How To Get a New Team On Track as a New Leader. How to Align Departments.

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #20

Home 9 The Debrief 9 How To Get a New Team On Track as a New Leader. How to Align Departments.



The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #20:

Taking on a new leadership role. Trying to get the new team “on track” when they’re working on the “wrong stuff”.


How to align two different departments.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

This is the Jocko Debrief Podcast, episode 20 with Dave Berke and me, Jocko Willink. And what we do on this podcast is we debrief Some of the things that we see through our company Echelon Front, where we work with a wide variety of companies and we help them with their leadership. It also is from our online training platform. We have an online leadership training platform called Extreme Ownership Academy, which is way good. It’s so good. We’re on there all the time. We do a bunch of live interactions. So some of these are from Q&A’s. We do a lot of live Q&A’s on there and we get questions from clients, from people that are members of Extreme Ownership Academy. So some of this is from that. And also, we change the details enough so that we’re not breaking our secrecy with our clients. So if you’re hearing us thinking, “I wouldn’t want those guys talking about whatever advice he’s given me,” you don’t know who we’re talking about because we change them enough that you don’t know, that one knows. They don’t even know.

Jocko Willink (01:12):

So that’s what we do. We debrief. This originally started because Dave and I would have conversations about clients that we’re working with and Dave would debrief me as what was happening. I would debrief him. And one day I said, “Hey, let’s get Echo to press record and make this into something where everybody can learn.” So there you go. That’s what we’re doing. So Dave, let’s debrief. What do you got?

Dave Berke (01:38):

Avoid asserting your authority on day one and remember that leaders are put in those positions of leadership not to drop the hammer and tell people what to do but to actually help your team win. So here’s the situation. Just like you said, we’re working with a company and there’s an individual that I just started interacting with who has recently been promoted from individual contributor to a supervisor. So she’s part of this company. She is at another location. She works in a department that does some research and she’s just been promoted to become a supervisor of a research team. And part of that promotion is she’s actually moving to a new location to work in a similar role but now as a supervisor of the team. So she’s in an individual contributor role, now she’s becoming a supervisor but at a different location inside the company.

Dave Berke (02:31):

She doesn’t know anybody on this team personally, she knows what they do because it’s a research team, she’s familiar with the overall mission, but new location, new place, all new people. She’s a pretty experienced researcher. And in our initial conversation, what she was explaining was she knows this team that she’s taking over isn’t working on the right priorities and they aren’t working on the right projects.

Jocko Willink (02:53):

She said she knows that?

Dave Berke (02:54):

She knows that. I know what they’re working on and it’s not the right things. And so when we talked, she explained…

Jocko Willink (02:59):

Red flag. [crosstalk 00:03:02]

Dave Berke (03:01):

There’s a red flag there. And she explained that she also wants them to know that she’s experienced. She’s got a lot of time in that research role and she knows what she’s doing. So you could probably put a second red flag down there. And another thing too is she wants them to shift the very quickly away from the research projects that aren’t really useful for the company and to start working on the right projects that she wants to get completed. So that’s the background of the situation of this newly promoted supervisor about to take over this new team. And the initial conversation was, “Hey, this is what’s going on with this new team. How do I introduce myself quickly to get them to work in the things that I know that they need to be working on?” Make sense?

Jocko Willink (03:44):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dave Berke (03:44):

So obviously we’ve got some issues here that we want to resolve because what we want this new supervisor to do is actually put herself in a position to be successful with this new team at this company. Listen, as a supervisor, could you show up in day one and start telling your team what to do? You could. You could do that and they might actually listen to you but that’s not a good plan. And it’s certainly not a good plan in the long run. So we talked a little bit about, “Hey, as the boss, if you show up and you’re now the boss and you start telling people what to do and telling them what they did wrong, will they listen to you?” And the truth is that they might. They might. At least at first you might get some initial movement that they will start to listen to you.

Dave Berke (04:27):

But I asked her, I said, hey, listen, if you show up on day one and the first thing you do to introduce yourself is to tell your new team, I’ve got a ton of experience in research. They’re working on the wrong things and you are going to fix what they’ve been doing, how will that go over? And she just left another research team where she’s an individual contributor. And I asked her, what if a new supervisor came to that team and did that thing to you? And listen, in her defense, she very quickly understood; yes, that probably if the roles were reversed, that will not go over all that well. And then we started to talk a little bit about to try to solve this thing is what is she really trying to accomplish? Because when we were talking, I agree, you want your people working on the right things.

Dave Berke (05:13):

You want them researching the right projects that makes them make the most impact and if they’re not working on those things, you want to as quickly as you can get them working on those right projects. So there could be an issue here that we want to solve. And the question really is for her is, how as a new leader, how do you make that happen? I think the first perspective for her to think about and what we talked about was the first thing she wants to make sure is that she actually does understand. So it’s one thing to be down at another location. It’s a totally different state, by the way, to say, I know what’s going on up there. I know what they’re doing and I know what they’re doing is wrong. And it’s another thing to go up there and actually get a little bit of lay of the land and realize, is my perspective from down there really correct? So maybe the first thing is just figure out what’s going on. Get up there and start to see what projects they’re working on.

