How You See People Outside Of Work Affects How You Work With Them At Work

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #21

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The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #21:
How You See People Outside Of Work Affects How You Work With Them At Work.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

This is the Jocko Debrief podcast, episode 21 with Dave Berke and me, Jocko Willink. Dave Burke, let’s debrief. What do you got?

Dave Berke (00:11):

How you look at people outside of your organization makes a huge difference in how you work with them inside of your organization. So here’s the situation. We’ve got an [inaudible 00:00:22] client we’ve been working with for a while. I was doing actually a full day workshop with them. So it’s their leadership and management team. It’s me and 15 of their folks. And this company, they do post-production for a small aircraft builder. So this company builds aircraft. People buy the aircraft from the company, but they have six or seven companies around the country that do some aftermarket updates and some upgrades and makes some modifications and stuff. So the work that these smaller companies do, this company that we are working with is one of these companies, has to do a really precise job meeting the specifications of this larger aircraft company so when the clients, the customers, get their product, it’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. It’s an airplane. So very tight tolerances.

Jocko Willink (01:01):


Dave Berke (01:02):

So this parent company, to make sure that these other smaller companies doing this after production work to make sure it’s done correctly, they send out an inspector. So the inspector goes around to these smaller companies and makes sure that all the setups and all the works that are being done meets that specification so they know the customers are going to be happy. So this company we’re working with is having a problem with this inspector because as they describe him, he’s super condescending and hard to get along with. So the question is, how do we deal with this guy? So the way they describe the situation, this guy shows up and he’s got a checklist and a clipboard and all these things that he’s looking for.

Jocko Willink (01:39):

He’s a freaking inspector.

Dave Berke (01:41):

He’s an inspector.

Jocko Willink (01:41):

If I was an inspector, I would have clipboards all over the place and checklists.

Dave Berke (01:46):

Totally man.

Jocko Willink (01:47):

And I’d have a small steel ruler.

Dave Berke (01:50):

I like that.

Jocko Willink (01:50):

You know what I’m saying? A small steel ruler because I’m going to be measuring some stuff.

Dave Berke (01:54):

That’s what this guy does, man. So he goes around, he’s looking at their shop and how their tools are set up. Is it marked correctly? How is all the safety procedures? And he’s also got this publication, this manual that’s really used as the guidelines. And this manual maybe doesn’t cover all the details, so they have the sense that he applies some subjectivity. Because if it’s not in the manual, he’s got to come up with how it should be. And he’ll come in one month and say, “Hey, this is what I need.” He’ll come back the next month, and even though it’s not in the manual, he’ll make a change to it. They call it moving the goal post. So they say, “Every times he comes in, he moves the goal posts.” And they describe it as if this guy goes out of this way to find things wrong.

Dave Berke (02:33):

And at the end of his two day trip, he’ll bring the whole leadership team in here into his office and then he’ll lecture them on how they need to do a better job. And there’s a single rep at this company that’s the liaison for this guy and he’s the one that asked the question. He said, “This relationship is a nightmare. How can I get this guy to stop being a jerk?” That’s the direct quote. So that’s the situation. This inspector, this guy, and how do we make this guy stop being such a jerk? And of course the solution or the answer is you actually can’t make this guy do anything. But what you can do is actually we can change our viewpoint. We can change our perspective. We can take some ownership of what he has to say and actually try to make this guy part of the team.

Dave Berke (03:17):

So when we started talking about the way to solve this, the most important thing I wanted to start with was how does our team view this outside guy from this other company? What is their view of that? And so I even asked, I said, “Hey, deep down, what do you think this guy’s number one real goal is when he comes here? What is he really trying to do?” And so they went around in the room. This is some of the things they said. He’s here to find problems. He’s here to make us look bad. He wants to show us that he is in charge. He wants to talk down to us. And they could tell, and I think what you’re doing is probably what I was doing, they could tell from the look on my face and my reaction that their answers probably weren’t exactly right.

