Find Out Where The Team is Out of Alignment

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #12

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #12:

Effectively communicate up the chain and down the chain.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

This is the Jocko Debrief podcast, episode 12 with Dave Berke and me Jocko Willink. Dave, let’s debrief.

Dave Berke (00:08):

Right on. So I had a client call me actually just recently. This was a call I had from two senior executives with the company we’ve been working with for actually two years, one of our longest range clients. So they called me and the description they gave me was they’ve been working through a communication problem they had with these two senior executives with a subordinate manager. They kind of laid out the situation. This is an IT company that kind of solves problems through software, and their client base comes in. They figure the problem is, they build a software solution for them and give it back to them.

Dave Berke (00:44):

And we’ve been working with their executive team for a while. These two folks specifically have been really good with the principles. They’ve been embracing them. They’ve been using them. And this whole idea of ownership from the beginning has been something that’s been working well with them.

Dave Berke (00:57):

So the problem they were describing to me was this manager. One of the managers that works for them was communicated to from a. Client reached out to him and said, “Hey, I’m looking for some information on how you could solve this problem, what it would cost, and how quickly could you turn this problem around to a solution.” And this request and other requests like this had been going unanswered by this manager, which to them, it was borderline impossible to understand why this was continuing to happen. And each time this situation would arise, they viewed it as what are they doing wrong? How are they not communicating correctly? How are they not conveying the message? How are they not getting this manager to basically do the things that they wanted him to do?

Dave Berke (01:43):

And the frustration was is they were kind of running out of ideas on how to change the way they were communicating, what really in their mind was kind of a simple thing. This aligned with a conversation that you and I had had somewhat recently not just with each other, but with another client. Which was this communication issue or this issue that fit on the umbrella of the simple law actually really wasn’t necessarily a communication problem. What it really was, and what we talked about, this is more of a problem of alignment.

Dave Berke (02:14):

So we kind of took a step back and the conversation was, “Hey, let me just hear how you’re explaining it.” But the real issue is, “Hey, why do you think this manager isn’t answering what appears to be very, very simple questions.” And then we started to kind of peel back a little bit about the alignment.

Dave Berke (02:28):

So these two executives, their primary role, their responsibility is to really grow the company. They’re the ones that bring in the clients. They’re the ones that have to forecast hiring long range strategic objectives. “Where do we see ourselves? How do we get to where we need to be?” Things from revenue and operating costs, all those things.

Dave Berke (02:49):

The manager underneath them, his real sole responsibility is just servicing the clients that he has. He’s a salary guy. He doesn’t get bonuses. So I think what was going on is there was a disconnect between the strategic objectives from the senior executives, and the objectives that this manager had about what they should be doing.

Dave Berke (03:09):

The deeper part of this that was why this was such an important conversation is that it was one of the first times I saw that the principles themselves sometimes won’t give you the answer that you’re looking for. So if you view this just as a communication problem, the way I communicate with you, and I keep looking at myself, “What am I doing differently? What am I doing differently? What I need to do differently?” It doesn’t matter how I communicate. If you and I are misaligned, no matter how articulate I am or clear I am in my own mind, if you and I are going in different directions, what I say is never going to get to the outcome that I want.

Dave Berke (03:45):

So the cool part about that was that when they took a little bit of a step back, the real question, they should have been asking, what we needed to ask was where are we out of alignment? What is it that’s getting us to be moving in different directions? So rather than view this as a communication problem, this was an alignment problem. And of course, that opened up a whole conversation about how do we get aligned? And at the lowest level of the conversation, there is misalignment because this manager in his own mind doesn’t have a connection of, “Well, why would I prioritize bringing in new clients? I don’t have a particular benefit to that I can understand.”

Jocko Willink (04:18):

Matter of fact, I have a negative benefit because when I bring in more clients, I have to do more work. And I’m getting a salary. So it doesn’t really matter. Why would I want to return these calls?

Dave Berke (04:24):

Yeah. And this manager wasn’t going out of his way to not answer these calls. They were just going into the list of things to do way down at the bottom, because he had all these other things they had going on. Of course, senior executives had this different perspective. And really all it was was the solution that they implemented was to talk to the manager and go, “Hey, let’s just take a step back. What is it that you as a manager and what is it that your team sees as the long range objective? What is it that you guys are trying to accomplish?”

Dave Berke (04:52):

And it didn’t take very long to realize hey, there’s a clear connection between this manager’s responsibilities and the success of the company. It just happened be a little bit of a step above of where his focus was. So when he was prioritizing executing or thinking about things he was going to work on, answering external client calls that are just soliciting for information simply wasn’t making the day-to-day cut. And these questions were going unanswered, sometimes weeks at a time.

