Calculating How Often You Should Argue With The People Around You

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #17

Home 9 The Debrief 9 Calculating How Often You Should Argue With The People Around You



The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #17: How often is acceptable to push back on ideas you don’t quite agree with up the chain.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

This is the Jocko Debrief podcast episode 17 with Dave Burke and me, Jocko Willink. Dave, talk to us about the debrief really quick, what is it we’re doing here?

Dave Burke (00:13):

We are debriefing. Actually debriefing interactions we have with clients that we work with at Echelon Front, interacting with folks that join us on the EF online brigade and the EF online live Q&A sessions that we do. And we take issues that our clients are dealing with that are often similar to many other issues. We kind of combine them into a debrief so partially I can tell you what’s going on, that I’m working on. And also so we can share the lessons of the challenges that not only our clients are facing, they’re the same problems everybody’s facing. So we are actually debriefing what’s going on so you know what’s going on in my world. And then everybody listening gets a little sense of the challenges people are dealing with, and hopefully how to solve them a little bit better.

Jocko Willink (00:56):

Yeah, we probably had 700,000 of these conversations before one of us said, “You know what, it might be a good idea to record this so we can actually tell other people and they can share these lessons learned.” So that’s what we’ve been doing. And with that, let’s debrief. What do you got?

Dave Burke (01:15):

When you’re calculating, how often you should argue with the people around you? A good place to start is never. That’s a good place to start. Start with almost never and then go from there.

Jocko Willink (01:32):

Wait. But what if I’m writing?

Dave Burke (01:35):

Yes. What if you’re right? A little question came up was this situation. And what’s cool about this one actually is …

Jocko Willink (01:42):

Is this from a client or is this from EF online?

Dave Burke (01:43):

This is from a client. A client we’ve been working with for a while. This client is awesome. I didn’t mention this. But the cool part about this is that you don’t know who you are because we take pieces of this, it’s not the same company, the same person. It’s several versions put together so you can’t attribute this, we don’t obviously share what our actual clients are doing certainly by name or by specifics. But it’s a representation of a challenge that might be happening among several different clients, we kind of piece that together.

Dave Burke (02:11):

But in this situation, it’s with a client we’ve been working with on what we call the LDAP program, the Leadership Development Alignment, that’s where we partner with a company, work closely with them, and help them build their leadership program inside their own companies. And that’s awesome because we get to know them and work with them closely and get a good sense of some of the leadership challenges. And this conversation actually was about someone who’s working with his boss, and he and the boss have an awesome relationship.

Dave Burke (02:41):

This isn’t like some big friction laden situation where this person’s boss has a whole bunch of bad ideas and I’m pushing back. It was a question of, “hey, I was in a conversation with my boss, and she had a thought. And I push back.” And this person I was talking to was really just kind of conversationally asking me, “Hey, hey, how often do you think I should be doing that?”

Jocko Willink (03:03):

So, the question was from Fred. So Fred’s got this boss and he’s pushed back against her. And now, he’s kind of hitting you up saying, “Hey, how often should I be pushing back against my boss?” First of all, give me some details on what he means by pushing back because I need some clarification because if you’re in my platoon, I want you pushing back on me all the time.

Dave Burke (03:27):

Yeah. Yeah.

Jocko Willink (03:27):

I mean, could you get a little crazy with it? Sure. You could. You could just become a contrarian, which is, I guess, being a contrarian is fine. Being an extreme contrarian is annoying. It’s just annoying.

Dave Burke (03:40):

It is. That’s right. And so, this situation was Fred’s boss, Mary, had a suggestion for how they should roll out a particular process they’re going to do to their company. Fred was a little lukewarm on it. And in the sort of the executive meeting, suggested, “Hey, I don’t think we should do that. I think we should do this.” This was not a big blow up. This was not a boardroom scream session. This was Mary in charge who had an idea. Fred didn’t like the idea and pushed back.

Dave Burke (04:12):

And the question was also to me like, “Hey, how often do you do that?” And that’s kind of where that little joke came from. My answer was, “How often I do it?” I said, “Almost never. I almost never push back.” Now, we should dig into this a little bit because like you said, this isn’t like don’t ever push back against your boss. So, a couple things.