Dave Berke (04:02):

Until someone on the team finally said something that I thought was pretty awesome. And I remember even where she was sitting, sitting in the back corner. So she had to stand up to be heard. And she said, “He’s here to help us.” And everybody stopped, turned around and I’m like, “Hey, say that again.” She goes, “He’s here to help us.” And that was it. That was the line that made everybody realize that we could change our view of him. And so listen, if you’ve got outside inspectors, like in this case, if you’ve got subcontractors, people outside of your team that have to come in and work with you, you can’t necessarily control how they are, how they act, and how they talk. But you can 100% control how you look at them, how you view them, and how you perceive them.

Dave Berke (04:50):

And so that led us into doing some role play and we kind of walked through some scenarios. And the first scenario was, “Hey, instead of pushing back against all the things that he said, what if we took ownership of his criticism and feedback for us? What if we took ownership of the things he said and said, “Yeah, you’re right. We can fix those things.” And instead of moving the goal post or accusing him of moving the goal post, what if we thanked him for digging deeper than what the manual said and exposing some places where we could actually get better, even if it’s not written down?” And then we talked about, “Hey, what if every single time he showed up here, we thanked him for the work that he did and took his inputs on board and tried to correct them? And what if we listened to his condescending rants?”

Dave Berke (05:34):

“And instead of sitting there with our chairs with the arms folded kicking back, what if we took notes and wrote them down? And what would happen to the relationship if we did all those things? Would the relationship get better or would it get worse?” And there was this argument up at this publication that, “We want to make input to this publication and we should be able to influence this publication and make it more clear.” Would having a good relationship with him make it easier or harder to change that publication? And if we had a better relationship, would we do better or would we do worse on these inspections? And then I asked this other question too. I said, “What do you think day to day life for this guy is? This guy gets in a plane, flies to seven different locations once a month, all around the country, and what do you think he’s met with?” And I asked him that and I said, “This guy’s life is a nightmare.”

Dave Berke (06:20):

This guy works for the parent company. He’s given a checklist and a list of things. He’s got to fly around the country to make sure these other companies do exactly what they’re supposed to do. And more than likely, none of these companies are building relationships to him. They’re pushing back, they’re arguing, there’s friction, and it’s probably understandable why he is the way that he is. So why don’t we check our ego, why don’t we take some ownership, why don’t we build a good relationship, and why don’t we make it our goal that, of those seven companies he works with, he actually likes ours the best, that we’re his favorite place to be, we’re the people he wants to work with. What would happen to us and what would happen to that relationship, if that’s the viewpoint that we took? Rather than try to get him to stop being the way that he was, what if we took ownership of how we were and tried to improve the relationship there and apply that solution to the problem? Make sense?

Jocko Willink (07:09):

Oh yeah. It makes perfect sense.

Dave Berke (07:11):

You’ve seen this before?

Jocko Willink (07:12):

It makes perfect sense and it’s just so funny. The one thing that I’ve done before that you didn’t mention is, you got close, but sometimes I would game-ify things. So that’s the next level. And maybe it’s because you’re dealing with professionals. When I would game-ify things, I was probably dealing with my platoon. Not that my platoon wasn’t professional, but they’re younger and they’re just more abrasive so you could have some fun with it. The other interesting thing is you rattled off a list of when someone is, “trying to show us he’s in charge,” or, “talking down to us,” or, “make us look bad,” when you feel those feelings about someone else you, that is such an obvious indicator that your ego is being offended and you just need… Look, is there a 0.04% chance that this guy is legitimately just a jerk? That possibility does exist in the world.

Jocko Willink (08:20):

And I don’t even like to say that because, well, the chances are they aren’t. And here’s the thing, even if they were that person, what’s the best way to handle that? It’s by being cool. It’s by doing what you said. Hey, imagine when somebody is going to tell you something and you take out a notebook and write down what they said. That is such a powerful tool on 19 different levels, the number one and two levels. Number one, you actually are taking the information and you’re going to be able to hold onto it and take action on it. And number two, you’re telling them, “I really care about what you’re saying enough to put it in eternal documentation because I’m going to write this down,” which is awesome. And then thank you. What an incredible jujitsu tool that is, to maneuver and make someone’s attitude, someone who’s coming at you and someone who’s hostile, to say, “Thank you. I appreciate that feedback. I’m writing it down.” Such an incredible tool. People don’t use it.

