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The Dichotomy of Leadership / (by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, 2018) -

The Dichotomy of Leadership /   (by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, 2018) -

The Dichotomy of Leadership / (by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, 2018) -

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The Dichotomy of Leadership / (by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, 2018) -
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2018
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Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
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Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
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upper-intermediate
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10:34:49
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64 kbps
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The Dichotomy of Leadership / :

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Task Unit Bruiser SEALs, explosive ordnance disposal bomb technicians, and Iraqi soldiers conduct a clearance operation in the Malaab District of eastern Ramadi alongside U.S. Soldiers of Task Force Red Currahee, the legendary Band of Brothers of the 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (1/506th), 101st Airborne Division. A 1/506th company commander, Gunfighter Six, an outstanding warrior and professional Soldier, is in the foreground at right. (Photo courtesy of Todd Pitman) Dedicated to the Big Tough Frogmen of SEAL Team Three, Task Unit Bruiser, especially: Marc Lee, Mike Monsoor, and Ryan Job, who laid down their lives; Chris Kyle, a friend and a Legend; and Seth Stone, the Delta Platoon commander, our brother. May we honor them always. PREFACE War is a nightmare. It is awful, indifferent, devastating, and evil. War is hell. But war is also an incredible teachera brutal instructor. We learned lessons in war, written in blood, about sorrow, loss, and pain. We also learned about the fragility of human life and the power of the human spirit. Of course, we learned about strategy and tactics. We learned how to most effectively take the fight to our enemies. We learned how to analyze targets, gather and exploit information, find our enemys weaknesses, and capitalize on them. We applied these lessons and made the enemy pay for their transgressions. But of everything we learned, nothing is as universal and transferable as how we came to truly understand the power of leadership. We saw how successful leaders could create victory where victory seemed impossible. We also witnessed how poor leadership could bring defeat upon teams that seemed invincible. We discovered firsthand that the principles of leadership are simple, but not easy. There are strategies, techniques, and skills that take time and practice to utilize effectively. The foremost requirement for potent leadership is humility, so that leaders can fully understand and appreciate their own shortfalls. We learned much on the battlefield and have tried to pass those lessons on, but we are still humbled every day by our mistakes and all that we continue to learn. This book builds upon our first book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. It is the follow-on book that so many readers of Extreme Ownership asked us to write. We have laid out the concepts in The Dichotomy of Leadership with clear descriptions and context so that it can be read and understood independently of the first book. For further explanation of the overviews given in the following pages, readers may want the deeper understanding and background provided in Extreme Ownership. But, while it may be helpful to understand the first book for greater enlightenment, it is not essential. In both books, we reference our experiences in the military, where we both served as SEAL officers. The bulk of our lessons learned draw from the Battle of Ramadi in 2006, where we served as the leaders of SEAL Team Three, Task Unit Bruiser. During that battle, the SEALs from Task Unit Bruiser fought with incredible bravery and tenacity. They delivered huge impact on the battlefield. But Task Unit Bruiser also suffered severe casualties. Those sacrifices will never be forgotten. Upon our departure from active duty in the U.S. Navy, we launched a company, Echelon Front, to share the lessons we learned with leaders in every capacity. In 2015, we published Extreme Ownership. Through that book, leaders all over the world embraced its fundamental principlesthe mind-set of Extreme Ownership and the four Laws of Combat: Cover and Move, Simple, Prioritize and Execute, and Decentralized Command. More than a million readers have taken those tenets and implemented them in their professional and personal lives with extraordinary results. But employing these principles to the fullest proves challenging. The nuances, if neglected or misunderstood, create obstacles difficult to overcome. We wrote this book to provide the granular insight and understanding that often render the difference between success and failure. This book will enable you to better process, analyze, and apply these leadership principles to your battlefield, in whatever arena that might be, whether leading in combat, business, or life. The format of The Dichotomy of Leadership mirrors that of Extreme Ownership: there are three parts to the book, four chapters in each part, and three sections to each chapter. The first section of each chapter describes an experience from combat or SEAL training; the second section discusses the relevant principle; and the third provides the direct application of the concept to the business world. The Dichotomy of Leadership is not a memoir or a history of the Iraq War. As we said in Extreme Ownership, This book is about leadership. It was written for leaders of teams large and small, for men and women, for any person who aspires to better themselves. Though it contains exciting accounts of SEAL combat operations, this book is a collection of lessons learned from our experiences to help other leaders achieve victory. If it serves as a useful guide to leaders who aspire to build, train, and lead high-performance winning teams, then it has accomplished its purpose. The combat and training experiences we describe are all true stories. But they are not meant for historic reference. The dialogues we have written are intended to impart the message and meaning of conversations. They are imperfect and subject to the passage of time and the shortfalls of memory. We have also concealed specific tactics, techniques, and procedures and ensured that no classified information about when and where specific operations took place and who participated in them is revealed. In accordance with U.S. Department of Defense requirements, the manuscript was submitted and approved through the Pentagons security review process. We do not use the names of our SEAL teammates, unless they are the names of our fallen or they are SEALs already in the public eye. Our brothers still on active duty in the SEAL Teams are silent professionals who seek no recognition, and we treat our responsibility to protect them with the utmost seriousness. We have taken the same precautions to protect the incredible Soldiers and Marines1 we served with in the Battle of Ramadi and elsewhere. Their names fill our memories with the extraordinary leadership, sacrifice, and heroism they demonstrated. But to ensure their privacy and security, we do not use their names in this book unless they are already known to the public. Similarly, we have taken every measure to protect confidentiality for the clients of our leadership consulting company, Echelon Front. We have refrained from using company names, changed the names and titles of individuals, and in some cases abstained from using industryspecific information or altered it. As in Extreme Ownership, while the stories we tell from the business world are based directly on real experiences, in some cases we have combined situations, condensed timelines, and modified details to protect confidentiality or more clearly emphasize the underlying principles we are trying to illustrate. It has been gratifying to witness the worldwide reach and impact of Extreme Ownership, particularly in the success that so many readers have achieved through its guiding principles. But there are those who misunderstood the title of that book and its powerful foundational principle: the mind-set and attitude of Extreme Ownership. In most cases, rather than extremes, leadership requires balance. Leaders must find the equilibrium between opposing forces that pull in opposite directions. Being aggressive but cautious, disciplined but not rigid, a leader but also a followerit applies to almost every aspect of leadership. Achieving the proper balance in each of the many dichotomies is the most difficult aspect of leadership. We wrote The Dichotomy of Leadership to help leaders understand this challenge and find the balance needed to most effectively lead and win. No matter the arena, balance must be achieved for optimal performance. If a leader imposes too much authority, the team becomes reluctant to execute; not enough, and the team has no direction. If leaders are too aggressive, they put the team and the mission at risk; yet if they wait too long to take action, results can be equally catastrophic. If a leader trains his or her people too hard, they may burn out; yet without challenging and realistic training, the team remains unprepared for real-world situations they may face. The dichotomies go on and on, each one requiring balance. Since the release of Extreme Ownership, as we worked with thousands of leaders from hundreds of companies and organizations, the majority of the questions we received were around this concept, this struggle: achieving balance in the Dichotomy of Leadership. We wrote this book to specifically address those questions. Just as we described in the preface of Extreme Ownership, we dont have all the answers. No one does. But we learned extremely humbling and valuable lessons as battlefield leadersfrom both our failures and our successes. Often our mistakes and failures provided the most valuable lessons that helped us learn and grow. We continue to learn and grow to this day. As The Dichotomy of Leadership builds upon the concepts in Extreme Ownership, the words from the preface of our previous work are applicable: We wrote this book to capture those leadership principles for future generations, so that they may not be forgotten, so that as new wars begin and end, such crucial lessons will not have to be relearnedrewritten in more blood. We wrote this so that the leadership lessons can continue to impact teams beyond the battlefield in all leadership situations any company, team, or organization in which a group of people strives to achieve a goal and accomplish a mission. We wrote this book for leaders everywhere to utilize the principles we learned to lead and win. U.S. Army M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M1A2 Abrams tanks from Team Bulldog (Bravo Company), Task Force Bandit (1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division) led by Captain Main Gun Mike Bajema, provide crucial fire support to their dismounted U.S. and Iraqi infantry troops and Charlie Platoon SEALs on a combat operation in South-Central Ramadi. Team Bulldog and Task Force Bandit were outstanding, aggressive, and professional Soldiers whose courageous response saved Task Unit Bruiser SEALs on scores of combat operations. (Photo courtesy at Mike Bajema) INTRODUCTION Finding the Balance Leif Babin J-BLOCK, SOUTH-CENTRAL RAMADI, IRAQ: 2006 Stand by to get some, someone said over the intersquad radio, in the calm demeanor you might expect of a flight attendant telling airline passengers to stow their tray tables for landing. The street in front of us had emptied of people. Like magic, the local citizens had all suddenly disappeared. And we knew what that meant: enemy attack was imminent. The hair on the back of my neck stood at rigid attention. After many a vicious gunfight in Ramadi, stand by to get some was a running joke that eased the tension right when we knew trouble was coming. The more nonchalantly it could be said under the direst of circumstances, the funnier it was. It was broad daylight as our patrol of SEALs and Iraqi soldiers made its way on foot down the narrow city street, bordered by high concrete walls on either side. Suddenly, the world exploded. Dozens of bullets snapped through the air, each with a sharp supersonic crack, and smashed into the concrete wall next to me with thunderous impact. Shards of concrete flew everywhere. The heavy volleys of incoming fire sounded like multiple jackhammers simultaneously chewing up the street and the walls all around us. We had walked right into an enemy buzz saw. Insurgent fighters hit us from multiple directions with belt-fed machine guns. I couldnt see them or where they were shooting from, but the number of enemy bullets flying through the air around us was crazy. There was no place to hide. With high walls on both sides, the narrow South-Central Ramadi street provided no cover. The only thing between us and the enemy machine guns was a single parked car on the side of the road some distance up the block and the typical trash strewn about. The patrol was in a dual-column formationeach column split on opposite sides of the street, hunkered close to the walls. There was nothing to get behind that could protect us from bullets. But we did have something on our side: devastating firepower. We fully expected a firefight on every patrol into this enemy-held neighborhood and we rolled in heavy. Each squad of eight SEALs packed at least four belt-fed machine guns to suppress any enemy attack we encountered. When we came under fire, our immediate response with violent and overwhelming gunfire provided the only answer: Cover and Move. Having learned through the humbling experience of months of urban combat, Task Unit Bruiser had had plenty of practice in this fundamental gunfighting principle. Within nanoseconds, the SEALs with the big machine guns up front unleashed the most ruthless and lethal barrage of fire you could imagine. Despite the intensity and violence of close urban combat, I couldnt help but smile. Damn, I loved those guysthe Big Tough Frogmen who carried the heavy Mk481 and Mk46 machine guns (pronounced Mark Forty-Eight and Mark Forty-Six) and the weight of hundreds of rounds of ammunition in addition to their body armor, helmet, radio, water, and everything else they had to carry, all in the blistering heat of the Iraqi summer sun. Those SEAL machine gunners kept us alive. Our snipers killed a lot of bad guys and received many well-deserved accolades for it, but every time we were attacked, it was the SEAL machine gunners who suppressed the threat of enemy fire. Standing or kneeling, they fired their machine guns from the shoulder, with incredible accuracy. That machine gun fire eliminated the insurgent fighters shooting at us or forced them to take cover (meaning they couldnt accurately engage us), which enabled us to maneuver, flank, or simply get off the street and out of harms way. Despite the dozens of bullets hitting the street and the walls near us, no one was hit. That was the beauty of Cover and Move. As the commander of Charlie Platoon and the senior man on the ground, I was itching to make a call, pass a verbal command to peel back and choose a nearby building for a strongpoint where we could find protection behind concrete walls, set security, and take the high ground on the rooftop. From there, we could locate our attackers, send out a squad to flank them, or call in the tanks to blast them into oblivion. I had dreamed of being a combat leader since I was kid. I had wanted to be a SEAL since at least middle school, when I learned about the legendary Navy special operations unit. Leading intense combat operations in a place like Ramadi was the ultimate fulfillment of that dream. Every bone in my body wanted to step up and take charge, bark a verbal command that could be heard over the sound of intense gunfire. But I wasnt in charge. The leader of this particular combat operation was Charlie Platoons most junior assistant platoon commander (or assistant officer in charge, AOIC), the least experienced officer in the platoon. It was his operation, and it was his call. I would certainly step in and make a call if he or others needed me to, when the situation called for it. But he was a great officer and paired with Tony Eafrati, our outstanding and highly experienced platoon chief, I had total faith in my AOIC and he proved himself time and again. Rapidly, the AOIC pointed out a larger building in which to strongpoint. As the SEALs up front laid down suppressive fire, other SEALs moved to the entrance gatethe pathway off the streetand entered the compound. From my position toward the middle of the patrol, I observed at least one enemy firing position a few blocks in front of us and I lobbed several 40mm grenades from the M203 grenade launcher mounted below my M4 rifle. I sent the high-explosive golden eggs up over the heads of our patrol and down onto the enemy position, where they exploded with a fiery blast. It was a small contribution, but an effective way to keep the bad guys heads down, complementing our machine gun fire. I then moved up to the entrance gate of the compound and took position in the street just outside, directing guys inside the gate as they ran to catch up. Marc Lee, with his big Mk48 machine gun, stood in the street just ahead of me, laying down belt after belt of devastating fire. Marc was a badass. He had us covered. Enemy rounds were still cracking by us and flying down the street, but with Marc laying the hammer down, the enemy fire was less accurate. I swiveled to face the rear of the patrol. One of the last SEALs still on the street was running hard in my direction. Lets go! I yelled at him, waving him over with a hand motion toward the gate. Suddenly, only feet from me and the safety of the concrete walls, the SEAL fell violently forward and landed hard, facedown in the street. I rushed over to him in horror. Man down, I thought. He must have taken a round to the chest or head. I darted over, expecting to find him a bloody mess. I was surprised to see him lying there, smiling back up at me. Are you alright? I yelled over the sound of the gunfire. Bullets were still whizzing past us, kicking up dirt just a few feet away and ricocheting off the nearby walls. Im good, he replied. I tripped. I smiled back in relief, thankful that he wasnt gravely wounded or dead. Bro! I yelled over the noise of the firefight. I thought you got your head shot off! We both chuckled. Quickly, I grabbed his hand and helped him to his feet. We sprinted the rest of the way back to the gate. As the SEAL ducked into the gate, I ran forward and slapped Marc on the back. Last man! I yelled, letting him know we had everyone accounted for. I covered for Marc as he pulled back, pointed his big gun, barrel smoking, to the sky, and we ducked inside the gate together. Finally, everybody was off the street, out of the enemy line of fire, and inside the compound behind the cover of concrete walls. Thanks to Marc and our other machine gunners, supported by SEAL shooters with their M4 rifles, despite the vicious enemy attack with substantial firepower, none of us had been hit. I made my way to the rooftop, where SEAL shooters had taken up firing positions. As the enemy fighters moved from building to building and continued their attack, we engaged them. The AOIC was there on the roof, with our Charlie Platoon radioman, assessing the situation. What do you want to do? I asked him. Lets call in the tanks for fire support, he said calmly. The AOIC was cool under firea great quality that every leader should work toward. Roger that, I said. It was exactly the right call. We had the high ground on the rooftop. We had good security behind the concrete walls. The SEAL radioman contacted the U.S. Army company Team Bulldog (Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division) and got the M1A2 Abrams tanks rolling our way with their massive firepower. We loved those Soldiers, under the command of Captain Main Gun Mike Bajema. Despite the deadly threat of IEDs2 that destroyed a number of tanks in this SouthCentral Ramadi neighborhood, every single time we called for help, Main Gun Mike personally loaded up in his tank and fearlessly came to our aid, accompanied by another Bulldog tank. We could take great risk and patrol deep into dangerous enemy territory only because we knew that when we got into trouble, Team Bulldog had us covered. Mike and his Soldiers were outstanding, aggressive warriors. They would do everything in their power to get to us, no matter how dangerous or difficult. And when they arrived in their tanks, they brought the thunder. It took several minutes for the tank crews to mount up and drive out to our location. We continued to take enemy fire from several directions. One SEAL operator peeked his head above the roof wall to determine where the bad guys were. As he did so, his head snapped back violently and he fell backward. He sat up, unharmed, wondering what the hell had just happened. When the SEAL took off his helmet to examine it, he found a deep gash where an enemy bullet had ricocheted off the night-vision mount on the front of his helmet. Just an inch or two lower and that round would have taken his head off. What happened? a SEAL next to him asked. I got shot, he said with a smile, pointing to his helmet. It was a close call, but thankfully one we could laugh about. As we waited on the rooftop, I switched my radio over to monitor Bulldogs company communications net. I heard Main Gun Mike ask if we could mark the buildings from where the enemy fighters were still shooting at us. Do you have any red smoke grenades? the radioman asked. I didnt have any. Weve got tracers, I suggested. The SEAL radioman had a full magazine of tracer rounds, which emitted a visible orange glow along the bullet path as they zipped through the air. Marc Lee also had tracers every fifth round in his ammunition belt. We relayed to Main Gun Mike and his tankers the plan. As the heavy Abrams tanks approached, tank tracks clattering on the concrete city street, I heard the word over the radio to mark the target and relayed the order via verbal command. Mark the target! I yelled. Marc and the SEAL radioman lit up the enemy position with tracer fire. Stand by to get some, I thought as Mikes Abrams tank rotated its huge turret and trained the mighty 120mm cannon at the building from where we had been receiving fire. The tank unleashed its thunderous fury into the building and ended the enemy attack. The insurgent fighters who hadnt been obliterated beat a hasty retreat. We received no more fire from the enemy that day, thanks to Mike and his Team Bulldog Soldiers. Once again the tanks had been our deliverance. The combined team of SEALs and U.S. Army Soldiers had given the insurgents more than they could handle. And my AOIC had proven once again that he was a solid leader, competent and coolheaded, even under the stress of close combat. But just as my assistant platoon commander had to be ready to lead, in this situation I had to be ready to follow. The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. You never quite get there, but by putting junior leaders and frontline troops in charge, our SEAL platoon and task unit were far more effective. It created a culture of leaders at every level of the team. Trying to navigate between leadership and followership was an example of the Dichotomy of Leadership, the balance that every leader must find between two opposing forces in leadership. Ready to lead, but also knowing when to follow. Taking Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts the mission, but also empowering others to lead with Decentralized Command. The recognition of the many dichotomies and the ability to balance these opposing forces provide a powerful tool that enables leaders at every level to lead and win. The Dichotomy: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership Jocko Willink and Leif Babin Our first book, Extreme Ownership, struck a chord with many readers. The idea that leaders must take ownershipExtreme Ownershipof everything in their world, everything that impacts their mission, has changed the way people view leadership. If mistakes happen, effective leaders dont place blame on others. They take ownership of the mistakes, determine what went wrong, develop solutions to correct those mistakes and prevent them from happening again as they move forward. Even the best teams and the best leaders never deliver flawless performances. No one can achieve perfection. What makes the best leaders and best teams great is that when they make mistakes, they acknowledge them, take ownership, and make corrections to upgrade their performance. With each iteration, the team and its leaders enhance their effectiveness. Over time, that team runs circles around its competition, particularly against other teams with a culture of excuses and blame casting, where problems never get solved and thus performance never improves. Our four Laws of Combat have helped radically improve the performance of teams and organizationslarge and smallacross the United States and internationally, in nearly every industry in the business world, as well as military units, police and fire departments, charity organizations, school administrations, and sports teams. * * * The first Law of Combat: Cover and Move. This is teamworkevery individual and team within the team, mutually supporting one another to accomplish the mission. Departments and groups within the team, and even those outside the immediate team that are nevertheless crucial to success, must break down silos and work together to win. It doesnt matter if one element within the group does its job: if the team fails, everybody fails. But when the overall team wins, everybody wins. Everyone gets to share in that success. The second Law of Combat: Simple. Complexity breeds chaos and disaster, especially when things go wrong. And things always go wrong. When plans and orders get too complex, the people charged with executing those plans and orders do not understand them. When team members dont understand, they cant execute. Therefore, plans must be simplified so that everyone on the team recognizes the overall commanders intentthe greater purpose behind the missionand understands their role in achieving mission success. Orders must be communicated in a manner that is simple, clear, and concise. The true test for whether plans and orders have been communicated effectively is this: The team gets it. When the people on the team understand, then they can execute. The third Law of Combat: Prioritize and Execute. When multiple problems occur simultaneously (which happens often), taking on too many problems at once results in failure. It is imperative that leaders detach themselvespull back from the detailsand assess to determine the highest priority to the strategic mission. Then, once that highest-priority task has been determined, leaders must clearly communicate that priority to the team and ensure the team executes. Then the leaders and the team can move on to the next priority. Then the next. Training and proper contingency planning assist greatly to better prepare teams and leaders to most effectively Prioritize and Execute under pressure, in real time. The fourth Law of Combat: Decentralized Command. No one leader can manage it all or make every decision. Instead, leadership must be decentralized, with leaders at every level empowered to make decisions, right down to the frontline troopers in charge of no one but themselves and their small piece of the mission. With Decentralized Command, everyone leads. To empower everyone on the team to lead, team members must understand not just what to do but why they are doing it. This requires clear and frequent communication up and down the chain of commandand most importantly: trust. Junior leaders must have confidence that they clearly understand the strategic mission, the commanders intent of their boss, and the parameters within which they can make decisions. Senior leaders must trust that their junior leaders will make the right decisions and encourage them to do so. This requires training and frequent communication to implement with maximum effectiveness. * * * There was one big problem with the book Extreme Ownership: the title. While it drove home the most important leadership foundation in the book, it was also slightly misleading. Extreme Ownership is the foundation of good leadership. But leadership seldom requires extreme ideas or attitudes. In fact, quite the opposite is true: leadership requires balance. We addressed that concept in chapter 12 of Extreme Ownership, Discipline Equals FreedomThe Dichotomy of Leadership. But as we assessed legions of leaders in companies, teams, and organizations as they implemented the principles we taught in the book, many struggled to find that balance. This struggle represents the biggest challenge we observed as we trained and advised hundreds of companies and thousands of leaders over the past few years with our leadership consulting company, Echelon Front. In the final chapter of Extreme Ownership, we wrote: Every leader must walk a fine line. Leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities, between one extreme and another. The simple recognition of this is one of the most powerful tools a leader has. With this in mind, a leader can more easily balance the opposing forces and lead with maximum effectiveness. Every behavior or characteristic carried out by a leader can be taken too far. Leaders can become too extreme and upset the balance required to effectively lead a team. When balance is lost, leadership suffers and the teams performance rapidly declines. Even the fundamental principles of combat leadership in Extreme Ownership can get out of balance. A leader can Cover and Move too much and step on the toes of other leaders, departments, or divisions. A plan can be too Simple and fail to cover likely contingencies. A team can go too far with Prioritize and Execute, resulting in target fixation and loss of situational awareness on newly emerging problems and threats. Decentralized Command can also be taken too far, when too much autonomy is given to subordinate leaders who then dont fully understand strategic goals and how to execute in support of those goals. And this idea continues on with just about everything a leader does. Leaders must be close with their people, but not so close that it becomes a problem. They must hold the line with discipline but not become tyrannical. A leader can even become too extreme with Extreme Ownership, when a leader takes so much ownership of everything in his or her world that members of the team feel there is nothing left for which they can take ownership. When this happens, team members will execute only at the bosss specific direction without any root ownership or buy-in themselves, resulting in a team far less capable of overcoming obstacles and accomplishing the mission. Therefore, balance in leadership is crucial to victory. It must be monitored at all times and it must be modulated to specific situations as they arise. If a team member fails to perform adequately, for example, a leader must get down in the weeds and micromanage that member until he or she executes correctly. But once the team member gets back on track and resumes effective performance, the leader must maintain the ability to back off and give that team member room to take greater ownership and manage tasks on his or her own. It is not easy to maintain the constant shift, continual modulation, and frequent adjustment necessary to balance all the dichotomies across every spectrum of leadership characteristics. Yet this skill is essential for effective leadership. We have observed these struggles continuously in good leaders striving to be better. That is what drove us to go deeper into the concept of the Dichotomy of Leadership. The goal of this book is to help leaders overcome that struggle through examples of how to find the right balance in leadershipto moderate the idea of leading from the extremes and focus on maintaining balancewithin teams, among peers, and both up and down the chain of command. Every good leader must develop the ability to recognize, understand, and adjust that balance. While it isnt easy, through knowledge, disciplined practice, and sustained effort, anyone can master finding the equilibrium in the Dichotomy of Leadership. Those who do will dominate their battlefield and lead their teams to victory. PART I BALANCING PEOPLE Marc Lees combat gearhelmet, boots, and his carefully painted Mark 48 machine gunstaged to honor him on the roof of the tactical operations center at Sharkbase, Task Unit Bruisers camp, which was renamed Camp Marc Lee in his honor. While it was technically against regulations to fly the American flag in Iraq, Task Unit Bruiser marked its headquarters with Old Glory. Marc fought for the flag and his brothers-in-arms and was the first SEAL killed in action in Iraq. Task Unit Bruiser also lost Michael Monsoor and, eventually, Ryan Job, who died from medical complications following a surgery to repair his combat wounds. (Photo courtesy of the authors)? CHAPTER 1 The Ultimate Dichotomy Jocko Willink CHARLIE MEDICAL FACILITY, CAMP RAMADI, IRAQ: 2006 Sir, the young SEAL whispered in a faint voice, come here. Our hands were clasped in a handshake. Not a formal handshake like two businessmen, but palm to palm with thumbs wrapped around the back of the hand like an arm-wrestling contesta handshake of brotherhood. The young SEAL was feeling the morphine. I saw it in his eyes, but he was still there, still conscious and aware. He was everything a young man should be: smart, brave, athletic, funny, loyal, and tough. He had been shot in the leg about half an hour before. I found out later that Mikey Monsoor, a young SEAL machine gunner, had run out into heavy enemy gunfire and dragged this SEAL out of a war-torn street in the Malaab District in the city of Ramadi, the violent heart of the insurgency in Iraq. The wounded SEAL now lay on a gurney in Charlie Med, the Camp Ramadi field hospital where U.S. military surgical teams worked furiously to save the lives of gravely wounded troops almost every day. The bullet, a mammoth armor-piercing 7.62 ? 54 millimeter round with a steel core, had entered his leg at the lower thigh, ripped apart flesh and bone inside his leg, and exited in his upper thigh, close to the groin. It was hard to say if he would keep his leg. From the looks of the wound, my guess was no, he would lose it. The wounded SEALs grip on my hand tightened and he pulled me in, drawing me just inches from his face. I could tell he wanted to say something to me, so I turned my head and put my ear next to his mouth. I wasnt sure what to expect. Was he scared or angry or depressed that he might lose his leg? Was he nervous about what might happen next? Was he confused? He took a breath and then whispered, Sir. Let me stay. Let me stay. Please. Dont make me go home. Ill do anything. Ill sweep up around the camp. I can heal here. Please, please, please just let me stay with the task unit. There you go. Not scared. Not angry. Not depressed that he might lose his leg. Only concerned that he might have to leave our task unit. Task Unit Bruiser. Our task unit. Our lives. This SEAL was our first significant casualty. We had had guys catch some frag on previous operations. We had had some very close calls. But this was the first wounded SEAL from Task Unit Bruiser whose life would be forever changed by a grave combat injury. Even if he kept his leg, the damage was so substantial that it didnt seem possible he would ever fully regain the extraordinary athleticism he had displayed previously. And yet this SEAL was only concerned that he would let me down, let the task unit down, let his platoonhis teamdown. This was a man. This was a true frienda brother. This was a hero: young, brave, and without question more concerned for his friends than for his own life. I was moved. