When The Boss’s Boss Skips Down The Chain for All The Info

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #4

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #4: How to handle upper management.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

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

Dave Berke (00:09):

All right. I got one. We’ve got the boss’s boss skipping the chain of command and coming straight to one of the key leaders in the team. So, what’s happening is you’ve got the, this person we’re working with, cool company they’re in the sales side and the head of sales, the VP of sales works for the chief revenue officer.

Jocko Willink (00:32):

Okay. So the chief revenue officer is the boss’s boss?

Dave Berke (00:36):

No, the chief revenue officer is the boss.

Jocko Willink (00:38):


Dave Berke (00:38):

The VP of sales works for the CRO.

Jocko Willink (00:40):


Dave Berke (00:41):

The CRO works for the CEO.

Jocko Willink (00:43):

Got it.

Dave Berke (00:44):

The CEO …

Jocko Willink (00:45):

Is the boss’s boss.

Dave Berke (00:46):

…is the boss’s boss is coming straight to the head of sales on a pretty regular basis, kind of talking about problems, some misalignment’s. So, companies doing fine actually, but as you might guess, with COVID all their 2020 projections kind of got reestablished. So, they have new monthly sales baselines, which are lower than what they expected and so they’re not meeting their numbers, but they’re going to be okay. But the CO’s frustrated, and when the CO is frustrated with how the team is performing, instead of going to the CRO, he’s skipping over the CRO going straight to the head of sales, the VP of sales.

Jocko Willink (01:21):


Dave Berke (01:22):

To ask questions. At first, it wasn’t a big deal as it’s been happening more and more regularly, the conversation, the reason he called me to ask to talk about it, to talk to the scenario is that he was starting to get upset. And it was coming through when the CEO was coming down, he was expressing that frustration and making it clear like, Hey, you should…

Jocko Willink (01:47):

The CRO was getting mad?

Dave Berke (01:48):

No, CRO was out of the loop.

Jocko Willink (01:50):


Dave Berke (01:51):

The VP of sales was basically telling the CEO, “Hey, don’t come to me. Go to my boss.”

Jocko Willink (01:58):

Okay. Interesting.

Dave Berke (02:00):

Yes. Interesting. And it was…

Jocko Willink (02:01):

Hey, what, what was bothering the individual about that?

Dave Berke (02:04):

The biggest issue was he felt like his boss was being kept out of loop and he had to go do the home, He had to go smooth things over with his boss because the CEO was going straight to him.

Jocko Willink (02:16):


Dave Berke (02:17):

Which actually was happening. There was, it was, he was creating friction. The CEO was creating friction for the head of sales because the head of sales at the end of those conversations, had to go to the boss to say, Hey, the CEO’s coming straight to me. He’s upset about these things. These are some problems. Hey, what do you think you should, I should do. How do I handle this? I’m starting to get frustrated with the boss, with the CEO.

Jocko Willink (02:35):


Dave Berke (02:36):

Makes sense?

Jocko Willink (02:37):

Yes. It makes sense. It makes sense that that could be interpreted as an issue that needs to be discussed.

Dave Berke (02:47):


Jocko Willink (02:47):

I should say, does the scenario make sense? Yes. I mean the answer. I mean, because, and I guess why we’re, why I’m chuckling is because this is not, this does not seem like a type of problem that we are getting very super concerned about because it doesn’t sound like a, isn’t a huge threat to really anybody.

Dave Berke (03:10):

That’s right. This is actually not a big deal. That’s kind of the crux of this debrief. Hey, what do you think I should do? And my answer was first, don’t get mad. There’s nothing to be mad about. The reason the CEO’s coming to you is that the company’s underperforming a little right now. This is a tough time.

Dave Berke (03:30):

There’s a lot on his mind, but I wanted to talk a little bit. I wanted there to be more to it other than, Hey, just stay detached, which you need to be detached. Don’t get frustrated and push that frustration back on the CEO of all people. But I wanted there to be more reasons and what I wanted to uncover was, Hey, let’s think about why this is happening. Why is the CEO coming straight to you?

