How to Overcome The Struggles of Decentralized Command

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #18

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The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #18:

You have to get use to delegating. Having trouble letting go of tasks.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

This is The Jocko Debrief Podcast, episode 18 with Dave Berke and me kicking it. The Debrief Podcast, what it is is we have a business it’s called Echelon Front, we work with companies, we help them with their leadership inside their companies and Dave and I often debrief about the clients that we’re working with. And so at one point we decided it would be good to share these conversations where we debrief and discuss solutions with other people, well, with everybody, I guess, so that everybody can learn, so that’s what this is. As far as our clients go when we give these stories about the clients, we totally change them. You won’t be able to identify who this company is or what company… you won’t even know what industry they’re actually in because we protect the privacy of our clients. But we use a story wrapped around with a similar story, so that we can explain the situation that we face and then we just press record and release it as The Debrief Podcast, that’s where we start. So what have we got Dave, what’s the latest and greatest out on the front lines?

Dave Berke (01:19):

And just to add that a little bit is one of the things that makes us able to combine different things is that these problems are being faced in different ways across every company. They’re all dealing with the same challenges, now there’s certainly differences in the situations, but when we’re talking about a particular topic, that’s a topic that we talk about with every client that we work with, that’s an issue that we deal with with everybody.

Jocko Willink (01:44):

For a while I had to remind myself to be careful about this. What I had to be careful about is telling companies, clients, “We hear this all the time.”

Dave Berke (01:56):


Jocko Willink (01:56):

Because everybody thinks their problem is unique and they want it to be unique and they want it to be this hard thing that only their industry or only their company has to deal with. And even though I’m nicer about it now the truth is as you mentioned, we hear we face the same problems in all different industries, it doesn’t matter and the solutions are leadership solutions.

Dave Berke (02:22):

Every one. That’s what ties all this together is we talk to people and everybody is different, every business is different, every person is different, every situation is different, that is all true. And in the exact same breath, every single problem is a leadership problem. And every single person in your organization from you, no matter where you are, if you’re at the CEO or the newest employee and everybody in between is a leader that not only has the need, but the ability to solve problems.

Dave Berke (02:53):

So the cool thing about that is that that’s, again, when I talk to clients that’s also a dichotomy because in the same breath while everything is unique and different, everything’s the same. And there is a middle ground also with how they talk to their people too and what’s interesting is as I prepare these, I try to make them by topic. I kind of try to bundle them together so we could talk… Today I would be, “Hey, we’re going to talk about decentralized command.” But the truth of this there’s overlap and even the things that I’m talking about in this particular case that connects to all the things that we teach, all the leadership challenges that we teach, which is actually really cool for me.

Dave Berke (03:29):

Because when I’m debriefing you in some ways I’m really debriefing you on a particular problem, but in reality all the different elements that go into this and probably the best part about this is I’ll tell you what I did in this particular case or the interaction I had. And then you’ll talk about something without us having been… we didn’t prep this like here, “Jock, I’m going to tell you in the podcast.” I just tell you and then you take it and then you talk about something that you think about, I write that stuff down and the next time I go back and interact with a client I have more to talk to them about to help them solve these problems, which is actually awesome for everybody, me included.

Jocko Willink (04:02):

I like it. What have we got?

Dave Berke (04:05):

We’re going to talk about decentralized command a little bit. And the thing about decentralized command is a lot of different things to talk about out there. But in this particular case, decentralized command isn’t just giving your people things to do. When we define decentralized command, we define it by saying everyone leads. And if you are in a leadership role, I guess a traditional organizational leadership role, decentralized command isn’t, “Hey, I’m just going to give these things that I don’t want to do or these things that I shouldn’t do anymore and give them to Jocko my subordinate, I’m going to go do other things.” That’s not decentralized command, so we’re working with a company and we’re working with a team leader that used to be part of the team that was elevated out of that role into a leadership role.

Dave Berke (04:44):

And he came to me and said, “Hey, I have a little bit of a reputation of being a micromanager.” And his version of that was he really likes to do the work, he likes to be down with the team and doing those things. And ever since he’s stepped up and leveled up to a supervisor role with his team, he’s stepping on their toes, maybe getting in the way a little bit and it’s generating a little bit of friction, and what he wanted to know is, “Hey, how do I take this new leadership role and not make it seem like I’m just pushing all myself off to my guys.” So fits in this idea of decentralized command. Leadership Strategy and Tactics talks about the mindset you take when I am on a team and then I’m now the supervisor of that team.

Dave Berke (05:32):

The first thing I have to realize is I’m there to help the team win, that elevation of my status isn’t supposed to separate me, meaning that I’m better or more important, or I’m now elevated above my team, but I actually have more responsibility to make sure that they’re successful. And at the same time, one of the other challenges that people face and we saw this in the military all the time is when you elevate up you have to start thinking differently, you have to think more strategically. And if you’re one of those people that spent all your time down there doing the job, and all of a sudden you’re being told to look up and out, that’s actually not that easy to do. But I think where he was really struggling with this, “How do I have my people do the work without them feeling like I’m just giving them work to do is-“

Dave Berke (06:16):

When we hear decentralized command, one of the most common words that we connect to that clients connect to that is empowerment and made me think of a… And I don’t even remember what it was, but on a podcast, I don’t even know if it was The Debrief Podcast or just the Jocko Podcast that you talked about empowerment and the root of empowerment, the root of what empowerment is you actually have to give your people power. So if you in a leadership role in a supervisor role, this guy has power, he has power over his team, he has organizational influence over his team. And if you want your people to actually lead, you have to give them power. Which means if Jocko you work for me and I give you a task, I have to give you the power to do it the way that you want. I have to give you the power to do the things that you want to do, so you can do this particular task, this particular job the way that you want.

