This week I have a powerful conversation with Jocko Willink about ownership and leadership. Jocko is a retired Navy SEAL, extreme leadership expert and co-author of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win.
Jocko retired from the United States Navy SEALs in 2010, with a Silver Star and Bronze Star, and formed the company Echelon Front with Leif Babin, who served under Jocko in the Battle of Ramadi. Echelon Front offers training services that help build, train and lead high-performance winning teams. Jocko and Leif also co-authored Extreme Ownership as a leadership manual.
Mentorship is important as a Navy SEAL and a business leader. Jocko embraces mentorship from anyone with something to teach him. He realized early on that he needed to understand something in order to make sense of it.
“When you’re working with businesses and working with leaders, you can’t just tell them, ‘here’s the problem and here’s the solution,’ because every problem is different. There’s going to be nuances in everything, and so you have to take these principles that you learn and apply those principles. But you have to apply them not as a mechanic, but as an artist.”
Jocko relates the process of reaching understanding to a concept called Commander’s Intent, which describes the overall goals, purpose, strategy, and desired end state. A German general once said that the Commander’s Intent should not be added on to the end of a briefing, but replace the briefing entirely.
“Knowing where you’re heading, and what the end state you’re looking for is, and what the intent of the operation or the mission is, it should certainly be enough.”
Jocko’s military career and his current entrepreneurial lifestyle requires constantly adapting to new and different people, with new and different personalities. He doesn’t have a very large tool kit for adapting to different personalities, but he has effective tools:
- “Tool number two is what you’re going to take out of your box after you’ve listened.”
Jocko is a champion of Extreme Ownership, the central concept and title of his book, and he believes that it is the number one characteristic of a high performance individual or team. “The reason that extreme ownership is the most important characteristic is because, if you don’t take ownership over what’s happening in your world, how can you change any of it? … If you face the reality that what’s going on in your world actually is your fault, and if anyone can fix it it’s you, then you can actually take action.”
There’s always other things in the world to blame, but there’s only one you can fix, and that’s you. Taking Extreme Ownership can be simple:
- Acknowledge that things aren’t going the way you want them to go
- Identify the elements that play into the way things are
- Take action to fix what you aren’t happy with
Ownership is integral to leadership, and to Jocko leadership is what makes or breaks a mission. Leadership isn’t just about taking orders – it’s about building a two-way relationship with trust and communication.
“My goal with every leader that I ever worked for, whether they were horrible or they were awesome, my goal was always the same: to develop a relationship with them where they trusted me and they let me do what I want.” If it’s en egomaniac, Jocko strokes their ego. If it’s a great leader, then out of the gate you are working with them, building a relationship and developing trust.
You don’t need to be in charge to take ownership. In most situations, whatever your boss is trying to make happen, you’re the one doing it. Do it the right way (or the wrong way), and you can have a massive amount of influence over it. “If my boss has a vision, I’m going to take ownership and make it happen, and I’m going to build trust. And when they tell me to do something that doesn’t make sense, I’m going to have the relationship to say, ‘Hey boss, this doesn’t make sense right here.’”
Jocko shares stories about some of the times things didn’t go well, but he always holds on to the will to win. “The will to win isn’t a short-term thing. The will to win is a deep-seated desire for a long-term end state. You have to recognize that, along the way, you’re going to take wins and you’re going to take losses.” What’s going to trip you up when you fail is when your ego doesn’t allow you to take ownership of the failure.
Success is often driven by ego, and Jocko embraces that. We should want to do well, and we should care how we perform. “Where it goes sideways is where the ego becomes so big that it no longer thinks it can do any better, no longer can you be corrected, no longer can you be coached, no longer can you change, no longer can you evolve, because your ego thinks you’re already there.”
To keep our egos in check, Jocko has a few simple tools:
- Keep an open mind
- Don’t believe your own hype
- Make an honest self-assessment. The way that you make an honest self-assessment is to detach from yourself and look at yourself from an exterior point of view.
I’m honored to have gotten to speak with Jocko about his book, his business and his past experiences. He is a powerful speaker, and he has a lot to share about leadership, ownership and success.
This episode is brought to you by SY Partners and Unstuck, helping you make a change by identifying the things holding you up. Their new program “Life Courses” are based on decades of learning about what inspires people to change. It is created by SYPartners, a transformation company that helps individuals, teams, and organizations become the best version of themselves, so they can create massive positive impact in business and society.
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SOME QUESTIONS I ASK:
- What are some steps Jocko takes to bridge the gap between knowledge and understanding?
- Is it enough to simply begin with the end in mind in order to get to understanding?
- How does Jocko adapt to different personalities on the fly?
- Why is Extreme Ownership the number one characteristic of a high performance individual or team?
- How does the will to win aid in recovering from a situation that is in essence failure?
- How does Jocko use The Leader’s Checklist with his fellow SEALS, and how can entrepreneurs adapt this checklist in their businesses?
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL LEARN:
- Why extreme ownership is the number one characteristic of a high performance individual
- How to build relationships with the leaders around you
- How aspects of military strategy can improve business strategy
- How to use your ego as a driver, but keep it in check
DON’T BE A PODCAST JUNKIE…
- Learn more about Jocko: Echelon Front | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
- Listen to the Jocko Podcast
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win
- Live to Tell, “Charlie Platoon & The Story of Marc Lee”