Dave Berke (03:51):

And the way we talked about it is there’s kind of two scenarios that you could play on. I don’t know which is which yet let’s kind of, let’s figure them out. One could be actually a really good thing. CEO’s got a lot of trust in you, understands that you’re close to the front lines, sees you as a person who can solve problems, sees you in a position that can shorten the amount of time he can get straight answers that he needs on problems that he thinks are important to the company. The other side of it could be maybe the CEO has lost the confidence of the CRO, the intermediate leader that works for him. That’s in between, in skipping this person coming to you because doesn’t think the CRO is doing a very good job and that’s not a good, you don’t want, you don’t want your boss to be misaligned with the big boss.

Dave Berke (04:34):

So, there’s kind of two different things to think about, the first and most important thing that we talked about was, Hey, if the boss is coming to you with questions, that’s okay. He can skip the chain. He can kind of do what he wants. There’s nothing to get frustrated with. Just, just answer the questions, just give the information that he wants. And then you most certainly want to stay aligned with your boss so, when the CEO’s done and goes back to his office, go to the CRO and say, Hey, wanted to give you a heads. CEO came down to me, these are the questions he asked.

Dave Berke (05:03):

And then the most important thing there is you and the CRO need to get aligned. You need to kind of figure out what’s going here. What are the frustrations from the CEO? Why does this keep happening? And what can you do to A, if in your, if your leadership is having problems, how do you help them? But more importantly, how do you give the CEO, what he needs before he has to come down and find you?

Dave Berke (05:25):

And really what it boiled down to is he wanted projections more accurate and more up to date projections on how far below the line they were going to fall this month. Because, what the CEO is doing. He’s looking 6, 8, 12 months down the road and say, Hey, our revenue projections are lower than we thought because of COVID, how long can I keep this trend before we have to start taking other actions? And the person whose most aware of that is the person in charge of the sales team, where all the revenue is generated.

Dave Berke (05:50):

So, it was actually a relatively short conversation. Some of it was just in the vein of just, Hey, staying detached. But the biggest thing too is, if you got your boss or your boss or anybody coming to you asking you for information, that’s a red flag that you’re not giving them the information they need well before that happened. So, that’s kind of the larger scenario and how we kind of talked about what this real issue was.

Jocko Willink (06:13):

Yeah. that was, so the solution was, you just said yep, answer the questions and go inform your immediate boss of what’s happening and then start to try and do a better job to get ahead of it, giving your boss more detail so that your boss can answer these questions for the CEO.

Dave Berke (06:32):

Yeah, and help your boss understand what the concern is.

Jocko Willink (06:37):

Right. And you said there was two scenarios that could be happening. One is that he didn’t trust and one is that he just wanted information direct from the front lines.

Dave Berke (06:45):


Jocko Willink (06:46):

What I like about this and this has been happening to me quite often, lately is the solution is actually universal. So, the solution that you proposed, which I agree with, regardless of which one of these two scenarios is unfolding, the best thing you can do is yes, give the CEO the answers that he wants and then provide that information of the conversation and the questions and the answers to those questions, to your chain of command and then try and preload them for future situations. So, really multiple possible causes, only one nice solution. I like it.

Dave Berke (07:27):

Yeah, and it wasn’t that complex. It was one of those at the end of the conversation, it was yeah, that makes sense to us. It wasn’t, yeah.

Jocko Willink (07:35):

Check. All right. Record time for that solution. Boom. Under eight minutes, what do you got?

Dave Berke (07:45):

We’re working with the company we’ve been with them for a while. Good things happen inside there. We had a, we’ve got, it’s a tech company. So, one of the teams inside this tech company is called data collection. That head of data collection recently got promoted. So, she moved up to become the chief technical officer, the CTO. So, she’s kind of in charge of data collection, everything on the tech side. And that promotion left up a gap in leadership in the data collection team and someone from the data collection team got elevated to be the head of the data collection team. So, we’ve got two new leaders, but they’ve both been part of this company for a while.

Jocko Willink (08:22):

So, the data collection team leader got promoted to CTO.

Dave Berke (08:25):


Jocko Willink (08:25):

One of the data collection team managers [crosstalk 00:08:29] got promoted to head of data collection team. Okay.

Dave Berke (08:32):

Exactly. This data collection team, what they do is they aggregate data. They kind of put together this package and deliver to their clients. The way that process works is the data collection team manager shows the CTO, this is the monthly product we’re about to put out, gets the thumbs up and then they push it out to their clients. And the CTO, doesn’t like the new format of the aggregate data collection package that the new manager is putting together.

