Importance of Contingency Planning

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #2

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #2: Jocko and Good Deal Dave Analyze some issues and look for solutions.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

This is The Jocko Debrief Podcast, episode two, with Dave Berke and me, Jocko Willink. Dave, let’s debrief. What do you got?

Dave Berke (00:09):

Working with this company and we beat them for a little while, but they have a… facing a little bit of a challenge. They’ve got a competitor right now that for the last several months has been prepping a release of a competitive product. Same idea, same space as them. They had been building up in anticipation of this competition releasing this product, and their plan was they were going to go out, canvas the country with a lot of face-to-face interaction with their potential clients and explain to them the difference between those two and try to show that their product is still the superior product. There is no face-to-face conversations right now. I’m talking to the head of the sales department who had built this strategy on doing this face-to-face.

Dave Berke (00:54):

And because they cannot implement that strategy, he feels like they are setting themselves up for a retreat and that they are going to lose because this other company is positioned a little bit better and that they are concerned about how that’s going to play out. They actually should be concerned.

Jocko Willink (01:13):

Well, yeah. If you’ve got plan A and it looks like plan A isn’t going to work and you don’t know what plan B is, you’re going to face some issues. That’s why we contingency plan.

Dave Berke (01:23):

Yeah. The contingency planning… First of all, contingency planning is something you should do all the time. Plan A is always a good plan. That’s fine. But you should always have some backups or at least consider. What a lot of people do, and I understand this too, we don’t always think of these other really worst case scenarios. When they were doing their initial planning a year and a half ago, I mean, this is a long range release, this doesn’t just happen overnight, nobody was really thinking of this massive change, which is totally understandable. Some of the problems that come with this totally different world, all the companies are facing it. It’s not like one company can go do face-to-face meetings and you can’t. You’re all stuck in the same boat.

Dave Berke (02:03):

The real issue here as we started to dissect it was so we had this big wave come out in March, this COVID wave that shut all travel down. The plan was, “Hey, it’s May, June. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re starting to ramp back up. It looks like travel is going to open back up. We’re going to stick with plan A.” I don’t know if it’s the right word to call it a second wave or whatever you want to call it, as it became clear that things were not opening up on the right pace, that’s when the panic set in. And the initial part of the conversation is, “Hey, what’s the real problem?” Hey, the real problem is you did not have a plan B. The real problem isn’t what the competitor’s doing, isn’t how they position themselves or what they’re delivering to the market. The problem is that you did not put your sales team… you did not lead your team to be in a position to respond to this crisis effectively.

Jocko Willink (02:53):

Yeah. I’ll pick on you a little bit about the way you said that. You said the problem was that they didn’t have a plan B. That’s one statement, which is accurate, but then you also said that the problem is that they didn’t respond, and that’s an accurate statement. I believe that the more accurate statement out of those two… You see the difference between those two, right?

Dave Berke (03:19):


Jocko Willink (03:20):

Like, “Hey, I didn’t have a plan B, but guess what? When I got hit with a contingency that I didn’t expect, it’s okay because I’m going to respond to it.” For me, in this particular case, I’m thinking this is more along the lines of lack of response happening because there’s a funny thing that we used to make fun of guys in the SEAL teams that would start to plan contingencies and they start to plan for every contingency. We would say, “Hey, what happens if a UFO touched down and three of your people are scooped up by the UFO? Then what are you going to do?” To me, that’s what COVID is. I had no contingency in my mind where I thought, “Hey, I can understand. Look, we get a terrorist attack and travel gets shut down for a week, two weeks.”

Jocko Willink (04:09):

Okay. You know what? There’s a contingency plan for that, and it’s a pretty straightforward one. You barely even have to do it. Guess what? We’re going to cancel some stuff, and then we’ll reschedule. I mean, this is something that’s so simple, you don’t really even have to think about it. But when you start saying, “Okay, if you would’ve told me to list out the top 20 contingencies for Echelon Front or from any business, I would’ve not put viral travel shutdown in the top 20.” And maybe I’m ignorant, sure.

Dave Berke (04:41):

No, I think that is a reasonable thing to not include in your contingency list, which is a global pandemic shutdown of all travel for sure.