Dave Berke (05:59):

And more importantly, why are they working on these projects that from your perspective, appear to be the wrong things? What’s going on? And one of the things she could start to do as soon as she gets up there, introduce herself and just start to sit. And they do essentially daily and weekly meetings on the projects, the project status, upcoming funding, things like that to get these projects going. She can just sit and listen to what’s going on. And what she might find is there might be some things that actually make sense. They might be working on some projects that are good projects. And the other thing she could figure out is how do they decide what projects to work on? And if something doesn’t make sense, instead of telling, this doesn’t make sense. You shouldn’t be doing this, you could do something you talk about all the time, is you could ask some of his questions and say, how did you guys come to this conclusion?

Dave Berke (06:44):

What, between these two projects, since you pick one, what was the process you used to end up picking this over that one to figure out why are they making some of the decisions that they’re making? And by listening, by paying attention and maybe asking some questions, she will probably have a better sense of what’s going on than what she thinks is happening from down there. And the truth is that she’s probably going to find that she’s wrong about a few things. Her perspective isn’t going to be right. And I mention obviously, is it possible that she’s shows up and she’s 100% correct? Yeah.

Jocko Willink (07:16):

Yeah. Is it possible that she shows up, she’s a 100% right and this group that’s been there for however long is completely focused on the wrong things and don’t know what they’re doing?

Dave Berke (07:24):

It is possible but it’s unlikely.

Jocko Willink (07:28):

It’s definitely, it’s almost certainly not going to be 100%. They might be a couple degrees off. They might even be 90 degrees off where they should be going. But they’re not going to be 180 degrees out.

Dave Berke (07:40):

So if she walks in, she determines already what’s going on. She knows the reality, she demands their compliance; this is the way we’re going to do things. These are things we’re going to do. And she elevates herself above her team. And I even wrote down, if she tells them the truth about what’s really going on at that team…

Jocko Willink (07:59):

The truth in quotes.

Dave Berke (08:01):

In quotes. Exactly right.

Jocko Willink (08:02):

This is my truth.

Dave Berke (08:03):

My truth.

Jocko Willink (08:03):

This is my truth and I’m going to impose on all. This is my truth that I’m going to impose on you. This is my truth that I’m about to smash you in the face with. And this is also my truth that I am going to prove to everyone here that I am the superior being that wields the truth.

Dave Berke (08:15):

Yes, yes.

Jocko Willink (08:16):

And how do people like that? Not very much.

Dave Berke (08:18):

And the question was, if you do that, what will you be left with? What will you have at the end of that? And what you’re going to have is a bad relationship. You’re going to have less trust. You’re going to have less respect. And in the end, what you’re going to have is less influence over your team, which is really what she wants. She wants to influence them in the right direction, which if you have no influence as a leader, your team’s going to fail. But if she took a slightly different perspective and rather than by wielding the truth, she actually showed up and through her leadership and something that I love the way you described, through some oscillating perspective, seeing it from a different point of view, asking those earnest questions. If they actually come to the conclusion, maybe this project isn’t the right project. Maybe the way we made this decision could actually be better. And they come to the conclusion they need to change, what do you have in this case? Now you got a team that you require almost no force to influence.

Dave Berke (09:20):

Not only are they on board with making the changes you want happen, they’re the ones initiating the change. And that minimum force to get the team to figure out for themselves doesn’t just help them; it helps her because it gives her more influence over time. It increases that trust. And so what we agreed upon was the introduction, when she introduces to herself to her team, should be just that. Just an introduction. “Hey, it’s great to be here. I’m really honored to be in this new position. I’m really honored to be part of this team. It was great moving up here. I’m really looking forward to getting to know all of you and what you all do.” And start to look around, start to listen, start to ask those earnest questions and help and discover what needs to be done. That’s the first big change; not only change perspective, but the first big move that I think she needs to make.

Dave Berke (10:06):

We actually just had this conversation pretty recently. We usually like to talk about the outcome and this, I would say this is a work in progress. Now the good thing is she’s already to initial conversation and I think doing exactly that was a good thing, but here’s what’s interesting about this is that she’s a young and a relatively new leader and she is excited and she’s fired up. And as you think about it, I was thinking about in that one of my early leadership roles, those first leadership roles, those tactical wins seem so appealing, that that vision they’ve talked about, I’m going to get up there and I’m going to direct my team and point them in that direction and tell them what they need to be done and I’m going to lead my team. It looks so good. It looks so appealing. But it doesn’t work.

Jocko Willink (10:51):

Strategic loser.

Dave Berke (10:52):

It’s a strategic loser. So if you’re in a new leadership role, read Leadership Strategy and Tactics and remember your [crosstalk 00:10:59]

Jocko Willink (10:58):

Page 157, 158.

Dave Berke (11:00):

Boom. Your job is to help the team, not to tell them what to do. So she’s on the right track and I think we’re moving in the right direction. This will be a work in progress.