Jocko Willink (04:31):

Yeah. So the way that could immediately be interpreted with no further traffic would just be, “Oh, so David’s a pushover guy.”

Dave Burke (04:38):

He’s a yes man. Yeah.

Jocko Willink (04:39):

Dave, why don’t you just take your platoon and go charge that machine gun? You got it? You’re like, “Yep, got it.”

Dave Burke (04:44):

That’s right.

Jocko Willink (04:45):

Everyone gets killed because you don’t push back.

Dave Burke (04:48):


Jocko Willink (04:48):

You know what? I really like you, Dave because you don’t push back.

Dave Burke (04:50):

Because you always say yes. Yeah. So there’s absolutely some context to this. And that’s this debrief is actually about the conversation we had about clarifying what that meant. So, they have a good relationship. They can speak pretty candidly. And he wasn’t worrying too much about undermining that relationship. And so when I said, never, here are some of the things I captured for this debrief is first of all, am I saying never? No. It’s not never. The answer is not never. There are times you absolutely have to push back.

Dave Burke (05:22):

What I said was, “I almost never do that.” So, when somebody says something like, in this case, my boss, let’s say you, we’re in a team meeting. You offer, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do. This is what I think we should do.” You got your plan and you tell me your plan. The first question I ask myself is, what’s the risk? What’s the damage? What’s the problem that could happen with your plan? So I think about, hey, we do it this way. If we do it this way, what’s going to happen?

Dave Burke (05:46):

And if the answer is, there’s nothing wrong with that plan, there’s no risk, there’s no real problem, then I’m not going to push back. And we talked a little bit of a scenario too, say, you and I want to go get some dinner later. You’re going to break out your phone and you’re going to use Google Maps and I’m going to use Waze. Waze says we’re going to get here in seven minutes, your says we’re going to get there in eight minutes. Hey, Dave, I want to use Google Maps. Let’s go. Am I going to be like, “I don’t think Google Map is such a good idea, Jocko, I think we should use Waze.”

Dave Burke (06:15):

Now, could I do that? Sure. I could. And you’d be like, yeah, cool, whatever, no factor, willing to do it on my way. And doing that once is that a problem? No. And if I do it twice, is that a problem. Probably not. But if every single time, over time, even when I got a good relationship with you, if you got a suggestion, all I like to do is go actually, you know what we should do?

Jocko Willink (06:35):

I can shave a minute off that time.

Dave Burke (06:36):

Yeah, I can save as 12 seconds. And part of the reason why if I look and go, “Well, if we use Jocko’s map plan, what’s going to happen? We’re going to get to the destination. We’re going to get some dinner.” Now, here’s the thing, though, mine says, we’re going to get there 30 seconds faster. And over time, those 30 seconds are going to add up. By the end of next month, it’s going to be five minutes of the efficiency that I’ve gained.

Dave Burke (06:59):

But here’s the thing. Here’s what I don’t know. I don’t know that halfway through my route that the car in front of me is going to run into me or have an accident. There are so many things I don’t know that is do I really want to be pushing back against things that really don’t matter? So, part of the calculation initially is, hey, listen, if the outcome gets you to where you want to be, if what you are going to accomplish is the same. And there might be a small difference in there. Do I want to have a reputation of someone who’s always pushing back? Or someone’s like, “Hey, cool, I’m on board. Let’s go make that happen.”

Jocko Willink (07:31):

And let me ask you another question. And this stems into you getting rear ended or T boned or whatever. I think I talked about this on EF online. I don’t want to be a person who is committing to the unknown. This is a bad idea. And yet, we see people expend massive amounts of leadership capital to make a commitment to the unknown. This was a classic all day long planning seal operations. I think we should come in from the west. Why do you think that? Well, because there’s a good position where the enemy could be set up.

Jocko Willink (08:10):

Okay, that makes sense. What if the enemy is not set up there? Well. And I say, well, I think we should just come in from the south because it’s the safest route to get there. And then we can make a decision when get there. No, we should come in from the West. We should come in from the west. Committing and arguing and giving up leadership capital on the unknown. Why would you ever commit to the unknown? Why would you ever invest leadership capital to the unknown?