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I fought them back and swallowed the lump in my throat. This was no time to break down. I was the Leader. He needed me to be strong. Its alright, brother. Weve got to get you healed up first, I whispered. As soon as you heal up, well get you back over here. But you have to get healed up first. Ill be okay, the wounded SEAL replied. Just let me stay let me stay. Brother, I told him earnestly, Ill bring you back as soon as you can stand. But you have to go and get yourself healed up. Ill heal up here. I can work in the TOC, he argued, referencing our tactical operations center, where we monitored combat missions via radio and television screens that displayed overhead video feed from aircraft, both manned and unmanned. Listen, I told him, that wont work. This wound is no joke. Youre going to need real rehaband we dont have that here for you. Go home. Heal up. Get back on your feet and Ill get you back over here. I promise. I meant it. Whether he kept his leg or not, once he was stable enough, I would do all I could to bring him back. Okay, sir, he replied, convinced that it wouldnt take long, Ill be back soon. I know you will, brother. I know you will, I told him. Soon he was being loaded onto a medevac1 helicopter and flown to a more advanced medical facility where he would get the surgery he neededa place where they might be able to save his leg. I went back to my camp, a compound of tents and buildings we called Sharkbase sandwiched between the large U.S. military base of Camp Ramadi and the Euphrates River. I went to my room on the second floor of the building that housed our TOC, a once lavish structure with ornate columns that had previously belonged to members of Saddam Husseins regime. Now it was our headquarters and barracks, with sandbagged windows and makeshift furniture. I sat down on my crude bed, constructed of plywood and two-by-fours. Reality set in: we were only one month into our deployment. My guys were getting in gunfights on a daily basis. The city of Ramadi, where we operated, was crawling with insurgents. And the insurgents were good: they were well equipped, well trained, and well disciplined. They fought with tenacity and ruthlessness. Of course, we were better. Our training, gear, and attitude were among the best of any combat troops in the world. We were in Ramadi to make the city safe for the local populace by taking the fight to the enemyto hunt the evil insurgents down in the streets and kill them. All of them. But we werent bulletproof. We couldnt run around this city day in and day out and not expect to take casualties. If you cut wood, you get sawdust. When you wage war, especially in violent urban combat, you take casualties. That was the nature of the business. Oddly enough, up until this point, SEALs in Iraq had been very lucky. Three years into the war, only a handful of SEALs had been woundedand none had been killed. The incidents were fairly random, often more bad luck than anything else. But we werent going to get lucky this whole deployment. The proof was evident, as Id just witnessed, seeing my wounded SEAL, pale from blood loss, hazy from morphine, and luckyso extremely luckyto be alive. The wounded SEAL was a young man. This was only his second SEAL platoon and his second deployment to Iraq. He was an excellent SEAL operator and a crucial member of the team. A great guy to be around: Faithful. Loyal. Funny. Although all the SEALs in the task unit were different, they were also, in many ways, the same. Sure, they had quirks and little personality traits that made them individuals. Of course, they were far from perfect. We all are. But at the same time, all of them, individually, were amazing people. Patriotic. Selfless. They were in the Teamswhat we SEALs call our community of Naval Special Warfare SEAL Teamsfor the same reasons: to serve, to do their duty, and to offer everything they had for the task unit, the team, and our great nation. And I was in charge of them. But being in charge fell short of explaining the way I felt about these men. All of them. They were my friends, because I joked and laughed and carried on with them. They were my brothers, because we shared the common bond of our fraternal order. They were also like my children, because I was responsible for what they didgood and badand it was my job to protect them to the best of my ability: I had to overwatch them as they overwatched the city from rooftops and moved through the violent streets. They gave me everything they had. At work, in training, and now on the battlefield. In turn, they were everything to me. In many ways I was closer to them than I was to my own parents, my siblings, even my wife and actual children. Of course I loved my family. But the men in this task unit were also my family, and I wanted nothing more than to take care of them. But as much as I wanted to protect them, we had a job to do. A job that was violent and dangerous and unforgiving. A job that required me to put them at risktremendous riskover and over and over again. This was an example of the Dichotomy of Leadership, perhaps the ultimate Dichotomy of Leadership that a combat leader must face: it is a combat leaders duty to care about his troops more than anything else in the worldand yet, at the same time, a leader must accomplish the mission. That means the leader must make decisions and execute plans and strategies that might cost the men he loves so much their very lives. And this was incredibly difficult for me. Because in Ramadi, it wasnt a matter of if we would lose someone. It was a matter of when. This is not to say I was fatalistic. I wasnt. It doesnt mean I thought we had to take casualties. I prayed we would not. We did everything we could to mitigate the risks we could control in order to prevent casualties. But it did mean that I was facing reality. The reality was that U.S. Army Soldiers and Marines were being wounded and killed every day in Ramadi. Every day. We continually attended memorial services for these fallen heroes. I recognized that this deployment to Ramadi was completely different from my first deployment to Iraq in 20032004, where things had been much more controlled and much less kinetic. In Ramadi in 2006, the violent, sustained urban combat held risks that were beyond our control. And every day that my men were in the field, which was almost every day, I knew it could be The Day. That was the heaviest burden of command. And then The Day came. On August 2, 2006, Leif and his Charlie Platoon SEALs, along with the Iraqi Army platoon for whom they were combat advisors, teamed up with our U.S. Army brethren from Team Bulldog2 for a large clearance operation in South-Central Ramadi. The operation kicked off in the early morning hours, and for the first hour or so, all was quiet. Suddenly, a single shot rang out, quickly followed by a frantic man down call over the radio. Ryan Job, an outstanding young Charlie Platoon SEAL machine gunner, had been hit in the face by an enemy snipers bullet. He was gravely wounded. All hell broke loose in SouthCentral as insurgents started shooting from multiple directions. Leif and Charlie Platoon fought to get Ryan evacuated, and Team Bulldog M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M1A2 Abrams tanks came to their rescue with heavy firepower. Charlie Platoon loaded Ryan into a medevac vehicle and sent him off the battlefield to proper medical care. Then Leif and the rest of Charlie Platoon and their Iraqi soldiers patrolled back to Combat Outpost Falcon (or COP Falcon), a fortified U.S. Army position several dangerous blocks away. But the fighting in South-Central Ramadi only escalated as enemy fighters flooded the area. Charlie Platoon could hear the gunfire as their U.S. Army brethren from Team BulldogMain Gun Mike and his Soldierswere still engaged in a vicious gunfight that spread across multiple city blocks. Leif and the leadership of his platoon discussed it briefly, and finally Leif called me on the radio and requested permission to go back out and take down some buildings where suspected enemy fighters were holed up. Do it, I told him. Leif and his platoon did everything they could to mitigate risk. They rode to the suspected buildings in heavily armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles. They had the Bradleys soften the target buildings with fire from their powerful 25mm chain guns. They even had the Bradleys ram through the walls of the compounds so that the platoon could get off the open street and have some protection from enemy bullets as they moved toward the buildings to breach the entryways. But even that couldnt mitigate all the risk. And it didnt. I watched on a live video feed from a drone overhead as Charlie Platoon dismounted from the Bradleys and entered a building. I could tell the gunfire was heavy. Once my SEALs entered the building, I could no longer see what was happening. A few long minutes after they entered, I saw a group of SEALs carrying a casualty out of the building and back to a waiting Bradley nearby. It was one of ours. A lifeless body. As I watched from the TOC, a horrible pit opened up in my stomach. I wanted to cry and scream and throw up and shake my fists at the sky. But I had to stifle those emotionsI had a job to do. So I simply stood by the radio and waited for Leif to call me. I did not call him, because I knew he had work to do and I did not want to interfere with what he was doing. A few minutes later, he called. I could tell he was forcing himself to sound calm, but I heard a flood of emotions in his voice. He gave the report: as Charlie Platoon entered the building, they were engaged by enemy fighters from an adjacent building. As SEAL machine gunner Marc Lee courageously stepped into a doorway to engage the enemy fighters and protect the rest of his SEAL teammates entering the hallway behind him, he was struck by enemy fire and killed. It was over instantly. Marc Alan Lee, an amazing warrior, friend, brother, son, husband, uncle, man of faith, comedian, and truly incredible spirit of a human being, was gone. This was on top of the fact that Ryan Job, another Charlie Platoon machine gunner and saint of a human being, had already been severely wounded and was in a medically induced coma and en route to surgical facilities in Germany. Ryans fate was yet unknown. The burden of such loss settled heavily on my soul. When Leif got back to base, I could see his heart was heavy with grief. His eyes were filled not only with tears but with doubt and questions and the solemn weight of responsibility. Leif never even mentioned that he had also been wounded: a bullet fragment had entered his back, just missing the protection provided by his body armor. He didnt care about his wounded flesh. It was his heart that was broken. A day passed. Leif came to my office. I could see his soul was in absolute turmoil. As the leader on the ground, Leif had made the decision to go back into the firestorm. I had approved that decision. But it was Leif who carried the burden that he had survived and Marc had not. I feel like I made the wrong decision, Leif said quietly. I just wish I could take it back. I wish I would have done somethinganythingdifferently so Marc would still be here with us. I could see that this was tearing Leif apart. He felt that in all that chaos and all that madness, he could have made a different decision, chosen a different path. But he was wrong. No, Leif, I told him slowly, there was no decision to make. Those Army Soldiers were in a vicious battlea massive fightand they needed our help, they needed our support. You gave it to them. The only other option would have been to sit back and let the Army fight it out by themselves. You couldnt let Charlie Platoon sit inside the protected compound and let Team Bulldog take the risk and take the casualties. Thats not what we do. We are a team. We take care of each other. There was no other choicethere was no decision to make. Leif was quiet. He looked at me and slowly nodded. As hard as it was to hear, he knew I was right. He knew he couldnt have sat on the sidelines while other Americans were in harms way and needed help, in what was probably the largest single engagement in the months-long campaign of the Battle of Ramadi. If he had, everyone in the platoon would have known it was the wrong decision. Leif would have known it was wrong, too. But with the weight of such a burden on his soul, he needed more reassurance. So, I continued: We are Frogmen. We are SEALs. We are American fighting men. If there is something we can do to help our brothers-in-arms, we help. That is what we do. You know that. Marc knew that. We all know that. That is who we are. I just wish I could trade places with Marc, Leif said, his eyes teared up with emotion. Id do anything to bring him back. Look, I said. We dont have a crystal ball. We dont know when guys are going to get wounded or killed. If we could know that, then we wouldnt go out on those particular operations. But we dont know. We cant know. The only way we can guarantee everyone will be safe is to do nothing at all and let other troops do the fighting. But that is wrongand you know it. We must do our utmost to win. Of course, we have to mitigate whatever risks we can, but in the end, we cannot eliminate every risk. We still have to do our duty. Leif nodded again. He knew I was right. He believed it because it was the truth. But it did not take away the punishing torment of losing Marc. Marcs death was something Leif would carry with him forever. I already knew that. And so did Leif. It was difficult to grasp, the hardest and most painful of all the dichotomies of leadership: to care about your men more than anything in the worldso much so that youd even willingly trade your life for theirsand yet, at the same time, to lead those men on missions that could result in their deaths. Even back in the States in a non-hostile environment, SEAL training in preparation for deployment was dangerous. To mitigate every danger would mean that trainees could never conduct parachute jumps, fast rope from helicopters, board ships from small boats, drive vehicles in high-speed convoys at night using only night vision, or conduct live-fire training drills. Unfortunately, every few years, despite strong safety measures and controls, a SEAL is killed or seriously injured during this high-risk training. And yet to not take the risks inherent in conducting realistic training would put more SEALs in even greater danger when they deployed to combat zones not fully prepared for missions they would be called upon to execute. So even though a leader must care deeply for his troopsa leader must also put those troops at risk, in training and even more so in combat. Of course, it is incumbent upon the leader to mitigate the risks that can be controlled. But there will always be risks beyond the leaders control, and the potential consequences can be deadly. That dichotomy, of caring for your mens welfare while simultaneously putting them at risk to accomplish the mission, is something felt by every combat leaderand was felt to the core by the leaders on the ground in Ramadi. Because while we were determined to do our utmost to close with and destroy the enemy to help secure Ramadi, we also knew that victory would be paid for in the blood of our most promising young American men and women. And the blood continued to be shed by Task Unit Bruiser. After Ryan was wounded and Marc was killed, we took other minor casualtiessmall flesh wounds and little injuriesbut nothing serious. Then, on September 29, only weeks from the end of our deployment, Leif and I were in our tactical operations center listening to the radio traffic while the other SEAL platoon of Task Unit Bruiser, Delta Platoon, was outside the wire on a combat operation. We listened as Delta Platoon reported enemy movement and passed updates on enemy fighters killed, all of which were part of an ordinary day in Ramadi. Then we heard Delta Platoons request for casualty evacuation. From the radio traffic it was clear that several SEALs were wounded. It sounded severe. My heart sank. Immediate support from a U.S. Army Quick Reaction Force rapidly launched and headed to Delta Platoons position. A few minutes later, the U.S. Army tactical operations center radioed that multiple SEALs were wounded, with one SEAL described as urgent surgical, meaning he needed immediate medical attention and was at risk of dying. We continued to listen to the radio calls solemnly, with hopes that our wounded brothers, especially the critically wounded ones, would be okay. A call from the battalion commander of the 1/506th3 shattered those hopes. He gave me the grave news. Three of the men were wounded, but each had injuries that would healthey were not at risk of losing life or limb. But then this bold and professional battalion commander grew quiet for a moment. He told me a fourth man was also wounded: Mikey Monsoor was hurt very badly. His voice trembled slightly. He told me he didnt think Mikey was going to make it. For what seemed like an eternity, Leif and I waited for an update. Finally, we got word from the field hospital that crushed our souls. Michael Anthony Monsoor, an exceptional young SEAL, beloved by everyone in the platoon and task unit, another saint of a human beingan unbelievably strong, determined, kind, compassionate, and inspiring young manhad died from his wounds. Once the rest of Delta Platoon had been extracted from the field, I received a call from my friend Seth Stone, the Delta Platoon Commander, who gave me the details of what had occurred on the operation. He told me that an enemy fighter had tossed a hand grenade onto the rooftop of one of Delta Platoons sniper overwatch positions. In the most completely selfless act possible, Mikey Monsoor heroically dove on top of that grenade, shielding three of his teammates from the blast. He sacrificed himself to save them. The operation would likely have been Mikeys last mission in Ramadi, just days before he was scheduled to fly home. Just as Leif struggled with the loss of Marc, Seth bore the crushing weight of losing Mikey. Seth continued to lead missions and completed his turnover with the SEALs who had arrived to replace us, but I could tell his soul was tormented by the loss of Mikey. When we got back to America, only a few short weeks after Mikeys death, Seth told me his feelings as we sat in our task unit office after work. I feel like it is my fault that Mikey died. I feel responsible, Seth told me with tears in his eyes. I thought about it for a moment and then told him the truth: We are responsible. I paused for a moment. Seth didnt say a word. He was surprised by what I had said. We are responsible, I said again. It was our strategy. We came up with it. We knew the risks. You planned the missions. I approved them. We were the leaders. And we are responsible for everything that happened during that deployment. Everything. Thats the way it is. We cant escape that. That is what being a leader is. I looked at Seth. It was clear that his heart was broken. Both Leif and Sethas tough as they were on the battlefield, as determined as they were to accomplish their missions, as aggressive as they were in pursuit of the enemycared for and loved their guys more than anything else in the world. They would have given anything to trade places with their fallen men. Anything. But that wasnt an option. That isnt the way the world works. And now here they both were, dealing with the aftermath of the ultimate Dichotomy of Leadership: as much as you care for your men, as a leader you have to do your dutyyou have to accomplish the mission. And that involves risk, and it could very well cost peoples lives. My last statement was sinking into Seths mind. Finally he spoke. I keep replaying the mission in my mindtrying to figure out what I could have done differently. Maybe I should have put that overwatch in a different building? Maybe I should have told them to set up on the second floor instead of the rooftop? Maybe we shouldnt have even done this mission? His voice got more and more emotional as he listed these thoughts. Seth, I told him calmly. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. There are a million things that could have been done differently if we knew exactly what was going to unfold that day. But we didnt. You picked that building because it was the best tactical position in the area. You had guys on the roof because that gave them the best visibilityand thereby the best protection. And you did this mission because that is what we do: we take the fight to the enemy. You had done countless operations like this. You mitigated every risk possible. But you couldnt know the outcome. Seth nodded. Like Leif, he knew this was true. But it did not alleviate the pain of losing Mikey. Over the next few weeks, as we stood down from deployment, turned in gear, and completed administrative requirements, Seth and I talked about his future. Leif and I had orders to report to training commands so we could pass on the leadership lessons we had learned in Ramadi to the next generation of SEALs who would go forward into the fray in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seth was undecided on what to do next with his life. He wasnt sure if he was going to stay in the Navy. It had been a hard deployment. Under constant pressure for six straight months, Seth had suffered several of his men wounded and one killed. He had faced fear and death on an almost daily basis. At the same time, SEAL Team Three needed someone to take over my job as commander of Task Unit Bruiser. They had offered the job to Seth. I dont know, he told me. I dont know if I can do it again. I know, I told him, understanding his mentality. He had been through hell. You dont have to take the job. You can do whatever you want. You can get out of the Teams. Travel. Surf. Go get your MBA. Make a bunch of money. You can go do all that. And that is cool if you want to. Youve done more for me and for the Teams than I ever could have asked of you. But Ill tell you something else. There are two SEAL platoons that need a leader. They need someone to look out for them and take care of them on and off the battlefield. You have more combat experience than anyone on this team. No one could do a better job leading this task unit than you can. You can do whatever you wantbut these guys, they need you. They need a leader. And that isnt going to change. Seth sat quietly for a few seconds. He had given everything in Ramadi. He had so many opportunities waiting if he got out of the Navyhe was extremely intelligent, creative, and industrious, and he already had an incredible r?sum?. I knew Seth had aspirations beyond the military, to pursue other, different challenges as a civilian. I would understand if he walked away from the Navy. He had done his share. I sat and watched Seth ponder silently. Then I saw his expression change and a look of confidence come across his face. Alright, Seth said as he stood up from his chair. Alright, what? I asked. Im going, he said as he moved toward the door. Going where? I asked. Im going to tell the executive officer that Im taking this task unit. Im taking command of Task Unit Bruiser. I have to, he said. There is no decision to make. Seth smiled and walked out the door. There is no decision to make, I thought to myself. Even with all those other options in life, there was no other option for Seth. He knew what the right thing was. He knew his duty. And he did it. Just as he had in Ramadi, time and time again, Seth stepped forwardhe stepped up. He shouldered the heavy burden of command once more, to struggle with the opposing forces that make up the countless dichotomies of leadership. To balance being a leader and being a follower. Being confident, but not cocky. To be aggressive, but still cautious. To be bold, but at the same time thoughtful. And most significant, he chose to face 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. Principle 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 relationships 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 the leader cares so much about at risk. In war, this is the ultimate dichotomy: a leader may have to send his most treasured asset his peopleinto a situation that gets them wounded or killed. If his relationships are too close and he cant detach from his emotions, he might not be able to make tough choices that involve risk to his men. With that attitude, the team will get nothing donethat team fails the mission. At the other end of the spectrum, if a leader cares too much about accomplishing the mission, he may sacrifice the health and safety of his men without gaining any significant advantage. Beyond the horrible impact it has on the men, it also impacts the team, who recognize the leader as callous and no longer respect and follow him. The team will fall apart. While not as extreme, this dichotomy reveals itself in the civilian sector as well. This is one of the most difficult dichotomies to balance, and it can be easy to go too far in either direction. If leaders develop overly close relationships with their people, they may not be willing to make those people do what is necessary to complete a project or a task. They may not have the wherewithal to lay off individuals with whom they have relationships, even if it is the right move for the good of the company. And some leaders get so close to their people that they dont want to have hard conversations with themthey dont want to tell them that they need to improve. On the other hand, if a leader is too detached from the team, he or she may overwork, overexpose, or otherwise harm its members while achieving no significant value from that sacrifice. The leader may be too quick to fire people to save a buck, thereby developing the reputation of not caring about the team beyond its ability to support the strategic goals. So leaders must find the balance. They must push hard without pushing too hard. They must drive their team to accomplish the mission without driving them off a cliff. Application to Business These people work hard! the regional manager told me emphatically. He oversaw five mining operations, which pulled raw materials out of the ground and sold them on the market as commodities. It was a straightforward business: the cheaper the cost of production, the more money the business made. But even with commodities, human beings lives and livelihoods come into play. I know they do, Ive seen them out there in the field, I replied. Youve seen them for a few hours. Thats nothing compared to the days, weeks, months, and years on end these folks work to make this place function, the regional manager replied in an aggressive tone. The regional manager clearly didnt think I got it. I looked at it from his perspectivehe was right, I couldnt fully appreciate what these men and women did every day in the mines. But his aggressiveness also came from the fact that he thought I was one of them, one of the corporate know-it-alls who had been sent down from the ivory tower to help him try to fix his problem. He was, of course, right: I had been sent from corporate to help him fix his problem. Eight months ago, corporate shut down one of his mines, moving the number of mines he oversaw from six down to five. The cost to produce had become too high, and the mine simply wasnt making enough money. When they shut it down, the regional manager kept about a quarter of the employees on board, spreading them around his other mines. Corporate fought this, but he fought harder, assuring his chain of command that with the additional manpower at each of the remaining mines, production would increase across the board. But it seemed evident that what really drove the regional managers decision was the fact that he cared about his workforcetruly and deeply cared. He was a third-generation miner. He knew the hardships of the job. My conversation with him was not going well. I had to de-escalate. I know that I dont fully understand how hard they work, I told him, admitting I didnt completely know the level of effort his people put in. Im definitely no expert. But it is certainly obvious how hard they work, even from only a couple of hours worth of observation. That wasnt good enough for the regional manager. They arent just hard workers, he responded. They have skills. They are some of the best operators in the world. Take Miguel, over there on the backhoe. He is one of the best Ive ever seen. He pointed out the window at a massive backhoe busily moving earth into a giant dump truck. Yeah. He runs that thing like it was part of his body. He is good, I told the regional manager. And you know what? the regional manager continued. He isnt just a good equipment operatorhes a good man. Hes got a wife and four kids. Good kids. Family man, I confirmed. Damn right, the regional manager told me. Damn right. Well, lets go to the office and talk through some of these numbers, I said, not wanting to put off the inevitable conversation any longer. The regional manager knew the numbers better than I did. The surplus of personnel from the mine that had closed had increased production at each of his remaining mines, but not by nearly enough to make up for the added expenses. He had too many employees now, and he knew it. The remaining five mining operations for which he was responsible were not making enough money. We went into his office and sat down. I know what you are going to say, he told me. From the tone of his voice, I could tell he wanted to pick a fighthe wanted to be mad at me. I had to tread carefully. Well. I guess I dont need to say much, then, I said. The numbers speak for themselves. The numbers dont tell the whole story, the regional manager declared. Of course they dont, I responded. But the numbers tell the part of the story that pays the bills. Theres more to it than that! he replied, clearly frustrated. I know there is, I told him, trying to be empathetic. Do you? he responded aggressively. I decided I needed to put him in check. Yes, I told him firmly. Yes, I absolutely do know. The regional manager sat there looking at me, slightly surprised at my tone as I now claimed to understand his business. But it wasnt his business I was claiming to know. It was the situation he was facing as a leader. I know there are lots of people out there, I said. Lots of people who depend on you to make the right decisionsdecisions that determine if they will continue to have a job or not; decisions that determine if they can pay their mortgage and put food on the table for their families. Those are heavy decisions and those are hard decisions. Ive been there. I have had peoples lives hinging upon decisions that I made. On what missions we did. On what areas we went into. On who I assigned to do what. I sent my menmy friends, my brothersinto harms way over and over and over again. And the outcome was not always good. The regional manager was now listeningreally listening to me for the first time. I had finally connected with him. Look, I continued, you are the leader. And that comes with a heavy burden. In the military, we call it the burden of command. It is the responsibility you feel for the lives of the people who work for you. In the SEAL Teams, I was dealing with liveshere you deal with peoples livelihoods. It isnt the exact same thing, but it is close. People are counting on you to keep their paychecks coming so they can feed their families. And you care about these people, just as you should. Just like I cared about my menthey were everything to me. They still are. That is one of the most difficult dichotomies of leadership. What is? the regional manager asked. The fact that you care about your people more than anythingbut at the same time you have to lead them. And 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 military leaders decided that they were simply going to shield their troops from every risk at all costs, what would they get accomplished? Well, they wouldnt accomplish anything, he admitted. Thats exactly right, I said. Where would our country be without the military doing its job? Ill tell you: we wouldnt even have a country. Thats why military leaders have to do what they do. And you are sitting in a very similar position. Youve done everything you can to save jobs. But the work isnt there. It just isnt. Youve been struggling for eight months. How many employees did you transfer from the mine that closed? I asked him. One hundred and forty-seven people, the regional manager answered. And how many people did you employ at your other five mines prior to their transfer? I asked. About six hundred, he said. So, in an effort to try to save the jobs of a hundred and forty-seven employees, I noted, you are putting at risk the other five mines and six hundred jobsthe entire mission. If you dont make some hard decisions, that is exactly what will happen. The regional manager sat quietly. It was sinking in. I could see it in his eyes. But I dont know I dont know if I can do it, he said soberly. Some of these folks are like family to me. Welllet me tell you this, I replied. If you dont step up and lead, what do you think corporate will do? Theyll either shut us down or He trailed off, not wanting to admit the other obvious possibility. Or what? I asked. Or get rid of me, he replied. Exactly, I agreed. Now what would be better for everyone here? To get shut down completely? Or to have someone else who doesnt care as much for the team as you do come in, take over, and drive down costs by chopping the staff to the extreme? I know its hard. I know. But if you dont do what you need to dowhat you know you need to doyou arent helping anyone. And you definitely arent leading. In fact, just the opposite. If you dont make the hard decision, you will be hurting the people you care about, not helping them. Thats 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. What you have to do here is also brutalI get it. But failure to do it is going to have far more brutal consequences. The regional manager was nodding. He understood. He was a good-hearted leader who cared for his people, an admirable and important quality in a leader. But he had strayed too far and unbalanced the dichotomy by caring more about his people than he did about the mission. He lost sight of what was most important strategically. To protect some employees, he had placed his entire mission and every other employee at risk. Now, he understood that doing so was a failure of leadership. Once he acknowledged this, he could then course correct and rebalance the dichotomy. He had to make the tough decisions. He didnt like it, but he understood. Over the next two weeks, the regional manager let go of almost eighty people. He didnt like it. But he had to do it. He had to lead. That cost savings