Dave Berke (05:19):

So the cool part about that is this idea of finding alignment. For me, when we talked about this, it was nice to make the connection between the principle itself sometimes won’t solve your problem. But if you have this kind of narrow view of, “Hey, I need to take ownership. The problem is me. The problem is communication.” You can kind of bang your head against the wall and never get to the conclusion, because the way that they perceive this problem was they’re just not explaining what they should be doing well, or what he should be doing well. And what they actually need to do is explain how what the priorities are much more easily understood if we can both be aligned on what we’re actually trying to accomplish in the big picture. That make sense?

Jocko Willink (06:03):

Yeah. I mean, this is a decentralized command. Actually, it’s completely wrapped up in the principles of, “Hey, we all need to know what the mission is. We all need to know what the mission is.”

Jocko Willink (06:19):

When we get to my turn, I’m definitely going to talk about alignment, and I’m going to talk about agendas, and I’m going to talk about all those things and how they fit together. But what I find interesting about this is when we’re looking for problems, right? When we’re looking for a problem, we overlay our knowledge onto the problem. And then we look. Okay? So I know that there’s a problem here. I overlay my knowledge onto the problem. Well guess what I see? I absolutely see my overlay. I see what I put on top of it. So sometimes, what we have to do is actually-

Dave Berke (07:05):

You see what you know.

Jocko Willink (07:06):

I see what I know. I see what I’ve seen before. Look, I’m actively looking for pattern recognition. So when I actively look for pattern recognition, when I actively overlay my knowledge onto a problem, then it becomes hard to see what the actual problem is. Or it can be hard to see. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes I go, “There’s my knowledge.” Then it stands out. And that actually is a 97% solution. 97% of the time, here’s my knowledge. Put it on the problem. This is why, and I’ve tried to explain this a lot even within our own Echelon Front team.

Jocko Willink (07:44):

When I get asked a question, one of the ways that I avoid just overlaying my knowledge on it is by trying to figure out what I would do if I were in that situation. Now when you’re in the situation, you can’t overlay onto it because you’re in it. So now I start thinking, “Okay, if I was in this situation, what would I do right now? If I had a manager that was not doing what I wanted them to do, and I explained it to them 14 different ways in the most simplified terms, and I drew it up on a chalkboard, and I gave them diagrams, and I did all those things, and the person’s still not doing what I want to do.”

Jocko Willink (08:19):

Now there’s a core principle that comes in all the time, and it’s with decentralized command, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. And if we know why we’re doing what we’re doing, cool. 90% of the time, I should get you to do what I want you to do, what you need to do, what we need to do for the team. When it doesn’t, well then I need to actually ask you why are you doing this? Or in this specific case, why aren’t you doing this? Because that why is so important that when it’s not the same, when your why, or it doesn’t even have to be the same. When your why is not aligned with the overall why, we are going to have a problem. And that’s exactly what this is.

Jocko Willink (09:01):

So I have to be careful as a leader, and as a person, as a human being, right? Not to overlay my knowledge onto something which actually interferes with my vision instead of helping my vision. I have to be careful about that. And we have to be careful about that.

Jocko Willink (09:15):

You know what’s a good really blatant example of this is when you’re talking to your kids, right? You can’t just overlay your knowledge onto your kids, because they’re in a completely different world than you. When I wrote Way of the Warrior Kid, the example of the flash cards and the not knowing the times tables, that came from my oldest daughter who came home from school one day. “I’m stupid.” “Why do you think you’re stupid?” And she’s definitely not stupid. I mean, she’s very smart. Goes to one of the best colleges in the world. She had come home in whatever grade that is. “And I’m stupid.” “Why do you think you’re stupid?” “I don’t know my times tables.”

Jocko Willink (09:54):

So here’s where the overlay comes in. For me it’s like okay, first of all, this isn’t really a problem. This is no big deal. It’s no factor. Because I’m literally looking at my daughter’s life from a global perspective. I’m thinking, “We’re at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.” That’s part of my brain. So how can you possibly be concerned about your stupid times tables? It doesn’t matter. Guess what? It’s her world. It’s her world. So what I needed to do and I did at that moment, I was like, “Why don’t I think this is a big deal? I know you’re not stupid. I know you’re not stupid. I talk to you all the time. I see how you’re a great reader and blah, blah, blah. So I know you’re not stupid. So let’s just carry on. No, actually what does this look like from your perspective? From your perspective, all your little friends know their times tables and you don’t. So you think you’re stupid. Okay. I get it. In your world, that’s what it looks like. And that’s a bad thing.”

Jocko Willink (10:56):

So to actually try and understand someone’s perspective will open your vision wider so that you can see more, which is absolutely critical when you’re trying to not only answer questions, but you’re trying to solve problems inside your own organization.

Dave Berke (11:13):

Yeah. What’s awesome about what you just described is there was two things that kind of came out of the conversations we had to try to solve. One was this was kind of a first for them. So you talk 97% of the time or this high probability that the principle themselves and taking that viewpoint is going to solve the problem. So this is one of the times that that by itself wasn’t enough. And that kind of put them, they didn’t know what to do. Hey, how else can I possibly explain this? What more simple way is there for me to explain this to you so you understand it?