Dave Berke (07:08):

And if I really want you to think that I am actually giving you ownership, giving you power is one of the best things I can do is actually reverse roles and support you, not just say, “Hey man, you got this, go do your thing, whatever.” I could actually subordinate myself even in a leadership role to actually support you on this task in the way that you want to do it rather than, “Hey, I didn’t do it that way when I was in your role, I think you should do it like this. I know I’m the supervisor and I want you to do it my way.” I have to give you that power and I have to give you the ability to do that task the way that you want, and that might mean I need to support you. And I think the other gap that was difficult for him in this case was it doesn’t mean he abdicates ownership though and so I think the balance for him was I have to give you this task.

Dave Berke (07:57):

And let’s say, I give you power, I give you the ability to run this particular project, and then you under-deliver, you’re behind schedule, your little bit over budget and we don’t actually meet the expectations that we want. And I’ll ask him, “Hey, who is responsible for that?” And the answer of course is he is still responsible for that. So I think the biggest challenge for him when it was coming to this decentralized command problem was, “How do I let my team lead and still have them feel like they have-” I guess how they have ownership of the problem without him giving up that ownership. So when you’re leading your team and you’re now elevated up, the first thing you want them to know is that you’re there to help them be successful, you’re going to empower them to be successful, but you as a leader do not give up the ownership of that outcome. And I think that balance was where the real challenge was for him, and if my team underperforms it’s still my fault in that leadership role.

Jocko Willink (08:54):

Okay. So I get it, so then what did you talk to him about? So he basically raised those questions said, “Hey, listen-“

Dave Berke (09:02):

These are the questions he’s asking, “Hey, how do I let them lead now that I am in a supervisory role?” And the first thing is, “Hey, if you’re going to empower your people to be successful, you got to give them power.” Which means they have to be able to run the projects the way they want, so his team should be telling him, “Hey, this is the outcome I think you want, this is the way we want to do it.” And what his habit was he would go down there and micromanage all the different parts of the task, tell them how they wanted to get it done. They were complying and what that was doing was creating friction and they were implying, “Hey, you are stepping on our toes.” It was like, “Okay, well-” So then he overshoots the mark, which is, “Hey, you do whatever you want. You don’t need me, you guys can do this.” And then when the projects weren’t reaching the objective that he wanted them to reach, he was blaming them.

Jocko Willink (09:52):

Got it. So then you balanced him out a little bit.

Dave Berke (09:58):


Jocko Willink (09:59):

Okay. So here’s a couple things that I thought about when you were talking. First, one thing that I find to be very, very powerful is let’s say you’re working for me Dave, and I’ve got a task that needs to get done. It’s a good move, it’s a good move for me to say, “Hey Dave, here’s the task. How do you want to do it? You make it happen, blah, blah, blah.” That’s that’s a good move. That’s a solid move. We give that one the solid move. But the actual next level is when I say, “Hey, Dave, here’s this thing that it looks like we have to get done. Do you think we need to do it?”

Jocko Willink (10:49):

So I’m actually going to say, “I’m going to give you the choice if we even need to do this or not.” And that might seem like a little difference, it might just seem like a couple degrees off, but it’s actually 180 degrees off. Because you’re talking about empowering, is there anything more empowering than saying, “Hey Dave, you know what we got a bunch of dishes here that need to get cleaned, go ahead and clean them however you want.” And then you go, “Well, okay, well, I’m going to, whatever, scrub them first-“

Dave Berke (11:26):

This is how I’m going to do it.

Jocko Willink (11:27):

This is I’m going to do it. You’re slightly empowered, right. But if I go, “Hey Dave, you know what looks like these dishes are piling up. Do you think we need to get them done? Do you think we need to get them cleaned?” Now here’s the beautiful thing you can actually say, “No.” You can actually say, “No, you know what, I think we can leave him until the morning.” And you know what we can, we can. So I’m giving you a choice and the choice is a real choice that you could actually be like, “You know what, I don’t think we need to clean them until the morning.” And I could be like because I won’t let my ego get involved and I won’t get spun up, I’ll be like, “Cool. Get them done in the morning. Sounds good. Sounds good.” Or you could be like, “No, I don’t think we need to do the dishes at all.” That’s not even a realistic answer.

Jocko Willink (12:18):

Maybe I’m asking you a question that’s not earnest because I’m saying, “Hey, do you want to clean the dishes?” Look, we know you’re going to want to clean the kitchen… We know you have to clean the dishes, we know it has to happen at some point. Now look, I could say, “Listen, I can get them done tomorrow morning if that’s… If you can’t do them tonight, you know what, maybe I’ll just do them. That’s okay.” But if you take something that’s a little bit more serious, “Hey Dave, we got this client and they’re going to need another session this week. I think they need it, do you think they need it? And by the way I’m gone, so if anyone’s going to be doing the session it’s going to be you.”