Jocko Willink (04:47):

I know I should have listened to Bill Gates because he did a TED talk about it and it was… Seriously, there’s people that… It’s interesting on the political spectrum too, you saw people saying, “Well, you should have been ready for this contingency.” It’s like how many contingencies are you going to be ready for? Right? And so instead of… Well, in addition to being ready for likely contingency, that’s a key word that we always used in the SEAL teams when we talked about contingencies, it was likely contingencies. You prepare for the top three, four likely contingencies. Once you get beyond that, well, now what we have to do is we have to be able to respond quickly. We have to make decisions quickly. This is one of the main lessons that I’ve been teaching through COVID, is iterative decision making, is, “Hey, I’m known for being very decisive.” Why am I known for being very decisive? Because I make very quick decisions. But the way that I cheat in doing that is I make very quick small decisions.

Jocko Willink (05:50):

When COVID hit and we had the MUSTER happening in what was it? Supposed to happen in May?

Dave Berke (05:56):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jocko Willink (05:58):

Hey, COVID’s here, no travel. Cancel MUSTER. Well, am I going to immediately cancel MUSTER? Well, I don’t know how long COVID is going to last. It might be gone by then. So instead, it’s not a massive decision immediately. Hey, Jamie, call a hotel. We’re shutting down. No. Hey, Jamie, who if you don’t know is our operations director at Echelon Front. Hey, Jamie, why don’t you talk to the hotel and just see what kind of things we could do if we need to push this event back? How much flexibility do they have? She starts going down the road. That’s pretty decisive. Hey, I made that decision in five seconds, right? Oh, Jocko is super decisive. Yeah. I’m super decisive because all I did was ask Jamie to call someone and talk to him about something. It’s decisive, but here’s the cool thing, it was action. It was action. We’re taking positive action.

Jocko Willink (06:50):

So Jamie who prior to that’s thinking to herself, “Oh, gosh, what’s going to happen to the MUSTER?” That’s a big thought. What’s going to happen to the MUSTER? What’s going to happen? Well, so she doesn’t know what to do. Well, guess what? Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to call the hotel and see what the options are. Okay. Boom. All of a sudden, she’s got a mow. She knows what she’s doing. She’s going to gather some information. When she gathers that information, guess what we’re going to do? We’re going to reassess it. We’re going to make another small step. So being able to respond to bad situations or completely unpredictable situations or situations where the information isn’t all that good, all those things, if you’re able to do that well, are the marks of a good leader and a good team.

Jocko Willink (07:35):

When you aren’t able to respond, well, that’s obviously the marks of a bad leader and a bad team. So yeah, I think it’s important to recognize that you’re not going to be able to plan for every contingency. It’s just not going to happen. What you need to do is train and keep your mind open so that when things that you don’t expect happen, you can adapt to the situation and you can respond appropriately.

Dave Berke (08:06):

Yeah. That’s a really good point. One of the interesting things that played out as this several month process went through is their pre-COVID plan’s a good. They were really well positioned. They had a solid team. They were in the game. You’d work with them in the past. This is their second iteration with us. They embraced the reality back in March, but they never really let go of what they wanted to do. This face-to-face is the best way we communicate. Nobody does it better than us. I can sit down across from you. I can convey this message. It was a little unwillingness to just accept what was happening. One of the things that… It was, again, very early on in the COVID scenario was you’re on EF Online. You said something, I think, in the very first one and we repeated it over and over again, “Except this is real.” You told people, “You got to accept this is real.”

Dave Berke (09:05):

And so as March became April, then April turned to June, and hey, maybe they looked for reasons why they could just go back to the original plan. The part that was the most challenging was from March to July, August, that alternative plan was no longer quite as crazy as it would’ve been if we were doing this back last year. This potential of not being able to do face-to-face was becoming much more real and what they started to look for is reasons why they didn’t have to do that. Hey, I heard travel’s opening up in the Northeast. Hey, this airline is no… And so they held onto that too long. The outcome of that was just like you said, the ability to maneuver, what prevented them from being able to respond was the unwillingness to just accept this is real and accept that it’s a much more likely alternative than if you were to say, like I said, seven months ago, you got some magic crystal ball here, come to March.

Dave Berke (10:06):

Of course, that’s not a reasonable thing. The way this played out though when we had that first conversation was like, “Listen, the issue here is as a leader, you didn’t put your team in a position to respond.” What he came back with was, “We’ve got a two-day roleplay scenario. I’m bringing every salesperson on my sales team on a live two-day Zoom session. Can you support with us and roleplay because we have to be ready for the virtual interaction?” That idea actually came from a couple of subordinates, a couple of his junior sales reps who had accepted the fact that this is not going to play out the way you think, boss. I think this is going to be a problem for us. We’re not going to get through face-to-face.