Jocko Willink (09:00):

Okay. So, the person that has become the data team manager said, cool, I’m in charge now, I’m going to reformat this thing and then pushed up the chain of command to the person that I used to work for at this level. Now they’re the CTO and the CTO obviously thinks, well, the way I always did it was pretty damn good.

Dave Berke (09:17):

That’s right.

Jocko Willink (09:18):

So, I don’t really want to. Okay. so, and then, and then what is the, so what’s the problem?

Dave Berke (09:26):

So, the problem that, what’s obvious on the outside is the problem is that, so if you’re now you’re my boss, I give you this thing. You don’t like it and you come back and go, Hey Dave, I don’t like this format. I want you to use the old format. I’ve been using that format for years. It works. Clients are happy, just stick to the old format. And I can’t really do that. I just can’t bring myself to do what you’re saying. The underlying problem was that I kind of look at you a little bit as like you’re, you’re a little bit of a dinosaur. Things have changed a lot. What’s going on in this world is changing rapidly.

Dave Berke (10:00):

We have some really smart people down here, some really good ideas. And actually this way I think is actually better. It covers what you’re saying, but it’s really more of what our clients want. And I’m going to kind of convince you, I’m going to convince you that this new product is really the way we should do it. And we kind of know we live in this world, you’re up in this bigger world and lost track of some of these things so, there’s this kind of ongoing friction. So, the first call I get is from this new data manager saying, Hey, my boss, the CTO every month is telling me she doesn’t like the way I’m delivering this package. What should I do? I’ve, I have to convince her. I got to find a way to explain her now that this new format is the right new format.

Dave Berke (10:43):

And, that’s awesome, because I think you’re reaching for it. But I said, Hey, here’s my first thought. If my boss comes to me and said, this is the format that I want you to deliver this document to me in, you know what I’m going to do, exactly what she says.

Dave Berke (11:01):

You know how long I’m going to do that? Long enough until she realizes, oh, Dave totally gives me what I want. It’s exactly how I want it. It’s good to go. It meets all my expectations. Dave’s got things covered to the point that there’s no question in her mind that I’m her best subordinate, this data management data collection team is the best team. I don’t even worry about them. And then all of a sudden Ive been a little bit of Goodwill, a little bit of trust and confidence and if I feel like I want to adjust over time and go, Hey boss, this thing’s been working well, our client’s been happy, we’ve gotten some feedback over here that maybe there’s some gaps. Our team came up a couple of new ways to maybe adjust this a little bit that we think might be better. What do you think?

Dave Berke (11:38):

So, the short answer was, listen, if your boss isn’t happy with the work that you’re giving do what makes your boss happy, because the real problem here is that if the thing actually does need to evolve, if this product needs to get better, you got to find a way to convince the boss. Hey boss, we’re seeing some real gaps in this product here and we want to be able to make the change in this product to fill in those gaps. You have to have the credibility and the trust from your boss to be able to do that. And the way you do that, isn’t on day one saying the way you did it has been wrong for the last four and a half years. Here’s your answer.

Jocko Willink (12:07):

Yeah, definitely the way that you don’t do it is just by submitting the first report up the chain of command, which is different than the way that the person that just had that job did it for the last X number of years. Yeah. The idea of performance as a way to build a relationship is a very solid, it’s a very, very solid way to build relationships. I used to do that all the time with my bosses. I would just win, win, deliver trophies to my boss. Hey yep, we won again, here you go. Here’s another trophy. And then eventually you say, oh, by the way, if I’m going to keep winning these trophies, I need to make a small adjustment over there and oh yeah, you do whatever you want, Jocko. It’s all good.

Dave Berke (12:45):


Jocko Willink (12:46):

That is a yeah, and the thing, if people are listening to this the thing I was reaching for was the book Leadership Strategies and Tactics, which I wrote, which has a big section about this exact thing, because this does happen. And clearly there’s a little ego thing that we have to pay attention to here, on a most recent Jocko Podcast, we talked about some things to think about as you’re deciding how you’re going to execute. And there’s some cornerstone things that lead you in the right direction. One of them is being able to detach. One of them is keeping your ego in check. And one of them is seeing other people’s perspective. And then the last thing you have to watch out for an underlying thing, is that you’re just not getting complacent. So, when you pull your ego out of it, your ego is probably the thing that’s saying, Hey, my way is better.

