Jocko Willink (@jockowillink), commander for the most highly decorated special operations unit of the Iraq War, joins the show to talk about taking responsibility, discipline, intensity, and leadership to the next level as outlined in Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh pass through your earholes!]
What We Discuss with Jocko Willink:
- When making a decision, worrying about variables that can’t be controlled is a waste of time. A better outcome is likely if we learn to focus that wasted effort on factors that can be controlled.
- Understand why taking ownership of your mistakes, personal issues, and outcomes gets better results than trying to pass the blame to someone else.
- What does discipline = freedom mean?
- How do you stop small weaknesses that sometimes permeate discipline from having a negative impact on significant decisions?
- Is there such a thing as a natural leader?
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
In the civilian world, about as close as most of us get to a life or death situation is the rush hour commute to and from work. But there are lessons we can learn from those who have had to make tough decisions under fire that can help us mitigate risk, lead effectively, and perform at our best under any condition.
Today’s guest, Jocko Willink, spent 20 years in the military and commanded SEAL Task Unit Bruiser — the most highly decorated special operations unit of the Iraq War — in Baghdad and Ramadi. Now retired from active duty, he and Leif Babin, his business partner and co-author of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, teach civilians how to apply skills learned in war to take ownership of every situation and make better decisions at home.
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about Jocko’s parenting style, stopping small weaknesses from ruining your discipline and having an adverse effect on your decisions, how exercising discipline feeds itself throughout the day, why combat is humbling, how Jocko got involved in a life of service, if there’s such a thing as a natural leader, the traits that differentiate bad leaders from good leaders, if bad leaders can become good leaders, how smart leaders learn to overcome their own weaknesses by developing excellent teamwork, how much difference a winning leader in charge of a losing team can make, how Jocko’s training prepared recruits for the realities and chaos of combat, using anger as a tool, and lots more [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh pass through your earholes!]
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
- TextExpander: Get 20% off your first year
- Bambee: Schedule your free HR audit at bambee.com/jordan
- BetterHelp: Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/jordan
- Progressive: Get a free online quote at progressive.com
Miss our conversation with accidental international poker champion and human motivation expert Maria Konnikova? Catch up with episode 371: Maria Konnikova | Pulling Off the Biggest Bluff here!
Thanks, Jocko Willink!
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:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin | Amazon
- The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin | Amazon
- Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual by Jocko Willink | Amazon
- Echelon Front
- Jocko Podcast
- Jocko Willink | Instagram
- Jocko Willink | Facebook
- Jocko Willink | Twitter
- Jocko Willink | Leading on the Line Between Extreme and Reckless | Jordan Harbinger
- Jocko Willink | Why Discipline Beats Motivation Every Time | Jordan Harbinger
608: Jocko Willink | The Winning Example of Extreme Ownership
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:02] Jocko Willink: I don't worry about the things that I can't control. And if I go out and get blown up, then that's what happened. I mitigate as much as I can and then I'm not going to worry about it.
[00:00:15] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts, entrepreneurs, spies, and psychologists, even the occasional neuroscientist, music mogul, or drug trafficker. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:00:40] If you're new to the show, or you're looking for a handy way to tell your friends about the show, we have episode starter packs. These are collections of top rated episodes, organized by topic. It'll help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on this show. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/starts to get started or to help somebody else get started. Of course, this show thrives on you sharing it. So I appreciate it when you do that.
[00:01:03] Today, one from the vault, recorded several years back. It's really funny for me to re-listen to these sometimes. Well, it makes me cringe, but hopefully you'll enjoy it. We're talking with my friend Jocko Willink, SEAL and former commander of Task Unit Bruiser in Iraq, Baghdad, and Ramadi to be specific. This guy, many of you know him well, it goes without saying, he is the real deal. He's been a friend of mine for several years now. Let's just say he's known for his intensity. This is a good person to know, a good person to listen to, and a great person to learn from. His first book, extreme ownership, taking extreme levels of responsibility in your organization and in your life. It was a game changer for me, for thousands of others, it's the same and is brilliant in its simplicity. Now, today, how to own absolutely everything in our world and how this has changed the way that I've lived? It's also changed the way that I do business. I love it. I can't recommend it enough. Jocko's not so bad himself. We also discuss discipline, intensity, leadership, and a little bit of violence on this episode of the show.
[00:01:59] And if you're wondering how I managed to book all these great authors, thinkers, creators, performers, every single week, it's because of my network. And I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. This course is about improving your networking and connection skills and inspiring others to develop a personal and professional relationship with you. It'll make you a better networker, a better connector, and a better thinker. That's all free at jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests you hear on the show, they subscribe and contribute to the course already. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:02:33] Now, here's Jocko Willink.
[00:02:38] Tell us what you do in one sentence or what you used to do, maybe.
[00:02:41] Jocko Willink: Well, what I used to do is I was in the military for 20 years. And when I got done being in the military, retired, then I went and tried to take the lessons that I had learned in the military and teach them to people that were not in the military. That's what I do.
[00:02:55] Jordan Harbinger: During your time as the military commander for SEAL Task Unit Bruiser — what's a task unit? What does that mean?
[00:03:01] Jocko Willink: Task Unit in the SEAL teams is basically two platoons worth of SEALs, so maybe 35 or 40 plus or minus SEALs, and then a bunch of support people that take care of your radios, provide intelligence, fix your weapons, fix your humvees, keep the camp running. With Task Unit Bruiser, we probably had 60 or 70 of those support people and then 35 or 40 SEALs.
[00:03:27] Jordan Harbinger: So there's more support people than actual SEALs. That makes sense. You've got a lot of gear, a lot of stuff going on. The amount of uncertainty that you guys deal with when you're out there, it seems like it would drive most people insane.
[00:03:38] Jocko Willink: There's definitely uncertainty out there, but I think the world is filled with uncertainty, regardless of whether you're in combat or whether you're in the business world or whether you're trying to raise kids.
[00:03:48] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:03:48] Jocko Willink: Or whatever you're doing, there's going to be uncertainty.
[00:03:50] Jordan Harbinger: I think the difference though might be, here in civilian life, we think we can control the uncertainty, but you're acutely aware that you cannot. And also it's maybe more lethal. The lethal uncertainty we have here are things like, "Oh, you might get in a car accident later." And that's probably the most common sort of uncertain occurrence that we can't control that we think we have control of, because we're controlling the vehicle. But when you're out there, you're kind of like, "All right, people are actively trying to kill us. We don't know where it's going to come from. Everything is suspicious. Every one who we don't know could be suspicious and every little trash can that's too close to the street is suspicious." How do you manage the base level of anxiety that you would have with that? Or do you train it out of everyone?
[00:04:29] Jocko Willink: Well, for me, you know, I can only speak for my own experience, but there's things, as you said, there's things that you can control and there's things that you can not control. So for instance, an IED, which for those of you that don't know, you mentioned it, trash on the street, which the reason you said that you obviously have some experience or knowledge, is that the enemy in Iraq would camouflage IEDs, booby traps, homemade bombs on the side of the road. And they would camouflage them with a piece of trash. It wasn't just a piece of trash because eventually they made it look like a curb and they made it look like a mailbox. They made it look like a wall or they put it in a dead animal. So that's everything. You become suspicious of everything.
[00:05:09] So what do you do on things that you can and cannot control? If you can't control them, then I'm not going to worry about them. I can do, I can mitigate as much risk as possible. I can pay attention. We can look at briefs and understand what the camouflage of an IED is going to look like. And I can learn as much as I can, and we can plan a route that is as safe as possible. And then beyond those things that we can do to mitigate the risk, there's nothing we can do. So I don't worry about the things that I can't control. And if I go out and get blown up, then that's what happened. I mitigate as much as I can and then I'm not going to worry about it.
[00:05:44] Jordan Harbinger: You're able to compartmentalize the worrying and the things that you can actually control.
[00:05:48] Jocko Willink: Yes.
[00:05:48] Jordan Harbinger: How would you teach a civilian to do that? People around here, Silicon Valley, even probably in this very building there's people wearing nonstop about things that they absolutely cannot control and can never get.
[00:05:58] Jocko Willink: Well, so many things that when I do teach people, I'm less teaching them than I am just making them aware of the fact, because once you come aware of the fact that there's things that you can't control, and if you worry about them, you're actually expending effort worrying about something that you can't control anyways. So it's doing you no good to worry. So why not take that effort and focus on things that you can control and things that will improve your chances and make your chances of survival better? Why not just shift and focus on that? Once people become aware of that, then it's not that hard to do.
[00:06:29] Jordan Harbinger: Because you're your energy in one direction, instead of trying to bottle it in. I think the way that a lot of people try to control worry as they bottle it up, right? They go, "Okay, I'm not going to worry about that." And they freak out and there's that energy that's going to leak out somewhere. And usually that shows up as anxiety. If we're focusing on only what we can control, then we go, "All right, well, I'm just going to double down on making sure my gear is working. The car's full of gas or whatever. My body's in good shape. I got a change of underwear in the trunk," whatever it is rather than, "What if I don't get the job later?" and they're chewing their nails off about that.
[00:06:57] Jocko Willink: Exactly. You're going to be nervous and you're going to be afraid and you're going to have fear, that's okay. But as you said, what you want to do is you want to take that nervous energy and that fear and utilize it to do something positive that's going to improve your situation. As opposed to just extending that fear and nervousness worrying and getting paranoid and working yourself to where you can't sleep. So now you're not well rested when you go out on an operation, which is going to affect you in a negative way. So just take those things, shift them towards something positive, and you're going to be much better off.
[00:07:28] Jordan Harbinger: Now in the book, the book Extreme Ownership, which we'll link to in the show notes that left a powerful imprint. And I started using some of what you wrote right away. And it made an immediate difference in both my business and personal life, because the concept behind the book seems really deceptively simple. It's just own all the mistakes, own all of your personal issues, own all of the outcomes that you end up with from your team or from your business. In practice, it can be really hard to do. I was talking with Jen earlier about somebody we know who works for a big company, multinational company, and some project went south somehow. That person wrote an email that said, "Well, we know Tim didn't get the deliverable done in time." And I had just read the book and I thought, "Oh, that's literally the opposite of what you need to do." I don't know this as fact, but I assume this person now has an enemy in the company that cannot wait for her to go down. You embarrass somebody, you also show everybody else who's looking that you're going to do that to them if they screw up. So they're going to avoid working with you in case they make a mistake.
[00:08:24] Jocko Willink: And furthermore, if you're the boss and you're looking at this person that had the project fail, and the first thing they do is say, "Well, Tim, didn't get the deliverable done. That's why it's their fault. If I'm your boss and you tell me that Jen didn't do what she's supposed to do and that's why part of the project failed.