Jocko Willink (13:05):

And here’s the deal you could tell me no and maybe I could say, “Well, do you think they’re going to get the impact that they need?” And you could where this is going, so you end up telling me, “You know what, we need to do this session.” You end up telling me we need to do this session and that is empowering. Now look it’s not a trick because if you could earnestly say to me, “You know what, they don’t need another session.” You could probably convince me, be like, “Listen, hey Jocko, they’ve already had two sessions last week and we have one more follow on session next week, I don’t think they need a session this week.” And I could be like, “Okay, fair enough. That’s fine.”

Jocko Willink (13:39):

Most likely the reason I’m asking you this question is because and I know that the client needs another session. So there’s a certain level of empowerment to actually earnestly asking someone, “Do you think we need to do this? And if you do then cool, how do you think we should do it?” That’s that’s my next level move.

Dave Berke (14:02):

So the second half of what you said I guess you implied the dishes was some rudimentary example, but actually it makes sense because… Well, you could be actually working in the kitchen right now and listening to this and of course it makes sense, but idea of, “Hey, these are things that we are going to need to use again, to deliver whatever it is for our clients tomorrow.” So you’re going to need these things dishes or otherwise. But the second part of that and of course as I take the notes is like the connection to empowerment of the empowerment of letting you decide how to do something, versus whether to decide whether to do it, the expansion of power on that is that’s a significant-

Jocko Willink (14:44):

It’s exponential.

Dave Berke (14:45):

Dude that’s huge. And if you came back to me like, “We’re never doing the dishes anymore.” Like, oh man, now I have to think like, “Holy cow, how have I created a situation by which I used to do the dishes with this team and now they think we don’t even need to do them anymore.” The likelihood of that is I don’t want to say zero, but it’s so low, it would implies as if they didn’t even think that the tools we use were necessary. So me saying, do you want to do this is really of course we’re going to do this task at some point somehow.

Dave Berke (15:16):

The control that you have to do it, however you want to do it, when you wanted to do it, when I heard you say that second part of it I almost laughed out loud, how nice would that be to go and, “Listen, man, however you want to do this, not this task, but this-” I don’t know if it’s project or whatever, “this whole thing that we’re doing, however you want to do that is fine with me.” With the understanding that they’re going to know this all needs to get done, we got to service the client, we got to deliver this product, whatever we’re doing at this company, we’re doing this thing. The difference between those two is that’s a big, big, big difference.

Jocko Willink (15:55):

Check this out, Delta Charlie, who I wrote about in Leadership Strategy and Tactics, we had done a hydrographic reconnaissance up at Red Beach up at Camp Pendleton, freaking grueling, cold, out all night. We go in, we swim in, we mark the beach, we mark our soundings on the freaking slates. Do you know what a hydrographic reconnaissance is?

Dave Berke (16:18):

You’ve explained it. I’ve never obviously done one but yeah.

Jocko Willink (16:19):

You basically swimming in and you’ve got a little LED lane and you’re figuring out how deep the water is and you’re keeping your notes and everyone in the platoon is keeping their notes, and eventually you take all those notes and you turn them into you turn them into the cartographer, who’s another guy in the platoon who then takes all that information and then plots it out on a map and then deliver it to the Marine Corps, and the Marine Corps goes, “Yep. The beach is safe for us to land on.” So we did that one night and it’s freezing cold and it’s miserable and the waves were big, it’s a freaking hard job, but we did it. We got it done. We turned in the stuff to the cartographer, cartographer built the chart, gave it the Marine Corps. Marine Corps executes an amphibious landing up at Camp Pendleton.

Jocko Willink (16:55):

They get done with their amphibious landing that day and they go, “You know what, we did a bad job.” The Marine Corps said we did a bad job with our… The Marine Corps said the Marine Corps did a bad job with our amphibious landing. We need to do it again. Cool. Reload. Guess what? Guess who else got reloaded? We did. So we’re out with Delta Charlie in the boats, we go in, we just did a hydrographic reconnaissance the night before. And finally someone in the platoon we’re getting ready to get in the water, and somebody in the platoon says something along the lines of, “Hey, Delta Charlie. We just did this last night. Nothing has changed. Do we really need to do it again? Do we really have to do this again?” And Delta Charlie did this move on us and he said, “Well, we don’t really have to,” the thing that he added was he said, “but would it be the right thing to do?”

Jocko Willink (17:54):

And I was so glad I wasn’t the knucklehead that asked that question to put myself on report for being a wimp and not want to do another hydrographic reconnaissance, but then guess what? Then he gave us the choice of whether we wanted to do this or not and then it’s like, “Okay.” And of course we were like, “No, it would be the wrong thing to do. Let’s do it. And we did it to the best of our ability.” That’s a big deal and the sense of actual empowerment is exponential. Now here’s the other thing that you ran up against in this question, I am not going micromanage you Dave Burke if you’re one of my guys, I’m not going to micromanage you, it’s not going to happen but I’m not going to allow you to fail.

Dave Berke (18:42):


Jocko Willink (18:43):

I am not going to allow you to fail and I will start to get more and more and more intrusive, the closer and closer you get to failure. And a matter of fact, you’re only going to get so close. You’re going to start veering off a little bit and I’ll be like, “Hey, Dave, do a bearing check right now.” And you’re like, “Oh, got it.” I talk about brushing up against the guardrails of failure, basically with the minimum force required, I can give you an adjustment that you’re not even going to touch the guardrails of failure. You’re going to start to get a little of course and go, “Hey, Dave, how’s that bearing looking.” You go, “Whoa. Yeah. Check. Oh, a little bit off. Got it boss.” I probably wouldn’t even say… it’d be like, “What bearing are you on?” And you tell me and you go, “090.” And you were really on 084, right? You were six degrees off, you were going in the wrong direction and I just asked you, “Hey, what bearing are you on?” And you corrected it yourself, that’s what’s going to happen most of the time.

