How To Prioritize and Execute While OVERWHELMED

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #9

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The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #9: Jocko and Dave talk about leadership challenges presented to them at Echelon Front.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

This is the Jocko Debrief podcast, episode nine, with Dave Burke and me, Jocko Willink. We have a leadership consultancy, which is called Echelon Front, and what we do is we work with a bunch of leaders. We also have an online training platform where we discuss leadership all the time. Oftentimes Dave and I will debrief the scenarios that we see that we go through, that we solve. We’ll have, whether it’s a late night phone call, an early morning phone call, a midday phone call to debrief some situation and a while back, I thought it would be cool to record some of these debriefs and hence the debrief podcast, given the opportunity for everyone to learn these lessons. Dave usually picks a couple subjects, but this time it’s my turn. I had a couple subjects come up and I wanted to talk through some of them. I’m not even going to set up the scenarios as they were, Dave usually sets up the scenario. I’m not even going to do that. I’m going to get right to the meat of what I wanted to talk about.

Jocko Willink (01:10):

The first one is what I call the prioritize and execute hamster wheel. We all know the idea of a hamster wheel, you’re running in place and you’re not going anywhere. Here’s the thing. People that we work with understand our principles, they know our principles. They know the four laws of combat cover, move, simple, prioritize, and execute, decentralized command, they know these things and they execute these things. That’s a very positive thing, but there are times where they might get a little bit caught up in the principle, without taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture. So in this particular scenario, there was an individual who was overwhelmed with what they were doing at work, and they were working and said time and time again, “I’m prioritizing executing, I’m prioritizing executing, but I still feel like I’m getting overwhelmed. I don’t know how long I can keep this up, and my effectiveness as a leader is going down. I don’t know what else to do. I’ve got all these things coming at me and I prioritize and execute every single day.” That was the thing that made me think.

Jocko Willink (02:24):

I heard that comment, I prioritize and execute every single day. Actually this was on EF online. I was listening, so Leif started to answer the question and Leif was saying, “Hey, listen, yep, you’ve got all these different things going on. You need to prioritize and execute.” Leif went through the scenario, a similar scenario that I talk about leadership strategy and tactics, which is when I originally talk about detaching. Which is, you’re on the firing line, everyone’s looking forward and no one’s making a decision. High port your weapon, take a step back, look around and all of a sudden you can see what to do. That’s sort of what you need to do in order to prioritize and execute, because if you’re shooting your gun, you can’t see any priorities. You’re just seeing the target in front of your face.

Jocko Willink (03:12):

Well, here’s what’s interesting about this thing. That right there is good, right? We talk about prior prioritize and execute, but that is a tactical level prioritize and execute. You’re prioritizing and executing what’s right in front of you. That’s fine. But if you don’t start looking at the bigger picture, you can’t just take a step back off the firing line. Sometimes you have to step back off the firing line so that you can see what to do in that particular room, but then you have to take a step outside of that room to see what’s happening in the rest of the building that you’re trying to clear, and then you have to take a step outside that building so you can see what other buildings you actually need to clear. Then you need to step outside the city so you can look at what other cities need to be cleared. Then you need to take a step outside the region and see what other regions need to be cleared. Then you need to drill back down there, and what you need to do is you need to ask yourself, is this priority that I’m putting at the top of the list for this moment that I’m in right now, does this actually support the largest priority that I’ve got out there?

Jocko Willink (04:23):

The big priority, as I overlook the entire battlefield and I’m trying to move to the north, I’m trying to clear towards the north, I’ve got objectives to the north and I’m in this room right now and I’ve got to prioritize and execute what’s going on in front of this room, in this room right now. But am I truly making progress towards the north and does this priority that I’ve got right in front of me, does it support my goal of moving north to my objective? Because if I end up running around in this building or in this room, in this building, in this block of a city, and I never actually progress forward, well, then that prioritize and execute all day long doesn’t freaking help me at all because I’m not making any forward progress towards my strategic goal.

Jocko Willink (05:15):

Dave and I, you had a conversation about OODA loops inside of OODA loops. That’s the same basic principle that I’m talking about now. You’re running an OODA loop of, Hey, observe, orient, decide and act to beat this other fighter pilot, right. To beat this other jet. Observe, orient, decide and act. Okay, I see where the enemy is. I’m going to adjust. I’m going to decide what I’m going to do. I’m going to do it and then I’m going to reorient myself. I’m going to observe again. I’m going to reorient myself. So I’m doing that rapidly, but guess what that gets me? That gets me a victory over that one aircraft, which is good. But if then I immediately look at the next enemy aircraft, that’s the next thing. Okay, now guess what? Now I dog fight the next enemy aircraft and I use OODA loops again and it works good, and now I see another enemy aircraft and I do that. So you can see where I’m going with this. Meanwhile, if I took a step back and looked at my radar screen or I talk to the E-2, is that right? I talk to the E-2 Hawkeye, what’s it called?

