Many political leaders like to surround themselves with military men, but what is it about military men that can help political leadership. Well, I came across an impressive character called Jocko Willink. He spent 20 years in the US Navy and commanded SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, the most highly decorated special ops unit from the Iraq War. He later ran the training of the West Coast SEAL teams. He’s now retired from the Navy and runs a leadership consultancy, Echelon Front.
In an interview with Tim Ferris in the excellent “Tools Of Titans”, Jocko answers the question of what makes a good commander with this:
“The immediate answer that comes to mind is humility…when I was running training, we would fire a couple leaders from every SEAL Team because they couldn’t lead. And 99.9% of the time, it wasn’t a question of their ability to shoot a weapon, it wasn’t because they weren’t in good physical shape, it wasn’t because they were unsafe. It was almost always a question of their ability to listen, open their mind, and see that, maybe, there’s a better way to do things. That is from a lack of humility…”
Jocko has written a great book on leadership called “Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALS Lead and Win”. He writes about the “12 dichotomies of leadership”:
- Confident but not cocky – overconfidence leads to complacency and arrogance, which sets up the team for failure
- Courageous but not foolhardy – important to make decisions, but risks need to be though about and mitigated
- Competitive but a gracious loser – competition drives teams to its highest level, but leaders can never put their personal success above the mission
- Attentive to details but not obsessed by them – need to see the big picture
- Strong but have endurance – need to know your limits
- A leader and a follower – sometimes subordinates have information or insights their superiors don’t. Good leaders welcome this.
- Humble but not passive – keep your ego in check and your mind open
- Aggressive but not overbearing – everyone feels comfortable to approach the leader with ideas and disagreements, (but no complaints about hard work)
- Quiet but not silent – must be able to stand up for the team and push back if mission success at risk
- Calm but not robotic; logical but not devoid of emotions– lose your temper, you lose respect, but show no emotions you can’t bond with your team.
- Close with the team, but not so close that one person becomes more important than another – need to know motivations of team, but team needs to know who the leader is.
- Able to exercise extreme ownership while exercising decentralized command – all success and failure rests with leader, but cannot micromanage.