Jocko Willink (11:08):

This is so important and so shocking and so beautiful to see. As soon as I see the word I know what I’m doing. I know they’re working on the wrong projects. It’s actually funny because one of the things I wanted to talk about was the opposite of that. The opposite of that. Look, sometimes on these little debrief podcasts, I start going deep on some stuff. But this isn’t that deep. This is something that is totally pragmatic. And it’s a simple phrase and it’s the opposite of, I know. And it’s real simple; the phrase is, I don’t know. And “I don’t know” is an incredibly powerful phrase and it’s a phrase that it seems like it’s going to make you weak. It seems like it’s going to make you feeble. It seems like it’s going to make you inadequate. And you’re going to feel weak and feeble and inadequate. But if you truly understand it, it’s a powerful phrase that gives you incredible power. That is the phrase, “I don’t know.”

Jocko Willink (12:12):

It’s a phrase that we can barely get out of our mouth because our ego will hang onto that phrase and doesn’t want anyone to hear it. We never want to admit that we don’t know something. We don’t even want to admit it to ourselves. We don’t even want to say, I’m really not sure about that. We definitely don’t want to admit it to anybody else. So we avoid saying it. We avoid saying, I don’t know. When I got to the SEAL teams, you didn’t have your Trident yet. You didn’t have your special warfare pin. You get through BUD/S and you go to a team and then you’re on probation and then you take an oral board and they tell you. They say, listen, if you could ask something on the oral board and you don’t know, what do you say? You say I don’t know. And if you don’t say that, you look like a jackass and you’re probably going to fail the freaking board.

Jocko Willink (12:59):

What you say is, I don’t know. I know there’s a manual that I can go research and find out, I’ll get back to you the right answer, which is fine. But on that SEAL oral board, they’re asking about diving and weapons and tactics and air ops and mar ops and SEAL history. And if you don’t know something, what you do is you say, I don’t know. When I started getting interviewed, like doing interviews, podcast interviews or even television interviews, I wasn’t nervous because I was totally ready to be like, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer to that is.” I was totally ready to say that. And so there’s no reason for me to be nervous because they could never ask me something that was going to make me look bad because the worst case scenario, I’d say, I don’t know.

Jocko Willink (13:39):

So I don’t know is humble. Saying, I don’t know is open-minded. You know what’s not humble? Saying I know. You know what’s not open-minded? Saying I know. You know what doesn’t invite other people’s opinions? Is saying I know. Sometimes I say that, we’re in an argument. If you have a different opinion than me and I say I know what the right thing to do is, we’re not even having a discussion anymore, we’re having an argument because I already know. If you pretend you know and you think you’re going to fool anybody, you’re not.

Dave Berke (14:09):

Yeah. That’s what I was just going to say.

Jocko Willink (14:10):

Everybody can see right through your charade.

Dave Berke (14:12):

I can’t imagine you asking me a question, me not knowing and then what it would look like to you as I’m trying to answer the question, which is all I’m doing is telling you I don’t know. I can’t imagine what that looks like from you. How bad that looks.

Jocko Willink (14:23):

So bad. Everyone can see through your little charade. So get comfortable with saying, I don’t know. Get comfortable with saying, I don’t know, up and down the chain of command. When your subordinate ask you a question and you don’t know, you say, I don’t know. When your superior asks you a question and you don’t know, you say, I don’t know. When your peer asks you a question and you don’t know, you say, I don’t know. That will open up your mind. It’ll open up their mind. It’ll make them realize that you’re humble enough that you’re not going to try and pretend that you know everything and it is a bit of a superpower because if you can admit that you don’t know something, it allows you to then start trying to figure out what the right answer is. So try that a little bit. Instead of I know, try I don’t know. Oh, one last thing I want to say. Occasionally you get a team that is all jacked up.

Jocko Willink (15:16):

And if you are going to take over a team that’s all jacked up, you are probably going to use a more direct method. I took over a platoon one time that the platoon commander had been fired. Actually, the platoon wasn’t jacked up. The platoon commander was jacked up. I took over the platoon. I didn’t have to go in there and drop the hammer but I went in a little bit harder than I normally would have because you don’t get a platoon commander fired if it’s a good platoon functioning well. There’s got to be some problem there. So I went in a little bit more aggressively than I normally would have if I was just taking over a platoon after a deployment; they come back, I’m the new boss. Hey, guys. Nice to meet you. I went a little bit harder than that.

Jocko Willink (15:56):

And if it was a bad platoon, it wasn’t a bad platoon. It was actually a good platoon, but they had a bad leader. If it was a really bad platoon, yeah, I would come in there with a little bit more aggression. Now I’m not going to go in there with overwhelming firepower and make a bunch of enemies day one because you don’t know what the hell is going on. You don’t know why they’re bad. You don’t know what’s happening. So again, even in those situations, you could do pretty good going up Leadership Strategy and Tactics page 157, 158 and follow those rules.