Dave Berke (09:34):

Yeah. And to your point, those tools work everywhere. And I think part of this problem initially is they have this sense of, “Oh, this guy doesn’t work for us. So we don’t have the normal tools available.” But to your point is that actually doesn’t matter. You don’t have to use that technique because it’s not really a technique. It’s how you should be. Whether it’s an outside guy, an inside guy, your boss, your subordinate, your peers, or whatever it might be. So the cool thing about that-

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:10:04]

Dave Berke (10:03):

… subordinate, your peers, or whatever it might be. So the cool thing about that was it also dispelled the idea that, “Well, we have to interact differently when they’re outside the company because we don’t have these traditional mechanisms to get people to stop being the way that they are.” Listen to people, treat them with respect, [inaudible 00:10:16] go and check, all those same things apply.

Dave Berke (10:18):

And the other cool thing about that is that I’m sitting there facilitating this discussion. The feedback actually came from inside. It’s that girl saying, “Hey, he’s here to help us. He’s here to help us find mistakes so we don’t deliver something to a customer who’s paying us a ton of money and that they end up unhappy because we didn’t do these things.” And that perspective alone. And so the other part of that was cool is there’s about month in between my onsite visits with them and inside those two visits, they had this guy come out.

Dave Berke (10:47):

I’m not to say this is a full 180, but I enjoyed listening to them talk about he was startled at how nice they were and even this liaison apologized and just how easy it was to get moving in the right direction with God just by doing exactly what you said. You know, “Hey man, thanks for being here. Appreciate these inputs. This is what we wrote down. This is what we’re going to fix. When you come back, we’re going to get this thing taken care of.” And he’s like, “Oh okay, great. See you in a month.” So we’re on the path to solving this one.

Jocko Willink (11:14):

Right on good stuff. All right. What’s the next one?

Dave Berke (11:16):

Right on. Kind of similar in the vein of relationships. Just because you’re in charge, it doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to be on board with your plan. You still need to build relationships up and down the chain and you still need to pay attention to what’s going on around you. So I’m going to set this one up and talk a little bit about it, but I also want to talk to you about some things that I’ve heard you discuss in the past. And I think it was when you were working for the Admiral. I’ll get to you in just a minute, but this is a situation here where we’re working directly for a small company and the president of this company brought us in. So there’s this big international company that owns, I don’t know, probably seven or eight smaller companies. He’s the president of one of those smaller companies here in the United States. We work with him.

Dave Berke (11:58):

We haven’t been with him for too long. He’s relatively new to the company, but he’s kind of put in charge and has what he feels like is a lot of free reign to run this smaller company that he’s in charge of. And as soon as he gets into the seat as the president, he starts making some fairly big changes. He’s making a lot of personnel changes and they were mostly well received, but they were expensive. He was off boarding a bunch of people, bringing in new people, making a lot of internal changes inside of the organization. And he wasn’t quite aware of it. It was starting to create some friction. And in a few months, basically because of the cost of what was happening is the board of directors, so this parent company, came in and shut him down, shut down his plans.

Dave Berke (12:38):

And the hardest part for him about this was that they did it publicly. And so what happened was, as he’s making these changes, a letter comes down from the parent company board of directors that says, “Hiring freeze and all lateral movements are frozen.” And he’s on this email. So it’s the email to the whole company. It’s 120 people. All of them get this email. So rather than him get a letter from his boss saying, “Hey man, we need you to stop doing this.”

Jocko Willink (13:03):

When you say the whole company, you just mean his whole company?

Dave Berke (13:05):

Yeah, yeah. This one small company of 120 people. So it’s a pretty public thing, comes straight from the board of directors and it’s a hit. It’s a big hit for this guy. It kind of shuts down his agenda, caused some real friction up and down the chain and he had the sense of he had a lot less influence and a lot less power to do what he wanted than he thought. And he was blindsided by this. He didn’t see this thing coming.

