Book: The Dichotomy of Leadership

the_dichotomy_of_leadership“The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • “There are limitless dichotomies in leadership, and a leader must carefully balance between these opposite forces. But none are as difficult as this: to care deeply for each individual member of the team, while at the same time accepting the risks necessary to accomplish the mission. A good leader builds powerful, strong relationship with his or her subordinates. But while that leader would do anything for those team members, the leader must recognize there is a job to do. And that job might put the very people that leader cares so much about at risk.”
  • “That’s another dichotomy: in order to help your team, sometimes you have to hurt them. Just like a doctor performing a surgery. Surgery is a brutal thing: cutting open a body and removing parts of it, then sewing it back together. But in order to save a life, a surgeon has to do just that.”
  • “Here are the common symptoms that result from micromanagement:
    • The team shows a lack of initiative. Members will not take action unless directed.
    • The team does not seek solutions to problems; instead, its members sit and wait to be told about a solution.
    • Even in an emergency, a  team that is being micromanaged will not mobilize and take action.
    • Bold and aggressive actions becomes rare.
    • Creativity grinds to a halt.
    • 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.
    • an overall sense of passivity and failure to react.”
  • “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, and 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.”
  • “Here are common symptoms that indicate when a leader is too hands-off with his team:
    • Lack of vision in what the team is trying to do and how to do it.
    • Lack of coordination between individuals on the team and efforts that often compete or interfere with each other.
    • Initiative oversteps the bounds of authority, and both individuals and teams carry out actions that are beyond what they have the authorization to do.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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 unified movement, the leader will see fractured elements pursuing individual efforts.”
  • “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 those 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–the case of ‘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 an give them proper authority.”
  • “Leaders, on the one hand, cannot be too lenient. But on the other hand, they cannot become overbearing. They must set high standards and drive the team to achieve those standards, but they cannot be domineering or inflexible on the matters of little strategic importance. To find this balance, leaders must carefully evaluate when and where to hold the line and when to allow some slack.”
  • “the most important explanation a leader can give to the team is ‘why?’ Particularly 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. It must never be done with the attitude of ‘because I said so.'”
  • “Leadership capital is the recognition that there is a finite amount of power that any leader possesses. It can be expended foolishly, by leaders who harp on matters that are trivial and strategically unimportant. Such capital is acquired slowly over time through building trust and confidence with the team by demonstrating that the leader has the long-term good for the team and the mission in mind. Prioritizing those areas where standards can not be compromised and holding the line there while allowing for some slack in other, less critical areas is wise use of leadership capital.”
  • “Occasionally, there are people who simply cannot perform the require level in any capacity. Once a leader has exhausted remedial measures through coaching, mentoring, and counseling, the leader then must make the tough call: remove that individual from the team. The dichotomy in this situation is balancing between taking care of individuals by keeping them around even if they lack the skill set to do the job properly and protecting the team by removing people from positions where they negatively impact the team and the mission.”
  • “Instead of focusing on one individual, leaders must remember that there is a team–and that the performance of the team trumps the performance of a single individual. Instead of continuing to invest in one subpar performer, once a concerted effort has been made to coach and train that individual to no avail, the leader must remove the individual. It can be one of the hardest decisions a leader has to make, but it is the right one.”
  • “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. Don’t be too quick to fire–but don’t wait too long. Find the balance and hold the line.”
  • “Of course, when you coach and mentor and try to help them, you are going to develop a relationship with them–you are going to build trust. But as a leader, if you are investing too much time into one person, that means others are being ignored.”
  • “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. So there must be balance: train hard, but train smart.”
  • “There is no growth in the comfort zone.”
  • “But I emphasized that challenging training programs that focused on realism, fundamentals, and repetition would greatly improve the performance of their junior leaders. It would also go far to mitigate the risk of failure by inexperienced junior leaders operating with too little oversight.”
  • “Maximize the use of time and resources. Make training realistic to prepare your key leaders for their real-world challenges. I guarantee you that the return on investment from good training program be substantial.”
  • “But you can’t train so hard that it defeats the purpose of training in the first place: to educate and prepare your team to more effectively execute the company’s mission.”
  • “‘Aggressive’ means proactive. It doesn’t mean that leaders can get angry, lose their temper, or be aggressive toward their people. A leader must always deal professionally with subordinates on the team, peers, leaders up the chain of command, customers or clients, and personnel in supporting roles outside the immediate team. Speaking angrily to others is ineffective. Losing your temper is a singe of weakness. The aggression that wins on the battlefield, in business, or in life is directed not toward people but toward solving problems, achieving goals, and accomplishing the mission.”
  • “To be overly aggressive, without critical thinking, is to be reckless. That can lead the team into disaster and put the greater mission in peril. To disregard prudent counsel when someone with experience urges caution, to dismiss significant threats, or to fail to plan for likely contingencies is foolhardily.”