moved the mines from the red into the black. They were profitable once again and on a sustainable path for the foreseeable future. The regional manager now understood this most difficult dichotomy of leadership: a leader must care about the 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. The regional manager now realized that he had to balance caring for his people with accomplishing the mission and that failing to balance those two opposing goals would result in his failure to do either. SEAL Team Seven Echo Platoon rolling out on a nighttime direct action mission to capture or kill suspected terrorists in Baghdad, 2003. Note: the Humvees had no armor and doors were removed so that the SEAL operators inside could face outward, enabling them to both return fire with their rifles as well as present their body armor ballistic plates to threats for at least some level of protection. (Photo courtesy of Jocko Willink) CHAPTER 2 Own It All, but Empower Others Jocko Willink FALLUJAH, IRAQ: 2003 There was blood all over the floor and smoke in the air. I heard shots fired outside, but I wasnt quite sure who was shooting or what they were shooting at. I moved down the hallway, confirming that all the rooms had been cleared. I soon found the source of the blood: a wounded Iraqi civilian, on whom my SEAL hospital corpsmana highly trained combat medicwas working to apply medical care. What happened? I asked. He was by the door on the breach, the SEAL corpsman answered. He must have been close. Lost an eye and part of his hand. Hit an artery. Thats why theres so much blood. The explosive breaching charge our SEAL platoon had used to enter was designed with enough power to open the door but minimize any potential collateral damage to civilians inside the house. This man was apparently just on the other side of the door and hit by shrapnel. Is he going to make it? I asked. Yeah. Ive got the bleeding stopped, the corpsman answered. He motioned to a tourniquet he had on the Iraqis arm. He was now working on the mans eye. Roger, I said, and continued on. The hallway was a loop that circled the whole floor of the building. It ran back into itself near the stairwell that we had ascended to start the clearance. Checking the last room, I saw that it had been cleared. I keyed up my radio and announced: Target secure. Set security and start the search. It was the fall of 2003 and my SEAL platoon had launched on this operation to capture or kill a terrorist leader in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. It was one of the most dangerous areas in Iraq, with high probability of an enemy attack. I was the platoon commander, but my senior enlisted leaders knew what to do. They took charge, ensured security was set, and initiated the search of each room. We detained thirteen military-age males, any one of whom could have been the terrorist we were after. We zip-tied their hands, searched them, and prepared to walk them out of the building to our vehicles for transport from the target. A voice crackled over the radio headset on my ear: Might want to hurry up a little in there, Jocko. The natives are getting restless out here. It was my task unit commander on the radio. He was outside, controlling the Humvees1 and the dismounted SEALs on external security, as well as coordinating with the U.S. Army units in the area. As the ground force commander, he was in charge of the entire operation, including me and my assault force. My assault force had entered the building where the terrorist was believed to be located, cleared and secured it, and now it sounded as though we needed to hurry up our search. Roger that, I replied. There was some confusion on target for my assault forceeven more than we might have expected. Clearing a building can be complicated, but the layout of this building was particularly unorthodox: lots of small, adjoining rooms and nooks to be cleared. To further complicate matters, the multiple explosive breaching charges and crash grenades2 we deployed left a cloud of thick smoke in the air that obscured our vision and added to the confusion. There were also a number of prisoners and the wounded Iraqi requiring medical attention, so it was no surprise: we were bogged down and had lost our momentum. It seemed no one was quite sure what the next step should be. I told a couple of my guys to start wrapping it up. We need to leave, I said. They nodded their heads and kept doing what they were doing. No progress was made. On top of everything else, I had heard shots fired outside, which could have been anything from warning shots to an escalating firefight. The shots were what had prompted the warning from my task unit commander. I had to get the platoon moving. Listen up! I yelled loudly. Suddenly, the whole building was quiet. If you arent on rear security, start moving back here to me. Check out, grab a prisoner, and escort them out back to the Humvees. We are taking all military-age males. Go! Almost instantly, the platoon was back on track. Guys moved toward the exit, checked out with me, grabbed a prisoner, and took them down the stairs to the street. A minute later, my leading petty officer (LPO)a key leader in the platooncame up to me, tapped me on the shoulder, and reported that all prisoners had been escorted out. Only the two of us and the last two guys on rear security were still in the building. Alright then, lets roll, I said. The LPO told the rear security team to collapseto move toward the exitand once they reached us, we made our way out of the building. We waited at the doorway to the street, and when the rear security element reached us, we all moved to our assigned Humvees. Once we were in, the lead navigator made the call: Up count from the rear. The vehicle commanders in each Humvee sounded off. Six is up. Five is up. Four is up. Three is up. Two is up. One is upwere rolling. And with that, the convoy moved out, down the darkened streets of Fallujah, guns pointed outward, eyes peering through our night-vision goggles, scanning for threats. Traveling at a fast pace and completely blacked out proved effective in avoiding an enemy ambush. Half an hour later, we were safe inside the perimeter of an Army forward operating base. We turned over our prisoners to the Army detention facility and the intelligence personnel with whom we had been working. Once that turnover was complete, we got back on the main road that connected Fallujah and Baghdad. The roads in the vicinity of Fallujah were roughdamaged from continuous violence. But once outside of Fallujah, the road became a highway not unlike many found in America. An hour or so later, we were back at our base adjacent to Baghdad International Airport. A few short months earlier, before the war kicked off, the airport had been named Saddam Hussein International Airport. Once on the base, we followed our standard operating procedures (SOPs). First, we refueled the Humvees in case we got another call to go out. We wanted to be ready. Next, we parked the Humvees, dismounted, and mustered in our platoon planning area to debrief the mission. Still wearing our op gear just in case we needed to relaunch on short notice, we went through each detail of the operation: where mistakes were made, what we could have done better, and what we did well. Once the debrief was complete, we went back to the vehicles to perform the maintenance of the platoon gear: in this case, the Humvees, heavy weapons, navigation systems, and communications gear. When that was complete, we moved to our weapons-cleaning area and cleaned our personal weapons. Only after the team and platoon gear had been taken care of did the SEALs clean and perform maintenance on their personal gear and then, finally, themselves a shower and perhaps a quick bite to eat. As soon as that was complete, the assistant platoon commander and I began looking at possible operations for the next night, preparing approval documents to run up the chain of command, and building operations briefs to give to the platoon. By six or seven oclock in the morning, we would go to sleep for a few hours and be up in time for lunch at eleven. That quickly became the cycle for running these operationsconducting largely nighttime direct action raids targeting suspected terrorists or Saddam Hussein regime loyalists. It might seem hard to believe, but like most SEAL platoons at the time, we had no previous real combat experience. Everyone in my platoon had missed the first Gulf War, which had lasted only seventy-two hours with limited ground combat. We were too young to have fought in Grenada or Panama. SEALs who saw action in Somalia were few and far between, and there werent any with us. The closest most of us had come to combat before the Iraq War kicked off had been anti-smuggling operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf, enforcing UN sanctions against Saddams government. We boarded ships and smaller wooden vessels called dhows that were suspected of smuggling oil or other contraband out of Iraq. We shadowed the vessels from our small boats or by helicopter, and once we were confident they had entered international waters, we boarded the vessels, quickly made our way to the bridge of the ship, and took control of the vessel and crew. Once we had them secured, we would call in a U.S. Navy or Coast Guard boarding team to take over for us. While the anti-smuggling operations during the late 1990s and early 2000s were better than nothing, they were hardly challenging missions. I conducted a number of them while I was an assistant platoon commander, but we never fired a shotand to be frank, there was never even a real, legitimate threat. But it was our mission and we did it professionally. Those missions were a far cry from being on the ground in Iraq hunting down terrorists. In Iraq, the threat level was infinitely higher and the operations infinitely more aggressive. Because we were all so inexperienced in combat, I got down in the weeds on much of the planning and execution of the operations. With my first time in real combat, I subconsciously felt I had something to proveto myself and to those around me. In order to ensure we did the best job possible, I got very granular in the entire mission process. As soon as we received a target from our intelligence group, I was all over it, looking at the routes into and out of the target, poring over the intel, helping plan the breach team sequence, task organizing the assault force, building the load-out plan for the Humvees, running rehearsals. In short, I owned everything in my world. All of it. Of course, I wanted my junior personnel to step up, take ownership, and lead some of the missions themselves. But they didnt. And this was a little surprising, because I had solid senior and junior enlisted personnel who I knew could handle much more. But they werent taking ownership the way I needed them to. So I continued to oversee everything in close detail. I micromanaged. But there was only so much I could doand so much I could own. Very quickly, our operational tempo picked up. On top of the direct action missions we conducted to capture or kill enemy insurgents, we began to conduct numerous additional operations, including airborne and vehicle-borne reconnaissance missions and other intelligence-gathering operations. One morning we were tasked with multiple reconnaissance missions and we received information for two simultaneous potential direct action capture/kill missions that evening. I knew there was no way to own all of those operations myself. I assigned responsibility for each of the missions to four of my junior leaders and told them to come up with a plan, deconflict3 with each other for assets and personnel, and check in with me after they came up with their plans. Then I stood back and let them go. The results were beyond anything Id expected. They took ownership. Not only did they come up with solid, tactically sound plans, they also got creative and developed new and innovative ideas to make our execution of those plans more effective. Most important, they took full ownership of the operations and worked with all the confidence and aggressive leadership we needed to be successful in combat. It was everything I had wished for them to do from the start. Of course, I still took Extreme Ownershipthis is the underlying philosophy that guides everything I did, and still do, as a leader. I was still 100 percent responsible for their operations, their plans, the manner they executed missions, and the success or failure of those missions. But my ownership had to be balanced with Decentralized Command; I needed to allow them to own the missions at their level so they were fully empowered and could execute with conviction and lead from their positions with certitude. The more our operational tempo picked up, the less time I had to spend in the weeds and the more ownership they demonstrated. Soon, I was doing nothing more than a cursory check of their mission plans before sending them out to conduct operations on their own without me, my assistant platoon commander, or my platoon chiefin other words, without senior SEAL supervision. Yet my junior leaders performed tremendously well. And I learned a valuable lesson: the reason they hadnt stepped up prior to this was that I hadnt allowed it. My attitude of taking Extreme Ownership of everything had left them with nothing to own. They didnt realize itnor did Ibut my micromanagement was so controlling that they had shut down mentally. Not that they gave up or had a bad attitude; they didnt at all. But as the leader, I had set the precedent that I would do everything myself. And when I ran everything, they just sat back and waited for me to dictate the plan and make the calls. As soon as I backed off and let them start to run things, they ran with everything and they ran hard. It was beautiful to behold. I watched them delve into their missions with total intensity and dedication. The benefits to this approach were multifaceted. First, since I was no longer in the weeds, I saw much more of the big picture. I was able to start focusing on coordination with other elements in the area, gaining a better picture of the intelligence, and making sure I fully understood the terrain and the targets in the area. Second, since I was not focused on one specific operation, I was able to see how the different operations might support or conflict with each other. From this perspective, I was able to better allocate resources to the right places and at the right times without burning out our people or equipment. Finally, with my subordinate leadership running the tactical operations, I had the chance to look at operations at a little higher level. I could now piece together the intelligence picture and understand how we could capture or kill the most terrorists possible. It allowed me to start looking up and out at the next level instead of down and in at my own team. While I had known that ownershipExtreme Ownershipwas critical for a leader, this situation made me realize that I had taken it too far. True Extreme Ownership meant that all responsibility rested with me, as the leader. It didnt mean that I, as the leader, personally did everything myself. My misunderstanding of Extreme Ownership had overrun the Decentralized Command that was integral for our platoon to execute most effectively. I had to find the right balance between taking all ownership myself and allowing my team to take ownership. But there were other times when I hadnt taken enough ownershipwhen I had let the dichotomy slide too far in the other direction and been too hands-off. Prior to arriving in Iraq, my platoon was preparing and rehearsing for an important and sensitive mission. It was a maritime operation that required us to create some new techniques for rendezvousing with a vessel at sea and then transferring people under extreme conditions. As a leader trying to practice Decentralized Command, I strove to empower my subordinate leaders and let them lead, so I tasked one of my senior SEAL petty officers to lead the operation. This included creating the new techniques and running the training and rehearsals to ensure we were prepared to execute. He was an experienced, mature SEAL with a great operational reputation, and I trusted him and knew he would get the job done. The mission called for us to work closely with a Naval Special Warfare (NSW) boat unit, the crews who operated high-speed watercraft designed to support SEAL missions. We needed to collaborate with them to understand how to best utilize their assets. The senior petty officer set up some meetings with the boat unit, and we began initial pierside dry runs, where we practiced the techniques on land, and rehearsals at sea to develop and test the procedures we were going to use. The new procedures utilized gear and equipment we were already familiar with: maritime radios, night-vision goggles, radar, one-inch tubular nylon, and some other maritime rigging. Once we had the concept figured out, it was straightforward and relatively easy. As we continued the meetings and pierside rehearsals, I noticed my senior SEAL petty officer was running things relatively loosely compared with the approach I would normally have taken. And because I wasnt breathing down his neck, he didnt provide much oversight on the rest of the platoon either. The more slack he gave the platoon, the more they took advantage of it. When we met the boat crew at 0700,4 some of our guys would arrive at 0659. When the platoon had planned to do six rehearsals, we would only execute three rehearsals. Guys were showing up in incomplete uniforms, even mixing in some civilian clothes. They looked unprofessional. And while the platoon was rehearsing the mission the way they predicted it would happen, they werent rehearsing any unexpected contingencies. This went on for a couple of weeks as we got closer and closer to executing the actual mission. I maintained my lofty attitude and allowed the senior petty officer to continue to lead with a relative amount of slack. I didnt feel comfortable with it, but I wanted him to have ownership and know that I trusted him. My gut was telling me it had gone too far; I had allowed things to get too loose. But I never addressed it with my senior petty officer or the platoon. I figured that since I had put him in charge, he had to own it. That changed the first day we were to rehearse at sea. We had an underway time of 0600 meaning the NSW boats would launch from the pier at 0600 sharp. I showed up, in uniform, prepared and ready to go at 0530, and boarded one of the two vessels to which I had been assigned. I checked and rechecked my gear and made sure I was ready to execute. As 0600 approached, the rest of the platoon straggled in. Two or three guys at a time, in sloppy uniforms, rushing around, running late. By 0600, two of our guys were still missing. The special boat unit chief approached our senior petty officer and told him it was time to get under way. The senior petty officer explained that he had just talked to the last two guys and they were running a few minutes late and that we needed to wait for them. They arrived and crossed the browthe gangway from the pieronto the boat at 0607. Seven minutes late. I was embarrassed. Embarrassed for myself, embarrassed for the platoon, and embarrassed for the SEAL Teams. Normally a Navy ship would leave stragglers behindand those stragglers would miss movement, as it is called in the Navy, a substantial violation that incurs severe punishment. But since this mission revolved around our participation, the boat chief agreed we would wait for the two SEALs. But it was still inexcusable. Finally, with all our platoon onboard, the two NSW boats got under way and moved out over the horizon, out of visibility of the shore. Once we were on station at sea in the area we had designated for rehearsal, the senior petty officer gave the order to commence. The platoon members moved into their positions and started to work, setting up rigging, breaking out our communications gear, and preparing to execute the actions at the objective. Since I was letting the senior petty officer run this mission, I carried out my assigned tasks as if I were one of the SEAL shootersone of the frontline troopers. Then I sensed some distress, and then panic, among the platoon. From the conversations among the SEALs in the platoon, it was clear something was missing: I dont have it. I thought you brought it? Where did you put it last time? That wasnt my job. No one told me to get it. I watched quietly for a few minutes as the the platoon panicked. Then, I walked over to the senior petty officer. Whats the issue? I asked him. We forgot the one-inch tubular nylon, he said dejectedly, knowing that this simple item was a mission-critical piece of equipment. Once again I was disappointed, embarrassed, and angry. It was clear that, as the leader, I had been too hands-off. Roger, I told him. Well, you better figure something out. Quick. Start with the boat chief. They might have some somewhere. The senior petty officer asked various people if they had any extra one-inch tubular nylon. Eventually, the boat crew guys came up with enough half-inch tubular nylon that we could tie together and use to execute the mission. It was not pretty, not ideal, and not as safe as we would have liked it, but we made it work. Worse, we were now running even further behind schedule all of which was nobodys fault but our own. We continued with the rehearsal, completed the mock mission, and then headed back to the pier. There, we off-loaded our gear and made our way back across the base to our platoon planning space. Back in our platoon space, I had the platoon debrief the training operation. They mentioned the missing gear and some other things that we needed to do better. But the criticism was light compared to what it should have been. I didnt say anything. As the debrief wound down, I asked, Does anyone have anything else? No one did. I sat for a moment to be sure. No one addressed our subpar performance. This was not good. I had to take Extreme Ownership. I called the platoon leadership into my office. They could tell I was not happy. When the last man came in, I shut the door. I want to do every one of your jobsall of them, I told them bluntly. I know how to do them. And I know how to do them right. I know how to make sure no one is ever late. I know how to make sure we never forget anything for a mission, ever. I know exactly how to do that. And I want to do that. I want to run this platoon. I want to run every facet of this platoon to the exacting and unwavering standards that I know cannot be questioned. But I also know that isnt the right way to run a platoon. I know that will stifle your growth as SEALs and as leaders. So. I am going to give you one more chance. One more chance to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. No one will ever be late again. No one will ever forget gear again. Everyone will be early. You will inspect all gear. You will conduct every mission, every operation, every training event, as if it is the most important thing in your life. If we drop the ball one more time, you are done. I am taking over. That will be it. Do you understand? The senior SEAL petty officer, a friend of mine and a solid SEAL, knew exactly where I was coming from. He knew I was right and that I meant what I said. We got it, sir, he replied. This wont happen again. I will make sure of it. We all will. And that was that. The platoon never did let me down again. A few weeks later, we deployed to Iraq and conducted combat mission after mission, aggressively pursuing the enemy throughout the country. The threat I had made of micromanagement after the maritime operation had been enough to change their attitudes, their actions, and their ownership. They never slacked off again; instead, I was the one who had to slack off a little once we got to Iraq. I had to let them take charge. I had to let them take ownership. I had to let them lead. I had to balance the dichotomy between taking too much ownership and not taking enough. Principle Micromanagement and hands-off leadership styles are obviously opposites. The micromanager tries to control every thought and action of each individual on the team. Micromanagement fails because no one person can control multiple people executing a vast number of actions in a dynamic environment, where changes in the situation occur rapidly and with unpredictability. It also inhibits the growth of subordinates: when people become accustomed to being told what to do, they begin to await direction. Initiative fades and eventually dies. Creativity and bold thought and action soon die as well. The team becomes a bunch of simple and thoughtless automatons, following orders without understanding, moving forward only when told to do so. A team like that will never achieve greatness. The hands-off leader with a laissez-faire attitude is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Such a leader fails to provide specific directionin some cases almost no clear direction whatsoever. Instead of a lack of thought like a team that is micromanaged, a team with a hands-off leader thinks too much. Its members have grand ideas and plans, they come up with new tactics and proceduresthey even start to develop their own broad strategies beyond the boundaries of their responsibilities and competence. Such grandiose ideas and thoughts become a major problem when they are not aligned with the greater vision and goals of the company. So the troops, instead of pushing the team toward its strategic goals, move in random directions. They not only fail to provide each other with simple support but often work on projects or efforts that directly conflict with what other members of the team are doing. In order to correctly balance these two leadership styles, a leader must find the middle ground and pay attention to the team, ensuring that the leader doesnt push too far in one direction or the other. There are some clear warning signs that indicate when a leader has leaned too far in the direction of one of these leadership styles. Here are the commons symptoms that result from 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 betold about a solution. 3.Even in an emergency, a team that is being micromanaged will not mobilize and takeaction. 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 withother 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, 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. 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. In Task Unit Bruiser, this was done regularly during our pre-deployment training cycle. Senior leadership, including Leif, the Delta Platoon commander, Seth Stone, and the senior enlisted personnel, would step back and allow junior leaders to step up, plan, and execute training missions. We saw the junior leaders quickly transform from passively waiting to be told what to do into proactive leaders who assessed problems and implemented solutions. Here are common symptoms that indicate when a leader is too hands-off with his team: 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 orinterfere with each other. 3.Initiative oversteps the bounds of authority, and both individuals and teams carry outactions that are beyond what they have the authorization to do. 4.Failure to coordinate. While a micromanaged team might not coordinate with otherteams because it doesnt 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 inkeeping with the strategic direction of the team or the commanders intent. 6.There are too many people trying to lead. Since everyone is trying to lead, there wontbe 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. When these behaviors are observed by a leader, there are some basic actions to take to get the team back on course. 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 leadthe classic case of too many coaches, not enough playersthen the leader must assign and clearly delineate the chain of command, roles, and responsibilities of the team leaders and give them proper authority. I saw this manifest itself in SEAL task units, including Task Unit Bruiser, when a mission tasking would be given to the platoons without a clearly assigned lead. A SEAL task unit consists of two platoons, each with its own leadership: a platoon commander, a platoon chief, an assistant platoon commander, and a leading petty officer. If a mission was given to the platoons without assigning a platoon as the lead, they would both begin to come up with their own separate and distinct plans and courses of action. The longer the platoons were left without guidance as to which one had the lead on the operation, the further they would head down the paths of their own plans, wasting time and effort. This is easily solved by delineating one platoon as the lead element on the operation and the other as the supporting element. With that clear direction, efforts were coordinated and the team could work together toward a unified plan. But once again, the key is balance, maintaining an equilibrium where the troops have the guidance to execute but at the same time the freedom to make decisions and lead. Application to Business The finished product had been sold. The problem was, the finished product wasnt finished yet. Sure, there were some functional beta models that had been manufactured one at a time by hand, but no final version had been solidified. Furthermore, no standard manufacturing process had been established for a large production run. What made this even harder was the industry. The product was to be utilized in cars, which added some significant difficulties. First, the software to integrate it had to be interoperable with several different manufacturers and their car models. Second, the product had to fit into predesigned spaces that allowed no significant change in shape or volume of the equipment. Finally, given the safety regulations in vehicle production, there was very little leeway with regard to material that could be used in manufacturing. When I showed up to run leadership training aimed at developing new leaders at this growing company, things seemed to be on track. While the company was well established with many years in the industry, it was in a growth phase and needed training for newly promoted and hired leaders. The attitude at the company was excellent, and the employees were abuzz with the opportunities ahead and the promising progress on the horizon. There was also a great deal of confidence. Much of the companys growth was geared toward supporting a high-demand signal for a new product that the company planned to release. When I first showed up to work with the company, it was in the final stages of the new product rollout. They had completed the bulk of the design, done preliminary testing on the software, and initiated the rollout of a manufacturing process for adaptation to the final design. Sales had already started, and they were strong. Overall, I was impressed with the situation and how things were going. I spent most of my time training the newly promoted and hired leaders. The rest of the time I spent in familiarization with the companys leadership and the state of the business. When the three-day leadership development program I ran for the companys new leaders was complete, I departed with a plan to return in six weeks. At that time, I would host follow-on training for those leaders from the first course and run a new course for the next round of new hires and recently promoted leaders. But when I returned six weeks later, the atmosphere at the company had completely changed. Gone was the enthusiasm and the confidence. Gone was the vision of opportunity and success. There was a new attitude: fear and uncertainty. The CEO was blunt with me. I dont think we are going to make it, he said, referring to the scheduled release of the new product. Since the last time you were here, we have barely moved. Our progress has ground to a halt. The teams just arent getting anything done. Are these the team leaders that I just trained? I asked him, referring to the group of midlevel managers who had been through Echelon Fronts basic leadership course. No. Not at all, the CEO answered. They are the least of my problems. Im not getting performance from my senior leaders. What seems to be the issue? I asked. I dont know, he replied. But we need to get it fixed. Can we postpone your next block of training for the midlevel managers so you can spend a few days with my senior leadership team to figure out what is wrong? I think so, I answered. Let me confirm my schedule. I called Jamie, our director of operations at Echelon Front, who quickly shifted some events in my schedule and freed up the time so I could adapt to the CEOs request and engage with the companys senior leadership team. Do you want to talk to the team? the CEO asked. I had already put his senior leadership team through a course on Extreme Ownership and the fundamental principles of combat leadership. They seemed to have grasped it pretty well. I didnt need to say moreI needed to get in and see what was happening and where the issue was. No, I replied, I have talked enough. I need to see the team in action. When is the next meeting where the whole group will be together? Well, actually we have a meeting in a few minutes with everyone and then another one just after lunch, the CEO replied. And in between those two and throughout the afternoon, I meet with the leaders and their team lead. Busy schedule. How many times a week do you hold those meetings? I asked. We actually have them every day. There is a lot going on right now and I have to take ownershipExtreme Ownershipto keep things in check and on track. Got it, I replied slowly, as I wondered if Id just gotten my first indication of the problem. We walked down the hallway and into the first meeting. The entire leadership team was present. I thought the meeting would be a quick, broad update of what was happening. I was wrong. Each leader gave a full update of what was happening in his or her department. Minute details were covered that should have been outside the scope of the executive-level team. As courses of action were discussed, virtually indistinguishable options were presented and drawnout arguments made, and finally, the CEO made decisions on how the various teams would execute. The meeting lasted nearly two full hours. If that wasnt bad enough, as soon as the meeting concluded, it was followed by another meeting, this time with the engineering team, which wanted guidance on what manufacturer to use for several parts of the product. That meeting, which also got bogged down in the details, lasted another forty-five minutes. Before we knew it, it was lunchtime. I walked with the CEO back to his office. While we ate, he answered a plethora of questions that had come through e-mail and made two phone callsnot to his direct reports but to frontline engineers who explained some minute elements of the electronic components to be embedded in the new product. After these e-mail conversations and phone calls, we went into the afternoon leadership huddle. I again hoped the meeting would be a quick confirmation of progress made and any necessary troubleshooting. Once again, I was wrong. Like the others before it, this meeting quickly devolved into a detailed discussion of the minutiae involved in every aspect of the engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and sale of the product. The CEO drilled down on each aspect of the planning and execution and made decisions at every level. As I looked around at the others in