Dave Berke (10:50):

When he finally accepted that this was real, it was awesome to see that team pivot and him say, “Hey, listen, you know what? I miscalculated, team. I got this wrong. What do we do now because now we’re weeks away from this?” They were able to go right into this two-day session that we supported and jumped on the calls with them and watched them go through back and forth and helped them do the roleplay. The real issue for him was he finally accepted that this was real.

Jocko Willink (11:17):

Yeah. And wrapped up in all that is an expression that you hear all the time and it’s that people see what they want to see. That is so wrapped up in there. If you think about what that expression is wrapped up in, guess what? That expression is wrapped up in ego. I think things are going to go this way. I want things to go this way. Therefore, when I see the Northeast open up travel on trains, planes are next, bro. Planes are next. We’re good. Northeast, they got hit first. They’re already out of it. We’re good to go. Let’s roll. We don’t have to worry about this stupid online stuff. We’re going to be back face-to-face. People see what they want to see, and when I say people, I’m talking about you, I’m talking about me. I see what I want to see. That’s one of the things that you have to be watching out for when you’re a positive minded person. Hey, this is going to go good.

Jocko Willink (12:20):

This is where I actually am Mr. Positive, see the good all the time. But there’s things that I feel deeply. One of them is the crunch of time. I really feel the crunch of time because I recognized it a long time ago as the one factor that it has absolutely no mercy. It has no mercy. You let that hour go, you let those two months go by, they are not going to have mercy on you. If you think about that, if you constantly pay attention to time because people just lose track of it, people just lose track of it. They think that they can crunch it. They think they can make it back. They think they can turn it around. You can’t. For me, time is always like a primary driver of letting me see what reality is. Because if you’re not dealing with reality, if you’re not accepting what is going to happen or what could happen…

Jocko Willink (13:11):

By the way, what do I give up? If I think something is going to happen or I think something else is going to happen, what do I sacrifice by saying, “Okay, looks like I got some contingencies to plan for, looks like I need to set up a security element over here in case we get attacked from over there?” That seems like a good move. What does it cost me? Nothing, doesn’t cost me anything. You can make maneuvers to prepare for things that are coming. Whether you’re right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. You didn’t sacrifice very much to make this adjustment. When you get shut down and you think it’s going to be for a month and then you’ll be able to go back to face-to-face, cool. So what are you going to do for the next month? We’re going to hibernate. We’re going to sit around. Right?

Jocko Willink (13:50):

What do you gain from that? Nothing. What do you gain by saying, “Hey, look, just in case, just in case I’m wrong and just in case the reality is we’re not going to be able to travel for another six months, let’s start coming up with a plan on how we’re going to execute this thing.” By the way, let’s start executing it. Let’s give it a shot. If you do that, what do you sacrifice? You don’t sacrifice anything and you actually move yourself and your team forward, which is what we’re trying to do.

Dave Berke (14:20):

Yeah. There’s so many components inside there. There’s obviously taking ownership of the problem. There’s cover and move where people are working together and solving problems. There’s a whole bunch of individual elements that we teach. But all of it together is the idea that as a leader, you are responsible for your team being successful. You have to do whatever is required to do that. The only thing worse than the panic of recognizing you wasted those two months or whatever that time is, is when you look out over the horizon, you see that your competition didn’t, and that was a hard lesson for them. Again, their ability to respond to that. They had subordinate leaders step up and make things happen, which was awesome to see. But that adds to the, “Hey, not only did you waste your time, they didn’t.”

Jocko Willink (15:07):

Yeah. Because where does that put you? That puts you four months behind. Right? Because they moved two months and you waited.

Dave Berke (15:14):

You were nowhere. Yeah.

Jocko Willink (15:15):

Rough. All right. Next one, what do you got?

Dave Berke (15:21):

A company reached out to us. This was kind of cool because when they first reached out to Echelon Front looking for leaders development, what looking for is they got a company that works and safety is a huge part of what they do. They put people out on site and they deal with high risk terrain and things like that. So safety is a critical component of their culture. As you might guess, companies that work in high risk environments, they’re littered with young motivated type A people that don’t always think about their own personal safety. When they reached out to Echelon Front, a lot of it was the experience that the SEALs had and they actually connected with me as well because in my experience with aviation, they thought there’d be a really cool connection between the risk that the military takes on the aviation side and in the ground side and drawing a parallel to how to improve their safety culture. They originally asked us to come and join them, and we started working with them. Their goal was to help us or have us help them build a better culture of safety to lower mishaps, lower injuries, and help their team.

