Notes & Quotes: Leadership Strategy and Tactics by Jocko Willink

The following are my favorite quotes from Jocko Willink's Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual.
  1. By detaching physically, even if only by a few inches, and, more important, detaching mentally from the problem at hand--I was able to see infinitely more than anyone else in my platoon. And since I was able to see everything, I was able to make a good decision, which allowed me, a new guy and the most junior guy in the platoon, to lead.
  2. This was a tangible and physical action that represented pure humility. Delta Charlie was the most senior man in the platoon; he also had the most experience. But there he was, taking out the garbage. And yet I was too good to do it?
  3. I realized I didn't always need to lead. I didn't need to be at the center of decision-making. I realized it was my job to support the team and the mission, which meant supporting the boss.
  4. Keep things simple is an ancient military maxim that holds true for any type of planning.
  5. By trying to do everything, he was accomplishing nothing. He needed to figure out his biggest priority problem and execute a plan to fix that problem before moving on to the next one. He needed to Prioritize and Execute.
  6. The Laws of Combat:
    1. Cover and move.
    2. Simple.
    3. Prioritize and execute.
    4. Decentralized command.
  7. Without coordination between individuals, between elements within a team, and between teams, all is lost.
  8. Ask yourself if you will be moving your relationship with your boss forward or backward by raising this issue. This is important because you should be constantly trying to build that relationship. You are not building the relationship so you can garner favor from the boss; no, you are trying to build a relationship so the boss trusts you and will listen to you so you and the team can more effectively accomplish the mission.
  9. Solid relationships up and down the chain of command are the basis of all good leadership.
  10. Until you are asked to do something that is devastating to you, the team, and the mission, play the game and build the relationships.
  11. There is one type of person who can never become a good leader: a person who lacks humility. People who lack humility cannot improve because they don't acknowledge their own weaknesses. They don't work to improve them, and they won't bring someone onto the team to offset their shortfalls. This person will never improve. Beware.
  12. While there are many similarities between leaders and manipulators, there is one glaring difference: manipulators are trying to get people to do things that will benefit the manipulator, while leaders are trying to get people to do things that will benefit the team and the people themselves.
  13. A leader puts themselves at the bottom of the priority list. The good of the mission and the good of the team outweigh any personal concern a true leader has for themselves.
  14. Lead from the front, especially when things are bad. You take the pay cut. You take the first shift of the overtime work. As a leader, do the hard things. Don't leave it to the troops.
  15. There are many components for learning to lead. One of the most important is to try to see everything through the lens of leadership. In any group of people, leadership is occurring. Pay attention to that. Observe what works and what doesn't. Note the successful and unsuccessful techniques leaders use--how they talk, words they use, interactions they carry out. Think about how you can apply these techniques.
  16. If two people trust each other, they have a relationship; if there is no trust, there is no relationship.
  17. Taking Extreme Ownership means that leaders are responsible for every action the people on their team make. It is as simple as that.
  18. A good rule to follow is that a leader should err on the side of not getting involved in problems; the goal is always to allow problems to get solved at the lowest level. When subordinates are solving low-level problems, it allows the leader to focus on more important, strategic issues.
  19. The easy path leads to misery. The path of discipline leads them to freedom.
  20. Optimal discipline in a team is not imposed by the leader; it is chosen by the team itself. Optimal discipline is self-discipline.
  21. While a bad team is without question the result of a bad leader, a good team is not necessarily the result of a good leader. You must know your people well enough to recognize and capitalize on that fact.
  22. Here are some fundamental rules to keep in mind as you take command: Be humble. It is an honor to be in a leadership position. Your team is counting on you to make the right decisions. Don't act like you know everything. You don't. The team knows that. Ask smart questions. Listen. Ask for advice and heed it. Treat people with respect. Regardless of rank, everyone is a human being and plays an important role in the team. Treat them that way. Take care of your people and they will take care of you. Take ownership of failures and mistakes. Pass credit for success up and down the chain. Work hard. As the leader, you should be working harder than anyone else on the team. No job is beneath you. Have integrity. Do what you say; say what you do. Don't lie up or down the chain of command. Be balanced. Extreme actions and opinions are usually not good. Be decisive. When it is time to make a decision, make one. Build relationships. That is your main goal as a leader. A team is a group of people who have relationships and trust one another. Otherwise, it is just a disconnected, incoherent cluster of people. Lastly, get the job done. That is the purpose of a leader--to lead a team in accomplishing a mission. If you don't accomplish the mission, you fail as a leader. Performance counts.