Dave Berke (13:27):

Couple things to think about here. One is, hey listen, and I saw this in the military. I saw this in my time in the military a lot is you can be in charge, but you always have a boss. And maybe that boss isn’t there with you. Maybe that boss is in another country. Maybe that boss is at another company. Maybe that boss is at a different location, but you’re the president of this company, you aren’t completely autonomous. You’ve got some leadership that you have to maintain a good relationship with and it’s not a license to operate on your own. I saw this especially when I was in the F-35, as I was running this F-35 squadron and nobody knew what was going on. Nobody knew about the airplane. Nobody knew what I was doing. Nobody had any perspective or insight because they didn’t know about the airplane, but that didn’t mean I just ignored my leadership.

Dave Berke (14:13):

And my boss was on a whole different base. And you’ve talked a little bit about this even when you were in Task Unit Bruiser, is your boss wasn’t there with you at Shark Base or Camp Marc Lee, your boss was I think in-

Jocko Willink (14:25):


Dave Berke (14:26):

… Fallujah. And my boss was in Al Asad, 60, 70 miles away. And obviously there’s some things about that that are important. Of course, you got to keep your leadership in the loop. You got to keep them aware. You got to keep them on board with your plan and you got to work up as much as you have to work down. But there’s something I wanted to talk to you about a little bit too is even sometimes when you’re doing the right thing, when you are making the right moves, doing the right thing, and you have an agenda that is actually what’s in the best interest of the company, that doesn’t always mean that everybody else is on board. Other people have their own agendas. Other people have their own plans. And I think you called it the little brother of alignment was agenda.

Jocko Willink (15:07):


Dave Berke (15:07):

Something along those lines. An agenda by itself isn’t a bad thing. Having an agenda isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes agendas can actually be a problem if they are moving in different directions, if they are somewhat self-serving or not aligned with your particular agenda. And you have to be aware of the people around you have an agenda. And my intent here isn’t to reveal that somehow his boss had a negative agenda, it’s to recognize that what makes sense to you, what seems right, what seems to be the best interest of the team, other people don’t always have that same perspective. You have to be aware that even when you are in charge, [inaudible 00:15:41] you could be this CEO. You still have to recognize that the people around you may not be on board with your planning. You have to be aware of that.

Dave Berke (15:50):

I think I’m right, but I remember you talking about having to think strategically for your Admiral on what other leadership had what’s in the best interest of their teams, because yeah, the military’s all one big thing, but the Services want things for themselves. The Navy wants the Navy to be in charge. The Marine Corps wants the Marine Corps to be in charge. And these relationships at high levels, you had to be aware of other people’s agendas and how they were maneuvering.

Jocko Willink (16:13):

Here’s a cool thing to do and it’s a smart thing to do. And you got your little agenda, whatever it may be, and then your boss has his agenda, whatever that may be. Guess what the best thing to do is? Support your boss’ agenda. Now, is there a chance that your boss’ agenda is so far removed in the direction where you believe you should be going with your team that it makes no sense whatsoever? There is a chance, but generally speaking, in any organization the subordinate organizations are trying to move in the same direction as the elevated parts of the organization.

Jocko Willink (16:56):

There’s no division in a company that’s like, “Oh, we’re over here trying to lose money.” There’s no division in a company saying, “Hey, we’re trying to treat our people badly.” That’s not happening. So if my boss has an agenda that’s a little bit different, I might make adjustments to my agenda so that we come in a little bit cleaner. So here’s an example, when we got to Ramadi, we weren’t working for my commanding officer at first. We were working for another commanding officer for two weeks. So that’s the way they do big… What do they call it? Relief in place.

Dave Berke (17:34):


Jocko Willink (17:34):

The subordinate units replace the other subordinate units before the senior leaders get replaced. So I roll in there and I’m working for the CO, the commanding officer of SEAL Team 1 and I know him, but I don’t know him well. And one of my guys, who I was friends with, who’s a SEAL, who had been there with SEAL Team 1, and working for that commanding officer. He gives me this piece of intel. He says, “Hey, this commanding officer at SEAL Team 1, he loves interpreters, he loves Arabic culture, he thinks our interpreters are so important, and so you might want to talk about the interpreters a little bit.” So I said, “Cool.” My commanding officer from SEAL Team 3 and the commanding officers from SEAL Team 1 came out for a brief from me when I turned over.

