Today I interview one of the baddest men on the planet, Retired Navy SEAL Commander, Jocko Willink.
We talk about his new book Extreme Ownership, lessons learned from war, leading men, and how to eliminate excuses and take charge of your life.
“Extreme ownership is an attitude of not making excuses for anything.” Tweet That— Jocko Willink
Jocko Willink spent 20 years in the Navy SEALS as first, a SEAL operator then, a SEAL officer. He retired in 2010 after serving as the SEAL Commander of Task Unit Bruiser in Ramadi, Iraq.
At the time, Ramadi, was one of the most dangerous places on the planet. I can attest to that as I was there roughly the same time Jocko was.
Through the combination of efforts between his unit and other military forces, he helped bring stability to the region and Task Unit Bruiser became the highest decorated special operations units of the war in Iraq.
He is a bronze and silver star recipient, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Blackbelt, the former Officer-in-Charge of training all West Coast SEAL Teams, a New York Times Best-Selling Author, and, like I mentioned before, one of the baddest men on the planet.
Today he talks with us about war, leadership, and owning your decisions and your life.
“The ONE person you can control is yourself.” Tweet That— Jocko Willink
What You’ll Be Learning
- What it means to take Extreme Ownership in your life
- The single biggest obstacle in taking ownership
- How to recognize a lack of ownership in your life
- How manipulation can be used for good in the lives of those you’re leading
- Why your team may not be on board with your vision as a leader
- The MOST important skill for leadership
- How the “Laws of Combat” can help you lead effectively
“If you’re in a leadership position, the first person you need to lead is yourself.” Tweet That— Jocko Willink
Link and Resources Mentioned
“Discipline is what gives you freedom in life.” Tweet That— Jocko Willink
Connect with Jocko Willink
- Website: www.JockoPodcast.com
- Website: www.EchelonFront.com
- Twitter: Jocko Willink
- Facebook: Jocko Willink
“Discipline is what gives you freedom in life.” Tweet That— Jocko Willink
Ryan Michler: Jocko, what’s going on man? Glad you’re here. Thanks for joining us on the show today.
Jocko Willink: I’m glad to be here.
Ryan: So, I want to talk about this book that you wrote because it’s blowing up. I read it, it’s probably one of the best books on leadership that I’ve ever personally gone through. I know a lot of the guys that are listening to the show really resonate with the message that you’re sharing because it’s a similar message to what we share, and so I’d like to get your perspective Jocko, when you say extreme ownership, what are you talking about?
Jocko: Well, extreme ownership is an attitude and a mindset that you have -that I have -of not making excuses for anything and not blaming other people when things go wrong. And, if there’s problems or issues that arise, instead of blaming other people or blaming circumstances, you just take ownership of the problems and you get them fixed and solved.
Ryan: And so I guess the reality is this is not all that common, right? I mean we see a lot of people, leaders, whether it’s fathers and husbands or business owners, community leaders, politicians, who don’t have this mindset. So what’s the disconnect between what you’re saying and what reality is actually telling us?
Jocko: You know, I wouldn’t say it’s totally uncommon. I mean I hang out with a bunch of great people that do take ownership of stuff, and you know when I served in the military there was great guys in the military and women that took ownership of their part of the mission, and executed it in an outstanding manner.
But you would see, not only in military, now that I work with businesses you do see oftentimes unfortunately you do see people blaming, again like I said, blaming other people, blaming circumstances, instead of just taking ownership of the problem and getting the thing solved, getting to it.
Ryan: Why do you think we’re more concerned about blaming somebody else or blaming some outside factor, something that we don’t have any control over, rather than just taking responsibility? Because it almost seems like, and based on our limited interaction, and the book, that this is like common sense stuff. That if you actually take ownership, you’re gonna improve whatever area of life you’re working to improve. So why aren’t guys doing this? Why aren’t they taking ownership, especially when it comes to business like you mentioned? Is it because it’s easier to shift the blame or what?
Jocko: The biggest obstacle when it comes to taking ownership of things, and ownership of problems, is your ego. Your ego is absolutely the biggest issue that comes up because no one wants to admit hey I made a mistake or I did something wrong. It hurts your ego to say that, and it hurts your ego to say that hey the reason that we failed on this mission is because I made a mistake, or I didn’t foresee what the enemy was gonna do. It’s my fault. That hurts everyone’s ego.