Jocko Willink (13:42):

Which, is the quote that you used, my way is better, when you’re not detached, well then you might not understand what the strategic vision is from up the chain of command. You might not see that your ego is out of control. And then the perspective, what’s the perspective of my boss and why am I not seeing it? You know, does my boss want us to deliver a horrible product? No, but there’s some reason. And so, let’s figure those things out and if we can figure those things out, we have a better understanding. We have a better understanding. We make better decisions.

Dave Berke (14:15):

Yeah. This was a, Hey, what you’ve done now is put yourself in a position where you’ve got all her attention. She’s a micromanaging and she’s pushing back and everything you’re doing, this is your problem. This is an easy fix. Take a step back, give her what she wants. Build some credibility. And, over time, just like you said, you’re going to have the space that you need to do it.

Jocko Willink (14:33):

Did you do any role playing with her?

Dave Berke (14:34):

We absolutely, we did. We role played the entire conversation and the best part about…

Jocko Willink (14:40):

Did you get to play a, an evil dinosaur that says that your way is terrible?

Dave Berke (14:44):

Yeah. Oh you mean the way I’ve been doing it for four and a half years that got me into this position is now automatically overnight, no longer the right way to do it. And the cool thing about role play is when you role play for them, how their boss is going to react or whoever it is in the situation. The question I ask all the time is, Hey, how do you think that’s going to go over? And when you ask them like that, they always know the answer. Oh, that’s not going to go over well at all. She’s going to be completely upset if I say that, I’m like exactly. So, the role play and we do role play all the time with our clients all the time, even short, 30 seconds, one or two rounds of it and it makes a huge difference.

Jocko Willink (15:19):

Little rehearsal goes a long way.

Dave Berke (15:20):

It does.

Jocko Willink (15:21):

All right, let’s get one more in.

Dave Berke (15:23):

The cool thing about this one more, is it’s the exact same scenario, because this company, we have an awesome…

Jocko Willink (15:28):

The same company as well?

Dave Berke (15:29):

Same company, same people.

Jocko Willink (15:31):

Oh, dang.

Dave Berke (15:32):

This was one that I saw coming. We’ve been working with these folks for a while. There’s an awesome company and when this new manager…

Jocko Willink (15:38):

By the way, if you’re listing, you’re trying, trying to figure out what company these are and if you’re trying to figure out if this company is you, we maneuver things around so that, yeah, it’s actually not you. If you think it’s you, it’s not.

Jocko Willink (15:50):

And it’s pretty unfair for me to say this is an awesome company because every company we’re working with is awesome and we have an awesome time with them. So, this was one that I saw coming a mile away. As soon as this leader called me and was describing the problem with his boss, the next day, the boss called me and said, Hey, I’m having a problem with one of my subordinates.

Dave Berke (16:09):

So, this, okay, so now the CTO has called, said, CTO calls me and say, Hey, about six months ago, I elevated to this position. I’m having a really hard time getting this one team leader to give me this really simple product that I’ve been doing for years, the way that I want it. Every month I come back, I give him a debrief. I explain what it’s, what’s not right about it. I show him what I want. I simply cannot get through to him and get him to do what I want. I told her the exact same thing. You’re the problem here.

Dave Berke (16:40):

And so this is, the cool thing about it is I had a lot of the context and we were talking and look the nuances there are some you’re in a different position and in the organization, I said, but Hey, what do you think that manager is thinking when he’s giving you a new product? Do you think he’s thinking, you’re all screwed up, you’re a problem, you’re a dinosaur? Or is he thinking, Hey, I’ve got these awesome ideas that I’ve been thinking about, I’ve got this great opportunity, I think I’m going to give you something that’s going to make what you’ve done even better?

Dave Berke (17:06):

Which, of the two approaches do you think your subordinate is taking with you? Wants to shove it in your face and tell you’re wrong, or is he trying to make things better? And we ask that question. It’s well, no, he’s awesome, that’s why I promoted him to be the manager. Clearly what he’s trying to do is give me something that’s even better.

Dave Berke (17:21):

So look, if he’s got some ideas, the first thing you want to do is realize, maybe him and his young team that has a slightly different viewpoint actually has a better way of doing it. And the best thing you can do is say, listen, I’ve been doing this for a while. I think I know it works, but you know what, tell me what, tell me what you’re seeing. Tell me why you want to make these changes and help me better understand how this product will help our clients better and if it makes sense, let’s go ahead and do it.