Dave Berke (16:29):

When I first started to explain to them, I said, “Hey, let me offer how Echelon Front as a company when we work with companies a lot dealing with the same thing, let me talk to you about how we look at safety culture. Safety problems inside an organization is a leadership problem. We don’t look at safety as some sort of standalone separate isolated thing that you have to fix your safety culture. If you have a problem with safety, you have a leadership problem.”

Jocko Willink (16:54):

Yeah. By the way, we look at every problem that you have as a leadership problem. But you are right. It is interesting that people try and carve safety out as if this isn’t really… Hey, look, people got to be safe, but that’s the responsibility of the safety officer over there.

Dave Berke (17:09):

Totally. We have a safety team. We want to help bolster the safety team so they can go make people safe. What I did was I just made the connection between our view of safety, and look, aviation, same in the world you came up with, safety is very important, but what I told him, I said, “Hey, let me just explain how we see it and see if we can find some compatibility.” This is before we started working together. I said, “Hey, we do not see safety as the mission. Safety is not what we do.” Let me talk about why safety is important though. Our mission, my mission in aviation was to take an airplane, go over and drop bombs or do what I’m going to do with an aircraft. I’m going to take a team and I’m going to go cross the line of departure and engage an enemy. There is inherent risk associated with that.

Dave Berke (17:52):

Flying airplanes can be risky. If I want to ensure that I have a perfect safety record, the way to guarantee that I have no safety mishaps and no safety problems in an airplane is I don’t fly. I will never crash an airplane if I don’t go fly an airplane. The problem with that is I will not accomplish my mission. I will not be successful in the military as a pilot. I won’t be successful in business if we say, “To ensure safety, we just won’t go do our job. We won’t go out on site and work in a high risk environment.” The flip side is if I just ignore safety and go, “Hey, look, I’m not here to be safe. I’m here to get the job done. I’m here to accomplish the mission. I’m going to take my team and go do whatever’s required.” You’re going to start to hurt people. You’re going to start breaking things. You’re going to start damaging things that over time, you won’t have the people and the equipment to do your job.

Dave Berke (18:34):

And guess what happens to the mission? The exact same thing. You will not be successful. There’s actually a balance between having no concern for risk and being so risk averse and being so safety focused that you don’t actually do your job. Neither one of those will help you accomplish it. When we made the connection, they recognized what they didn’t need was us to train their safety team. What they needed was leadership development inside their company, and by definition, the safety culture would improve at their company.

Jocko Willink (19:06):

Yeah. I think this was on EF Online the other day. It might have been with a client. Somebody asked about culture and the establishment of culture and how important is culture. I got a little fired up talking about this because when you extrapolate culture out, culture is actually the ultimate form of decentralized command. Is the ultimate form of decentralized command. If I understand the culture of my team, then I can actually make decisions based on our values. If I know that as an American service member overseas, we uphold the highest values, when I have to make a decision about what I’m going to do, I can make a decision. I can make just about any decision based on the fact that I want to do the right thing. That’s what I’m trying to do.

Jocko Willink (20:09):

If you’re in a company and you understand what the culture is, you understand that the culture is we always take care of the customer, you can make 99% of your decisions just based on the fact that, “Hey, look, the customer’s bringing back this piece of equipment that we gave them and they say it’s broken, okay, yep, hey, roger that, no problem. Here’s a new piece of equipment.” Now, can it get to a point where somebody brings back a million dollar piece of equipment and you say, “Oh, yeah, no problem. No questions asked. Here.” No, there’s a limit, but you can make 99% of your decisions just based on understanding the culture of the company.

Jocko Willink (20:44):

Same thing with safety. If we understand where the level of safety and how important safety is, if we understand that, then we understand that we can make 99.9% of our decisions correctly just based on our understanding of safety culture. Culture is an absolutely powerful thing, and yes, you are right, that where culture comes from is leadership. What’s important when I say that culture comes from leadership, when I talk to companies about culture, I say, “Where does culture come from?” People say the leadership. I say, “Who are the leaders?” Everybody. Everybody in an organization is responsible for the culture inside that organization. It’s not just, “Hey, the CEO sets the culture.” Well, the CEO has influence on the culture, but that CEO can have a culture in his mind, but if the people, if the team doesn’t understand, accept, acknowledge, encourage, grow, and believe that culture, that culture is worthless. That culture has to be unified throughout the organization.

