Winning An Argument May Create A Bigger Problem

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #19

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #19:

Winning an argument about who’s plan is better does not guarantee the best plan to be implemented.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

This is the Jocko debrief podcast episode 19 with Dave Burke and me Jocko Willink. What are we doing here? We’re debriefing leadership scenarios that we have with our clients at Echelon Front, we’re debriefing scenarios that we talk about on extreme ownership academy then we just try and share. We want people to learn. Look, I hope we don’t have a business in three years. I hope that everyone says, “Oh yeah, we know all this now.” I hope that’s where we’re going. I hope that this information just gets disseminated and people grab it and they pass it on. They understand it fluidly in a short period of time and they just transform their lives and businesses so that we can go out of business. That’s what I hope for. My hope is not too strong. I’m not worried about our future at a business, but that’s what we’re doing here. So this is us debriefing various topics that we had to contend with for our company Echelon Front. So let’s debrief. What do you got?

Dave Burke (01:18):

Winning an argument that your plan is better than someone else’s doesn’t actually guarantee that the best plan is going to get implemented. And in fact, winning that argument might mean you created a bigger problem. So this comes from a client we’re working with, they’re in the tech space and they’ve got multiple teams inside this. It’s a smaller company but they’ve got different teams that focus on different things and then these team leads all meet on a regular basis to discuss, and they debate what they should be working on. So you have someone that as a team leader that works on the user interface and that’s a huge priority for them and the resources and time to improve that. You have another team that maybe works on the code of the product in the background. You’ve got a team that focuses on the marketing of the sales, and there’s different teams and they get together and they discuss, what should be the focus on?

Dave Burke (02:10):

But there’s also a ton of overlap. It’s a small company that are all smart folks so you don’t just get one task where you just work on this. You can interact with other people on the team but you’ve got this focus. And the leader of one of these teams who’ve been working with was discussing how he’s having a hard time lately convincing that the other team leaders in this group meeting is convincing them that what they should be working on is what he thinks they should be working on. And so there’s this growing friction across the team leads inside this company. And these meetings are starting to become more contentious. They’re less cooperative, there’s less agreement and there’s growing frustration and there’s more conflict.

Jocko Willink (02:51):

So we got these various teams and each one of them is striving to be the focus of the company.

Dave Burke (02:59):

Yeah. My team should be the focus so the additional resources or how we prioritize what’s getting done. Now, that doesn’t mean that you on the code team will have nothing to do with it. You might even be helping working on this because again, it’s a small team so there’s ton of overlap, but I’m going to advocate for my team’s priority and I think there’s three or four different team leads. It’s them and the CEO, and they have a bunch of subordinate folks that are working as well. But the conversations are a relatively small group and they’re becoming more contentious and you’re pushing back more and you’re advocating for your team more.

Dave Burke (03:36):

And it actually reminded me of when I was a top gun and the time that I spent on the staff there when we were instructors, and we all had these individual assigned areas, we call them in SME areas, which you probably heard the term SME, subject matter experts. So I was given a particular subject matter expert that I was individually responsible for. And all the instructors had their own area that it was theirs. But we were also all instructors. So we would all teach the students. We would all do different types of missions. I didn’t just focus on that. But when it came to discussing prioritization for those SME areas, I was the, I guess you would say the advocate for that area because that was my expertise.

Dave Burke (04:18):

I in theory had more expertise in anybody else because I focus more on that. And you’ve only got so much time. You’ve only got so many resources. All the areas are important. There is no one area that’s not important, but we might need to decide what we should be working on or what we should be applying those resources to. And what I learned at top gun, and it took me a little while to figure this out, what I can aim to discover, and I didn’t figure this out right away, but the staff would go in and have these meetings. And they had a group inside the staff where the top most, when I say top, it’s top by seniority. The 10 most senior instructors would have these staff meetings and they were the ones that were doing most of the talking and the other junior instructors were there to observe and listen and they can contribute if they wanted to and they’re there to support.

Dave Burke (05:09):

But in these meetings there were people that had a really loud voice. Instructors would go in and they’d have their story written out and their idea and their approach to this particular problem. And some instructors would go in and they’d be literally the loudest voice in there. They would talk the most. They would be the most forceful. They would advocate the hardest. And at first, if you walk in the very first meeting, you see these people talk and it’s compelling. They’re articulate, they’re well spoken, they’re forceful and there’s a little bit of an appeal to it. But what I came to discover was, the more an individual instructor talked, the louder they were, the more forceful they were, the less they were liked, the less effective they actually were, the less people would listen to them.