the meeting, I expected to see frustration. But most of the faces didnt look frustrated. They sat and stared and waited for their turn to talk and get questions answered by the CEO. There was no emotion, no frustration or sense of urgency there was no initiative in the group. Two more days went by with much of the same: meetings, meetings, meetings. Decisions were made, almost every single one of them by the CEO. Finally, after one meeting ended, the CEO and I walked back to his office. Now do you see what I am talking about? he asked. I do indeed, I responded. They arent taking any initiative; they arent pushing things to happenthey arent taking ownership! he lamented. That was very evident in every one of those meetings, I noted. So. What do I do? the CEO asked. How can I get them to take Extreme Ownership? The answer is simple, but it isnt easy, I answered. You have to give them ownership. Im trying toand Im taking ownership to set the examplebut they arent taking any ownership at all! the CEO complained. Yes. That is exactly what is happening: you are taking ownershipbut you are taking too much ownership, I told the CEO. Too much ownership? he asked, confused. You didnt even tell me that was possible. It is. And yes, I should have explained that more clearly to you, I said. Leaders can actually take too much ownership. Yes, with Extreme Ownership you are responsible for everything in your world. But you cant make every decision. You have to empower your team to lead, to take ownership. So you have to give them ownership. When a leader tries to own everythingto run every single move their team makes, I continued, it doesnt work. Maybe it is the desire to make sure everything goes right. Maybe it is a lack of trust that subordinate leaders know what to do. Maybe it is egoleaders want to feel they are the person who is critical for every little decision. But when a leader takes too much ownership, there is no ownership left for the team or subordinate leaders to take. So the team loses initiative. They lose momentum. They wont make any decisions. They just sit around and wait to be told what to do. Although this was a lot to absorb, I could see it was making complete sense to the CEO. Ive smothered them, havent I? he said. Well, thats a strong wordthat implies death, I joked. But metaphorically, yes. That is a good description of what has happened. So what do I do now? the CEO asked. Give them space. Give them air, I instructed. Let them breathe again. You have to let them make decisions. You have to let them plot the course. You need to tell them the destination, but you need to let them figure out how to get there. You have to let them take ownershipreal ownershipof their piece of the mission. Then you will have a team with a culture of true, effective Extreme Ownership and your performance will skyrocket. That sounds good. But how do I actually make that happen from a tactical perspective? the CEO inquired. Firstlets cut down all the meetings. That is one of the reasons things arent moving. Instead of finding solutions, right now they just ask you for the solution. When you do have meetings, stop being the Easy Button, I told him. The Easy Button? How am I an Easy Button? the CEO asked. By answering every question, solving every problem, and making every single decision, I answered. Why should your leaders think for themselves when they can just press the Easy Button and have you think for them and make the decisions for them as well? And they can blame you if something goes wrong because you made the decision. When you do all that for them, they dont need to think or act, and then they wont think or act. Thats where these guys are at. But if I dont answer their questions the CEO began. I cut him off: Then they will answer the questions themselves. They will find solutions for themselves. They will work together to solve problems at the source, instead of running them up to you. So Decentralized Command is what you are talking about, right? the CEO asked. Exactly, I said. And that is the balance you need to find, the balance between Decentralized Command and Extreme Ownership. When your team is too decentralized, no one knows in what direction to go. Too much ownership, and people wont act with any level of initiative. And Ive gone too far in that direction. Ive taken too much ownership, the CEO recognized. Yeah, I replied, but its okay. You are recognizing the dichotomy. Now, swing the pendulum backbut make sure you dont go too far. I see people make that mistake all the time: they overcorrect themselves. So. Make the move. Cancel some of the meetings. Let the teams and the leaders make decisions. But dont completely check out. You dont need to row the boat or even steer it. You just have to make sure it is heading in the right direction. Over the next few weeks, the CEO adjusted his level of control. I had to restrain him a few times and ease him away from his tendency to run everything himself. But he did check himself, and the change from his subordinate leadershipand the rest of the teamcame about fairly quickly. Within a few weeks, their attitude shifted. Leaders at every level of the team began to lead. They took ownership. Progress picked up and the team got the product back on target for launch. Frogman on the Roof was the radio call that let others know that SEALs were on the high ground. Here, Task Unit Bruiser SEALs, from a combined force of Charlie and Delta platoons, maneuver on the rooftop, keeping as low as possible to minimize exposure to incoming enemy bullets. Marc Lee, at left, carries his Mark 48 machine gun. At right, in the foreground, is the SEAL operator who was later gravely wounded, as described in Chapter 1. (Photo courtesy of Todd Pitman) CHAPTER 3 Resolute, but Not Overbearing Leif Babin SOUTH RAMADI, IRAQ: 2006 Bright orange tracers streaked like laser beams just a few feet over our heads, each supersonic bullet zipping past with a thunderous crack. Holy shit, I thought as we quickly ducked down behind the roof wall. Those are friendlies shooting at us. I looked over at Dave Berke, who crouched down nearby. Like the other SEALs on the roof with us, we tried to stay low enough to not get our heads shot off. Dave looked back at me and shook his head with a smile that mixed humor and concern. Thats not cool, Dave saidthe understatement of the year. Dave Berke was a U.S. Marine Corps major. A fighter pilot by trade, he had been the lead instructor at the legendary U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, better known as TOPGUN. Dave had left the cockpit behind and volunteered to serve on the ground as a forward air controller in the most dangerous place in Iraq: Ramadi. He led a Supporting Arms Liaison Team (SALT) attached to the U.S. Marine Corps 5th Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company. Dave and his twelve Marines from SALT 6 accompanied Charlie Platoon to coordinate with the aircraft supporting this operation in the skies overhead. They patrolled in with us on foot to spearhead the operation ahead of the U.S. Army and Iraqi Army units. A U.S. tank two hundred yards away had fired a burst from its heavy machine gun directly over our position. It was friendly fire, a blue-on-blue in U.S. military parlance. To be killed or horribly wounded by enemy fire was one thing. To be killed by our own American forces was something much worse. That was way too close for comfort, I thought in the seconds following as I crouched as low as possible behind the low concrete wall that was our only means of cover. We had to shut that down immediately and alert the tank that we were friendly forces. To do so, I had to contact the specific tank commander directly via radio and tell them to cease fire. The tanks heavy machine gun was the .50-caliber M2 Browning. Known as the Ma Deuce, it packed a hell of a punch. In U.S. military service since 1933, it had proven its deadly effectiveness in every American war since. Each massive round could take a mans head clean off or remove the bulk of his chest cavity. It could also punch right through concrete walls, like the one we were hiding behind. We had just received a fully automatic burst of probably a dozen rounds in a matter of seconds. If I didnt shut down that fire immediately and let the U.S. tank know we were friendlies, it could mean horrible wounds and death for a number of us. * * * Moments before, I stood with several Charlie Platoon SEALs on the rooftop of an Iraqi house deep in enemy territory. Dave stood next to me, communicating with a U.S. Air Force AC-130U Spooky gunship that circled high overhead, wielding both awesome firepower and extraordinary surveillance capability from thousands of feet in the night sky above. The first U.S. troops on the ground in this volatile neighborhood, we had patrolled in on foot several hours earlier in the night and set up a sniper overwatch position to disrupt any attacks from insurgents on the main force of the operation: some fifty U.S. tanks and armored vehicles, and nearly one thousand U.S. and Iraqi troops, led by Task Force Bandit, 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. Our SEAL snipers were set up in shooting positions along with our machine guns and security teams. Dave and his Marine radioman were on the rooftop with us, relaying updates from the Spooky gunship overhead. We watched as the heavy phalanx of American armorM1A2 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehiclesrolled in our direction, crossing the railroad bridge over the canal and following the road that led to the village where we were positioned. To clear the field of view for our snipers, our explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) bomb technicians and SEAL breachers put explosive charges in place to knock down several palm trees. Wed taken great steps to alert Task Force Banditthe battalion, companies, and platoonsto the exact location of our sniper overwatch so they wouldnt mistake us for enemy forces. We had also marked our position with a pre-determined signal device. But I hadnt considered how dangerous it was for us to set off the explosions to take out the trees. This was one of the first major operations of the Seize, Clear, Hold, Build strategy to take back Ramadi from the deadly insurgents who controlled the city, and it was a historic and massive undertaking. It had been meticulously planned for weeks, examining every realistic contingency we could imagine. Heavy fighting was expected, as were major U.S. casualties. The Soldiers manning the tanks were already on edge, expecting attack as they maneuvered into enemy territory. Though the key leaders had been briefed on the specific building where we planned to set up our overwatch position, that information didnt always make it down to the forward troops on the front lines of the operation. And even if the word was passed to the frontline troops, understanding locations on the battle map and correlating this with the actual street and buildings seen from the ground level proved difficult at best. I had radioed to Jocko, who was co-located with the Army battalion at the U.S. staging point across the bridge, that we would be conducting a controlled detonation: a non-combat explosion of demolition charges that wed set ourselves. The battalion acknowledged via radio they understood. But again, that didnt guarantee that the word was passed to the tank crews or that they fully processed what that meant. The tankers had their own challenges and risks to confront: significant threats from massive IEDs buried in the road and enemy attacks with machine guns and RPG-7 rockets. When our controlled detonations shattered the quiet and the blasts of fire momentarily lit up the dark, one of the Abrams tank commanders must have thought it was an enemy attack. Seeing our silhouettes on the rooftop and thinking we were insurgent fighters, he lit us up with a burst from his heavy machine gun. We had been casually peering over the roof wall, watching the armored vehicles crawl toward us on their tracks, when the burst of .50-caliber rounds cracked just over our heads. That sent us all diving to the deck to seek cover. Every nanosecond counted as I reached into my gear for my radio. Our typical radio procedures were for me to communicate directly to Jocko, who would then pass the word to the battalion staff he was standing next to, who would relay to their company, who would relay to the platoon in whose unit the tank belonged. But there was no time for that now. Every moment was crucial. I needed to speak directly to that tank immediately, or the next burst of .50-caliber machine gun rounds might chew us to bitsthough the .50-cal was preferable to a massive main gun round from the tanks 120mm smoothbore cannon, which could be next. Quickly, I switched my radio channel dial to the tanks company net and keyed up. Cease fire, cease fire, I said. You are shooting at friendlies. Receipt of the radio transmission was acknowledged. The shooting stopped. That was a close one, I thought. I wasnt angry, but more concerned with the recognition of how easily friendly fire could happen, despite our extensive efforts to mitigate the risk of blueon-blue. The ability to switch my radio to a different net and talk directly to the tank from which we were taking fire may well have saved us. It was a mission-critical skill upon which I depended during nearly every combat operation, as did the other leaders in Charlie Platoon and Task Unit Bruiser. Yet, when we had first arrived in Ramadi, as SEALs, we didnt understand the U.S. Army and Marine Corps radio networks and were unable to directly communicate with them via radio. * * * In the SEAL Teams, we had a different culture, different tactics, and different gear from our U.S. Army and Marine Corps brethren. Nowhere was that more apparent than in our radio communications equipment. They used an entirely different system. In order for us to talk to them, we needed to learn how to use their system. Typically, in a SEAL platoon, the radioman is the communications expert who programs the radios and troubleshoots any issues for everyone else in the platoon. We came to depend on our SEAL radioman for everything involving radios. On previous deployments, if you had a problem with a radio, you just popped it out of your gear and tossed it to the radioman to fix or swap out for a new one. Additionally, the leader depended upon the SEAL radioman for all communications back to the tactical operations center and all units outside of the SEAL squad or platoon. But in Ramadi, we often broke up into small units and there werent enough SEAL radiomen to go around. You might very well find yourself serving as the radioman of an element when the actual SEAL radiomen were in a different element or squad in a separate building or on a different operation altogether. As task unit commander and a prior SEAL radioman in his enlisted days, Jocko understood that each member of Task Unit Bruiser had to be competent with our radios. He knew we all individually needed to learn how to program our radios so any one of us could talk directly to the Soldiers and Marines we fought alongside and depended on for help when we found ourselves in a jam. It was a skill critical to saving lives on the battlefield. Everybody make sure you know how to program your radios, Jocko commanded during an early brief in the Charlie Platoon mission planning space. Even among SEALs, Jocko was a big, mean-looking, and intimidating guy. You might think that whatever Jocko said, we were going to do it. If not because we feared his wrath, because we respected his leadership and experience. But we didnt learn how to program our radios. At least, most of us didnt. It wasnt that we didnt think it was important or that we didnt respect Jocko. We did. But we simply were overtasked, and in the hectic schedule, other pressing issues always took precedence. Jockos order to learn how to program our radios slipped to the back burner. Most of us never got around to it. A few days after Jockos decree that we had to learn to program our radios, Task Unit Bruiser put together a plan and received approval to launch on a nighttime raid to capture or kill the leaders of an Iraqi insurgent terrorist cell responsible for multiple deadly attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops in Ramadi. Charlie Platoon had the lead and came up with a plan. Just as we did prior to every operation, we gathered the troops for the mission brief, known as an operation order, or OPORD. The key leaders stood up and presented their respective parts of the plan. We talked through the details and answered remaining questions. As we were wrapping up the OPORD, Jocko stood up and made some final strategic comments. Finally, he asked a question that caught us red-handed. Does everyone know how to program their radios? Jocko asked. There were blank stares. But nobody had the courage to say, No. I thought: We didnt have time. We didnt make the time. But Jocko didnt need to hear an answer. No doubt he could tell from the blank stares and lack of response that most of the SEAL operators in the room, about to launch on this combat operation, didnt know how to program their radios themselves. Jocko looked at one of the SEAL operators, a new guy in the platoon, whom we called Biff after the character from the movie Back to the Future. Biff, let me see your radio, Jocko said bluntly. Biff quickly complied, unscrewed the connector to his headset, unclipped the fast-tech fastener, pulled the radio from his gear, and handed it to Jocko. There was a function on the radio that would clear its memory, requiring it to be reprogrammed. Jocko cleared the radio and handed it back to Biff. Reprogram that, Jocko directed. Biff stared back blankly. He didnt know how to reprogram his radio. It was an uncomfortable place to be, called out in front of everyone in our SEAL platoon and task unit, having failed to comply with Jockos order. But he wasnt alone, as most of us were in the same boat. Jocko wasnt angry. He understood that many of us in the room hadnt learned to program our radios, not through willful disobedience but because we hadnt fully understood its importance. Since we didnt clearly understand the importance, we didnt make the time to learn. Yet Jocko wasnt backing down. He didnt let it go. Jocko held the line, enforced the standard. Jocko knew that when we were out on the battlefield, in smaller elements beyond the reach of help or support, we had to be able to operate the radios ourselves. With Decentralized Command, it was crucial that leaders at every level be fully self-reliant, ready to step up and execute to accomplish the mission. Turning to the Charlie Platoons senior SEAL radioman, he said: Teach Biff how to reprogram his radio. To the rest of us in the platoon, Jocko added: Everybody else make sure you know how to program your radios. It could save your life. And if you dont know how to program them by the next mission, youre not going outside the wire. By the next combat operation, everyone in the platoonevery SEAL in Task Unit Bruiser knew how to program their radios; we had practiced it multiple times. The boss had called us all out and made it clear that he fully expected his order to be carried out, no exceptions. For leaders, it is often a struggle to know when and where to hold the line. In the SEAL Teams, just as in any organization, leaders who constantly crack the whip on their team and verbally berate their people over trivial issues are despised, not respected. Those leaders are ineffective and few will follow them when it matters. A leader cannot be overbearing. But the dichotomy here is that 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. Had Jocko not called us out to prove we could program our own radios, we would never have done it. It is quite likely that our inability to do so would have cost lives. I certainly would never have been fully competent in talking directly to Soldiers and Marines on their company and platoon radio nets. Had Jocko not done this, would he truly have been taking care of the SEAL operators in the task unit? The answer is most certainly not. But Jocko understood that taking care of your people means looking out for their long-term good and the long-term good of the strategic mission. There are some standards that simply cannot be compromised. Going forward, everyone in Task Unit Bruiser was competent in programming and utilizing their personal radios. As non-radiomen, we also practiced utilizing the larger radios that the radiomen carried, in the event we needed themwhich happened frequently. As other SEALs visited Camp Ramadi and joined our platoon and task unit as strap hangers on combat operations, one of the very first things we taught them was how to program their own radios and communicate directly with Army and Marine Corps units. Jocko had held the line. As a result, we were prepared for the realities of the battlefield, able to mitigate risk and operate most effectively to accomplish our mission. As I reflected upon Jockos demonstration of a leaders responsibility to ensure standards are maintained, I thought about the times in my career when I failed to do so. As a young leader, I knew there were times we needed to improve our performance, do another run-through in the kill house (where we practiced close-quarters combat), or add an additional rehearsal to ensure we were fully prepared. Yet in those moments, I sometimes hadnt held the line; I hadnt pushed the team hard enough. Any additional work assigned to the team was going to get pushback and generate complaints. And there were times when I let things slide, confusing the idea of taking care of your people with allowing them not to work as hard. But in the end, that resulted in mediocre performance. And the team never got better, never held each other accountable. This was a failure of leadershipmy leadership. I also recognized the dichotomy: there were other times when I was overbearing. I insisted on doing things a certain way, because it was my way, or harped on trivial matters that were strategically unimportant, thinking I was doing right by holding the line. It caused unnecessary friction, stifled growth, and inhibited junior leaders on the team from stepping up. It prevented us from functioning properly with effective Decentralized Command. I had seen and worked for numerous leaders throughout my Navy career who had been overbearing, and it wasnt the way I wanted to lead. Some of them imposed harsh discipline, screamed at their people, and crushed the morale of the team. No one wanted to follow them. They might accomplish an immediate task, but in the long run, the teams growth was smothered. Often, their negative example stood starkly in my mind: I never want to be a leader like that. * * * But there are times when every leader must give a little and allow the team some room to maneuver. In 2005, when we formed up Task Unit Bruiser and started training, we were determined to get to Iraq and get in the fight. We knew we would be working with large numbers of U.S. Soldiers and Marinesinfantry, armor, and airborne units. They all had strict protocols for their uniforms and combat gear. Soldiers wore their official unit patch and the American flag. Marines wore the American flag and their eagle, globe, and anchor emblem, the symbol of the Marine Corps. But in the SEAL Teams, SEAL operators generally wore whatever the hell they wanted. Often, this was a mix of different uniforms and gear. Early SEALs in Vietnam had worn blue jeans and civilian duck hunter camouflage on combat operations. And a lot of SEALs carried on the tradition of dressing unconventionally. Beyond the uniform styles that made us look different from other military units, many SEALs had custom Velcro patches made for our gear. Each SEAL platoon would design a logo and have a patch made for the platoon. In Task Unit Bruiser, Delta Platoon had a bone frog design with a Delta triangle and frog skeleton. Charlie Platoon had utilized the Cadillac logo with a 3 and a C for SEAL Team 3 and Charlie Platoon. Beyond unit patches, some of us wore other patches such as the traditional first U.S. Navy jacka flag flown for the jack staff of U.S. Navy vesselswith thirteen stripes, a rattlesnake, and the words Dont Tread on Me, adopted from the Gadsden flag of the American Revolution. SEALs would often design their own patches with whatever logo they thought was cool, a line or a movie quote they found funny. As we kicked off our training cycle in Task Unit Bruiser, one popular patch was a Fun Meter, with the meter arrow buried in the red, meaning: The fun meter was pegged. Several SEALs had patches that read, More Cowbell, inspired by the popular Saturday Night Live Will Ferrell skit of the band, Blue Oyster Cult. Other patches were even less professional and far more crude. I knew all the patches were unprofessional. I knew that some of the patches were pretty offensive and that as the platoon commander, I should probably order my guys to get rid of their patches. But I also thought they were funny, and I didnt fully understand the problems something as simple as patches could cause for us once deployed alongside Army and Marine Corps units. I believed that removing the patches would hurt morale and make me look overly harsh. So I let it go. Jocko recognized that someone who saw these crude and unprofessional patches and took them out of context might take offense, which would cause frictions that might escalate into something serious. Not that Jocko was some virtue-signaling angel. I knew he thought many of the patches were funny. But he also knew that if there was even a chance that the patches might cause issues for us, it wasnt worth the risk. It could harm our task units chances of being selected to deploy to Iraq. When we did deploy to Iraq, as we hoped to do, the U.S. Army and Marine units we worked alongside would initially judge us by our appearance. They took pride in squared-away uniforms as a testament to good order and discipline. With our random, unprofessional patches, the first impression the Soldiers and Marines would have of Task Unit Bruiser wouldnt be good. Jocko knew it was important and had no problem dropping the hammer on patches. Get rid of the patches, Jocko told me. I told him I would make it happen. Then he addressed the issue to all Task Unit Bruiser personnel. Jocko declared: No more patches in Task Unit Bruiser. The patches many of you have been wearing are unprofessional. I get that they are funny. But funny patches wont help us build strong relationships with the conventional forces we will be serving alongside. They will inhibit our ability to operate in Army and Marine battlespace. They will prevent us from getting after it to close with and destroy the enemy. No patches, he repeated. None. Everybody clear? The only exception was the standard American flag patch we were authorized to wear. Jockos senior enlisted advisor, our task unit senior chief, ensured the bosss order was enforced without exception. Roger, we acknowledged, in the military lingo for understood. The task unit particularly Charlie Platoonwasnt happy about it, but everyone understood and would comply. The new standard had been set, the line in the sand drawn. All patches were removed. But as the months wore on and Task Unit Bruiser was selected to deploy to Iraq, I privately felt that Task Unit Bruiser was a historic unit destined for great things on the battlefield, and we needed to have an official unit patch. On liberty one day, when we were out surfing and on a rare occasion away from Jocko, I talked it over with my close friend, the Delta Platoon commander, Seth Stone. Bro, we need a unit patch for Task Unit Bruiser, I said. I know Jocko said no patches. But I think we should design one and have it made for everybody. Agreed, Seth replied. We both loved and admired Jocko. We respected his leadership. We rarely disagreed with him on anything, large or small. But we knew that having a task unit patch was important for unit cohesion. We knew there was a line between patches that were offensive and a unit patch with a logo that would represent the task unit. We will have to do it in secret, I said. And make sure that Jocko doesnt see them. Lets do it, Seth agreed. Later, back at my house, Seth and I designed two different patches to be worn on the shoulder of each operator. Both patches were circular and desert tan with Task Unit Bruiser printed across the top. Seth decorated one patch with a cow skull with downturned horns, and the words Big Balls in Cowtown across the bottom. Being from Texas, Seth and I were big fans of the classic country-western song by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Big Balls in Cowtown. The pun seemed most appropriate, as we had just learned we were deploying to Ramadi. I designed another patch with Lord Humungus, the muscle-bound leader of the postapocalyptic antagonists from the Mad Max movie sequel The Road Warrior, wearing a hockey mask and wielding a large-caliber handgun. At the base of the patch, I used the phrase The Ayatollahs of Rock N Rolla, borrowing the title bestowed upon Lord Humungus in the movie. With only a couple of weeks left prior to deployment, I hurriedly found a shop that could sew our designs, create the patches, and add the Velcro backing necessary for easy application and removal from our working combat uniforms. The patches arrived only days before we departed for Iraq. I threw the box, unopened, into one of my kit bags and packed them on the pallet just before it was loaded on the aircraft that would take us overseas. Once we arrived in Ramadi, I discreetly removed the box without Jockos knowledge and pulled Seth aside. We opened the box and pulled out enough patches for each of the members of our platoons. In secret, we distributed the patches to everyone in Task Unit Bruiser, except for Jocko and his immediate headquarters staff. While on base, or on combat operations within visual range of Jocko and his senior enlisted advisor, no one wore patches other than our standard American flag patch. But each of the SEAL operators in Charlie and Delta Platoons, along with our EOD bomb technicians, kept the patches hidden inside the cargo pocket on the shoulder of our combat uniforms. For the operations where Jocko stayed back to man the TOC, as our convoy of Humvees departed the base, we gave a call over the intersquad radio: Patches on. Each operator pulled his Task Unit Bruiser patch out of his cargo pocket and slapped it onto the Velcro on the outside of his uniform. We were now ready to do battle as Task Unit Bruiser and close with and destroy the enemy. But as with any blatant violation of the rules, it was only a matter of time before we were busted. That fateful day happened on one of the first major operations that Task Unit Bruiser participated in. An embedded civilian journalist with the U.S. Army unit we were working alongside took some photos of Task Unit Bruiser SEALs in action. The photos were shared with their higher headquarters staff and eventually shared with Jocko and his senior enlisted advisor. In the photos the Task Unit Bruiser patch could clearly be seen on the shoulders of several of our SEALs. The senior enlisted advisor blew up about it and prepared to drop the hammer on us. He was just trying to do his job and enforce Jockos order. I expected to feel the wrath of Jocko, and since I had orchestrated the violation, I planned to fully own the brunt of the punishment. But a day passed. And then another day. Jocko didnt mention it. I was surprised. Jocko knew we had violated his orderwillful disobedience. But in this case, Jocko didnt hold the line and enforce the standard he had set. He let it go. As I thought about why he hadnt confronted me, his reason became clear, and later, when we came home from deployment, he confirmed my thoughts. Jocko had recognized that the task unit patches strengthened our unit cohesionthey were a source of pride. He also knew that we had gotten rid of all the other patches; no one was still wearing the assortment of offensive and unprofessional patches he had seen stateside. Instead, everyone wore the same uniformed Task Unit Bruiser patch, all desert tan that matched our uniforms. He knew that if we were hiding the patches from him, we would hide the patches from other U.S. units on the base. While Jocko never told us we were cleared to wear the patches, he allowed us to bend the rules. And since the patches were unique and matched our reputation on the battlefield, rather than alienate us from the Soldiers and Marines, it cemented in their minds that we were a cohesive unit. At the end of our deployment, we gave several Task Unit Bruiser patches to key Army and Marine leaders with whom we worked closely, including the U.S. Army colonel in charge of the entire brigade combat team. Witnessing how Jocko held the line and enforced the standard to ensure we knew how to program our radios, yet allowed some slack when it came to us wearing patches, set a powerful example of how to balance the dichotomy. 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. Principle 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 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. They must determine when to listen to subordinate leaders and allow them ownership, making adjustments for their concerns and needs. Some have used the term leadership capital as a means to understand the careful analysis required for a leader to balance this dichotomy. 