And so everyone’s ego is a part of their brain that it’s hard to get under control, and when you can’t get your ego under control then you can’t admit when you’ve made mistakes. And when you can’t admit that you’ve made mistakes, then you can’t fix the mistakes. So you know ego is not a bad thing, I’m not saying ego’s a bad thing, because ego is what drives people.
You know I have an ego, of course. That’s what drives people to do well, that’s what drives you to compete, that’s what drives you to try and win, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when your ego gets out of control and starts to control you instead of you controlling your ego, that’s when it becomes problematic and a lot of times it manifests itself in a person not being able to say hey you know what, this didn’t go the way I wanted it to go, and it’s my fault. And if you can’t say that you’re not gonna change and you’re not gonna fix things.
Ryan: So how do you recognize this, in yourself mostly? Because I think a lot of the times a guy might have this ego or this arrogance and, like you said, there’s a fine line between it being effective and productive in your life and then it keeping you from accomplishing the things that you wanna accomplish. How do you recognize ego or pride in yourself to the point where it becomes a fault?
Jocko: There’s some red flags that will start to pop up that should be telling you that your ego is starting to encroach on your decision making process. So one is if you start getting really frustrated with other people and you start saying wow, this person doesn’t do that, and they don’t do this, and they need to do a better job, and you’re just, when you start blaming other people, that’s a little red flag that you need to start checking yourself.
Because you can’t control other people. I mean you can guide them, you can lead them, but you can’t control them. And they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. And so the one person you can control is yourself. So when you start getting frustrated with other people, aim that frustration at yourself and see what you can do to fix your situation instead of just sitting around and blaming other people.
So when you start to feel angry, when you start to feel frustrated, when you start to feel emotional, a lot of times that’s driven by ego.
Ryan: Interesting, yeah, and that makes sense. And I like what you talked, you talked a lot about in the book about leadership and just what you said, that you can’t control other people. And I think a lot of the times leaders tend to make that mistake where they think that their job is to manipulate and coerce and push and drive and get people to change. But I guess what you’re saying is that if you change are people naturally going to respond to that?
Jocko: Yes, and I mean leadership, you are trying to get people to do what you want them to do. That is what leadership is. You’re trying to get a team or a group of people unified and behind a plan, a common plan everyone agrees on that you’re going to move forward and execute some kind of a mission. That’s what leadership is.
Ryan: Sure, makes sense.
Jocko: And the difference between, you know I would say that leadership is manipulation. It is. I mean if I’m trying to get you to do something Ryan, and I’m talking and I’m using certain vocabulary and I’m treating you a certain way because I’m trying to get you to do something, I mean that’s manipulation, right? I’m trying to get you to do something.
Now, in my mind it’s only manipulation if I’m trying to get you to do something that is not beneficial to you and it’s beneficial to me only. It’s only trying to help me. That’s manipulation if I’m only trying to help myself. But what if I’m trying to get you to do something that’s gonna help you and it’s gonna help the team?
Ryan: Especially if I’ve asked you to do it, right? If I’ve asked you to guide me or coach me or lead me then that’s something entirely different.
Jocko: Yeah, that’s leadership.
Now the tactics and techniques that a manipulator might use might be similar to what a leader might use, but the intent and the outcome of what a leader is trying to do, a leader, I actually want you to win. I actually want you to be more successful than me. I want you to do, I want this change that you make to make you surpass everything I’ve done. That’s what a leader is trying to do. A leader is trying to really get you to do better than themselves, and I think that when people are being led and they recognize that, they recognize that the leader is putting the people and the team ahead of them, I think people very easily recognize that, and that actually causes you to work even harder to try and perform the mission.
Ryan: Right, and so I mean obviously you’ve got firsthand experience with this with Task Unit Bruiser and Ramadi, and I know you’re leading a team there. Are there some things that we can extract from the lessons that you learned leading your team that we can extract there and figure out some of these tactics that you talk about to implement in our own lives to lead our businesses or lead our families?
Jocko: Well yeah, absolutely. We, Leif Babin who was one of the platoon commanders that worked for me in Task Unit Bruiser and a brother of mine, and I actually wrote an entire book on that very subject. On how what we did and how we led in combat transfers into how you lead people in the civilian sector, and how you lead people in life, and how you lead yourself. Because you know you’re in a leadership position, the first person you have to lead is yourself. You have to get yourself going in the right direction. You have to discipline yourself. You have to make sure that you are upholding the standard.
