The Debrief w/ Jocko and Leif Babin #11

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Leif Babin #11: Jocko and Leif discuss how to properly handle management.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

This is the Jocko Debrief Podcast, episode 11, with Leif Babin, and me, Jocko Willink. Leif, let’s debrief. What do you got?

Leif Babin (00:10):

Let’s get some. [crosstalk 00:00:10] So this particular leader was just over tasked. A lot of things going on with this particular leader, and she was… She just had a lot of things on her plate and there were a lot of people moving a lot of different directions. And so, what she was asking for was some help, interviewing her people, and trying to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and trying to set them up for success to move them forward.

Leif Babin (00:36):

So it was… We obviously talked to her about how we could help her and how were going to improve the situation. And I think particularly because of some of the COVID issues, and people working remotely, and there’s a lot of people that are not in person. It’s obviously harder to engage with people. You still got piece and parts of the company that are moving in different directions.

Leif Babin (00:59):

She had her focus on that strategic growth that she needed to. As we were digging into this, it was pretty clear too, that this leader was very focused on efficiency, and really wanted us to just understand, build relationships for her team. I was talking to her, I was like, “Listen, I can interview your team, or we can certainly focus a training effort. We can run that, but I can’t build relationships with you, with the team.”

Leif Babin (01:34):

There were some fairly new people on board the team as well. There’s some element that’s just… You’re never going to be able to delegate some element of, “Okay, this is who I am. I need to get to know you, and we need to move forward together so we know each other, we have a relationship.” And I talked a lot about our relationship. And so many of the things that we were able to do and be successful in Task Unit Bruiser, was just based on the strength of our relationship, moving forward.

Leif Babin (02:06):

So you initially had very tight reigns over me, and provided a lot of guidance and mentorship, to the point where I was super frustrated, and I talked to her about this. I was frustrated. I felt like Jocko was micromanaging me, and yet when we deployed, after we’ve been working together for about a year, your guidance to me in Ramadi was often. “Hey, this battalion, TF13, Task Force 137, the bandits, they’re going to have the lead ongoing into south-central Ramadi. Why don’t you go talk to their company commanders to see where we can help them?”

Leif Babin (02:39):

And that was the broad guidance you’re giving me, which I’m coming back to you, in this gigantic operation with a thousand soldiers and 50 tanks, and all kinds of giant engineering vehicles and support. And I’m telling you, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to support here, or here, here.” You would look over those plans and tweak things or say, “Hey, why don’t we… Want you to take some more guys here. We can put some more resource here.” You could guide those plans, but you gave me massive free rein to run with that, because you knew I was going to… The decisions I was going to make. And we had a relationship. You trusted me to be able to execute, and I trusted you to know that I understood what your vision was, what the strategic goal was.

Leif Babin (03:24):

That’s what I talked to this leader about. I told her, “Look, you just can’t delegate building relationships. It’s really important that you do that. We’ll interview these folks, we’ll actually talk about where strengths and weaknesses are. We’ll figure out where we can best drive some lift in your company with solving some problems through leadership, with a Leadership Development Alignment Program, the LDAP program that Dave runs. But I can’t delegate the relationship building.”

Jocko Willink (03:54):

What was the difference between… What was the indicator that told you that she wasn’t asking for just an assessment, which is what we do all the time.

Leif Babin (04:04):


Jocko Willink (04:05):

We go into a company, we’re going to interview everyone. We’re going to find out what’s going on. We’re going to interview frontline people, we’re going to interview mid-level managers, we’re going to interview the folks in the C-suite, and everybody in between. Well, not everybody between, but a cross-section of people. What gave you the indication that this was more an attempt to outsource relationship building? What was it in the verbiage or in the conversations that clued you into that?

Leif Babin (04:30):

The verbiage was, “I don’t have time. I just don’t have time for this.” And-

Jocko Willink (04:37):

That’s a pretty clear verbiage.

Leif Babin (04:39):

Yeah. It was obviously, “Look, we all get busy and we all have to… We all get pulled in a lot of different directions.” And I think that’s always the hard part if… You and I’ve wrestled with this as we launched Echelon Front nine years ago, when you’re down the [inaudible 00:04:58] trying to get problem solved, and you realize, “Hey, we wanted to move in a strategic direction, but we’re not going that way.” Someone has to do that, and that’s important.