[00:08:39] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:08:40] Jocko Willink: I'm not mad at Jen.
[00:08:41] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:08:41] Jocko Willink: I'm actually disgusted in you. First of all, because you didn't lead Jen correctly. You didn't give her the equipment she needed or the gear she needed, or the training that she needed. When all that happened and went wrong, you just blamed her. You didn't take any responsibility for yourself. So I now lost trust in you as well. And we've got an issue that's going to cause problems in the future.
[00:09:00] Jordan Harbinger: I'd love to talk more about that in a little bit as well. I think the person who recommended the book to me originally was like, "Oh, you probably don't even need to read that. Just get the summary where it tells you basically just accept responsibility for everything." But that's not really the point of the book and we can get into some of the nuanced stuff later, but it's funny and interesting how deep the rabbit hole goes with the concept of extreme ownership because you end up becoming so much more respected, even when you're taking ownership of someone else's mistakes. It's completely counterintuitive in a lot of ways, which I thought was fascinating. Because it's hard to take that first step and say, "All right, I'm going to own the mistake that this other person on my team made." Because what that person was thinking, what Jen and I's mutual friend, of course, thinking was, "I don't want to get in trouble for this. I'm not getting fired over this." And ironically, she's much more likely to get in trouble over someone else's mistake. Now that she's been the one who called attention to it.
[00:09:49] There's a lot of benefit that comes from it. That's hidden as well. Not just psychologically in your own head, but even organizationally, the ripple effect is incredible. We can deep dive into that in a bit. I have to say that reading the book, one thing that was funny is you guys use about a thousand times more PowerPoint than I ever envisioned, special forces guys using. I never imagined these elite badasses using PowerPoint and having a clicker and like the Paperclip guy pops up and he's like, "Do you need help?" "No, unless you know where Osama bin Laden is, we don't need any help. How do we get rid of this thing?"
[00:10:17] Jocko Willink: Yeah. We actually went overboard with it. And you know, that's one of the chapters in the book of where we had guys that were, instead of thinking they were putting slides together.
[00:10:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:10:27] Jocko Willink: And that's not a place you want to be.
[00:10:29] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:10:29] Jocko Willink: You want to use your brain, not your mousepad.
[00:10:32] Jordan Harbinger: It seems like it would be really easy to get caught up in the details of something like that, rather than focusing on the problem. You have this built-in distraction where, "Well, I don't know how we're going to extract everyone if something goes south over here, but you know what? Let's get a higher resolution photo of this area. Let's color the sand and make the background white so people can see it." And then you're looking at it and going, "Wait, I didn't solve the problem at all." But it seems like you're doing work. It goes back to kind of the anxiety. Worrying about things you can't control, you get this anxiety. You've got to have the outlet somewhere, but if you don't direct the energy, it's a waste.
[00:11:03] Jocko Willink: Yes. And what do you look to control where you look to control the fonts on your slides?
[00:11:07] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:11:08] Jocko Willink: Which as you pointed out, do not matter. What matters is do we have a good plan that everybody on the team understands fully that we can go out and execute in an efficient manner. That's what's important.
[00:11:21] Jordan Harbinger: I'll often see you tweet things like discipline equals freedom, which sounds a little bit like an oxymoron. Can you explain that a little bit? Because it sounds to a lot of people, especially I'm talking to younger Jordan right now in my own head and I'm thinking, "Discipline is the opposite of freedom." How does that click together?
[00:11:36] Jocko Willink: And don't you wish younger Jordan could have seen the light? Because I know I wish—
[00:11:39] Jordan Harbinger: Yes.
[00:11:39] Jocko Willink: —younger Jocko would have seen the light.
[00:11:41] Jordan Harbinger: Definitely.
[00:11:41] Jocko Willink: Because we all want freedom. And you know, we want to have financial freedom. We want to have more free time. That's what everybody wants. And when you want that freedom, the way to get there is through discipline. The two examples that I use all the time are the ones I just said, which is financial freedom. If you want to have financial freedom, how do you get more financial freedom? You have to have financial discipline. If you want more free time, how do you get more free time? You have a more disciplined time management schedule. That is the pathway to freedom is discipline. And that's why I always say discipline equals freedom. And it's not just for individuals. I mean, those two examples are individuals, but as a business or as a team, the more disciplined you are, the more freedom you're going to have.
[00:12:22] So with my task unit, with my SEAL platoons that I was in, we were highly disciplined and had all kinds of standard operating procedures about how we did everything. Everything had a standard operating procedure, how we got into vehicles, how we got out of vehicles, how we lined up on buildings, how we left buildings, how we talked on the radio. Everything we did had a procedure. And you might think that that constrained us on the battlefield, but it actually gives you more freedom on the battlefield.
[00:12:48] Because if I needed you to go take down a building, I could say, "Jordan, go hit that building over there." And you could just immediately go and do it. You didn't have to tell me how you're going to do it. You'd have to tell me how many people you were going to take. You don't have to tell me what you're going to do with any unknown people that you found in there, you didn't have to tell me what you're going to do with any wounded. We already knew all that. So you could just go do it. Not only did I know what you were going to do, but all your team, your subordinates, all knew those things as well. They knew the basic plan. They knew the set of operating procedures. So you could just do it.
[00:13:15] So that gave me all kinds of freedom on the battlefield, because I could say, "Jordan, go hit that building over there." And I could say, "Jen, you need to go hit that building and you can take your team and do it as well." So that's why discipline equals freedom. Not just as an individual, but as a team as well.
[00:13:29] Jordan Harbinger: Do you have kids?
[00:13:30] Jocko Willink: Yes, I do.
[00:13:30] Jordan Harbinger: How do you teach them things like this without just yelling at them and being like a regular dad all the time?
[00:13:35] Jocko Willink: It's the same way you try and teach any other human being that you're working with in the world. And that is you try and show them. You beat them to death with PowerPoint.
[00:13:45] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:13:45] Jocko Willink: No. What you do is you try and make them understand why you're doing what you're doing. And that's the same when you're leading any team, whether it's your kids or whether it's something at work or whether it's something in the military. You want your team to understand why you're doing what you're doing, what the benefit is going to be, where it's going to put you in the long run, what the benefits are going to be, how it ties back from the team benefits back to the individual benefits.
[00:14:05] If we're working on a project for our team, I want you to see how it's going to benefit the team, but then I want you to also see how once it benefits the team, it's going to benefit you in the long run. Because we succeed with this project, now we've got more products to sell. And now you as a salesperson is going to be able to sell more products because you're going to have more options to offer to people. You want to tie that thread all the way back through.
[00:14:26] Jordan Harbinger: What about your kids in terms, the military, did they think about going in? Do you want them to go in? You don't have any expectations there.
[00:14:32] Jocko Willink: I don't have any expectations. I don't want to place any pressure on them to make any decisions in life. I want them to understand the world the best they can and make decisions based on what they think they should do. I know that I have one son and three daughters. I would say my son is fairly interested in going in the military. And I think my daughters are actually weighing whether it might be a good option for them as well. So I'm completely open if they want to go in the military or if they want to go and be street artists. Whatever they're going to go choose to do, I will wish them the best of luck and provide them with whatever support I can until they're 18 years old, in which case they are then on their own.
[00:15:13] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned weakness and being mentally weak for the moment, creeping into discipline and being the thing that ruins it. You kind of analogize this to, "If you have the discipline to getting out of bed, you win. You pass the test." How do you stop the small weaknesses, transitioning, I should say, into affecting more significant decisions.
[00:15:30] Jocko Willink: How do you stop the small weakness?
[00:15:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Do you plug that as soon as you spot it or do you try to present it somehow?
[00:15:35] Jocko Willink: You stop the small weaknesses.
[00:15:37] Jordan Harbinger: It's a circular thing, right?
[00:15:38] Jocko Willink: This is not some epic, biblical, crazy theory to put out. If you have weaknesses, then you stop them. That's it.
[00:15:50] Jordan Harbinger: Basically, you cultivate discipline by getting rid of the weaknesses. You get rid of the weaknesses by exercising the discipline that you've cultivated.
[00:15:57] Jocko Willink: That's hard about getting out of bed in the morning because to just about everybody being in bed in the morning feels good. It's warm, you're tired. Hitting the snooze button is a very real temptation that everybody can relate to. That's why I talk about it all the time. So instead of hitting the snooze button, just get up and get out of bed. That's it. And that discipline decision, next thing you know, you're in the gym. And that discipline decision, next thing you know, when it comes to breakfast, instead of eating donuts—
[00:16:24] Jordan Harbinger: A maple bar.
[00:16:26] Jocko Willink: Something like that.
[00:16:26] Jordan Harbinger: Maple bar.
[00:16:27] Jocko Willink: Right.
[00:16:27] Jordan Harbinger: Eclair.
[00:16:28] Jocko Willink: Those things, instead of eating those things, you're eating a piece of beef jerky, or you're having a cup of tea, or you're just drinking a glass of water and doing an intermittent fast. And then when you get done with that, now you sit down to work and you're feeling like you're on the right path. And so you say, "You know what? I'm going to knock this stuff out." So then you start working and you work harder. You know, I've heard some of this talk about the fact that your will dissipates through the day and it weakens through the day. And I actually disagree with that. I think that your discipline and your will grow stronger as you exercise them, even through the day.
[00:17:01] Jordan Harbinger: Even throughout the day. So starting off right, maybe starts you off with a bigger tank or just keeps things propelled upwards instead of just wearing you down.
[00:17:09] Jocko Willink: I think it gets you on the right track and it feels bad to step off the tracks.
[00:17:13] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's for sure. There's psychological pressure too. Top off a day where you worked out, ran, got up early, ate healthy with extra large pizza, you know, how crappy that's going to feel and it outweighs the feeling that you're going to get by eating it.
[00:17:28] Jocko Willink: Exactly.
[00:17:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I can definitely identify with that. I was surprised to find, I've talked to a lot of SEALs and special forces, special operators especially, and there's always this air of humility that originally before I started spending a lot of time with guys like that, guys, like you, I thought it was a little bit fake. Like maybe this is something they're taught and they got to do it because otherwise they seem really almost aggressively capable. And I think a lot of people wouldn't like that maybe in a structure like the military, but I don't think it's fake anymore. I think it's real.
[00:17:56] And there's a lot of fake motivation. There's a lot of fake humility in the world in general, but you can't really fake a lot of the things that you guys have to deal with. Like bravery, you can't fake bravery because courage in the face of danger is essentially what bravery really actually is. And so I think that that permeates the whole mindset of the special forces or at least the ones that I've met and dealt with. It seems unusual to me that there would be an entire unit in all branches that seemed to grab hold of this mindset and never let it go.
