5 misconceptions about great leaders, debunked by Navy SEALs
Movies and TV shows often portray military leaders as harsh and demanding all the time, but Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin say this is a misrepresentation. In their book, "The Dichotomy of Leadership," they explain that a good leader has to be aggressive, but not too aggressive. It's all about balance.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Jocko Willink: One of the things that you might see in the media is that some mission is going to come down and the front line troops are going to get told exactly what's gonna happen and exactly how they're gonna execute the mission. That doesn't happen, and it doesn't work. The military operates with a very decentralized command, so a lot of times it's the mid-level guys that are coming up with the mission and how they're gonna execute the mission. And they're actually briefing up the chain of command. That's what Leif and I did. We would brief up the chain of command and tell our boss how we were going to do something. And then, our boss would give us the support that we needed to go out and execute.
One of the better examples that kind of gets leadership right is Band of Brothers, which is an HBO miniseries that focused on Easy Company, 1st of the 506th, or actually 2nd of the 506th, and centered around a character named Dick Winters, who was just an outstanding leader. And if you watch the way he leads his men, compared to the way some of the less savory characters lead their men in that series, you'll see the exact kind of leadership that we talk about in "The Dichotomy of Leadership." He's close to his guys, he's not too close. He's aggressive on the battlefield, but he's not over-aggressive. So he takes risks, but he doesn't take worthless risks that won't gain anything. He's a great example of a leader and he's a guy that we definitely look up to, and try and emulate as leaders as well.
As we work with companies and with leaders over the last several years, we saw that one of the biggest weaknesses they had was trying to deal with something that we call the dichotomy of leadership. And what that is, is these are opposing forces that are pulling leaders in opposite directions, that a good leader has to try and balance those opposing forces out. So for instance, as a leader, you can't get too emotional about things because then you make bad decisions, but on the other hand you can't just stay completely detached and have no emotions, otherwise, no one will follow you. You can't be hyper-aggressive. You can't be over-aggressive, but at the same time, you can't be not aggressive enough. You have to find that balance in the middle.
Leif Babin: People have a fundamental misunderstanding of what military leadership is like, and I think they look at guys like me or Jocko and think that we're gonna be the guys that yell and scream and smash people down, and frankly that doesn't work. That doesn't work in any type of leadership scenario, doesn't work in the military, doesn't work in the business world, doesn't work anywhere.
Willink: One of the biggest problems that new leaders have, is they think they should know everything. They think to themselves, "I've gotta know everything, everyone's watching me and they're judging me, and if I don't know everything they're gonna think less of me." And so what they do is they go in and they try and act like they know things that they don't know. The best possible thing you can do as a new leader, if there's something that you don't know, is raise your hand and say: "Hey guys, I'm new at this. Do you know a better way to do this?" or "Do you know how to do this?" or "Can you give me a hand?" That doesn't lower people's respect for you, it actually increases their respect because they think you're not going to try and pull the wool over their eyes. You're gonna actually ask for help when you need it. You're a humble leader, and that's going to come across a lot better and it's going to work out better in the long run for you 'cause you'll learn more, you'll know more, and you'll be more respected by your team. So don't worry about saying I don't know something, it's perfectly fine. You just showed up, no one expects you to know everything. Relax, and ask some questions.
Babin: Another very common problem that we see with leaders is that leaders look at the specific problems that they're facing, and they think it's unique. And they think their problems are harder than everyone else's problems. It's a very common problem, I fall into that trap as well, and you can't do that as a leader because what you're really doing is you're making an excuse. You're making an excuse when you say, "Well, it's harder for me than it is for other people. I have it tougher here. It's easier for them." Or "This other team in this situation that's able to perform better." And you can't do that because as long as you're making an excuse for yourself, an excuse for your team, you're never going to actually solve the problems that are causing you to not perform the way you should, and therefore you're going to keep repeating those same mistakes. And you're gonna ultimately lead to failure. So, stop giving yourself that excuse, realize that your problems are no different than anybody else's problems, step up, find a way to solve those problems and win.
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