Jocko Willink (08:36):

You shouldn’t do that. That’s a bad move to make. Not only is it a bad move to make, it’s bad enough for me to commit to a plan where I actually have a general idea of what to expect, because even when I have a general idea what to expect, that’s not a guarantee.

Dave Burke (08:53):


Jocko Willink (08:53):

So avoid committing to the unknown. Hey, I think our five year plan should be this. Really, you want to argue with me about what’s going to happen in five years? That’s what you want to argue with me about? Okay, got it. I have never argued with anyone in my life over what’s going to happen in five years, not for one second. And yet, I have sat in business meetings where people are arguing about what’s going to happen in five years.

Dave Burke (09:16):

Yeah. And we see that. And what happens to me in terms of my influence is if every time I don’t like what’s going to happen at year four of the plan, I push back. What’s going to happen over time is actually over time, you’re going to stop listening to me as much.

Jocko Willink (09:32):

Yeah. You become the boy that cries wolf.

Dave Burke (09:33):

I’m the one who’s always …

Jocko Willink (09:36):

You become the boy that makes random suggestions all the time.

Dave Burke (09:38):


Jocko Willink (09:39):

And I don’t like him.

Dave Burke (09:40):

And we marginalize that person and that person loses influence. And when I do push back when I need to, my words carry less weight and I don’t want that. Here’s the other side of that. The truth of the matter is that I actually push back all the time. But the way I push back, if you want to think of that, or the technique that I use to push back against your plan isn’t to question your plan, isn’t to question what you want to do, isn’t to say that I don’t like your idea. I think my idea is better.

Dave Burke (10:15):

The way I push back against your plan is I actually ask you questions about all the things that you are doing that I wouldn’t do and go, hey, you know what? Interesting, when you were talking about this thing over here, I was actually going to do something else. Hey, can you help me better understand why that thing is a good idea? And so, the way I pushback isn’t telling you that you’re wrong, it’s to go, Oh, hey, Jocko, can I ask you about this? And so, my question gets you to explain it to me.

Dave Burke (10:42):

And the other side of that conversation, when I say, when I push back, I push back all the time. But I don’t push back by pushing back, I actually push back by asking questions. And a little piece that I think is critical about that and I guess I should be careful with this phrase, because I say it all the time is we talk about this all the time, is when I’m asking that question. It’s not just a little trick to get you to go, oh, you didn’t think about this, did you, Jocko? I’m going to ask the question and go, yeah, what about this. I actually want to know what you were thinking.

Dave Burke (11:13):

Now listen, sometimes I’m going to be right. And sometimes you’re going to be right. You’re not going to be right every time or I’m not going to be right every time. But when I asked you that question, I really want to know. And if the way I push back to you isn’t by arguing all the time, but by asking questions, and I have a reputation of asking really good questions. Every time I ask a question, you go, oh, you know what? You know what, dude, I don’t know if I really thought that through. And then you know what we can do, we might be able to make a little adjustment to the plan.

Dave Burke (11:40):

I might be able to lead you to adjust your plan. Or you might come back and go, hey, you know what I was thinking about was this, this and this. You go, I had no idea about any of those things. You’re over here making moves. You’re the CEO. I don’t even realize what’s going on. Hey, that’s good information, boss. Thanks. I’m on board with your plan.

Dave Burke (11:54):

So, do I push back? I said, I never pushed back. But the truth of the matter is that it’s not true. But the way that I do it isn’t from a place to say, hey, I’m right. I get to maneuver against my boss and let my boss know that his plan isn’t such a good plan. And it’s not just my boss. It’s my peers. It’s my subordinates. It’s my counterparts. It’s my clients. It’s everybody I interact with when they are doing things or thinking things that don’t make sense to me, if they’re not what I would do, I push back all the time.

Dave Burke (12:24):

And the way I do this is go, hey, man, I was thinking of something else here. Hey, walk me through this, let me better understand this. Oh, man, that’s solid. Or, hey, if we do that, will that affect this other project? Will that put us a little bit behind time on over here, because I’m allocating a bunch of resources to this, is that going to affect that? And you go, I didn’t think about that. Now, we’re having a conversation. We sort through that. And the plan might change because I guess I am pushing back.