Dave Berke (06:23):

Yeah, that’s it.

Jocko Willink (06:23):

The E-2 Hawkeye above me and say, “Hey, I’ve just downed two enemy aircraft, what is the status of the battle space?” And the E-2 says, “Hey, there’s nine enemy aircraft, coming your way,” and you have just you and your wing man. Of course, you’re probably going to say, that’s no factor, so we’ll make it 30 enemy aircraft are coming your way. Now you say, okay, well I can sit here inside this OODA loop and continue to fight these singular battles, but A, I’m going to run out of fuel and B, we’re not making any real progress towards my goal. We have to be cognizant that doing prioritize and execute, which is absolutely mandatory, because we have to figure out what’s most important, we have to solve that problem. We can’t solve all of our problems at the same time.

Jocko Willink (07:21):

Sometimes, like in jujitsu, sometimes look, if you, if you don’t protect your neck, you’re dead. Sometimes you got to win that tackle. If I walk into a room and there’s an enemy shooter, we have to solve that problem right now. That’s got to be a number one priority. Doesn’t matter what’s going to happen with the rest of the building. If we all get killed in this particular room we’re in right now. Now could we back out of that room? Sure. Could that be how I prioritize and execute? Sure, I’m going to leave. But to get caught up in the daily tactical prioritize and execute is not correct. Unfortunately I lead people down this path all the time because it’s such an easy example to give a tactical example of, “Hey, listen. When you walk into a room with a weapon, you’ve got an open door, that’s a priority. You’ve got a civilian unarmed with their hands up and you’ve got a hostile with a knife and you’ve got to hostile with a gun.”

Jocko Willink (08:27):

Guess what, you can’t handle all those problems right now. You need to pick the biggest problem. What’s the biggest problem? Hostile with a gun. Handle that one first. Next biggest problem? Hostile with a knife. Next biggest problem, open door. We don’t know what the threat is, but we can see that the civilian’s not really a threat, they got their hands up, so now I’m worried about this door, so I get cover on that door, now I can assign somebody to handle that civilian. It’s real easy to explain that. But if we, as leaders get caught up in a situation where all we do is go from room to room and prioritize and execute what’s in these tactical rooms, we end up not moving forward and that’s why we end up feeling overwhelmed even though we are following the third law of combat, which is to prioritize and execute.

Jocko Willink (09:21):

Part of that law is detach. Make sure that you are detaching far enough back and you’re getting enough altitude that you can actually see if you are making progress toward your broad strategic goals.

Dave Berke (09:42):

When you made the connection to a dog fight or that one against one scenario, when you’ve got 30 other airplanes out there, that dog fight after dog fight, the way you describe it, that connection to me makes sense with that’s the hamster wheel. Because what we’re all supposed to be trying to do is move forward in a direction. We’re trying to move somewhere towards our strategic objective. It sometimes seems impossible to be able to break the cycle of [inaudible 00:10:11] trap, room to room in this tactical prioritize and execute. I think the piece that hit me when you talked about this in real time was, if you take a step back, what do you see?

Dave Berke (10:22):

I was thinking, oh, you see everything. Well, actually, no, if you just take one step back, you just see a little bit more than you’ve seen, or a little more than where you were. You use a firing line example. When you just take a step back, what do you see? The firing line. Okay, then you have to take another step back, what do you see there? That scale of how far back do you need to step away that actually you might need to continue to take step back after step back and as a leader, that’s the freedom that you want when you’re talking about other people on the team doing things, you want to have that freedom. If you get caught up in the tactical piece of it, it’s actually possible to think strategically while you’re operating tactically. This isn’t that we, Hey, we’re going to stop dealing with the shooter or the hostile with a gun, we actually have to do that. But you can actually think strategically and view things strategically by mentally stepping back while that’s happening.

Dave Berke (11:15):

The dog fighting example, all this example is, the reason it gets exhausting and you don’t see any way out of it, is you’re doing tactical for tactical sake. Tactical for tactical sake. That cycle never ends and that’s the hamster wheel is, how do I think strategically? Well, you still need to handle those tactical problems, but you can think strategically simultaneously with those tactical problems. That’s what a leader is supposed to be able to do.