[00:18:22] And maybe I just met the right SEALs and the right special forces guys. Can you sort of point to a time in your life where obviously you probably were young and feeling your oats? At one point, you went through the military and then at some point things turned and you went, "I don't have to front like this anymore. I don't have to do this crap anymore or act tougher than I am or act holier than now, or put on airs anymore." Do you remember that process at all?
[00:18:44] Jocko Willink: For one thing, combat is extremely humbling and anybody that's been in legit combat for a sustained period of time is not going to walk out of it, feeling like Superman. Because if you are in enough combat, there's going to be situations where you were not in control, where things got out of control, where the enemy did something you didn't expect, where your men got wounded or killed. When you go through that, you're going to be humbled. So I don't think there's any faking it. I think it's just real.
[00:19:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Well, one, I've never been in combat and two, to have somebody with so much capability be so down to earth, especially when I lived in LA, I didn't, you don't meet a whole lot of people who have a lot of capability and qualification and are also extremely humble. So it came out of nowhere for me and I was very surprised by that. For you, what was the draw to the teams and the special operations in the first place?
[00:19:37] Jocko Willink: Ever since I was a little kid, the only thing I remember wanting to do was be a commando of some kind. And so at some point I figured out the SEAL teams was one of the hardest ones. And that's the one I decided to go. Also, I like the water. I grew up in the water.
[00:19:52] Jordan Harbinger: Oh okay.
[00:19:53] Jocko Willink: And so the SEALs was maritime-oriented special operations. So it was an easy pick for me.
[00:20:00] Jordan Harbinger: Even extreme athletes and things like that, that go for SEALs, it's the water that you hear about the most that gasses people out or intimidates them or scares them, or just makes them ring the bell during BUD/S because there's just an element to trudging through the water. Maybe it's the salt. Maybe it's just the water itself or the cold. Probably a combination of all those. Now that I'm thinking about it, that just makes it so uncomfortable.
[00:20:22] Jocko Willink: The water is an absolute differentiator because it's cold, it's uncomfortable. It destroys things. So radios, weapons, intelligence gear, maps, it just destroys everything that you have. If you're going to operate in the water, you have to be able to do it a little bit smarter, a little bit better. And so that's what the SEAL teams get used to. And so when we've been fighting these wars in the desert and we get to drive in on a truck or come on a helicopter and you're completely dry when you get off and start your mission, it makes it a lot easier than what you're used to in the SEAL teams growing up, getting out of a boat, getting into a smaller boat, getting out of the smaller boat and swimming across the beach, coming across the beach with your gear covered in sand and all messed up from that and learning how to waterproof that. Fix it if it does leak. It's just all kinds of problems. The water is a real challenge in combat. In any situation, the water is a good test.
[00:21:13] Jordan Harbinger: It seems like it, it seems like after all that water and then finally flying somewhere on a helicopter, it's kind of like flying first class. "Oh, we didn't have to swim there. This is great. I'm ready." Do you consider yourself a natural leader? Is there such a thing?
[00:21:25] Jocko Willink: I think there is such a thing. A matter of fact, I know there is such a thing. I mean, I've seen dozens and dozens of SEAL platoons go through training. And some of the people inside those platoons, whether they're in a leadership position or not, they step up and become leaders. I see that in businesses. That some businesses, they have in their organization teams and inside those teams, again regardless of rank or structure, someone will step up and be a leader. So there's absolutely people that have more natural leadership ability than others.
[00:21:57] I hear people say that leaders are born and not made. And some people say leaders are made and not born. And I think it's a little bit of a combination of both. Because there's some people that are great leaders and when they start learning about leadership, they start focusing on it and they become even better. There's some people that are okay leaders that become really good leaders. There's some people that are bad leaders that become okay leaders. And there's some people that are bad leaders that never can lead. That's just the reality of it.
[00:22:26] So I think that you have to have some natural ability, which I think most people do have some level of natural ability. And then there's some people that don't have it at all. That's a pretty small percentage, but they definitely exist.
[00:22:37] Jordan Harbinger: The untrainable, the uncoachable leader, the person who can never make it. It's rare.
[00:22:42] Jocko Willink: It's pretty rare. It's one reason why people are like that. There's one person that's untrainable as a leader. And that's the person that lacks humility, the topic that you already talked about. Because if I come to you and I want to be a leader, but I'm not humble, how can I learn anything? How can I accept your viewpoint on anything? How can I improve in any way? Because I already think I know everything.
[00:23:03] When we would fire guys from the SEAL teams from leadership positions, 99.9 percent of the time, it wasn't because they'd know how to shoot their gun. It wasn't because they weren't in good physical shape. It wasn't because they weren't good tacticians. It's because they weren't humble, which meant they couldn't listen to anybody, which meant they couldn't take any suggestions, which meant they didn't respect the enemy. Because if I'm not humble, guess what? I don't need to worry about the enemy. Wrong answer. You do need to worry about the enemy. You need to respect the enemy. You'd be thinking about them improving. You'd be thinking about what they're going to do to you to get the edge on you. So when a person lacks humility, that's the biggest issue that I would run into with the CEO leadership that we'd end up firing.
[00:23:41] Jordan Harbinger: That makes sense. Obviously, we have extreme ownership and the concepts that we're going to get into, but it is mostly what you're looking for charisma — I mean, what have you observed about good leaders that lets you know early on, maybe. Like, okay, this guy, we're going to look at this guy that he's probably going to end up being a leader.
[00:23:56] Jocko Willink: Yeah. Again, I mean, obviously it's the question I just answered or the statement I just made, when you get someone that's a humble person, that's ready to listen. That's ready to listen to their subordinates. That's ready to listen to the superiors. That's ready to listen to their training cadre. Someone that has that kind of attitude. They're going to do a decent job. They're going to do a decent job.
[00:24:13] Now, are there some specific traits that will help? Yes, there are. For instance, and this is a very particular skill set, can you be loud on the battlefield? Can you be heard over the sound of gunfire? If you have a loud voice, that's beneficial. If you don't have a loud voice — again, I'm singling out this one thing — but if you don't have a loud voice, I've seen plenty of leaders that weren't that loud, but guess what? They learn how to work with their team to make sure that they got their word to a couple of key people that were loud and then they would spread the word. And so there's ways to overcome these things.
[00:24:45] As long as they have the humility to say, "You know what? I'm not that loud. I'm going to need some help on this." If they said, "You know what? I'm not that loud. So people aren't going to hear me. But what I'm going to do is just lead a different way that no one's ever seen before, because I'm smarter than everybody else." It's not going to work.
[00:25:00] Jordan Harbinger: Not going to work.
[00:25:01] Jocko Willink: There's traits — and again, I think these are all things that people can get better at, people can develop more, the idea of detaching from the chaos and the mayhem. That's a skill set that you can develop. You're not born with that. You might be born with a certain level of it or a lack of it, but you can definitely improve that. If I took you and put you in a presser situation for the next five days, you know, had people shooting paintballs at you. And I put you in charge of a squad and I put you into dark rooms where I said, "Okay, when the lights come on, you got to figure this out." And I did that to you over and over again, in a week, your perspective would change and you develop the ability to detach and say, "Okay, I'm stepping back. Oh, there's people shooting paintballs from over there. I'm not going to worry about that. Right this second, I'm going to assess where my team is." So you would learn the ability to do that. And that's one that almost every human can do that. Almost every human can learn that ability to detach. Occasionally, people can't. Occasionally, people just don't have the mental capacity. They just get too caught up in stuff and too emotional. And that's a person that's going to have a problem, but most people can learn.
[00:26:00] Jordan Harbinger: I'd be covered in paintballs. When I heard you guys train with paintballs, I was just thinking, "Yeah, I got to ring the bell already." Because I played that a couple of times and I'll tell you those things, they make you bleed and I'm thinking if this is what paintballs feel like, there's a reason guys like you do that job. And I talked to people and listened for a living, let me put it that way. The toughness element of the guys that you see on the teams is incredible. And even the training that we just read about, which I'm sure is a hundred deviations away from what it feels like to be in there, is incredible. I'm very curious. We talked about humility and good leaders. What other traits do bad leaders have in common? Is it just arrogance? Is it just ego that you see most of the time tripping people up.
[00:26:35] Jocko Willink: It's all going to stem from arrogance and ego. It's all going to stem from that. Because again, once you're arrogant and your ego's too big, now you can't take coaching. You can't even do a good, honest self-assessment. Nevermind an external coach, you can't even assess yourself and say, "You know what? That training mission we just went on, I didn't do a good job. If these are the mistakes I think I made. Where can I improve?" If you're arrogant, you have a big ego, you never say that. So now you're never making any improvements as a leader and you're not going to be a good leader.
[00:27:10] Jordan Harbinger: It comes down in large part to flexibility, your ability to be flexible in situations, namely your own ego and your own issues being the chief impediment to that flexibility and that ability to learn from the sound of it.
[00:27:23] Jocko Willink: Yes, the ability to be flexible and really that's the ability to adapt and improve and grow. And that's what you need to do in a leadership position, adapt, improve, and grow. Obviously, you need to do that personally, but then as a leader, you're leading your whole team to do that. And again, when you see an arrogant leader, sometimes they're so blinded by their own arrogance that they think that their team can do no wrong. And now we're not making any improvements, not only as an individual, we're not making any improvements as a team. It's a nightmare.
[00:27:52] Jordan Harbinger: In your situation where the stakes are so high, that's literally a life and death mistake.
[00:27:57] Jocko Willink: It was very, very bad. And that's why when we get those leaders coming through, we'd get rid of them.
[00:28:02] Jordan Harbinger: Can you tell us the boat crews?
[00:28:04] Jocko Willink: The book was written by myself and my buddy Leif Babin, who was one of the platoon commanders that worked for me in Ramadi. And this was a chapter that he wrote. When he came back from Iraq, he wasn't one of the instructors at SEAL training. To make a long story short, in one week of training, it's called Hell Week, you stay awake for five or six days, and you do a bunch of physical evolutions.
[00:28:22] And while you're doing that, you're divided into boat crews of seven, six, seven, eight guys, depending on how many people have quit and the boat crews race against each other. And of course, in the SEAL teams, it pays to be a winner. So you want to win the races. Because if you win the race, you get to rest. If you lose the race, you get punished and the punishment is going to be more physical activities. So during this particular Hell Week, that Leif was one of the instructors for, there was a boat crew that was winning. It was boat crew, number two. They were winning all the races, which is pretty common to see one boat crew who starts to dominate. And there's another boat crew, boat crew six, that was getting crushed in every race.