Leif Babin (05:04):

So it was great that she was focused on strategic growth, and that’s awesome, but as you have said many times, “You got to make time for the things that are important.” And you just can’t delegate building relationships with people to say, “Hey, get to know that person. Understand who they are, understand their… Know their families. You got to be close with your troops.”

Leif Babin (05:28):

I mean, as we talk about that kind of leadership, close with your troops, but not so close that they become… one becomes more important than the other, or the good of the mission. But you have to be close with your troops. You have to know them, you have to understand them. And I think that’s just one of the… Your team is never going to be successful, if you don’t do that. You have to make time to do them.

Jocko Willink (05:51):

Yeah, it’s interesting. The podcast, the Jocko Podcast that we just did, number 151. General Clark is this renowned leader. And he breaks down for a company commander, and a platoon leader. The most important thing… He uses a quote from Valley Forge, “The most important thing was to build that bond, to love and take care of your troops.” When someone chimes in with, “I ain’t got time.” That’s going to be an issue. That’s going to be an issue. Leadership Strategy and Tactics? Here’s a quote, “Relationships up and down the chain of command are the foundation of a team.” There you go, so that’s good.

Leif Babin (06:42):

We talk about that cover move as well. How do you cover move for each other? You have to have relationships. Relationships are paramount. And if you don’t have relationships, you can’t cover move with each other. That’s what drives the entire thing. And as to quote the great Jocko Willink, “Relationships are stronger than the chain of command.” The power of relationships is even stronger than you as my boss saying, “Leif, I order you to go do this.” Far more important, just to have a good relationship with me to say, “Hey, I need you to do this, and here’s why.”

Jocko Willink (07:16):

Think about the difference. If you think about that direct contrast, think about the strength of my directive as your superior officer versus the strength of my directive as your brother that wants to help you win and we have a strong relationship. Those two things are not even. They’re so far distant from each other. They’re almost unrecognizable. They’re almost unrecognizable.

Jocko Willink (07:44):

Me, the commander ordering you to do something. The strength of that order is pitiful compared to the strength of a bond, of an execution based on relationship. You can’t even compare the two, you can’t even compare them. That’s good advice. Hopefully, she heeded your advice and started to build some relationships. I would-

Leif Babin (08:13):

I think so.

Jocko Willink (08:14):

What’s the next one?

Leif Babin (08:15):

The next one is about tactical patience. We had a leader that was in a tough situation with the company and he was offered… His boss suddenly left the company, and it was unexpected, I think not only for him, so his boss is leaving, but his boss’s boss was in a tough predicament. All of a sudden, this is a key leader that’s been running the organization for a while, and all of a sudden another opportunity comes up and this key leader in their organization is gone.

Leif Babin (08:55):

And they’re going through a tough time. They’re in a pivotal time right now. This company is… They’re a good company and they’ve got some great people, but they’re obviously… They have been impacted severely by COVID lockdowns and some of the economic issues that we’ve been dealing with here in 2020. It was a very tumultuous situation. They’re like, “Man, this is terrible! This is horrible!”

Leif Babin (09:20):

So this leader reached out and said, “Hey, I want to step up and take on that role. I can step up and make this happen. I want to go talk to…” Now it’s the boss’s boss. His immediate boss left. It’s the boss’s boss, now that’s the big boss. “Man, I’m going to go talk to the big boss, man, and make sure that I’m going to step into that role. I’m going to make things happen.”

Leif Babin (09:47):

And I told him, “Look, man. You got to exercise some tactical patience here. Obviously, the last thing you want to do is rush right into that situation. They just got thrown a massive curve ball. A key leader just got pulled out of organization. We’re already struggling. They get a lot on their plate. They’re probably thinking about the strategic survival of the company at this point. You going in and trying to lobby for a leadership position, it’s probably not the right time to do that. Number one. Number two, try to understand the strategic perspective of the big boss, and where this company’s going to go and what his thoughts are.”

Leif Babin (10:31):

I was like, “Exercise some tactical patience.” And that’s some of the term we used in the military. It’s one of the hardest things to do, because I’m a pretty default aggressive person. We talk about being default aggressive. You got to make things happen. Seize the initiative. Problems don’t solve themselves, you got to go out and solve those problems.