Jocko Willink (11:40):

You know, what’s interesting, when you go far enough back from a dog fight, guess what you can see? You can see that what we need to do is create an aircraft that the enemy can’t even come… You see what I’m saying?

Dave Berke (11:50):


Jocko Willink (11:50):

You can go back to the point where you’re going, wait a second, why are we having dog fights? Why don’t we have a system where as soon as we monitor their airspace and as soon as they launch, we’ve got tracking drones that are just going to go and take them out. That’s stepping back and I’ll tell you where this, because we’re bringing up so many combat examples, where you see this in the business world is, and even in the business world, everybody uses this term, firefight, right? I’ve got a fire to put out. I’ve got a fire to put out today. So you have a fire to put out, you have a client, you have a number of clients that complain about your product.

Jocko Willink (12:29):

Hey Dave, we got, we got so and so, they’re complaining about our product. Okay. Go straighten them out and get it set up for him correctly. Okay, got it. And then the next day, Hey Dave, we got two more clients. Can you go get with them? Yep. Got them. Hey, we’ll spend all day if we’re going out there. Hey Dave, we got three more complaints about the product. Okay, we’re going to go out there and fix it. I’ll take one, you take two. Got it. And that’s what we do. That’s what we do. Or, Hey, wait, this one is our big client, so let’s both go there. That’s the priority, so we prioritize and execute, and then we’ll get to the other ones later this afternoon. Okay. Good job. We prioritize and execute, high five, and this goes on and on. Whereas what one of us needs to do is take a step back and say, wait a second, we have a systemic problem with our product.

Jocko Willink (13:11):

How do we get to our manufacturing and say, “Hey guys, this is a problem with our product. Let’s take a time out. Let’s get this product fixed so we can send it into the field and we don’t have to have these fires to put out anymore.” There’s your example. That’s what we want. We want to take a step back far enough, not just to see that, “Hey, this is our biggest client, that’s who we should go help first.” That’s good for the day, but make sure that at the end of the day, you take another step back and you say, “Wait a second, we need to give feedback to our manufacturing line so they can correct these problems so we don’t have to put out these fires every single day.” That was my first thing for the day.

Jocko Willink (13:58):

Here’s number two. So number two, this kind of got triggered from me during a, I think it was an EF online call, yes, it was. So EF online call, the conversation was about someone that hadn’t been performing. Actually, I don’t even remember the route. It was somebody hadn’t been performing or someone had made a mistake or multiple mistakes and so the conversation moved to, “Okay, well, what needs to happen is you need to have a blunt conversation with this person,” right, which is a place that people like to get to because people think that, when things get bad enough that I just sit Dave down and say, you know what, Dave, the way you put these things together, doesn’t work and that’s a problem, and if you can’t figure out how to put these things together better, I’m going to have to fire you. So people like that, right, because what could possibly be more efficient than that, right? What could possibly be more efficient than a blunt conversation? Well, the fact of the matter is blunt conversations like that, what they actually do is put Dave on the defense and Dave says, “Well, actually the reason I can’t put these products together correctly is because the timeline that you got me on, actually doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, and by the way, the two people you got supporting me, they haven’t been trained.” so you see where I’m going with this?

Jocko Willink (15:19):

All I did was create a negative relationship. By the way, there’s 20 conversations that I should have had before this, that weren’t blunt conversations. Blunt conversations, look, do you get to a point in situations where you do have to have a blunt conversation with someone? Yes, you do. It does arrive. It arrives very seldom. Prior to that, I would like you to try replacing your blunt conversation with blunt questions. I actually do don’t even want you to do that, because a blunt question is Dave, why can’t you get your project done on time? That’s a blunt question. It’s also accusatory. It’s also bad vibes and a negative question. I want you not to use a blunt conversation, and I don’t want you to use a blunt question. I actually want you to use a nice tactical, honest, revealing question. I say revealing, because what my goal is, is to reveal to me and to the person who I’m asking the questions of, what the answer is. Because it’s always much better for Dave to figure out what’s going on or what the problem is than have me tell him what his problem is. I’m going to ask Dave questions.

Jocko Willink (16:41):

I’ve been saying lately that listening is the most underrated tool of leadership. I will tell you that I now believe that the second most underrated tool of leadership is asking people questions. Instead of saying, Dave, you didn’t get this project done. It’s Dave, Hey, Can you explain to me what happened on this project and why we’re going to miss the deadline? That’s a question. That’s not an accusation. There’s a big difference on how you phrase those questions. You have to actually ask real questions. Questions are an incre… Here’s another one. Hey Dave, can you talk to me about what angle you’re taking with Fred his shortfalls with the last project? Can you explain to me the angle because I did I hear yelling? Did I hear you yelling in the office this morning? These are just questions and you go, yeah, well I was mad, Dave says, yeah, well I was mad. Okay, so we are actually going to be able to mentor. We’re going to be able to lead. We’re going to be able to build relationship with questions instead of blunt conversations.