Jocko Willink (12:51):

The word that I use when I talk about asking these questions is ask earnest questions. Earnest questions that you really want to know the answer of. And the thing I’ve been saying a lot lately is these weapons that we have, these tools that we have, whether that tool is the truth is one that comes up a lot, right? I want to tell Dave the truth. The first thing I need to do is aim that weapon of truth at myself. Here’s another thing, I’m not questioning, Dave comes to me with a plan. I’m not questioning Dave’s plan. I’m actually going to aim that question at myself and say, hey, Dave, I don’t think I really understand your plan. I don’t think I understand it properly. Can you help me understand it better? That’s what I’m trying to do. And you said that 14 different ways, like, hey, hey, Jocko, I’m not sure you say you want to come in over here. Can you explain to me? I’m not sure I understand why you wanted it.

Jocko Willink (13:49):

That’s what we’re doing. We are truly asking questions. And we’re questioning our own understanding of the plan, which is a much more productive way to push back. Good. I like it, man.

Dave Burke (14:08):


Jocko Willink (14:09):

What do you got next?

Dave Burke (14:11):

This was a question from an online session from a client that had joined us during EF online. So sometimes, well, not sometimes a lot actually, clients that we work with directly when our two teams Echelon Front and their companies work together. A lot of them also join EF online. So the individual leaders inside those teams that we work with are part of EF online. And this is a question that actually came from them. It’s a question about resiliency. And the question went something very close to this.

Dave Burke (14:43):

I’m not going to get it exactly right, but it’s close. It’s what she had noticed was, and this stem from somewhat recently, there were some folks working and we had some really tough weather not too long ago, and there were some folks that were kind of working out outdoors. And literally the physical conditions were just harder than they had been. It had been colder and windier and just some tough situations. And she had asked the question recently, it appears that some people on my team are just more resilient than others.

Dave Burke (15:13):

And the question kind of stemmed around, is this a natural thing, this idea of resiliency? And how can I cultivate it if they just don’t seem to have it because some people just show me that in tough times they can get through it. And other people in tough times show me that they can’t. So that was kind of the question and it was how do I create resiliency in subordinates when I kind of don’t think I can because it’s a natural tendency?

Dave Burke (15:40):

And I thought this was a good one too, because I actually remember hearing you talk about, and I think it might have been at one of the very first musters is where I heard this conversation, as you talked about, you had a scenario where at the end of the seven month deployment in Ramadi. What if your team had been asked to extend? Hey, we’re packed up, we’re going to go home tomorrow and when we get the call, we’re staying, we’re going to do this for another seven months. And the reason I liked that story is that reminded me of the team.

Dave Burke (16:07):

I was in a very similar situation, I had a team of Marines that had been through a rough, rough seven months. And had we been asked to extend on the last day, I had guys in my team that absolutely would have said, “No factor. I’m all in.” They wouldn’t bat an eyelash, they have been right back in it. And I genuinely had guys on my team that I do not think could have done that. They could not have done that.

Dave Burke (16:32):

And the answer you gave was connected back to something we talk about all the time was the idea of ownership. It was the idea of their connection to what was going on. And this idea of being resilient or being able to endure difficult things is, are some people more naturally resilient than others? I think that’s possible. I think there’s a possibility, whether it’s through your genetics or through where you grew up, or the environment you’re in. Can some people in their adult life have some more natural resiliency than others? Yes, I think that’s true. But where people find a way to be resilient, or were your folks during difficult times resilient?

Dave Burke (17:13):

You made the connection to the people that had the most control, the people that are the most involved, the people that had the most connection to the plan, the people that were in the biggest leadership positions, the people that felt most connected, the people that had the most ownership of what’s going on, had the most capacity to continue to endure the most difficult situations. And the farther away you were from understanding the plan, knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, having control over that plan, being able to influence that plan, knowing how that plan was going to affect you, the farther away you were from that, the less … And in this case, I would summarize it by the less resilient you were or you could be.