Dave Burke (06:03):

And so over time I discovered that first meeting like, “Do you remember that guy said that was awesome.” All that stuff. And I would learn that that was their MO. So every meeting they’d come in and they’d pound their fists on the desk, “This is how it should be. This is what we’re doing. Here’s why. Here’s all the things we’re doing.” And what I would see is more meetings. I found that less appealing and amazingly everybody else did too. And so the loudest most forceful instructors that were advocating the most were actually usually the least effective. They were the least effective in getting their point across and they were least effective in getting the outcome that they wanted.

Dave Burke (06:40):

And on the last podcast, I was giving some story and we were role playing an example of me pushing back. And you used, I think you said, when I pushed back or something along those lines, you used the phrase I think close minded. It shows that you don’t have an open mind. And it’s interesting because the louder you are, the more you talk, the more you reveal to the other people on the staff that you do not have an open mind about their opinion, their priorities, their projects, or whatever they’re working on. So I talked to him about, hey, this idea that you’re going into a room and what they want is they want everybody to get into a room and they want the best idea to come out. That’s what they want which makes sense. Of course, I want the best ideas. I want to be on a team where the best idea becomes the plan or becomes the actual thing that we’re going to do. But here’s the thing about the best idea.

Dave Burke (07:28):

I don’t know what the best idea is. I don’t know if my idea actually is the best idea. So the two things I think were the biggest takeaways from this conversation is, he was starting to see that as time went on he was becoming less influential. People were listening to him less. You talked about this last time we were recording and we talk about it all the time is, if I want to influence you, if I want you to listen to me, I have to listen to you and I have to let you influence me. I might have to go with your plans, I might have to listen to your ideas and go with them, and this discussion we have about trust, respect, influencing, and listening, and the most important thing I can do to earn those things is keep my ego and check and trust you and listen to you and influence you.

Dave Burke (08:20):

So right away, this idea that, if people are listening to me less, if I’m less influential, the first thing I should do is think about, am I coming into these meetings? Am I talking the most? Am I the loudest? Am I advocating for myself the most? But this other idea too that’s connected to that is like, I’m going to go in there. And I know my idea is the best idea, and I need to convince you, I need you to see that my idea is the best idea. And again, something you’ve said is that when you and I get into an argument about what we should do, where we should prioritize, how we should approach this particular issue, you and I are arguing about the unknown. We’re arguing about the future. We’re arguing about something we actually don’t know what will happen.

Dave Burke (08:59):

And even the best plan, Dave’s plan is the best plan, it’s still not a perfect plan. It’s still going to run into problems. And when those plans run up against friction and problems, I’m going to need people other than me, people on this team to be solving those problems. And so what do I want for them? I want them invested in the plan. So the best plan, and I think the way I describe this, the best plan, if I were to define what the best plan is, the best plan is their plan. It’s their plan, whatever that plan is. And if Jocko and I both go in there and Jocko’s got an idea about how he wants to do it, and I have an idea how I want to do it, we could try to pick it apart and look at every detail then try to come up with some numerical factor of your plan is an 87, mine’s an 89.

Dave Burke (09:50):

You know what? Mine’s better. Let’s do my plan. Or I could actually not do that. I could go with your plan. I could listen to your ideas more. I could let you tell me what you want to do and support you more. And not only does that give me more influence over you over time because I’m listening more and you’re more willing to listen to me, when those plans get implemented and we start running into those problems, all that friction, all that resistance that’s happening because we’re arguing, it’s not there. So when we run into the problems that we will find every single plan, the best plan is not the best plan. The best plan is actually on almost every case, whoever their plan.

Dave Burke (10:30):

And yeah, there’s probably a ton of discussion. Can I shape that? Do I want to influence that? Do I want to help course correct? Yes. And the best way to do that is to have you trust me, want to listen to me. So the more you walk into those meetings, the more you talk, the more you pin your fist, the more you advocate, exactly what he’s seeing is what’s going to happen. They’re going to start listening less. They’re going to start push back more. Different teams are going to start to resist more. They’re going to build those silos. And in the end who’s going to lose? The company. The real team, the organization is going to lose.