Dave Berke (11:48):

And as they ran out of ways, and they were interacting with each other too. Almost looking back and forth going what are we doing wrong here? The other piece that you talked about that’s connected to that was what they understood strategically was taken for granted. So this assumption of, “Well, obviously this guy has to know how important it is for this funnel of future clients coming in.” Clearly, because it was so fundamental onto their role that they took for granted this idea. So the solution ended up being actually very simple.

Dave Berke (12:17):

Because as you just described, if I sit down and you go, which is what they did and go, “Hey Jocko, listen. I know you got a ton of things going on and these priorities make sense. I want to talk to you a little bit about our funnel of future clients. Let me talk to you about how we cultivate they come in, and just the explanation of how this sets us up to be successful over time.” As simple as that sounds and as rudimentary as it is, and it actually is very straightforward for running a business. It was still required for them to do that, to get this manager to go, “To be honest with you, I’m not thinking about that. Because I’m so heads down trying to just get through my daily workload.”

Dave Berke (12:48):

So the solution really wasn’t some big, complex thing. It was that simple. But it was them taking for granted their understanding of the clear, obvious way this company survives and thrives down the road was absent at that level of leadership. And that’s really all the explanation was required for him to go, “Oh, yeah, yeah. I can carve out a little bit of time or I can get one of my guys to carve out some time to send them a proposal we’re not no factor.”

Jocko Willink (13:10):

Yeah. That’s in leadership strategy and tactics, I wrote about the threat of why. Which was I watched the CEO. I was working with a company, watched the CEO deliver the big victory speech about how well the company had been doing. And they’d given dividends for the first time, and were profitable, and made 18 million or whatever the number was. And he’s expecting a roar of from the crowd. And it’s just silent because the people that he’s talking to, which was two thirds of the company at the time, they were all sitting there shaking their heads because how did they make more money? Well they cut cost. How did they cut cost? Fired the people’s friends.. Took their gear away from them. Didn’t give them supplies that they needed, and all those things.

Jocko Willink (13:49):

And yet, all those people that were disappointed in the crowd, they also weren’t recognizing. And this is 800 people, 800 or 1,000 people that weren’t going, “Yes, the company made money. That means we’re going to be in business. That means I’m going to continue.” They just weren’t making that connection. So whose fault is that? Well, it’s a leader’s fault for not saying, “Hey, here’s why this is important. Here’s why it benefits you.”

Jocko Willink (14:17):

And the other thing that’s when you talk about getting perspective, when I try and get in someone else’s head and get their perspective, not only am I getting in their head and getting their perspective. If you are getting in someone else’s head and getting their perspective, what are you also doing? You’re also detaching from your own perspective. So there’s a real benefit to detaching. There’s a really benefit to getting other people’s perspective not only so you can see their perspective, but so you can detach from your own perspective. Because you don’t even understand what other people don’t understand, and you don’t even understand what you see so obvious.

Jocko Willink (14:55):

And again, another root problem here is the cliche of all cliches in business problems is communication. And even more than that is relationship. Because look, if I’m a bad communicator or we’re not communicating with each other, that’s horrible. But if we have a good relationship, we can overcome the communication gap because you and I’ll just sit there and, “Hold on a second. I don’t understand what you’re talking about. This doesn’t make any sense.”

Jocko Willink (15:23):

If we don’t have a relationship, then we have zero chance of overcoming our communication gap. Now if I’m a great communicator and I can get this message to you, maybe it’s okay we don’t have a great relationship. If I’m so good, by the way, no one is. But let’s say I was so good at communicating and so good at making my point that I could convey information to you perfectly with 100% perfection. If I could do that, maybe we don’t need to have a relationship. Because I’m so good at communicating that when I speak, the words are absorbed into your brain with such clarity that you never have a doubt as to what you’re supposed to do. If that’s where we’re at, great. No one’s like that. So what does that mean? I have to have a relationship.

Jocko Willink (16:06):

So that means when I say, “Hey Dave, we’re going to do A, B, and C.” Dave goes, “Hold on a second. We already did A. B, I don’t understand. And C doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.” If you can’t say that back to me, then we have a freaking problem. But if I have a good relationship with you, then you ask me questions. I respond to your questions. And we go around in circles building that comprehension and unifying and aligning that comprehension, and aligning that mission until we go, “Okay, I got it.” And I say, “Cool, thank you.”

Jocko Willink (16:38):

So there’s a whole bunch of lessons to be learned there in a scenario like that. And again, that’s why we do this. And what’s interesting is this is a client we’ve been working with for two years. And actually, we had a really good EF online topic the other day from a guy that we’ve been working with for a long time, that I’ve personally been working with for a long time. And he had gone into a meeting. He had heard there might be an ambush waiting for him from a certain individual. He prepped. He loaded magazines. He was ready for that ambush. He went in there. When that guy ambushed him, he crushed him. In fact, he crushed him so hard that he realized as soon as the meeting was over, he was going to have a … even though he won the tactical battle, and made that guy look bad, and proved him wrong, he realized now he has a very hard battle to fight now because he’s got an enemy. That’s going to be looking to tear him down and looking at poke holes in his plan.