Jocko Willink (19:40):

I was on a training operation and our boat, we flipped a boat in the surf zone, engine was flooded and guys are like, “Okay, hey, we need to call the admin truck and have them come pick us up because there’s no way we can do this anymore and blah, blah, blah.” That was a right turn to go through the guardrails and over the cliff. And I was, “Hold on a second. What? I’m a platoon commander. Hey, what’d you say? ‘Well, we need to call the admin trucks, we got a down motor.'” I was like, “No, no, no. We have a contingency for this, we rig for tow, that’s what we do. We’re in the freaking SEAL teams, we have downers sometimes and we have boats that get flipped on the beach. We set security, we ride the boat, we freaking get the water out of it and we hook a tow line and we get this thing back out.” The platoon was ready to surrender and fail and I’m like, “No, we’re not doing that.”

Jocko Willink (20:45):

So use that minimum force required, occasionally do you have to actually do a course correction? Yeah, you do. And that was actually when I’d taken over a platoon from a platoon commander that had gotten fired, they didn’t understand what we were doing as a platoon yet. They thought that that kind of thing was like, “Hey, that’s what happens?” You flip a boat, you call the admin truck and they’ll come pick you up and it’s, “We’ll go clean out that motor,” or whatever. No, if that would’ve happened a month later, we wouldn’t have even considered it. Not even considered. So those are good points, I like them.

Dave Berke (21:26):

I think too, you probably wrote about it in Leadership Strategy and Tactics about even the technique of what do you do when you are elevated in your role. And you gave your examples of two different guys and how they respond to that, because there’s a variation of that, some version of that happens in so many different places and we get questions about that all the time. The move from tactical to strategic or the elevation from one role to another, in some ways can be super daunting, how do I think strategically and all these big things I have to do. And I think the way you just described it and those questions, whether they’re earnest or maybe a little more deliberate, the outcome is still the same is that your role is to make sure the team is successful. And sometimes the team needs a tiny little adjustment, which means if you’re going from being on the team, to being the leader of the team and that team is a solid team, little course correction, maybe a small question, just a verification of the heading.

Dave Berke (22:20):

Or a team that you’re in from the outside, you come from the outside and you join a team and that team isn’t where they need to be. But in the end, that description is all different ways that you just described to make sure the team ends up being successful, that the team ends up winning. And I’m thinking about the example of had this team been another month, they would’ve just understood what’s going… what we’re doing here, how things are actually happening here on this team and how even in that role is what you’re getting them to be able to do so they can be successful. So as a leader then you go, “Oh, my team no longer is going to run to the admin when we flip a boat in the surf zone, cool.” Guess what I can start doing now, I can spend a little less time worrying about what they’re going to do with this particular crisis and I can start…

Jocko Willink (23:04):

Yeah. Yeah. And now that you mentioned it, I was a little caught off guard. In other words, I probably didn’t see the indicators, the little course corrections that I needed to make of what was happening until all of a sudden it’s like, “Hey, we need to contact the admin boat.” I was like, “Wait a second. What are you talking about?” I haven’t gone to admin in a training situation in my freaking life, so I don’t know what we’re talking about but we’re not-

Dave Berke (23:27):

It’s not happening right now.

Jocko Willink (23:28):

… going to admin, that’s not happening. It caught me a little bit off guard because they were in a mode of, “Hey, you know what, if things aren’t going the way… call admin, call a little training time out, have the trucks come and pick up the boat.” Like, “No.” It takes a little while to establish that and get that culture of we’re not going to call for admin, in any situation, Jack. All right. What do we got? We got another one.

Dave Berke (23:56):

Yeah. I got a question from Extreme Ownership Academy it was a question that got posted during one of our live sessions. And I like this one because it’s a topic that a version of this has been getting asked a bunch lately and it really involved about pushing back against leadership, pushing back against the boss’ direction. And this was a company that they work out in the field, so they work literally outdoors in operations, those can be sketchy, it’s in poor weather and so they deal with some real physical risks. And the boss who was actually in charge of the company she wanted to make sure that their really… she wanted to get more tight safety protocols, so she was looking to ensure that the safety of her employees was a higher priority.

Dave Berke (24:43):

And what had happened is at least the version of the question was we were given these safety protocols that were way too restrictive, way too limiting, it was going to make us need way more people, way more time and we simply were not going to be able to do our job. So the question was how best do you go back to your boss and tell them, “Hey, we can’t do this, this imposition on us, this restriction you gave to us, actually, we can’t do at it.” And there was a discussion about, “Hey, we’re going to gather some data. We want some experts from these different scenarios in the field on how different projects are done so they can give us feedback based on each individual case.”

Dave Berke (25:16):

Kind of gathered all the proof, all the data to show that I can now go back to my boss and go, “Hey, Jocko, what you’re asking us to do, we can’t do those things and here’s why.” And the answer was, “Hey, that might work. That might work.” But my inclination, when we were talking to this person was that’s not how I would handle that situation, that’s not the first move that I would make was go back and have my team, “Okay, here’s the guidance from Jocko. I want you to collect all the reasons why this won’t work.” And so the first thing was-

Jocko Willink (25:50):

Isn’t it funny if you just think through a problem to what you just said, you already know that that’s a bad idea. Look, you might not have figured out the solution yet but you already know, hey, you got tasked with doing something by the boss and the first thing you do is tell the team, “Hey, give me all the reasons why this won’t work.”

