In 2004, Ramadi, Iraq, became the center of control for the Middle Eastern terrorist group al-Qaeda. Two-year battles ensued over the city of 500,000 people, during which the rule of law was nonexistent, bloodshed was constant, and devastation was unrelenting. US forces posted battle stations within the city and managed to keep al-Qaeda at bay until everything came to a head in March 2006.
The United States’ position was threatened, and sensing urgency and rising tensions, the US Marines, Army, and Navy partnered to steamroll al-Qaeda and take back control centers in a pivotal location in the Iraq War. The result was a near-complete toppling of the once-powerful terrorist stronghold in the Iraqi city.
None of this would have been possible without military leadership having its boots on the ground and executing, supporting, and pushing these teams through power moves deployed by the intensifying US forces in the Middle East.
Today, one of those leaders is sharing his secrets with business leaders: Navy SEAL team officer Jocko Willink, a guest speaker at the 2020 Technology Marketing Toolkit IT Sales and Marketing Boot Camp.
A lifelong devotion to becoming a commando led Jocko to military service at the age of 18. Over a 20-year military career, Jocko served as a leader in the Navy SEALS, trained fellow SEALs on the complexities of combat in the Middle East, and earned multiple military honors. Today, Jocko is a New York Times best-selling author, host of the leadership podcast Jocko Podcast, and cofounder of Echelon Front, an organization devoted to preparing and training business leaders. And, like so many of us, this soldier’s start began in his backyard.
THE ORIGINS OF A LEADER
As a kid, Jocko was painting mud on his face and preparing for an imaginary war he had created. Battle lines were drawn in the dirt of his yard, while every piece of wood or stick he could find became a toy gun. There was nothing but his own backyard shadowing his mission, but that didn’t matter. He was going to lead his men to victory.
When the East Coast-grown boy discovered Navy SEALs, the image of what his future could be like as a commando started to unfold. Jocko enlisted in the Navy at 18 years old and was immediately stripped of his freedoms. This wasn’t his backyard anymore; he was becoming a soldier. Jocko trained with real machinery, underwent intensive boot camp operations, and prepared for real combat. Eventually, Jocko worked his way through the ranks of the Navy to earn that additional freedom and become the soldier he always dreamed he could be.
Jocko trained as a Navy SEAL and was ultimately named an officer. Jocko’s distinguished 20-year career saw him deployed to Iraq, where he led Navy SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser through the Battle of Ramadi. Leading alongside Colonel Sean MacFarland, Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Clark, and Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Neary, Jocko’s Navy SEAL team joined the US Army, US Marines, and Iraqi Special Forces to resecure war-torn Ramadi during the nine-month battle.
Together, multiple branches of the US military and Iraqi Special Forces were able to restore their presence and apply pressure over al-Qaeda to attempt to rebuild peace in this turbulent and war-devastated region of the Middle East.
For his service, Jocko was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star, and Unit Bruiser was the most decorated Special Operations Unit during the Iraq War. After his deployment, Jocko served as the officer in charge of training for all West Coast SEAL Teams.
“It was the best job ever,” Jocko says. “Being on the SEAL teams is awesome. You’re working with a bunch of people and have awesome missions. Your job is very fun day to day if you like being outside and diving out of airplanes and diving into the water.”
THE ORIGINS OF A LEADER
As Jocko neared the end of a lustrous career, the lifelong Navy SEAL was prompted with an interesting proposition. The CEO of a company approached him about speaking to their team about the value and qualities of leadership. This CEO was a friend, and while public speaking wasn’t exactly in the career military man’s job description, Jocko knew he had lessons to share.
When Jocko finished the presentation, his friend had another favor to ask. They asked Jocko to present his lessons and expertise to every division of the company. Even better, the CEO was going to pay him. It was a done deal, and off Jocko went.
That’s where a little bit of fate intervened. The CEO of the parent company happened to be sitting in the audience at one of those divisional speaking engagements and was so impressed with what Jocko had to say that the CEO requested Jocko speak to every CEO in the company. Once Jocko finished speaking to those 40–45 CEOs, the requests for more presentations flooded in.