  • “A chief contributing factor to recklessness comes from what military historians have long referred to as ‘the disease of victory.’ This disease takes place when a few battlefield successes produce an overconfidence in a team’s own tactical prowess while underestimating the capabilities of its enemy or competitor.”
  • “The risk in any action must be carefully weighted against the potential rewards of mission success. And of course, to counter that thought, the cost of inaction must be weighted as well.”
  • “Disciplined standard operating procedures, repeatable processes, and consistent methodologies are helpful in any organization. The more discipline a team exercise, the more freedom that team will have to maneuver by implementing small adjustments to existing plans.”
  • “Disciplined procedures must be balanced with the ability to apply common sense to an issue, with the power to break with SOPs when necessary, with the freedom to think about alternative solutions, apply new ideas, and make adjustments to processes based on the reality of what is actually happening. If discipline is too strict, team members cannot make adjustments, cannot adapt, and cannot use their most precious asset–their brains–to quickly develop customized solutions o unique problems for which the standard solution might not work.”
  • “Accountability is an important tool that leaders must utilize. However, it should not be the primary tool It must be balanced with other leadership tools, such as making sure people understand the why, empowering subordinates, and trusting they will do the right thing without direct oversight because they fully understand the importance of doing so.”
  • “The leader must make sure the team understands why. Make sure its members have ownership of their tasks and the ability to make adjustments as needed. Make sure they know how their task supports the overall strategic success of the mission. Make sure they know how important their specific task is to the team and what the consequences are for the failure.”
  • “Every leader must be willing and able to lead, but just as important is a leader’s ability to follow. 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.”
  • “‘One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss.’ When the debate on a particular course of action ends and the boss makes a decision–even if you disagree with the decision–‘you must execute the plan as if it were you own.’ Only if the orders come down from senior leadership are illegal, immoral, unethical, or significantly risky to live, limbs, or the strategic success of the organization should a subordinate leader hold fast against directive from superiors.”
  • “Often, for natural leaders who are eager to step up and take charge, it may be a struggle to follow a leader who is less competent, less aggressive, uncharismatic, or uninspiring. Regardless, when lawful orders from the boss or higher chain of command conflict with a leader’s ideas, a subordinate leader 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 and suggestions from the subordinate leader, and hurts the team. Leaders who fail to be good followers fail themselves and their team. But when a leader is willing to follow, the team functions effectively and the probability of mission success radically increases. This is the dichotomy to balance: be a leader and a follower.”
  • “I explained that 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.”
  • “For planning, there is a dichotomy within which leaders must find balance. You cannot plan for every contingency. If you try to create a solution for every single potential problem that might arise, you overwhelm your team, you overwhelm the planning process, you overcomplicate decisions for leaders. Rather than preventing or solving problems, overplanning creates additional and sometimes far more difficult problems. Therefore, it is important that leaders focus on only the most likely contingencies that might arise for each phase of an operation. Choose at most the three or four most probable contingencies for each phase, along with the worse-case scenario. This will prepare the team to execute and increase the chances of mission success.”
  • “It is important, however, that leaders manage the dichotomy in planning by not straying too far in the other direction–by not planning enough for contingencies. When leaders dismiss likely threats or problems that could arise, it sets the team up for greater difficulties and may lead to mission failure. At every level of the team, leaders must fight against complacency and overconfidence.”
  • “Nothing breeds arrogance like success–a string of victories on the battlefield or business initiatives. Combat leaders must never forget just how much is a stake: the lives of their troops. Business leaders, too, must never become callous with the livelihoods and careers of their employees and associates or the capital invested.”
  • “Humility is essential to building strong relationships with others, both up and down the chain of command, as well as with supporting teams outside of immediate chain of command.”
  • “But being too humble can be equally disastrous for the team. A leader cannot be passive. When it truly matters, leaders must be willing to push back, voice their concerns, sandup 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.”
  • “Naturally, leaders must be attentive to details. However, leaders cannot be so immersed in the details that they lose track of the larger strategic situations and are unable to provide command and control for the entire team.”
  • “It is no different in the business world, where leaders must ensure they don’t get sucked into the tactical details but maintain the ability to detach.”
  • “When confronted with the enormity of operational plans and the intricate micro-terrain within those plans, it becomes easy to get lost in the details…. It is crucial… for leaders… to ‘pull themselves off the firing line,’ step back, and maintain the strategic picture.”
  • “Leaders can’t get so far away–so detached–that they lose track of what’s happening on the front lines. Leaders must still be attentive to the details, understand the challenges of the teams executing the mission at the front echelon, and position themselves where they can be best support their teams. This is the dichotomy that must be balanced: 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.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s