Dave Berke (26:05):


Jocko Willink (26:06):

It’s so obvious, right?

Dave Berke (26:07):

It is. And even the way you just said that, and that was really the crux was like they didn’t have the solution yet. And what you just said was exactly the point of, “Well, we actually need a solution for this. We don’t know what the solution is.” And a great way to make sure that the solution is imposed on you rather than figuring it out is to tell your leadership that their ideas are bad, that we’re not going to do this and here’s why.

Dave Berke (26:32):

And listen, this is a good team, this was not some big dysfunctional issue where they couldn’t have a free flow of information back and forth, they’re not working for a tyrant who was demanding compliance, so the first question was, “Hey, let’s just first figure out what do we want? What is trying to get accomplished here?” Does the boss want us to be no longer financially solvent because safety is the most important thing and we’re going to bankrupt the company. No, we don’t want that. Does the boss now want us to have quadruple the time require to get the same job done? No, that’s not what the boss wants. So if we could take a step back a little bit and just first think what is the outcome that they want? Does anybody reject the idea that we should be more safe? No, we’re all on board with that. We all want safety. Nobody wants to get hurt. Nobody wants their people to get hurt.

Dave Berke (27:19):

And then the other part of it is that what I want my boss to understand is that I am actually on board with the plan. Now, I don’t know about the specific solution of this case on this job, I don’t know that yet. But your intent for me is to be safer, have a better safety record and ensure that our operations have a better safety outcome. I am absolutely on board with that plan. And the best way I can actually come back to you with a solution is go boss, and this was sort of the response of, hey, maybe a better approach is to go, “Hey boss, this sounds right. This makes sense. We want to apply better safety measures here. Let me take this. Let me go back to my four project managers. Let me tell them what we’re going to go do. Let’s implement this and I’ll come back to you and let you know how things are going as we start to do this.

Dave Berke (28:03):

And if we see any resist or areas where were struggling, we’ll try to work through it and get you some feedback on things that we might need to change to meet your intent.” And so the whole point of that was the risk of pushing back right away, what I risk by saying, “I’m not doing this.” Is actually you saying, “No, you are going to go do this.” You’re now giving me the solution that we actually don’t have and I don’t want that. I want you to think that I’m on board with your plan, and I want you to give me the latitude to make that happen the most effective way as we can.

Dave Berke (28:36):

So we know the boss doesn’t want us to make less money, we know the boss doesn’t want to ruin the company. So we want us support her intent in this particular case and what they were running into was we have to tell them right away, because the fastest way to get to this conclusion is going, “Hey Jocko, this isn’t going to work. We can’t do this. Here’s reason A, B and C, so we’re not going to do this.” As opposed to, “Hey, that makes sense. We want to go implement this. Let’s go be safe. We’ll go run it with our teams. And then I’ll come back and give you a debrief on what we’re seeing from each of these different projects and how we can continue to solve this.” I love that look.

Jocko Willink (29:09):

Well, as soon as I tell you what you said you’re going to go, “Dammit.”

Dave Berke (29:13):


Jocko Willink (29:14):

Because the thing that you said was, and it’s not a 100% incorrect, but you’re going to know exactly what I’m talking about, you said, “Hey, I’m saying this because I want my boss to think that I’m on board with the plan.”

Dave Berke (29:26):

Yeah. Yes.

Jocko Willink (29:26):

And I know you didn’t mean it.

Dave Berke (29:27):

No, that’s-

Jocko Willink (29:29):

And it’s actually not inaccurate, it’s not inaccurate to say I want my boss to think that I’m on board of the plan, but the reason that you want your boss to think that you’re on board of the plan is because you are on board with the plan.

Dave Berke (29:37):

I want my boss to know I’m on board of the plan.

Jocko Willink (29:37):

That’s what we want.

Dave Berke (29:37):

Yes. Absolutely.

Jocko Willink (29:38):

We want my boss to know I’m on board with the plan. And even when you said, even when you said to me if we did a scale, one end of the scale is like, “Boss, this is never going to work.” The other end of the scale is, “Hey boss, I got it. Going to go execute.” You picked a middle ground which was, it was even leaning toward, “Hey boss, got it, I’m going to go execute.” You said, “Hey boss, hey, I’ll take this to the troops. We’ll go execute and then I’ll give you some feedback on what’s working and what’s not.” Even that right there is a little shadow is a little indication that Dave’s already got resistance. I’m just going to say, “Oh, hey Dave, this is what you want me to execute. Cool. Got it. Let me review the notes. Got it. Let me bring it down to the team. We’ll start it immediately. Let me get this thing implemented.”

Jocko Willink (30:33):

Not even giving you an indication that I have a potential issue with this. Because then when I come back to you it’s just going to confirm the indication that I gave, which was, “I didn’t really want this thing to work anyways.” So instead of my boss “thinking I’m on board with the plan,” my boss is actually thinking I’m not on board with the plan and then they’re going to confirm that as soon as I run my mouth, coming back and saying, “Well, actually we did an assessment, it’s going to take four people to do this job now instead of two,” and whatever, so how do we do this? There’s been this game I’ve been playing with Echo for a little while, it’s actually the last two Underground podcasts that we’ve done where he’s made these indications that you have to be able to act a certain way.