What was once an unclear path after retirement was crystalizing. There was a need for the leadership values and lessons Jocko had gleaned from a career in the military, and rather than sit on these lessons, Jocko saw an opportunity to lead through the battlefield of the boardroom.
“There was a high demand for it,” Jocko says. “What we realized is that in any organization’s leadership, leadership training is a big thing. There are a lot of civilian companies that don’t have leadership training, and they don’t learn that on the job if you don’t have good leaders to learn from. There’s a demand for leadership training.
THE ORIGINS OF A LEADER
In 2015, Jocko partnered with fellow US Navy SEAL Officer Leif Babin to co-author the New York Times best-selling book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. The book pushes leaders to evaluate the ways in which they lead and challenges them to become better for their teams and in their personal lives. Together, Leif and Jocko provide readers with a thorough military-grade guide to navigating the nuances and landmines of leadership to become the best versions of themselves for their team and mission.
But the pursuit of education didn’t stop there. Jocko and Leif once again partnered to found Echelon Front to address the need for effective leadership training for organizations at all levels. The company now deploys 10 experts to teach leadership skills and styles the military ingrains in soldiers like Jocko and Leif before trusting them to lead a group of men and women into intense combat zones.
Building off the lessons Jocko and Leif compiled in Extreme Ownership, the team engages business leaders across the nation to create a culture of pride in work while fully accepting responsibility for the actions and results of their leadership. To encourage finding the balance between pushing hard and being compassionate about a team’s success, Jocko, Leif, and the Echelon Front team deploy the Extreme Ownership Principles to serve their lesson.
They’re the very same tactics Jocko and Leif were taught in SEAL training, and while the war zone is vastly different than the boardroom, these tactics are still vital, Jocko says. These Extreme Ownership Principles give leaders a guide to that everyday battle.
- Cover and Move: Just like the military teams that weave and advance toward an enemy target, your team has to be coordinated in the goals of your mission and the steps you are taking to get there. As Jocko often explains, if you have a sales team that is underselling what the manufacturing floor can create, then your sales team is failing your company and the manufacturing team. They are leaving the team dead in the water. Likewise, a manufacturing team that cannot produce the quality materials a sales team is pushing is failing the sales team. Sales will plummet, and you will lose customers.
- Simple: This one is easy. Keep it simple. There’s no need for added complexities in your fight toward optimal company culture and production. Find the easiest, most effective, and most powerful way to get there and deploy it—simply.
- Prioritize and Execute: Does this sound familiar? You settle into work on Monday morning, field 20 emails, prepare for the big meeting in an hour, manage a complaint from the floor, and overhear of a budding problem in your shipping area, among dozens of other matters that pull your attention away. How do you manage this? Where many untrained leaders fail is in their inability to prioritize the biggest problems ahead of them and focus on what they can accomplish rather than everything they want to accomplish.
- Decentralize Command: When Jocko was leading a team of trained Navy SEALs into combat, he wasn’t taking the brunt of the responsibility of the tasks simply because of his rank. He was relying on the leadership capabilities of every member of Unit Bruiser. He recognized that other members of his team had skills that went beyond his own capacities, and he capitalized on them. A successful business leader does the same.
DISCIPLINED TO SUCCEED
Becoming a great leader doesn’t happen overnight. It takes discipline, courage, and the foresight to understand where you need to grow and how you can get there. When Jocko spent his childhood days fighting his backyard war, he didn’t let each day pass hoping opportunity would land in his lap. Instead, he remained dedicated to his dream, enlisted, and climbed a ladder that many struggle to climb. All it took was that first step and a willingness to work.
“I’m not a big believer in motivation,” Jocko says. “. . . To think that every morning I feel like a spring chicken to go lift weights and go for a run . . . I’m not motivated. It’s because I demand unmitigated discipline.”