[00:28:58] And so one of the senior instructors came to Leif and said, "Hey, let's try something out. Let's switch the leaders," because each boat crew has a boat crew leader. And he said, "Let's switch these leaders out and see what happens." So they switched the boat crew leader from the winning boat crew leader went to the losing boat crew. The losing boat crew leader went to the winning boat. They all head out to do their races and lo and behold, the boat crew that had been losing every race that now had a good leader won the next race and then continued to win. The saying that the chapter's called is "no bad teams, only bad leaders," because if you put a good leader in a bad situation, they're going to turn that team around and step them up and get them to win.
[00:29:38] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Jocko Willink. We'll be right back.
[00:29:43] This episode is sponsored in part by TextExpander. People always think the emails and the messages I sent are from a robot, not actually me. They're shocked to find out that I am personally responding to thousands of messages every single week. The secret weapon that I'm sharing with all of you is TextExpander. Our team uses it, the whole team. It's like keyboard shortcuts on fire. Don't just hear it from me. A listener tried it out and had this to say about TextExpander. "I'm helping my team improve our everyday operations in the company. I presented it to the VP of operations. They were blown away by the tool. They want me to get this incorporated into the company and gave me serious props within the company. We have a customer service center. So a lot of the TextExpander functionality will help with ticket notes, but we also use it with our engineering team, which is just total bonus points." So you should try it for free and see how it can increase your productivity. And our listeners get 20 percent off their first year. Visit textexpander.com/podcast to learn more about TextExpander.
[00:30:35] This episode is also sponsored by Bambee. When running a business, HR issues can kill you. Wrongful termination suits, minimum wage requirements, labor regulations, and HR manager salaries are an average of $70,000 a year. Bambee, spelled B-A-M-B-E-E, was created specifically for small businesses. You can get a dedicated HR manager, craft HR policy, and maintain your compliance all for just $99 a month. With Bambee, you can change HR from your biggest liability to your biggest strength. Your dedicated HR manager is available by phone, email, real-time chat. From onboarding to terminations, they customize your policies to fit your business and they help you manage your employees day to day, all for just $99 a month. Month to month, no hidden fees, cancel anytime. You didn't start your business because you wanted to spend time on HR compliance.
[00:31:22] Jocko Willink: Go to bambee.com/jordan right now to schedule your free HR audit. That's bambee.com/jordan, spelled BAM- to the-B-E-E.com/jordan.
[00:31:31] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you so much for listening to and supporting the show. It's a great new year. I've got a lot planned. Your support of our advertisers. It's what keeps the lights on around here. I'm pretty sure y'all know that. That's why the show is free. To learn more and get links to all the discounts and all the codes you've heard, we've got a brand new page for it. It should work well on your phone. You can check out all the sponsors at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please do consider supporting those who support us and make this show possible, jordanharbinger.com/deals.
[00:31:59] Now, back to Jocko Willink.
[00:32:03] I almost thought you might've made this up when I read it originally, because it's such a perfect parable for this concept that I thought, "What are the odds that they actually witnessed this happening?" But the more I thought about it, the more I realized you probably witnessed this a bunch of different times. It's just not as clear cut away as it was in this boat crew race.
[00:32:19] Jocko Willink: While Leif was doing that training, which is the basic training, I was actually running the more advanced training of SEAL platoons getting ready to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. And so I would actually see this all the time. You would get a platoon that had a bad leader and they would be falling apart and failing training missions. And the guy would get fired. They'd bring a new leader and put them in and almost instantly, you would see them succeed.
[00:32:42] It's an outstanding example and it almost does seem unbelievable. And even Leif says, he says he couldn't believe it, but it is the reality. Again, I've seen it so many times. I can't even tell you. And the other thing is I would see SEAL platoons were — a SEAL platoon as a SEAL platoon. It's a bell curve for guys. There's awesome guys in there. There's a bunch of guys that are really good. There's a couple stragglers that are pretty lame, and then you put a leader in front of them. And that's pretty much what a SEAL platoon is. And when I'd go through this training, you know, some platoons would fail training operations over and over again. And some platoons would crush them and it was always based on how well the leader is.
[00:33:17] Jordan Harbinger: What really surprised me about this was how quickly the losing boat went to the winning boat. You can't even think, oh, well the winning boat, they had better athletic talent. They were less gassed out. These are endurance athletes. The other one was the guys who shouldn't have been there, but the fact that they won, they didn't even need like a ramp up, warmup period. "Oh, we're starting to get the hang of this leadership thing." No, it was like the next race, they came in and won. I can't even imagine what you would have to do or say, or the feeling that you would have to convey to get all these tired guys, who've been beaten up more than the other guys because they keep losing. So they're getting punished. They've had no rest.
[00:33:51] The other teams won a bunch, had a bunch of rest, maybe drank more water or whatever they're doing, chilling, laying on the beach at that time. And these guys turn around and beat the winners. And it was even easy to think, well, the winners were maybe lollygagging because they were like, "Nobody can touch us. We're so far ahead." But they did beat everyone else too. They wanted to win too. So everybody wanted to win just as bad. And these guys, they weren't just dead last. They were the guys where you're like, "Are they okay? They're so far back there. We don't even know what's happening to these guys. And they came back and crushed it.
[00:34:19] Jocko Willink: And a couple of dynamics that might make this a little bit clearer, if you look at a boat crew, when you're saying, "Hey, these guys were working harder than everybody," because they were getting beat. They were coming in last. They were probably working less. The effort that they were making was to fight with each other to say, "Hey, you need to paddle harder. Hey, what are you doing back over there?" It was them fighting amongst themselves. And so you put six guys, seven guys in a boat and you take those guys and you say everyone is paddling in different directions. Where's the boat going to go? The boat's not going to go anywhere. If you take those same seven guys or you say, "Hey guys, we're all going to paddle. We're all going to paddle in this direction. We're all going to paddle as hard as we can. And we're going to do it until we win." All of a sudden, you've got a unified team and that's the difference between winning and losing. And that's all comes down to leadership.
[00:35:03] Jordan Harbinger: This is serious intensity. Did you bring that to the SEALs or did that develop while you were there?
[00:35:09] Jocko Willink: I would say I always had a fairly intense personality, especially when I was passionate about something. And so I'd say it's part of my personality and I think that the SEAL teams was a place where that type of personality for me, it tended to water and fertilize my personality quite well.
[00:35:31] Jordan Harbinger: Right. You could have been a gym teacher, a Navy SEAL, but probably wouldn't have been great at French.
[00:35:36] Jocko Willink: They would have been some good gym classes.
[00:35:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. There would have been a lot of boat races. When you go into the special forces, obviously there's intense training, there's an intense vetting process, everyone who makes it through those seems to kind of start at the beginning of a new hierarchy, so what sets people apart in the new hierarchy, as opposed to the old one? Because a lot of those guys were probably running circles around everybody at basic and all the other training that they had, then they go to BUD/S or whatever, special forces, training camps for whatever branch. And then everyone's at a level playing field again, probably for the most part, anyway.
[00:36:10] Jocko Willink: Yeah. When you get through SEAL training and I checked into SEAL Team One, no one cares that you went through SEAL training. They don't care. Everyone's been through it. Literally, the master chief of the command said, "You made it through SEAL training. No one cares. We all made it through SEAL training. It means nothing here." So that's what you start with.
[00:36:28] Jordan Harbinger: What sets these guys apart? I mean, there's got to be a bunch of people who are all-star athletes. There's still going to be people that are more fit than the next guy. There's going to be somebody who's bulkier and can't run as far as fast or whatever, but what is it that sets somebody apart where you go, "This guy, this guy is next level. Like he seems to be really together. He seems to be really bulletproof when it comes to not having these weird mood swings or depression," or whatever it is that affects these guys? Or is it just, is that an illusion that it affects everybody all the time and some people are better at hiding it?
[00:36:58] Jocko Willink: No, I think when you get to any special operations unit or really any team, what is it that makes somebody shine in any team? They do a good job with their work. They work hard. For me, I can tell you, I wasn't the smartest guy in the world. I wasn't the best athlete in the world. I was like marginal performer when it comes to the runs, the swims. I passed what I needed to pass, but I wasn't winning. I don't think I won. Matter of fact, I know I didn't win a single run during BUD/S. I didn't win a single swim during BUD/S. I didn't win a single obstacle course. I didn't win any of that stuff. As far as you know, intelligence, I'm probably slightly smarter than your pad of paper.
[00:37:36] Jordan Harbinger: You pointed to the iPad first and then went, "Nah."
[00:37:40] Jocko Willink: So what are you going to do? For me, what did I do? I just worked hard. I just got to work before most people and the guys that I was friends with, that really rose to the top, they worked hard. They got to work before everybody else. They focused on the gear. They helped with the team. They always put the team before themselves. That's what makes a good team player. And that's what makes people excel in any organization, including the SEAL Teams.
[00:38:04] Jordan Harbinger: When did you first experience or see violence firsthand after becoming a SEAL then? Because it seems like you go through all of these simulations and you're training and you're going crazy with all of that. And you must, at some point think, "Let me add them. I'm ready for this." I would imagine there's some shift. There's some break between the reality of it and the imagination that you have during training.
[00:38:24] Jocko Willink: Well, the thing that's hard for a lot of people don't understand, especially folks that are younger. We were in a period of peace through the '90s from the end of the Gulf War until September 11th of 2001. That was my first 10 years in the SEAL Teams. I didn't shoot my weapon at the enemy for 13 years, my first 13 years in the military. And there were people that were in the SEAL Teams fromw — you know, they miss Vietnam War and they did a 30-year career and never shot their weapon at the enemy. That's hard for some people to understand, but that's the reality.
[00:39:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that makes sense now. I wondered about the timing.
[00:39:03] Jocko Willink: And so, yeah, it was 13 years for me before I shot my weapon at the enemy for the first time.
[00:39:08] Jordan Harbinger: Did you ever think this is never going to happen? We're going to go through this whole thing and never have to use our training, quote-unquote.
[00:39:14] Jocko Willink: I trained and the guys that I was friends with, we trained, like we were going into combat tomorrow. We always had that attitude. That's not how everybody thought, but me and my friends, that's how we thought. We thought we're going into combat tomorrow. We're going to be ready. That way when September 11th did happen, and when I did get my first firefight, I did feel ready. I was kind of stoked and also prepared. And so it wasn't this huge crazy thing that happened. It was just sort of, "Okay, this is what I trained for and let's do it."