Dave Burke (17:51):

And you connected it to a situation that resonated with me, which was what would my Marines had? My Marines had the same training, they have the same gear, they all were actually about the same age. They all were pretty similar from where they came from, what they’re like. These were Marines. And yet, I had Marines on my team that could have done seven more months. And I had guys on my team that couldn’t have done seven more days. And the difference between them in a lot of those cases was, how close they were to what they were doing. And if I kept them in the dark and kept them away from what was going on. It didn’t help them understand it and let them lead and let them take ownership of it. They were less likely to have that.

Dave Burke (18:27):

So, can you build resiliency in your team? Yes. And one of the best ways you can build resiliency in your team is by giving the individual on your team more control, more influence, more, and I won’t ever forget to say the word more ownership. And that was a tool to let them move past the idea. Is there some that have more than others? Yeah, that’s probably true. It’s not a guarantee, like all of a sudden, this person’s going to have unlimited resiliency to get through any difficult situation. But if you want to build that on your team, if she wanted to build it on her team, could you do that? Yes, you can. And here’s a way to do that.

Jocko Willink (19:13):

Yeah. So, that’s good stuff. Good stuff. Solid stuff over there. What’s interesting about this is, what do you think? Okay, so you got background, you got some kind of personal experiences that individuals have had, you’ve got their genetic makeup as a human being. So, you got these things that certainly have some level of impact on their resiliency. I would say that there’s a factor that is probably 12 to 17 times more important than any of those leadership. I’m reading a book right now that’s going to be on the podcast soon.

Jocko Willink (20:11):

The guy is a battalion commander in Vietnam. And they are running a kind of a scorecard for all these different battalions, for the three battalions in this brigade. And they’re monitoring number of missions done, number of enemy killed, number of casualties. And then, it gets into number of AWOL, number of court martial, retention rate. So, what does it mean? What’s AWOL? Why do you go AWOL? Well, it’s because you’re not resilient to this. Why would you be in Vietnam and reenlist in the freaking army if you’re not resilient? You have to have a level of resiliency to do that.

Jocko Willink (21:00):

And so, this guy who is a real leader, has the highest score in every category, including reenlistment rate, including lowest AWOL. Why is that? Is it because he had different humans? No, it’s not because he had different humans. Why were they able to conduct more operations which are stressful? Why were they so resilient that they were able to conduct more operations than everybody else? Is it because he got kids that were all wrestlers and worked on whatever? No. It’s because of leadership. And part of that is what you’re saying. Absolutely. Part of that, actually, a vast part of that is as a leader, he’s the leader that’s giving ownership. He’s the leader that’s saying, hey, here’s the mission, how do you guys want to execute it?

Jocko Willink (21:56):

That comes from leadership again. Here’s a couple other small things that you as a leader have some control over. The next one, I would say, I think that the psychological literature would support this statement. Be on offense. How can we take my team, which is on the defensive, because there’s bad weather and we don’t want to go out, how do we reverse that? How do I say, you know what, we got bad weather coming. We know it’s coming. We’re going to go on the attack. We’re going to actually take a day off from work or we’re going to stand down, these troops, you guys go get some extra rest. That way, when this weather hits, we’re ready to rock and roll. We’re going on the offense.

Jocko Willink (22:47):

Just think about that right there. What does that do to the resiliency of the troops? All of a sudden, we’re going on the attack. What it feels like to be on the defense is a horrible thing. When you’re sitting there waiting for mortars to hit your position, you’ve heard them come out of the tube, and you’re waiting for them to hit. I believe, it’s the worst feeling that I’ve ever felt. I’ve read soldiers in World War One and World War Two describe that as the worst feeling that they’ve ever felt. We are in a foxhole. We are suffering from heavy artillery. And we have no control, we are in complete defense. That is the worst feeling in the world. So, what can we do as a leader to go on the offense, because that very move will help the resiliency of your troops? It will, 100%.

Jocko Willink (23:44):

And then lastly, and this is a little bit of a hand in hand type thing. But what can we do to have some fun? What can I do to have some fun? What about when the weather hits and it’s sleeting and snowing and I’m the commander, and you know what I do? I go out and I service that client in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. And I video and it and send it to everybody, hey, little chilly out there today, gents, might want to bundle up. Right? What can I do to bring fun to my organization? Because fun builds resiliency, smiles build resiliency.