Dave Berke (17:50):

You do a quick role play of, Hey, what you’re seeing, turns out that as we dissected this, some of the ideas from the, from that manager colleague, were actually pretty good and some weren’t so great. And she was really quickly with me and I’m not nearly as smart on this episode. She was able to explain, Hey, you know what, this idea is actually pretty good, and this one’s terrible and let me tell you why. And it was really easy for her to tell me a complete layman, why this was good and why this didn’t make any sense. I said, well, if you can explain it to me, do you think you could have the same conversation with your subordinate and have him go, yeah you know what, that’s a great point. We’ll do this, but you’re right. That’s not really helpful. We’re going to take that out of the product.

Dave Berke (18:27):

She was yeah, that would be easy. Okay, let’s roll play that conversation. We do it for four minutes. The beauty thing, the beautiful thing about this outcome is that before they called, you got two people looking at the problem and both of them were a 100 percent sure the other person was the issue. And at the end of those two calls, you got two people, the exact same problem. And they were both convinced they were the problem. So, by definition that problem’s going away.

Jocko Willink (18:52):

I talked about this on EF online the other day. This is a little something that we like to call overlapping fields of extreme ownership. Meaning people that are working together, that if they both think it’s their fault, they both to solve the problem from their position and what you, so on the battlefield, it means, if Dave and I have certain corridors of fire, certain fields of fire, we want them to overlap because we want to make sure that there’s not a gap in between what you can see and what I can see, because then an enemy could sneak in there. So, that means we set up our fields of fire so that they overlap. So, there’s no one going to be able to sneak through. And that’s what happens in, with extreme ownership, is Dave solves the problem from his position, I solve it from my position and that means this problem is not going to get through.

Dave Berke (19:51):


Jocko Willink (19:51):

It’s not going to get through. So, that’s a positive thing. And the opposite is when we’re blaming each other. Well, now there’s no overlap and a matter of fact, the problem is there and it’s not going to get solved. I don’t know. I haven’t quite figured out if there’s an in between, I guess the in between is if I take ownership of the problem and you don’t.

Dave Berke (20:12):


Jocko Willink (20:12):

Look, I have a pretty good chance of getting it solved, but I’d rather, we both are taking ownership, right? So, if it’s just one member taking ownership, look, I’m probably going to get the problem solved, but there’s a chance that I can’t quite reach the end of, I can’t quite cover the whole problem. So, ideally we both take ownership. And what happens is when I start to take ownership of the problem and say, do you know what, Dave, this is my fault. What do you do? You say, actually, there’s some things that I could do different so we end up with the overlapping and then clearly the opposite of that is, when I say, Dave, this is your fault. You go, hell no, it’s not my fault and now we do no solving of the problem.

Dave Berke (20:51):


Jocko Willink (20:51):

And that’s, that’s the good thing is when I say, Hey, Dave, this is my fault. Dave says, yeah, I know. I say, great. That’s why I’m going to do these things to solve this problem. And then you say, well, okay, I’m glad you’re getting it taken care of, but you also want a little credit for that. So you go, well, there’s some adjustments I’m going to make too. And we end up with this nice overlapping fields of extreme ownership.So, sometimes people get worried that, well, who’s really going to take the fault. We all are.

Dave Berke (21:17):


Jocko Willink (21:18):

We all are. We all can make changes to make things better and for whatever risk of, Hey me telling you, Hey, this is on me, Jocko. I made these mistakes. I’m going to fix this. Is there a risk that you’re going to go, yeah, Dave, you’re all screwed up. You need to fix this. Yeah. That, that could happen. That’s a possibility.

Jocko Willink (21:33):

I can’t tell you how many companies we work with. I can’t tell me how many different sectors we’ve worked with, they’re almost all the same. 95% of the people. These companies are just good, motivated, hardworking people. The likelihood that you’re going to say, yeah, you’re all screwed up. It’s so low. Nine times out of 10, 99 times out of a 100, I take ownership and you go, dude, look, man, I can make these simple changes, it’s no factor. Our team can fix this. That overlap happens almost automatically and if it doesn’t, it’s okay. No factor. But if you’re worried about it…

Jocko Willink (22:03):

If it doesn’t, you still get the problem solved.

Dave Berke (22:04):


Jocko Willink (22:04):

Because if it doesn’t happen, I’m still doing everything I can to cover that problem.