Dave Berke (17:34):

Get his revenge.

Jocko Willink (17:35):

But that guy, the guy that made that mistake and caught that mistake, he said it was before the meeting was over. I forget, he could tell the guy said, “You got anything else?” And he was like, “Nah, I got nothing.” He was beat down. He was like, “I beat that guy down so hard that he’s going to find, he’s going to look for that moment to get back at me.” So he won the argument and created an enemy. And that is a bad thing to do. Now we’ve got an antagonistic relationship, and he knew he was going to have to go out and try and repair that.

Jocko Willink (18:05):

So that guy that made that mistake, he has been completely in the game since Extreme Ownership came out, he’s listened to every podcast. He’s doing great in multiple facets of his life. And he still made that little mistake. So it’s constant. We constantly have to work to get better.

Dave Berke (18:27):


Jocko Willink (18:29):

What do you got next?

Dave Berke (18:33):

Somewhat of a similar situation where you got someone who’s frustrated with their leadership, which you talk about common themes of folks we work with. Folks at EF Online a lot of times, what they’re trying to do is figure out how to better manage the relationship with their leadership or their bosses. So working with this company. What this company basically does is similar. Again, they essentially have a software application that helps people optimize the way that they shop.

Dave Berke (18:59):

So as you might guess in this whole online retail thing right now, the last year, people aren’t going to stores so much, so this has been a booming industry. And what was cool about working with this group is we had been there pre-COVID. So we’ve got to see them really from the beginning of this kind of massive growth they’re going through. And one of the things we did when we first got to this company, we sat down with their key leaders. We went through an exercise that we almost always go through with all of our long range clients, which is a simple exercise just to prioritize and execute matrix. So we just kind of go through and just try to identify all the different things they need to be working on, all the focus areas, and try to help prioritize and execute. So we are applying our resources to the most important things.

Dave Berke (19:40):

And it also gives us at Echelon Front, gives us some really cool insights into the things that they’re working on. Because what we typically lack with a company is context. We got the big picture, but I don’t know what you’re doing every day. So this is really helpful exercise.

Dave Berke (19:52):

Well, the most obvious thing that this company needed to do was essentially redesign the platform that this application operates under. So when we got there, they explained to us, “Hey, what they are doing works really well. It’s a really cool solution for a bunch of their customers. They’re very well liked,” but they were having this application would crash all the time. And when it would crash as you might guess, when they need it the most. Big sale days, Black Fridays. Days that you would look at, and even the most casual observer would know these are not the days for your program to not work correctly.

Dave Berke (20:23):

And it wasn’t something where they could just kind of do a bandaid fix here and there. What they needed to do is redesign this thing and create a whole new platform to move over. Which as you also could guess is going to take a lot of time and a lot of money. This is not an easy fix. Not going to happen overnight. And they had this project team lead whose sole responsibility really was the platform, which meant the number one priority in her mind was, “Hey, the platform redesign and there’s a migration of this whole new system, which is going to take millions of dollars and probably over a year is what she needs to be focused on.”

Dave Berke (20:53):

So they’re about six or seven months through this process. And the conversation we had is, “Hey.” This is from her. My boss, who is the CEO. She’s reporting directly for the CEO. And his frustration has been growing to the point that he is frustrated that doesn’t think any progress is being made. So the conversation is, “Hey, how do I let him know? How do I convey that even though we can’t necessarily see it, we are making progress and this takes time?”

Dave Berke (21:21):

So the conversation was about how do I get my boss to give me a little bit of breathing room here and to better understand that what he’s asking for is going to happen, but it’s going to take more time? And it’s hard for me to show, “Hey, these are the things that are happening.” Because there’s a lot of behind the scenes, a lot of in the data type stuff. She wanted her boss to be more patient bottom line.

Dave Berke (21:42):

So we looked a little bit, we kind of sat down and looked at first of all, how do they track progress? What are their measurements of the things they’re doing along the way? What are their checkpoints along the way, the progress?

Dave Berke (21:52):

I also talked to her about, “Hey, what are the other things that you were responsible for other than this one project?” And she probably has four or five pretty key things as the product team lead. She’s got to do training for her team. There’s some really easy, small fixes that they needed to plug in to make this thing functional until they can migrate it over. And then they even have a bunch of clients that don’t even need the platform. They can literally just give them what they call raw data, let them use it on their own system. And there’s a bunch of different things they can be doing between now and the time this whole new product comes out. And she hadn’t been doing any of those things. Her number one focus was what was in her mind the only thing that really had to happen for the company’s long-term success. So we talked a little bit about how to get that breathing room, how to get that boss to be a little more patient and give her some more latitude.