And that’s the first and most critical piece of leadership is making sure you’re leading yourself. And then once you get beyond that, now you start leading your team, and yeah those lessons absolutely transfer over from combat to civilian world to business world and to life.
Ryan: Let’s talk about the concept of self-discipline, because I know that this is a popular topic and obviously there’s a lot of self-help gurus talking about this, and there’s two sides to it. There’s self-discipline, which is forcing yourself to do something, and then there’s another side of it that I think a lot of people are just naturally driven, that it’s not discipline, it’s just the way in which they’re wired. So where’s the differentiation? How do you become more disciplined for yourself so that you can start leading these teams like you’re talking about?
Jocko: Well, to become disciplined is, one of the best things about the discipline characteristic is, I don’t believe it is something that you’re either born or not born with. I think that it’s just a choice that you make. Are you going to wake up early in the morning? Yes or no? Are you then going to put yourself through some kind of a grinding physical workout? Yes or no? Are you then going to approach the tasks for your designated job for the day with passion and get them accomplished? Yes or no?
All those are just simple questions about what you do in daily life, and depending on how you answer those, yes or no, either yes I’m going to get up early, yes I’m going to work out hard, yes I’m going to accomplish my task for the day. Those are just the disciplined answers, very simply, or no I’m going to be lazy and sleep in. No I’m not gonna push myself physically. And no I’m not gonna attack the tasks that I have for the day. And those are lack of discipline, and that’s what your life will begin to reflect is an undisciplined life.
And the key component for me, and again this is something that I wrote about in the book, is the discipline is what gives you freedom in life. And it’s not, you know, just because you live in a structured, organized, and rigid life like I do, it doesn’t mean that my life is confined or restrained. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Because I live a disciplined life, I actually have more freedom than most people do. I mean, I have a ton of freedom in my life, and the way the things I’m able to do because of the disciplined life that I’ve lead.
And so people lose track of that a little bit, and all they want is the freedom. They want that, they just wanna do whatever they want. Well you can’t do whatever you want. It takes discipline to get to that point in your life, and that’s why I think it’s that, that mantra of mine of discipline equals freedom is a key component of moving forward and attaining the things that you want. Because you’re not gonna, no one’s gonna give you anything. No one’s gonna knock on Ryan’s door and say hey, here’s the good deal you’ve been looking for. That’s not gonna happen. You gotta make it happen.
And the only way you’re gonna make it happen is through hard work and discipline, and so that’s why if you become disciplined and you choose to be disciplined you will end up with more freedom in the long run.
Ryan: And that’s a great point because I think what you just said, when I read this in the book it made total sense to me, and I think the point is that discipline is a choice which is creating freedom. Because you don’t have to get out of bed early, you don’t have to bust your ass at the gym, but if you choose to that’s gonna create more opportunities in your life.
Ryan: So what do you say to the guy, here’s what’s gonna happen: somebody’s gonna hear this, and I’m gonna get a message or an email that says well Ryan, I really want to get up early, I really want to go work out, like I wanna do these things, but I don’t know how to get started, or I don’t know how to keep doing it or stay consistent. What do you say to that guy?
Jocko: I’d say you’re being mentally weak. I mean, that’s, you know, wake up, get out of bed, do pushups and sit-ups. You don’t need any equipment, you don’t need anything to do that. Go do some burpees. You don’t need any equipment to do that. Set your alarm clock, get up, get out of bed, and make these things happen.
A person like that, again, you can’t deliver someone the discipline. They have to bring it themselves. And so if someone says that they can’t do that, I say I’m sorry to hear that. I will continue to go out and crush, and you can stay back behind in your bed and watch your life slip away.
Ryan: I love that you paused for that answer because like it’s so matter of fact, and it’s so black and white, that it’s almost like why would you even ask that question? Because I totally agree with you, I’m just curious about what you would say to that, so that makes total sense.
You know it also brings up a really good point, which is that we can’t be consumed with what other people are doing or the way other people are behaving. And how do you address this when you’re working with a team that may be, for example in the military, and this is probably a little bit more when I was in the military rather than you, it’s like you don’t get to choose necessarily your team. I know with Navy Seals there’s obviously a greater weeding out process than what I had when I went through the military, but how do you do this with a team that maybe not everybody’s on board with the vision you have for what you’re trying to accomplish?