Dave Berke (16:26):

The phrase min force required is such a critical thing. That doesn’t mean it’s the same level of force. It’s the minimum force that is required. And yeah, you sometimes need to ratchet that up, especially if there’s a time commitment or some other component that’s critical, but the bias should be is the least amount of force that you have to apply to your people. And in a case like this, with this leader and really in any role, even if it’s a dire situation that really needs some of your leadership right away, the best thing you can do is actually figure out what it is that you need to work on first. And the only way to know that for sure is to actually pay attention a little bit and look around at what’s going on. So you know where to apply that force.

Jocko Willink (17:03):

Yeah. All right. What do we got next?

Dave Berke (17:06):

All right. We talked about this a little bit. I bunch these together by design because sometimes big problems, big issues and organizations do not get solved over overnight and you have to play the long game, especially when you’re leading up the chain. That can take some time. So this is a situation that came from a client that came into one of our FTX’s. So not part of the LDAP program where we go with companies and stay with that company over time, we run an FTX program that JP leads where each company will send maybe one or two people and we’ll have 30 folks from 25 different companies; they’ll come and spend a couple days with us and we’ll spend some time with them. And this was an FTX client.

Jocko Willink (17:44):

Yeah. So what we do with those FTX’s is we have this really advanced laser tag system. That’s what it is. It’s really cool. It’s really advanced. And we have this advanced laser tag system. And so we teach the basic tactics but then we have the group go out and execute missions. And we do it in cool locations where we’ve got urban environments to run around in. And there’s a mission leader. There’s a subordinate leadership. We set up a quick chain of command that rotates through and you go out and execute missions. And you feel the pressure of what it’s like to make dynamic decisions in a changing environment very rapidly and you know what it feels like when you do it well and you learn what it feels like when you do it poorly. And these principles of leadership that we talk about all the time, when you go through the field training exercise, you can feel them and they get ingrained into your head.

Jocko Willink (18:48):

So that’s what the FTX is. So now here we are, we’re at the FTX. And as we get done with an iteration, so they’ll go out do a mission. We come back, we do a debrief every time. And when during that debrief, we connect what you just did in a simulated combat environment to how that relates to how this principle that you just failed on or that worked well for you, how it relates to your business or your life. That’s where we’re at. That’s what the FTX is.

Dave Berke (19:16):

Yeah. And what’s cool about that is you may show up and you’re going to be with 30 people. You might not know any of them. So you’re building relationships with really strangers out of the gate and very quickly the application of those principles, you see what works and what doesn’t very quickly. Of course, we debrief everyone and get that feedback, but a lot of times this is the client’s first interaction with us professionally. And a lot of times what we end up doing is we work with them after the fact. Or even while we’re there, we’ll do a debrief. We’ll spend some time after the FTX is over and talking to clients about the problems they’re having. And that’s really where this came from, was a client who came to the FTX, went to that whole program and was like, I’ve got this particular issue that I’m really trying to solve at work.

Dave Berke (19:55):

The situation that we had here with this client was he’s a sales executive at a tech company and his company is based in the US but it’s a company that’s actually owned by a larger company that’s headquartered in Europe that owns several different companies. So his is one of several companies that has a European larger firm that owns them. The way he described it is the incentive structure for the sales team at this company sometimes creates conflicts where the teams are pitted against each other. So this guy’s at an American company owned by a European company and the structure of this company is designed where the sales teams and they call it initial sales and recurring sales; they work against each other. So there’s some barriers here. First, initially you got some cultural barriers because you’re dealing with a European company and inside we have one sales team that says I’m going to bring in new business and they’re incentivized to bring in new business. And at the exact same…

Jocko Willink (20:54):

When you say cultural barriers, what are some of the cultural barriers that you’re talking about? Are you talking about we’re in a different time zone? Because the point that I want to make is that the European leadership is not saying, “Hey, we want to make less money.” “Hey, we want to have bad product.” “Hey, we don’t want to take care of our team.” So the culture, when you talk about the culture, it’s more like, do we have a language barrier? Sometimes that can make communication harder. Okay, that’s something. Do we have time zone differences? Do we also have, Hey, we’re over here and we’re moving in this direction a little bit and they’re over there and they want us to move in that direction? That’s an alignment thing. I’m just trying to figure out, are you talking actual cultural differences?

Dave Berke (21:41):

Yeah. I think a better way to describe it is how you communicate the issues you’re having inside of your company to that parent company would be different if it was just you and your company than it would be for a parent company that operates not just in a different time zone, has a different way of communicating and the way they expect that communication to go up and down the chain, is a little bit different.

Jocko Willink (22:03):

Yeah. And what we have to remember is that that cultural difference can happen between Milwaukee and New York City.

Dave Berke (22:10):


Jocko Willink (22:11):

My point here is sometimes people get wrapped around the cultural barriers and the frontline branch in Nebraska has a culture to it and the headquarters that’s in California has a culture to it. So I don’t want people to get wrapped around the point that, Hey, it’s a different culture. So therefore that’s this big barrier. That barrier exists everywhere. There’s a cultural barrier. You go to a SEAL platoon and the cultural in each SEAL platoon is different. This one’s super professional. This one’s a bunch of wild people. This one doesn’t want to work very much. This one wants to work all the time. There’s a cultural difference that is in each one of these organizations. I just don’t want people to get wrapped up around the fact that “My boss is from Europe,” or my boss is from South America,” or “My boss is from Canada.” Because you can have just as much of a cultural difference between, like I said, New York City and Milwaukee. And what you have to do is use good leadership to overcome those cultural barriers, whether they’re from a different continent or whether they’re from a different county.

