Who is a leader?

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When we use the term “leader,” people usually think of the CEO, the senior executive team, or those at the very top of an organization. Many people don’t see themselves as leaders—particularly if they don’t have a title, a position of authority, or a team that reports to them. But at Echelon Front, we believe that if you interact with other human beings in any capacity, you are a leader. Even if you are only in charge of yourself and your small piece of the mission, you have to lead. First, you have to lead yourself. Next, you have to align with others and influence others, even if you aren’t in charge of them. Everyone depends on somebody else in some capacity to accomplish their mission. You must use leadership principles in order to:

• Get people aligned

• Work together to support each other

• Make sure you and everyone involved understands the goal

• Prioritize time, resources, and effort

• Ensure that everyone involved in the effort understands not just what to do, but why they are doing it

Everyone is a Leader

This is the essence of the fourth Law of Combat, Decentralized Command, which simply means that EVERYBODY LEADS. When you have a team of people whom each see themselves as a leader, ready to step up and lead, build relationships and leverage resources, take ownership of problems and implement solutions, and put the greater team and the overall mission above themselves, then you have a team that is absolutely unstoppable.

Real-World example:

“What do you got?” Jocko asked a young SEAL shooter immersed in a chaotic training scenario as he knelt in the street of a military training facility for urban combat. Explosions from grenade simulators thundered nearby as paintball rounds zipped in from SEAL training instructors playing the role of enemy fighters.

Jocko and I were observing this SEAL platoon going through training in preparation for a combat deployment overseas.

“What do you got?” Jocko repeated. The young SEAL shooter, who initially didn’t respond, was busy returning fire and trying to assist the (simulated) wounded SEALs lying next to him in the street.

“Someone needs to make a call!” the young SEAL finally responded. He was one of the most junior members of his SEAL platoon, with no positional authority to lead—only in charge of himself and his piece of the mission.

“What do you think that call should be?” Jocko asked.

“We need to get the hell off this street,” the young SEAL answered. “We’re out here with no cover, waiting to get shot. We should move across the street and get behind that concrete wall over there.” He pointed to the concrete walls of a residential compound only 30 feet away.

“Sounds like a smart move,” I said. “Why don’t you make that call?”
The young SEAL looked back at me as if I were completely crazy.

“I’m not in charge,” the SEAL countered. “That’s up to my platoon chief or my platoon commander to make that call.”

“Where is your platoon chief or your platoon commander?” Jocko asked.

“I have no idea,” the SEAL responded.

“Do you think they might have other pressing issues going on right now?” Jocko asked.
The SEAL nodded, affirming that was the case.

“Do you think your platoon chief or your platoon commander want you and your buddies to stand out here in the street and get shot?” I asked.

“No,” the SEAL admitted. “Definitely not.”

“Would it help your leaders if you made the call to get yourself and the SEALs around you off the street and behind cover? Would it help your team and your mission?” I continued.

“Yes, it would,” the SEAL acknowledged. He looked around and made the call:


Everybody moved. As a result, within seconds, his fire team’s position improved. This not only improved things for the young SEAL and his fire team, this helped the entire SEAL platoon as well.

Once they were inside the compound, I asked the young SEAL, “Who knows you are here?”

“Nobody,” he acknowledged. He quickly pulled out his battle map, determined which building number his fire team was in, and then made a call over the radio to his platoon commander.

“Fire Team Three is in the courtyard of Building 32. I have two wounded,” he said.
The platoon was now in a better position to accomplish its mission as a result. And the young SEAL recognized that even though he didn’t have a title and wasn’t in a position of authority, in order for the overall team to be successful, he needed to lead. Everyone is a leader.

For Action:

Where can you step and lead this week to solve a problem and help move your team forward to accomplish the mission? Whom can you empower to step up and lead this week?

Take ownership of a task, a project, or a problem and brief your chain of command on a potential solution. Encourage someone on your team to be a leader, empower them to take ownership of a task or some part of a project, and lead. Then, let them run with it. EXECUTE.

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