Jocko: Well, I wonder why they’re not on board with the vision.
Ryan: You’re coming back to leadership.
Jocko: Yeah. If I’ve come up with a good vision that makes sense that we can accomplish that’s gonna be done in a logical way that’s going to improve the situation for our team, why would you not be on board with it?
Ryan: Yeah, makes sense.
Jocko: Is it only because I’m not communicating well enough, I’m not leading well enough, I’m not convincing you well enough, I’m not answering the question why, I’m not explaining why. Those things all come back onto me if my team doesn’t wanna do what I think is the right thing to do. And you know what else? I could be wrong. I could have the wrong vision. And if I don’t discuss that with you and say hey Ryan, here’s what we want to do, here’s what I wanna get, here’s how I wanna make it happen, and you don’t agree with it, and I just tell you to shut up and do what I said, well are you gonna do it?
Ryan: Yeah, right of course not. There’s gonna be contention there.
Jocko: There’s gonna be contention, and even if I quote unquote outrank you and you work for me and you’re my subordinate and I tell you do to it, are you gonna do it? You might do it. Are you gonna give it your full effort? No. Are you gonna push past any obstacles that come up? No. I mean it’s just gonna be bad, bad, and bad. So that, once again, boils down to leadership.
And one of the critical points is: oh my team doesn’t want to do the mission. They’re not on board with the mission. My team’s fault that they’re not on board. Wrong answer. Mister leader, it’s your fault that they’re not on board. It’s your fault, it’s my fault that my team doesn’t wanna do this mission. It’s not my team’s fault. I’m the leader. How can I blame my team? I’m the leader. So that’s just another excuse for a leader to make and say hey, my team’s not good, they weren’t selected, they weren’t trained. Oh my team wasn’t trained? Cool, train them.
Ryan: Right, right that’s on you, right?
Ryan: Yeah, one of the stories that I really like in the book that you talk about was an incident of fratricide, or I guess it was near, was it fratricide or was it near that? I can’t remember.
Jocko: Yes, it was an incident where there was multiple units out on the battlefield, Seals, Marines, Army, and Iraqi army soldiers, and there was a fratricide or blue on blue where we had friendlies shooting at each other, including seals and Iraqi soldiers. And yes there was a fratricide, and one of the Iraqi soldiers was killed, one of my Seals was wounded, and it was an absolutely horrific scenario.
Ryan: Yeah, and I think from the outside looking in without really understanding the concepts you’re talking about in this book, it would be easy to say: well there’s nothing you could have done. I mean this is just part of the deal. This is what happens and there’s nothing you can do, and you can blame it on these outside factors. But I’d like to hear a little bit about how you handled that situation because it almost seems like it was a surprise to the commanders above you when you came into the situation and explained what really happened and how you took responsibility for that.
Jocko: Yeah, so the event happened, the scenario happened, like I said it was awful. We shut down operations, we the Seal, my Seal unit, we shut down operations, we were ordered to shut down operations. We went back to our base. I immediately get the message hey you need to prepare a brief on what happened. And I knew that this was, you know, because my commanding officer said, my commanding officer, my command master chief, and the investigating officer were gonna come out and find out what happened. And they were absolutely looking to relieve somebody, is what they call it in the military which that means in the civilian world it means fire somebody. So who are we gonna fire that this bad thing happened out on the battle field, who are we going to fire?
And so I started putting together my brief on what happened, and I mean it was a very, I understood what had happened. There was units that moved to the wrong position, there were other units that didn’t report where they were, there was people moving to positions that they shouldn’t have moved to. A bunch of things, people moving before timeframes that they were supposed to move, people going beyond limits that they were supposed to advance beyond. So there was a bunch of mistakes that were made.
And as I put this together, you know there was all these different people that had made these mistakes throughout the chain of command with my guys, with Army guys, with Iraqi soldiers, with the Marine corps that was with the Iraqi soldiers, there was all kinds of mistakes that were made. And once I completed it, you know, I had all this blame for everybody else. And literally twenty minutes before I walked in to debrief my commanding officer, the investigating officer, and the commanding master chief, I still didn’t feel as if it was right. I didn’t understand why it didn’t make sense to me, why it didn’t feel conclusive about where the blame was being placed.