Jocko Willink (11:03):

Yeah. What a lot of that boils down to is leadership capital, right? Every time you open your mouth, you’re expanding leadership capital. Other than the time, when you say, “Hey Dave, your plan sounds really good. I’ll support you.” Then I just gain leadership capital. So you’ve got the person at top gun that’s rolling into everything with an open checkbook, just throwing freaking his credit card down on the bar and saying, “Drink up everybody.” He’s just expending leadership capital all day long. And eventually he’s in there. People know that his credit card doesn’t even work. He doesn’t have anything left in his bank account.

Jocko Willink (11:39):

So now when he has a legitimate idea that is truly impactful to the organization, he doesn’t have any freaking leadership capital to get it done. So we nickel and dime ourselves to death. We spend this, we spend that. You know, you’re right. They said we should only debrief for an hour. I said an hour and a half. Now we’re doing hour and a half debriefs. Yeah. And you expended all this leadership capital too at extra half an hour debrief. Is it really going to change the world? No, it’s not. But there’s something important that could happen and you won’t be there. Now, I got asked this question the other a day. I was talking to a company, a client, and the question was something along the lines of, and this was a, I really liked this. Something along the lines of, “But Hey Jocko, sometimes don’t you have to advocate for yourself?” And this is the big fear, right? The big fear in life is, if I don’t advocate for myself then I’m going to get trampled.

Jocko Willink (12:50):

Now, out of the gate, I can tell you, for all practical reasons or for all practical occasions, no. Look, could you identify a time when you have to advocate for, if you and I sat down and said, “Okay, let’s review, let’s talk, let’s discuss this.” And figure out a time when you have to advocate for yourself, I’m sure we could come up with something. I’m sure we could create a situation and create the correct variables where you have to advocate for yourself. I’ve been thinking about it for two weeks. I haven’t been able to come up with one yet, but I’m sure we could. I’m sure we could. I’m sure there’s a scenario where you got to advocate. Do you sometimes have to advocate for your team? Yeah. You do sometimes have to advocate for your team. I get that. Here’s the deal. The best way to advocate for your team and the best way to advocate for yourself is to advocate for the mission and the team as a whole, not just to your team but the whole team.

Dave Burke (13:49):


Jocko Willink (13:49):

The best way to advocate for yourself and your team is by advocating for whole mission and the whole team. And by the way, every time, you want to talk about expending leadership capital, every time you advocate for yourself, it’s the grossest expenditure of leadership capital you can give. I see people all the time, they don’t even recognize this. They think that A, no one notice, they think that people, well, I understand he’s got to do that. No, no one thinks, “Hey, you know what? I understand where Dave’s coming and he really needs to look out for himself right now.” I’ve never thought that about anyone that I’ve heard advocating for themselves. Never. I never think that. I think, “Oh, Dave’s out there. Dave’s looking out for Dave. Cool. Check.” That’s what I think and his leadership capital goes down.

Jocko Willink (14:36):

And now when he pretty something legitimate to the team, I’m trying to figure out the angle that he’s working to look out for good deal Dave. So, once again, we can sit here and we can think about arguing. Now, here’s what’s beautiful. Here’s why you don’t have to advocate for yourself. You don’t have to advocate for yourself. Well, let me rephrase that. Here’s why you don’t have to advocate for yourself in 99.9% of situations. If you are in the 0.1% human, your goal is to take care of yourself, it’s going to seem like you need to advocate for yourself. And you’re going to fail because of it because that’s what you’re going to do. But check this out, if I am advocating for the team and I’m advocating for the mission and we accomplish the mission and the team does well, what happens to me? What happens to me?

Jocko Willink (15:38):

Oh, my team just did well. Oh, the entire team did well and my team was part of the entire team and that means my team did well. And guess what? My boss thinks, “Hey, Jocko’s team did a good job supporting the overall mission we won. Wow. Seems like he’s a good lead. Maybe I should promote him.” As sad as it sounds, you are helping yourself when you look out for everybody else. I guess I shouldn’t say sad, it’s actually the beautiful thing, right? It’s a beautiful thing that if you go and you look out for the team and you got the mission accomplished, you will get taken care of. You don’t need to advocate for yourself. Advocate for the team, advocate for the mission and you’re going to win. But if you sit there and you think, “Well, I don’t know. I better look out for me.”