  23. As human beings, we have a strong tendency to get defensive. Don't. Instead of getting defensive, listen, truly listen, and try to understand the perspective being offered. Then take ownership of those shortfalls and try to make improvements in the areas of critique you have received.
  24. There is an implicit message when you offer to coach or mentor someone--you are implying not only that the other person is lacking in some areas but also that you are better than they are!
  25. The people who taught me the most about leadership, strategy, and tactics never explicitly told me they were coaching or mentoring me; they subtly guided me along the path, filling my head with knowledge, while I barely even noticed it. They managed to teach me without teaching me, putting ideas into my brain so delicately that I thought the ideas were my own. That is the most powerful way to teach, coach, and mentor.
  26. Be decisive when you need to be, but try not to make decisions until you have to. Assess what is happening to the best of your ability with the information you have, and then make smaller decisions with minimum commitment to move in the direction you most highly suspect is the right one.
  27. I much prefer someone I have to reel in over someone I need to push. It wasn't only when I was a leader that I liked that. Even as a junior member of the team, I always loved when the other members were ready to get after it.
  28. No matter what goes wrong, there is always some good to find in the setback. A negative attitude will spread throughout the team, as will a positive one, so it is important for a leader to maintain a positive attitude.
  29. While it is important to maintain a positive attitude about what is going on, don't ignore problems, and don't gloss over the trials you face. Be positive, but be realistic.
  30. One of the best tools a leader has to help shape others is leadership itself; giving people responsibility and putting them in leadership positions teaches them to be better in a multitude of ways.
  31. Take the high ground, or the high ground will take you.
  32. Before taking that intense level of direct oversight, normal leadership procedures should take place. Make sure an individual understands the mission, the goal, and their specific role. Make sure they clearly understand the task required of them and all the expectations around that task.
  33. If your boss wants all the credit, the answer is simple: give it to them.
  34. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.
  35. If for some reason your troops don't execute the plan, then, of course, you should first look in the mirror. Do not assume the troops have simply decided not to do what was required of them; instead, assume you did not give them appropriate direction and that is the reason for the transgression.
  36. The environment that rumors grow in is one in which there is a lack of information. If you don't tell people what is going on, they will make up their own versions, and their versions will not be pretty ones.
  37. I'm often asked if there are any scenarios when the leader is not fully responsible for the performance of his or her team. The answer is no. If a team is not performing, then it is the leader's fault; the leader has not trained and mentored the team members to where they can accomplish the mission. If a team doesn't have time to train, then the leader has not made training a priority or run it up the chain of command to get the support needed. If members of the team are simply incapable of performing the duties required of them, then the leader hasn't done his or her job of removing the substandard performers.
  38. Think before you speak, and measure your words carefully.
  39. Foster shared emotions--reflect their emotions but diminish them so they de-escalate, and you can focus on actually solving the problem at hand. Reflect and Diminish.
  40. Since it was the first time he had ever seen me yell, he instantly understood the seriousness of the situation. During my entire career, I never had to yell at someone twice.
  41. Don't waste your words. Let other people do that; instead, speak with poignancy and power.
  42. If I make a mistake, I am going to own it. If someone else makes a mistake and no one will own it, I will own that too. Perhaps that is why I so often found myself in leadership positions; I was willing to own things. I was willing to take the hit, to take the daggers from others. I was willing to apologize, own mistakes, and move forward. I recommend you do the same.
  43. Be judicious and thoughtful about what you say, who you say it to, and how you say it.
  44. If you are in a leadership position, the team is watching you. Your people are watching your attitude. They are watching your behavior, and they don't miss a thing. If you are late for a meeting, they notice it. If you roll your eyes, they notice it. If you yawn, they are watching and are thinking you are tired or bored or both. The team members are watching everything, and on top of that, they will imitate what they see. If you are late, they will be late too. If you dress like a slob, they will dress that same way. If you break the rules, they will also break the rules, so you have to behave correctly at all times. You have to be the ideal.
  45. As a leader, you must remember you are being watched. And in everything you do, you must set the example.
  46. It is all on you, but not about you.
  47. Leadership is not about you. Not at all. Leadership is about the team. The team is more important than you are. The moment you put your own interests above the team and above the mission is the moment you fail as a leader.