Ryan: Sure, right.
Jocko: And I wasn’t quite sure what was nagging at me, and then it just hit me like a bolt of lightning that hey idiot, what’s missing is that you are the person to blame. Me. And so walked into the room with the commanding officer and the command master chief and the investigating officer and all of my guys, including the guy that had been wounded sitting in the back of the room with his head bandaged up.
And I just said hey guys, you know, who’s fault was this? And one of the guys raised his hand, said it was my fault, I didn’t pass where we were gonna be in time. And I said no it wasn’t your fault. Another guy raised his hand and said no it was my fault, I should have identified the target I was shooting at better and realized who it was and I didn’t, that’s my fault. And I said no it’s not your fault. Then another guy raised his hand, and finally I just said look guys, this was not your fault, it was not your fault, and it was not your fault. There’s only one person to blame for this happening, and that’s me. I’m the commander, I’m overall responsible for everything that happens out there, and I will promise you it will never happen again.
And I would say that it was surprising to my commanding officer and everyone really. Maybe not my guys because my guys knew me, but they also knew that I didn’t have to take the blame. You know, they knew that there was other people that I could have tried to point the finger at, but they also knew me well enough to think that I wouldn’t do that. But so that’s what I did. And you know I actually think that my commanding officer, his trust for me actually increased. It didn’t decrease, it increased, because he realized that I was gonna be, I would take responsibility if things happened. And so it was definitely a big lesson learned, and certainly, it was certainly a moment in my life that absolutely crystallized the idea of extreme ownership.
Ryan: Sure, yeah and I really like that you said it helped develop trust. Not only probably with your commanding officer like you talk about but then the trust level with your team knowing that hey, our leader, this guy is actually going to go to bat for us in you know this situation, where else is he gonna go to bat for us too?
The other point that you made is that you were realistic about the problems that went wrong, so I want there to be a distinction between just blindly taking ownership and just not worrying about what happened and just saying oh it’s my fault, and then being realistic about what actually happened but still deciding that yes it’s my fault and here’s the actions that we’re gonna take to correct the situation.
Jocko: Well, you have to truly believe, this is another thing, you can’t just go out there and stand up in front and say hey guys, it’s my fault, sorry I let you down. That’s not real. You have to actually believe that it’s your fault. I wasn’t just saying like oh this was my fault guys, I’ll take responsibility. No. I truly believed this, everything that happened was my fault. So I look at the guy that had let the Iraqis advance further than they should have. Well guess what? I was in charge of the planning, I should have made it perfectly clear where they were allowed to go, where they could and could not go, what time they were supposed to be there. I should have owned that more and made it perfectly clear down the chain of command. I failed to do that, therefore the Iraqis went to a wrong position.
I should have talked more in-depth to my guys about the criticality of positively identifying your targets. I should have explained that there could be Iraqis in the area. We need to triple confirm who you’re engaging as a target. And by the way, they’re gonna be using clothing and uniforms that look like pictures of what we’ve seen the enemy use. So we need to triple confirm before we engage. Well guess what? I said that. I didn’t obviously make it clear enough. Truly my fault. I’m not just lip service and saying oh it was all my fault. No, these are things that I need to do.
Now, the beautiful thing about extreme ownership and having that attitude and that mindset, when I said that to my guys they didn’t turn around and point their fingers at me and say that’s right, you should have told us. That’s right… no, no. They said no Jocko, I should have known. I’m a grown man, I’m a Seal, I should have known, I should have done that, it’s my fault. So what we had was everyone taking ownership of the problems and everyone getting the problem solved as opposed to if I pointed the finger then they would point the finger and everyone would be pointing the finger and no one would be able to solve the problem.
Ryan: Sure, yeah. Makes sense. So how do you plan for some of these unknowns? Because there’s a lot of situations and scenarios that could have played out that are impossible probably to really fully recognize what could happen before it actually happened, so how does a man adapt and overcome some of these things when they just can’t be planned for?
Jocko: Well first of all nothing in life can be a hundred percent planned for, and so that’s why the most important characteristic for a leadership to have in terms of adapting on the battlefield is the key word is adaptability. And the way that you get adaptability in combat is to prepare, in preparing for combat, is to put people in scenarios that they cannot predict. They put people in scenarios where they have to make decisions that they would not normally make.