Dave Berke (22:08):

That’s right.

Jocko Willink (22:09):

That’s what generally happens. But it doesn’t happen all the time. And that’s, we get that. But what are my alternatives are my alternatives to say, when I say, Hey, Dave, this was my fault. you say, I know it was and I say, just kidding. I only said that so that you would start to take ownership? No, that’s not the way it works. When I tell you that it’s my fault. I’m telling you that because I actually believe that it’s my fault and there’s something I could do to solve the problem. That’s what I’m telling you that for.

Dave Berke (22:38):

What’s awesome about the relationships we have and the position that we are in. You talked about a little bit earlier about that being detached because we at Echelon Front are de facto detached. We can tell the other people, Hey, what we’re seeing and they listen, they go, Hey, listen, this is on you. And they go, you know what, you’re right? And they come to that conclusion so much easier than if you’re inside the organization, you’re subordinate says, you’re the problem here. It’s almost immediate pushback.

Dave Berke (23:03):

But working with us, one of the cool things about us is we get to be detached from all this and be able to see it from a different perspective and help of them see that perspective so they can come to the right conclusion.

Jocko Willink (23:12):

And if you are paying attention in there, if you’re paying attention, then you realize which, by the way, you don’t have to be, you have to be paying attention, yes. But we’re actually going to tell you, Hey, the reason we’re seeing this right now is because we’re detached. And as a matter of fact, I was going over something with a client today. There’s an issue happening and the one individual is not behaving in a good way, right? So, saying the wrong things, I should be promoted one of those situations, right?

Jocko Willink (23:43):

Dave, if you thought that you should get promoted and then you didn’t, and then you came to me and said, Hey, Jocko, that decision you made was wrong. I’m absolutely better than that guy. You should promote me. I think this is crap. This is ridiculous. I’m going to start shopping my resume around to other people. What do I think?

Dave Berke (24:02):


Jocko Willink (24:03):

What do I think? And it’s so, now if you came to me and said, Hey, Jocko, look, I know that you selected the other person and I think that’s a great call, what I was wondering is if there’s anything that I could do, look, I really want to step up into a leadership position and obviously I must not be ready for it right now. But I want to be ready the next time an opportunity comes. Do you think you could, I know this is a big ask, but do you think that you could, number one, kind of debrief me on how you made that selection? Number two, maybe start to coach me so that my leadership improves so that next time this opportunity comes, I’m the guy?

Jocko Willink (24:38):

Which one of those two people. I mean, if you came to me and said, the guy that I selected didn’t have that attitude.

Dave Berke (24:44):


Jocko Willink (24:44):

I’m actually, I’m rethinking this right now. When, so when you explain that to someone. So if you were the guy that came to me and did that, and then I said, Hey, hold on a second. Let me tell you about a situation I’m dealing with over here. I explained that exact situation that you just did to me and change the names. You’d say, oh dude, you should definitely take the guy with the good attitude that wants to learn. I’d say, okay, great. So, what you’re saying is you don’t want to get promoted, because that’s what you just did to me. So, that defacto detachment, all you have to do is flip around the story and take that person and change their name and change the business and you explain the story. And nine times out of ten, the person knows the right answer, but they don’t behave that way. And the reason that they don’t behave that way is because they don’t detach. They let their ego get in the way and they don’t understand their perspective.

Dave Berke (25:35):


Jocko Willink (25:36):

Cause when you’re wrapped up in things, you can’t see, you need, go, go. When we went to Gettysburg for Echelon battlefield, where there was several locations where you could get on the high ground, literally. And that high ground has multiple meanings. One is, Hey, I’m above, I’m in a visual place where I can see more. Right? That’s the definition of detachment. I’m in an elevated position. I’m not receiving freaking musket fire. I mean, this is before smokeless ammo so, you had, or smokeless gun powder. So, you had the battlefield filled with smoke.

Jocko Willink (26:20):

You can’t see anything down there. So, you get into these, into the high ground, into the elevated position. When you, when you’re on the Gettysburg battlefield in, you get up to these elevated positions on Little Round Top, and you look and you can see almost the entire battlefield and you think, wow, imagine trying, and then 10 minutes later, you’re on the ground and you think yourself, how could I possibly direct a battle when I can see a hundred yards to this next tree line, that’s it?