[00:39:47] Jordan Harbinger: I'd wondered about the training intensity. And you said, not everybody did this, but it seems like obviously some people do, you have to be able to bring the intensity to your training. Otherwise, it seems like you just wouldn't make it. I mean, at some point you've got to be swimming along in the sea, you doing your 10,000 sit ups on the edge of one of those Zodiacs and going, "What the hell am I doing here? Why am I doing this? I'm never going to need this.
[00:40:08] Jocko Willink: You're right. If you had an attitude of just, "I'm never going to do this," then you're not going to be a good SEAL.
[00:40:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I won't even pretend that I belong there, but I feel like a lot of people probably feel that.
[00:40:18] Jocko Willink: No, I'm not saying you personally.
[00:40:19] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:40:19] Jocko Willink: I'm saying someone that thinks, "I'm never going to need to know how to do this," is not going to be a good SEAL because they're not going to have the right mentality when they're training. And to be honest, when I was running training, I was borderline psychotic, crazy about training because I had just got back from overseas. I knew where these guys were deploying to. I knew that blood had been spilled. I know my friends had been killed. My guys had been killed. And I knew that the training that I was giving them, the training that I was in charge of was what was going to keep them alive on the battlefield. So for me, the training was everything.
[00:40:56] And I did everything I could to make that training as realistic, as demanding as I wanted the training to be harder than combat, I wanted them to get into combat. And I actually had guys that came back and said to me, "Yeah, you know, we got in our first big firefight and I was waiting to turn a corner and see you standing there saying, 'Hey, we're going to bring the heat now.'"
[00:41:17] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:41:17] Jocko Willink: Because they were well prepared for these situations. And the reason they were well prepared was because we worked on the fundamental skills of combat, the fundamental skills of combat leadership. And then we drove them really hard. And the thing is what we try to do. And what I tried to do was to teach people to think I needed people to think. And that's what a lot of people don't understand about the military. Combat is an exercise in creativity. It really is. You need to be creative and you need to have a mind that is very thoughtful when you're in combat, because the enemy is going to do things you don't expect. The terrain is going to be something you don't expect.
[00:41:55] The people that work for you are going to do things that you don't expect. The equipment you have is going to do things that you don't expect. Nothing is going to go the way you planned it to go. So therefore, you have to have a very open mind, a very agile mind, and a mind that is ready to adapt and creatively find solutions to the problems that you confront.
[00:42:15] So when I was putting guys through training, we were giving them scenarios that the only way to get out of the scenario was to have a standard operating procedure, to know that standard operating procedure, to have the discipline, to execute the standard operating procedure. And then on the fly, decide that standard operating procedure is not going to work. We have to modify it this way. I have to think this way, and I've got to get my guys to come from a different direction. And now we're going to execute it and solve the problem. That's what I tried to train people to do. I try to train them to think.
[00:42:46] Jordan Harbinger: And you have to do that while things are exploding, people are shooting at you or worse. It's funny that you said some of your guys came back and expected combat to be harder. I can imagine running through a city where people are shooting, there's explosions in the distance, your support is too far away. And they're thinking, "Wow, this run is not nearly as taxing as it was last week when Jocko made us run 15 miles with our packs on or whatever."
[00:43:08] Jocko Willink: Just to be clear here, when I talk about the training that I ran, it wasn't physical training. In other words, it wasn't, "Hey, run 15 miles with a pack." We had simulated combat scenarios happening that were very, very realistic. I would hire actors to come down and special effects people to come down. We had them come down and make our cities look like they were in Iraq. And when you put down your night vision goggles, you could easily be in Iraq, easily. That's how outstanding the people did, re-creating scenes from Iraq, but then we bring down actors that were, you know, from whatever locale people where they're deploying to. So they'd hear the language. They'd have women. Oh, SEALs are easy with handling some guys. All I got to do is smash them down to the ground. What about when it's a 62-year-old woman that doesn't understand your language? How are you going to handle her? You know how you're going to handle it? You're going to have to think.
[00:44:01] So we would throw these scenarios and we would have special effects. So when you went into a room, a bomb would go off. And you get hit in the face with a bunch of cork and foam and there's smoke all around. And when the smoke clears, you hear screaming and on the floor is a guy with no legs and there's blood spraying all over the place and he's screaming. And that guy's an actor from Hollywood, an amputee actor. So now you say, "Okay, let's get the medic. Medic get over here. Start working on this guy." Just right when the leader calls the medic. And all of a sudden we start shooting them with paintballs from different directions.
[00:44:32] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Oh man.
[00:44:33] Jocko Willink: These are the kinds of training — I'm not talking about runs or swims. I'm talking about training to make people think.
[00:44:39] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, because of course, when I think of things like BUD/S, I think of what I see in movies or television, where you're running on the beach, you got a fin swim. You're doing the sit-ups on the edge of the zone. I mean, I'm already out of exercises.
[00:44:50] Jocko Willink: Yeah. And that's sort of the image of what SEALs are and it's actually a fraction of your SEAL career is any of that stuff. And what you learn in that is a lot less applicable. That's why I think, why our book has done well? It's because we're not saying, "Hey, do sit ups, you'll be a better leader." In fact, doing sit-ups has almost nothing to do with being a better leader. What has to do with being a better leader is learning the principles of leadership. And that's why I think we've done really well with the book.
[00:45:20] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned some of the people that work with you are going to do different things when they're under pressure, when they're under fire. We're sitting home in America watching Fox News or listening to the radio and we hear, "Oh, the Iraqi troops that we just trained, they just turned and ran." You just want to cry because you know how much trouble that we went through, that you guys went through to train these guys and how much money it costs and how big of a problem that is for their country and how that just does not bode well for the future of Iraq and Afghanistan. What's going on? When those people just say, screw this, even though they outnumber ISIS three to one, four to one, what are they doing? Why are they cutting bait?
[00:45:54] Jocko Willink: The lack of leadership. It's as simple as that. It's a lack of leadership. This is what needs to happen. This is the effect it's going to have. Here's why this is an important mission when no one's telling you that. And you're a 19-year-old Iraqi kid, that's from Baghdad. That's now out in the Al Anbar Province and you're seeing ISIS coming and you're thinking, "Okay, why is this important? What is this all about?" You know what you're going to do? You're going to run.
[00:46:18] Jordan Harbinger: You're going to run, yeah.
[00:46:18] Jocko Willink: But when you have good leadership, everything changes.
[00:46:21] Jordan Harbinger: Are we doing things to educate some of these guys in different ways? Because I remember one comment you'd made somewhere. You said, "All right, count off." And they were like, half the group couldn't count to five, not exaggerating. They couldn't count to five. Never had to do it. Grew up in a mud hut somewhere. Didn't know how to count to five. Other guys, when they were running, instead of just running, they were shooting their guns back over their head behind them while you guys, and whoever else was up front. Now, you're getting shot at, by your own guys, inadvertently and by the enemy. And all of your reinforcements are cutting and running. What's going on in your head when that happens? Is it just kind of a robotic calculation because of the amount of training that you've got, where you go, "All right, those guys are gone. Our numbers are now this. This is what has to happen"?
[00:47:04] Jocko Willink: That's what it is. You know, when you want to give yourself a quarter of a second to say, "I wish this wasn't happening."
[00:47:10] Jordan Harbinger: Dammit.
[00:47:11] Jocko Willink: "I wish those guys would do their job." And then you go, "Okay, now what are we going to do to deal with it?" One particular situation I remember is, you know, seeing these guys running, they're shooting back over their heads, you know, I'm just trying to get them to ceasefire. I'm literally looking at my guys down range. You know what I have to do? I need to mechanically say, "Hey, ceasefire. You stop shooting, lift your weapon." And get them to start acting responsibly with their weapons is the first thing I need to make happen. So yeah, you just go into a mode of, okay, here's the problem and here's what we've got to do to fix it.
[00:47:41] Jordan Harbinger: Do you find that mindset has translated really well to civilian life as well? It seems like the situations are definitely still there, slightly less lethal, hopefully.
[00:47:48] Jocko Willink: Yeah, it absolutely does. And when you work with any team or any company and they come into a bad situation, what are they going to do? Are they going to panic? Are they going to get mad at each other? If you see an Iraqi shooting in the wrong direction, and now just go into a temper tantrum and start yelling at them and start yelling at his leader and start going berserk. There may be a time when we get back to base where I may have to show anger. So I make sure that they get the message because if I've tried talking to them and I've tried counseling and I've tried pointing out to them, I've tried eight times to get this message across in a nice, calm, constructive way and it hasn't worked. Maybe it's time that I have to show some anger. I have to calculate that show some anger so that they go, "Wow, I don't want that to happen again. That really bothered this guy. This whole shooting in the wrong direction is a bad thing. And I won't let it happen again." So, yeah, but to do that in the heat of the battle, what good is that going to do?
[00:48:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it's more distraction than anything.
[00:48:43] Jocko Willink: And so it's the same thing in the civilian sector. You've got something happening in your market. You've got something happen to your competitor. You've got something happening with people that are leaving your company. They've been recruited somewhere else. Whatever situation you want to put up, okay, what are you going to do? Are you going to panic? Are you going to freak out? Are you going to get emotional or are you going to do something to actively resolve the issue? I vote that you do something to actively resolve the issue.
[00:49:06] Jordan Harbinger: Growing up with my dad, for example. He was an emotional guy. Now he's really chill. He handles stress a lot better now. I don't know. He must have had a more stressful job than I imagined. Now, that he's retired, he's great. But I get a lot of that from him and reading your book, for example, reading Extreme Ownership and learning from people who do things at a high performing level all the time, especially military, I find really are great at controlling some of that emotional response. Ironically, where you might normally have the most emotional response because the stakes are so high, you tend to be the best at controlling it. You find somebody who their gig is starting 10 minutes late and they're losing it, even though the stakes are relatively low. I find that to be something that I'm still wrapping my head around, because it seems like that's really hard to train and retain.
[00:49:48] Jocko Willink: Yeah. And your gig is starting in 10 minutes. So what you're going to do is go berserk and get crazy and work yourself and start sweating before you even walk out to your gig. When reality is, if you said, "Okay, it looks like we're starting 10 minutes late. You know what? I'm going to think of a good opening line right now." Yeah, I'm going to think of a way to soften this when I get out there and people go, "Wow, we've been waiting for this guy for a while and he's 10 minutes late." I'm going to have an opener, that's going to get them right back where I want them.