Leif Babin (10:48):

It’s very hard to balance that dichotomy of, “Hey, sometimes you got to exercise some tactical patience.” And that means I’m going to wait and let things develop before I actually make the call to move the team in the direction, so talk to that leader about that. And he listened to the advice, and understood it and waited and just started playing the long game by building some relationships, seeing where he could help in that situation and eventually, about a couple months down the road, the opportunity to step in that role was offered.

Jocko Willink (11:25):

What made you lean towards giving the advice of, “Hey, would you just take it easy?” What made you lean in that direction versus going, “Hey, opportunity’s there? Roll in there and go default aggressive and let’s make this happen.” What was it that indicated you in the situation to take a less aggressive approach?

Leif Babin (11:49):

I think what drove that guidance was, understanding that the company was in a tough situation already. And that there was probably some real strategic decisions that had to get made. And that filling that role immediately was not going to be a priority. That was pretty clear, I think from my detached perspective, because we see that a lot we’re leaders.

Jocko Willink (12:16):

So because you assessed that that role might not even get replaced. I mean look, during COVID somebody leaves, you’re like, “Cool. We just took a big payroll off there. We just took a big chunk of pay off of our overhead.” You’re thinking, “Hey, it’s probably not a good time to waste leadership capital, trying to jump up and yell, ‘Hey, pick me, pick me.'”

Leif Babin (12:43):

Leadership capital is exactly why, and that’s a great way of capturing it. Because, in my mind, it was very clear that what he needed to do was build a better relationship with the big boss. Like, “Hey boss, where can I support? I’m standing by.” Like, “I’m standing by, what do you need?”

Jocko Willink (13:01):

Think about the difference of what you think of these two people. One person says, “Hey, boss, I want that job. Pick me.” The other boss… The other individual says, “Hey boss, this is a tough time. What can I do to support?” Think about those two people and how you view them. And it’s so obvious when you take that step back and you put yourself into the shoes of your boss and you see your boss’ perspective. It makes the answer very clear, because we all know that the person that comes out looking for “Me, me, me” instead of looking for “Team, team, team, how can I help?”

Jocko Willink (13:38):

We don’t want that person to… Does that mean you don’t show any initiative and you don’t ever say, “Hey, I got this.” I’ll tell you what, I would much rather show you that I want to step up and lead than tell you I want to step up and lead. 10 times over. I’d much rather… If I got two people working for me, and there’s a leadership opportunity, and one person tells me they want to lead, the other person starts taking ownership and leading. It’s a no brainer who I’m going to pick. Once again, that’s some solid advice.

Leif Babin (14:13):

I was just going to say, what you’re saying there is, it’s tactical versus strategic. The tactical is, “Hey, I might get this job. Let me lobby to get myself in that position.” Even if that you might think that’s the best for the team versus strategic thinking, “Hey, let me demonstrate that I’m here to support the team and it’s going to be pretty clear. Through my success, I’ll earn the opportunity to take that position or I won’t. And if I don’t earn it, then that’s on me.”

Jocko Willink (14:39):

Don’t hire me.

Leif Babin (14:40):

But thinking strategically, obviously, is going to set you up for success every time. Well, you got asked that question at Muster last year at one of our Musters, “When should I be thinking tactically? Or when should I be thinking strategically?

Jocko Willink (14:55):

And I gave the overly hostile answer of you should be thinking strategically all the time. Got fired up for that one. This also reminds me of a chapter in Leadership Strategy and Tactics. The title of the chapter is, “Don’t Go Overboard, Rambo.” You want to be a leader. That’s great, but don’t be offensive about it. What does that mean? It means don’t run around saying, “I’m the leader, I’m the leader. I’m in charge. Listen to me. I’ll make the decisions.”

Jocko Willink (15:27):

That attitude will offend many people. It’s the equivalent of, “Look at me, I’m important.” And it doesn’t go over well. Rambo might be a cool movie character, but charging out alone, without regard for others, doesn’t work in a team environment. There you go. Got to watch out for that one. Don’t go overboard, Rambo. Which is, by the way, Rambo is a very derogatory term to call someone in the SEAL Teams. “Hey, what are you doing over there, Rambo?” That’s how it gets used. You don’t go, “Dude, nice work, Rambo.” Sorry there, John J. Rambo.

Leif Babin (16:04):

Although we did… Marc Lee often quoted, “Rambo, what mean expendable?”