Jocko Willink (21:51):

How do you get the culture unified throughout the organization? Well, what we have to do is we have to make sure that everyone understands why we have this culture. We have to understand that, “Hey, listen, you want to know why we have the culture of the customer always being right, the customer comes first? You want to know why we have that culture? Why?” Well, number one, we want to provide a good service. That’s great. We’re good people. We want to provide a good service. Also when we provide good service, people go out and tell other people about the good service that we provide. People review us on the internet. People refer us business. We end up with a good quality rating. When we get a good quality rating from people, people come back. It grows our business. The more our business grows, the more people come in here, the more people get treated well, the more people spread that word, that is how we grow.

Jocko Willink (22:42):

The opposite, if we don’t care about our customers, guess what? Bad word spreads even faster than good word and we’ll end up with no business here at all. Safety. Why is safety important for our culture? Well, because we don’t want anyone getting hurt. Yeah, absolutely. We care about our people, for sure. Guess what else? If we have accidents all the time, guess what happens to our insurance? Do you know that there’s companies, there’s owners that will not hire us to build if we have a bad safety record? They don’t want a group with safety issues. If we have a bad safety record, Dave, if you break the safety rules and you get hurt, it’s not just you that gets hurt. Yeah. That’s horrible for you. It’s horrible for your family. It’s horrible for your being able to pay your mortgage. It’s horrible for a bunch of reasons. But on top of that, you’re not just hurting yourself. It hurts the company because now the company has to pay more insurance and now guess what happens to our price? We got to raise our price.

Jocko Willink (23:32):

No, do we get more jobs or less jobs when we raise our price? I’ll tell you, we get less jobs. When we get less jobs, do you still have a job? No, you don’t. The culture is not just something you can pull out of thin air and mandate it on people. There has to be an explanation behind culture. The most important part of that explanation has to be why we have this culture and how the culture itself reinforces the survivability and the growth of our organization.

Dave Berke (24:09):

That culture to decentralized command connection, you actually also made that on an EF Online session from a question from one of the troopers who joins us on EF Online. But that was one that I called you on on the phone after because every time something comes up, you and I end up on the phone talking about some leadership thing and-

Jocko Willink (24:27):

Doing a debrief.

Dave Berke (24:28):

… doing a debrief, that’s right. I remember calling you like, “Hey, the way you communicated that to them and we actually made the connection to this client,” which was this idea that culture is what… that’s what decentralized command is built around. That was a really powerful thing for me because it was this idea that in simplest terms for decentralized command, it’s let people make those decisions without their boss being over there and telling them what to do, which simply cannot be done because you can’t be with all your people all the time. But it got connected directly to what you said, was one of the problems they described is like, “Well, we only have a two-person safety team. We can’t hire 20 safety people.”

Dave Berke (25:11):

That’s exactly right. That’s why every single person in the organization has to understand that despite whatever their title is or their job or their particular skill, they are responsible for safety and actually they’re responsible for everything. But that connection of culture, which all too often, culture is just some thing that’s written on the wall. This is what we believe. But people don’t truly understand what it means when I can now connect that to a principle that we teach. Decentralized command is a principle we teach and I’m actually able to explain it in a way that they go, “Oh, I know what you’re talking about. I read that in the book. You talked about that when you gave your combat leadership brief to us.”

Dave Berke (25:51):

That was a really powerful thing that worked directly with them because you know what? Most companies can’t have an entire safety team just running around making sure everybody’s safe. They need to rely on their people to believe in that. It lets their people make decisions that they know is in the best interest of the organization winning. That was just a huge point that made a huge impact to this team.

Jocko Willink (26:13):

It’s amazing how everything’s connected, isn’t it?

Dave Berke (26:17):


Jocko Willink (26:19):

All right. What do we got? One more?

Dave Berke (26:21):


Jocko Willink (26:21):

What do you got?

Dave Berke (26:23):

Which one we got?

Jocko Willink (26:25):

You like the fact that you prepped these?

Dave Berke (26:27):

Yeah. This is awesome.

Jocko Willink (26:28):

I’m like, “Well, let’s do it,” but I can’t prep any more podcast, bro. You need to at least come up with a subject matter. I’ll debrief it all day long, but these are on you, man.