Dave Berke (23:20):

Yeah, I like that. And as we finish the description of the situation that drives us back to this is a leadership problem. More than anything, this is a leadership problem. And even inside, the way the sales structure is designed and that design was already in place based on how this team was already structured. This new leader in this sales role, he’s got a team that goes out and tries to bring in new business, which makes perfect sense. He also has a team that’s designed to, once the business is there, to try to retain and keep that recurring business. The problem is they can only service just so many. So these teams are fighting against each other. Meaning if they had all new business, we’d lose recurring business and the company would struggle over time. And if we had all just recurring business and no new business, again, the company’s going to struggle over time. So what the question really is, we have a win-lose scenario here. What we really want to try to create is make some changes so this becomes a win-win scenario for the team.

Dave Berke (24:23):

But he also doesn’t have the latitude to just do what he wants. He can’t just change comp structure or just change the organization. He has to coordinate and lead up the chain. It happens to be, I think to your point, a European company, but he has to lead up the chain, whether that upstairs is literally upstairs in your own office or another continent, to your point. So the situation is how do we do that? And when we were talking about the solution, this was a cool setting because it was out in a public forum; after the overall debrief, there’s some people sitting around talking about this is the first thing you got to do is actually collect some data and get some facts. You have to actually figure out what is really going on here. When you say this new sales team is incentivized and if they bring in too many clients, it hurts the other team. We need to be able to quantify what that means because if you just look at it like that, it seems like, why is that bad to have to bring a new sale?

Dave Berke (25:16):

So you have to get some facts to support the goal, which is restructuring these sales teams and restructuring the incentives, which is going to change the way the company is organized. And having the facts and having the data and collecting that also by itself isn’t going to be the solution as well. It’s not the end of the problem. So the facts by themselves aren’t enough. We have to explain how these competing interests hurt the company. And you actually have to understand what it is that the company is trying to do. Why is it even set up like that? Because inside the way it’s set up now, there might actually be some real good reasons why it’s set up like this; why you have recurring sales, why you have new sales.

Dave Berke (26:00):

If you can understand what the competing interests are, understand what’s good about them, show that you’re actually trying to help the team, you might get a little bit of trust from maybe where this barrier is with this other organization recognizes you’re actually there to try to help them and help the team and by looking for things that you’re currently doing that are the right things, you might be able to bridge the gap by showing them some of the areas where you want to change. You want to be able to understand why it’s set up in the current format and then how you need to make changes over time to make the company be successful. That process unfortunately may take some time. And part of it is he was really frustrated. He saw it as a certain way, it should be like this and we should make this change immediately. And part of what you’re describing is, this isn’t going to be an immediate change.

Dave Berke (26:49):

You’re not going to be able to just have the outcome that you want by saying, Hey, boss, look at this. This is wrong. This is wrong. These are the changes and we want to do that. So the key takeaway was you’re going to have to play a strategic game. You’re going to have to be patient. And I think the piece that fit in when we typically talk about what the outcome’s going to be, again, this is one that doesn’t have the outcome that’s set in stone, is one of the best things that this person can do is make sure his boss who’s really a conduit between his organization and the parent organization, understands what’s going on and why and you his support as well because we’re not there to tell our parent company everything they’re doing wrong.

Dave Berke (27:29):

We’re actually there to try to help them be successful and if you can get your leadership to understand, “Hey boss, I’m noticing some under-performance over here. I want to spend a little time digging into maybe a better way to do this. Are you good with me doing a little bit of more work figuring how we’re operating here and maybe suggesting a couple changes that we might be able to make to get more efficient?” If you build a little advocacy up the chain, you actually get a little bit more influence over time. So this is, again, I think leading up the chain. When you think strategically, it often takes longer than you want it to take. But you have to not just get the information to get the data, but you actually have to build a relationship up the chain so they’re going to listen to things you have to say when you want them to listen to you.

Jocko Willink (28:12):

Yeah. Notes that I took while you were talking and explaining these things was, the only thing that I had information warfare because that’s what this is. I had knowledge because you’ve got to understand what’s actually happening. I had relationships. The only thing that I had that you mentioned but you didn’t say the word was performance. If you’re crushing, people listen to you. That’s part of your relationship building. If my sales team is crushing and doing all kinds of great sales, then when I speak up, my boss listens to me. And I even tell that to my team, “Hey guys, we don’t like the way these incentives are right now. Guess what? In order to get a relationship where I can have some influence, we need to crush them. I know the incentives aren’t the way we want them to be. But if we’re going to get them changed, we got to perform to earn the right to make some changes.”