Jocko Willink (18:24):

I gave probably a 10 slide brief. I think six of the slides were individually profiling each one of the interpreters that we had and talking about the importance of interpreters and talking about how they bring this dynamic capability to the battlefield and all this stuff. And it was all true. It was all true. It was really smart. It was also the most full support for the commanding officer from SEAL Team 1’s agenda.

Jocko Willink (18:50):

And so he literally was like, “You get it. What’s going on here?” And I was like, “Well, thank you, sir.” And when we submitted that night to do operations, to go out and do a direct action mission, what do you think he said?

Dave Berke (19:03):

Approved, yeah.

Jocko Willink (19:04):

Approved. He didn’t need to see anything else from me. I aligned with what he was doing. It made sense. It wasn’t like he was saying, “Hey, what we should do is go out and wear freaking orange strobe lights on our heads.” He wasn’t saying that and he wouldn’t say that. He noticed a particular capability that we had, he realized the power of it, and I said, “Oh, that’s a great capability. I agree. Boom. Here’s what I’m going to brief you on. Sure, I’m going to tell you our capabilities. I’m going to tell you how many snipers we have, but you know what else we have? We’ve got the interpreters. We did a great turnover from your guys. They gave us a great turnover.”

Jocko Willink (19:37):

And that meant we were aligned. And that meant we did a bunch of operations for that commanding officer. So by the time my commanding officer took over, we had already done a bunch of ops and he felt comfortable with what we were doing. And boom, we continued. There was no lag. There was no gap. So I think that’s an important thing. Like you said, you want to understand other people’s agendas. The common example I give with this…

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:20:04]

Jocko Willink (20:03):

… People’s agendas. The common example I give with this is you got Leif and you got Seth in Charlie platoon and Delta platoon and if we only had 10 sets of night vision, both Leif and Seth are going to want all that night vision. They’re going to want them all. And they’re going to be pulling for all of them. Each of them are going to come to me separately and be like, “Hey, Jock. You know, I think my platoon would really be better with the night vision.” And Seth comes in, “Hey, bro. I really think we’d be better.” And that’s what they’re going to say.

Jocko Willink (20:29):

You’re going to have a natural positive tension in your organization of people that are fighting for their own departments, divisions, platoons, whatever. Teams. And that’s okay as long as they don’t undermine, back stab, lie in order to improve their own position.

Dave Berke (20:50):


Jocko Willink (20:50):

If Leif comes and makes a case and says, “Hey, Jocko. You know what? The types of operations we’re doing here in Charlie platoon, we’re doing mostly night operations. We’re going out on these direct action missions at night. Seth’s doing over-watches during the day. It just doesn’t make sense.” Okay, that’s a legitimate case. If Seth comes to me and says, “Hey, you know what? When we maneuver into our over-watch positions, if we can be blacked out we’re going to be way more clandestine. Leif’s doing direct action but guess what? Direct actions loud and they’re making noise anyway so they might as well use …” These are, by the way, false arguments. This didn’t happen. But if it happened, they’re just presenting cases.

Dave Berke (21:32):


Jocko Willink (21:33):

And that’s okay. Now, if Leif comes to me and says, “You know, Seth’s guys didn’t even site in their lasers. They don’t deserve …” And that was a lie, then we got a problem. He’s undermining.

Dave Berke (21:41):


Jocko Willink (21:41):

It’s a lie. So what I have to do is sort through the natural tension that is going to exist and then I have to present alignment to the team and say, “Hey, here’s the decision I made. What we’re going to do is we’re going to do a month of night ops, a month of day ops and you guys are going to flip flop. And that’s what we’re doing.” Whatever. But I’ve got to align those agendas because those agendas are going to exist. And agendas are okay. You mentioned this … that agendas can start going off course. They can only go so far off course if you’re ultimately aligned. If we’re not ultimately aligned, cool. Now they will go off course and they will never touch again.

Dave Berke (22:22):


Jocko Willink (22:24):

What else? I think I’m missing whatever you were talking about when I was working for the admiral and the teams.