Jocko Willink (18:02):

Here’s the thing about questions. Here’s a beautiful thing that’s wrapped up inside of a question. What’s beautifully up inside of a question. As long as you pose it correctly, as long as you pose it, honestly wrapped up in a question, is humility. Wrapped up inside of a question is humility, which is an amazing thing because we’re talking about, you need to be humble all the time, so when I say to Dave, “Dave, Hey Dave, can you explain to me what happen on this project, what it was that caused this timeline to get missed?” That’s a legitimate question and wrapped up in that is the fact that I don’t actually know. That’s actually wrapped up in there, that I don’t know. I’m humbly asking you a question. The idea of utilizing questions and Leif tells a story in one of the books about he’s spending time in the back of the train, in the kill house, and I say, “Hey Leif, what are you doing back there?” I don’t say “Leif, what the hell are you doing back there?” I say, “Hey Leif, what are you doing back there?” In my mind, I’m thinking, hey, look, I don’t know what he’s seeing down there.

Jocko Willink (19:10):

The leader on the front line is always correct. I say, Hey Leif, what are you doing back there? He says, “Well, I’ve always been told to be in the back.” I say, “Okay, well can you tell what’s going on up in the front of your assault team? Do you know what’s going on up there?” he says, “No, I don’t know what’s going on up there, I’m way back. There are four or five rooms ahead of me down the hallway. I don’t know what they’re doing.” “Okay. Well, if you had to make a decision right now about what they should do, do you think you could do it if you’re not really even sure where they are?” “No, there’s no way I could do that.” “Do you think maybe you should or could move up a little closer to the front so you can actually see what’s going on?” “I’d love to do that, but they always told me to be in the back.”

Jocko Willink (19:51):

Okay. So that’s what I’m saying. Those are just questions. Those are legitimate questions. I use those questions all the time in so many different situations. If you can take and put a, what is it in Spanish, that they put the question mark in front and in the back of the sentence, which I think is a beautiful thing. Especially when you’re reading, because sometimes you’re reading something and you don’t know until you get to the end of the sentence, that it was supposed to be a question. Your tone has to change right at the end of the sentence, which is a pain when you’re recording a podcast and you see a question mark on something that you didn’t know had a question mark on the end of it.

Jocko Willink (20:21):

So what you should do is you should put that little Spanish question mark in the front of your thoughts. Instead of saying, “Dave, you missed the project. You didn’t square your people away.” You say, “Hey, Dave, it looks like we’re going to miss this project again. Hey, is there something that’s going on that is causing us to miss this timeline for the second time?” It’s a legitimate question.

Dave Berke (20:45):

Yeah, there’s a fine line there too. Because when you’re asking that question to Leif, you have to be asking it with… He might give you an answer, go, here’s the reason why I’m back here, and it might be right in that case, could be right. There is a time that he’s supposed to be there as opposed to, well, I’m going to use this technique to ask questions, but I already know the answer, just my way of getting through to this guy. If you ask it, you say it. It’s wrapped up in humility. What’s wrapped up in this question is humility. If you can do that, then the question you’re asking Leif, he might come back and go, “I’m doing it for these reasons,” and go, “Oh good to go. That’s actually a really interesting point. I never even thought of that. There are times I might now add to my repertoire that I’m going to be back in this formation.”

Dave Berke (21:24):

Or it could be that he doesn’t know, like you just said, but the only way to get to that answer that he wants to listen to is to actually have the humility to ask it. Not thinking you already know the answer.

Jocko Willink (21:33):

What if Leif looked up at me and said, “Hey, I led the last couple from the middle. I got my J up there. I got the Lieutenant JG up there in the middle of the training, I’m letting him make the calls.” “Okay, cool. Right on man. Sounds good. Getting him trained up. I like it.” That means if I would’ve said, “Leif, what the hell are you doing in the back of the train?” He would’ve said, “I’m letting my JG freaking get some runs in idiot.”

Dave Berke (21:55):


Jocko Willink (21:56):

Right, so this idea of utilizing questions and then, so use the second most underrated leadership tool first, which is ask questions and then use the first most underrated tool of leadership, which is actually to listen to what the answers are.