Jocko Willink (31:16):

Almost you’re required, you need to go to acting classes so you can act like your boss, so your boss will believe you. And the fact of the matter is this isn’t an acting class. Dave’s my boss, Dave’s given me instruction, my assumption is, “Hey, he wants the company to make money. He wants to be safe.” Those are good things. I’m on board. I’m on board with everything you just said, I don’t have to act. I don’t have to pretend I like your plan. I like your plan. And here’s the other note I took down is you hear me talk a lot about asking earnest questions, which is very important and it’s a real thing. And the difference between an earnest question and a question there’s a big difference between those two things. Me asking my boss and earnest question of, “Hey Dave, can you explain to me why this particular protocol is being used? Because right now it seems to me like it’s going to utilize a lot more people.”

Jocko Willink (32:11):

If that’s an earnest question, because you might say, “Jocko I tell you what, we’ve got an insurance situation where if we have another safety incident, we are going to get shut down.” And I go, “Cool. Got it.” Now if that wasn’t an earnest question and I go, “Dave, what are you doing having us have four people do this instead of one, this is ridiculous. Why would you do this?” That’s not an earnest question. Asking an earnest question is excruciatingly important and let me tell you something else that’s excruciatingly important, making an earnest effort. Earnestly going to try and do what we’ve been asked to do, to go and really say, “Okay, hey, this is what the boss needs. This is the outcome they want. Here’s the recommendation on how we do get that done. Cool. Got it.”

Jocko Willink (33:00):

And I make an earnest effort with my team to make this happen, so all those things are good and essentially this topic we want to win. This is the thing you might think, well, it’s more efficient just to say, “Hey boss, I don’t think this is going to work.” It’s actually not going to be more efficient. What you just did is you just built a boundary between you two, you went to you’re now on opposing side, we’re not on the same team anymore, it’s me against you, this isn’t going to help you. If you got some earnest questions ask them, and then if you make an earnest effort the feedback that you get is going to be legitimate. And that is actually going to help the team, help the company, help the boss and help you.

Dave Berke (33:52):

I was watching your facial expressions as we were talking like we’re looking at each other, literally we’re staring across the table from each other. If you know me well, I’m your subordinate and you know me well or vice versa, it doesn’t matter. If we know each other well the subtlety of the comment of, “Hey, I’m on board with this, this all good and then I’ll let you know what’s going wrong.” The subtlety of that is actually really obvious if you know how Dave usually reacts and my normal reaction is like, “Cool, got it. No factor.” That’s usually the length of our conversations when you say, “Hey, let’s go do whatever.” And I’m like, “Roger.” There’s not a lot of discussion.

Dave Berke (34:35):

So now all of a sudden like, “Wait, hang on a second.” But I also wrote down too as I’m listening to what you’re saying is what does it say if I push back immediately, immediately. Now there’s risk of friction and all those things and first for you and I in real life I don’t think the risk of me pushing back is going to fracture the relationship and cause a real hardship between you and me and our roles in the organization. But what it tells you is that I didn’t actually really think about what you said, because there’s no way I can hear what you said and immediately come back and go… which is basically me saying, “You’re wrong.” When I’m pushing back, “Hey, this isn’t going to work or this won’t work.” I’m less worried that, “Hey, did I put up a barrier between me and Jocko that’s going to not be manageable.”

Dave Berke (35:23):

Then I am basically saying, “Hey, how about I take five minutes, how about I take five minutes and just think about what you said.” And this came up on Extreme Ownership Academy just last week, which was people were talking, “Hey, if the boss says something that doesn’t make sense, ask questions.” And what I had interjected goes, actually I said, “You don’t have to ask questions right away, you can just think about it.” Take 10 minutes, take a day, just go back to your desk and think about it. And 90% of the questions that you had, you can probably answer and use the word earnestly and that’s the right word, if you can genuinely just try to figure out what he means. If Jocko tells me something that doesn’t make sense, I actually don’t need to ask a lot of questions because I can just go, “Hang on. What did you say? What’s the situation? Oh, okay, I think I got it.”

Dave Berke (36:13):

And then I could go back and maybe ask a question there. But if I push by right away, it’s me telling you I’m not really listening and I’ve already got the answer. Anyway the way you were describing that is if someone pushes back immediately, what you’re telling that other person is you’re not really listening to what they’re saying because you already know the answer.

Jocko Willink (36:32):

What you’re telling them is, “I have a closed mind and I haven’t listened.” My youngest daughter, I don’t know where she got this from but it’s awesome, she says, “Got it.”

Dave Berke (36:42):

If you ask her to do something.

Jocko Willink (36:43):

You were wondering where she got that from, we’ll never figure that one out. I don’t think I used that, I might say Roger that, but she says, “Got it.” And she puts this little tone on her voice, “Got it.” And then she does whatever it is. It’s freaking legit. That’s the open mind, that’s going to go try and earnestly implement a plan. And then when the plan doesn’t work or you get some pushback two hours later, “Hey dad, you wanted me to do this and here’s some problems I’m running into, can you maybe give me a course correction or do you mind if I do this instead?” And then what do I say, “Oh, it didn’t work and that’s what you’re going to do. Got it. Go ahead.”

Dave Berke (37:24):

That’s awesome.