Jocko Willink (24:32):

And this isn’t just I’m telling you this. They have psychological experiments where you’re tasked to do something and the instructions are smile and do this task. And people that do the task with a smile are more resilient. People that do it with a frown, sometimes they do it more accurately. It focuses the mind in that way, but who’s going to be able to do it for longer? Who’s going to be able to suffer? Look, go on through basic SEAL training, which sucks. I promise you, when you go hit the surf and it’s 55 degrees and you smile, I guarantee, it’s easy. The water is warmer, when you smile. The water is warmer, when you run into the surf and you look at your buddy and you make fun of the instructor that you just sent to the surf and you crack a good joke about it, the water is warming up.

Jocko Willink (25:32):

And that’s what we as leaders need to do. You took some notes over there? What’s up?

Dave Burke (25:39):

I literally wrote down what you said. And amazingly, that’s actually part of what my debriefing with you has been about as we go through, it gives me more little tools, little ways to explain it in a way that eventually will resonate with the people that I’m working with too. Because sometimes, the more ways that I can explain or describe the better I am, the more likely we’re going to get to an outcome that they can go, oh, I can do that. Yeah, I can do that. And I literally am writing that down. And I will add that because a version of this question gets asked all the time, some version of this, it may not be exactly the same. It might not be because it is a once in a decade weather situation. But teams facing adversity? All the time. So this is just more for me.

Jocko Willink (26:31):

Awesome. I guess with that, maybe it’s my turn.

Dave Burke (26:36):


Jocko Willink (26:36):

So, I’m going to have to backtrack just a little bit to a little bit of EF online to get to a new discovery angle, I’m not sure. So, I’m a fan of chess. And really, that’s a strong word, probably not a fan of chess. I’m definitely not good at it. I’ve never practice it very much. But I understand sort of the complexities of it and therefore, I’m a fan of it. And part of the reason I’m a fan of it is because it’s very similar to jujitsu, it’s very similar to leadership. It’s very similar to maneuvering, you have moves, there’s things that you have to do. And I talked about this on EF online a few weeks ago. I went kind of on this little tangent about Gary Kasparov and he’s the world chess champion for 20 years. And he’s a legendary guy. And he was saying that he could not beat the current champion. This kid, and I think the kid is 30 something years old. But this kid named Magnus Carlsen and he gave a couple of reasons.

Jocko Willink (27:33):

Kasparov gave a couple of reasons that I found interesting. One of them was because he was too old. And that one really hit me as a strange thing, because you’d think chess is just a game with your mind. So why does age have anything to do with it? Well, it turns out that it’s actually there’s some physical component to chess. And when you’re playing chess, you’re burning three times the normal calories and your heart rate goes up, and you’re breathing and your blood pressure. So, if you’re not healthy, it’s going to be a disadvantage. The other thing is the old mind is slowing down. Your mind is going to slow down.

Jocko Willink (28:14):

It’s not a precise science and everyone’s different. But cognitive decline is a thing that happens. And some say it happens as early as 20s and 30s. Some say it’s as late as your 70s. The average as I research this was like now in the 50s. In your 50s, you’re going to start to deal with some level of cognitive decline, and Kasparov is 57 years old.

Jocko Willink (28:42):

And I was thinking, here’s this guy, the champion chess player, using his mind at the highest level his whole life. And just like an Olympic athlete that uses their body their whole life, that Olympic athlete knows when they’re starting to decline. They know they can’t hit that PR anymore. They know they’re a little bit slower. And you can just imagine Kasparov seeing a move and going, “I missed that. I never would have missed that before.” So, age is one of the reasons that Kasparov gave … is why he would lose to the younger Magnus Carlsen.

Jocko Willink (29:14):

And the other reason he gave was the fact that Magnus has the benefit of knowing all of Kasparov’s moves. And if you know anything about chess, they take entire games, and they put them in books like this is every single move and you can actually study those moves and you have those moves. And so, Magnus, not only does he know those moves but then he’s able to build upon them. And it might have taken Garry Kasparov being put in a particular situation a thousand times before he figures out a way out of that situation. And Magnus opened a book and figured that out in 20 minutes and said, “Okay, now I know what to do there.”