Jocko Willink (22:21):

All right. The next thing I wanted to talk about was alignment. Why does it always take longer for me to get through my stuff. Alignment. Here’s the deal with alignment. It’s strange because I’ve had to bring this up recently in a couple different occasions. The first thing I did was ask myself is, and the reason I have to bring this because alignment is freaking important from a leadership perspective. What alignment means is, we are both going in the same direction. We are going toward the same broad, strategic long term goal. That’s what alignment is.

Jocko Willink (23:11):

Now.If it’s so important, which clearly that’s important, why do I end up not talking about it very often? I can tell you the answer. Because in most cases, people are aligned, right. If we have alignment, we are both heading in the same direction. We’re all heading in the same direction. But if we have problems, if we start experiencing problems getting to a resolution, if we can’t agree on a plan or we can’t agree on an idea and I’ve got my ego in check and you’ve got an open mind and we’re still not getting there, this could be a problem of alignment, which is a serious problem. If I’m in charge of Dave, and we’re aligned about wanting to kill bad guys and wanting to protect our guys and wanting to accomplish a mission, then our vision and our ideas and our plan should be close enough, that when you bring a plan to me, guess what? We can use it. We can use it because we are trying to accomplish the same thing. If we’re trying to accomplish the same thing, look, your plan might be a little bit different than my plan, but it’s going to be pretty freaking close.

Jocko Willink (24:39):

Now, could you come up with a wildly, just freaking ridiculous plan? Yes you could. Then if people come up with wildly ridiculous plans, then it’s really obvious, and all I have to do is ask you a couple questions about your plan and it becomes pretty obvious that it’s not good. But if you come up with a plan that’s not wildly ridiculous, but that’s somewhere in the ballpark and we can talk about it, then we can reach a compromise that will make some sense. So that’s what should happen. But if there is not alignment, if we are not aligned, this can become a problem. This is what I was saying on EF online the other day. If we are on a deployment and Dave thinks that zero risk is acceptable, if you think we can take zero risk. Or if Dave thinks that we don’t have to follow the rules of engagement, “Hey, the rules of engagement are for somebody else.” If that’s what you think, if Dave doesn’t believe in cover and move, if you think, “Hey, you know what? I’ll just send my own men out there by themselves. They don’t need anybody to cover for him.” We have a problem. We are not aligned. Those are fundamental misalignments, and We will not be able to come up with a plan that we both agree on because we’re not aligned.

Jocko Willink (26:06):

When we talk to companies and this stems from the fact that on EF online, a guy was asking a question and I could see that what he was saying and what he was saying, he was hearing from his leadership. It was blatantly obvious that they were not aligned. They were not aligned. So how we going to come up with a plan? How we going to come up a plan that both agree with when we’re going to two different places. It doesn’t work. If I run into this situation, where all of a sudden, Dave has these issues with what I’m saying, or I’m sensing that we’re not aligned, maybe I say, “Hey, Dave, wait a second. Let me just make sure I understand this. You’re saying that we can accept no risk whatsoever. What you’re saying is, we’re going to run combat operations, but we can accept zero risk.” Because what I’m trying to do is bring Dave into alignment, right? I’m trying to get you to say, “Yeah, look, I’m nervous about, getting my guys hurt, but you’re right, there’s going to be some risk and we can mitigate as much.”

Jocko Willink (27:14):

Cool. Now we can come up with a plan, because we pulled you in alignment. If you think you don’t need to follow the rules of engagement. I say, “Dave, wait a second here, are you trying to say that we don’t need to follow the rules of engagement and that we can just go out on the battlefield and behave however we want and we don’t care if our guys end up going to jail for breaking the rules? Is that where you’re at?” I’m asking once again, I’m using a question, to ask you this question and for you to go, “No, man, I don’t want my guys to go to jail. I get it. I get it. Look. Some of the rules of engagement seem too strict, but I definitely don’t want.” “Okay, cool so let’s work those into the plan and let’s make sure we’re following them,” and we get alignment. We can move towards that. If you don’t think cover and move is important.

Jocko Willink (27:56):

Do I attack you? No. I might ask you a question. I may say, “Hold on a second, Dave. You’re saying that you want to put a maneuver element out on, in the battlefield with no one to protect them? You just want them out there naked by themselves, because that’s this plan that you’re setting up they’re they’re by themselves. No one can support them. Everyone’s too far away.” and you go, “No, the guys need support.” Okay, so if we see that there’s misalignment, then my job is to get that alignment together, is to bring it there. If in most cases, like I said earlier, the reason why this doesn’t come up very often is that in most cases we’re aligned. Like even those examples I just gave oh look, there’s going to be risky. I know there’s going to be risk. So it’s not like we’re talking… Most of the time we can get there, and it’s the same thing in business. It’s the same thing in business, because in business, “Hey Dave, listen. You want to be profitable, right?? We want to be profitable. We want to take care of our clients. We want to do things in an efficient manner. We want to take care of the people that are our employees.” Right, those are all really simple, easy things to align.