Dave Berke (29:02):

Yeah. That finally should have been the first thing because when we talk about being influential in an organization, usually one of the best things you can do and probably the first thing to do is do your job really, really well.

Jocko Willink (29:11):

Do your job really, really well. Hey, even when you get told to do something that maybe doesn’t make the most sense, cool. I’m going to just dominate at that. I’m just going to do unbelievably good job, so that way my boss will listen to me. That’s a good plan. And these things, like you said, they take time but there is no way that if this information is correct, which there could be some things that we don’t know about. There could be some things that the individual that wants these changes, there could be some things that he doesn’t know about but there’s no way that I, as a CEO or a chief sales officer or chief revenue officer, am going to say, “Oh, I’ve got these people and they’re taking business from each other.” That’s not what I’m going to want. “Oh, if I have a system set up where we have no recurring revenue, I’m going to change it.” “If I have a system set up where I have no new revenue, I’m going to change it.”

Jocko Willink (30:07):

So you just have to capture that information. You have to make sure everyone understands it. You have to make sure you understand why it’s like that and then you’re going to be able to make some adjustments. Anything else on that one?

Dave Berke (30:19):


Jocko Willink (30:20):

Cool. My turn?

Dave Berke (30:21):


Jocko Willink (30:23):

So I’m actually a little nervous about what I’m about to say and the reason that I’m nervous about it is because I have been fighting a fight for a long time. For a long time, I have been fighting a fight. And I believe I’ve started to make some progress in this fight with people. I’m starting to hear people use it and say it back to me and this idea is the idea of getting people to utilize the indirect approach in the world and what they’re doing. And I’ve talked about it a bunch on Extreme Ownership Academy. You and I did, I think three freaking podcasts about it, about B. H. Liddell Hart, the strategy of the indirect approach. I wrote about it in Leadership Strategy and Tactics Field Manual. The fact that talking about it on Extreme Ownership Academy, talking about the fact that stabbing someone with a spirit of truth doesn’t help your case. Bludgeoning someone with the battle acts of your superior idea doesn’t convince them that it’s the best idea. Explaining to people that there’s no food that tastes good when it’s forced down your throat. All these statements are true.

Jocko Willink (31:41):

And what you do to not do those things is you take the indirect approach. And the indirect approach is the most powerful way to move things forward. And that’s true. It is true. And it’s hard for people to understand that. And even when we start releasing those podcasts, there is people that argue against it for a million different reasons, that it’s less efficient, “Why do I have to use this indirect strategy? Just go straight out.” Or it’s deceitful, “This is indirect. You’re not telling the truth about what’s happening. If you have a good relationship, you don’t need to do this stuff.” So there’s a million little reasons. And I’ve then gone back and explained why it’s not deceitful and explained why it actually ends up being more efficient explained why it encourages trust. And B. H. Liddell Hart does the same thing, But people want immediate gratification. And guess what? The closest distance between two points is a straight line and it’s best just to be direct. And it’s ignorant. But that’s what everybody tends toward on the surface because on the surface, it’s true.

Jocko Willink (32:48):

On the surface, hey, the closest distance between two points is a straight line, that’s what I’m going to do. So that’s what people do. That’s everyone has this natural instinct, this natural instinct to always use the direct approach. And we’ve been trying to get people to fight that natural instinct of using the direct approach and try and use the indirect approach. Always. Almost always. And this is why I’m scared to even say this. It’s almost always. Almost always. You see there’s times; there are times where the direct approach is more effective. There are times when you got to do a frontal assault. There are times when you got to kick in the front door. There’s times to confront a subordinate or confront a peer or confront a leader directly. There are times like that. And I hate to even say this because 99% of people are like, “Oh, cool. Yeah, that’s right. Thank God Jocko said this. Now I can go direct,” but it’s not. You’re in the wrong spot right now to do it. It is so rare that you should need to do this.

Jocko Willink (34:06):

It’s almost never that you need to do this. It’s almost never that you need to go direct. But there are sometimes that you do have to go direct. And what’s interesting about this is, it’s almost always going to be in conjunction with a series of indirect approaches and the failure of the indirect approach to work or the indirect approach softening defenses to a point where the direct approach works almost immediately and works tremendously. So we have a target we’re going to attack and we’ve been doing reconnaissance and we’ve been gathering Intel and we’ve conducted aerial flyovers and we’ve gathered signal intelligence, but we can’t confirm if the bad guy we’re looking for is there or not. We’ve done all these indirect methods. So you know what we do? At a certain point, you’re like, “Okay, we’re going to attack. We’re going to attack that target.” I’ve set up a move for jujitsu and I’m doing my little bathing and I’m pretending that I’m tired and I’m wanting them to take something and I’m wanting them to make this move and I can’t get the result I want.

