Notes & Quotes: The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

The following are my favorite quotes from Jocko Willink and Leif Babin's The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win.
  1. 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.
  2. The Laws of Combat:
    1. Cover and move.
    2. Simple.
    3. Prioritize and execute.
    4. Decentralized command.
  3. 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, team members will execute only at the boss's specific direction without any root ownership or buy-in themselves -- resulting in a team far less capable of overcoming obstacles and accomplishing the mission.
  4. 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, more forward only when told to do so. A team like that will never achieve greatness.
  5. Here are the common 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 be told about a solution.
    3. Even in an emergency, a team that is being micromanaged will not mobilize and take action.
    4. Bold and aggressive action becomes rare.
    5. Creativity grinds to a halt.
    6. The team tends to stay inside their own silo; not stepping out to coordinate efforts with other departments or divisions for fear of overstepping their bounds. 
    7. An overall sense of passivity and failure to react.
  6. 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 or interfere with each other.
    3. Initiative oversteps the bounds of authority, and both individuals and teams carry out actions that are beyond what they have the authorization to do.
    4. Failure to coordinate. 
    5. The team is focused on the wrong priority mission or pursuit of solutions that are not in keeping with the strategic direction of the team or the commander's intent.
    6. There are too many people trying to lead.
  7. 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.
  8. Leadership capital is the recognition that there is a finite amount of power that any leader possesses.
  9. People want to keep doing what they have always done. It's up to you to help them understand why they need to change -- why 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.
  10. 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 standards -- or at least the minimum standard.
  11. Most underperformers don't 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. 
  12. There is no growth in the comfort zone. 
  13. 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.
  14. Advanced tactics are worthless if a team can't do the basics well.
  15. As a leader, you must make it part of your job to see what is coming next, to observe. By observing, leaders can understand the surroundings and the terrain, they can identify enemy positions and observe the locations of their own troops. Once leaders observe all this, they can then make a call.
  16. On top of the Laws of Combat, we used stealth, surprise, and violence of action to ensure we had the upper hand on the enemy whenever possible. It was never our intent to have a fair fight. It was our job to maximize our advantages over the enemy and we did everything in our power to make this happen.
  17. Instead of using accountability as the primary tool of leadership, leaders should implement it as just one of many leadership tools. Instead of holding people accountable, the leader has to lead. The leader must make sure the team understands why. Make sure its members have ownership of their tasks and the ability to make adjustments as needed. Make sure they know how their task supports the overall strategic success of the mission. Make sure they know how important their specific task is to the team and what the consequences are for failure.
  18. It is the weakest form of leadership to win an argument through rank or position.
  19. One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss. When the debate on a particular course of action ends and the boss makes a decision -- even if you disagree with the decision -- you must execute the plan as if it were your own. Only if the orders coming down from senior leadership are illegal, immoral, unethical, or significantly risky to lives, limbs, or the strategic success of the organization should a subordinate leader hold fast against directives from superiors. Those cases should be rare.
  20. The most effective teams build flexible plans.
  21. Leaders cannot be so immersed in the details that they lose track of the larger strategic situation and are unable to provide command and control for the entire team.