Jocko Willink (16:13):

All right, my turn here. Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about culture being the ultimate form of decentralized command. I know that I talked about it when we were at Gettysburg. I know I’ve talked about it at EF Online, and what’s awesome about culture is, it’s the ultimate form of decentralized command. If my organization has a strong culture, then everyone can make decisions just based on the understanding of that culture, and that’s awesome. That’s awesome.

Jocko Willink (16:50):

Now, if you go a little bit stronger, a really strong culture can actually develop into something that I’ve read that is officially called peer discipline, which I didn’t used to call it peer discipline. I guess that’s the official politically correct term. The term that I’ve always used, and I’m sure you’ve heard me say this, is gang mentality. And what’s positive about having a strong culture and what’s positive about peer discipline, and what’s positive about a gang mentality is that the gang polices itself.

Jocko Willink (17:28):

That’s what’s awesome about having a strong gang mentality inside of a team. Is that the gang actually polices itself. It takes care of itself. It’s a self-policing organization. When someone was late in Task Unit Bruiser, I didn’t ever say anything to anyone for being late because the gang tightened them up. If someone forgot a piece of gear for an important operation, I didn’t ever have to say a word, because the gang tightened them up.

Jocko Willink (18:03):

If somebody did something that denigrated the team, the latoon, the Task Unit, I didn’t have to say a word, because the gang would handle the problem, because we had this culture. And as a leader, that’s what you want. Because as we lead, we want to be leading by minimum force, by the minimum force required. Every time you have to open your mouth to reprimand somebody, you actually lose leadership capital. Even a little tiny thing, even a little tiny thing. Any time you have to correct someone, you expend leadership capital.

Jocko Willink (18:53):

We want to have that gang mentality. Then the question becomes, “How do we create that culture?” It’s very hard to script and create a culture and impose it on people. It’s very difficult. It will take generations to pull that off, in my opinion. But if you can have it developed in an organic manner, that will take hold tighter. Now, make no mistake, just because I’m saying you can’t impose it on people, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come from you because it does.

Jocko Willink (19:28):

And what’s awesome about this, when I say it comes from you, I mean, you. And it doesn’t matter where you are in the chain of command. You are in charge of culture. Leif, I hear you talking about this sometimes. I will say, “I was never in a bad SEAL Platoon.” First of all, people got to understand that there is such a thing as a bad SEAL Platoon. And it might not be that they’re a total disaster, but they’re not a tight unit, and they don’t do a good job. They do an okay job, they’re acceptable, but they’re not what you want. They’re not how you want it to be.

Jocko Willink (20:01):

And that’s because in every platoon I was in, I always had a little gang of guys. And no, I’m not just talking about me. I’m talking that I hung around with good guys and we created this culture. And when you have that good culture, it’s a powerful thing, but culture isn’t one big monolithic singular structure. It’s not one person. It’s more like a field, like a giant field made up of individual blades of grass. But you take that whole field, and I’m coming back from being out west and you see these majestic fields.

Jocko Willink (20:41):

And that thing, when you see all those blades of grass unified together, that thing has power, that thing has energy, and that thing has strength. And every one of those blades of grass actually matters, just like every person inside of an organization matters. If you are part of a team, then you actually set the culture. I don’t care where you are. And we always hear the quote, “Leading by example.” We always hear that quote, “You got to lead by example.” But that is especially true when we’re talking about culture. Because how we behave, and what we actually do… what we actually do, how we behave and what we actually do is the root of culture.

Jocko Willink (21:32):

And if we can set the right culture and we can thereby imply the right intent, then we can have people making decisions with no guidance whatsoever. With no guidance whatsoever. You mentioned on the podcast we just did that my goal is to go out on an operation and not say a damn word. And that was my goal. Because if we’re pulling that off, that means everybody understands the culture and everybody already knows the right thing to do, so we have to pay attention to that when we’re part of a team.

Jocko Willink (22:12):

But on top of that, there’s another place where you set the culture and that is in yourself. You set culture in the way you behave in yourself. The things that you actually do. What you allow yourself to be. The words you speak, the things you say and the things you don’t say, that sets the culture in your head, in your mind, and in your life. So pay attention. Pay attention to those little things. Pay attention to every little blade of grass in your head. Pay attention on what you do. Not just to make your culture better, or your team better, but to make yourself better. Probably a good place to stop. And if you… Well, anything on that?