Dave Berke (22:44):

And I relate a story that I had when I was working, when I was flying in the Marine Corps. I was in an Air Force squadron flying the F-22. And my job was to actually be a test lead for a bunch of software fixes and fix a bunch of things. And the number one project we had was this multimillion dollar 18 month program, which was what everybody wanted done.

Dave Berke (23:04):

Well, I didn’t just work on that. I actually found three or four other small, cheap, easy projects that I could work on and fix. And I go to my boss and go, “Hey, here’s the 18 month timeline. We’re three months in it. We’re doing well. This is also done. Project C is done. Project F is done. And project G is about 60% done.”

Dave Berke (23:22):

And all that did was let my boss know, “Hey, Dave’s in the game. He’s making progress.” And I was accomplishing little things along the way to make him see that I was doing these things. All because what I wanted him to trust me is that this long range project was happening. So part of the conversation was just hey, just because this is a number one priority, does not mean it’s your only priority. And if there’s other things you can do to help along the way to give you the freedom to work on this. And it kind of reoriented her viewpoint of the problem isn’t her boss being impatient. The problem is that she hasn’t proven to them, to her leadership that she’s actually accomplishing the things she wants to accomplish for them.

Jocko Willink (23:59):

So then did she line up some things to report on?

Dave Berke (24:01):

Dude, the cool part about it is the one fix, they call it a bandaid fix. And I don’t want to give a negative connotation. It’s basically a short term fix that helps them get through critical phases. And this happened not too long ago. And this Black Friday, big push. They didn’t have a whole new platform, but there’s a couple things that they could do to make sure that that weekend of shopping went well. And that weekend of shopping went through without any problems. Which gets her a whole bunch of goodwill, a whole bunch of credibility. And whatever pressure or stress comes from being successful there, she was able to work on that, which gives her a whole bunch more room to operate on this longer range project.

Jocko Willink (24:40):

Yeah. There’s a couple things that I was thinking about. When we talk about prioritize and execute, one thing that we normally say is, “Hey. When you’ve got multiple things, multiple problems, multiple issues, you pick the biggest problem and you focus your resources on that problem until you get that problem solved, then you move on to the next one.” That’s absolutely true, especially from a tactical perspective. But as we know, we don’t like to think tactically. And in fact, we want to think strategically all the time. So, sometimes even the biggest problem that you have, it might not be the best strategic move to do that thing first.

Jocko Willink (25:27):

And a real simple example is if you’ve heard one of the ways to, if you’re in debt, one of the ways to pay off debt. Look, you’ve got 14 different debts that you owe to this store, that credit card, and this car company, or whatever. One methodology for getting caught up is you actually take the cheapest one and pay that one off first, then take the next cheapest one and pay that one. So you’re whittling down the big ones, getting them off the plate so you can focus on the other one. So what you’re doing is you are mechanically prioritizing and executing, you’re getting rid of the small problems so that you can focus on the big one.

Jocko Willink (26:07):

So that is something to think about all the time. “Hey, if I’ve got some little tiny mosquito that’s bothering me while I’m trying to shoot my gun and take out a target, well maybe I should kill that mosquito first so I can focus on my weapon, right? And focus on my big target.” So those things do happen.

Jocko Willink (26:31):

The other thing that happens is listen, I don’t think I’ve perfected this analogy yet. But if you are building a house and there is a certain room that needs to get drywall in the room for whatever reason. Needs to get drywall hung, which means the electrical needs to get put in there, in this building that you’re building. So you want to get the room wired with electrical as quickly as you possibly can. And you run a big with all kinds of different contractors. And you know you have 20 electricians on hand that you can put on that project. Do you take 20 electricians and put them in that room to wire the room? No. There’s a certain capacity where now actually, you’ve got electricians that are either in the way. At a minimum, some electricians are standing around. At a maximum, you have them in the way.

Jocko Willink (27:29):

So what you do is you go, “Wait, what’s the maximum number? Hey Bill,” who’s running the electrical. “What’s the most guys you could take that’s going to help you? I need a team of five. Cool. Here’s five people.” Now you’ve got the other 15 electrical contractors, electricians that you can go and put on something else.

Jocko Willink (27:46):

So prioritize and execute does not mean target fixation. In fact, you better check your flanks. And there’s a methodology in the SEAL teams when you are doing an immediate action drill, when you are actually in a gun fight, there is a procedure that you go through so that you remember to check your flanks, so that you don’t get target fixation.

Jocko Willink (28:10):

That’s why as a leader, once you issue the priorities, you then don’t jump into the priority yourself. No, you issue the priorities. I say, “Hey Dave, this is the major thing we got to take care of. Cool.” You go start attacking that problem with your team. I don’t go with you. No, I take a step back. You go. And now I start looking, checking the flanks. What’s next? Which of these problems could be growing? Which one of these problems didn’t I notice? We don’t want to get in the weeds.