In fact, one of the best things to do is give people restrictions and say okay Ryan, here’s the operation I want you to go on, and no matter what I don’t want you to cross this line. And you say okay got it Jocko, now I send you out on the operation and I set up the operation so that you get put in a situation where the only way you can win is to cross the line and disobey what I told you. Because what I want you to do is I want you to think, and I wanna train you to be able to think. I don’t wanna train you to obey orders. That’s what robots do right? I don’t wanna train you to obey orders. That’s not what, that’s not what military training is about for me. What military training is about for me, and when I ran training this is what I emphasized, is that military training and training in general is that I want you to think. That’s what I want you to do, I want you to think.
If you’re a construction worker and something is happening on the construction site I want you to think about how to win in that situation. If we’re in the financial world and there’s something happening in the markets, I don’t want you to have to come back to me and say hey Jocko, this is what’s happening. What should I do? No, I want you to think. I want you to know. I want you to decide. I want you to take action. Because as long as it takes you to come back and ask me what my opinion is, but first you have to tell me what’s going on, you have to give me the parameters of the situation, I can’t react fast enough and tell you what to do. So I need you to lead. And in order for you to be able to lead, you need to be able to think.
So the thought process is extremely important, and that’s what I always emphasized in training. And I think that applies, it does, it applies to everything that humans do as a team. And you know, in the book we talk about decentralized command. That’s what decentralized command is, is ensuring that the people that are below you specifically in the chain of command, that you’ve got them in a situation where they understand what they’re doing, they understand why they’re doing it, and once they know that then you know what? Once you and I Ryan, I trust you, you know our standard operating procedures, you know what my expectations are of you are to get done and make happen, and you know the parameters within which I want you to work, I can let you go out and do whatever you want. Because you’re gonna stay within the guidelines.
And I just talked about this on my podcast the other day: guess what your kids are? They’re your little troopers. And if your kids are gonna go out, you’re not gonna be there for every decision they have to make. You’re not gonna be there when somebody hands them drugs. You’re not gonna be there when something bad is happening. You’re not gonna be there when they’ve had a couple alcoholic drinks and now they feel like they need to drive somewhere. You’re not gonna be there to impose your rules on them. You have to give them the rules of their own so they understand why it’s important and that if you can make the right decisions on their own without your oversight. That’s what you want from your kids, from your employees, and from everybody you work with on your team.
Ryan: I really like this concept, and I use it to a small degree. I’ve got four kids, my oldest is eight years old, and we talk about taking out the trash. That’s one of his chores. And he came in the other day and he said I can’t take it out, it’s too heavy. And I said son you’ve gotta find a way to do it. The mission is to take the trash to the curb and you’ve gotta find a way to do it. I don’t know how you’re gonna do it, but make it work.
And so he went out there and he started taking bags out of one and put it in another and hauled them both to the curb. Came back in as proud as you can be because I didn’t have to tell him how to do it. He knew what the mission was, and he just figured it out on his own.
Jocko: Yeah, one of the things that I’d say is if you’re helping your kids you’re hurting your kids. Kind of counter-intuitive, but if you would have gone and helped your son take the trash out and done it for him, then he wouldn’t have learned that lesson, he wouldn’t have learned to think for himself. He wouldn’t have learned about the, I mean it’s a simple thing right? Taking out the trash? He learned a lesson from it. He learned about persistence. He learned about solving problems. And that’s a beautiful thing. If you just did it for him he wouldn’t have learned those things, and that builds up over a lifetime.
Ryan: So you talk about one of the laws of combat being decentralized command, which we just addressed. Let’s go through some of these others, because I think they’re important. So the next one, and I don’t know that these are necessarily in order, but cover and move. Let’s talk about what that is.
Jocko: Well cover and move is, well you were in the Army and again thank you for your service. For those of you who don’t know, you may not know this, but Ryan was, well you were in the Army right?
Ryan: Army, yeah. National Guard and then I went into the Army.
Jocko: And served in a little place in western Iraq in Alumbar Province called Ramadi, which in the time that he was there and the time I was there it was absolutely the epicenter of the insurgency and one of the worst places on Earth. And so thank you for your service Ryan and what you did over there.