Jocko Willink (29:27):

If we have those alignments, then we should then be able to work through some of these differences of opinions. Because what we’re doing is we’re both going in the same direction. If you and I can have a conversation about what it is we’re trying to make happen, then we should be able to get to a point where we can resolve our disagreement because we’re both trying to get to the same place. But if you are having… And the reason I have to bring this up is because if you’re having conflict after conflict, after conflict that are difficult to solve, and the way that I end up solving them is by ordering Dave, shut up and do what I told you to do.

Jocko Willink (30:11):

If that’s how I resolve it, then we have an alignment problem. Well, if I’ve put my ego in check, if I’ve seen your perspective, if I’ve detached, if I’ve done those things and still, we can’t get to a resolution, if I’ve flanked and looked at it from a different and we still can’t get to a resolution, now I need to start pulling on the string to figure out if you and I are aligned in where we are trying to go. Could it be that you, as a subordinate, have a goal… Your long term goal isn’t quite as elevated as mine. You know where you’re looking at, “Hey, Jocko, why’d you want to make my bonus? I want my team to get their bonuses this quarter.” “Hey, I’m cutting some corners right now, but I want my guys…”

Jocko Willink (30:59):

Now it’s my job to say “Hey Dave, you know what, makes sense, man. Makes sense. I’ll tell you what, if we make those short term sacrifices right now, we’re going to end up paying next quarter, so I’ll tell you what, let’s take a look at the compensation. Let’s see what we can do, because if you’re just going to turn out bad product so that your team can get their bonuses this quarter, I’ve done a bad job of compensating you guys and incentivizing you guys correctly. Let’s do this. Let’s take a look at that compensation plan so that right now, look getting a lot of product out this quarter is definitely important, but there’s something that’s more important than that, and that is not getting a bunch of returns. Because if we sell a bunch of crappy product this quarter and you guys all get your bonuses and you’re all high fiving and then next quarter we start getting a bunch of returns on our product. Look, I know I can’t take those bonuses back from you, but trust me, the reviews will come out and we will be in for a strategic loss.”

Jocko Willink (31:59):

All of a sudden Dave’s nodding his head and going, “Yeah, you know what, got it. So I need to do something to pull our alignment together.” Could it be that you look at me and go, “Hey, it’s not my company. I don’t care how much money they make.” Okay, now we have a problem with alignment. Now we could get to a situation where we’re not compatible, right? All the powers of persuasion that I can muster, can’t overcome your personal agenda and if we have that, if it comes to that, if we cannot get aligned, then we have a serious problem. Hey, if it so happens that your goal, your short term goal is aligned with mine just by luck, that’s great. We would never even notice. We would never even know that. But if it’s not and it’s off and I can’t convince you, persuade, you explain to you, then we might have irreconcilable differences where now what I have to do, is figure out how to get you out of the situation.

Dave Berke (33:01):

Yeah, and you have to know if that misalignment occurs, because that’s what allows you to figure out where the difference is between simply put, your way and my way. If I’m going to sit down and I’m from a position of genuine humility, and go, “Hey, listen, I’m not following your intent over here. Help me out. I don’t know if we’re aligned. I don’t know if what you’re doing is actually supporting the overall objective, because that might be different for you than it is for me. I might be solving a completely different problem.” But if I know that we are aligned, then you and I can have a conversation about what you’re doing, if it supports the larger strategy, support that alignment, then it’s much easier to me go, “Oh, you know what? That makes sense. Because you’re going to the same place that I’m going. We can do that.”

Dave Berke (33:46):

That understanding of the alignment is critical because you could have a difference of how to do something with alignment, and that’s a conversation we can have, no factor. Hey, tell me what you’re doing here. Help me understand that better. That’s a really interesting point. Let’s do that. Have you thought about this and this adjustment and we get to the same end. But if we’re misaligned, that conversation never gets resolved because you’re going somewhere else. If I don’t know that ahead of time, this conversation isn’t going to get us anywhere.