Dave Berke (22:29):

My recollection is there’s almost a sense, sometimes, of competition amongst teams that … And probably the best example I can come up with … And maybe I’m misplacing that it was something you were saw when you were the admiral … But you would go into these meetings … At least I thought you did or I’ve seen them where each of the services there is represented. The Navy’s there to advocate for …?

Jocko Willink (22:53):


Dave Berke (22:53):

The Navy. And the Army’s there to advocate for the Army. And the Marines there to advocate for the Marines. Yeah. And the big picture, yes, we’re all on the same team but you would see sometimes that … And sabotage is too strong of a word but they would manipulate the discussion to make sure their agenda, which was to support their own team, ended up being supported. And coming in with this altruistic idea of, “Hey, here’s the assets I have, here’s the experience I have, here’s the training I have, I am in the best interest to do this and it is actually the right thing,” doesn’t mean everybody else is going to go, “Oh, yeah. Hey, Jocko, you’re right.”

Dave Berke (23:25):

You’ll see people maneuvering to go, “Yeah, Jocko’s a little bit better suited than I am for this but …”

Jocko Willink (23:31):


Dave Berke (23:32):

Exactly. And more than anything, it’s just the awareness of that … Is you don’t want to walk in blind to the idea that other people are going to push their agenda. That doesn’t mean they’re trying to sabotage you, doesn’t mean they’re trying to submarine you, but you got to be aware of that. You can’t go in there thinking, “Oh, that guy would never do that,” when, in fact, you should be prepared for him to do that.

Jocko Willink (23:53):


Dave Berke (23:54):

Just that awareness of people maneuvering for their agendas … You can rub up against the … You can get close to … We’re getting close to this actually isn’t what’s in the best interest for the team. But just because your plan is the best plan doesn’t mean everybody can go, “Ah. Yeah. Hey, boss. We should do it the Navy way. The Army is just going to roll over and give you what you want.”

Jocko Willink (24:11):


Dave Berke (24:12):

It’s not going to happen.

Jocko Willink (24:12):

I didn’t know you were talking about that big picture. Yes, because there was times were I was in the Pentagon and I was sitting in meetings and listening. It’s the ultimate fly on the wall job is being an aid. Yeah. I would be in meetings and you could see those things happening where clearly the Army would be the best for this or the Marine Corps would be the best for that or the Navy would be the best for this. And you could see that sometimes … I don’t know if I want to say occasionally … Sometimes there would be, “You know what? That makes the most sense.” Sometimes that would happen.

Dave Berke (24:45):


Jocko Willink (24:45):

Sometimes it was, “Well, but …”

Dave Berke (24:48):


Jocko Willink (24:49):

So, that is a good warning. It’s a good thing to think about. Being right has its limits.

Dave Berke (24:58):

Yeah. I like that.

Jocko Willink (25:01):

Being right has it’s limits.

Dave Berke (25:03):

So, this was a lesson for him to close out with. This one hurt. This set him back a little bit. But the lesson of, “Hey, you got to pay attention to that,” what you described … And when you elevate to that ultimate position that you want where you’re in charge, it doesn’t change the dynamic of relationships and alignment are critical for you.

Jocko Willink (25:20):

Yeah. It’d be interesting … I don’t know if you got to this level of detail with him but why did the mod stop this? And what it could have been was here’s this president, comes on board, starts going, “Okay, I’m going to make some investments here. I’m going to spend some money.” There might have been some of these other guys at one of these peer companies, these sister companies, that was like, “What are you giving him all this money for?” And it might have been totally legitimate. Well, you know, he’s just taking over. They got to go into this market area but this other guy’s going negative. “I should get that money. You shouldn’t let him hire more people. You’re not letting me hire more people.”

Dave Berke (25:51):

“I need those NVGs. He doesn’t need those NVGs.” Yeah.

Jocko Willink (25:53):

Exactly. And then what does the board do instead of … They just shut it down.

Dave Berke (25:58):


Jocko Willink (25:59):

It might have been the easiest mood for them. Freaking doesn’t make sense. Doesn’t make sense unfortunately is not a closing argument where a case closed on that one.

