The Dichotomy of Leadership cover

The Dichotomy of Leadership

Author – Leif Babin, Jocko Willink

Part 1 Balancing People

Chapter 1 The Ultimate Dichotomy

The ultimate dichotomy: to train work with, and develop a team of friends and brothers, to care about those men more than anything in the world, and then lead those men on missions that could get them killed.

That is the burden. That is the challenge. That is the dichotomy.

That is leadership.

As a leader, you might have to make decisions that hurt individuals on your team. But you also have to make decisions that will allow you to continue the mission for the greater good of everyone on the team.

If you don’t do what you need to do, what you know you need to do, you are not helping anyone.

If you don’t make the hard decision, you will be hurting the people you care about, not helping them.

💡 In order to help your team, sometimes you have to hurt them, just like a doctor performing surgery.

Failure to do it is going to have far more brutal consequences.

Stray too far and unbalance this dichotomy, you will care more about your people than about the mission.

If you protect some employees, you will place the entire mission and every other employee at risk.

A leader must care about his troops, but at the same time the leader must complete the mission, and in doing so there will be risks and sometimes unavoidable consequences to the troops.

Chapter 2 Own it all but Empower Others

Common symptoms of micromanagement:

  1. The team shows a lack of initiative. Members will not take action unless directed.
  2. The team does not seek solutions to problems; instead, its members sit and wait to be told about a solution.
  3. Even in an emergency, a team being micromanaged will not mobilize and take action.
  4. Bold and aggressive action becomes rare.
  5. Creativity grinds to a halt.
  6. The team tends to stay inside their own silo; not stepping out to coordinate efforts with other departments or divisions for fear of overstepping their bounds.
  7. An overall sense of passivity and failure to react.

Once a leader sees these behaviors in the team, corrective action must be taken.

  • The leader must pull back from giving detailed direction; instead of explaining what the mission is and how to accomplish it, the leader should explain the broad goal of the mission, the end state that is desired, why the mission is important, and then allow the team to plan how to execute the mission.
  • The leader should continue to monitor what is happening and check the progress of the team but refrain from giving specific guidance on the execution unless the plan that is being formulated by the team will have extremely negative results.
  • Finally, if there is an opportunity when time and risk levels permit, a leader can step away from the team completely and allow it to plan and execute a mission on its own.

Common symptoms of macro-management:

  1. Lack of vision in what the team is trying to do and how to do it.
  2. Lack of coordination between individuals on the team and efforts that often compete or interfere with each other.
  3. Initiative oversteps the bounds of authority, and both individuals and teams carry out actions that are beyond what they have the authorization to do.
  4. Failure to coordinate. While a micromanaged team might not coordinate with other teams because it doesn’t want to overstep its bounds, a team without good guidance may also fail to coordinate not out of fear but out of ignorance. In its efforts to solve problems and accomplish the mission, the team forgets that other teams might also be maneuvering and end up interfering with their efforts.
  5. The team is focused on the wrong priority mission or pursuit of solutions that are not in keeping with the strategic direction of the team or the commander’s intent.
  6. There are too many people trying to lead. Since everyone is trying to lead, there won’t be enough people to execute. Instead of progress, the leader will see discussion; instead of action, the leader will see prolonged debate; instead of a unified movement, the leader will see fractured elements pursuing individual efforts.

When these behaviors are observed by a leader, corrective action must be taken.

  • First and foremost, clear guidance must be given.
  • The mission, the goal, and the end state must be explained in a simple, clear, and concise manner.
  • The team must also understand the boundaries that are in place and what actions to take should it bump up against boundaries.
  • If multiple, simultaneous, overlapping efforts are being pursued, the leader must decide on and clearly implement the chosen course of action.
  • The team must also be educated on efforts being executed by other teams so that deconfliction can occur.
  • Finally, if a team is paralyzed by too many people trying to lead(”too many coaches, not enough players”), then the leader must assign and clearly delineate the chain of command, roles, and responsibilities of the team leaders and give them proper authority.

You need to tell your team the destination, but you need to let them figure out how to get there. You have to let them take real ownership of their piece of the mission. Then you will have a team with a culture of true, effective Extreme Ownership and your performance will skyrocket.

Chapter 3 Resolute, but Not Overbearing

Leaders who constantly crack the whip on their team and verbally berate their people over trivial issues are despised, and not respected.

A leader cannot be overbearing.

A leader cannot be too lenient and let things slide when the safety, mission success, and long-term good of the team are at stake.

💡 There are some standards that simply cannot be compromised.

There is a time to stand firm and enforce rules and there is a time to give ground and allow the rules to bend.

Finding that balance is critical for leaders to get maximum effectiveness from their team.

The most important explanation a leader can give to the team is “why”.

When a leader must hold the line and enforce standards, it must always be done with the explanation of why it is important, why it will help accomplish the mission, and what the consequences are for failing to do so.

As a leader, you only have so much authority that you can spend, and you need to choose wisely where you apply it.

The best business leaders, take the time to explain ‘why’ so that the team understands it.

