization, a leader must:

  • evaluate the highest priority problem.
  • lay out in simple, clear, and concise terms the highest priority effort for your team.
  • develop and determine a solution, seek input from key leaders and from the team where possible.
  • direct the execution of that solution, focusing all efforts and resources toward this priority task.
  • move on to the next highest priority problem.

Don’t let the focus on one priority cause target fixation. Maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shift as needed.

For the next several months the CEO focused the efforts of the entire company on supporting the frontline sales force, making it clear that this was the company’s highest priority. The labs set up tours for customers. The marketing designers helped create new, informative pamphlets for products. Sales managers set minimum marks for the number of introductory meetings with doctors and medical administrators that the sales force had to achieve each week. The company’s marketing team created online videos interviewing their top salespeople on the most successful techniques so that others could watch and learn.

Decentralized Command

My job was command and control of thirty plus SEALs and their partner force of Iraqi soldiers, but I could only manage this effectively through Decentralized Command. This structure allowed me, as the commander, to maintain focus on the bigger picture: coordinate friendly assets and monitor enemy activity. Were I to get embroiled in the details of a tactical problem, there would be no one else to fill my role and manage the strategic mission.

Leaders must rely on their subordinate leaders to take charge of their smaller teams within the team and allow them to execute based on a good understanding of the broader mission (Commander’s Intent), and standard operating procedures.

We divided into small teams of four to six SEALs, a manageable size for a leader to control.

Each platoon commander didn’t worry about controlling all sixteen SEAL operators assigned, only three: his squad leaders and his platoon chief. Each platoon chief and leading petty officer only had to control their fire team leaders, who each controlled four SEAL shooters. And I only had to control two people — my two platoon commanders.

Those junior leaders learned that they were expected to make decisions. They couldn’t ask, “What do I do?” Instead, they had to state: “This is what I am going to do.”

Since I made sure everyone understood the overall intent of the mission, every leader worked and led separately, but in a unified way that contributed to the overall mission, making even the most chaotic scenarios much easier to handle.

The leaders did not call me and ask me what they should do. Instead, they told me what they were going to do. I trusted them to lead.

My ego took no offense to my subordinate leaders on the frontlines calling the shots. In fact, I was proud to follow their lead and support them. With my leaders running their teams and handling the tactical decisions, it made my job much easier by enabling me to focus on the bigger picture.

Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than six to ten people, particularly when things go sideways and inevitable contingencies arise.

No one senior leader can be expected to manage dozens of individuals, much less hundreds.

Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to five operators, with a clearly designated leader. Those leaders must understand the overall mission, and the ultimate goal of that mission — the Commander’s Intent. Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks necessary to accomplish that mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

Every tactical-level team leader must understand not just what to do but why they are doing it. If frontline leaders do not understand why, they must ask their boss to clarify the why.

SEAL leaders on the battlefield are expected to figure out what needs to be done and do it — to tell higher authority what they plan to do, rather than ask, “What do you want me to do?” Junior leaders must be proactive rather than reactive.

With SEAL Teams — just as with any team in the business world—there are leaders who try to take on too much themselves. When this occurs, operations can quickly dissolve into chaos.

The fix is to empower frontline leaders through Decentralized Command and ensure they are running their teams to support the overall mission, without micromanagement from the top.

Leaders must be free to move to where they are most needed, which changes throughout the course of an operation. Understanding proper positioning as a leader is a key component of effective Decentralized Command.

The effectiveness of Decentralized Command is critical to the success of any team in any industry. In chaotic, dynamic, and rapidly changing environments, leaders at all levels must be empowered to make decisions. Decentralized Command is a key component to victory.

The SEAL Teams and the U.S. military, much like militaries throughout history, are based around building blocks of four-to-six-man teams with a leader. That is the ideal number for a leader to lead.

“But can’t you end up with a bunch of little individual elements just doing whatever they want—helter-skelter?” asked the president with skepticism. “You could end up with that if you, as a leader, failed to give clear guidance and set distinct boundaries,” I explained. “With clear guidance and established boundaries for decision making that your subordinate leaders understand, they can then act independently toward your unified goal.”