Jocko Willink (29:52):

And then he got to build on it. He got to use that brain power that he would have wasted trying to figure out that position. Now, he already knows how to do that. So now he can use his brain power go do something else. And so basically Magnus got a head start, which again, this was weird for me to compute because you’d think, hey, I’m 57, I’ve been playing chess for whatever, 53 years. I’m going to be better than you. But Magnus gets a head start, he gets instant knowledge. It’s like the matrix where they, was it what it’s called, yeah, the matrix, you plug in, here’s jujitsu. And now you can just learn from there.

Jocko Willink (30:23):

So he kind of got that advantage. And the reason that I talked about all this on EF online was because my point that I was trying to make was there’s leadership moves that you can learn just like Magnus Carlsen got to look at these old moves and look at these books and study them. You could learn those moves then you have them and you can build on them. And I was trying to say on EF online, hey, you can pick up books and you can learn leadership moves there. You can look at Leadership Strategy and Tactics and the Dichotomy of Leadership and Extreme Ownership and you can get moves from there, but also you can get them from About Face and military books and you can learn from mentors. And you can learn from classes and you can learn from the movies.

Jocko Willink (31:02):

If you start looking at everything through a leadership lens, you can learn a ton. I mean, from a leadership perspective, how many freaking lessons can you get from the miniseries Band of Brothers? You could pretty much be like, okay, yeah, I’m going to have 80% solution for it. If we went through and dissected that movie and just took leadership lessons, insane amount of information. So we need to do that. We need to pay attention to leadership moves that other people make so that we can learn for them. And then I also talked about the fact that chess is a finite game with limits and rules. And there’s 64 squares on the board. And each piece is limited in the way it can move.

Jocko Willink (31:39):

And so, because it’s finite, because it’s a finite thing, computers can actually beat us. It took them a while. But now that they’ve got better computing power, a computer can just run the numbers and beat you. But leadership and life is not finite. And there’s an infinite number of moves and an infinite number of variables and an infinite number of inconsistencies that we actually have to think and figure out.

Jocko Willink (32:07):

Go into the last one of these that we did, we actually have to be able to move our brains to find solutions. So there you go. I’m sorry, I had to backtrack back to EF online. But there’s more lessons. And it’s weird because we talk about this idea of detaching all the time, taking a step back, detaching from your emotions, detaching from the firefight, detaching from the meeting, so you can see what’s actually happening there.

Jocko Willink (32:41):

And listen, if you’re watching chess, if you’re sitting there watching two people play chess, you’re actually seeing the same thing as the players, right? I mean, if someone was sitting here, if you and I were playing chess, and someone was watching us, we would all see the same thing. We are all literally looking at the same board, the perspective … You can kind of take that idea of perspective and throw it away because we all see the same thing. We’re all seeing the board. And look, you can look at it from over there or over there. It’s still the same board, the same pieces in the same place. So you can see everything. But players still make mistakes, even though they’re detached from that thing, they still make mistakes.

Jocko Willink (33:36):

Magnus Carlsen, if you know anything about the guy, he’s beyond genius in this game. And he makes mistakes. He made a mistake in the 2016 game eight of the World Championships. He blew a move just blew it. Everybody saw it. Everybody saw it. And he didn’t see it. And as soon as he did it, guess what? It hit him in the face and he realized he had blown it. And why did that happen? So he didn’t detach until he made the move. So, he failed to detach, to truly detach from that, from the emotion, from the pressure, from the habit, from the instinct from the intuition, from the God given talent that he has. He didn’t detach from all those things.

Jocko Willink (34:30):

So, even when you’re detached, like he’s physically detached from that board, even when he’s physically detached from that board, he’s still not detached. There are still things that he’s hanging on to. Still hanging on to that emotion, still hanging on to that pressure, still hanging on to that habit, still hanging on to that instinct, and the intuition still hanging on to those things and missing what’s right in front of it. Still missing what’s right in front of them. So, we have to be careful. We have to be careful because detaching is … It’s harder than we think. It’s not easy to do.

Jocko Willink (35:20):

And by the way, this is still not why I’m talking about chess today. We’re still not there yet. And I know this is a big build up to my point, which is ironic when you hear the point that I’m about to make, it’s going to be very ironic when you hear the point that I’m about to make. I saw a quote the other day about chess, it’s an ancient Chinese proverb and what the quote says, what the quote says is, “A person of high principles is one who can watch an entire game of chess without making a comment.”