But when it comes to cover and move, you being an Army guy this is the most fundamental of all gun fighting tactics is cover and move. So if Ryan and I are gonna go take down a building, I’m gonna get some cover and I’m gonna start engaging the building and shooting at the building, and that makes the guys inside, the bad guys, it keeps their heads down. And they are hiding. And that means Ryan can get up and maneuver to a better position. Once Ryan gets to a better position, he starts engaging the enemy. And while he’s engaging the enemy and keeping the heads down, I get up and move. Once I get up and move and I find a better position, I do it again, I start shooting and Ryan can move again, and that’s what we do. We bound together, we bound and cover each other’s movement. That’s called cover and move.
Now, if Ryan is up and running and I decide I’m gonna stop shooting, well that means the enemy is gonna pop their head up, they’re gonna see Ryan, and they’re gonna kill him. And so the basic concept of cover and move is teamwork, and working together with your team. Everyone doing their job together in support of one another in order to accomplish the mission, and the key piece of this is that if I decide I’m just gonna go on my own, Ryan’s gonna get killed. And by the way, once Ryan gets killed, now the enemy is gonna fire and maneuver on me. They’re gonna cover and move on me. They’re gonna kill me.
Ryan: Right, because you’re not covered.
Jocko: So the, essentially cover and move is just the essence of teamwork and working together as a team. In every business is what we found, as soon as we started working with businesses, every business in the world has multiple different units inside of it where they’ve all gotta do their piece of the job, they’ve all gotta do their piece of the mission, and they’ve all gotta cover for each other as they move. So that’s why it translates very well to the business world. You know, you’ve got sales departments and operation departments and engineering departments and human resource departments and each one of these little departments has gotta do their part of the job in order for the team to win. And that’s what cover and move is all about.
Ryan: Love it, makes total sense. Let’s move to the next one, which is simple. Simplicity.
Jocko: You’ve gotta keep things simple.
Ryan: Easy. That’s the only answer you could have given right there, right?
Jocko: Yes, and there’s no denying it, and we see complex plans fall apart all the time, and we also see people that communicate their plans in a complex manner not being understood and therefore if people cannot understand what you want them to do, they cannot execute. So you must give people direction in a simple, clear, concise manner so that they can make it happen.
Ryan: Excellent. And then the last one you talk about in the book, which is prioritize and execute.
Jocko: Yeah, prioritize and execute is the simple fact that in combat you’re gonna have multiple things that are gonna be going wrong at the same time. And when all these things are happening, all these things are going wrong, so you’ve got wounded guys, you got, you’re in a firefight, you’ve got your forces all split up, you’ve got friendly forces maneuvering in the area that you need to coordinate with, you’ve got enemy forces that you’re getting reports on that you need to go and handle. You got all these problems taking place at the same time, and I’d see these young Seal officers when I was putting them through training, where we’d put them in these complex scenarios, they would try and solve all the problems at once. So they’d put a couple guys over there, a couple guys over there, a couple guys doing something else, and even their own braid they would spread thin over these different situations. So they didn’t really understand any of them.
And so when you try and handle all of these problems at the same time the fact of the matter is you don’t get any of them taken care of. You don’t solve any of the problems. So what you have to do with prioritize and execute is take a look at all the problems that you have, figure out what the most impactful or important one is, and then go take care of that problem, focus your efforts on it. When you get done with that problem you can move on to the next one and so on down the line until you’ve solved the problems you’ve gotta solve.
Ryan: Yeah, and this makes complete sense. You know one of the questions I get asked all the time is how do I start a business? And I think what guys are really saying when we get into this question is you know do I start with Facebook, and then how do I incorporate, and where to I talk about it, and do I start a podcast, and just like you’re saying, we get so consumed with all the everything that’s out there in the world that they could be doing that they forget to take that first step which is to start having a conversation about what it is you wanna talk about, right? And so that makes complete sense what you’re talking about here.
Jocko: Yeah if you wanna start a business, start doing that thing. Never mind the Facebook, never mind the Twitter. Start doing the thing that’s gonna help people solve whatever problem they have in their world, and that’s how you start your business.
Ryan: Yeah, and I think what the underlying theme is with this, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that I go back to that first part of the conversation we had we talked a lot about ego, right? If you’re not covering and moving, if you’re not keeping things simple, if you’re not decentralizing your command, a lot of that comes back to that you want the power and control. You’re not willing to give it to anybody else to accomplish the mission.