Jocko Willink (35:14):

And guess what? The opponent just thinks I’m being defensive. And I’m just like, “Oh man, I’m tired.” And then all of a sudden, boom, I dive on a guillotine; direct attack. I’m going direct attack. It was after a series of indirect attacks but then it’s I’m going for the freaking guillotine. Or I’m in a meeting and I’m listening. And maybe I ask a couple honest questions and I listen some more and people, the team is confused or they’re arguing or they’re stalemated. I’ve asked questions already and I’ve listened but there’s no progress being made. And then I finally say, “All right, listen up. Here’s what we’re going to do.” You probably heard me do that before. You’ve heard me do that, where there’s a lot of conversation happening and I’ve been indirect 3, 4, 5 different approaches. And then it’s like, “Hey everyone, listen up. This is what we’re going to do.” You’ve seen me do that.

Dave Berke (36:17):

I have. Not a lot, but I have seen you do that. Absolutely.

Jocko Willink (36:21):

I’ve ended debates and discussions with a direct statement. No, no more questions. No more debate. No more empowering and waiting to see what people have to say. So there are times when the direct attack is…. Now, if you go out and jujitsu and you just try and start putting a guillotine on someone directly, they already know what you’re doing. You’re not going to get it. It’s not going to work. And if you go into a meeting and you say, “This is what we’re going to do,” it’s just like the woman that you talked about at the beginning of the podcast. She’s probably excited right now. See, Jocko said use the direct approach. I can go right in there and tell them that they’re focusing on the wrong thing. No, no, no and no. That’s why I’m so nervous about saying this. So nervous about saying this because it takes judgment and it takes fighting the tendency that we all have as human beings to go direct because what we have to do is we have save that direct attack until the moment that it’s actually going to work.

Jocko Willink (37:23):

And in all hope, you never have to do it. In all hope, you don’t have to use the direct attack. This comes back to having an open mind, an open mind that you can use the right tool at the right time. Because if you just say, “Nope, I’m never going to use the director attack,” I promise you there’s going to be some situations that occur that you have to be direct. But it’s so rare. It really and truly is so rare. It’s so rare that the indirect approach is completely ineffective. It can happen, perhaps there’s someone that’s defending that indirect approach. There’s someone that knows that you’re looking for that guillotine. They know that surprise is coming. They know that you’re setting it up and they don’t fall for it. So there are sometimes where you’re going to need to go direct. When you do, speed, surprise and violence of action, which is a saying from the SEAL teams, which is how you win in a fire fight. Speed, surprise and violence of action. I guess surprise is a little bit indirect but once it’s on, it’s on. Speed, surprise and violence of action.

Jocko Willink (38:42):

That’s why Dave, when you see me say a statement at the end of a meeting, that concludes the meeting with a way forward, that is what it is. The statement that I’m making. I’ve already thought. It’s already inescapable. I’ve already thought through it. I’ve thought of all the options. I’ve been listening to everyone. I see that we’re in a place where we’re not moving forward. Okay, speed, surprise, violence of action. Everyone’s like, “Oh. Damn, that makes sense. That’s what we’re doing.” And as soon as you’ve done that, as soon as you’ve gone direct, which I advise against as strongly as I possibly can, I advise against it. As soon as you go direct, then you immediately go back to the most effective and efficient way of winning which is the indirect approach. What do you think, Dave?

Dave Berke (39:31):

There was a small part of me that was like, “Man, so much progress has been made on the indirect.”

Jocko Willink (39:36):

So much progress has been made.

Dave Berke (39:37):

And I was like, hey, if you’re hearing this and you’re saying, “Okay, I know there’s a time for the direct approach,” then you’re going to convince yourself that this is the time, just like you’re saying. It’s not. And maybe a way to think of that is, hey, if I have to use the direct approach, all these other things haven’t worked as opposed to, yeah, I’m going to use the direct approach. But clearly what you’re saying is right because we even talk about I think you coined the phrase the hammer of truth. Listen, there are times to use a hammer when building a house or working. That is sometimes the right tool. But for me, what it has been is the recognition is that the time that I think that’s the right tool is far less common than I originally thought. And if you can keep that in mind, oh yes, yes, yes. There is a time to use a hammer. But man, the number of times to pick that hammer up is much, much smaller than you think.

Jocko Willink (40:30):

It is twice a year.

Dave Berke (40:34):


Jocko Willink (40:35):

It’s twice a year, maybe.

Dave Berke (40:39):

The times that I’ve heard you describe…

Jocko Willink (40:41):

I’m so sad that I’ve said this. I guarantee people are like, “Oh that’s right. This is the one time. This is it.” Whenever someone says to me, “I’m thinking about using the direct approach here,” I’m like, oh, okay. I know it’s wrong. I know it’s wrong. I haven’t had somebody where I’ve said, you need to just go direct. I haven’t said that to anybody. I think in my entire time as a leader, I’ve never said, you know what I think you need to do? I think you just need to go direct. Just go VFR direct. What’s VFR mean?

Dave Berke (41:13):

Visual flight rules. Nobody’s telling you, you just do whatever you want. You’re just like, I’m going direct to this point with no other inputs from anybody else.

Jocko Willink (41:20):

Yes. So we used to do that. We used to say that. Just go VFR direct, meaning, hey, look, I’m going to walk down to Dave’s office. I’m going to tell him what’s what. I’m going VFR direct to Dave.