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 of the team and the mission in mind. Prioritizing those areas where standards cannot be compromised and holding the line there while allowing for some slack in other, less critical areas is a wise use of leadership capital. Just as we wrote in Extreme Ownership, chapter 8, Decentralized Command, 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. To do so will result in far more pushback and more difficulty in getting the team to achieve the standards you are trying to enforce. As a leader, you have to balance the dichotomy, to be resolute where it matters but never overbearing; never inflexible and uncompromising on matters of little importance to the overall good of the team and the strategic mission. Application to Business Ive read a lot about Patton, the executive vice president said with pride, referring to General George S. Patton Jr., the famous U.S. Army general whose exploits in World World II were legendary. I love that you referenced Patton in your presentation. I want exactly the kind of disciplined organization around here that Patton expected. We need people who carry out orders, not question them. I could tell right away that the executive vice president (EVP) had no previous military experience. He clearly misunderstood how effective leaders in the military lead their teams. It was not through rigid authoritarianism: Do this because I said so, or youll be punished. Sure, there were those in the military who tried to lead like this. But it was never effective. I sat in a conference room with the EVP to learn more about him and his role in the company. As part of our Echelon Front leadership assessment for the companys Leadership Development and Alignment Program, such one-on-one meetings were integral to understanding the true challenges and frictions within the organization among leaders, departments, teams, and strategies. For our Echelon Front team, this was critical knowledge that allowed us to tailor our leadership program to address these challenges and implement leadership solutions to get the problems solved. The EVPs company had a long history of quality and service. But recently the companys executive team had set its horizons for expansion beyond the regionally focused area that had traditionally been their market. To do this, the company, which had previously relied on the extensive experience and on-the-job training of its frontline leaders, now had to lay down standard operating procedures to try to get each of its teams and each of its divisions operating on the same page. The EVP had sat through the opening leadership presentation I delivered. During the question-and-answer session following my brief, I had referenced General Patton. That had clearly resonated with the EVP. Discipline equals freedom, the EVP said, quoting Jockos mantra, which we had just covered in the training session. Ive been trying to instill discipline in our team here. We need a lot more of it. In what way? I asked, interested to hear more. Cell phones, the EVP declared. It burns me up every time we call a meeting, somebody will inevitably be on their phone. Here I am, up in front of the room trying to put out some critical information, and I see somebody on their phone answering an e-mail. Or somebody steps out of the room to take a phone call as Im trying to impart key information. They even do it to our CEO, the EVP added, incredulous at such behavior. That can be frustrating, I replied. We see it all the time with our work at Echelon Front. But obviously there are important things that come up that need immediate attention for the good of the company. Not in my meetings, the EVP boasted. Ive made it clear to every one of our department leaders and supervisors: there are no cell phones in my meetings whatsoever. How do you enforce that? I asked. Easy, the EVP said. Before every meeting, I make each of them pull their cell phones out of their pockets and physically turn them off. Then, they have to hold up their phone and show me it is fully powered down. I wont start the meeting until I see that everyone has complied. The EVP was smug, clearly proud that he was holding the line, uncompromising in this effort, and enforcing a strict standard on the team. What has the teams reaction to this been? I inquired. They gripe about it, of course, he answered. But Im going to keep holding the line, just like Patton would do. How important are these meetings? I asked. Oh, theyre important, the EVP insisted. Im putting out the new standard operating procedures that everyone should now be following. That direction came straight from the CEO, and Im going to get this implemented no matter how much they resist. Besides, what could be so important that they cant shut off their phones for an hour or two to focus on what I need to discuss with them? Well, I can think of a few things that may take precedence, I said. How about an immediate pressing issue with a major customer that needs quick resolution to preserve the relationship so you dont lose a huge contract? Or a serious quality issue that might result in angry clients and bad press coverage that impacts your market growth? Or a major safety incident that results in serious injury or death? The EVP nodded, agreeing that any of those would take precedence over his meeting. Look, he said. Im just trying to enforce discipline on the team. Like Patton would dolike you and Jocko talk about. If we are disciplined in the small things, wont that translate to discipline in the bigger things? Discipline even in the small things is important, I said. But as a leader, you need to carefully balance the dichotomy between these two opposing forces: understanding where to stand firm and where to bend. You need to carefully prioritize where you hold the line and enforce standards. Im sure youve heard the term leadership capital before, I continued. As a leader, you only have so much authority that you can spend, and you need to choose wisely where you apply it. It seems to me you are expending a great deal of your leadership capital on cell phones when it might be much better utilized elsewhere. You mentioned there is resistance to the new standard operating procedures, I observed. Can you tell me more about that? Im meeting a lot of resistance, he admitted. A lot of our leaders have their own particular way of doing things. And they dont want to change. Well, thats a pretty standard human response, I said. People want to keep doing what they have always done. Its up to you to help them understand why they need to changewhy they need to implement standardized procedures. If they understand how it will benefit them personally, how it will benefit their team, and benefit the overall mission, they are far more likely to embrace the change. Why is it up to me? the EVP inquired. Its their problem. They need to get on board. Ive told them over and over again why we need to do this. Frankly, Im sick and tired of trying to explain it to them. We just need to start holding the line and enforcing standards: implement the new procedures, or else. To me, it was perfectly clear. The EVPs attitude was the major reason most of the companys leaders were pushing back and refusing to implement the new standardized procedures. He had unwisely expended his leadership capital enforcing things such as the no cell phone policy in his meetings, with no strategic impact. Meanwhile, he had little leadership capital left to implement the new standardized procedures, which would have major strategic impact on the companys success or failure. Its great that youve read some military history, I said. But I think you might have a misunderstanding of how leadership in the military actually works. That stuff you have seen in movies and television shows about military personnel who blindly carry out ordersthat isnt true. Military personnel are not terminator robots that just mindlessly follow instruction, regardless of the outcome. They are thinking individuals who need to understand why they are doing what they are doing. But in the military, dont you have to follow orders? the EVP asked. Even in the military, if you give someone an order that they disagree with, or dont believe in, where the risk of death or horrible injury to the team is high, you dont think youll get any pushback on that? I asked. Of course the team will push back. They may even defy orders or refuse to execute, even if it means a court-martial. The best military leaders, I continued, like the best business leaders, take the time to explain why so that the team understands it. They dont force things down the throats of their subordinates. And they also dont sweat the small stuff. That way, when they explain the importance of something that really matters, it doesnt get lost on the troops. Then, the troops are far more likely to execute what the leader puts forth. The EVP nodded, beginning to understand that in order to get the team on board with the new standardized process, he needed to adjust his tactics. In terms of strategic importance to the company, I asked the EVP, what is more important? That your leaders not access their cell phones during meetings? Or that your leaders get on board with the new standardized process and implement it within their teams? The standardized procedures, of course, the EVP admitted. Its far more important strategically that our leaders implement the new process. Roger that, I said. Then you need to be more discerning in expending your leadership capital. Dont waste it on the no cell phone policy. Thats hurting your ability to implement the important stuff. This too is a dichotomy, I explained. You cant have everyone on their cell phones throughout an important meeting. So make it clear that cell phones are allowed, but only for the most crucially important matters. But wont that make me look weak? the EVP asked. I could tell he was probably thinking of Patton again. Actually, I said, it will make you look stronger. It shows that you understand what is strategically importantwhere to hold the line, and where to be flexible and give some leeway to your leaders. That will increase your leadership capital with the department leaders you are relying on to implement the new procedures. Now, the EVP began to see how carefully he needed to evaluate when and where to hold firm on standards and where to give. He began to understand that it was his job as a leader not to say Do it my way or suffer the consequences but to explain. Most importantly, he now saw the value of balancing the dichotomy, to be resolute but not overbearing. REDBULL SIX, the call sign for Naval Special Warfare Task Unit Ramadi Commander Jocko Willink, provides command and control for his SEALs and the Iraqi soldiers for whom they served as combat advisors during a large-scale cordon and search operation with Task Force Red Currahee (1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Armys 101st Airborne Division) in the Malaab District of eastern Ramadi. Such combat operations were vastly different than what SEALs had trained for, but were essential operations to the counterinsurgency mission in Ramadi. (Photo courtesy of Todd Pitman) CHAPTER 4 When to Mentor, When to Fire Jocko Willink THE MALAAB DISTRICT, EAST RAMADI: 2006 I heard gunfire in the distance. It wasnt effective fireno rounds were impacting in our immediate vicinity. But it was a reminder that at any moment we could find ourselves in serious trouble. Threats were everywhere. Every footstep could potentially trigger an IED. Every window might be a sniper-firing position. Even the sky itself could rain down deadly mortar fire at any moment. All these threats, and even the thought of such dangers, produced fear. But while we were on patrol, fear was not our focus. The focus was the jobthe task immediately at hand. Cover a corner. Sprint across the street. Hold security on a door or a window. Check your field of fire. Maintain visual contact with the SEAL in front of you and the SEAL behind you. Note the buildings and streets as you pass by, to keep aware of your position on the battlefield. Listen to the radio in your ear with updates of friendly locations and suspected enemy movements, while also listening for threats in the streets and surroundings. With all that going on, fear couldnt occupy much mental real estatethere wasnt time to dwell on it. But occasionally, on patrol, I detached and observed not just my surroundings but also my teammates. In those moments, our Task Unit Bruiser SEALs were an amazing sight to beholdlike a single organism, functioning as one. When one weapon moved away from a threat, another picked it up. When one man stepped into a danger zone, he was covered by his shooting partner. Movement took place without any verbal communicationno voice or radio callsjust subtle head nods, the way a weapon was pointed, occasional hand gestures, and wellunderstood body language that directed the team in a manner that others could barely detect. I was proud to be a part of this team. We functioned so well together, we seemed to operate with one mind. And I had complete trust and confidence in the skills and competence of everyone in the task unit. But it was not always like that. Before our deployment to Ramadi in the spring of 2006, through twelve months of difficult training, we had worked hard to achieve that level of teamwork. Although we all shared a common baseline, having been through Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training (known as BUD/S)the SEAL basic training programthat was where the similarities ended. SEALs come from every imaginable socioeconomic background, from every part of the country, every ethnicity, and creed. Contrary to popular belief and the common depictions in movies and television shows, SEALs, like all other members of the U.S. military, are not robots. Even through the indoctrination of the different military services boot camps, the continued training, lifestyle, and culture that permeated the minds of military servicemen and women, the people in the military are just that: people. They had different drives and motivations, unique senses of humor, varied backgrounds, different religions, and different personalities. They also have different strengths and weaknesses in their capabilities. The SEALs in Task Unit Bruiser contained a wide variety of athletic abilities: some were like endurance athletes, lean and svelte; some were like weight lifters, bulky and powerful. They also had different cognitive abilities, different intelligence levels; each handled stress differently and exercised different abilities to process complex problems. With such variation in individuals on the team, the challenge for any leader was to raise the level of every member of the team so that they could perform at their absolute best. In order to do that, a leader must make it his or her personal mission to train, coach, and mentor members of the team so they perform to the highest standardsor at least the minimum standard. But there is a dichotomy in that goal: while a leader must do everything possible to help develop and improve the performance of individuals on the team, a leader must also understand when someone does not have what it takes to get the job done. When all avenues to help an individual get better are exhausted without success, then it is the leaders responsibility to fire that individual so he or she does not negatively impact the team. Of course, firing people is one of the most difficult things a leader must do. In Task Unit Bruiser, where a strong esprit de corps1 quickly developed, this was especially difficult. People often wonder how to develop unit camaraderie. We learned one of the best ways is simple, but not easy: hard work. In any organization, and especially in the military, the harder a unit trained, the more its members were pushed, the tighter they became. That is true in the broader military, and certainly within the special operations community. Task Unit Bruiser was no exception. Of course, we developed powerful relationships through living, working, eating, partying, working out, and being around each other almost twenty-four hours a day for weeks at a time. But the most important factor in our becoming a tight-knit group was the way we pushed hard during training. We wanted to be the best; we didnt want to be second place in anything. So we pushed each other hard and held the line, and we also protected one another, like a family. Unfortunately, not every member of the family had the capabilities to perform to the Task Unit Bruiser standard. The six-month pre-deployment training workup in the SEAL Teams is mentally and physically challenging, especially for those going through it for the first timethe new guys, or FNGs for short. Live fire and maneuver, weapons handling, patrolling on night vision, the weight of the gear, the heat and the cold, the lack of sleepnone of it is easy, and when combined, it can be too much for some individuals. In Task Unit Bruiser, when our workup kicked off, our first block of training was out in the hot desert of Southern California, where we conducted land warfare training. It was mountainous, rocky, and rugged terrain. We always said that land warfare training in this environment was where men became Frogmen. The high-stress, dynamic environment posed challenges for all, but particularly for some of the new guys. As task unit commander, I paid attention to who struggled and watched how each leadership team of my two platoons handled its underperforming members. As I watched Leif, Seth, and their SEAL platoon chiefs interact with the members who were subpar, they led just as I expected them to: they tried to help less stellar performers get up to speed. There were a couple of new guys in each platoon who didnt quite get it. They seemed unable to keep up with the progression of skills required to do the job. But I saw the platoon leadership work with them, tirelessly counsel them, coach them, assign more experienced SEALs to mentor them, train, and retrain them. And I knew why. The new guys they were helping might be struggling, but they were still part of the platoon. They were SEALs, theyd graduated from BUD/S and SQT (SEAL Qualification Training). They were members of the gangand the leadership wanted to protect them and see them succeed. Fortunately, the time invested in the struggling new guys seemed to pay off. Everyone successfully completed the multi-week land warfare block of training and then the next multiweek block, mobility training, where we learned to shoot, move, and communicate from Humvees instead of on foot. During that block, I again saw some of the new guys struggling making mistakes with the heavy weapons, not reacting properly to tactical commands, or hesitating to take action at critical moments. But once again, I saw the platoon leadership and other experienced SEALs in the platoons take ownership and rally around their young teammates, relentlessly working with them to get them up to speed. After mobility training, I talked to Leif about the SEALs who were floundering. What do you think? I asked. A couple of those guys seem like they are having a hard time. They are, he replied. But well get them where they need to be. That was exactly the answer I thought he would givehe was protective of every member of his platoon. After all, they were his men, he was responsible for them, and he and his platoon would make sure they got up to speed. I was happy to hear Leif taking ownership of the performance of his men and confident in the ability of his platoon to get every member to perform to standard. It was exactly what a leader should do. The next block of training was close-quarters combat (CQC), where we learned to clear hallways and rooms in an urban environment. In the CQC training block, the pressure increased even more as the platoons executed dynamic, live-fire drills in confusing, complex buildings. Live fire meant SEALs were shooting lethal ammunition just inches apart from each other as they moved through the house and engaged targets. It was challenging and fun for most. But for some SEALs who struggled, the pressure was overwhelming. It was here that Leif first voiced a concern that perhaps one of the new guys in his platoonCharlie Platoonmight not have what it takes to conduct such missions in actual combat. He approached me to talk about one of his men, a young enlisted SEAL whom we called Rock. Rock was a new guy, fresh out of BUD/S training, and Charlie Platoon was his first SEAL platoon. He had never been through the training cycle before. And he seemed to be having some trouble. He tries hard, Leif said, and everybody likes him. We have been working with him youve seen us. But he is struggling even more here at CQC. It seems like he might be in over his head. Frankly, Im just not sure he is ever going to be capable of deploying to combat with us. What do you mean? I asked. He is in good shape and a hard worker, right? I knew Rock was physically capable and he had a great work ethic. Its not that, Leif replied. Hes got heart, and he is physically tough. But he is having some real problems. We got him through land warfare, where he had a little more time to think. But here, he gets completely overwhelmed when the pressure is on to make split-second decisions. And he panics and freezes up. Or makes really bad decisions in the house. I knew neither one of those was good. The house is what SEALs commonly call a kill house, a building with a complex floor plan of rooms and hallways with ballistic walls that allow for live-fire training and room clearances in close quarters. In the house, dynamic tactical situations unfolded quickly, demanding that split-second decisions be made at the individual level by the shooters in the rooms. Because buildings were divided by walls that blocked visual and verbal communications, there were times when junior SEAL operators had to make decisions that impacted the direction of the entire operation. So every individual operator needed the tactical and operational savvy to make important decisions quickly and confidently. On top of the stress of decision-making, because of the high-risk nature of live-fire training in close quarters, there were very strict safety protocols in place to ensure no one got hurt or killed. If any of us violated the rules, the SEAL instructors issued a safety violationa citation that documented the discrepancy. Getting a safety violation or two was problematic. But if a SEAL went beyond two safety violations, it was a major red flag that might get him ejected from the platoon and could cost him his career as a SEAL. What kind of problems is he having? I asked. Hes had some major safety violations, Leif replied. And he doesnt seem to be learning from them. Hes not making improvements. Rock tries, but when there is any pressure applied to him, he quickly gets task saturated. Task saturated was a term we used in the SEAL Teams to describe how an individual, or a team, would get overwhelmed when multiple problems were encountered simultaneously. They couldnt properly Prioritize and Execute. Trying to process too much information at once, they broke down and either failed to take any action or made a bad decision that put them at risk, along with the team or the mission. I understood this was a major problem. But I also wanted to be absolutely sure that everything possible had been done to help Rock improve before consideration was given to firing him. Leif and his platoon chief, Tony, were strong leadersboth high performers who expected the individuals on their team to perform. And most of their SEALs in Charlie Platoon were outstanding. But with strong leaders, I knew there could sometimes be a tendency to fire someone who underperformed before he fully had a chance to improve. I knew Leif and Tony and the rest of Charlie Platoon were doing what they could, but I wanted to ensure they completely understood: Most underperformers dont need to be fired, they need to be led. Have you talked it through with him? Helped him out? I asked. What about Tony? In order to ensure Rock received the full benefit of the coaching and mentoring he needed to get up to speed, I wanted to make sure my good friend and tactical expert, Tony Eafrati (Charlie Platoons chief), who was a highly experienced SEAL with multiple deployments overseas, had been working with him. As a training instructor, Tony had taught just about every block of advanced training, and I knew he would have the best chance of getting through to Rock. Absolutely, Leif replied. Chief is doing everything he can. So am I. So is our leading petty officer. Weve tried hard to get him up to speed. We had some guys working with him through the weekend, when everybody else was out partying. But Rock just doesnt seem able to cut it. I dont know how much more we can do. The consternation in Leifs face made it clear: he was trying to balance the dichotomy of leadership between coaching and mentoringand making a decision to get rid of someone. You think we need to let him go? I asked. I think it might be best, Leif said somberly. It wasnt an easy thing. Look, hes a great guy, Leif continued. He works hard. And Id like nothing more than to see him succeed. But in real combat scenarios, hed be at serious riskto himself, to the other guys in Charlie Platoonif we put him in a position where he has to act decisively. I understood exactly where Leif was coming from, and he was right. When we deployed, Rock would have to face situations where his life, the lives of his SEAL teammates, and innocent civilians lives were at stake. He would have to make split-second decisions and make the right calls. On the battlefield, if Rock froze up and failed to engage an enemy fighter, he might get himself or others killed. If he made a bad decision and misidentified an unarmed civilian as an enemy combatant, it might cost the life of an innocent person. That could also get Rock sent to prison. We simply could not have someone who wasnt ready to step up and make things happen, to execute in high-pressure situations, as a member of the platoon or the task unit. But there was another angle to this that I wasnt sure Leif fully understoodand another thing that made this dichotomy a challenge to balance. You know if we get rid of him, we wont get a replacement, I said. You will be a man short for the rest of workupand probably for our deployment as well. You dont think we could get a replacement for him? Leif asked. Not likely. As you know, there arent enough SEALs, I said. Thats the way it is. Every platoon at every team is scrounging for guys. If you let Rock go, dont count on getting another guy. So you need to ask yourself: Do you want Charlie Platoon to be a man short? Leif stood quietly shaking his head, grappling with how to proceed. Think about it, I said. Are there other jobs he could do? Maybe keep him out of the assault train. How about using him as a driver or a turret gunner in one of your vehicles? Maybe he could be in charge of marshaling prisoners. There are a lot more jobs we need filled besides door kickers. But even in those roles, wed need Rock to make decisions, Leif commented. Even in those roles, he will still be put in situations that I dont think he can handle. True, I agreed. But maybe hes just a little slow on the uptake. Maybe he just needs more time to get a grasp on all this. Even if he only works in the rear, in the camp, for this platoon rotation, maybe next time hell get up to speed. Work with him some more. Have Tony and the boys work with him. Lets see if he can fulfill some kind of role that helps the platoon. Roger that, Leif said. Makes sense. Well do everything we can. With that, Leif walked away, clearly with the intent to figure out a way to succeed with Rock. If they couldnt get him fully up to speed, perhaps they could at least get him to a point where he would have the skill set to handle some of the less dynamic jobs, where there was a lower probability of his being overwhelmed by tasks and getting himself or somebody else killed. Our CQC training continued on, and with each day the intensity picked up. We graduated to clearing larger buildings with more rooms and more complex hallways and more threats. We moved on to even more difficult problems: simultaneous entries into the kill house by two separate assault forces, live explosive breaching charges, and dealing with even greater numbers of prisoners and unarmed civilians. I observed Rock closely on some of the runs to see how he was doing. Leif was right: he was really straining to stay on track. Because I had to keep an eye on forty more SEALs in the task unit, especially the platoon leadership, I couldnt focus my attention solely on Rock. But I saw enough to understand that his performance was well below that of his peersthe other new guys in Charlie and Delta Platoons. Still, I didnt see him commit one single blunder so egregious that wed be forced to fire him. But he did acquire more safety violations, and I constantly heard the instructor cadre counseling him. Even still, Charlie Platoon continued to keep Rock as part of the team. Leif, Tony, and the rest of the platoon kept working with him to try to help him improve. Task Unit Bruiser wrapped up our CQC training and went on the next multiweek training block, then the next. Finally, we arrived at our last training block, called special reconnaissance, or SR. SR was where the platoons would spend extensive periods of time in the fieldoff base, on the training battlefield, to observe and pass reports from clandestine observation positions. The point of this training was to sneak and peek and get out of the area before the enemy even knew you were there, so there wouldnt be any shooting or quick decisions to be made. The stress level was a lot lower, and I figured Rock would be able to handle it. I touched base with Leif and Tony. Hows Rock doing? I asked Tony. Not too good. Even here, he cant seem to get it together, Tony responded. Yeah, he is still making mistakes. Simple stuff. I dont know. I see a little glimmer of hope now and then. But he is definitely struggling, Leif added. Well, we are almost done with workup, I said. We need to make a decision. If you guys have done everything you can and he is still not ablewe might have to let him go. Got it, boss, Tony said. Check, Leif responded. This was going to be one of the hardest decisions that we were forced to make as a task unit up until this point. The challenge of balancing when to keep working with someone to improve and deciding when it was time to let that person go isnt easy. Leif and Charlie Platoon headed out on another operation in the field for a couple of days. When they came back, Leif came straight to me. I think we crossed the line on this last operation, Jocko, he said. Rock had some simple tasks out there. No pressure. No stress. But he failed at all of them. We had to pull him off those tasks and give his job to others. Luckily, they picked up the slack and we accomplished our mission. But it made it a lot tougher with Rock along. Not only did he not contribute, his deficiencies dragged the rest of the team down. Its clear to methere is nothing else we can do. Leif shook his head. I hate this, he continued. Rocks a good man. But he just gets overwhelmed. Hes a danger to himself and everybody else. He just cant get to where we need him to be. I think we need to let him go. It is a hard decision. Especially because I know you like him, I told Leif. We all like Rock, Leif replied. He tries. Hes got heart. But hes proven over and over again that he just cant do the job. Im afraid Rock is going to hurt himself, hurt someone else, or get someone hurtespecially once we get into combat. I feel I owe it to Rock to not put him in a situation so far beyond his capability. If he makes a bad decision and someone gets hurt or killed, Rock will have to carry that guilt for the rest of his life. I cant, in good conscience, let that happen. Youre right, Leif. And I know youve done everything you can to get him up to speed, I assured him. I have, Jocko, I really have. We all have, Leif replied. I sat quiet for a minute, thinking about it. It was a hard decisionthe hardest. When you fire someone in the SEAL Teams, you are ripping out their heart, smashing their dreams, taking them from their friends, ruining their career, and taking away their livelihood. It is not to be taken lightly. But at the same time, there is an even heavier burden: the lives of all the other men in the platoonmen who count on every SEAL being able to do his job and do it well. We all had to be capable of watching each others backs. And thats all there was to it. Another factor that weighed on my decision was equally important: Charlie Platoon was Leifs platoon. He was the leader. I needed to trust his judgment. This was his toughest leadership decision yet as a platoon commander. Sure, he had made decisions during training operations and directed the day-to-day function of the platoon. But none of those decisions would have the same repercussions on one of his men as firing Rock. This would permanently impact Rocks life. But Leif had thought long and hard about itand so had I. We had done our utmost to find balance in the dichotomy: on the one hand, we wanted to be loyal to Rock; we wanted Rock to succeed and have a great career as a SEAL. But on the other hand, we had to be loyal to the greater teamto Charlie Platoon, to Task Unit Bruiser, and, above all, to our mission. We had to ensure everyone on the team could pull their weight. Rock couldnt. We needed to do the right thingthe hard thing. Alright then, I said. We will pull him out of the platoon and send him back to the team for a Trident Review Board. With that, Leif and Tony called a meeting with Rock. They explained the situation to him, why they had made the decision, and what would happen next. Rock would have to await the results of the Trident Review Board. The Trident was what we called the SEAL warfare insignia pina large golden eagle, flintlock pistol, anchor, and tridentwe wore on our uniforms. A Trident Review Board consisted of the most experienced SEALs at the team, the noncommissioned officers: SEAL chiefs, senior chiefs, and master chiefs. They would review Rocks case to decide whether he would continue as a SEAL and get another chance in a SEAL platoon down the roador whether to pull his Trident and send him away to a non-SEAL command in the U.S. Navy surface fleet. The board reviewed Rocks case, examined his safety violations, and heard testimony about his performance from Tony and Charlie Platoons leading petty officer. The decision was clear: the board ruled that Rocks Trident be removed and that he be sent to the fleet. He would no longer be a SEAL, no longer be a part of the SEAL Teams. Rock wasnt happy about it. Yet, while he was upset to no longer be in the SEAL Teams, at the same time he showed some signs of reliefrelief from the stress of trying to do a job he wasnt capable of performing well. Although he was disappointed, he maintained a positive attitude and went on to have a successful career in the Navy. * * * In Ramadi, in the toughest combat situations I could have envisioned for us, Task Unit Bruiser performed as an exceptional team. The extensive training, mentorship, and guidance that had been passed on was critical to this. But our exceptional performance was also a function of making the tough decisions to let underperformers go. But resorting to the extreme of firing someone was the exception. On the other side of this dichotomy were the other four new guys in Charlie Platoon who excelled under the mentorship, coaching, and special effort made by the platoon leadership and experienced SEALs. While each new guy struggled at times, all of them, with the exception of Rock, got up to speed. Charlie Platoons veteran SEALs worked with them, trained with them, counseled them, and drove them to become upstanding members of Charlie Platoon and of the SEAL Teams. And that attitudeof doing everything you can to help your subordinates, peers, and leaders be the best they can possibly bewas critical to the success of Charlie Platoon and Task Unit Bruiser. But that attitude had to be balanced by knowing when we as leaders had done everything we could to help an individual get up to speed, but the individual still fell short and the decision had to be made to let him go. Principle Most underperformers dont need to be fired, they need to be led. But once every effort has been made to help an underperformer improve and all efforts have failed, a leader has to make the tough call to let that person 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 individualto push each individual to reach his or her maximum potential so that the team itself can reach its maximum potential. Conversely, leaders must also understand that human beings have limitations; not every person on a team will be suited for a particular job. Some people might need a less technical position. Some people cant handle stress. Some might not work well with others. Some might lack the creativity to come up with new ideas or solve problems. This doesnt mean they are worthlessit just means that the leader needs to utilize them in a position where their strengths are fully capitalized. Once again, the leader is still trying to maximize the potential of every individual. Occasionally, there are people who simply cannot perform to the required 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. A leader must be loyal to his individual team members and take care of them, but at the same time he must be loyal to the team itself and ensure that every member of the team has a net positive