Jocko: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. You’ve gotta decentralize your command, you’ve gotta make sure that you’re allowing other people to lead. And if your ego gets out of control, you won’t be able to do that. You won’t be able to take the time, or you won’t be able to have the confidence. Because that’s what it is. If I’m insecure as a leader and Ryan, my subordinate, starts to step up, guess what happens to me? All of a sudden I start saying oh I think he’s gonna make me look bad. I think…
Ryan: Yeah you feel threatened.
Jocko: Yeah, I’m gonna feel threatened, and I’m gonna now use my authority to squash Ryan and make myself look good and feed my disgustingly hungry ego.
Ryan: Right, right.
Jocko: Once you have confidence in your leadership, Ryan does something good, Ryan starts to step up, Ryan starts to lead, I don’t bat you down. I actually prop you up. I actually pull you up. I actually want you to do better. I actually want you to lead the missions and I’m gonna take a step back. That’s what a real confident leader does. Real confident leader isn’t intimidated or doesn’t feel threatened when someone below, them, above them, to the side of them, wherever in the chain of command starts to do something well and starts to lead in a certain situation. That doesn’t bother me. I’m happy. I’m happy when people lead. It’s great. That means I can focus on something else.
Ryan: And there’s a great quote that great leaders don’t create followers, they create more great leaders, and that’s what you’re talking about here.
Jocko: Yeah that’s affirmative.
Ryan: So this has been so valuable. A ton of information for a guy to chew on, there’s a ton more that we could get into, but what I’m gonna do at this point is say guys if you wanna learn about this, go buy the book. Because I promise if you buy the book and incorporate Jocko, which you and […] (00:36:20) were talking about, it will literally change your life. Like I believe it’s that powerful. So I really appreciate you Jocko.
As we wind down on time I wanna ask you a question that I ask all of my guests, and the question is: what does it mean to be a man?
Jocko: So, I guess for me, what does it mean to be a man… well for one thing I do have three daughters and I don’t think I would tell them anything different about how to act as a human as I would tell my son who obviously is going to grow into a man. So for me it’s maybe not just about being a man but being a person. And for me it’s real simple stuff. I’m not gonna say anything profound here. Be disciplined, work hard, keep your word, help people, do a good job with what you engage in, and don’t let people down.
Ryan: Awesome, yeah, so powerful. And just like you said, I mean these are not gender-specific. This goes across all genders. Every human being can incorporate that into their lives, right?
Ryan: Well Jocko, if we wanna connect with you, I know guys that are listening to this are going to want to. They’re gonna wanna buy the book, they’re gonna wanna learn more about what you’re doing. What is the best way to connect with you and follow the work that you’re doing?
Jocko: Well probably the book is available everywhere, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, anywhere they sell books they have the book, and so that’s awesome. Appreciate it. And as far as connecting with us, or, I have a podcast called Jocko Podcast, and that’s been getting a lot of feedback so people are stoked on it. We talk about all this stuff all the time. It’s about leadership, it’s about war, it’s about fighting, it’s about physical fitness, it’s about failure, it’s about everything. It’s about life, that’s what it’s about. It’s about life. My perspective on life, and so that’s, so you can definitely check out the Jocko podcast, and if you wanna find me on the Interwebs the most common thing for me to check is Twitter. I’m @jockowillink, and I also have Facebook which is Jocko Willink, and I forget how you say it when it’s Facebook but if you search for Jocko Willink, and then there’s also Jocko Podcast on Facebook. And people submit questions through Twitter and through Facebook, and I try and address those on the podcast, or I just answer people. If they ask me a question and I’ve got an answer to it that I can just give a simple answer on Twitter, on Facebook, I just answer them and do my best to do that to spread the word.
Ryan: Awesome, yeah, and I know you’re super responsive. You and I have responded back and forth a couple of times. And we’ll make sure we make all the links in the show notes guys, so if you wanna connect with Jocko those will be on the show notes page, so make sure you check that out. You’ll be able to connect with him. Jocko I wanna tell you I appreciate you, I appreciate your work, I appreciate your service to our country as well. So the feeling is definitely mutual, especially as where we shared a little time in Ramadi and I appreciate you taking some time to join us and share some of your wisdom with us today.
Jocko: Alright, thanks man. Everybody that’s out there, go get after it.
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