Dave Berke (41:27):

I’m not routing this to the chain. I’m not getting other people’s ideas or getting some support. I’m going directly to Dave.

Jocko Willink (41:32):

Yeah. And I don’t care what he’s thinking. I’m going to tell him what I’m thinking.

Dave Berke (41:35):

Totally. In your defense, the few times that you’ve described to me in your career that you took the direct approach, that story has always been prefaced by all the things that you did that didn’t get to the outcome. And 99% of the time, those other things get to the outcome. So when you say it twice a year, I think for you, it’s probably even less. But even those stories that you’ve told me are always the culmination of a whole bunch of other indirect things that for whatever reason in that case, hey, I had to and there’s a time component, there’s other factors there. So as long as me and everybody else, they’re hearing the indirect approach is almost always the right answer, the reality is that, and I understand this, there are times that the hammer is the right tool.

Jocko Willink (42:21):


Dave Berke (42:23):

Hardly ever.

Jocko Willink (42:24):

I always talk about the escalation of counseling and you start off by just saying, “Hey, what’s going on?” I hardly ever make it past phase two. Maybe phase three where I’m like, “Dude, you need to square yourself away.” Occasionally, I probably did that three times in my life. Maybe more than that. But I don’t do that a lot because most of the times people go, “Oh, damn. I’m screwing this up. Cool. I got it,” and they adjust. This is scary to tell people. If you’re thinking that you’ve got a moment in your life where probably it’s time to go direct, it’s not. It’s not. It’s not, it’s going to set you back. The most efficient and the most effective way to win is through the indirect approach. If you don’t believe us, look at history. If you don’t believe us, go and think about how you respond to the direct approach. It’s the same mental jujitsu that you did with the woman you opened up with.

Jocko Willink (43:21):

He said, hey, what would you think if you were a frontline researcher and the new boss came in and said, “Hey, you all have been focused on the wrong thing. I’m very experienced and I know what I’m doing and this is what we are going to change starting today”? How about you play that game? Put the direct approach on yourself and see what it feels like I can bout guarantee you it doesn’t feel right. And if there’s a small chance that you say to yourself, I do think that feels right, you’re lying to yourself. You’re lying to yourself. So be careful. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Don’t use the direct approach. One more thing I’ll say about this, Dave, is this all comes back to when you and I talked about the OODA loop and the Extreme Ownership Leadership loop.

Jocko Willink (44:16):

What this comes down to is you can’t get stuck mentally in anything and you always have to be open-minded enough to say, “Oh, you know what? I’ve talked to Dave 47 times about how to get this thing right and he’s not making a change. I need to be more direct with him right now. I need to go direct with him. I need to talk to him or we’re going to have a major problem with this client,” or whatever the case may be. You have to have your mind open enough to do that. The problem is that we are programmed as humans, as I said, that I want to go direct. Direct is the closest distance between two points; a path of least resistance mentally. It’s the path of most resistance you’re going to get from other people. That’s what makes it so hard. We think it’s the path of least resistance. Everyone else, it’s the path of most resistance. So I did that if I was president speech. That was another example.

Jocko Willink (45:18):

Here was a situation where all these indirect approaches had been made, hey, we want to do this. This is what we’re going to do. This is how we’re going to pull out. They’re not working. Things are going wrong. We don’t know what’s happening with the enemy. And it’s like, oh, you know what? Here’s the direct approach. This is what’s about to happen. This is what we’re going to do. And why did that get a lot of traction? Because it was outside the rut of the indirect approach which was not working. It was not working. We were getting no movement from the enemy. They weren’t doing what we needed them to do, which the enemy doesn’t do what you need them to do because they want to, they do it because you make them. If you can get them to do it because they want to, great. That’s the indirect approach. Oh, we made a move over here and then they went to look at another airfield because that’s where they thought we were going to leave from.

Jocko Willink (46:12):

If we would’ve said, “Hey, we’re leaving from Kabul,” and then all of a sudden we secured Bagram airport and had everyone show up there, that would’ve worked. But we tried this. Oh, you’ll let us leave. The indirect attitude had failed. And at that point you say, “Oh, here’s what’s about to happen.” And most people saw that video and said, “Yeah, that’s what we want to hear right now.” This was at the end of a 20 year war, I said that. So those occasions where that kind of thing occurs and the indirect approach has not worked or it is failing, there are occasional times where you have to go direct. Please use them sparingly. Most of the time it is wrong. Anything else, Dave?

Dave Berke (47:04):


Jocko Willink (47:04):

All right. Good place to stop. If you want to dig deeper into all these aspects of leadership in any arena, you can join Dave and me at It is our online training academy where we solve problems through leadership. 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 Leadership, Leadership Strategy and Tactics. Got some other podcasts, Jocko Podcast, Jocko Unravelling, Grounded, Warrior Kid Podcast. If you want to support any of these podcasts including this one, you can get some supplements from You can get some gear from or from Thank you for listening to us debrief. Now, go out and with the minimum force required and in an indirect manner, lead. This is Jocko.

Dave Berke (48:03):

And Dave.

Jocko Willink (48:04):


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