Dave Berke (26:12):


Jocko Willink (26:12):

How many times like, “It doesn’t make sense.” “Roger, we’re going for it.”

Dave Berke (26:14):

“We’re still doing it.” Yeah.

Jocko Willink (26:20):

Yeah. I got a tagline for you. You want a tagline? My tagline is, “Don’t believe everything you believe. Don’t believe everything you believe.” I’ve been reading a bunch of Nam. I guess that’s nothing new. I’ve been reading a bunch of Nom, been reading a bunch of MacNamara and about MacNamara and JFK and LBJ. And one thing I was focused on a little bit lately was the events. I was reading some stuff and listening to some interviews with MacNamara about some of the events that led to The Vietnam War or at least events that led to this escalation in The Vietnam War. One of those events that led greatly to the escalation of the way was the Gulf of Tonkin events. These attacks … air quotes around “attacks” … that happened by the North Vietnamese Navy against American ships.

Jocko Willink (27:22):

Look, I’m not going to do a Jocko podcast right now and give the full rendition of what happened. There was attacks on August 2nd. There was attacks on August 4th. This was 1964. The first attack that took place, in hindsight, was an actual, legitimate attack. These North Vietnamese Navy boats, they attacked. They shot torpedoes. They were actually torpedo boats. Little torpedo boats. I actually read about them. They could travel 50 knots. And the American ships that they could attack were bigger ships that could only travel like 20, 22, 25 knots or something like this. Anyways, they fired torpedoes, they fired machine guns at this American ship, the U.S.S. Maddox, and then broke contact and James Stockdale was overhead and attacked the vessels as they were going away. And the whole engagement was about 22 minutes. So, a 22-minute naval battle between a small US Navy ship and three North Vietnamese ships. That happens. But it was sort of unexpected and because it was unexpected was like, “Wait a second, what just happened?” It’s like when somebody slaps you in the face for no reason. You might not immediately punch them back because you’re like, “Wait, what just happened?” Or somebody that you do not expect comes up and verbally starts going off about something and you’re not prepared for that. So you sort of don’t even believe that happened and you can hear people say that. People say, ” I can’t believe he just said that.” Like Dave comes in here, yells at me, walks out. I look at Leif, I’m like, “I can’t believe he just did that.” If you came in and you said, “This sucks. I can’t believe you’re going to do this.” You went berserk, totally out of character for you, you’d walk out and I’d go, “Dude, I can’t believe he just did that. I can’t believe he just did that.”

Jocko Willink (29:22):

And guess what? Basically, we didn’t really believe it happened. It happened but we didn’t really believe it happened. And then we start wrapping our minds around this; what had happened on August 2nd. And on August 4th, there’s another “attack” and this attack, it has US Navy vessels firing at targets on radar for a couple hours. For two hours the US Navy is engaging targets at sea. Well, there was …

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [00:30:04]

Jocko Willink (30:03):

Well, there was no targets out there. There was weather, there was bad weather. There was storms. The way radar works, it can pick up things. Strangely, these guys were hyped up about what had gone down a couple days before. Admiral Herrick, who’s a guy that was over there on scene reported back that the, eventually reported back that all this firing was due to “freak weather” and “over eager sonar men.” So you’re a sonar guy and you’re in ‘Nam, and two days ago you get like, hey, we think there was an attack or there was an attack. There was an attack. So now you’re watching that radar a lot closer. And you start to believe there’s going to be someone attacking us. And you believe that, wait a second, there’s a movement over there on my radar. Hey, we need to send, launch freaking bombs at that thing. So that’s what they did. They had a two hour sea battle. And by the way, also Stockdale was up in the air again, and was like, “Mm, there’s nothing out there.” I’m laughing, but it’s not funny. Because guess what? Within 30 minutes of this fake battle, LBJ, President Johnson orders retaliatory attacks against Vietnam, against north Vietnam. And they were big attacks. And that was the sort of the beginning, because now we’re going to bomb. Next thing you know, the Marines were landing. So why did this happen? Why did this happen? Why did these two cases, why were these cases different?One, they didn’t believe that this was going to happen or that this could be happening and therefore they didn’t react. And the next one, they believed that this could happen. And so they just imposed their belief on it and started a freaking war, started a war that was billions of dollars and 150,000 wounded Americans and over 58,000 Americans killed. So it’s sort of like your first topic today, the way you perceive the people that you’re working with.

