Jocko Willink (@jockowillink) rejoins us to discuss his latest book, The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win. [Photo credit: Ryan Hartford]

What We Discuss with Jocko Willink:

  • What happens when we take the “extreme” part of extreme ownership too literally.
  • Why otherwise positive characteristics can be detrimental to progress when we forget the importance of balance.
  • When to take responsibility, and what the limits of this actually are.
  • Why we should stop being the easy button for those we manage and lead.
  • The concept of leadership capital: how to build it, when to use it, and when not to use it.
  • And much more…
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Worksheet for This Episode
Effective leadership consists of more than simply having the authority to boss other people around. It requires an understanding of when it’s time to have your team lean into extremes to progress toward a goal, but also when to lean back with restraint to strike the right balance. Or, as an old gambler once wisely imparted: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em; know when to fold ’em.”

If you’re wondering how you might strike such a balance to develop or improve your own leadership skills, you’re in the right place. SEAL Task Unit Bruiser commander Jocko Willink returns to the show to talk about his new book (co-authored with Leif Babin), The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win. Listen, learn, and enjoy! (If you like this one, be sure to check out Jocko’s last appearance here.)

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More About This Show

The Dichotomy

Like a skilled chef, an effective leader understands the importance of balance. Too much of what can be a good thing in moderation — like paprika or covering a coordinated team from enemy fire — can upset that balance. Few understand this better than The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win co-author Jocko Willink.

“You can be too simple,” says Jocko. “Even something like cover and move, which is, ‘Hey, we’re going to support other teams around my team.’ If I’m on Team A and Team B is doing something, well, I’m going to cover and move. I’m going to help them. I’m going to support them. And that’s a really positive thing. But what happens if I take that to the extreme, and now I start getting into the weeds with what they’re doing and I start stepping on toes and I start interfering with what they’re actually trying to get done?

“So, yes, the idea of extreme ownership is awesome, but there is a tendency for people to try to take things to the extreme.”

An aggressive leader is capable of leading his or her team to greatness. But an overaggressive leader is likely to lead that team into cutting corners and taking unnecessary risks; an underaggressive leader doesn’t take the necessary risks to get anything done. Moderation is key, and it takes a good leader to find that delicate line.

The Contingency

Every leader knows that unforeseen variables can intervene to throw his or her best-laid plans into chaos. And while it’s easy to take ownership of such a scenario on the surface level for the sympathy of your team, a leader taking extreme ownership would have anticipated the possibility of such variables and composed an alternative — a contingency plan.

Jocko gives an example of an uncontrollable variable to which we can all relate: the weather.

“So you’re going to take helicopters to go hit a target somewhere and the weather turns out bad and the helicopters can’t fly,” says Jocko, “and you go, ‘Hey, that’s not my fault because the weather was bad and I can’t control the weather!’ Everyone would agree that we can’t control the weather…but a good leader will say, ‘You know what? We didn’t execute the mission because the helicopters couldn’t fly and I can’t control the weather, but what I could have done is I could have come up with a contingency plan in case the weather was bad. I should have thought of that. I should have had vehicles on standby. I should have prestaged somewhere that was closer so that if we did get a weather problem, we could still execute the mission. So I’m still going to take ownership.’

“When you have that attitude, what it does is it drives you to be more successful because you know if you always have some kind of excuse in your back pocket that you can whip out at any time, then you don’t try and cover all the bases. You’re not going to plan as well. But when you know, ‘Hey, this is on me; it’s on me to get this mission accomplished; it’s on me a hundred percent,’ if that’s your attitude, you’ll cover those bases and you’ll get the mission executed.”

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how Jocko learned to delegate without surrendering ownership, symptoms of micromanagement, why bold actions are usually better than no actions (even when hindsight tells us they weren’t the right actions), what your team gains when you stop being its easy button whenever a problem needs solving, what leadership capital is and when you should use (or not use) it, how to build trust between a leader and team members, what “be humble or get humbled” means, what happens when a book with potentially classified information has to go through a review process with the Pentagon before it can be published, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with Jocko Willink, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:

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