I spelled out my Commander’s Intent directly to the troops so they would know exactly what the ultimate goal of the mission was. That way they would have the ability to execute on the battlefield in a manner that supported the overarching goal, without having to ask for permission. Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions and take initiative to accomplish the mission. That was critical to our success on the battlefield.

They have got to understand why they are doing it. When the subordinate leaders and the frontline troops fully understand the purpose of the mission, how it ties into strategic goals, and what impact it has, they can then lead, even in the absence of explicit orders.

Most of all, it requires trust up and down the chain of command: trust that subordinates will do the right thing; trust that superiors will support subordinates if they are acting in accordance with the mission statement and Commander’s Intent. Trust is not blindly given. It must be built over time. Situations will sometimes require that the boss walk away from a problem and let junior leaders solve it, even if the boss knows he might solve it more efficiently. It is more important that the junior leaders are allowed to make decisions — and backed up even if they don’t make them correctly. Open conversations build trust. Overcoming stress and challenging environments builds trust. Working through emergencies and seeing how people react builds trust.

As a leader, it takes strength to let go.

Junior leaders must know that the boss will back them up even if they make a decision that may not result in the best outcome, as long as the decision was made in an effort to achieve the strategic objective.

Planning begins with mission analysis. Leaders must identify clear directives for the team. Once they themselves understand the mission, they can impart this knowledge to their key leaders and frontline troops tasked with executing the mission. A broad and ambiguous mission results in lack of focus, ineffective execution, and mission creep. To prevent this, the mission must be carefully refined and simplified so that it is explicitly clear and specifically focused to achieve the greater strategic vision for which that mission is a part.

The mission must explain the overall purpose and desired result, or “end state,” of the operation. The frontline troops tasked with executing the mission must understand the deeper purpose behind the mission. While a simple statement, the Commander’s Intent is actually the most important part of the brief. When understood by everyone involved in the execution of the plan, it guides each decision and action on the ground.

Once a course of action is determined, further planning requires detailed information gathering in order to facilitate the development of a thorough plan. It is critical to utilize all assets and lean on the expertise of those in the best position to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Leaders must delegate the planning process down the chain as much as possible to key subordinate leaders.

Once the detailed plan has been developed, it must then be briefed to the entire team and all participants and supporting elements. Leaders must carefully prioritize the information to be presented in as simple, clear, and concise a format as possible so that participants do not experience information overload.

The planning process and briefing must be a forum that encourages discussion, questions, and clarification from even the most junior personnel. If frontline troops are unclear about the plan and yet are too intimidated to ask questions, the team’s ability to effectively execute the plan radically decreases. Thus, leaders must ask questions of their troops, encourage interaction, and ensure their teams understand the plan.

Following a successful brief, all members participating in an operation will understand the strategic mission, the Commander’s Intent, the specific mission of the team, and their individual roles within that mission.

The test for a successful brief is simple: Do the team and the supporting elements understand it?

The best teams employ constant analysis of their tactics and measure their effectiveness so that they can adapt their methods and implement lessons learned for future missions. Often business teams claim there isn’t time for such analysis. But one must make time. The best SEAL units, after each combat operation, conduct what we called a “post-operational debrief.”

No matter how exhausted from an operation or how busy planning for the next mission, time is made for this debrief because lives and future mission success depend on it.

It addresses the following for the combat mission just completed: What went right? What went wrong? How can we adapt our tactics to make us even more effective and increase our advantage over the enemy?

It is critical for the success of any team in any business to do the same and implement those changes into their future plans so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes.