impact and doesnt detract from mission execution. One thing that causes problems with this dichotomy is the idea of Extreme Ownership. With Extreme Ownership we say, No bad teams, only bad leaders. When leaders try to live by that mantra, it usually has a positive outcome. When a leader has a substandard individual on the team, that leader takes ownership of the individual and ensures that the individual gets the training, coaching, and mentoring needed to get up to speed. That personal investment usually pays dividends: the substandard individual improves and becomes a solid contributor to the team. But sometimes the substandard individual doesnt improve; sometimes he or she cant improve. Sometimes the individual simply lacks the necessary skills, capacity, or attitude to do a job. So the leader takes ownership of it and continues to invest time, energy, and money into the individualbut the individuals capabilities still dont improve. As the leader continues investing time and resources into one individual, other members of the team and other priorities are neglected and the team can begin to falter. Also, as other team members see a leader pouring resources into one nonperforming individual, the team might question the leaders judgment. This is when leaders must bring their efforts into balance. Instead of focusing on one individual, leaders must remember that there is a teamand 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. We are often asked, When is the right time to fire someone? Some leaders are too quick to pull the trigger and fire people without giving them the right guidance and enough opportunity to gain competency. Other leaders wait to let someone go even after the individual has shown no potential at becoming competent and is negatively impacting the team. The answer is this: 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. Dont be too quick to firebut dont wait too long. Find the balance and hold the line. Application to Business The Tower Two super just doesnt seem to know how to get things done. They are lagging behind Tower One by six days right now, the project manager told me and the regional vice president, referring to the superintendent in charge of one of two condominium towers they were building. Six days behind? the VP asked. Doesnt that throw everything off track? It absolutely does, the project manager answered. We are having to repeat the same events instead of getting them done at once; things like concrete pours and crane movementsit costs us time and money! That isnt good, the VP said. This is the only project Im a part of that is off schedule. Well Im doing the best I can with what Ive got, said the project manager. The Tower Two super just isnt getting it done. I looked at the VP and gave him a nod. I could tell he was thinking what I was thinking. We had already put this whole team through a course on Extreme Ownership, yet this project manager was casting blame and making excuses. The VP wasnt having any of that. Whose fault is it that the Tower Two super isnt getting it done? the VP asked. Immediately, the project manager recognized what was being implied. The look on his face changed and he started shaking his head. How can it be my fault? he asked. Hes the one running Tower Two, not me. Well, what are you getting paid for, then? the VP asked, going strongmaybe a little too strongat the project manager. The project manager didnt answer. The VP backed off. I mean, seriously, you are the project manager, the VP continued. Tower Two is part of this project. If the Tower Two super isnt doing his job, who is supposed to fix him? Ive been trying to fix him, the project manager countered. But like I said, he just doesnt seem to get it. Okay then, I interjected. If he truly doesnt get it, then why is he still in that position? If I had a platoon commander or a squad leader who was failing repeatedly, they would be out of a job. Thats easier said than done, the project manager insisted. This job has a lot of baggage behind it. We have had to clean up a lot of stuff from the architects and the engineers. This isnt an easy joband he has a lot of knowledge that any other super wouldnt have if we brought someone new on board. That knowledge is critical to this project. Well, this clearly isnt working, said the VP. Alright, alright, the project manager protested. Let me talk to him some more. While you are talking, you better prepare for action, I said, thinking that this might require the removal of the superintendent from Tower Two. Im prepared, the project manager said. No. Beyond you being prepared. We need to be legally prepared, the VP said. What do you mean? he asked. Well, lets look at the situation, I told him. You say you have talked to him already. That obviously isnt working. Now, maybe you need to be more direct with him. Tell him exactly where he is failing and what he needs to do to improve. You also need to give him warning that the next time you talk to him about this, you are putting it in writing. And then if he doesnt fix himself, you need to actually put it in writing. The company must prepare to take actionto terminate himif he doesnt improve. And all indicators are that he wont improve. So you need to prepare the situation so that he can be terminated without legal blowback. But what if he does improve? the project manager asked, clearly fearful of my guidance. If he does improve, thats great, I said. Problem solved. We can move on. No factor. But if he doesnt, then youll be ready. But wont it ruin his attitude if I write him up? the project manager asked. It might. But think about where were at, I countered. You and I had this discussion early onyou put him through an escalation of counseling. You started with a friendly conversation. He didnt change. You asked how you could help him change. He didnt change. You told him directly what he needed to change. He didnt change. You gave him plenty of opportunity, and so far, he has made no improvement. Its clear youve made an effort not to put too much pressure on him or be too negative, I continued. It simply hasnt been effective. The next step in the escalation is to tell him he is going to be written up, which is a final plea for him to fix himself. But if he doesnt, you have to move further up the escalation of counselingyou will need to write him up. And of course, there is a chance that it will help him. It might make him finally realize how serious you are and how serious the situation is. You owe it to him to make clear where his deficiencies are and to help him improve. If that happens and he gets his act together, great. But if that doesnt happen, you need to be ready to act accordingly. Having a documented formal counseling will make termination easier. Plus, the work you have done to help him, to coach him, to mentor him, and to make clear that his performance is substandard and must improve, is ultimately to his benefit. I explained that one of the things that makes it so hard to fire someone is the leaders knowledge that they have not done everything to actually lead a poor performer. As leaders, we feel bad when we havent done enough: We havent trained. We havent mentored. We havent led. And that makes us feel guiltyand rightly so. If you have done all you can as a leader, I said, if you have given him direct feedback on his deficiencies, coached and mentored him, and given him ample opportunity to correct himself, then getting rid of a subpar performer isnt just the right thing to do, its the only thing to do. Anything less is letting down the team. Does that make sense? It does make sense, but it doesnt solve the other problem at all, the project manager said. What problem is that? the VP interjected. The problem of replacing him. This is a complex job. And like I said, there are all kinds of issues, answered the project manager. If I have to fire him, who else could I bring in that could get a grip on this job? Who said you would have to bring someone in? I asked. Why not just bring someone up? Bring someone up? the project manager asked. Absolutely, I replied. Youve got a whole job sitesreally two job sitesworth of people out there. Are there no capable leaders among them? Do you not think there is anyone who could step into the role of superintendent and lead? Maybe, he replied without much enthusiasm. With that, the project manager walked back into his trailer, and the VP and I made the rounds, talking to the troops and leaders on the job site. Overall, they had great crews of experienced workers making steady progress on both towers. In fact, many of the crews were actually bouncing back and forth between towers, doing work on both. The two teams are basically equivalent, the VP said to me. Yeah, they are. Isnt it amazing how one tower is doing so well and the other isnt? I said with a hint of sarcasm in my voice. We both knew exactly what was happening here. No bad teams, only bad leaders, the VP said, quoting the chapter from Extreme Ownership that explained how when a team is failing it is the leaders fault. The Tower Two super isnt working out. And the project manager wont do anything about it. Indeed, I replied. That is some bad leadership, isnt it? It sure is, the VP replied, fading off at the end as he realized what I was really saying. He gave me an inquisitive yet knowing look. I simply nodded. This is on me, isnt it, the VP said. You are the leader, I replied. He stood for a moment looking across the construction site. Then he looked at me and said, I get it. You get what? I replied. I get it. I get that everything you just said to the project manager you might as well have been saying to me, the VP observed. If the Tower Two super isnt working out, and the project manager isnt doing anything about it, that is actually my fault and I need to fix it. That is Extreme Ownership, I acknowledged. The VP was quiet for a few moments. Then he said, Okay. I get that too. But here is the problem: The Tower Two super, hes a good guy. Hes worked other jobs for us before and done just fine. And the project managerhe can get it done. Look at Tower One. I want to take care of these guys. Sure. The project manager can get it done, but he is not, I noted. And are you really taking care of these guys by letting the project fall behind? Letting them fail? This is one of the dichotomies of leadership: balancing between when to keep people, to coach them and mentor them until they get up to speed, and when to make the call that they are hurting the team and get rid of them. Of course, when you coach and mentor and try to help them, you are going to develop a relationship with themyou 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. Also, if a member of the team isnt able to perform effectively, it is likely impacting the mission as a whole. I think that is where you are with this situation. You are letting the project manager deal with the super, but he isnt doing it well and the whole job is suffering. You need to get in there and get it fixed. I do, the VP agreed. Ill make it happen. He asked for some time alone with the project manager. I went and talked to some of the contractors on the job and learned more about how the leadership interacted with them as contractors. An hour or so later, the VP texted me and told me he was in his trailer and wanted to debrief the conversation with the project manager, so I headed to his trailer. That was easier than I thought, he said. Thats good. What did you tell him? I asked. First, I told him that I liked him and thought he was very capable, the VP said. But then I told him he was failingand that if he was failing, I was failing. Then I explained that if I was failing, I needed to take ownership of the situation and fix it. How did he like that? I asked, expecting that the project manager would get defensive and ask him to back off a little and let him do his job. Surprisingly, he didnt mind, answered the VP. Really? I asked, surprised. I think he needs some help with the hard decisions, the VP said. And I think he knows that. So I told him to give an extremely firm written counseling to the super of Tower Two. And at the same time, I told him to find someone who could step up and take over Tower Two. That was his biggest concern: he didnt think anyone in Tower Two was ready to step up. But I told him to look at some of the guys from Tower One. They have the same information. And they have the benefit of having followed a good leader on Tower One for the last six months. They know what they are supposed to do and they have already seen it done right. He liked that idea and immediately offered a couple of names that could potentially pull it off. I think this is going to work out pretty well. Thats great, at least the talk went great, I said. Now comes the hard part: execution. The project manager has to have some tough conversations with the superintendent. Those conversations are hard. And if the conversations dont work, he may have to terminate the superintendent. Its tough to go from trying to coach and help someone to firing them. But, as a leader, it is unfortunately a dichotomy you have to deal with, I told him. Over the next few weeks, I was not on the job site, but I received regular updates from the VP. He and the project manager executed the plan. The project manager wrote up the Tower Two superintendent. The VP and project manager worked together to identify and speak with the best possible candidate from Tower One to step up and become the superintendent of Tower Two. After three weeks and three written counseling sessions, the super from Tower Two made no improvement. So they let him go. The project manager elevated a new superintendent into the position and pressed on with this new leadership in place. Because of the relationship between the Tower One super and the new Tower Two super, the Tower One super went out of his way to get the new Tower Two super up to speedeven giving him manpower and resources to get them caught up, in an excellent example of Cover and Move. And although Tower One did finish ahead of Tower Two, Tower Two teams performance radically improved once the proper balance was found between continuing to coach the underperforming superintendent and deciding it was time to remove and replace him with good leadership.? PART II BALANCING THE MISSION? A combined force of SEALs from Task Unit Bruisers Charlie and Delta platoons lay down cover fire from the rooftop for their fellow SEALs, Iraqi soldiers, and U.S. Army Soldiers of Task Force Red Currahee (1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne) in the streets below. The urban landscape of closely packed buildings and cramped city streets in Ramadi was inherently difficult terrain in which to fight. Extensive and challenging training in urban environments prior to deployment was crucial to Task Unit Bruisers success, and lessons learned from Ramadi were passed on to future SEAL task units and platoons during training. (Photo courtesy of Todd Pitman) CHAPTER 5 Train Hard, but Train Smart Leif Babin HOSTILE TERRITORY: 2009 Big Walt is down, came the call over the intersquad radio net. Every SEAL in the platoon monitored this via the headset and radio they carried. Explosions burst all around with earshattering booms and incoming rounds impacted from multiple directions. In the whirlwind of an epic gun battle, the bitter news of the loss was devastating to the other SEALs in the platoon. They were in a hell of a bad spot, pinned down by enemy fire in the middle of a hostile city. One of the Humvees from their convoy had been hit and was inoperable, stranded helplessly on the street. And now their beloved platoon chief, Big Waltthe key leader on whom they depended to make the tough calls and rally the troops in the thick of the fightwas gone. Who would they turn to now? In the chain of command, the leading petty officer (or LPO) was next in line. He knew it was his place to step up and lead. But from the look on his face, he was clearly bewildered and overwhelmed. To the rest of the SEAL platoon, who needed a leader for encouragement and direction to get disaggregated elements back on the same page, the LPO projected little confidence. The other SEAL shooters took cover from a wicked barrage of incoming rounds and returned fire as best they could. They waited for the LPOs direction. What was the next move? Consolidate forces? Attack? Retreat? The direction never came. WHERE IS EVERYONE?! the LPO screamed into the radio as rounds smacked the wall inches from his face. There was no answer. How could they answer? They were scattered among a series of buildings that stretched nearly the full city block, and all of them were heavily engrossed in their immediate tasksreturning fire, dealing with casualties, and trying to figure out their own dire situation. To most of the other SEALs in the platoon, the radio query in their headset was mere background noise. Besides, trying to describe their exact location over the radio in this nondescript urban environment was difficult. Answers via radio such as Im over here by the wall, Im in the backyard of a house, or Im in the street halfway down the block would provide no clarity on exact locations or action steps to take next. It would just crowd the radio net and prevent critical commands from being passed. Only a handful of SEALs were located in the immediate room with the LPO. He didnt know where the rest were. Enemy fire was pouring in from all directions. A few SEAL shooters did what they could, returning fire from the windows and doorway. Pinned down, none of them could see the other scattered elements of the platoon taking cover in additional buildings, separated by concrete walls and the buildings between them. In reality they were all only a few yards apart, but without this knowledge it might as well have been miles. Boom! Boom! Boom! Explosions rocked the street just outside the building. Machine gun fire echoed from the walls. The LPO was rattled. His troops were hunkered down, waiting for someoneanyoneto step up and make a call. What are we doing? shouted one SEAL operator. Another yelled, WE NEED TO GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE! It was total mayhem and growing worse by the second as enemy fighters converged from the surrounding city blocks and closed in on the SEALs position. But while the enemy maneuvered to envelop the SEALs, nobody in the SEAL platoon moved. Nobody gave a command. No one took ownership to solve the problem and make things happen. Instead, they all waited while the LPO ran around frantically and tried in vain to get a head count of the SEALs in his immediate vicinity. Meanwhile, another SEAL was hit. Then another. MAN DOWN. They had already lost Big Walt. And without his leadership, they were paralyzed, unable to extract themselves from this horrific situation. With every passing moment, their casualties grew. The LPO didnt make a call. And neither did anyone else. The platoons SEAL hospital corpsman, a highly trained combat medic, moved to where the casualties closest to him lay, but there were already too many for him to treat simultaneously. He would have to triage only the teammates he could save. As casualties mounted, the chaos crescendoed and the frustrations of the SEALs in the platoon boiled over. All the while, enemy fighters crept closer and closer from multiple directions. SOMEBODY MAKE A CALL HERE! one of the younger SEALs yelled in frustration. SOMEBODY MAKE A CALL. It was heartbreaking to watch. As an observer, from a position of detachment, I could clearly see what needed to happen: someoneanyone in the platoonneeded to step up and lead, consolidate the forces into one central location, establish a head count, and then get them all moving in one direction. For the SEALs immersed in this scenario, in the midst of the storm, it was much more difficult to see the way out. Staying put, not maneuvering, was the worst thing they could do. Luckily for the SEAL platoon, the enemy fighters in this scenario werent real. They were SEAL instructors and civilian volunteers serving as role-players simulating enemy fighters. The bullets flying around were paintball rounds; while they stung, they werent lethal. And the explosions werent RPG-7 rockets but grenade simulators that exploded with a loud bang, but without the deadly shrapnel that would rip through flesh and bone. The hostile city was a cinderblock town, constructed with walls and streets and multistory buildings with windows, stairwells, and doorways to mimic the urban environment the SEAL platoon might encounter in Iraq or elsewhere. We called it a MOUT (military operations, urban terrain) town. This was a training operation, a realistic scenario that tried to capture the chaos and difficulties of urban combat, the most complex and challenging terrain in which to fight. While it was only preparation for the rigors of combat and not actual combat itself, the lessons learned were very real. Knowing how to manage, and even thrive, in such chaos would save lives on the real battlefield and ensure a far higher probability of mission success. * * * The SEAL training program to prepare deploying combat units for the battlefield was legendary for both its difficulty and its superior resultsnot to be confused with BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training), the seven-month program that was our initial screening process, designed to weed out those who didnt possess the characteristics deemed most important for SEALs on the battlefield. The SEAL training that was actually responsible for preparing SEAL units to take on the most challenging missions and succeed in combat was called Unit Level Training. That was where SEAL platoons and task units learned to work together as a team to overcome challenges and accomplish the mission in a multitude of environments. As detailed in chapter 8 of Extreme Ownership, Decentralized Command, our success in Task Unit Bruiser in the Battle of Ramadi in 2006 was a testament to the outstanding realistic and challenging training that we had been through prior to deployment. When we returned home from Ramadi, I sought out several of the SEAL training instructors who had put us through rigorous urban combat training. I told them just how much their training had helped us: it no doubt saved lives. Jocko also recognized how critical our pre-deployment training was, so for his next assignment after Task Unit Bruiser, he chose to become the officer in charge of Training Detachment, Naval Special Warfare Group One, known as TRADET. The mission of TRADET was to train and prepare all West Coastbased SEAL Teams for combat deployments. Jocko brought back the lessons that we had learned from Ramadi and used them to improve and build upon the existing training. Having learned that leadershipat every level of the teamis the most important thing on the battlefield, Jocko orchestrated particular focus on leadership development. The goal of training was to rigorously test leaders at every level of the team: the fire team leader in charge of four SEALs, the squad leader in charge of eight, the platoon chiefs and platoon commander in charge of sixteen, and the task unit commander in charge of it all. Training was never better or more challenging than when Jocko was in command at TRADET. The training scenarios were designed to create the chaos and mayhem inherent in combat, put significant pressure on leaders, challenge their decision-making and that of their junior leaders, and humble them. Every combat leader must be humble or get humbled. We knew that being humbled in training was infinitely better than being humbled on the battlefield, where lives could be lost. It was critical that leaders understand just how easily things could spin out of control, how quickly the enemy could maneuver and get the upper hand, how communication could break down, how easily a blue-on-blue or friendly fire incident could happen, and how easy it was in the chaos of a firefight to miss a head count and leave a man behind. If they learned and understood this in training, they were far better prepared to prevent such things from happening in real combat. Jockos mantra for training detachment was this: Hard training is the solemn duty of trainers and leaders every day. For two years, I had run the Junior Officer Training Coursethe basic leadership training program for all officers who graduated from BUD/Spassing on these same lessons to the soonto-be SEAL officers before they joined their SEAL Teams as assistant platoon commanders. I then transferred back to a SEAL Team where I served as the operations officer. In addition to my primary role there, a key part of my job (as with the job of any leader) was to train, mentor, and pass on lessons learned to the tactical leaders on my team. At our SEAL Team, that meant in particular the SEAL platoon commanders and SEAL task unit commanders who would soon deploy to combat zones around the globe. During the months of our teams unit level training in preparation for deployment, I visited the training sites alongside Jocko to observe our platoons and task unit leaders in action during their field training exercises (FTXs). These were the latter portion of weeks-long training blocks, when full-scale scenarios combined mission tasking, planning, and execution, often with supporting assets such as helicopters, tanks, and armored vehicles, against role-players serving as the enemy forces. FTXs were challenging, designed to test leadership in simulated combat situations. Together, Jocko and I evaluated the SEAL leaders, providing feedback, guidance, and mentorship in order to better prepare those leaders for the battlefield. * * * In the scenario above, Jocko and I had traveled to a MOUT training site to observe one of my SEAL task units with its two platoons during the FTX portions of their training in urban combat. We had spent the last two days watching their runs. It was clear that the dominant leadership force in the task unit was one of the platoon chiefs, Big Walt. He was highly experienced and a natural-born leader. No matter how great the pressure, he was resolute and unflinching. In every scenario, he stepped up and made things happen. His platoon had excelled in previous scenarios based largely upon his leadership ability. The rest of his platoon, and even the other platoon in the task unit, leaned heavily on Big Walt to make decisions. While such an effective leader brings great value, the team is seriously hamstrung if its performance relies solely on a single leader. If that leader is wounded or killed, or is not immediately present to make a call, the teams performance suffers when others are reluctant to step up, having never done so. Jocko knew there was only one way to address the issue. Big Walt is dominating, he said. I think we need to put him down to see if others will step up and lead. I agree, I said. Ive been thinking the very same thing. As usual, Jocko and I were on the same page. He directed his training instructor staff to put Big Walt down on the next FTX run, meaning he would be killed in simulation. For the next FTX scenario, the SEAL platoon had been tasked with a mission to enter the cinder-block MOUT town and capture or kill a terrorist leaderin this case, a role-player. We observed their planning process and operation order, the mission brief to the team. Then they launched on the operation. Jocko and I followed along, shadowing the leaders and observing. To simulate the realities of urban combat, the TRADET cadre burned tires in the streets and set off grenade simulators. The smoke and noise built tension. Unarmed civilians, role-players without visible weapons who might or might not be enemy fighters, approached the SEALs in the patrol to harass and delay them. Then SEAL training instructors ordered other, hostile roleplayers to attack. Soon enemy role-players began shooting at the SEAL platoon with paintball or Simunition1 rounds. Despite the mounting chaos, Big Walt kept things under control. He was solid as a rock. It was time for other leaders to stop leaning on Big Walt for everything and make the calls themselves. They needed to confront the challenge of leading in difficult situations, under pressure and outside of their comfort zone, so they could learn. As we often said: There is no growth in the comfort zone. Unfortunately for Big Walt, his number was up. As the pressure and intensity of the battle increased with the SEAL platoon, Big Walt was out in the street directing the team. A SEAL training instructor ran over to him and said: Chief, youre down. Big Walt looked back at him in disbelief. He wasnt happy. After letting fly a few expletives, he very reluctantly sat down in the street. But he couldnt help himself: he continued to try to rally the SEAL shooters around him and organize them. Chief, youre dead. Youre out of the scenario. You cant speak, the SEAL instructor insisted. Big Walt reluctantly complied. Two SEALs picked him up and loaded him into the back of their Humvee, which unfortunately had also been put down by the instructor cadre and was now marked as inoperable and stranded in the street. Then the two SEALs moved to cover inside a nearby building. Thats when the call came out over the intersquad radio: Big Walt is down. With their trusted platoon chief out of the picture, the rest of the platoon and task unit broke down. No one stepped up, no one rallied the troops or gave them direction. The LPO knew he was expected to lead, but he wasnt making things happen. Meanwhile, enemy role-players continued to maneuver and pick off additional SEALs, who went down as simulated casualties. After several minutes of this, it was apparent to Jocko and meand the rest of the SEAL training cadrethat without Big Walt, the SEAL platoon was overwhelmed to the point where learning had greatly diminished. Hard training was crucial. No matter how difficult training could be, combat was infinitely harder. Therefore training must be hard to simulate the immense challenges of real combat and apply pressure to decision-makers. But we also knew that in training, as in everything else, finding balance was key. If training is too easy and doesnt stretch the capabilities of the participants, their improvement will be minimal. But if training overwhelms the team to a point where its participants can no longer function, it greatly diminishes the lessons they will learn from it. While training must make the team, and especially leaders, uncomfortable, it cannot be so overwhelming that it destroys morale, stifles growth, and implants a defeatist attitude. With this in mind, we knew we needed to reinsert Big Walt into the scenario. Jocko and I discussed it and were once again in complete agreement. Big Walt needed to be resurrected. Big Walt, Jocko yelled over the noise of gunfire and explosions. Youre alive. What? Big Walt yelled from the back of the Humvee, where he was seated and clearly exasperated that his platoon was pinned down and he was unable to help them. Youre alive, Jocko repeated. Youre back in the scenario. Immediately, like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, Big Walt stood up, and from the back of the Humvee, his weapon pointed to the sky at high port, barked simple, clear, and concise orders: Everyone consolidate here in this building! he yelled, pointing out a nearby concrete structure. Fall back to my position now! He didnt use his radio, as the LPO had tried to do. He used simple verbal commands shouted so those within earshot could hear and understand. Within seconds the platoon started moving. Even the SEAL operators who couldnt see him directly could hear his voice and moved in that direction. They passed the word to others via verbal command. Within only a few seconds, the platoon consolidated into a single building. Once secure in the building, Big Walt ordered security set and called for a quick head count. The word came back within a few momentsall SEALs were accounted for. Next, Big Walt ordered the team to break out of the building and head to the remaining Humvees that were still operable so they could mount up, depart the city, and move out of harms way and back to the mock base. With Big Walts leadership and clear direction, all of this took place rapidly and with relative ease. Once back at the base, it was onto the most important part of the training: the debrief. Leaders from the platoon and task unit stepped up to analyze what went right, what went wrong, and how they could do it better. The SEAL training instructors piled on with their critiques. Jocko debriefed the leaders. And I passed my thoughts on as well. There were always lessons to be learned. The best platoons and task units embraced those lessons with Extreme Ownership, acknowledged the problems, and figured out ways to solve them. They constantly improved. The worst units rejected the criticism and complained about how training was too hard. For the FTX scenario, the biggest lessons learned were for the LPO. He had been pinned down and unable to get the team moving, thinking it was an impossible situation. Yet, Big Walt was able to immediately get the team engaged and moving with a single verbal command. The LPO now understood what he had to do in such circumstances. As failure is often the best teacher, he was determined to learn from this experience and do better. We had brought Big Walt back to life to ensure that such learning took place. The reincarnated Big Walt set the example and demonstrated clearly what good leadership can accomplisheven in the direst of situations. It was a lesson the LPO and other junior leaders in the platoon were not likely to forget. * * * Of all the lessons we learned in combat in Ramadi, the most valuable one was this: Leadership is the most important thing on the battlefield. Leadershipat every levelis the critical factor in whether a team succeeds or fails. I witnessed this many times, under the most dreadful realworld circumstances imaginable. When a leader stepped up and took charge, got the team focused and moving together, the results were incredible. This training scenario proved yet again how when all seemed lost, just one person stepping up and making the call meant the difference between victory or defeat. Had we left Big Walt dead and out of the scenario, the task unit would have been completely destroyed by the enemy role-players. They would not have seen the importance of battlefield leadership. They would have thought that when things got too bad, nothing could be done to save them. But that is wrong. And as much as we wanted the scenarios to be hard, they also had to educate. It was crucial that the other SEALs in the platoon and task unit personally witnessed how a decisive call from a bold leader made all the difference, even in the most chaotic situations. Seeing this, many of those junior leaders would emulate that leader and step up to lead their teams. The whole point of training was to demonstrate this fundamental truth and build a culture of Decentralized Command where everyone leads, where leaders at every level take charge, act decisively to overcome obstacles and accomplish the mission. In order to achieve this, training had to be challenging; it had to be difficult. It had to push the team members far beyond their comfort zone so they understood what it was like to be overwhelmed, outmaneuvered, and on the defensive. But training could not be so challenging that it overwhelmed the team to a point where no learning took place. Finding the balance between training that was too easy, where the trainees werent truly challenged, and training so hard that the trainees were crushed was a