Dave Berke (26:39):

Dude, the coolest part about it is when you ask me, you’re like, “Hey, I got this idea. I think we should do this. Can you come up with some stuff?” I’m like, “Jocko, I have an unlimited supply.” I mean, every single day, I am talking with clients that we’re working with about these problems and how we’re applying the principles we teach to help them come up with a solution and there’s an unlimited supply of this. Again, these problems might be specific to these companies, but they are relevant and apply everywhere.

Jocko Willink (27:07):

When’s the last time you went on the road face-to-face with a company?

Dave Berke (27:09):

The first week of March was the last time I was on an airplane.

Jocko Willink (27:14):

It’s been interesting and we’ve been very lucky because we never would’ve been able to convince people that we can do what we do over the internet. We never would’ve been able to convince people if everyone didn’t get forced to make Zoom calls with their family and make Zoom calls… I always tell people I had Easter dinner with my parents on Zoom and that’s when I realized, “Okay, we are in a different place now.” Trying to explain to a client… There’s another good move, was we all just did this instinctively when we had to cancel some, when a client canceled with us and we would connect with them to discuss where we go from here, yeah, sure, let’s do a Zoom meeting and let’s talk about what we can do to help you out. Boom. All of a sudden, we’re on a Zoom meeting with them and we’re having a real time discussion and they can see that, “Look, do you lose something on Zoom?”

Jocko Willink (28:09):

Sure, you lose. There’s some element that gets lost. It is very small. It is very small. It’s a very small element. Maybe you lose some of the body language. Maybe you lose some level of the presence, but the reality is when I’m talking to 200 people in a room, I can’t see the facial expressions of those people in the back. But when I’m talking to 200 people on a Zoom call, I see everybody. I see someone that’s got that puzzled look on their face. Or you’ve heard me do this on EF Online where I get down answering a question and they go, “Okay,” and I go, “You didn’t like that answer. We’re not there yet.” I don’t understand. In fact, I did that today. I don’t know if you noticed that today. I gave a couple answers and I go, “Those aren’t the answers we’re looking for. Those were my initial probes to try and figure out what’s going on here, but those aren’t the answers that we’re looking for.”

Jocko Willink (29:01):

Explain to me what’s actually happening, and that would not have happened if I couldn’t have seen that guy’s face and been able in a Zoom call to be like, “Oh, okay, we can drill down a little bit right now. Look, I’m on stage. There’s 200 people sitting there. There’s 400 people. There’s 1,000 people sitting in the audience.” We’re not drilling down into the specifics of this guy’s situation on a Zoom call. I’m right here. Wait, let me explain why. I’m in a auditorium with 1,000 people and this guy asks a question. I’m going to give an answer. There’s 1,000 people, they’re waiting. I can’t see this guy’s face barely. We don’t have the time and we don’t have the, for lack of a better word, we don’t have the intimacy for me to look at this guy and say, “Explain to me what’s happening.” But when you’re in a Zoom call, I’m six inches away from your face and you’re six inches away from my face because we’re staring at a camera that’s six inches away.

Jocko Willink (29:59):

The loss of maybe some presence, the loss of some body language just in the fact that we can go a little bit deeper, there’s some aspects of a Zoom meeting that absolutely is better than a live meeting. Absolutely. Especially when I go on to talk to someone’s who’s having a conference and it’s 1,000 people, look, you put 2,000 people into an auditorium, the people in the back, you know what they’re looking at when I’m speaking?

Dave Berke (30:34):

The video.

Jocko Willink (30:35):

They’re looking at the video camera that’s projecting my big freaking head. By the way in the back, they can’t really even see that that clear. What are they looking at when they’re on Zoom? They’re looking at me. Guess what I’m doing, I can see them. When they ask a question, there they are. There’s some absolute advantages to it, and we get these things on EF Online and that allows us to dig down and figure out what’s going on. But it’s amazing that you list off the fact that you have all these… I say, “Hey, do have any issues we can talk about? You’re like, “I got issues we can talk about all day.” What’s amazing to me is all these are issues that are unfolding right now in Echelon Front 2.0, which is Echelon Front virtual training through the interwebs. It’s awesome.

Dave Berke (31:16):

Yeah, totally agree. I remember thinking at first too because, hey, I like speaking. I like to talk. One of the coolest parts about this job is it was very much wheelhouse for me. I like to be on the stage. I like to talk. I get a little animated. You can get right up with somebody. You can sit down. There was a lot of things about the speaking in public thing that I really liked and I was concerned a little bit like, “Hey, how am I, Dave Berke, going to be able to replicate that through Zoom?” I’ve actually even found… You said it well because there are things that you can actually do through Zoom that you can’t do in person. Anybody that’s resistant to the idea that we can’t forge good relationships or learn, that’s not true because yes, do you lose something face-to-face? Sure. But you can more than make up for it in other ways and it is not an excuse or a reason why you can’t make things happen, which has been awesome for me who likes to be face-to-face talking.