[00:50:13] So is that the better plan or is it a better plan to go yell at the microphone guy? Because his batteries were dead and now he doesn't have any backups. What benefit does that get you? And it goes back to what I talked about earlier. I talk about this on my podcast all the time. You got to detach from those situations, you got to detach from that emotion. You've got to detach from that chaos. And you just got to say, "Okay, how can I actually improve the situation I'm in?"
[00:50:37] Jordan Harbinger: It's funny that you use anger as a tool later on in order to convey an emotion. Because by that point, it may have dissipated to the point where you're like, "Well, we're still alive. That was bad. Oh, wait, hold on. I got to make sure you remember that that was bad. Let me think back to how I felt the second I saw you shooting over the shoulder with that rifle at one of my guys. All right, now I'm in the moment. Get over here and bring your commander with you.
[00:51:01] Jocko Willink: People don't follow robots. And robots don't have emotions. So the difference between you and a robot is the fact that you have emotions. So if you never show those emotions in any way, shape or form, you're a robot and people aren't going to follow you. Again, it's very important. I mean, you have to be in control of your emotions. And honestly, when I am getting angry, it's going to be a calculated decision to say, "Okay, I need to show this person some anger right now." Unless I'm dealing with some sort of technology, like a printer or a copy machine that might be real anger.
[00:51:35] Jordan Harbinger: Any kind of electronic device. Yeah. I think we all have that in common. Luckily now you got people for that. Back then, you know, unless that's part of extreme ownership, you're just like, "Look, I'm fixing this printer."
[00:51:45] Jocko Willink: No, I can't, I can't take ownership with printers. They hate me and I hate them.
[00:51:48] Jordan Harbinger: There's something going on there.
[00:51:50] Jocko Willink: Yeah. I mean, if I lost my temper with you, if you're my employee and I lost my temper with you and went all crazy. Is that going to make you increase your respect for me?
[00:51:58] Jordan Harbinger: Not a chance.
[00:51:59] Jocko Willink: Is it going to make you think, "Wow, I really want to work for this"? Is it going to even make you think I'm going to try and do my best job possible to keep this guy happy?
[00:52:07] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:52:07] Jocko Willink: Best case scenario I guess is that you're in fear of me and you're doing something to avoid getting yelled at. But is that going to help you get over an obstacle? It's just a bad situation. The temper thing, the emotional thing is generally something that needs to be controlled. It doesn't need to be eliminated, but it needs to be controlled.
[00:52:26] Jordan Harbinger: When you transitioned back into civilian life, was it hard for you to relate to civilians? Was there something that you had experienced that granted most of us have never experienced this? Did you find it hard to transition back into the civilian life in the military, especially being in Ramadi and the intense combat you saw there. .
[00:52:42] Jocko Willink: I mean coming back, I wasn't a civilian when I got back to Ramadi. I still had three years left and coming back from Ramadi, I was definitely, I was very focused on training. So I guess you could say that it took a little bit of time to readjust to saying, okay, this person isn't actually going to die. If they're standing in the street, getting hit with a paintball, it took me a little while to get away from that. But overall, you know, the interesting thing about the civilian world and combat is civilians deal with all kinds of crazy things, too.
[00:53:14] They deal with loss. They deal with disease. They deal with getting fired from their job. They deal with people committing suicide. They deal with all kinds of problems and issues that are just as heavy as what you might experience in combat. Now, the difference is that in combat, you get a lot of that in a very short period of time.
[00:53:30] So you get like a lifetime's worth of suffering in one deployment. If you have a rough deployment. And so you get some experience that you can, hopefully, learn from, and really, hopefully, you can pass that information on to people that, you know, and say, Hey, you know what, here's how I got through situations like that.
[00:53:46] Here's what my team did to get through a situation like that. I think what I try to do with it is I think combat makes you better. It makes you understand people more. It makes you understand human nature better because it's a lifetime of experience compressed into six months or a year. And so you should come out of that with some wisdom.
[00:54:05] Jordan Harbinger: So essentially it's real life with possibly higher stakes tuned up to 11 in terms of intensity. And then you come back from it thinking, all right. If I haven't learned anything from that, I'm in trouble. Most people come back having learned plenty, I would imagine.
[00:54:18] Jocko Willink: Yeah. And I think that's one of the things that happens as well. And obviously it's been in the news a lot is, you know, we have guys going into significant depression and even committing suicide—
[00:54:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:54:29] Jocko Willink: —which is obviously horrible. I think some of that comes from the fact that they dwell in those experiences and they stay there in their mind, instead of saying, "You know what? That was an experience. I'm lucky to have experienced a lifetime of situations and grief and sadness and happiness and joy." All those things in a year or in six months, that's heavy. But if people stay there and they dwell there and they don't move past it, that's where I think it becomes problematic.
[00:55:01] Jordan Harbinger: Do you ever miss Iraq or combat, do you ever miss it at all?
[00:55:03] Jocko Willink: Every day.
[00:55:04] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:55:05] Jocko Willink: Absolutely.
[00:55:06] Jordan Harbinger: What do you miss about it?
[00:55:08] Jocko Willink: The crystal clear, absolute focus of my whole existence into that situation.
[00:55:19] Jordan Harbinger: It's almost like mindfulness in a way, but you're completely immersed in that.
[00:55:23] Jocko Willink: Completely and 100 percent, everything about me is focused on this thing and it's very difficult to get that focused on anything else in the world.
[00:55:36] Jordan Harbinger: I would imagine. Do you think that's a primal instinct that just kicks in that we don't use much anymore? Or is it something you developed?
[00:55:42] Jocko Willink: Well, I think that combat is a very primal instinct and I think that's why people are drawn to it. I think that's why people join the military because they think, "I want to fight other people." I own an MMA gym. That MMA gym is filled with people. What do those people want to do? They want to fight other people. Yeah, I think it's primal. And I think it's part of being a human.
[00:56:02] Jordan Harbinger: You hear about war journalists — my friend, who's been on the show before, Dan Harris, who hosts Nightline. He was a war journalist for a while and he went to, I think, Iraq and Afghanistan. And he came back and he realized, "I'm addicted to the rush from being in this situation," the focus of being in the middle of conflict. And he wasn't even in the conflict, he was around the conflict and he felt like he needed to replace it. And he ended up with a drug problem actually, as a result, because he was looking for the spikes and the focus that you get from being in those situations. Most of us will never experience, or hopefully never experienced anything like that, unless that's what you're going for. But it does seem to be something that you find yourself thrusted in there and something in your lizard brain just turns on. And it seems like it would be hard to forget about that.
[00:56:46] Jocko Willink: It is hard to forget about it. Again, in my mind, I think what a person needs to do, that's struggling with that, is look at it in a positive light. Look, those experiences in a positive light and be happy that you were lucky enough to live through that and experience those things and experienced a lifetime of struggle and strife and happiness and joy and sorrow. A lifetime of that in a six-month deployment or a one-year deployment or a 14-month deployment, or however long that lasted for, but then once it's over, instead of staying in that cycle and looking back towards that, look forward. Don't dwell on the past, but look forward to the future.
[00:57:29] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Jocko Willink. We'll be right back.
[00:57:33] This episode is also sponsored by Better Help online therapy. We talk about Better Help a lot on the show. And this month we're discussing some of the stigmas around mental health. We've been taught that mental health shouldn't be a part of normal life. That is definitely wrong, in my opinion. We take care of our bodies. We go to the gym or you get a trainer. You go to the doctor when you don't feel well, you try to eat right. We should be focusing on our minds, just as much. Many people think therapy is for broken crazy people. That's nonsense. Therapy doesn't mean anything is wrong with you. It means that you recognize that we need to manage and control our emotions and not bury our heads in the sand and let these things run amuck and do damage. Better Help is customized online therapy that offers video, phone, even live chat sessions with your therapist. You don't have to see anyone on camera if you don't want to. You don't have to drive. You don't have to park. You don't even have to get out of bed or off your own couch. It's much more affordable than in-person therapy, and they'll match you up in a couple of days. Give it a try. See why over two million people have used Better Help online therapy.
[00:58:27] Jen Harbinger: For 10 percent off your first month, visit betterhelp.com/jordan. That's better-H-E-L-P.com/jordan and join over two million people who've taken charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced professional.
[00:58:38] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Progressive. Progressive helps you get a great rate on car insurance, even if it's not with them. They have a comparison tool that puts rates side-by-side so you choose a rate and coverage that works for you. So let's say you're interested in lowering your rate on your car insurance — who isn't? Visit progressive.com to get a quote with all the coverages you want. You'll see Progressive's rate and their tool will provide options from other companies all lined up and easy to compare. So all you have to do is choose the rate and coverages that you like. Progressive gives you options so you can make the best choice for you. You could be looking forward to saving money in the very near future. More money for maybe a pair of noise-canceling headphones, a couple of Xbox games, maybe a new laptop, whatever brings you joy. Get a quote today at progressive.com. It's just one small step you can make today that can make a big impact on your budget tomorrow.
[00:59:24] Jen Harbinger: Progress Casualty Insurance Company and affiliates. National Annual Average Insurance Savings by New Customers surveyed in 2020. Potential savings will vary. Discounts vary and are not available in all states and situations.
[00:59:34] Jordan Harbinger: By the way, you can now rate the show if you're listening on Spotify. This is a huge help. It makes the show more visible on Spotify in the charts. Just go to jordanharbinger.com/spotify, or better yet search for us in your Spotify app and click the dots on the right to make it happen.
[00:59:49] And now for the rest of my conversation with Jocko Willink.
[00:59:54] I mean, if I were in your shoes, I'm not sure I could switch from fighting bad guys in Ramadi to hanging out at my MMA gym in San Diego, without maybe having some things in the back of my head. Do you think about this at night as well? Is this something that, do you wake up at night thinking, what's the enemy doing? Or do you have any kind of thought processes that you can't turn off that you developed while you were there?
[01:00:16] Jocko Willink: Yeah. This all comes with some level of paranoia and some level of continually thinking about things that could happen. So yes, yes, and I like it. I like it. I want to have that. I'm happy that I have that. It makes me, me. And so I'm good with it.
[01:00:36] Jordan Harbinger: Is it even a darkness or is this something that's like, "No, this is a thought process that I have. It's part of me now." It seems like for you, it's become more a part of you and less of a demon that you have to continually keep at bay in the back of your head.