dichotomy that leaders and instructors had to balance during every training event. Often, we didnt recognize that the dichotomy had become unbalanced until we had strayed too far in one direction. In Task Unit Bruiser, during our training workupbefore we had deployed to RamadiI had experienced this firsthand during our own MOUT FTXs. The instructors had sent us out on a suicide mission. They had dragged the fuselage of an old UH-1 Huey helicopter into the center of the MOUT town, surrounded by streets and cinder-block buildings. It was a Black Hawk Down2 scenario: our mission was to rescue the crew from a downed helicopter, which the Huey hulk would represent, in the midst of a hostile city. The TRADET instructors had bolted a quarter-inch-thick steel plate to one side. In the scenario, our SEAL platoon would have to use a quickie sawa heavy-duty power toolto cut through the steel plate and access the cockpit and passenger compartment of the Huey fuselage, the simulated wreckage. In Charlie Platoon, we knew it was going to be a tough mission, but we were determined to do our utmost to get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible. We launched on the nighttime operation in Humvees that stopped three blocks away and dropped off the main force of SEALs who would go in for the rescue. Quickly and quietly, we patrolled on foot through the dark streets. All was quiet until we arrived at the downed helicopter the Huey fuselage resting ominously in the MOUT towns main intersection. Our SEAL fire teams moved into position and set up a defensive perimeter. Meanwhile, the SEAL breacher started his quickie saw and revved the engine, going to work on the steel plate as the saw bit into the metal with a loud screech, sending sparks flying. Within seconds, all hell broke loose. Role-playersthe enemy fighters we were up against unleashed a vicious barrage of paintball rounds from every direction. The SEAL fire teams on security returned fire, but it was of little use. We were stuck in the middle of the street sawing through the steel plate while the enemy had the high ground from the second-story windows and rooftops all around us. There was nothing we could do except abandon the mission. And with our mentality in Task Unit Bruiser, that was not an option. We were determined to get into the helicopter and rescue the two crew members inside, as per the scenario we had been given. So we were stuck, out in the street with no cover, taking fire from all directions. It was a total bloodbath. The instructors tossed grenade simulators that exploded with loud booms and blinding flashes. I moved around, checking on the guys under the ridiculous onslaught. Our breacher running the quickie saw was taking the worst of it. I moved up to him to see how he was doing. How we looking? I yelled over the din. Almost there, he answered, gritting his teeth as multiple paintball rounds impacted his gear at high speed, splattering his load-bearing equipment and leaving nasty welts on his neck, arms, and legs. His back was turned to the enemy, and because he was operating the heavy saw with both hands, he couldnt even shoot back. But he stood there and took it like a mana Big Tough Frogman. I knelt next to him and returned fire on his behalf to try and suppress the enemy onslaught, to no avail. I got hit from every direction as dozens of paintball rounds slammed into me, stinging my hands, arms, legs, and neck. Pretty soon, the face mask and goggles I wore to protect my eyes were so covered in greasy paint from the paintball rounds, I could barely see. The TRADET instructors wore ChemLights that glowed to mark their position at night and let us know not to shoot them. They were supposed to be off-limits and treated as if they werent there. I couldnt make out much, but I knew where they were located just a few yards away. Knowing they were controlling the situation, I unleashed several paint rounds of my own in their direction, sending the instructors scurrying for cover. Finally, the breacher cut through the steel plate and we rescued the two role-players acting as pilots. We then beat a hasty retreat out of the city, cringing at the welts we had received and laughing about how much that evolution had sucked. Of all the challenging FTX scenarios wed been through at MOUT, that was the craziest and also the least educational. It had gone beyond a difficult scenario that challenged us and turned into nothing more than a huge suckfest that we just had to grit our teeth and bear until it was over. When we got back, I counted at least thirty-seven different paintball impacts on my uniform and op gear, and probably even more that I couldnt distinguish. That didnt count the dozen or so that had hit my face mask and goggles. Had they been real bullets, I would have died many times over. When Jocko saw me covered head to toe in colorful paint splotches, he just shook his head and laughed. I guess you guys GOT SOME, he said with a smile. Yeah, I said. We got some alright. We got the full benefit of that evolution. The enemy attack by the role-players had been so overwhelming, thered been nothing we could do to counter it. Cutting through the steel plate on the Huey had taken several agonizing minutesmuch longer than the TRADET instructors had anticipated. It would have been better training and more educational for us had they eased back the attacks once they realized we were overwhelmed and pinned down, unable to move until the saw cut through the steel. The biggest thing I did learn from the scenario was that in such a situation, we would need a much larger force to clear all the buildings on the entire block and put SEALs on the high ground, to ensure we had tactically superior positions on the enemy and not the other way around. The other thing I learned was that at some point, I had to be willing to cancel a mission. I would have to make the tough call to pull back and abort the mission so we could regroup and re-attack rather than pointlessly sacrifice my entire team. In Task Unit Bruiser, we embraced hard training. We took on difficult challenges and physically demanding scenarios with eagerness. But I realized that there was a line. Training had to be hard, but it couldnt be so hard that it crushed the team and diminished the learning that is supposed to take place. It was a dichotomy that had to be carefully balanced. * * * On the other side of the dichotomy, good leaders must ensure that training incorporates the most difficult, realistic challenges of the real-world battlefield. There were some SEALs who didnt want to train hard. They constantly complained at being challenged and driven beyond their comfort zone. They said training was unrealistic, too basic, or that they wanted to work on what they referred to as advanced tactics. In truth, most of this was just a euphemism for I dont want to train hard; I dont want to be challenged. It was weak and frankly shocking to see such attitudes in a few SEALs, but particularly so in experienced SEAL leaders. This training is ridiculous, one SEAL chief said of the challenges in the training scenarios that TRADET built under Jockos leadership. Ive deployed multiple times and nothing that bad has ever happened on any of my deployments. But just because someone hasnt experienced the worst-case scenario in real life doesnt mean it couldnt happen. It doesnt mean the team shouldnt be prepared for the harshest realities of combat. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The team must be prepared for those worst-case scenariosmultiple downed men at the same time, a vehicle that hits an IED, or a low-risk mission that goes horribly wrong. Often, one of the biggest points of pushback from such complainers in the SEAL platoon or task unit was that the enemy role-playersthe SEAL TRADET instructors and other volunteerswere too good at their job. They were more skilled and better equipped than any of the enemy fighters we faced overseas. But that should have been embraced as a good thing, challenging the team so it would be more prepared. Besides, many of the enemy fighters we were up against in Ramadi were pretty damned skilled. They had years of real-world combat experience from which they had learned, innovated, and adapted. You could never take them for granted, never get complacent, or they would overrun your position and wipe you out. Along with this, another common criticism of why training was too hard was that the training instructors cheated. They know our plan, some SEALs would complain about the role-players. And we have to follow the rules, while they do not. Jocko countered this with logic: The enemy fighters you are going up against overseas, they dont follow rules either: they have no rules of engagement like we do. They use treachery, to conceal their attack or lure you into an ambush. They use women and children as human shields. They use suicide bombers. They set up opposing ambushes where they might shoot each other to try to kill more of us. They dont care. But we do. We play by different rules than they do. So if my training instructorsour role-playersare breaking the rules: GOOD. That is realistic training. Instead of complaining about it, embrace it and figure out a way to overcome it. Hard training is the solemn duty of trainers and leaders every day. It was the mantra that Jocko and his TRADET instructors lived by. And it was incumbent upon them to ensure that training was difficult, that standards were held high so that SEAL platoons and task units were ready to survive and thrive in the toughest environments they might be thrust into on distant battlefields. Some leaders strove to make sure their people were happy, which might include overlooking performance deficiencies, allowing the team to cut corners, and not holding the line to train hard, maintain discipline, follow standard operating procedures, and overcome obstacles. Some leaders thought they were encouraging their team through false cheerleading, telling their people theyre doing better than they truly were. And perhaps thats what the SEAL leaders who complained were seeking. But leaders who never pushed the team outside its comfort zone in training, who didnt push the standards and drive their team toward exceptional performance, and who didnt 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. The best leadersoften those who learned through experience what worked and what didnt looked out for the long-term success of the team and the mission. They didnt shy away from tough conversations to correct underperformance. They held the standards high and ensured the team was fully prepared for the worst-case scenario. 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. By challenging frontline leaders and junior or less experienced personnel to take on greater roles and responsibilities, the team implements proper Decentralized Command so that leaders at every level of the team step up to lead. The team then becomes far more effective and able to accomplish its mission. When the team succeeds and outperforms all others, that opens up the biggest opportunities for its peoples long-term success. 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. Principle Hard training is critical to the performance of any team; this is clearly the case with SEAL platoons and task units deploying to combat zones, where we say: You train how you fight and you fight how you train. The best training programs push their teams hard, far beyond their comfort zone, so that the team can learn from mistakes in training. Hopefully, this prevents the team from making those or similar mistakes in real life. In About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, Colonel David H. Hackworth (U.S. Army, Ret.),3 quoted a mentor of his, U.S. Army Colonel Glover Johns: The harder the training, the more troops will brag. Ask any SEAL: What was the hardest BUD/S class? and youll get your answer: their class number. Everyone wants to say that they had it the toughest, that their training was harder than everyone elsesafter the fact, at least. But sometimes in the midst of training some teams want to stay in their comfort zone. Leaders cant allow that. Training must be hard. Training must simulate realistic challenges and apply pressure to decision-makers. There is no growth in the comfort zone. If training doesnt 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. But training is designed to make the team better, to enable its members to function in realistic conditions they might face. It cant be so difficult that it crushes the team, demoralizes it, or overwhelms participants to the point where they fail to learn. As in everything, leaders must find the balance in training and focus on three critical aspects: realism, fundamentals, and repetition. Training must be realistic. Every training scenario should be based upon something that is likely to (or could potentially) be encountered in a real scenario. The takeaways must be immediately applicable to the teams mission. For those who havent experienced it, the chaos and uncertainty of the battlefield can be overwhelming. Thats why it was critical to create that chaos as much as we could in training. Training should push the team, and particularly leaders, into realistic, uncomfortable situations where they arent sure what to do. In the business world, training must do the same. Role-play scenarios dealing with a problem client or customer, or a high-pressure decision that must be made immediately, when the outcome isnt certain and the picture not 100 percent clear. Rehearse the contingencies for a serious accident and run the procedures that must be followed even under high stress. Training must focus on the fundamentals. While units must adapt and innovate, some basic tactics do not change. Just as this is true in military tactics, it is true in any business or area of life. Often people want to skip through the basic fundamentals into what they call advanced tactics. But advanced tactics are worthless if a team cant do the basics well. Leaders must ensure that a training program develops the foundation of basic fundamentals. Training must be repetitive. It is not enough to have a training program for new hires in the first days or weeks that they join the team. Training must be continuous for everyone. Each person gets better with iterations, so it is important to plan repetitive training over time that challenges each member of the teamparticularly leaders. Take Extreme Ownership of training. Rather than wait for someone else to build a training program or make training more realistic and effective, seize the initiative on your own. The best training programs are not orchestrated from the top but driven from the bottomthe frontline leaders who are closest to the action and the lessons learned. Utilize the most accomplished members of the team to drive training programs and pass on lessons learned to others. We dont have the budget to train isnt a valid excuse. It costs nothing to set up a roleplaying scenario to put leaders in situations where they are unprepared, to make tough decisions and therefore make them better. We dont have time to train isnt a valid excuse. Make time for the things that are important. And 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 teams performance. Again, the key to great training is finding balance. Hard training is essential, but smart training is crucial to maximize the use of time and enable optimal learning. Application to Business I dont trust my frontline leaders to execute the mission, said the senior project manager. Youre telling us that we need to use Decentralized Command, but I dont have faith that my junior leaders can properly execute. Training is how you develop your leaders and build that trust, I replied. Lets take a look at your training program. We dont really have one, the senior project manager responded. Well, that could certainly be your problem, I observed. Why dont you take ownership of building it? * * * I had given a keynote presentation to the companys annual leadership off-site, and the combat principles we wrote about in Extreme Ownership had resonated powerfully with the team. The company brought me back to build a leadership development program for two dozen of the companys senior leadersthe department heads and senior project managers, just below the csuite level, who executed the vision of the companys senior executive team. It was a great company with solid leaders in place, some with substantial experience and others fairly new to the team. As a result of their success, the company had experienced rapid growth and expansion. But the dispersion of resources, particularly experienced leadership, on a vast number of projects happening concurrently was causing a problem. While eager and aggressive to win, some of the companys senior leaders recognized that the speed of growth thrust very junior leaders with inadequate experience into critical management positions with little oversight. The senior leaders recognized the risk associated with this in the quality of service the company delivered and the ability of the frontline teams to effectively accomplish the mission on time and within budget. As I worked with the companys senior leaders over the course of many months, I heard a consistent theme: We dont have enough experienced leaders in the field to run these projects. Were piling too much on inexperienced leaders who are unprepared. It was a genuine concern, and a risk that didnt seem to be fully comprehended by the companys executive team when brought to their attention. I addressed the problem head-on during one of my meetings with the senior leaders in the class. The point you bring up is a valid one, I said, but the only way to prepare those inexperienced leaders is to train them. You need to place them in tough circumstances in training that will prepare them for the challenges of the real world. Some on the team seemed skeptical. How is training ever going to replicate actual experience? one leader inquired. I could see others in the group nodding, agreeing with the premise of the question. I explained that training could not replace actual experience. There was nothing better than real-world experience. 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. I had talked extensively about the Battle of Ramadi and the lessons we had learned from it. We did this to give context to the group so they fully understood where the leadership principles we taught had come from. Do you know how much experience I had on the actual battlefield as a SEAL platoon commander before I deployed to Ramadi in 2006? I asked the group. Some shrugged. No one answered. They either didnt know, didnt want to guess, or perhaps didnt want to admit the answer. None, I said. That was my first time. I had never been a platoon commander before. I had never led a platoon of SEALs in advance of a huge conventional U.S. military force of fifty tanks and thousands of Soldiers and Marines. I had never been in a real firefight before. No one in my platoon had done any of that before. Do you know how much experience Jocko had as a task unit commander, when we deployed to Ramadi? I continued. None. And yet he showed exceptional strategic vision in counterinsurgency operations and led Task Unit Bruiser as a key supporting element to the U.S. victory there. The Delta Platoon commander, Seth Stonehe was deploying as a platoon commander for the first time and he proved himself an extraordinary combat leader in his very first firefight. * * * I relayed a story that Jocko had told me about Seth and Delta Platoon on their first operation in the dangerous and violent Malaab District of eastern Ramadi. Seth had led his platoon, including Delta Platoons courageous and aggressive point man, machine gunner and sniper, J. P. Dinnell, on a patrol with a company of U.S. Soldiers from the legendary 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Band of Brothers, of the U.S. Armys 101st Airborne Division and their Iraqi soldier counterparts, led by an Army major as their advisor. The 1/506th Soldiers had been on the ground in this volatile neighborhood for months. Theyd seen daily, violent combat and scores of intense gun battles. Our Task Unit Bruiser SEALs had only just arrived. Not long after the combined patrol of SEALs, U.S. Soldiers, and Iraqi troops had moved out into the streets of the Malaab, they soon found themselves in what we called a Big Mix-It-Upa significant firefightas enemy fighters attacked them with machine guns and RPG rockets. The U.S. and Iraqi patrol was pinned down and unable to move. Seth made his way over to the Army major in charge of the Iraqi soldiers, crouching low as bullets zipped past. Ill take a section of my SEALs and flank the enemy fighters, Seth said calmly over the clamor of incoming and outgoing gunfire, pointing to the location on his map where they planned to maneuver. Well take the high ground from the rooftop of one of those buildings there, he added, pointing at a cluster of buildings. Sounds good, said the major. Do it. Seth gave the signal to move out, with J. P. Dinnell in the lead wielding his Mk46 machine gun and the squad of SEALs following behind. They aggressively maneuvered to flank the enemy, entered and cleared one of the buildings, then took the rooftop. From there, they engaged enemy fighters from the high ground, killing several and forcing the remainder to flee. The patrol, no longer pinned down, was able to continue and soon made its way back to the safety of the base. As Jocko listened to the debrief after the operation, the major said to Seth: That was really impressive how you calmly maneuvered your element under fire and flanked the enemy. You must have been in a lot of urban combatand a bunch of firefights. No, sir, Seth replied. That was actually my very first firefight. * * * To the senior leaders in the classroom, I explained that the only reason Seth and Delta Platoon were able to perform so well in their first firefight was that they had participated in extraordinary, realistic training prior to deployment. It was the same for us in Charlie Platoon. We were all thrust into some incredibly difficult situations, I continued. But we had spent months preparing in rigorous training scenarios. That training saved lives, enabled us to effectively execute, and played an integral role in Task Unit Bruisers success. We could use a training program, one senior leader agreed. It would be nice if the executive leadership would develop one. Thats what you are going to do? I asked. Wait for the executive team to build the training program? Does that sound like Extreme Ownership? Look, theyve already got a lot on their plates. Besides, all of you in this room are closer to this problem. You understand where the experience is lacking and you have the knowledge that your junior leaders need. So you need to develop it. I explained that in the SEAL Teams, it isnt the senior leadersthe admirals and captains who run the leadership programs. Its the returning platoon commanders and platoon chiefs and leading petty officers. Its up to you to develop the training program, I said. Then run it up the chain of command for their support and approval. Put your junior, inexperienced leaders in difficult scenarios, I continued. Role-play with them. Force them to make decisions under pressure. Then debrief and analyze those decisions. I reminded them of Jockos mantra at training detachment: Hard training is the solemn duty of trainers and leaders every day. But you have to train smart, I reminded them. 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 a good training program will be substantial. Throughout the leadership development course, I grew to know many of the companys senior leaders well. There were several outstanding leaders in the group. Three of them recognized the pressing need for a training program and took ownership of the problem. They stepped up and took on the challenge of developing and implementing an effective training program, despite their busy schedules. I followed up with the companys executive team and highlighted to them the need for an effective training program. Just as I suspected, the executive team was fully supportive. They welcomed the efforts of the department heads and senior project managers who took charge of the program. It took significant effort and time to build the program. Finally, after months of preparation, they were ready to roll it out. I wasnt on-site to observe the initial training session, but the next week I followed up via phone with one of the senior department heads who had helped build the program. How did it go? I asked him. It could have gone better, he said. There was a lot of pushback. I was surprised to hear this after the extensive efforts that had been made to build a solid training program. What happened? I asked. It wasnt the content, the senior department head answered. The content is good. The objectives are solid. It was the delivery. The leader who instructed this first course was probably not the right guy to lead this effort, he continued. He put out too much information and constantly quizzed the participants, most of whom couldnt keep up. When it was clear they didnt understand, he yelled at them in front of the class. The class is normally an enthusiastic group, but no one was happy about that training. The feedback has been super-negative. Not good, I responded. You know how important it is for the company to have an effective training program. First of all, training is only as good as the instructors who are teaching it. So you have to carefully select the right people for this. You have to push the standards and train hard, I said. But you cant 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 companys mission. So, you need to rein that in, I continued. Start over with a new instructor. In fact, you should instruct the next session. And make it clear to participants that this time will be different. Training should be challenging. But only as a means to make your team better, to prepare them for the challenges they face in the real world. Youve got to train hard, but train smart.? A Task Unit Bruiser machine gunner holds security from inside a compound. The terrain in the battle of Ramadi was mostly urban, but some operations took place outside of the city in rural terrain. Yet, the fundamentals remained the same: Cover and Move. Notice the extra bandolier of ammunition slung over the shoulder. Bruiser SEALs carried as much ammo as possible, and still ran low on a regular basis. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy. Photograph taken by Mate Second Class Sam Peterson.) CHAPTER 6 Aggressive, Not Reckless Jocko Willink VIETRAMMC-1 AREA OF OPERATIONS, NORTHEAST OF RAMADI, IRAQ: 2006 Suddenly, the sound of machine gun fire ripped through the quiet night air as beautiful but deadly red streaks of tracer fire arced across the sky. I wasnt exactly sure what was going on, but I knew that my sniper overwatch team out there in the darkness was in a gunfight. That was about all I knew for sure. I didnt know if they had been spotted by enemy fighters and fired upon. I wasnt sure what size enemy force they were engaged with. I definitely didnt know what supportif anythe SEALs in the overwatch element needed from me or our assault force, staged and ready to launch. But even without a clear picture of what was happening, I needed to make a call. And my default mind-set was aggressiveto take action to solve problems and accomplish the mission. With that in mind, I knew what we must do: EXECUTE. * * * We were poised and ready to launch on a major clearance operation in a particularly violent insurgent stronghold. Our objective was to clear a village and marketplace in that strongholda series of small buildings and market stallsknown to U.S. forces as Mav Market. The name derived from a past combat operation nearby, when American forces under enemy attack had called for close air support, and U.S. war planes hit several enemy positions with AGM-65 Maverick missiles. For the operation we were about to launch, I was the ground force commander, staged with the assault force of Charlie Platoon SEALs and a dozen Iraqi soldiers, at a U.S. Army combat outpost (COP) in a rural agricultural area outside the city. The area was known to U.S. forces as MC-1. Although it shared a border with the northern edge of the city of Ramadi, MC-1 was physically separated by the Euphrates River that ran west to east through the area, demarcating the urban cityscape from a rural farming community. Beyond the river, the landscape opened into irrigated farm fields, levees, palm trees, and canals interspersed with small, scattered groups of houses. It did not look at all like the urban or desert terrain we had come to expect in Iraq; it was more like a scene from a Vietnam War movie. Task Unit Bruiser and other U.S. forces had nicknamed the area VietRam, an ode to the place so many of us had grown up hearing about in stories passed down through oral history from the generations of SEALs who had fought in Vietnam and through the Hollywood celluloid depictions in movies we had all watched growing up. Although the Euphrates River separated the urban zone of Ramadi proper and VietRam, the violence from the city spilled over and permeated the countryside. The roads contained massive IEDs, large enough to take out armored vehicles, with frequent attacks along the main thoroughfares. Coalition patrols, when crossing fields or open terrain, were a vulnerable target for enemy mortar teams that knew the area well. The U.S. Armys 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry Regiment (1/109th), was responsible for the area. They were an outstanding combat unit of experienced, professional, and courageous Soldiers. By the time Task Unit Bruiser arrived, the 1/109th had been on the ground for nearly a year fighting in this area. Because of the expansive rural terrain, with limited roads, troop concentrations were impossiblea single infantry platoon had to cover several square kilometers of battlespace. With so little combat power to affect such a large space, it was difficult to penetrate deep into enemy-held territory. One of Leifs assistant platoon commanders (or AOIC, for assistant officer in charge) in Charlie Platoon had built a solid relationship with the Soldiers of the 1/109th Infantry. The AOIC had teamed up with the Army company and platoon leadership that patrolled the area. Together, they made aggressive plans, orchestrating a bold push into the enemy-controlled territory along the river. The AOIC, along with Charlie Platoons leading petty officer (or LPO), and sniper Chris Kyle led their element of SEALs and the Iraqi soldiers they worked with on patrols and sniper overwatch missions deep into the contested areas, frequently receiving heavy enemy contact. On one operation, the AOIC split his element of SEALs and Iraqi troops into two squads. One squad patrolled on foot across a muddy, open field when suddenly, insurgent fighters hiding in the tree line and nearby buildings opened up on them with machine guns. The patrol dropped to the ground for protection, pinned down by the enemys effective fire. Once they were sucking mudfacedown in a prone position to avoid the hail of bulletsenemy mortar rounds rained down, impacting all around them. Miraculously, the muddy field saved the patrol, as the mortars penetrated deep into the mud before exploding; the ground absorbed the explosions and lethal shrapnel, leaving large holes in the mud but fortunately no holes in our teammates or their Iraqi soldiers. The other SEAL squad, which had maintained a covered position from the levee that bordered the field, quickly laid down suppressive fire and beat back the enemy attack. Their solid efforts and plan using Cover and Move enabled the SEAL squad stranded in the open to move to safety without any casualties. Over time, the series of aggressive operations by the 1/109th Soldiers, Charlie Platoon SEALs, and Iraqi soldiers challenged the insurgents control over the area. Together, the operations enabled the 1/109th to gain ground and set up a small COP in the midst of VietRam, from which a platoon of 1/109th Soldiers lived and worked. From that small outpost, 1/109th and the AOICs SEAL element conducted patrols, gathered atmospherics, and acquired intelligence about enemy operations in the area. Eventually, they identified a small enclave of a dozen or so buildings that seemed to be the root of many enemy attacks: Mav Market. With multiple intelligence sources indicating the area was a base of operations for insurgents, the AOIC had brought the intelligence to usLeif and the rest of Charlie Platoon, and me at the task unitwith the recommendation that we conduct an aggressive operation in the area. We agreed and planned an assault to clear the village, capture any suspected enemy personnel, search the market, and destroy any weapons caches we found. The planning cycle commenced, mission approval given from our chain of command, and a few days later, we launched from Camp Ramadi to the 1/109th infantrys COP in MC-1. Wanting to get eyes on the village and the market prior to the assault, we sent a sniper overwatch teama small number of SEAL snipers, machine gunners, a corpsman, a radioman, and an element leaderinto the target area prior to the assault. Their job was to spearhead the operation, sneak in clandestinely, observe the target area for suspicious activity, and provide security when the assault element entered the hamlet. This was critical, as the enemy had an effective early warning network in the area. Sympathetic (or fearful) locals monitored roads and paths going in and out of enemy strongpoints. When coalition forces passed by, the locals passed signals or made radio calls to inform the insurgents we were headed their way. That gave the enemy fighters an opportunity to make a move: either run and evade, hide their weapons and pretend to be civilians, or rally their troops and attack with IEDs, machine guns, rockets, and mortars. To minimize their exposure for this mission, the overwatch element rode into the COP with a standard U.S. Army logistics convoy so as not to raise any suspicion, while the rest of usthe assault force that would actually clear the village and marketremained at Camp Ramadi, ready to launch. When darkness fell, the overwatch element quietly patrolled from the COP. They stealthily made their way across flooded fields, through canals, over levees, and through date palm groves, until they reached the target area. The overwatch element observed from a distance for a few minutes and then determined that one of the buildings on the outskirts of the village appeared vacant. The point man pushed a little farther forward, confirmed that there were no signs of any occupants, and then called the rest of the overwatch element to advance. The team entered the building and cleared it, not dynamically as a SWAT team might do, but quietly, like cat burglars. Finding nothing, they put their snipers in place and set their machine gunners in security positions. The radioman passed their position to the tactical operations center back at Camp Ramadi. Once the overwatch was in position, the next phase of the operation commenced. As ground force commander for the operation, I joined Leif and the rest of Charlie Platoons SEALs, who would be the assault force for the operation, accompanied by our Iraqi soldiers. The AOIC who had inspired the operation was the assault force commander. We mounted up in our vehicles at Camp Ramadi and drove out to the COP in MC-1 from where the