Leif Babin (23:37):

It’s not what you preach, but what you tolerate. That’s exactly what we wrote in Extreme Ownership and that is what… That’s driving the culture. You’re maintaining the standards, but obviously the hardest place to apply that, the most important place is yourself. And if you are setting that standard, that’s just the way it’s going to be. And we had that in Task Unit Bruiser, because you set that at the very top of the organization, and it was something we all took great pride in.

Leif Babin (24:04):

“Hey man, are we going to stay up all night and get this thing done?” “Yeah, if that’s what it takes, we’ll do it.” No factor. That’s not even a question. We don’t need to ask you if that’s what we’re going to do. “Hey, Jocko, we just got tasked with this target package here. Should we just hang out and do nothing and just start planning about tomorrow night?” We didn’t even ask the question because we knew what the answer was. We knew what the right call was. You set that tone and we were able to make those decisions.

Jocko Willink (24:34):

I got very lucky in the fact that, when I was young and I watched the leaders above me. And I watched them very acutely with a critical eye. I watched when they were late. I watched when they were… when they forgot a piece of gear. I watched when their face revealed the negative attitude. I watched those things. I tracked those things. And when I got into a leadership position, I could feel those eyes. I could feel those eyes because I knew what those eyes were. I knew who they were.

Jocko Willink (25:26):

And that is the thing that I always had and still have in the back of my mind. If you’ve got people on your team that are counting on you, they’re watching so you’ve got to do the right things. Anything else? Probably a good place, that was a good place to stop. And listen, if you’re out there and you want to dig deeper into all aspects of leadership, in any arena, you can join Leif, and myself and the rest of the Echelon Front Team at, where we solve problems through leadership.

Jocko Willink (26:17):

We have courses on there that you can take. We get granular on these various principles that we utilize in combat, and that we help organizations utilize all the time, every day. So there’s courses on there. There’s also live Q&A’s. There’s other little seminars that we do on certain subject matters. What else? What else is there? We have-

Leif Babin (26:42):

We got The Brigade, which is our member-only leadership forum, which is awesome. You not only can engage with me or Jocko or any of the Echelon Front instructor team, but with leaders from all over the world. From pretty much all industries you can imagine, to really help solve problems, which is awesome.

Jocko Willink (26:58):

And you know what? I haven’t been talking about much and I feel bad because it’s just such a powerful tool is… Look, EF Online is open to enterprise clients. If you’ve got a company, there is ground zero for moving your company in the right direction. Ground zero is having a common language to discuss leadership and problems of leadership and solutions of leadership. Right out of the gate, if you’ve got a company of 50 people, or 500 people, or 5,000 people, let’s get them aligned. Let’s get everyone on the same sheet of music, of what it means to be a leader. I know I haven’t been talking about that very much and we’ve got some of our…

Jocko Willink (27:41):

The reason I’m thinking about this is, some of our enterprise clients and just seeing them get that alignment, is just a powerful thing. If you want to do that, we got enterprise options. If you’re just an individual out there that wants to improve your leadership, just go to and check that out. We also have a leadership consultancy, where we come into your organization, which we do physically and virtually. Is that the right word? Do we debate the virtually word?

Leif Babin (28:09):

We did debate that for a while. You didn’t like virtual initially, but it’s a pretty commonly used term that we’re-

Jocko Willink (28:16):

Well, actually- [crosstalk 00:28:16]

Leif Babin (28:16):

Not doing it to person, but through the internet.

Jocko Willink (28:17):

I think that’s what you were trying to explain to me, in 19 different ways, into my hard head was, “Hey, Jocko, what you’re trying to explain is called virtual training.” We do it virtually. We also come in, go into businesses. We will work with every level of your chain of command. We’ll do an assessment. We’ll interview people. We’ll find out where the friction points are, and we will help you solve those friction points through leadership.

Jocko Willink (28:43):

Also, I have a bunch of books, on the subject of leadership, Extreme Ownership, The Dichotomy of Leadership, and Leadership Strategy and Tactics. Got some other podcasts. I got a podcast called Jocko Podcast. Another podcast called, Jocko Unraveling. I unravel those words in my mouth. We got a podcast called Grounded, and 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 Leif and Jocko, out.

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