Jocko Willink (28:34):

So those are all important things to think about. And the last thing I’ll say is performance, right? If you want to get trust, if you want to get leeway, if you want to get breathing room, perform. And if you stick yourself in a hole where you only can report on something that is a very slow moving object, it’s going to be hard to increase your performance visibility, because you’re only focused on one thing.

Dave Berke (28:57):

Yeah. You talked about this idea of prioritize and execute, not being the same as target fixation, which is actually what was very much going on. And fixation in some sense can be a good thing. She was fixated on this problem. She wanted to solve this problem. One of the biggest sources of the frustration is the CEO felt that he was always having to pull information from her. “What’s the status here? What’s going on here? What’s the progress here?” As opposed to just the very simple reverse. If you give me something to do and I know it’s going to take a long time, I’m not going to wait to the end, even if it’s on schedule. If I know this is going to take a long time, I’m going to get you progress reports. I’m basically just going to funnel you just enough information for you to understand that what I’m doing is what you want me to do. And if you got some runner corrections or some steers, some changes along the way, no problem. I’ll take those. But once your leadership is coming down you, and they are extracting and pulling from you because you are so fixated, you’re actually just creating more problems for you and your team as well.

Jocko Willink (29:50):

Well, we’re always looking for indications of our performance as a leader. And a bad indicator is when my boss is coming to me asking for information. If my boss is coming to me asking for information, I know I must be doing something wrong. Not only must I be doing something wrong, but I’m not providing them with enough information. I never want my boss to have to ask me what’s going on. I never want that to happen. I want my boss to say, “Thanks. Hey you know what Dave, you don’t really need to tell me where we are in that project. I’m good. You don’t need to give me a daily report. I’m good. You don’t even need to give me a weekly report. Check in with me every month. Or if things fall off track, then you can let me know.”

Jocko Willink (30:25):

So some good lessons learned right there, which I guess turns it to my turn. And I’m glad that you brought up alignment. And I know I’ve been talking a lot about this. And I went on a major tear into alignment on EF Online. And here’s the deal. Without alignment, if we’re not aligned, we can’t work together. If we’re not aligned, I’m going to say that again. If we’re not aligned, we can’t work together. In fact, I’ll take it one step further. If we are not aligned, we are enemies. We’re enemies. Or at a minimum, we’re competitors.

Jocko Willink (31:06):

Here’s the thing. This is very, very seldom the case. And it is almost never the case if you and I are at the same company, or we’re on the same team, or we’re part of the same family. If we’re at the same company, or the same team, or the same family, there’s a 99.9% chance that we are aligned at some level. At the highest level. And we’ll get to that.

Jocko Willink (31:38):

Now look, I’m not saying that we don’t have agendas. Which I can’t remember, on EF Online, I described agendas as the little brother. The agendas are the little brother of alignment. Agendas are the little brothers of alignment. Because agendas are what you are trying to do. Alignment is what we are trying to do, right? Agenda’s what I’m trying. I’m over here trying to make this happen. That’s me. That’s my agenda. You’ve got your little agenda. You’re trying to make something else happen. That’s cool. We have our little agendas. Alignment is what we are actually trying to do together as a team. And these agendas can absolutely drive people crazy, right? They can get crazy.

Jocko Willink (32:22):

But here’s the thing. Even agendas shouldn’t really matter. As long as that agenda eventually is in alignment. Is in alignment with what it is that we are trying to do. And you mentioned briefly the alignment ladder. And I don’t know what sparked that image in my mind, but talking about this alignment ladder. This alignment ladder. If you picture a household ladder, kind of looks like an A, right? There’s two sides to it. You can go up the ladder. And at the top of the ladder, guess what? They meet. In the end, if you climb up either side of that ladder and the end, those steps, you’re in the same place. They lead to the same place. So when we go high enough up the alignment ladder, we get aligned.

Jocko Willink (33:14):

So, we got the Army and the Marine Corps that both want to do whatever mission. There’s a mission that needs to get done. And the Army and the Marine Corps, they both want to do that mission. They both have an agenda, right? Because if they do that mission, what happens? If the Marine Corps gets to do that mission, they get the recognition. Maybe they get some extra supplies. Maybe they get higher evaluations. They get some awards, right? And last, but certainly not least, they get that ego satisfaction that they got the big mission.

Jocko Willink (33:46):

So the Army and the Marine Corps, whatever. Army battalion, the Marine Corps battalion both want to do this mission, whatever it is. They have their reasons for doing it. And look, they’re opposed, right? They’re opposed to each other. If you’re in the Marine Corps and I’m in the Army, you’re like, “Marine Corps should do this mission.” I’m saying, “Army should do this mission.” That means we’re saying the opposite things. You’re saying Marine Corps. I’m saying Army.

Jocko Willink (34:10):

But guess what? If we go up that alignment ladder a little bit higher, We realize that we both want to Take care of our guys, kill bad guys, and win the war. So if we go up high enough, then we are aligned. Even though you want something different than me, you want the Marine Corps to do the mission, I want the Army to do the mission. Even though we want something different that we both have our own agenda, if we go up a little bit higher, we are aligned.