Chapter 4 When to Mentor, when to Fire

A leader must do everything possible to help develop and improve the performance of individuals on the team.

💡 When all avenues to help an individual get better are exhausted without success, then it is the leader’s responsibility to fire that individual so they do not negatively impact the team.

In any organization, and especially in the military, the harder a unit trained, the more its members were pushed, and the tighter they became.

Taking ownership of the performance of the team and getting team members to perform to standard is exactly what a leader should be doing.

Most underperformers don’t need to be fired, they need to be led.

The attitude of doing everything you can to help your subordinates, peers, and leaders be the best they can possibly be is critical to success.

But that attitude must be balanced by knowing when we as leaders had done everything we could to help an individual get up to standard, the individual still fell short and the decision has to be made to let him go.

This is the duty and responsibility of every leader.

Leaders are responsible for the output of the individuals on their team.

💡 The goal of any leader is to get the most out of every individual, to push each individual to reach his maximum potential so that the team itself can reach its maximum potential.

Once a concerted effort has been made to coach and train that individual to no avail, the leader must remove the individual.

When a leader has done everything possible to get an individual up to speed without seeing results, the time has come to let that individual go.

If you have done all you can as a leader; if you have given him direct feedback on his deficiencies, coached him and mentored him, and given him ample opportunity to correct himself, then getting rid of a subpar performer isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the only thing to do. Anything less is letting down the team.

Part 2 Balancing the Mission

Chapter 5 Train Hard, but Train Smart

Hard training is the solemn duty of trainers and leaders every day.

Leaders who never pushed the team outside its comfort zone in training, who didn’t push the standards and drive their team toward exceptional performance, and who didn’t provide a direct and honest critique ended up with less productive, less effective teams that failed when truly tested under the rigors of real-world challenges.

Leaders who pushed their people to excel, to continuously learn and grow, enabled their teams to become comfortable in situations where they were previously uncomfortable.

The strategic goal of training must always be to build capable leaders at every level of the team.

For this, hard training is essential.

But if training is too hard, it will break the team and minimize learning and growth.

There must be a balance: train hard but train smart.

Hard training is critical to the performance of any team.

💡 You train how you fight and you fight how you train.

Training must be hard.

Training must simulate realistic challenges and apply pressure on decision-makers.

There is no growth in the comfort zone.

If training doesn’t push the team beyond the limits of what is easy, the team, and particularly leaders within the team, will never develop the capacity to take on greater challenges.

Leaders must find the balance in training and focus on three critical aspects: realism, fundamentals, and repetition.
Every training scenario should be based upon something that is likely to be encountered in a real scenario. The takeaway must be immediately applicable to the team’s mission.

Leaders must ensure that a training program develops the foundation of basic fundamentals.

Training must be continuous for everyone.

Good training is essential to the success of any team. Building frequently recurring training into the schedule is the most effective way to improve the team’s performance.

Chapter 6 Aggressive, Not Reckless

Decisiveness and aggressiveness should be the default mindset of any team.

The team is expected to lean forward, maneuver quickly, see opportunities, and capitalize on them to aggressively execute to solve problems, overcome obstacles, accomplish the mission, and win.

Aggression is not always the answer. Aggression must be balanced with logic and a detailed analysis of risk versus reward.

Problems are not going to solve themselves, a leader must get aggressive and take action to solve them and implement a solution.

Being too passive and waiting for a solution to appear often enables a problem to escalate and get out of control.

The good deal is not going to deliver itself to a company, the leader has to go out and make a good deal happen.

Changes and new methodologies in a team are not going to implement themselves, leaders need to aggressively implement them.

An aggressive mindset should be the default setting of any leader.

Default: Aggressive. This means that the best leaders, the best teams, don’t wait to act. Instead, of understanding the strategic vision(or Commander’s Intent), they aggressively execute on immediate opportunities, accomplish the mission, and win.

Rather than passively waiting to be told what to do, aggressive leaders proactively seek out ways to further the strategic mission.

“Aggressive” means proactive.

Leaders must be able to direct an aggressive mindset to lead the company by focusing that attitude in the right direction and balancing aggression with clear, unemotional thought and sensible risk mitigation.

Chapter 7 Disciplined, Not Rigid

It is most important to understand the power of disciplined standard operating procedures.

💡Disciplined standard operating procedures, repeatable processes, and consistent methodologies are helpful in any organization.

The more discipline a team exercises, the more freedom that team will have to maneuver by implementing small adjustments to existing plans.

💡When facing a mission or a task, instead of having to craft a plan from scratch, a team can follow standard operating procedures for the bulk of the plan.

Chapter 8 Hold People Accountable, but Don’t Hold their Hands

Accountability is an important tool that leaders must utilize.

💡With standards, as a leader, it is not what you preach, it is what you tolerate.

If a subordinate is not performing to standard, despite understanding why, despite knowing the impact of the mission, and despite being given ownership, then a leader must hold the line.

The leader must drill down and micromanage tasks in order to get the subordinate on track.

Balance accountability with educating the team and empowering its members to maintain standards even without direct oversight from the top.