Jocko Willink (32:15):

Yeah. Speaking of all these issues we see right now virtually, what’s the third one?

Dave Berke (32:22):

All right.

Jocko Willink (32:23):

Last one.

Dave Berke (32:23):

We have a site manager inside a district that had five sites. A district had five different operations and each one was run by a site manager. This site manager that I was working with at this larger company got promoted to district manager. The very first task, the very first assignment for this newly promoted district manager who used to be a site manager was one of the other sites in their district was underperforming. They were now tasked with making sure that they get up on the step. What happened was is this person who was a site manager went from having a peer who was underperforming, one of the sites was underperforming, to actually making this site manager look pretty good because she was outperforming her peers. Now had a subordinate who was underperforming, which made her look bad because she had a team that she was responsible for.

Dave Berke (33:19):

The core of the question was, how am I going to take ownership of this other site that I was working parallel to, sort of independently inside the district, now I’m responsible for this person’s performance? What am I going to do and say to allow me to now in this new role as his boss, her as his boss, getting them from being underperforming to getting up on the step? When before, we were just peers working totally independently, and the previous district manager didn’t get that person where they needed to be. Again, the answer to that question wasn’t really that hard when we started to dissect what her role was as a site manager, her previous role.

Jocko Willink (34:06):

Was she having issues with just the idea like, “Oh, now I’m responsible for this when before…?” What was the thing that she was trying to overcome?

Dave Berke (34:14):

Yeah. What she wanted to do when she was going to set up her very first conversation with her now subordinate site lead was sound authentic. How do I say that I can take ownership of this as your district manager without coming across as I’m just using the words of extreme ownership? Because she was struggling with how to say it. If I’m your boss and how I can take ownership of the problem that your site is underperforming, and she couldn’t. She wanted to talk through, how can she sound authentic in explaining that this is her problem to solve and this is something she’s responsible for? She has ownership of.

Jocko Willink (34:50):

Where’d you take her?

Dave Berke (34:51):

Well, the first thing was… I highly recommend to everyone when you were going to take ownership of a problem is you should be authentic. You actually have to believe that is your responsibility. Do not walk in, apply the words that we teach at Echelon Front, and think those words are going to solve your problem for you.

Jocko Willink (35:11):

When she was questioning her authenticity, do you think that she was actually thinking, “Well, now I’m supposed to be in charge, but I really don’t?”

Dave Berke (35:18):

Yeah. I don’t really know how to make the connection because I don’t don’t really understand how I could be responsible because before, he ran his site, I ran my site. And just because I’m his boss now, how do I go back in time and say that this history of underperforming that I’m now responsible for as a district manager is something I need to take ownership of?

Jocko Willink (35:39):

Do you think the disconnect was her thinking, “Look, I was over there, I did my job, you don’t need to get babysat, why am I supposed to help this person out?”

Dave Berke (35:46):

That’s exactly what it was.

Jocko Willink (35:47):

Okay. That’s what I was missing. I couldn’t quite figure out what the issue was because I was just thinking, “Yeah, cool. No bad teams, only bad leaders. We got someone’s underperformed. How do we get in there and support him? How can we help him? Let’s make this happen.” But she was thinking, “Not really my responsibility.”

Dave Berke (36:02):

Yeah. How am I responsible for him? As a matter of fact, I outmaneuvered this person. I got elevated and promoted as a result of that performance. Again, it’s exactly what you just described, which was what we did is we just spent a little time dissecting what her role was when she was a site manager and why understanding what her role was as a site manager will help her as a district manager with five sites all answering to her. The piece that she was missing, which is understandable, is her job wasn’t just for her site to do well. That’s not what the site manager does, but in a very simplistic way, the site manager’s responsible for their site. She’s supposed to make sure her site performs and delivers and meets the metrics and delivers on time. She did very well.

Dave Berke (36:50):

That’s actually not what your site manager’s supposed to do or should I say that’s not the only thing your site manager’s supposed to do. The real question was, how do you want your five site leads to interact with each other? How do you want them to work together? Do you want them to be competing with each other, undercutting each other, benefiting from somebody else’s underperformance or do you actually want those five site leads, especially the ones that are outperforming the others, to find ways to help those other sites so the entire district does better? That whole explanation you just gave from the safety is actually the same thing too, is that if I as a site lead help the other site leads perform well, who benefits?