Jocko Willink (34:43):

Now, does that mean that the agendas don’t get in the way? No. The agendas can absolutely get in the way. And we can fight your agenda against my agenda all day long. We can despise each other because of you working your agenda and me working my agenda. But, but here’s the deal. If your agenda which is the Marine Corps does the mission. If your agenda, which is the Marine Corps does the mission moves me towards the ultimate goal and moves us toward the ultimate goal of killing bad guys and winning the war. Then guess what? I say go ahead man. Go ahead and do it. I don’t care.

Jocko Willink (35:30):

But, that can be hard to see. It can be hard to see that if we don’t go up that ladder of alignment to where we are fighting for the same thing, if we can’t get detached enough, if we can’t see past our ego, if I can’t see past my own agenda. Or if I can’t see past your own agenda. If I can’t see past your agenda, it can be problem for me.

Jocko Willink (35:58):

Because if you’re trying to do something, if you’re trying to get that mission for the Marine Corps and I let that bother me, even though I don’t even have an Army unit to send. But I see that you’ve got this agenda and I see you working that agenda, which by the way I will, and we all will. Everyone knows that you’re working your agenda. So we all know it. And if I let that bother me, if I let that offend me, that can be a problem. So even your agenda can make me mad enough to where it causes a problem for me. And those are all problems, all these different things, right? The ego, the inability to detach, not being able to see past my own agenda, not being able to see past your agenda. All those things can inhibit me from actually finding the alignment, from climbing the ladder of alignment.

Jocko Willink (36:54):

So what a good leader does, what a good leader does is finds that alignment. And that seems like such an obvious thing. It seems so obvious. It seems so obvious. But all the time, there’s people that don’t do it. And I’m telling you, people are aligned so much more often than they think. They get caught up in 14 agendas, by the way. By the way, each rung of the alignment ladder is an agenda. And it’s all covered with tax, and it’s sticky, and it’s slippery, and it’s broken. And there’s all these reasons why you can’t get any higher than that thing, that agenda that’s holding you back.

Jocko Willink (37:38):

I gave an example of this on EF Online the other day. Because I was trying to think in the moment, I was trying to think of an extreme moment when people have an opposing agenda. And I started thinking about building a house, right?

Jocko Willink (37:55):

So if I’m building a house or if I’m having a house built, right? I’ve got my contractor. And my contractor’s going to build, or is bidding, or is building my house. And I’ve got me. Okay. So we’re both aligned. We want to build a house. But wait a second. He wants money, and he wants more money. And what do I want? I want to pay less money.

Jocko Willink (38:18):

So all of a sudden, he wants more money. He wants to charge me more money. I want to pay less money. Those are opposing agendas. And wait a second. Can that even be aligned? If he’s over here going, “I just want to make money,” and I’m over here going, “I want to pay less money.” How do you find alignment there? Well, check it out. Here we go. Let’s climb the alignment ladder a little bit. If the contractor ends up doing a good job for a fair price, well then I spread the word, and I write some recommendations, and I write a little Yelp review. And I bring him in and let him use my house to showcase what his work looks like. Right? He ends up getting more business, and he makes more money.

Jocko Willink (39:00):

So that’s what we as leaders, that’s what we have to do. What we have to do is we have to find alignment. And it’s a dichotomy, because it is very easy and it is very hard. And you will not be able to do it if you don’t detach, if you don’t put your ego in check, and if you don’t learn to see past the agendas and step past the agendas up that ladder to find alignment. Anything else?

Dave Berke (39:38):

We’ve been talking about alignment a lot. No man, it’s said so well that just climbing up that ladder. And how often do we see people where they’re spending their most resources, where there’s the most amount of conflict, where there’s the most amount of friction is with people on your team, because you just won’t climb up to the next level. And you said something that’s in leadership strategy and tactics. The power of saying I don’t care. Not I don’t care meaning bro, I don’t care. And that means if you get your agenda and we’re going to do that, I’m going to back you up and support you 100%. And I’m going to contribute to whatever that agenda is because I know that it contributes to the bigger thing that we all care about, and the power of being able to do that. And if you’re worried that you’re going to get overlooked or somebody else is going to get the credit when you support them and you have a reputation that no matter what’s going on, no matter whose project it is, no matter who the lead is, you’re there supporting and making it happen. You will win with that alone.

Jocko Willink (40:42):

Here’s the other thing you got to remember about these little agendas. In most cases, what these different agendas do. In most cases, they are kind of aligned. But I also expect to have Delta Platoon and Charlie Platoon. I expect them to both be trying to get issued new gear. I expect them to both be trying to get additional people. I expect them to both be trying to get to be the lead on the mission. So I have to as a leader expect and kind of be okay with, in fact be okay with Dave has his division, and he’s trying to get to hire more people in his division. Yes. Why is he trying to hire more people? Because he wants to grow. Yes. He wants to grow his division. Yes. I like that. And what about Bill over here? Bill also wants to hire more people. We can only hire 10 people. You know how many Dave wants to hire? 10. You know how many Bill wants to hire? 10. So there should be some tension that is created by agendas.