💡Accountability is the hallmark of the highest-performing teams that dominate.

If your team is not using your system:

  1. Solicit feedback on how to make the system better.
  2. Look for ways to simplify the system even more.
  3. Make it easier and reduce the steps or pages of the system.
  4. Explain how this system affects them personally. (They have to understand why, but that why has to have a thread that ties back to them, to what is in it for them)

“If you can capture this data that you get from the system, you will be able to better arm both developers and management team.

Once they are armed, both will be able to do a better job.

Developers will be able to provide better and faster service.

Sales will be able to sell more services to clients.

When we provide better service and sell more products, our business grows.

When the company makes more money, we can invest more money in advertising and infrastructure, gain even more clients and be able to support them even better.

The better we perform as a company, the more clients we acquire.

The more clients we acquire, the more work there is for the developers, which means overtime and overtime pay.

Once the company maxes that out, we will need more developers.

The more developers we need, the more we have to pay them to be here.

So this means down the line, we will increase pay for developers; especially experienced ones.

And lastly, the more developers and clients we have, the more team leaders and managerial positions will be needed.

This opens up a pathway to advancement and promotion for every developer in the company.

So, this system impacts the developers directly: it opens up opportunities for more pay, higher salaries, and career path advancement.”

Part 3 Balancing Yourself

Chapter 9 A Leader and a Follower

In order to be a good leader, you must also be a good follower. Finding that balance is key.

A leader must be willing to lean on the expertise and ideas of others for the good of the team.

💡Leaders must be willing to listen and follow others, regardless of whether they are junior or less experienced.

When lawful orders from the boss or higher chain of command conflict with a leader’s ideas, subordinate leaders must still be willing to follow and support the chain of command.

Failing to do this undermines the authority of the entire chain of command, including that of the defiant leader.

Failing to follow also creates an antagonistic relationship up the chain of command, which negatively impacts the willingness of the boss to take input the suggestions from the subordinate leader, and hurts the team.

Leaders who fail to be good followers fail themselves and their team.

💡 If you’re failing as a follower, then you’re failing as a leader. And that means you’re failing your team.

The relationship to seek with any boss incorporates three things:

  1. They trust you.
  2. They value and seek your opinion and guidance.
  3. They give you what you need to accomplish your mission and then let you go execute.

You must build a strong relationship with your boss founded on trust and support.

If you do that, you will succeed as a leader by enabling your team to succeed.

And since most of the world can’t do this, you will run circles around your peers and outperform everyone else.

Chapter 10 Plan, but don’t Over-plan

Planning for contingencies is crucial to the success of any mission.

Thinking through the things that might go wrong for each phase of the operation and preparing for each contingency will enable you to overcome those challenges and accomplish the mission.

Do not try to plan for every contingency.

Doing so will only overburden you and weigh you down so that you cannot quickly maneuver.

Flexibility trumps minute details when it comes to planning.

The most effective teams build flexible plans.

Thorough planning is critical.

Not preparing for likely contingencies is to set the team up for failure.

Leaders must consider the risks they can control and mitigate those risks as best they can through contingency planning.

When proper contingency planning does not take place, it is a failure of leadership.

💡 Choose at most the three or four most probable contingencies for each phase, along with the worse-cast scenario.

Lead up the chain of command and put together a comprehensive plan that included a clear assessment of the risks and the contingency plans to help mitigate them.

Chapter 11 Humble, not Passive

Humility has to be balanced by knowing when to make a stand.

A leader must carefully prioritize when and where to push back.

Leaders have an obligation to support their chain of command and carry out the orders that come from above.

Pushing back against an order or task from the boss should be the rarest of exceptions and definitely not the rule.

A leader must be humble, must listen to others, and must not act arrogant or cocky.

But a leader must balance that and know that there are times to question superiors, to push back, to stand up, and make sure the right things are being done for the right reasons.

Humility is the most important quality in a leader.

When it truly matters, leaders must be willing to push back, voice their concerns, stand up for the good of their team, and provide feedback up the chain against a direction or strategy they know will endanger the team or harm the strategic mission.

Leaders must be humble enough to listen to new ideas, willing to learn strategic insights, and open to implementing new and better tactics and strategies.

But a leader must also be ready to stand firm when there are clearly unintended consequences that negatively impact the mission and risk harm to the team.

💡 Where can you take greater ownership?

Where are you casting blame or waiting for others to solve problems that you should be solving?

Chapter 12 Focused, but Detached

Leaders must be detached and must pull back to a position above the fray/fight where they can see the bigger picture.

That is the only way to effectively lead.

Otherwise, the results could be disastrous.

An organization does well only those things the Boss checks.

To become engrossed in and overwhelmed by the details risks mission failure, but to be so far detached from the details that the leader loses control is to fail the team and fail the mission.

💡 Strive to detach so you can stand back, gain perspective, and recognize where your priorities should be focused.

💡 When the team is on the verge of disaster it’s time for the senior leader to put detachment aside and step into the fray, to solve problems and help the team. It’s time to lead.