Jocko Willink (@jockowillink) is a retired Navy SEAL commander, podcaster, co-author of New York Times Best Seller Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, and author of Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual. His upcoming Marc’s Mission: Way of the Warrior Kid (A Novel) will be out soon.

“That pillow is suffocating your dreams!” -Jocko Willink

What We Discuss with Jocko Willink:

  • Effective leadership values and strategies are the same across all fields and industries — whether you’re a Navy SEAL, an office manager, or a startup entrepreneur.
  • The difference between motivation and discipline.
  • The intersection between leadership and humility.
  • How to create a practice of discipline that will be there when we need it.
  • A good leader isn’t necessarily the most skilled person in the room, but he or she knows how to bring out the best in everyone to create a solid team.
  • And much more…

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In Baghdad and Ramadi, Jocko Willink commanded SEAL Task Unit Bruiser — the most highly decorated special operations unit of the Iraq War. Retired from active duty, he and Leif Babin, his business partner and co-author of New York Times Best Seller Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, share their battle-tested strategies for effective leadership with civilians across all fields.

Jocko joins us to discuss the difference between motivation and discipline, offer humility adjustments both for those who lack confidence and those whose egos need a little downsizing, share real tactics for bringing out the best in those around us by owning our responsibility to the big picture, and lots more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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More About This Show

When retired Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin of Echelon Front published Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win in 2015, they may have been least surprised of anyone that it would go on to become a New York Times Best Seller.

“I think it’s because the principles that we talk about in that book apply to all leadership,” says Jocko. “This week I went and talked to two different companies in two completely different industries and when I got done with both of them, they both came up and they were saying, ‘It seems like you’ve been embedded with us for six months to know what’s been going on…it’s crazy that you can know this much about the company!’

“Guess what? I told both these two companies the same thing: the problems, the issues, the leadership challenges that all companies face? They’re all the same. And they’re the same leadership issues that a SEAL team would face.”

The work climates can be as different as an oil company office, a military base, or a small town shoe store, but the problems remain static — ranging from a lack of the right personnel to a lack of resourcing, and bosses who abuse their place in the hierarchy to employees who consistently underperform. Luckily, similar problems have similar solutions, which is what Jocko strives to impart to those of us who seek them.

Humility Adjustments

It’s not uncommon to wish we knew in our youth what we know now. In theory, we might have avoided numerous hardships and embarrassments if only we had access to a time machine and the eager ears of our younger selves to listen. But the only thing Jocko would tell his 20-year-old self is that he doesn’t know anything.

“When you’re 20 years old, you definitely don’t know anything, but you think you know everything,” Jocko says. “I thought I had the world figured out. And it’s like five-year increments. When you’re 25, you say, ‘Oh, man, when I was 20, I didn’t know anything. But I know everything now!’ And then when you’re 30, you’re saying, ‘Oh, when I was 25, I didn’t know anything, but I sure know everything now!’ 35, same thing. Then you get to 40, and you say, ‘Okay, I recognize a trend. I didn’t know anything then, and I don’t anything now! I need to have an open mind and continue to learn.”

Whenever Jocko has found himself leading someone who thinks they know everything, he has a way of bringing their ego down to size while making it a learning — not a humiliating — experience. He simply assigns them a task that’s outside of their competency level, all the while expressing he’s sure they can handle it. One of two things happens:

  1. Either the person realizes the task is beyond their capabilities and humbly communicates as much, or…
  2. The person is too arrogant to ask for help and fails. In both cases: lesson learned. Humility delivered.

On the other side of it, Jocko has a method for dealing with people who might be a little too humble because they lack confidence. This time, he’ll assign a task he knows is challenging, but not beyond the person’s capability. Again, he’ll offer encouraging words, but leave them to it.

“You do it, you handle it, and your confidence would grow a little bit,” says Jocko. “That’s how I’m going to build you up to where you can take my job, which is what I want.”

A Leader’s Real Strengths

A good leader isn’t necessarily the most skilled person in the room, but he or she understands the strengths and weaknesses of everyone else in the room and knows how they can best fit together as a solid team.

In fact, a good leader doesn’t even have to be the person in the fancy corner office who’s been officially designated as the one “in charge.” A good leader knows how to work from their rank and bring out the best in others — even if those others are technically higher in the hierarchy.

For instance, Jocko explains how you can disagree with what you think is one of your boss’ worst ideas in a way that’s not offensive. Rather than just outright saying, “The way that you’re executing this is wrong; I don’t think it’s a good plan,” you could say, “This plan you’ve got? I really need some help understanding it, because I want to make sure I’m able to execute it really well. Can you explain to me a couple of points on why you set this up like this and why this is over here like that?”

It gets the boss to more deeply consider their plan and possibly understand the flaws as you see them, while respecting the hierarchy and showing that you’re not trying to undermine their efforts. It earns trust because the boss knows you’re trying to help the team win, and he or she will be more open to what you’re saying.

It also considers the possibility that maybe the boss’ plan was good all along and, by allowing for an explanation, your perspective has been brought around.

In the end, it’s all about getting a job done well. Ego has no place in this equation.

How Does Discipline Equal Freedom?

In his book Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual, Jocko tells us he gets up around 4:30 a.m. every day. For him, it’s a simple way to start the day with a win — but he’s not motivated to do it, he’s disciplined.

“People ask me all the time, ‘How do you get up so early?’ or ‘How can I wake up earlier in the morning?'” says Jocko. “And I say, ‘Okay. Here’s what you’ve got to do. Set your alarm clock. When it goes off in the morning, get out of bed and go do your stuff.’ That’s what I do. I don’t have some mystical ritual that I go through that prepares me mentally for the morning rise! No. When the freaking alarm clock goes off, I get up and get out of bed and start doing what I’m supposed to do. That’s the difference.”

Jocko concedes that getting up at 4:30 a.m. isn’t right for everyone. But what is important is finding a consistent time that works for you and then committing to it.

Motivation is temporary. Discipline is forever.

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about the differences between internal and external discipline, how Jocko succeeded in the military in spite of being anti-authoritarian at his core, how small decisions make big changes in the trajectory of life, how Jocko beat his spoken word album position on Amazon by releasing another spoken word album, what we can learn from observing the bad habits of others (particularly leaders), why Jocko now champions journaling after ignoring it for most of his life, where the comfortable path inevitably leads, why Jocko will probably never eat another jelly donut in his life, and lots more.


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