Jocko Willink (41:37):

Now what we have to be careful of is if Dave starts to undermine Bill to make his agenda work for himself, when he knows that really what would be smart is if both market areas got five more people each, and then we could grow properly, and it would be an even distribution. And now we take over the market. I know that would be good. Dave kind of knows that would be good, but he prioritizes himself over the overall mission. So we have to be careful of that. We have to be careful that even though Dave’s agenda is aligned with Bill’s, we’re all trying to grow. But at certain times, there is tension between agendas. And we have to make sure that the overall mission comes first.

Jocko Willink (42:19):

Now here’s the other thing about alignment. When I can’t figure out what the hell you’re doing or why you’re doing it, when I can’t make sense of why you’re making a move. And I’m asking you honest questions about it. When I cannot for the life of me figure out why you’re doing this thing over here. And when I ask you about it, you explain it in maybe a circular argument. Or you deflect. When that’s happening, I can’t get through. That is a warning sign that what we could have here is an alignment problem. We could have an actual alignment problem. We could climb up all the rungs of that ladder, and you could be sitting somewhere else. You could be in a different place than me. And if that’s what’s happening, that is a real problem that we either have to consolidate ,we have to get aligned. I have to compromise and we have to figure out, I have to figure out okay, Dave wants to actually go over here. I want to go over here. Those are two different places. I either need to figure out how, maybe I need to compromise. Maybe you need to compromise a little bit and be go, “Okay. Here’s where we’re going. Yes. We all agree with that now.”

Jocko Willink (43:43):

Or, you truly are trying to go somewhere else that I do not want to go. And if that’s the case, guess what? We are not going to be able to together. We are not going to be able to work together.

Jocko Willink (43:58):

Now, could you be a subordinate unit that’s trying to make things happen? And you can go as far as you want. There’s times where my ultimate goal is so much senior or so much higher than your ultimate goal. That doesn’t really matter. You say, “Hey Jocko, I really want to build this into a million dollar division.” And that’s your ultimate goal. My ultimate goal is that you have a $10 billion division. That’s my ultimate goal. We can still work together because your goal is subordinate to mine, but it’s still aligned. That’s okay. But if we get to a point where your ultimate goal and my ultimate goal, that’s where it’s a problem.

Jocko Willink (44:44):

So that’s why it’s so rare. It’s so rare because we’re talking about the finality of ultimate goal. That’s so high, that it’s very rare that someone says, “Well, I want to build a big company that’s very profitable, take care of our customers, and take care of our client.” That should be at the top of every company. Right? So now everything that we’re doing should be moving in that direction.

Jocko Willink (45:08):

If Dave says, “You know what, I want to make a million dollars. I want to make a huge company. I want to be extremely profitable. But I don’t care about the customers, or I don’t care about take care of my people.” So that’s a problem. That’s a problem. Now, it’s pretty easy for me to go a little bit higher and say, “Hey Dave, guess what? If you want to build a big giant company, the best way to get there is we do take care of our people. And we do take care of our customers, because then we get good reviews, then we get people coming back here. And we get our people that want to stay here and we don’t have to retrain a bunch of people.” And Dave goes, “Oh wow, you’re right.” So we could actually work that out. We could get aligned.

Jocko Willink (45:40):

Dave’s over here going, “No, screw the customer.” “Well Dave, if we screw the customer, we look up in here ,we won’t have a business anymore.” So it’s even possible and likely that you can take that other person up the ladder a little bit higher. But it can be challenging. It’s very rare, yet you’re not able to align with people. If it happens, you’re going to have some real problems.

Jocko Willink (46:04):

With that, it’s probably a good place to stop. And if you want to dig a little deeper into all these aspects of leadership in any arena. And man, what a variety of people that we have on EF Online. If you want to want to hear us talking about this stuff more detail, you want to interact with us directly, go to, where we solve problems through leadership. If you want leadership guidance inside your organization, come check out our leadership consultancy at

Jocko Willink (46:32):

And by the way, the companies that we’re talking about here when you hear us talking, we have scrambled up the identities of these companies to a point where we are talking about totally different things. The point of sale company that Dave just talked about is actually in real life an energy company, a manufacturing company, or a financial company. There’s no way it could be traced back. So you are not going to be used as a example for the world to see. That’s at if you want us to come and help you out. I’ve also written a bunch of books on the subject of leadership. Extreme Ownership, The Dichotomy of Leadership, and Leadership Strategy and Tactics. I got some other podcasts called Jocko Podcast, Jocko Unraveling, Grounded, and the Way of the Warrior Kid podcast. And if you want to support any of these podcasts, including this one, you can get some gear from or Thanks for listening to the Debrief. Now go lead. This is Dave and Jocko out.


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