Jocko Willink (37:26):

All right. I guess it’s my turn. So Bruce Lee, martial artist, he attempted to move martial arts toward a vision of no form or formless form. He had these little quotes like using no way as way, or no limitation is the limitation. Had some guiding principles around his martial art guiding principles of simplicity, directness and freedom, which he tried to unify in the sentence the form of no form, the form of no form. Now did he truly understand this? I don’t know. This is in the ’70s, but I would say if you looked at the UFC and what the UFC has proved out, there’s no more real one style champions, you have to be well rounded. You can’t just have one form.

Jocko Willink (38:36):

You have to have wrestling, boxing, jujitsu, Muay Thai, which is a way of saying you have to have all styles, which if you have all styles, it’s a way of saying you have to have no style, you can’t just have one style. To say that you no form doesn’t mean that you take someone off the street that doesn’t know anything about fighting and they’re going to somehow win because they have no form. That’s clearly absolutely not true, the opposite is actually true, it takes practice to get there, it takes discipline and experience and it takes technique. And if you dive deeply into discipline and technique and practice, that is when your fighting style becomes the form of no form.

Jocko Willink (39:28):

Where it doesn’t matter what happens you’re going to be able to deal with it because you can operate in any capacity and your form becomes no form. Now what if I told you that the best form of leadership was no leadership. If you start to think about it, what’s the highest form of leadership. The highest form of leadership is I don’t have to talk. The highest form of leadership is I don’t have to give you any kind of signal. I don’t have to give you a look. I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to do anything as a leader and there’s a whole spectrum.

Jocko Willink (40:14):

Look, if we were to say we want to go indirect, we want to use minimum force required as a leader, the minimum force required is I didn’t do anything. Dave just took his team and made it happen. I didn’t say anything or do anything. There was a situation. There was a problem. There was a mission. There was a task. Dave saw it. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t look at him and he took his team and executed that, that’s the best form of leadership, no leadership at all. No leadership. Dave already understood what to do and he went, took his team and did it. Now maybe I have to lead a little bit, maybe there’s a problem going on and I look at Dave and I look at the problem and Dave goes, “Oh, got it.”

Jocko Willink (40:55):

Maybe I have to give him a head nod, like, “Hey, you see that over there.” I give you a head nod, you’re like, give me a head nod back, “Got it.” Maybe I say one word, “Flank.” Dave’s like, “Cool.” It’s not as clean as I want it. Because normally in an optimal situation, Dave is flanking. I look at him to tell him to go flank. He’s already flanking. He’s already moving. Maybe I have to give him a sentence, “Hey Dave, flank to the west now. ‘Okay.'” Maybe I have to yell at Dave, “Dave, hey, you got to flank.” Maybe I have to run over and grab you and physically take you and point to you where you need to go.

Jocko Willink (41:42):

Again, this is getting worse and worse. I’m not saying you never have to do that and I did have to do that at times. Maybe I actually have to do it myself, this is the worst form of leadership, I’m not leading anymore, I’m just doing. Now do I occasionally have to do that as a leader? Yes I do. Dave doesn’t understand it, so I grab the team, “Come with me and I lead.” But you can see that escalation, you can see that spectrum of how we’re leading, but for the optimum, for the optimum, for my optimum leadership, I didn’t have to do anything at all, I just was there and Dave knew what to do. It’s like the MUSTER, we go to the MUSTER, which is our leadership event, which we have a 1,000 people at. There’s 10,000 decisions that get made about the MUSTER, there might be more, actually, there’s probably more.

Jocko Willink (42:36):

I make four decisions for the MUSTER, so there’s where it’s going to be, there’s the event, there’s the food, there’s all these things, the AV equipment, the stage set, all these things. I don’t make any of those decisions. I show up and I get on board for the ride. So ideally I’m not doing anything and then it escalates from there depending on the situation that occurs and what I haven’t done a good job enough preparing my troops to do. So this leads me into the fact of, we hear that term a well-oiled machine, a well-oiled machine. This team operates like a well-oiled machine and that’s cool. I get it. It sounds great, but that’s not what we want. Because a well-oiled machine can’t adapt, it can’t evolve, it can’t react to contingencies, it’s not fluid, it can’t make decisions that aren’t pre-programmed.

Jocko Willink (43:44):

A well oiled machine cannot make a decision on something that hasn’t been programmed to do, in other words, a machine cannot think. Our team, our organization has to be able to adapt and evolve and react and make decisions. In other words, we want an organization that is a living being that can actually think that’s what we want, that’s what we have to build, that’s what we have to build. I’m talking about a machine, it’s like another thing you could look at is kids, do you want to raise your kid where they just obey orders as directed? Now we think we do. We think that’s what we want as a kid. We want our kids to be, “Hey, if they would just do what I told them to do.”

Jocko Willink (44:35):

We think that but that’s not what we want, that’s not what you want. That person, that kid that you raised will not be able to contend with the world. They can’t react, they can’t problem solve, they can’t think so we don’t want that. And we don’t want our employees to be like that either. We don’t want employees that just obey, even though we think we do, you think you do, you think you want employees that just shut up and do what I told them, “If they would just do what I told them to do, we would be so much better off.” No, that’s not what we want. If we build a team that can’t think then we have to think for them, and that means we’re looking down and in instead of up and out, that means we are not leading.