Jocko Willink (16:28):

Everybody’s going to see it. It’s not going to help the team. It’s not going to help the mission and ultimately it is not going to help you. So, if you want to “advocate for yourself”, the best possible way you can advocate for yourself is by looking out for your team and looking out for the mission. That’s what you should do. And that goes to these situations where, “Hey, Dave’s got a division and I’ve got a division.” And I sit there and say, “Well, I’m going to get as much as I can.” Actually Dave, it seems like you’ve got a project that’s way more important than the project. I’m more, “How can I support you? I’m advocating for you.” So be careful of that. All right. Got another one?

Dave Burke (17:13):


Jocko Willink (17:15):

What do you got?

Dave Burke (17:17):

It’s a little similar. This is, I think we don’t always explicitly talk about it but we know that there’s a component of humility and ego underneath everything we’re talking about. Almost every situation you can dig and find, “Okay. There’s where the ego is contributing to this.”

Jocko Willink (17:33):

Oh, you mean like I got to advocate for myself?

Dave Burke (17:34):

Right. Yeah. So kind of a similar situation, only this was, so this is a financial company. They have branches all over the country, branch managers and they’re not in regions so these branch managers work for a director so a director would have seven branches, and there’s a particular branch manager that is part of a larger project we’re working on and advertises himself as a person that’s very direct by nature. Kind of explain, hey, I’m just a direct person. The best way to get to communicate is to get to the point. He got recently in a conversation got chewed out by his boss in front of other branch managers, which obviously is not good.

Dave Burke (18:22):

And I don’t know all the details behind that. Is this person routinely going to chew out in public? Obviously, something we try, you’re going to give some feedback, a negative feedback like you don’t want to do that in public as often. You don’t want to gut at your subordinates in front of other people.

Jocko Willink (18:39):

Well, what if it’s direct and to the point though? You just tell the truth.

Dave Burke (18:43):

And there’s growing friction between this branch manager and his director and the conversation was, and I know you probably already know where this is going is, hey, how do we get to the answer without wasting time? And the question of, hey, how do I get to the answer without wasting time? And what was added to that was, I’m not afraid of my boss. So again, we were dealing with some of the same subjects, but the ego component of that I think was stronger, which is thinking about the direct approach from the other person’s perspective.

Dave Burke (19:22):

I’m a direct person, so I’m going to be direct with Jocko. Jocko needs some feedback or he’s got questions or whatever it is. I’m a direct guy. Let me think about it from how Jocko hears what I’m saying rather than from my own perspective. And so that idea of, can I be humble enough to actually think of it from a different point of view? Can I detach enough and go, oh, I’m going to think about this less about the one who’s communicating and I want to see what Jocko hears from me when I’m direct. So I say, “Hey, when you are direct with your boss, do you think she appreciates it?” “Well no, but she does know the information she needs to know.” Okay. “Do you think she wants to hear that information the way that you communicate it?” “Not necessarily.”

Dave Burke (20:02):

So what information or what evidence do you have that the way you’re communicating the truth of this information is not effective? She yelled at me in front of my peers on a Teams call on the internet, a virtual Teams call last week. So, we started talking about the direct approach. The first thing we talk about is, hey, slow down. Don’t talk. And if you have to push back, the technique we talk about all the time is when you push back is in the form of questions. And the big part of that, and I think the last time we were talking is, when you ask those questions and we say, you have to ask all those questions, the hardest part that your ego will convince you of is that you’re asking those questions as a technique as opposed to, I’m going to ask those questions and my boss or my peer or anybody, it doesn’t have to be your boss, might give me an answer that was different than mine that might actually be right.

Dave Burke (21:03):

And if I ask a question to get a better understanding of what’s going on, I have to have the humility to know that this information might be correct, that might actually be right. And the critique, the immediate feedback, the immediate direct response might actually also make it longer for me to get to the outcome that I want, which is what’s best for the team. Not just this one branch, not just this one person, not just this one part of this director’s entire region of responsibility, but the entire team that they are part of. And I said, “Hey, the biggest issue you’ve got right now is you have a boss that doesn’t trust you. You have a boss you don’t have a good relationship with.” So how do we solve these other problems?