Jocko Willink (36:05):

And I thought to myself, there it is. You if you think about that, if you think about how inclined we all are to chime in. Think about how inclined I am to tell Magnus Carlsen that he’s not detached enough. That’s what he’s doing. I’m sitting there saying, hey, that guy’s not detached enough. That’s me telling the greatest chess player of all time, hey, you might want to figure out how to detach. I got to chime in on that. We all think we know what’s happening. We think we’re smarter. We think we have a better perspective. We think we see the solution. We think that the players in the game actually want our opinion. And so, we talk.

Jocko Willink (37:03):

When we’re watching, we aren’t even in the game, we talk. What is wrong with us? What kind of inborn tendencies do we have that makes us feel the need to speak? I see it all the time. I do it all the time. We know. We know that the more we speak, the less people listen. We know that and yet we can’t hold it back. We can’t hold it back. We can’t keep our mouth shut. And the problem is when we speak, we don’t listen. When we speak, we don’t detach. When we speak, we don’t learn.

Jocko Willink (37:49):

Look, am I saying don’t talk? No, obviously, we have to communicate. This is what we do. That’s what leadership is. Leadership is actually communication. But just put yourself in check a little bit more, observe what is happening. Watch the team come up with a plan. Listen during the meeting, instead of talking. Because that person, that person of high principle, who we are all striving to be, that person can watch a whole game of chess without making a comment.

Jocko Willink (38:36):

Let’s strive for those principles. And I think that’s good place to stop. Dave, anything? I suppose it’s a brutal setup to talk about not talking and then ask you if you got anything to add. You got nothing?

Dave Burke (38:53):

I got nothing.

Jocko Willink (38:54):

Come on. Let me lure you into this trap. What do you got? Go.

Dave Burke (38:59):

No, I literally got nothing. That lesson, had I learned that lesson earlier in life, it would have paid off. I rarely regret not saying something. I often regret or have regretted the things that I’ve said.

Jocko Willink (39:16):


Dave Burke (39:17):

Dude, hi.

Jocko Willink (39:19):

I’ll tell you what, you know what sucks about that? This is what’s painful. The old adage it’s better to regret something you have said than something you haven’t. It’s better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t done. Meaning, hey, you know when I get old and I’m on my deathbed I’d rather say, “You know, I did go out that night and party in that whatever city,” and you’re not going to grow up and say “Oh, I wish I never would have partied or I wish I never would have done whatever.” That’s an old adage and people apply that adage to talking. It’s like I’d rather. And I will say, sometimes when I haven’t spoken and I should have, it’s a very heavy feeling, but I will say it’s not as heavy as, man, I wish I would have kept my damn mouth shut. Yeah.

Dave Burke (40:10):

That I agree with completely.

Jocko Willink (40:13):

Awesome. All right. We are at 40 minutes. We always try and keep this for half an hour. It’s a little bit difficult especially when some people, myself, can’t keep his mouth shut. So, good place to stop if you want to dig deeper in all these aspects of leadership, join Dave, me and the rest of the Echelon Front team,, where we solve problems through leadership. And if you want leadership guidance inside your organization, you can check out our leadership consultancy at I’ve also written a bunch of books on the subject of leadership, Extreme Ownership, the Dichotomy of Leadership and Leadership Strategy and Tactics.

Jocko Willink (40:51):

My other podcasts are Jocko Podcast, Jocko Unraveling with Darrell Cooper, Grounded and the Warrior Kid Podcast which has some new episodes and also have Jocko Underground which is a tangential podcast where we talk about subjects that are a little bit different. And it’s also something that we’re giving as a bonus if you subscribe to something called Jocko Underground,

Jocko Willink (41:24):

Just a little contingency plan in case everything went sideways and we needed a place to host our podcasts then that’s what we’re going to do. Hopefully we won’t have to, but you can check out for that. And if you want to support any of these podcasts including this one, you can get some gear from or from And I think that’s all we’ve got. Thanks for listening to the Debrief. Now, go lead. And this is Dave and Jocko out.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This