[01:00:50] Jocko Willink: War is darkness, war is evil and there's evil people doing horrible things and war. And I think probably the difference between a lot of veterans and active duty people is they recognize that there's darkness and horribleness, they recognize that the evil is real. And I think that's, you know, with my podcast, and so often I hear from veterans, they just said, "Thanks, man. I know what you're talking about." And even people that are relatives of veterans that write me and say, "Hey, you know what? I understand what my brother is thinking. I understand what my son is thinking. I understand where he's been. I understand it now. And so I think that, yeah, there's darkness in the world. And if you ignore it or you act like it's not there. That's just a little fantasy bubble that you live in and you're not facing reality. And when the darkness does enter your world, which is going to enter your world at some point, I don't care who you are. Some things are going to happen. Life is going to happen. Death is going to happen. And if you ignore those things throughout your life, you won't be prepared when they come.
[01:01:53] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned extreme ownership is a mindset and the attitude. Tell us, first of all, what that means to you, what the phrase extreme ownership means?
[01:02:01] Jocko Willink: To me, the phrase extreme ownership—
[01:02:03] Jordan Harbinger: Self-explanatory?
[01:02:04] Jocko Willink: —means extreme ownership. The thing that's interesting about it is it's so easy. And as you said earlier, it's so simple to understand what it means, but it is definitely challenging to execute. Simple to understand, not easy to execute. Now, once you get in the mindset of it, once you develop the attitude of extreme ownership, then it's very easy to do. And even you, after you read the book, you saw someone that wasn't implementing extreme ownership and they were blaming other people for something that went wrong and it stands out like a sore thumb. And so what it is, it's not making excuses, not passing blame onto anybody else, taking ownership of everything that affects you and your mission and making it right. That's what extreme ownership is.
[01:02:48] Jordan Harbinger: Why is it important? Because I'm thinking, look, when we kind of alluded to this earlier in the interview as well, somebody else makes a mistake at work. Why am I going to sit here and take the blame for it? What if I get in trouble? Won't this reflect poorly on me?
[01:03:00] Jocko Willink: Actually no. If your subordinate makes a mistake and you blame them, that will actually reflect horribly on you. And anybody in a leadership position that has people working for them that are blaming their team when things go wrong is not going to be a respected leader. They're going to be seen as a detriment. Whereas if something goes wrong with my team, they miss a deadline, they don't finish what they're supposed to do. And I step up and say, "Hey, we didn't get this done. We didn't accomplish our objective. This is my fault because I'm the leader. And these are the changes I'm going to make to fix it next time around." Now, all of a sudden you say, "Okay, I respect that. And I have faith that you're actually going to implement those changes." Whereas if all you're doing is blaming other people, we're not getting anywhere. Nothing's going to change.
[01:03:47] Jordan Harbinger: How do you implement this then? Is this a top-down type of thing? When you go in and you teach this to CEOs and businesses, you start with them, I assume?
[01:03:55] Jocko Willink: We sometimes do. But sometimes we get brought in at various levels of companies. The simplest way to explain how to implement this is to start doing it. And it can start at any level of chain of command. For instance, if I work for you and you come back and you say, Hey, we failed this project, it's your fault Jocko." And I go, "You know what, boss? This is my fault. This is my fault. Here's what I did wrong. Here's the mistakes I made with my team. Here's what I'm going to do to fix it." Now, what are you going to say? Are you going to say you're damn right? That was your fault. No, you're going to look at me and say, "Wow, this guy's stepping up," and you're going to start to take ownership of what you did wrong. "You know what, Jocko? I could have done better giving you more time to get this done. I set the deadline too early. That's my fault." All of a sudden we got problems and we're both taking ownership of the problems and we're both solving the problems. And when you have a team where everybody is solving the problems, that's when you end up with a really, truly highly performing team.
[01:04:50] Jordan Harbinger: Is this something you came up with to train in the teams or is this something that's been around for a while that you codified?
[01:04:55] Jocko Willink: It's something that — in the SEAL Teams, it's just the way I was. And in the SEAL Teams, I would identify the difference between people that took ownership and people that didn't. Leaders that took ownership and what those teams would look like, what those platoons would look like, what those tasks units would look like. And leaders that didn't take ownership and what those teams would look like and what those platoons would look like. And the difference was stark.
[01:05:21] And so when we moved into the civilian world, I saw the same thing. When people took ownership of things, then it became the whole team took ownership. And when people didn't take ownership, no one on the team took ownership. It was an idea that then formulated, the more I saw it, eventually, I said, "Oh, this is it. These people take ownership. These people don't." The actual term stemmed from an email that I wrote to a leader. And I was saying, "Listen, I see everyone pointing fingers at each other. When I was in a SEAL Task Unit, when I was a Task Unit Commander of Task Unit Bruiser, the commander would go around the room and say, "What do you need?" To the different task unit commanders, "What do you need?" And a guy would say, "Well, we need this gear and we need this. And I need more training on that." And you go to the next guy, and the next guy would say, "We need Internet out at the training facility and we need this and this other thing."
[01:06:11] And the commander would get to me and he'd say, "Jocko, what do you need?" And I said, "I don't need anything. We're good to go." Because if there was a problem, I'm not going to tell my boss, I'm going to solve that problem. I'm going to get that gear. I'm going to figure it out. And I said, in the email, I said, "I took ownership, extreme ownership of everything in my world. I wasn't out there saying I need this and I need that. I just took ownership of it." And that phrase is what kind of caught on with some folks that we work with and said, "We need to take extreme ownership." And I said, "Yes, you do. You do need to take extreme ownership," and it kind of built from this.
[01:06:41] Jordan Harbinger: Are there any times when it doesn't make sense to say, "Okay, this is my fault"? Are there exceptions to this somewhere?
[01:06:46] Jocko Willink: For most of the time, I mean a vast majority of time.
[01:06:49] Jordan Harbinger: Probably in hypothetical land, there is one, but—
[01:06:52] Jocko Willink: We've worked with scores of different companies, small companies, big companies, Fortune 500 companies, little startups. We've worked with every kind of company and not once have I said, "You know what? This is going to go a lot better if you don't take ownership of what's happening." I haven't said, "Hey, you should blame your team." Or, "You know what? Your boss isn't giving you the support you need. You should blame your boss. You should fail the mission. You blame your boss." I haven't said that one time yet.
[01:07:16] Jordan Harbinger: If we're working in an organization, can I suddenly read this book — which will be linked up in the show notes, of course, kind of read this book and go, "I'm doing this," and then have it affect the other people around me. What if I'm low on the totem pole? Is this still going to work?
[01:07:28] Jocko Willink: It absolutely will. I was the youngest and most junior guy in my first two SEAL platoons. I had this attitude back then and that spreads. All of my buddies acted like this. We all acted like this. We weren't going to blame, if something went wrong, if the boat motor didn't run, we didn't blame each other. We said, "Okay, this is our problem. How do we get this thing fixed? How do we make sure we need to run the motors more? We need to make sure the fuel doesn't get contaminated by the saltwater because this is what happens. And now we've ended up with this situation. How can we overcome that problem?" We didn't say, "Hey, that guy's responsible for the fuel. The fuel was contaminated. It's his fault. He better fix it next time." No, we worked together as a team to solve these problems.
[01:08:05] Jordan Harbinger: To clarify, this isn't just, "Oh, well, you know, I didn't do something. So everybody gets mad at me." There's something being done here with the blame where you're just absorbing it so you can move beyond it. Correct?
[01:08:17] Jocko Willink: Just to kind of spell it out. And this is kind of an anecdote that I talk about. If we take a SEAL troop and they're going out on a training operation and they're horrible, everything goes bad. They come back from this training operation and you know, I go, "Okay, boss." I said, "Hey boss, that didn't go too well. What happened out there?" And if the boss says, "Well, I'll tell you what went wrong. Number one, Jordan, he was charged with the assault team. He didn't have enough guys, which means he couldn't take down the target quick enough, which means we were out there for too long. That was ridiculous. Jordan needs to fix what he's doing. He might even get fired. And then Jen, who was in charge of the Humvees, guess what? She didn't show up where she was supposed to show up with the Humvees to pick us up. That's her fault. She's ridiculous. I can't believe that you did that, Jen."
[01:09:00] So now what's your reaction when I do that? What's your reaction when I blame you? What's anybody's reaction when I blame—?
[01:09:06] Jordan Harbinger: Defensiveness.
[01:09:06] Jocko Willink: You're going to get defensive and you are going to blame someone else. You're going to blame members of your team. You're going to blame me. You might not say it, but you might blame me for not giving you what you needed. And so now you've got a problem. You're not solving it. Jen's feeling the same way. She's not solving her problem. We got a disaster on our hands. It's horrible.
[01:09:24] So now, let's take the same scenario. We go out on a training operation. We send a troop out on a training operation. They do a horrible job. They come back and we'll go to the debriefing room. And I say, "Hey, boss, that didn't go too well. What happened?" And he says, "Well, you know what? First of all, Jordan went to hit the target and I didn't give him enough guys to take down the target. I thought it was a smaller target building. I thought he could get it done. That's my fault, Jordan. I didn't give you the resources you needed. I apologize. It won't happen again. Next time, we'll definitely have a face to face. And Jen, you missed us at the extract point with the vehicles. I can't believe that I let you walk out of the brief without confirming that you knew where you needed to be and when you needed to be there and not just you, but your whole team should have known that. And so that's my fault too. I let you walk out of the brief without the information you needed. So that's my fault. And from now on, I'm going to get that confirmed."
[01:10:14] Now, what's your attitude going to be? Now what's your attitude? Jordan's going to say, "You know what, boss, I looked at the target longer than you. You had other stuff going on. I knew I might need more guys. I thought I could pull it off, but I went underhanded. I won't let that happen again. It's my fault. We'll get it solved." And then Jen is going to look at me and say, "Hey, you know what, boss? I walked out of the brief. I thought I knew. And I thought to myself, maybe I should confirm, but I didn't say anything. And the fact that my whole team was out there and didn't know where to go and when to go there. And I didn't confirm that. What happens if I get shot? Now we're lost." And so Jen would have taken ownership of that problem. So what we ended up again, what we ended up with is a whole team, with our whole team grabbing hold of those problems, taking ownership of those problems and then solving the problems. And that's the huge difference.
[01:10:58] Jordan Harbinger: Right. You end up instead of looking for how to defend yourself or blame other people, or point fingers you think, "Okay, what did I do that contributed to this that we can then fix for next time? So we don't end up in the same situation again."
[01:11:09] Jocko Willink: Like if I say, "Hey, it was my fault. You know, I didn't explain it to you or I didn't study the target well enough and I didn't get—?" You don't look at me and say, "That's right boss. It was your fault. That was pathetic." No, you feel bad because we got a unified vision. We're trying to make something happen and you let me down.
[01:11:24] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:11:24] Jocko Willink: I'm not going to say that. I'm going to say I let you down and I'm going to mean it. This isn't about just lip service of, "Hey, this is all my fault, gents. Sorry." No, this is about, I truly believe that if I sent you on this target without enough people, that is my fault and I need to fix it.