Dave Burke (21:53):

The number one thing you can do right now is to build a better relationship with your boss. You getting yelled at is a sign that you have a bad relationship. So what are the things that we do to build a good relationship? You just talked about leadership capital. We talk about these four things all the time, and we put them all on the umbrella. We talk about cover move. We talk about teamwork. We talk about relationships and inside that is this idea of leadership capital and the components of building that capital is just respect, influencing, and listening. And part of it was, I wrote this and it’s going to sound repetitive, but it’s not repetitive because these are the things that sit inside these relationships all the time. The more your boss influences you, the more influence you have of your boss.

Dave Burke (22:33):

The more you listen to her, the more she will listen to you. The more respect you show her, the more she will show you respect. And the more you trust her, meaning, she says, we should do it a certain way. You go, “Hey, you know what? Maybe she’s right. Let’s go execute her plan.” The more trust you will build overtime. And all of those things, all that leadership capital, what that does is it actually serves to reduce the friction in your relationship because there’s less resistance. There’s less to push back on. There’s less to argue about and there’s actually less reasons for her to chew you out. And all that over time if you play this slightly longer game, which is not the direct approach which I just tell you the truth, I’ll give you my two cents immediately is it will help you steer the team to the right outcome, which is what you want.

Dave Burke (23:22):

So, I guess there’s a little bit of repetitive there, but we didn’t talk about it. I didn’t mention it last time, but the idea that your ego will convince you, not only that you are right, but the best way to get to the outcome is to tell everybody else that you’re right as well, which we know doesn’t work. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t give you what you need to help the team be successful. And in the end what it’ll end up getting you is yelled at by your boss on a call, which we don’t want because it’s bad for her. It’s bad for you. It’s bad for everybody.

Dave Burke (23:58):

So this was an indirect approach discussion, but the real piece of this was the humility to go, “Hey, you know what? If I talk like this, how is the other person going to take it?” And I need to change the way I talk, not that they just need to listen to what I’m saying because this is the answer.

Jocko Willink (24:13):

Yeah. That’s an ironic, proper usage of the word ironic. It’s ironic that I just like to be direct but then when someone’s direct with me, I don’t like it at all. And I did quite have the foresight or the introspection to say, “Wait a second. I didn’t like getting treated that way, but that’s what I do to everybody else.” Which is a crazy idea, right? But we make that mistake all the time. We make that mistake all the time where we think it’s a little bit different for us. I’m sure Dave likes getting that direct stuff feedback from me. He must like that. It’s like, no, think a little bit deeper. You know what’s interesting about this? I’ve been throwing this word around a bit lately when it comes to leadership, the word is weak, weak.

Jocko Willink (25:09):

It’s one of the worst things you can tell a leader, right? That they’re weak. You’re a weak leader. That’s like a military, I wonder if they say that outside the military, “Hey, this person’s a weak leader.” But here’s what’s interesting. What’s interesting is what we think is weak. Because there’s people that we could easily convince. We could easily be convinced and we might even think ourselves that if I listen to Dave, even though he’s subordinate to me, I’m weak. Actually, it doesn’t matter. Your subordinate peer, superior. If I listen to him, I’m weak. I’m being weak. If I show him reverence, if I say, “Hey, sir, how do you want to do it?” I’m being weak. If I allow Dave to influence me with his plan, I’m being weak. If Dave comes up with an idea and I accept that idea over mine, I’m being weak. You can see where I’m going with this.

Dave Burke (26:07):


Jocko Willink (26:07):

And it’s just all ego. It’s all ego all day long and we can’t allow ourselves to be afraid of appearing weak. And here’s what’s so messed up is, what you think makes you look weak actually makes you look strong.

Dave Burke (26:26):


Jocko Willink (26:28):

Hard for people to understand that. When you say, “Hey, that sounds like a good plan, man. Why don’t we go with your plan?” It actually looks strong. It doesn’t look weak at all. Not afraid of my boss. I’m not afraid of my boss. That’s the thing, right? That’s a strong statement.