Jocko Willink (32:17):

Well, what you believe about a situation, it literally impacts what you see and how you react. So just because you believe something doesn’t mean you should believe it. Keep yourself in check. Anything?

Dave Berke (32:38):

I have the benefit, I think twofold. One is having spent a lot of time in the military and some school, I got to unpack a little bit of McNamara and just the frustration. In retrospect and obviously you’ve seen this stuff in hindsight and then you just a podcast not too long ago about it. And as you’re drawing the connection between this, you could probably make the argument, this totally innocuous borderline meaningless event, this fake attack, or, hey, I misread the radar or I didn’t interpret this correctly. I was a little amped up because of what happened two days ago. So I reacted a particular way and I’m not a big slippery slope guy. I’m not a big overreaction guy, but you’re drawing a straight line from those things to that escalation, to what happened over the next eight years. And how powerful and how influential ego is, going back to McNamara, going back to LBJ. When you care so much about how you are perceived and how you were looked at and what your image to the world looks like, what you’ll be willing to do to preserve that image and the power that that has, yes, we don’t need to be talking about full scale war every time, but it affects all of us, how easy it is to fall into that trap. And even the phrase, don’t believe everything you believe. I mean, think about how hard that is to go, wait a second, I believe this. And I have to recognize that I sometimes shouldn’t and that’s a hard thing. And there’s catastrophe hidden inside that if you can’t do that.

Jocko Willink (34:18):


Dave Berke (34:18):

Or there’s potential catastrophe side that if you can’t do that yeah.

Jocko Willink (34:21):

Because belief exists unto itself.

Dave Berke (34:24):


Jocko Willink (34:25):


Dave Berke (34:25):


Jocko Willink (34:25):

It’s not like you choose to believe. You just believe.

Dave Berke (34:28):


Jocko Willink (34:29):

Matter of fact, you can’t choose to believe. You can’t will yourself to believe. You believe.

Dave Berke (34:34):


Jocko Willink (34:34):

That’s what’s going on. So to question that belief is a very important tool. It’s very important tool. And the other thing, I think I talked about this. I’ve talked about this a couple times on The Underground Podcast, which is just the idea of first reports and how the first reports are wrong and why the first reports are wrong. First reports are wrong because they’re one person’s perspective. There’s a bunch of emotion tied up. And, Dave, when you get… When there’s a shooting and you see it from your brick wall that you’re hiding behind, and there’s a machine gun fire, you have one perspective and it’s your perspective. And when those rounds hit close to you, believe me, that’s the freaking, that’s D Day.

Dave Berke (35:18):

Yeah. I said that on the podcast when I saw that. That feels like one round headed towards you, it’s World War III in your mind, that’s what’s going on.

Jocko Willink (35:27):

And so when you get a report, that’s what you’re receiving. You’re receiving a first report filled with emotions, and it’s one perspective and you have to watch out for it. And part of the report, part of the report, part of the calculus of the report that’s in your head is what you believe. So don’t always believe what you believe.

Dave Berke (35:47):


Jocko Willink (35:48):

All right, good place to stop. If you want to dig deeper into all aspects of leadership, check out Extreme Ownership Academy, where we solve problems through leadership. It’s at We also have a leadership consultancy called Echelon Front. You can check that at The clients that we talked about today, we change the names, we change the organizations, we change the industries. They are unrecognizable, but they exist, so if you work with us, don’t worry. We won’t air your dirty laundry. That’s not what we do. And we’ve written a bunch of books on leadership. Check them out.

Jocko Willink (36:27):

Also have some other podcasts, Jocko Podcasts. Jocko Unraveling, Grounded, and The Warrior Kid Podcast. You can check out Origin Maine, actually check out Origin USA, check out Check out That’s where we’re at. All right. Thanks for listening to the debrief. Now go lead. This is Dave and Jocko, out.

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