A leader’s checklist for planning should include the following:

  • Analyze the mission. Understand higher headquarters’ mission, Commander’s Intent, and endstate (the goal). Identify and state your own Commander’s Intent and endstate for the specific mission.
  • Identify personnel, assets, resources, and time available.
  • Decentralize the planning process. Empower key leaders within the team to analyze possible courses of action.
  • Determine a specific course of action. Lean toward selecting the simplest course of action. Focus efforts on the best course of action.
    Empower key leaders to develop the plan for the selected course of action.
  • Plan for likely contingencies through each phase of the operation.
    Mitigate risks that can be controlled as much as possible.
  • Delegate portions of the plan and brief to key junior leaders. Stand back and be the tactical genius.
  • Continually check and question the plan against emerging information to ensure it still fits the situation.
  • Brief the plan to all participants and supporting assets. Emphasize Commander’s Intent. Ask questions and engage in discussion and interaction with the team to ensure they understand.
  • Conduct post-operational debrief after execution. Analyze lessons learned and implement them in future planning.

PLO (platoon leader’s order) is for the boys – The true test for a good brief, is not whether the senior officers are impressed. It’s whether or not the troops that are going to execute the operation actually understand it. Everything else is bullshit.

Most importantly, as leaders, we must not get dragged into the details but instead remain focused on the bigger picture. The most important part of the brief, is to explain your Commander’s Intent.

When everyone participating in an operation knows and understands the purpose and end state of the mission, they can act without further guidance.

Looking back on Task Unit Bruiser’s deployment to Ramadi, I realized that the SEALs in Charlie Platoon who suffered the worst combat fatigue, whose attitudes grew progressively more negative as the months of heavy combat wore on, who most questioned the level of risk we were taking on operations — they all had the least ownership of the planning for each operation.

Conversely, the SEAL operators who remained focused and positive, who believed in what we were doing, and who were eager to continue and would have stayed on beyond our six-month deployment if they could — they all had some ownership of the planning process in each operation.

I should have given greater ownership of plans to the troops — especially those who were negative and weren’t fully committed to the mission.

Any good leader is immersed in the planning and execution of tasks, projects, and operations to move the team toward a strategic goal. Such leaders possess insight into the bigger picture and why specific tasks need to be accomplished. This information does not automatically translate to subordinate leaders and the frontline troops. Junior members of the team — the tactical level operators — are rightly focused on their specific jobs. They must be in order to accomplish the tactical mission. They do not need the full knowledge and insight of their senior leaders, nor do the senior leaders need the intricate understanding of the tactical level operators’ jobs. Still, it is critical that each have an understanding of the other’s role. And it is paramount that senior leaders explain to their junior leaders and troops executing the mission how their role contributes to big picture success.

It requires regularly stepping out of the office and personally engaging in face-to-face conversations with direct reports and observing the frontline troops in action to understand their particular challenges and read them into the Commander’s Intent.

Rather than blame them for not seeing the strategic picture, you must figure out a way to better communicate it to them in terms that are simple, clear, and concise, so that they understand. This is what leading down the chain of command is all about.

As a leader employing Extreme Ownership, if your team isn’t doing what you need them to do, you first have to look at yourself.

“Leadership doesn’t just flow down the chain of command, but up as well,” he said. “We have to own everything in our world. That’s what Extreme Ownership is all about.”

Instead of blaming others, instead of complaining about the boss’s questions, I had to take ownership of the problem and lead. This included the leaders above me in our chain of command.

We need to look at ourselves and see what we can do better. We have to write more-detailed reports that help them understand what we are doing and why we are making the decisions we are making. We have to communicate more openly in calls, and when they have questions, we need to immediately get them whatever information they need so that they understand what is happening out here.

If your boss isn’t making a decision in a timely manner or providing necessary support for you and your team, don’t blame the boss. First, blame yourself. Examine what you can do to better convey the critical information for decisions to be made and support allocated.

Leading up the chain takes much more savvy and skill than leading down the chain. Leading up, the leader cannot fall back on his or her positional authority. Instead, the subordinate leader must use influence, experience, knowledge, communication, and maintain the highest professionalism.

One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss. In any chain of command, the leadership must always present a united front to the troops. A public display of discontent or disagreement with the chain of command undermines the authority of leaders at all levels. This is catastrophic to the performance of any organization.

As a leader, if you don’t understand why decisions are being made, requests denied, or support allocated elsewhere, you must ask those questions up the chain. Then, once understood, you can pass that understanding down to your team.