[01:11:42] Jordan Harbinger: The only thing I can see getting in the way of this would be an ego problem. We mentioned this earlier. How do you strip the ego out of somebody who might otherwise be a good leader, but is hung up on maybe accolades or validation or avoiding any kind of dirty hands for any sh*t that goes down that's not up to snuff. How do we strip the ego out of somebody like that? Or do you have to filter for people like that? Are those people salvageable at all?
[01:12:05] Jocko Willink: It can happen. It can happen. But if you want to remove someone's ego. It's going to come from the pain and suffering of failure. And so, you know, in the SEAL Teams, by the time you get into a leadership position, generally, you've been through enough pain and suffering and failure to realize you're going to make mistakes, and it's okay. We already talked about this, but if I take blame for something as a leader, you don't lose respect for me. You go, "Wow. He's stepping up and taking the blame for all this stuff. I respect that guy," but people that haven't been in these situations before they are insecure in their own leadership. They think, "If I admit that I'm wrong, or I take blame for something, everyone's going to look at me like I'm a worse leader than I am. And I can't handle that. No, because I'm the best person in the world." You're a hundred percent, right? I mean, that's why there's a chapter in the book called Check the Ego because the ego is a massive problem if you let it get out of control. And the way that ego gets checked over time is my life, is by failure, is by reality. That's what humbles you over time.
[01:13:09] Jordan Harbinger: You mention that as a leader, it's not what you preach. It's what you tolerate. Can you tell us about that? I feel like in every organization that I've ever been a part of what people tolerate, what we, as an organization tolerate, it starts to expand over time and eventually it poisons everything.
[01:13:26] Jocko Willink: Yeah. And that's actually a line that Leif wrote and it's true. He told a story the other day. This was when I was a troop commander. He was one of the platoon commanders and we were going through this block of training, really hard training, really stressful training, really physical training out in the desert in the summertime. And the block of training is about three weeks long of preparation and learning tactics and gun fighting. And then they put you into field training exercises where you're going to do these big exercises, these big training operations. And in between those two little sections, there's a break where they give you a day or two days where you can go and they'll let you go into town. Maybe guys have some beers and let off some steam and whatever, you know, he was telling the story that that's what SEAL Task Units do when they're at this training site.
[01:14:12] And when we went through training and that day came, they didn't even come to me and say, "Hey, can we go out tonight? Hey, can we go and have a few beers?" They knew what I would say. They knew that what I would say was, "Listen, we are out here to train. We've got training operations coming up. We need to be ready on those. When we get back to San Diego, we'll go drinking some beers. But right now, what we need to focus on is the job at hand. There's not going to be any slack out here. Let's not do that."
[01:14:37] And that's because those guys knew me. They knew what I was going to tolerate. And they knew also that I didn't even have to preach that stuff. You know, those guys were just on board. Everyone in that task unit wanted to be the best. Everyone in that task unit was ready to do what they had to do to get the best reputation we could have. And that's why we performed really well.
[01:14:56] Jordan Harbinger: Do you get to select the people in your task unit? Or is this something that you have to build the people in your task unit?
[01:15:01] Jocko Willink: You get assigned to people.
[01:15:03] Jordan Harbinger: So everybody that was there was a good performer in large part, because if they weren't quite up to it, when they got assigned to you, they fell in line because of the training.
[01:15:13] Jocko Willink: Yeah. And they got help. We help each other out.
[01:15:15] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[01:15:15] Jocko Willink: We took guys that needed extra training. We'd give them extra training. Anybody that didn't understand something, we'd make sure they understood it. And our goal was that everybody in the task unit was good to go.
[01:15:27] Jordan Harbinger: It must be almost weird being separated from people like that. After going through things like combat and where you're watching each other's back and you're always together 24/7, it almost seems like separation anxiety.
[01:15:37] Jocko Willink: Oh yeah. You get, we call that team guy separation anxiety.
[01:15:39] Jordan Harbinger: Oh really?
[01:15:40] Jocko Willink: You're used to being with SEALs and now you're not with them anymore.
[01:15:42] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:15:42] Jocko Willink: And so you go through this phase of what does the world really about when I'm not around all these guys, because you work with them, you eat with them, you drink with them, you work out with them, and you actually live with them. So while I was in the SEAL teams, no doubt, my family saw a lot less of me than my platoon did. They're not even close, not even in the same ballpark. It's probably 75 percent with the troop, with the platoon, and 25 percent with the family.
[01:16:11] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned that when you were in combat, when you were in Ramadi, Iraq in general, you didn't have a lot of photos of your family up on the wall. Why was that? Is that a focus thing for you? '
[01:16:22] Jocko Willink: Because I had guys that were putting their lives on the line on a daily basis, and I needed to be focused on making sure that I did everything I could to make them as safe as possible and give them the best chances of going out, executing their mission, and coming back. Every time the guys rolled out the gate, there was a significant chance — they were going to get in a firefight. That was a given, there was a significant chance that they were going to die. So what could I do? What could I be thinking about? What could I be adjusting? What could I be looking at? What intelligence could I be pouring over that increases their capability of accomplishing the mission, to staying alive. So these two things can't be weighed against each other. My family's in San Diego, they're going to school, getting their school lunches. They're going to the beach on the weekends. They're going to be fine. I can't think about them right now.
[01:17:17] Jordan Harbinger: It sounds like how we started the show with you can only focus on the things that you can control. There's no point worrying about other things.
[01:17:24] Jocko Willink: Yes. And I was not worried about my family. Of course, do I care about my family? Absolutely. I've been married for a long time. I got four awesome kids. That's great. But I can't be thinking about them when I got lives at stake.
[01:17:37] Jordan Harbinger: Last, but definitely not least, there's a concept in the book that leaders should never be satisfied. Can you speak to that? Of course, we're always striving to improve. But how do we create that and build that mindset into the team? Is it simply just leading by example? Because it feels like there's always going to be some people that will fall in line.
[01:17:54] Jocko Willink: You should absolutely be leading by example. You should absolutely be living that example, not just at work, but with your life and how you're doing mentally, physically. What are you doing to get smarter? What are you doing to get better? What are you doing to become a better leader? What are you doing to become a better follower? All those things and you apply those things from your personal life to your team, because you want your team to be saying the same things and thinking the same things. What can we do to be a stronger team? What can we do to be a smarter team, be a better team? That's what you want as a leader.
[01:18:29] As a matter of fact, you can't impose this on them. You can't be, as a leader, you can't be in everyone's head or standing over their shoulders all the time. What you have to do is you have to foster this culture where everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to do the best. Everybody wants to improve. That's what you're looking for. And when you end up doing that with your team and you convey that culture of excellence, of not being satisfied as a person or as a team, when you convey that and you instill that culture, you will end up with excellence across the board.
[01:19:03] Jordan Harbinger: Jocko, thank you very much.
[01:19:04] Jocko Willink: Thanks for having me on. Appreciate it.
[01:19:08] Jordan Harbinger: I've got some thoughts on this episode, of course. But before I get into that, here's a sample of my interview with Maria Konnikova, who went from being someone who had no interest whatsoever in poker to raking in big bucks as an international poker champion. Here's a quick look inside.
[01:19:23] Maria Konnikova: Poker is actually the perfect game for human decision-making because it's a game of incomplete information. No one cares where the hell you went to school. No one cares what you look like. No one cares what you did or didn't do. If you can afford the buy in, great.
[01:19:39] So there are people sitting at the table, some of them have Ivy League education, others of whom dropped out of high school and had to wrestle with homelessness and built up their bankroll from $10 and took that $10 and are now millionaires.
[01:19:53] We make decisions and incorporate things that really shouldn't matter all the time. Like the weather, we don't realize that we're depressed because it's raining outside. And instead we're like, "Oh, life sucks, everything sucks." But it's so cool that if you draw someone's attention to the reason why they're feeling this way, they're totally capable of discounting it and saying, "Oh, okay. Yeah, I'm depressed right now but it's because of the weather."
[01:20:17] Can you figure out not just your own triggers, but the other person's triggers. Some people when they lose a lot, they're going to become really cautious because they don't want to lose even more. Some people when they lose a lot are going to become extra reckless because they want to gain it back very, very quickly. Same event, totally different reactions.
[01:20:34] Can I try to figure out what the psychological dynamic for this person is? How did they react to loss? Some people when they win a lot, they're going to become extra cautious because now they don't want to lose it. They're like, "Oh, I have all these chips. I want to guard them." Other people when they win a lot, they're like, "Yeah, let's push my advantage. Let's go."
[01:20:51] If you can start to figure out and pull apart things like that, all of a sudden you have a really good psychological picture of the person and you can take advantage of it. This really intrigued me. I thought, let me read more about this poker thing and decided, "Hey, you know what? This is my book. Why don't I learn poker? Why don't I actually see how far I can go?" And I ended up becoming good and winning a major international title and getting a sponsorship from Poker Stars and joining TeamPro and somehow found myself as a professional poker player.
[01:21:23] Jordan Harbinger: For more including how people make decisions and what poker can tell us about reading human motivation, how to spot real physical tells at the poker table and in real life, and how we can control and prevent emotional thinking aka going on tilt, check out episode 371 of The Jordan Harbinger Show with Maria Konnikova.
[01:21:44] Well, intense interview. I remember it very clearly. This is about half a decade ago now, but this is one of those where I thought, "Wow. Okay. I got to do more of these in person." There's just an energy there. That's not present when you're on freaking Zoom. Done on the spot, flew down to see him in San Diego. I'm thankful we did this in person. It was just great to meet, great to hang out. Great to do it face to face.. And look, extreme ownership is a very powerful principle that seems — maybe even overly simplistic at first, right? But it is far harder to implement than it seems at first glance. People think they take responsibility, but when you really take extreme ownership, you see the changes right away. I've seen this in my own life. I've seen this in my business. I highly recommend people read it and do it and implement it right away. You will see results. There will be a yield from this for you.
[01:22:29] We'll link to all things Jocko in the show notes as well. Please use our website links if you buy books from any author on the show. It helps support the show when you do that. Transcripts in the show notes. There's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or just hit me on LinkedIn.
[01:22:47] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same system, software, and tiny habits that I use over in our Six-Minute Networking course. The course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. I'm teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty. And most of the guests that you hear on the show subscribe to the course, they contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where I know you belong.
[01:23:09] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know any Jocko fans or somebody who needs to learn about the concepts of extreme ownership, please do share this episode with them. And hopefully, you find something great in every episode of this podcast. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.