Jocko Willink (34:13):

Yes. But here’s my point is that one of the ways that you discover that you’re not aligned, look, you go into many conversations and you might not know beforehand that Dave’s not like… I might be looking at you going, “Hey man, I see that we’re selling a bunch of product right now, but I also see that you’re getting the product created in a very short period of time and that’s making me wonder what’s happening.” I go into that conversation, I don’t know that we’re not aligned. It’s not until I start pulling the thread and we can’t come to agreement. So what happens is, people go, “Well, I got my ego in check, right? I’m seeing what their perspective is. I’m detached and I still can’t reconcile Dave’s plan with my plan.” That’s the point of me bringing this whole idea up is because the answer could possibly be that we are not aligned. If we can’t work to get alignment, if we can’t bring alignment together, we are going to have a situation that cannot be solved.

Jocko Willink (35:21):

Look, now if I can compromise, I say, “You know what, Dave, that’s a good point, we can make a bunch of money in this quarter and what we’ll do is we’ll set some of that money aside and we’ll be ready to give refunds out. Well look, maybe I can do that.” That’s hopeful, but there are going to be times where you are not aligned with the person that you’re working with and if that happens, you have a real problem and you may have to bifurcate the relationship and move in different directions.

Dave Berke (35:54):

No, that actually is even clearer in my head. Is that it’s the alignment might be what you discover is wrong when we’re going [crosstalk 00:36:05] That might be the way oh, and the way you said it is, I have to have done all these other things.

Jocko Willink (36:09):

Yes, and that’s why I don’t talk about it very often. The reason I don’t talk about it very often is because 97% of the time, [crosstalk 00:36:17]-

Dave Berke (36:17):

Big ego and-

Jocko Willink (36:18):

It’s oh yeah, my ego is in the way. Dave actually has a perfectly good plan, but I just wanted to do it my way. Cool, that’s done. Or, you know what, Dave, now that you show me your perspective, okay, now I get it. Or now that you see my perspective, okay, now I get it. Or now I detach and take a step back and I go, oh well now I see what’s going on. Okay, cool, got it. Any of those problems solves 98% of these things. You throw on a flank in there. Now we can really solve a lot of problems. But occasionally, very rarely, you put all those things through the mechanism to check that they’re okay and when you look, they’re still, we can’t come to a conclusion about this. When that happens, we are not aligned, and if we’re not aligned, again, this should happen so rarely, but if we’re not aligned, we have a real significant problem that may not be able to be overcome.

Jocko Willink (37:09):

So, pay attention to it. Also that means make sure that you explain to people what it is we’re trying to do. Make sure you often explain what our strategic goal is. Make sure people understand what the vision is. Because if they don’t understand it, you can’t hold them accountable or you can’t expect for them to come up with plans that support your strategic goal when you’re not even explaining what the strategic goal is. Which is also a good thing that happens. Right, I start talking to you, Dave, and you’re not agreeing with me. I start pulling the thread on this thing, and finally I figured out, oh, you’re heading over here. You’re heading due west. I never even told you, “Oh, by the way, we don’t want to head west. We want to head northwest.” You go, “Oh, okay. What’s northwest.” “Oh, there’s this goal.” “Oh, I thought you just were looking at this goal over here that’s only a mile away to the direct west. I thought that’s where we were going. Thank you for telling me.”Sometimes these conversations can lead us to bring alignment, which is great, which is super. If it turns out that you don’t have alignment, that’s a problem.

Jocko Willink (38:14):

All right. I think I got one more of these things to cover. This is flanking. On one of the last podcasts, which you already mentioned, I think on the last podcast, which is this idea of how ego and detachment and perspective are sort of… They’re tools that we have to employ in order to make things work, right? If we talk about cover and move, but our egos are out of control, it’s not working. If we talk about prioritize and execute, but we’re not detached, it’s not working. If we talk about decentralized command, but we don’t know the other person’s perspectives, it’s not working. So there’s these things that we have to do. We have to put into check, we have to run that mechanism in our head to make sure that we’re seeing things.

Jocko Willink (39:06):

As I thought about those three, I thought about one more thing on that list and that thing is flanking, which is a term that I use it all the time. I use it in jujitsu. I use it in the business world I talk about on the battlefield, we have to flank, right. He who flanks wins. He who attacks from an unprotected angle, is going to win. He who doesn’t attack straight head on and attack the main defenses of the enemy, is going to win. If you come to the side, if you flank, so that’s what it is.

Jocko Willink (39:54):

Flanking is not just attacking from a new direction. It’s also seeing from a new direction. Beyond that, because seeing from a new direction is just, it could be explained as just perspective, right? If I see something from your direction, that could be described as perspective, but here’s the difference. When I talk about perspective, when I talk about seeing it from your perspective, I’m implying that I’m seeing it from someone else’s angle, from your angle in this case. If I say, “Oh I’m going to see Dave’s perspective.” Okay, now I’m seeing it from your position. But there’s a limiting factor there. The limiting factor is that it’s someone else’s position. When I talk about flanking, It’s about seeing things from a completely new direction, from a completely new position that no one even occupies. No, one’s there. It’s not just seeing because seeing is the metaphor, but it’s actually thinking about things from a completely new angle, a completely new direction.