Dave Berke (26:48):


Jocko Willink (26:48):

And meanwhile, 10 minutes of walking up the hill and you can see the entire battlefield, that is detachment. And when you can detach from your emotions, it gives you that much power. When you can detach your ego, it gives you that much power. When you can see from a different perspective, it gives you that much power.

Jocko Willink (27:10):

And yet we fail to do it all the time. The other part of the high ground that’s important to remember is, the high ground on the battlefield is something that you do not want to give up. It gives you such a clear advantage that when you give it up, you’re giving it up at your peril, especially if you allow the other person to get the high ground. But even if you don’t do that, if there is someone in the low ground and you decide, you know what, I’m going to go down there with them at a minimum, you’ve given up at your advantage at worst case, they’ve taken the high ground and now you’re completely destroyed.

Jocko Willink (27:48):

So, what is it that, what does, how does that translate to the business world? Well, here’s how it translates to the business world and to life and to being a leader. There’s certain principles that you have and there, I shouldn’t say there shouldn’t be a lot. There likely is not a lot of principles that are as solid as high ground. In other words, you know what, there is a line that I am not crossing. I will not give up my high ground. So, if you want me to, overcharge a client, we’re not doing that. That is not happening. If you want me, whatever, think whatever immoral, illegal, unethical thing. And, you could also say anything that you don’t want to print in the newspaper about what the company did, right? What my company did. So, there you go. Those are the things and look, we’ve been working together for quite a while now, what percentage of things am I rigid and unmovable on, right?

Jocko Willink (28:55):

There’s a very tiny percentage. That’s what the high ground is. The high ground is, look, these are things that I’m not going to give up, not going to do it. So then you take those things that you’re not going to give up and maybe those are principles, maybe those are operating functions that you have that you’re just not going to change because it’s a principle that you have to adhere to. And then you get into the ethical high ground, which is, now you want me to do something or you do something that you shouldn’t do. If I accept that or I participate that in any way I can, I can’t, it’s I shouldn’t say I can’t, it is almost impossible for me to get the high ground back.

Jocko Willink (29:45):

So, as you go through life, when you give up the high ground, it’s very challenging to try and get that high ground back. You can do it, but it might take a very long time. If you break someone’s trust, right? If you lose trust with someone, you kind of gave up the high ground.

Jocko Willink (30:07):

Now look, you can try and get it back, but it is going to be a fight. You’ve got gravity against you. You’ve got the angles against you. It’s a horrible situation to be in and it’s going to be a fight. So, that’s why, when we talk about keeping the high ground, it covers all these different bases. And it’s something that you should think about before you make a move. Just, when you’re doing land navigation, when you’re doing land navigation, this is another time you want to keep the high ground. You don’t, guess what happens when you go downhill? You have to go uphill again, right? I’m not talking about you’re under attack. I’m just talking about you’re moving through the woods or through the mountains. When you’re on the high ground, you want to stay there because every time you take a step down, at some point, you’re going to have to step back up.

Jocko Willink (31:02):

So, pay attention to your altitude. When you go through life, when you take a step, when you move, ask yourself, am I taking a step down? Am I losing altitude right now? And pay attention to that, because if you pay attention to each and every step that you take, you’ll find that you won’t look up and all of a sudden, and here’s, what’s scary. You don’t want to pay attention when you’re going downhill because it’s a little bit easier. It’s a little bit easier. And it’s just a little bit easier so, your mind’s telling you, Hey, what’s, we can get that back later. You don’t want to do it. You want to get the high ground and you want to maintain the high ground.

Jocko Willink (31:53):

And that’s probably a good place to stop for today and if you want to dig deeper into all these aspects of leadership, in any arena, you can join Dave and me and the rest of the team@efonline.com, where we solve problems through leadership. If you want guidance inside your organization, if you want the team to come out and work with you can check with our leadership consultancy@echelonfront.com. I’ve also written a bunch of books on the subject of leadership, Extreme Ownership, The Dichotomy of Leadership and Leadership Strategy and Tactics, got some other podcasts. One is called Jocko Podcast, one is called Jocko Unraveling, one is called Grounded, and one is called the Warrior Kid Podcast. And if you want to support any of these podcasts, including this one, you can get some gear from Jockostore.com or from originmain.com. Thanks for listening to The Debrief. Now go lead. This is Dave and Jocko, out.

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