Jocko Willink (45:19):

So we want to lead without leading, that’s what we want to do. But as I said just like with the martial arts, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do anything, it takes discipline, it takes practice, it takes experience, it takes technique with us and with the team, it takes work. You have to cover a move, you have to keep things simple, you have to prioritize and execute, you have to use decentralized command, you have to take ownership and you have to be default aggressive, but you also need the underlying philosophical platform to implement those strategies and tactics. You have to have the underlying philosophical platform for these things to exist. What does that underlying platform look like? Well, you have to build relationships. You have to build relationships. You have to trust, listen, respect and influence up and down the chain of command.

Jocko Willink (46:18):

And by the way, note, in order to trust, listen, respect and influence, we have to give those things away. In order to give those things away guess what we have to do, we have to put our ego in check. If I can’t put my ego in check to treat Dave with respect, because he’s below me in the chain of command, why should I have to treat him? You’re going to fail. If I can’t put my ego in check where Dave can influence me and be like, “Hey, you know what, Dave your plan sounds good, let’s do it your way.” If I can’t put my ego in check, I can’t make that happen. I can’t build that relationship, so my ego has to be in check. I have to build leadership capital. I have to utilize the indirect approach. And even though we think, “Oh, if we have a relationship, we can just go direct.” Not true, unfortunately. Not true. And actually I shouldn’t even say unfortunately, it’s fortunate.

Jocko Willink (47:04):

You know why it’s fortunate because when you attack someone, you’re showing them that you have a closed mind and you know what, you do have a closed mind. So the platform is relationships, the platform is communication. We have to be able to communicate with people, we have to communicate in simple, clear, concise manner that everybody understands. We have to utilize every medium possible to communicate because different people receive information in different ways, and for communication also we have to use the indirect approach. We have to make sure we’re aligned and you touched on this Dave, as you climb that ladder of alignment where wait, “Oh, do you think that the boss wants us to go bankrupt because we’re being so safety conscious.” No, that’s not accurate at all.

Jocko Willink (47:59):

That’s not accurate at all. We have a unified strategic objective and sometimes we have to climb the ladder of alignment until we get there. And with that I have to fill this note onto the indirect approach, because part of the indirect approach is that you’ll never stray from the truth of where you’re going. The indirect approach is not lying, it isn’t little maneuvers to set someone up, that’s not what it is. The indirect approach is how you are going to get to that end state and then last we have culture, which is the ultimate form of decentralized command. And it’s the laws of combat and the intent behind the laws of combat. I’m not doing cover move for Dave, so that Dave takes care of me, no, that’s not the intent. The intent is I’m doing cover move so I can take care of Dave. You see that little subtle difference. I’m not hooking up Dave, so he hooks me up, that’s not the purpose, that’s not the purpose of cover move.

Jocko Willink (49:12):

I’m keeping things simple. Why? So that the team understands. It’s for them, I’m doing this for them. Prioritize and execute. There’s an application. There’s an intent of prioritize and execute. Guess what? Guess what the number one priority is, the team and the mission, not me. The intent of this, the intent to prioritize and execute is that it’s the team and it’s the mission. The baseline prioritize and execute is it’s not for me, that’s the baseline of prioritize and execute and decentralized command, why am I doing that? Am I doing that so Dave can do all the work and I just get to coast. No I’m doing it so that he gets ownership.

Jocko Willink (50:01):

I’m not doing it to take care of myself, I’m doing it to take care of him. So these things become part of our culture and culture, we got to model the correct behavior. And then we got to propagate the story so everybody understands who we are and what we are, these are the platforms, these are the philosophical platform that we build the rest of our leadership approach on. And by the way here’s another thing about the indirect approach, this is key, and this is the difference when somebody pushes back on the indirect approach, let me tell you what the indirect approach only makes sense if you think strategically. If you don’t think strategically the indirect approach doesn’t make sense, it’ll never make sense to you. It doesn’t make sense to use the indirect approach if you think tactically, if you think short term, the indirect approach doesn’t make any sense because it’s going to take longer, it’s going to look like it’s going to take longer. And tactically, it’s going to seem like it’s going to take longer.

Jocko Willink (51:02):

But the indirect approach only works if you have a strategic perspective and when should you have a strategic perspective, you should have a strategic perspective all the time. Because if what you’re doing doesn’t help your strategic goal or help you move you in a strategic direction, you shouldn’t be doing it. So these are the ideas that make up this philosophical platform, so that you can move in a direction where your leadership is no leadership at all. And every one of these ideas is difficult, but we have to understand where it is we are trying to get, so let’s keep working on our leadership. Anything on that, Dave?

Dave Berke (51:55):


Jocko Willink (51:59):

Right on. All right. Well, probably a good place to stop then. How did we do? Said we might be a little bit long, it looks like we’re a little bit long. Hey, if you want to dig deeper into any of these aspects of leadership, you can join Dave, me, Leif, the rest of the Echelon Front team. We have an online training academy, Extreme Ownership Academy, We solve problems through leadership. If you want our guidance inside your organization you can come check out our leadership consultancy at I’ve also written a bunch of books on the subject of leadership, Extreme Ownership, The Dichotomy of Leadership and Leadership Strategy and Tactics, got some other podcasts. My main podcast, I guess, is Jocko Podcast, I also have Jocko Unraveling, Grounded and the Warrior Kid Podcasts. And if you want to support any of these podcasts, including this one, you can get some gear from or And thank you for listening to The Debrief, now go and lead. This is Dave and Jocko out.


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