The major factors to be aware of when leading up and down the chain of command:

  • Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world, subordinates and superiors alike.
  • If someone isn’t doing what you want or need them to do, look in the mirror first and determine what you can do to better enable this.
  • Don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do.

If my boss wasn’t comfortable with what I was doing, it was only because I had not clearly communicated it to him.

If you have questions about why a specific plan or required paperwork is coming down the pipe, don’t just throw up your hands in frustration. Ask those questions up the chain to clarify, so that you can understand it. Provide them with constructive feedback so they can appreciate the impact those plans or requirements have on your operations.

If you think they don’t fully understand the challenges you are facing here, invite your senior executives out to the field to see your team in action.

A task unit at our SEAL Team had a major issue between the task unit commander and one of the platoon commanders. Both were key leaders in positions critical to the task unit’s performance. But these guys just couldn’t get along. They hated each other. Each bad-mouthed the other to our SEAL Team’s commanding officer and his staff. Finally, our commanding officer declared he had had enough. He gave them the weekend to figure out a way they could work together. On Monday morning, they both still insisted they could not work together and each demanded that the other be fired. Instead, and to their surprise, the commanding officer fired them both.

Nothing is easy. The temptation to take the easy road is always there. It is as easy as staying in bed in the morning and sleeping in. But discipline is paramount to ultimate success and victory for any leader and any team.

Although discipline demands control and asceticism, it actually results in freedom. When you have the discipline to get up early, you are rewarded with more free time. When you have the discipline to keep your helmet and body armor on in the field, you become accustomed to it and can move freely in it. The more discipline you have to work out, train your body physically and become stronger, the lighter your gear feels and the easier you can move around in it.

While increased discipline results in more freedom, there are some teams that become so restricted by imposed discipline that they inhibit their leaders’ and teams’ ability to make decisions and think freely.

If frontline leaders and troops executing the mission lack the ability to adapt, this becomes detrimental to the team’s performance. So the balance between discipline and freedom must be found and carefully maintained. In that, lies the dichotomy: discipline —strict order, regimen, and control— might appear to be the opposite of total freedom — the power to act, speak, or think without any restrictions. But, in fact, discipline is the pathway to freedom.

A leader must lead but also be ready to follow. Sometimes, another member of the team – perhaps a subordinate or direct report – might be in a better position to develop a plan, make a decision, or lead through a specific situation. Perhaps the junior person has greater expertise in a particular area or more experience.

Good leaders must welcome this, putting aside ego and personal agendas to ensure that the team has the greatest chance of accomplishing its strategic goals. A true leader is not intimidated when others step up and take charge. Leaders that lack confidence in themselves fear being outshined by someone else. A leader must be confident enough to follow someone else when the situation calls for it.

The Dichotomy of Leadership

A good leader must be:

  • confident but not cocky
  • courageous but not foolhardy
  • competitive but a gracious loser
  • attentive to details but not obsessed by them
  • strong but have endurance
  • a leader and follower
  • humble not passive
  • aggressive not overbearing
  • quiet not silent
  • calm but not robotic, logical but not devoid of emotion
  • close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge
  • able to execute Extreme Ownership, while exercising Decentralized Command

As with many of the dichotomies of leadership, a person’s biggest strength can be his greatest weakness when he doesn’t know how to balance it. A leader’s best quality might be her aggressiveness, but if she goes too far she becomes reckless. A leader’s best quality might be his confidence, but when he becomes overconfident he doesn’t listen to others.

There is an answer to the age-old question of whether leaders are born or made. Obviously, some are born with natural leadership qualities, such as charisma, eloquence, sharp wit, a decisive mind, the willingness to accept risk when others might falter, or the ability to remain calm in chaotic, high-pressure situations. Others may not possess these qualities innately. But with a willingness to learn, with a humble attitude that seeks valid constructive criticism in order to improve, with disciplined practice and training, even those with less natural ability can develop into highly effective leaders. Others who were blessed with all the natural talent in the world will fail as leaders if they are not humble enough to own their mistakes, admit that they don’t have it all figured out, seek guidance, learn, and continuously grow.

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