Jocko Willink (41:21):

I do this all the time. I do this all the time. When I think about problems, I’m not only thinking about it from the perspectives of the people that are in the problem. I’m thinking about it from other perspectives that can’t be pointed to. You can’t point to that position because it doesn’t exist, and that’s my goal. That’s what flanking is to be from somewhere that no one expected. When I answer question, when I solve problems, I do this. I was trying to think of basic ways to break this down. Oh, there’s a leak in that pipe. You and I are in the kitchen, and all of a sudden we see a drip on the floor, open up the cabinets underneath the sink. We see the little water pipe coming up and it’s leaking. What do we do?

Jocko Willink (42:16):

Well, Okay, hey, you got plumbers tape? You got some waterproof tape.You got some epoxy we can put on there, we put a bucket underneath. I’ll just hold it for a while. Which those are all solutions. What’s the flank? The flank is, “Hey. Yeah, I’ll go outside and shut off the main water.” Right? I’m just going to shut down that problem. Neither one of us are outside, but how can we look at it from that other angle? How can we detach? How can we step back? How can we see something from an angle that no one else is seeing it from? Here’s a common question that we get, and again, I’m trying to just think of the easiest examples, and part of the reason I’m thinking of the easiest examples is because you can’t manufacture inspirado, to quote Tenacious D. You can’ just say, “Oh, I’m going to think of a cool flank.” I have to be put in that situation where you say, “Oh, this is what’s going on. How?” But here’s a common question. How do I get the troops to buy into the plan? People say, oh, how do I get my troops to buy in?

Jocko Willink (43:25):

The wrote answers are, well, you need to explain the why, make sure that they understand why. Hey, you need to make sure they understand the long term strategy. Hey, you may need to make sure that you connect the… These are my answers, by the way, too. I’m not saying that these are bad, but Hey, you need to connect at the thread of why and make sure that they understand that when the team wins, this is how it benefits them. That’s how you can get them to buy in to the plan. All those are correct. What’s the flank answer? This is one of those flank answers that I probably gave for the first time, seven years ago, or whatever, when someone said, how do I get people to buy into the plan? I heard someone said, well, explain the why and explain the strategy and, give them an order to do and whatever they were going to say.

Jocko Willink (44:02):

I said, actually, let them come up with a plan. It seems real obvious right now, because I wrote about a leadership strategy and tactics, but I remember the first time I said that to someone, it was like oh, wow. I still get that.If we’re working with a new client that I’ve never worked before and they go, “Hey, we’re just having trouble getting buy-in from the troops. They don’t want to buy into the plan. Well, how do we get them to buy in?” Let them come up with a plan. People are blown away by that. People are blown away by that. Why? Because it’s a totally different perspective. It’s a totally different angle to hit them with. Don’t just see or think of flank As a different way of attacking things or a different way of seeing things. Think of it as a different way of thinking about things. If you can do that, it will open your mind.

Jocko Willink (45:10):

Once again, my turn took a little longer.

Dave Berke (45:14):

Good place to stop.

Jocko Willink (45:16):

If you want to hear us talk about this stuff even more, or you want to ask us specific questions about what we’re talking about, maybe you want to bring your problems or your issues to the table and see what we have to see, see if we can flank those, well, you can join Dave and me and the rest of the Echelon Front team at, where we are live. We are there. You can ask us questions. You’ve probably been doing, look, it’s, what is it? September, 2020. You are probably doing Zoom meetings with people in your organization, with your family, with your friends, whatever. We’re doing that too. You want to talk to us? Come on. We solve problems through leadership. If you want leadership guidance inside your organization, inside your company, we do that as well.

Jocko Willink (46:11):

We have a leadership consultancy. That’s what we do. We go in and get people’s leadership aligned inside companies. If you want that, go to I’ve also written a bunch of books about leadership, extreme ownership, that dichotomy of leadership and leadership strategy and tactics. I’ve got some other podcasts where I talk about these types of things, Jocko podcasts, another podcast called Jocko Unraveling, a podcast called Grounded and The Warrior Kid podcast. If you want to support any of these podcasts, including this one, you can get some gear from or Thanks for supporting us and thanks for listening as we debrief. Now, go lead. This is Dave and Jocko, out.

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