Dave Berke (37:27):

The hurdle was, “Hey, your role as a site lead wasn’t just to have an awesome site that did really well. It was more than that, and now as a district manager, when you talk about your sites, four of them used to be your peers.” They hired from the outside to replace her in her particular job, but the other four were people that were literally peers for the last two and a half years. Is, what is it that you really want from them? Operating in silos autonomous from each other and benefiting from their failures? Or do you actually want to build a relationship where you share and challenge each other and force each other to get better and share best practices and help them out and elevate everybody’s game?

Dave Berke (38:07):

We talked about that for a while and that made it a lot easier when we role-played the actual conversation of her initial discussion as, “Hey, I’m here as your new district manager.” We role-played that a few times to have that discussion.

Jocko Willink (38:19):

What approach did she take? Give me a little bit of her opening salvo at the troops.

Dave Berke (38:24):

The opening salvo at the five site managers, four of them, which she’s known for years that are her peers was the first part of the conversation was, “Hey, listen, I am so stoked for the opportunity to be a district manager and to work and engage with all of you. I got to be really honest.” I’m paraphrasing, this is her saying, “I got to be really honest. My view of what I thought a site manager was supposed to do wasn’t exactly right. What I have come realize as I’ve thought about my role as a district manager is that how I function as a site manager wasn’t how I really think we should operate.”

Dave Berke (39:04):

That’s where the ownership piece came in and what made it very easy for her to go, “Oh, it’s not even hard for me to take ownership of this because all I have to do is explain the things that I didn’t do as a site manager and what I realized I should have been doing the whole time,” and then went on from there. You’re smiling because I can tell that that actually resonates as the idea of, “Hey, if you understand what you could have done differently, the ownership piece comes naturally when you recognize what you should have done differently.”

Jocko Willink (39:29):

Yeah. The note that I wrote down was… When I was like, “Oh, what did she say?” Because I’m thinking like, “This is what I would’ve said.” The way that I paraphrase it myself was I’m opening up with, “I was wrong. I was wrong.” That’s just a perfect way to open up and say, “Look, you all saw me as a competitive person. I was hiding information. I was trying to kick your ass and that’s actually not the right way to do this. Do we want to be competitive with each other? Sure. But we want them do it in a fun, positive way. Right now, what we want to do,” and here’s where I would go right into it. “What we want to do is not be competitive with each other’s sites. We, as a team, want to destroy the other districts.” Yeah. I mean, we’d go there quick. Of course, I’d say that and have a good time with that and say, “Look, even though I want to destroy them, guess what? I want our company to win. So we’re going to kick their ass, but we’re also going to show them how we do it so we elevate everyone and that’s going to elevate us and we’re going to move forward.” Yeah.

Dave Berke (40:28):

And that’s it. That’s almost verbatim of how to play it out, was, “This district’s going to dominate, but I’m actually going to apply the lessons that I learned that I should have been doing back as a site lead and apply that all the way across the organization.” Actually, one of the things she came to understand was if she does that, if she dominates as a district manager but also gets all the other districts in the game too, she also is going to continue on the path and she’s going to grow in responsibility and she’s going to dominate, which is what she wants to do as well. There’s that connection.

Jocko Willink (41:03):

Which is another thing in Leadership Strategy and Tactics, if you’re doing well and you’re doing the right things for the right reasons, your team is going to do well. When your team does well and they win, guess what? You win.

Jocko Willink (41:18):

All right. 42 minutes, a little long, but we still kept it under the 45-minute. That’s a good place to stop. If you want to dig deeper into all aspects of leadership in any arena, you can join Dave and me and the rest of the Echelon Front team. You can do it all the time. You can talk to us all the time. You can talk to us live., it’s where we solve problems with leadership. If you want leadership guidance inside your organization, come check out our leadership consultancy at As we talked about, we are doing this stuff through the interwebs, you can come and get it. We will be there six inches from your face. I’ve also written a bunch of books on the subject of leadership: Extreme Ownership, The Dichotomy of Leadership, Leadership Strategy and Tactics. I also have some other podcasts, Jocko Podcast, Jocko Unraveling, 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 Thank you for listening to The Debrief. Now, go lead. This is Dave and Jocko out.


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