overwatch had launched. Our assault force was about thirty strong, half SEALs and the other half Iraqi soldiers. With the overwatch element in position, any movement or activity in the village would be observed and passed to the assault force. I anticipated that there might be enemy activity in the area, spurred up when the assault force entered the vicinity and the insurgent early warning network passed the word. Our transit in the Humvees was uneventful. We arrived at the COP, our staging point for the assault. We pulled in and combat parked the vehicles (Humvees were backed into parking spaces to facilitate quick departure), and our team dismounted. I made a quick radio check with the overwatch position. Charlie two-six, this is Jocko, over, I said. Jocko, this is Charlie two-six, go, the overwatch element leader responded. I passed a quick situation report: Assault force is staged at the COP. Any activity when we rolled in? Negative, he responded. Nothing significant. We saw a few locals moving about. Normal pattern of life. About twenty minutes ago, it got very quiet. When you guys rolled in, no change it seems like the village is bedded down for the night. Roger, I replied. We will let things continue to settle, then launch in a few hours as planned, I told him, indicating that we would stick to our predetermined assault time late in the night. I walked out to the vehicles and passed word to the rest of the team. The assault force dismounted the vehicles and entered the COP building. They took off their gear, sprawled out, and waited. Leif, his AOIC, and I had business to attend to, so we made our way to a small tactical operations center (TOC) that had been set up by the 1/109th Soldiers inside their COP. In an age when people usually think a TOC means giant plasma television monitors, coffeemakers, and slick modern furniture, this was the other end of the spectrum. This TOC was bare-bones: a few maps on the wall; a rack-mounted base station radio unit to communicate with elements in the field as well as the headquarters back in Camp Ramadi; some dry-erase boards with names, people, and plans written out on them; and basic communication procedures. That was it. The AOIC knew the area and the key leaders well and greeted the Army platoon leader and the Soldiers in the TOC. Leif and I introduced ourselves to the leadership of the 1/109th Infantry platoon that was occupying the COP. Good evening, I told them as we shook hands. Im Jocko, the task unit commander. This is Leif, the SEAL platoon commander. Great to meet you guys, the 1/109th platoon commander said. He was a professional Soldier, as were his noncommissioned officers and troops manning the COP. Thanks for all the support youve been giving us. Weve really had some good impact around here. A month ago, we would have been attacked just trying to get to this spot. Now we live here! Outstanding. You guys have done great work, I said. Im glad we were able to support you. With that, the platoon commander talked over the map with us, pointing out danger areas, describing the enemys tactics particular to the area, and outlining a fire support plan should we need help. Leif and I followed up with some pointed questions about the routes in and out of the target village and then sat down and listened. Our overwatch element in the target area continued to pass traffic, with no significant change. The area had settled down and there was no remarkable activity in the village. Inside the COP, we listened to the battalion radio net, the channel that every platoon and every company in the 1/109th battalion monitored. In such a hot area, there was always something happening and radio kept us up-to-datereports of enemy movement, friendly units maneuvering to contact, U.S. troops wounded and sometimes killed. It was a strange experience to hear the muffled gunfire off in the distance and then hear the radio calls of the men on the ground, in that distant firefight, engulfed in adrenaline, making decisions, passing information, requesting support. Some leaders stayed calm even in bad situations. With others you could hear the panic in their voices. Listening to hundreds of radio calls like this taught me and the rest of the Task Unit Bruiser leadership that staying calm on the radio was a mandatory trait if you wanted to lead effectively. Then, in the midst of some of the normal radio traffic, we heard a strange radio call from the 1/109th battalion TOC back in Ramadi. It seemed there was another coalition unit that had not deconflicted and was purportedly conducting an operation in the direct vicinity of the Task Unit Bruiser operation. It was not normal for a unit to be out without intensive coordination. But there was even more puzzling information: the report on the radio said the unit could possibly be dressed in indigenous clothing. This quickly went from strange to dangerous. Under normal circumstances in this hostile battlespace with multiple U.S. and Iraqi units, which clearly stood out as friendly in their combat gear and weaponry, the hazards from a potential blue-on-blue or friendly fire situation were quite high without extensive deconfliction. But for coalition troops to conduct an operation without identifiable uniforms, when there were U.S. troops in the area who might mistake them for enemy fighters, was completely insane. Identifying friend from foe was already hard enough, given the fact that the Iraqi Army dressed in mismatched uniforms, sometimes throwing in elements of civilian clothing. The insurgents sometimes wore a mix of paramilitary gear, mismatched uniforms, and their favorite clothingtracksuits with a balaclava or kaffiyeh covering their faces. During my first deployment to Iraq, my platoon had always worn black balaclavas, not only to protect our identities but also because they had a psychologically intimidating effect on the enemy. But in Ramadi, no one in Task Unit Bruiser wore balaclavas or anything that covered their faces. A covered face meant terrorist, and no one wanted to be mistaken for a terrorist in this environment. It could result in an American bullet to the head. Among all this radio traffic, a call came from the overwatch element. Weve got movement, the radioman from the overwatch whispered. Leif, his AOIC, and I stood up and moved closer to listen to the radio. Four to six military-age males, moving tactically, the radioman described. Do you have PID? I asked. This was a difficult question. PID meant positive identificationI was asking if the element could identify if the people they were seeing were friendly or hostile. Stand by, the radioman passed. In the SEAL Teams, stand by has many meanings, based on how it is used and the tone of the voice. It can mean Wait a second. Or it can mean Dont move. It can mean Dont push me any further. It can also mean I dont know, let me find out. Additionally, it can mean Brace for impact, something bad is about to happen. The tone in the radiomans voice was a combination of I dont know, let me find out and Brace for impact, something bad is about to happen. Leif and I looked at each other. I nodded to Leif, and he knew what I was thinking. Then he nodded to his AOIC and they grabbed their helmets, hustled outside, and assembled the troops, telling them to gear up and load the vehicles. I then passed a statement that the overwatch commander didnt expect: Do not engage unless you confirm an actual hostile act. There could be friendlies in the area. What? the overwatch element leader questioned. This was highly unusual. There could be friendlies in the area that have not coordinated with us. And they might be dressed in indigenous clothing, I told him. Seriously? the overwatch element leader responded, his frustration coming through even clearer than his radio signal. Seriously. Pass the word, I replied solemnly. This was a very bad situation. Combat is by nature confusing. It is impossible to know and understand the dynamics of everything that happens on the battlefield. This is classically known as the fog of war.1 The fog is real. Differing reports, differing opinions, differing perceptions, time lags to receive and process information, weather conditions, darkness, terrain, enemy feints and maneuvers, friendly forces moving and reactingthe chaos and uncertainty add up and paint a picture that is foggy at best. When I ran the training for the West Coast SEAL Teams, one of the lessons I regularly taught was that the most important piece of information you could have on the battlefield is the knowledge of where you are. Without that, nothing else matters. The next most important piece of information is where other friendly forces are located. Only then does it matter where the enemy is; without knowing where ones own unit is and without knowing where other friendly units are, it is nearly impossible to engage the enemy. In the scenario unfolding, although the overwatch knew exactly where they were, where the assault force was, and where other 1/109th Infantry units were located, they werent sure now if there were other friendly units in the areanor in this case would they be able to positively identify them. It wasnt good. Tense minutes passed. The assault force had loaded into the vehicles and stood by waiting for the word. Then, without any other prior warning, gunfire erupted from the area of the overwatch. Tracers cut through the sky. I did not know what was happening. I wasnt sure who was shooting at whom. I asked for a status from the radioman on the overwatch team. Nothing. Was the overwatch engaging insurgents? Could there be a shootout between insurgents and the local townspeople? Was the overwatch team compromised and under attack? Was the indigenously dressed coalition unit there? Was this a blue-on-blue fratricide happening? I simply could not know. The only thing I knew was what we had planned and rehearsed during the mission planning: if the overwatch got compromised, the assault force would roll in hard, meaning we would drive vehicles right into the target area (normally they would stop several hundred meters away and the assault force would foot patrol in) and lock down, or set security on the main road that ran through the village. I also knew that if there were insurgents in the village and we gave them too much time, they would either coordinate their defenses and prepare to fight, or run awayneither of which would be good for the assault force. So despite the uncertainty of the situation, I went with the default mode: I got aggressive. I ran out to the vehicles, loaded with SEALs and ready to roll, jumped into the command vehicle, keyed the mic on my radio, and said, Execute, execute, execute. We are rolling to Route Duster [the main road in the village] and locking it down. The lead navigator gave his command on the radio: Rolling. The vehicles shifted into gear and started out rapidly down the road toward the village, toward the gunfire, toward the uncertainty. As the assault force rolled in, the shooting continued but tapered off as our vehicles approached. Although there was a lot of uncertainty in the situation, there were some things that were very well known. The assault force knew where the overwatch was; Leif and his AOIC had gone over that info with everyone. We had also told them that there were possible friendlies in the areawhich made everyone nervous and extremely cautious about shooting. After a few short minutes, the assault force arrived on the road in the middle of the village, came to a halt, and set security. The overwatch had stopped shooting but was positively marking their position so we knew where they were. Overwatch: What do you got? I asked on the radio. We had PID on armed military-age males by the river, maneuvering to attack. We engaged, the element leader responded. Any enemy movement in the village? I asked. Negative, he answered. Roger. Commence assault, I said, staying in our default: aggressive mode. With that, the assault force dismounted, set a cordon on the village, and began a systematic clearance building by building and then through Mav Market, stall by stall. Although the enemy had clearly been alerted, they had not had time to react. As the assault force cleared the village and the marketplace, they found and detained a number of suspected insurgents, who were still dazed from sleep when they were captured. We also discovered a cache of enemy weapons that we destroyed. Despite the confusion and uncertainty during the operation, decisiveness and aggressive action won. * * * We expected our SEALs to operate with an aggressive mind-set. We expected them to lean forward, maneuver quickly, see opportunities, and capitalize upon themto aggressively execute to solve problems, overcome obstacles, accomplish the mission, and win. But of course there is a dichotomy with being aggressive that must be balanced: aggression is not always the answer. Aggression must be balanced with logic and detailed analysis of risk versus reward. In Ramadi, Task Unit Bruiser was honored to support the fifty-six hundred U.S. troops Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmenof the U.S. Armys Ready First Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division in their efforts to implement the Seize, Clear, Hold, Build strategy and take back the city of Ramadi from insurgents. We formed an exceptional working relationship with the Army and Marine leaders and the men in the platoons, companies, and battalions they commanded. Our relationships were based on trust and mutual respect. The Ready First Brigade commander, a U.S. Army colonel, was an extraordinary leaderaggressive, smart, and with amazing strategic vision. He was a true professional and one of the finest leaders with whom I had the honor to serve. When the brigade commander asked for support, Task Unit Bruiser delivered. We were proud to send in our SEALs and Iraqi soldiers as the lead element of troops on the ground for almost every major combat operation of the Seize, Clear, Hold, Build strategy to emplace U.S. combat outposts in the most dangerous, volatile neighborhoods of the city. Several months into the deployment, at one of the brigade operation meetings on Camp Ramadi I attended, the brigade commander asked me if our SEALs could help eliminate the threat of enemy mortar teams in an area north of the city called C-Lake. The name derived from the areas primary feature, an oxbow lake, formed from the Euphrates River, that was shaped like a C. It was a relatively rural area that covered about ten square miles with open fields along the river, scattered clusters of houses, and small, unpaved country roads. But it was also an area utilized by insurgents to launch mortar attacks on U.S. positions. Almost every day, insurgents lobbed mortars at U.S. troops stationed on Camp Ramadi and other nearby bases. Mortars hit our camp on Sharkbase as well, though less frequently. American radar technology could track the mortars trajectory and deduce the point of origin from where they were launched. Many of the mortars that hit Camp Ramadi came from the C-Lake area. Unfortunately, the enemy understood that we could identify the point of origin of their mortars, so they had modified their tactics. Instead of firing the mortars from one specific location, they constantly moved around the entire area. Furthermore, when the insurgents fired mortars, they rapidly fired only one, two, or three rounds at a time in a matter of seconds, then quickly packed up the mortar tube and disappeared. It was an effective tactic that was difficult to counter. On top of the mortar attacks, the insurgents were active throughout the C-Lake area emplacing large IEDs in the roads. There were limited roads in the area, which channelized access for U.S. convoys into a small number of routes that insurgents could target. With the open terrain around the roads, enemy fighters could observe U.S. Humvees from long distances and detonate the roadside bombs via radio control from unseen locations hundreds of meters away. The IEDs in C-Lake had taken a deadly toll in recent weeks, with multiple Humvees destroyed and several U.S. Army Soldiers killed. Since Task Unit Bruiser had been successful in eliminating enemy mortar teams and IED emplacers2 in other areas of Ramadi, it seemed logical we could help in C-Lake. When the brigade commander asked if we could help out in the area, I told him I would take a look and determine how we could best support the mission. I certainly wanted to help the Ready First Brigade handle the situation, eliminate threats, and ensure more U.S. troops went home to their families. We also wanted to kill enemy fighters responsible for the attacks and make them pay for the deaths of our brother Soldiers who had been killed in the IED attacks. I brought back the request to Leif and Charlie Platoon, and we talked through it. Leif, his platoon chief, Tony, and the rest of Charlie Platoon were always eager to close with and destroy the enemy. So they started analyzing the intelligence, looking at maps of the area, and talking with the Soldiers who had operated around C-Lake. They examined, with the rest of Charlie Platoon and the Task Unit Bruiser intelligence department, the best possible courses of action to accomplish the mission. Over the next several days, Charlie Platoon launched on other operations in different areas of the city. But upon their return to base, they resumed mission planning for the C-Lake operation. Then, after several days of careful analysis, Leif came to my office to discuss the results of their analysis. I dont know about this one, Jocko, he said with a somewhat disappointed look on his face. What dont you know? I asked him. The C-Lake operation is a tough one, he replied. Im not sure it makes sense. Okay. Talk me through it, I said. At this point Leif and I walked over to a detailed map of C-Lake hanging on the wall. First, we marked the known points of origin from where all the mortar attacks had been launched. No two mortar attacks had come from the same location. Second, there was no discernible pattern to the locations. Finally, there werent any common traits in the terrain from which the mortars had been firedsome had been fired from roads, some from fields, some from the vicinity of houses or buildings, some in the open, some in areas with foliage for camouflage, some in areas with no camouflage at all. There was no pattern whatsoever that would enable us to position our sniper teams in the right location to observe and engage the enemy mortar teams. Next, Leif pointed out where the IED strikes had taken place. Because the area was bordered by the Euphrates River and crisscrossed with canals, the means to reach the area by vehicle was limited, with only one major road as our access in and out of the area. With the wide-open and sparse terrain, there were no good vantage points from which we could set up our sniper overwatch positions that would allow us a long access look down the main road to observe and engage IED emplacers. To do that, we would have to expose ourselves out in the open, giving away our position and opening us up for enemy attack. When we were attacked, if we needed help, the only route that U.S. vehicles could utilize to get to us was this main road, where the threat of IED attack was extremely high. It would put the U.S. Army units responding to help us at serious riskin fact, the Quick Reaction Force might not be able to get to us at all. Of course, the same IEDs would also put our SEALs and Iraqi soldiers riding in the vehicles on the transit in and out of the area at serious risk as well. The bottom line is this, Leif concluded. Any counter-mortar and counter-IED operations in the area of C-Lake will have a very low probability of success. But the threat to our SEALs and Iraqi soldiers conducting the operation and the U.S. Army troops supporting us will be extremely high. It was clear Leif, Tony, and the rest of his Charlie Platoon leaders had done their homework on this. I certainly knew they werent risk averse, as they had proven time and again in the months wed been in Ramadi. I knew they were eager to put as many enemy insurgent fighters in the dirt as they possibly could, in order to protect brave American Soldiers and Marines from deadly enemy attacks. But I understood from their analysis that there was absolutely no way to predict where an attack would come from, which meant we would be setting up an overwatch in a completely random positionbasically searching for a needle in a haystack. Even if we knew where to set up, with so few areas to provide good cover and concealment, the enemy wouldnt have a hard time finding us. Finally, with no ability to overwatch the full length of the main road, we wouldnt even be able to fully prevent IEDs from being planted. With all that stacked against us, Leif continued, and as much as wed love to support the brigade commanders request, Im just not sure this makes sense. The risk isnt worth the reward. He was right. As much as we wanted to execute the operation, take the fight to the enemy, and kill the enemy mortar and IED teams in C-Lake, the operation didnt make sense. Yep, youre right, I agreed. High risk to us and our support with a low probability of reward. Ill talk to the brigade commander. I held the highest respect and admiration for the brigade commander. He and his staff put tremendous faith and trust in us and appreciated the risks we took continuously to cover his Soldiers and Marines from the high ground with our sniper overwatch positions. I also recognized that in this instance, he was overestimating our capability to eliminate the mortar and IED attacks in C-Lake. That night, I drove across the base and explained the situation to the brigade commander. He completely understood, and we discussed some alternative strategies to solve the problem, like using some persistent air coverage or establishing a permanent coalition presence in the areaa series of checkpoints or combat outposts that could keep things under control. The brigade commander knew, as I did, that while being aggressive is a great default attitude to have, it still must be balanced with caution and careful consideration to ensure it is not a case of excessive risk with limited reward. Principle Problems arent going to solve themselvesa 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 enemy isnt going to back offthe leader must get aggressive and put the enemy in check. The good deal isnt going to deliver itself to a companythe leader has to go out and make a good deal happen. Changes and new methodologies in a team arent going to implement themselvesleaders need to aggressively implement them. An aggressive mind-set should be the default setting of any leader. Default: Aggressive. This means that the best leaders, the best teams, dont wait to act. Instead, understanding the strategic vision (or commanders intent), they aggressively execute to overcome obstacles, capitalize on immediate opportunities, accomplish the mission, and win. Rather than passively waiting to be told what to do, Default: Aggressive leaders proactively seek out ways to further the strategic mission. They understand the commanders intent, and where they have the authority to do so, they execute. For decisions that are beyond their pay grade or above their authority, Default: Aggressive leaders still make a recommendation up the chain of command to solve problems and execute key tasks to achieve strategic victory. In SEAL platoons and task units, we expect this from leaders at every level, right down to the frontline trooper in charge of just himself and his small piece of the mission. But this mentality is crucial to any leader, in any team or organization. It is just as critical to success in business as on the battlefield. Aggressive means proactive. It doesnt 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 sign 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. It is also critical to balance aggression with careful thought and analysis to make sure that risks have been assessed and mitigated. The dichotomy with the Default: Aggressive mind-set is that sometimes hesitation allows a leader to further understand a situation so that he or she can react properly to it. Rather than immediately respond to enemy fire, sometimes the prudent decision is to wait and see how it develops. Is it a simple reconnaissance by fire? Is it a feint by the enemy, meant to distract from the real attack? Is the enemy simply trying to lure you into a confined area, where they have a superior force waiting to ambush? A careful moment of consideration might reveal the enemys true intentions. 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 foolhardy. It is bad leadership. 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 teams own tactical prowess while underestimating the capabilities of its enemy or competitor. This is a problem not just for combat leaders but for leaders and teams anywhere, in any arena, throughout the business world and the civilian sector. It is a leaders duty to fight against this victory disease so that the team, despite its success, never gets complacent. The risk in any action must be carefully weighed against the potential rewards of mission success. And of course, to counter that thought, the cost of inaction must be weighed as well. As aggressive as leaders must be, leaders must be cautious that they are not running to their deaths simply because their instinct is to take action. The dichotomy between aggression and caution must be balanced. So be aggressive, but never reckless. Application to Business I am going to build the team now so we are ready to handle the growth that will come in the next eighteen to twenty-four months, the CEO told me with great enthusiasm. She was the owner of a small business set for rapid expansion. The CEO had bought the business from the former owner, who had kept it on cruise control for the past five years as he eased into retirement. Since taking over the business, the new CEO had been getting aggressiveand getting customers. She was working hard and driving her team to do the same. The company was poised for some really big growth in the next couple of years. She knew she needed help with that growth and had brought in Echelon Front to coach her and provide leadership training for her team. It certainly seemed she and her company were on the right track. However, there were tough obstacles in the CEOs path. First, she had spent most of her personal capital to purchase the company from the previous owner, who had left the business with little cash flow. So between her personal finances and the companys weak balance sheet, there wasnt much operating capital. Traditional business problems were also present. As with most sales scenarios, this custom manufacturing business had many sales leads that needed follow-up, and only a small percentage of those converted into actual sales. The business had a particularly long turn time from orders placed until payment was received. This included designing, testing, approval, and manufacturingall of which included transport lag times to and from Asia, where the manufacturing took place. That meant very long and capital-intensive delays between when deals were signed and when final payments were made by the clients. The CEO continued rattling off her plan to me: I can see where we are headed right now. The number of leads we are getting, the referrals are increasing, the closing rate for the team is going up. We are going to explode next year and I want the team to be more than ready. Default: Aggressive, right? she asked me, referring to the combat leadership principle I had discussed with her and her team a few days before. Absolutely, I replied. Default: Aggressive! I liked that attitude and always had. That afternoon, she explained the plan to me in more detail, the positions she was duplicating, new positions she was creating, and how she was going to structure the company. It was impressive. She had a great vision of where the company was going and the immense capacity it was going to have to execute orders and deliver results on par with some of her biggest competitors. In order to house the expanding team, she was looking at new locations for the businessor, at a minimum, expanding her current location to include one of the adjacent spaces. However, she was leaning toward moving to a new location more professional in appearance. The companys current location was run-down from years of declining business, and the building didnt come across as a first-class operation. The CEO knew the value of first impressions and was determined to change that. The new location has potential for even more growth, she explained, which I know we are going to need! Hearing this aggressive mind-set was like music to my ears, and the CEOs dynamic and enthusiastic attitude had me completely on board. Outstanding, I told her, and then I doubled down on this attitude: If you set up the right groundwork, infrastructure, and put the right people in place nowyou will be ready to take over the world next year. At that point, filled with fervor and moxie, we literally high-fived each other like a couple of high school kids who had just won the state basketball championship. What a great way to end the meeting. I walked out of the building that day looking forward to our next meeting the following week. But as I drove to the airport for the flight home, I sobered up from the excitement and realized I was actually pretty emotional about the company: good emotion, but too much emotion. I realized I was caught up in the owners enthusiasm and relishing her aggressive mind-set. For that very reasonfor the CEOs long-term good and the good of the companyI needed to check myself. When I got home that night, I sent her an e-mail thanking her for the great meeting. I praised her attitude but then tapered those thoughts. I told her that before she moved forward with any big decisions, we should do a serious and unemotional analysis of the financials, a conservative view of operating capital and growth potential, and forecast how the companys overhead would increase in the near and long term. I asked her to have her team put together these numbers for our meeting next week so we could discuss them. When I met with her the following week, she was still enthusiastic, which was great to see. But I had to keep myself in check. I had to make sure I didnt get caught up in enthusiasm and the attitude of aggressiveness. I had to ensure that she wasnt being overly aggressiveeven reckless. I think we are still good to move forward, the CEO said, leading me into her office, where her chief financial officer (CFO) and human resources director were waiting. Great, I replied. Lets look at the numbers. The CFO presented a few slides explaining the companys financial outlook. When it came to the bottom line, it was tighttoo tight for me to feel comfortable. But perhaps doable. Then I noticed one word on the predictive sales chart: Stretch. I see you have Stretch written there. Are these your stretch goals? I asked the CEO. She stumbled a bit, then confirmed, Well, they arekind ofbut as we expand our sales force, we should be able to hit them. You mean a sales force that you havent hired, havent tested, havent trained, and who havent been proven yet? I asked, growing concerned. Well, not yet, but, she replied, fading off. We both know that none of those are easy with salespeople, I said. Not the hiring, not the training, and certainly not the proving. New salespeople are hit-and-miss in every industry. And if you are looking at accomplishing your stretch goals based on a stretch sales force, you might have some major issues. Well, if it takes a little longer to get there, we can just take a little longer, the CEO pushed back. We have time. Are you sure? I asked. Bring up the budget again, will you? I said to the CFO. He put the budget slides up on the screen. I took a look in greater detail this time. Your stretch goals barely cover your overheadand as overhead goes up, it wont get any better, I observed. But we need to be positioned to dominate next year, the CEO stated, subconsciously appealing to my affinity for being aggressively prepared. I had to check myselfand her. I get that, I responded. But look. Without achieving stretch goals, in six months, you wont break even. As you are sitting waiting for payments to come through, youll have burned through your operating capital. Now, you could go and get a loan or look for investors, but that is a short-term sacrifice for which you will never stop paying. And if the trend continues without any external money, in a year, you will be upside down. In eighteen months, you could easily be in a position vulnerable to some really bad investor deals, or a forced buyoutor even worse: bankruptcy. But what if I do make the goals and then we arent ready? the CEO asked. I thought I needed to be aggressive? Well you do need to be ready and you do need to be aggressive. But being aggressive doesnt mean throwing caution to the wind. It doesnt mean taking catastrophic risk that can and should be mitigated. And it doesnt mean relying on unrealistic stretch goals. You need to get aggressive with risk mitigation and with securing long-term success for the company. You need to get aggressive with you maintaining full control and ownership of the company. You need to get aggressive with budgeting and contingency planning. Thats what you need to get aggressive with. Otherwise, youre putting yourself, your hard work, your team, and your company at risk. The CEO nodded, beginning to understand where I was coming from. Look, I continued, you know how when I explained Default: Aggressive to your leadership team the other day, I explained in detail that I didnt mean getting aggressive toward your people? And how screaming and shouting as a leader wasnt the kind of aggression that helps you lead? Of course, there are times when you have to be firm with people, but it has to be balanced. Aggression is a great attribute, but it can spin out of control. This is a similar situation. Getting aggressive here and growing your overhead isnt going to help you or the company. It is just going to leave you exposed and vulnerable to risk. So. Lets reset, take a look at the end state you are trying to achieve, and come up with a measured, balanced way to get there. Then create a plan that has some embedded checkpoints, triggers, and branch plans so that the risks you take are controlled, calculated, and also provide some exit strategies in case things dont go the way you expect them to. The CEO nodded and smiled. I guess I just like being aggressive a little too much. But yes. This makes sense. There is definitely a way to get this done with less risk and more control. With that, we went to work. We formulated a plan that slowly increased infrastructure and support as the sales team not only grew but proved itself with actual deals closed. The office move was pulled out of the plan, and even the expansion of the existing office was put off until the current space was truly overflowing. She also decided to cut some other expenses: she downsized the warehouse for storing product that wasnt being used to capacity and decided to eliminate one of the three account managers who hadnt built much business yet. When she briefed me on the changes to the plan, I smiled. I like it, I told her. I do too, the CEO admitted. And it is a good way to be aggressive: instead of getting aggressive in preparing for an unknown future, I got aggressive cutting costs and managing my P
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