Dave Burke (26:45):


Jocko Willink (26:46):

I don’t want to appear weak and say, “Oh, I’m afraid of my boss.” That would be a weak statement. I’m afraid of my boss, that’s weak. No. So I’m not afraid of my boss. I’ll do whatever I want. Horrible. All right. Time for my turn?

Dave Burke (27:03):

It’s your turn.

Jocko Willink (27:05):

So I got asked a question. Well, we were up at the council up in Washington state, a couple of the attendees at the council, which is a very small group, very intense sessions we had up there for a couple days. But a couple of attendees had heard some of the stories from Leif and Andrew, and there were stories about me, and cool stories made me sound pretty cool, right? Thanks Leif and Andrew for making me sound cool, but the just basic stuff, but then these two attendees we were talking afterwards and they said, you have really good intuition. Meaning that I had this instinct of what to do in tough situations. I got this really good intuition, leadership intuition, and I was thinking, “Yeah, you’re damn right.” And I told him that like, yeah. And I appreciated it, appreciated it, appreciated Leif and Andrew making me look good and then I appreciated the fact that these guys saw how just an intuitive leader, natural leader I was.

Jocko Willink (28:27):

But even as they were saying it to me and I got over the four milliseconds of thinking I was cool. And then I thought to myself, well, that’s freaking not cool at all. It’s actually not cool at all. Because if I’m just good at leading because I have good intuition, well, then what good is that? It’s good for me and it’s good for my immediate team. I can’t Help anybody else, right? Look, I said, I get where they’re coming from it made sense because I am good at figuring out what to do. I could see how they came to the conclusion, oh, here’s this story. Leif’s telling a story about this, that, and the other thing, and Jocko did this and it’s like, whoa.

Jocko Willink (29:19):

And then Andrew tells a story and said, oh, Jocko did this. Like I said, it makes me look cool, whatever. But also it makes them think, oh, they’re listening to these stories and thinking, “Okay, well that’s freaking pretty impressive. How do you do it?” Oh, it’s because you have good instinct. You knew what to do.” But if it’s just because I have good instinct, if that’s the reason why I’m able to pull this off then what good is it for everybody else that what’s good for whoever’s listening to this right now? Because what’s good is it for people that want to lead better if it’s just, “Oh yeah, Jocko he’s got good instinct. Doesn’t help.” So I started thinking about that. I was getting a little paranoid, and I’m thinking, okay, well what actually is it?

Jocko Willink (30:01):

Because I know, well this is what I had to decipher because I’m sitting there, I got the little boost of ego of well yeah, I’ve got really good instincts but then I’m like wait a second, I wasn’t born this way. I remember being in the seal platoon and looking around going, “Wait a second, what are we supposed to be doing right now?” I remember that. I remember as the “instinct” developed. Well, it wasn’t the instinct that was developing, it was leadership that was developing. It’s not a supernatural thing.

Jocko Willink (30:37):

It’s the way you think. It’s the way that I think. It’s what my mind does when I have a decision or a problem to solve or a maneuver to direct. When I have to lead, what is my mind going to do? Okay, what is my mind going to do? This isn’t just instinct, this isn’t just intuition. There is a protocol that is taking place. What is it? Okay. You can probably guess the first thing I’m going to do, I’m going to detach. But I’m not just going to detach. I’m not just going to take a step back. There’s more to it, because taking a step back only gives you one perspective, one other perspective. So I don’t just take a back, I’m going to move around. The first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to oscillate. And I don’t know if you have this when you’re flying an aircraft Dave, when you’re diving. With the type of diving that we do, you’re trying to stay at 12 feet basically.

Jocko Willink (31:42):

And certain things can make you go deeper. And as you start to go deeper, you compensate and you start to go up but most people overcompensate. And so you go 17 feet and you go, whoa, I’m way too deep and then you go, so you make these adjustments to your rig to the way you’re breathing and all of a sudden you’re at five feet and you go, “Oh my gosh, I’m too close to the surface. I got to go back down.” So we call it porpoising up and down like a Porpoise. I don’t know if that happens with an aircraft, but it does.

Dave Burke (32:11):

Yeah, it does. And it’s not a good thing.

Jocko Willink (32:14):

It’s not a good thing.

Dave Burke (32:16):

We called it PIO.

Jocko Willink (32:17):

Which is?

Dave Burke (32:18):

Pilot induced oscillations.

Jocko Willink (32:21):

I love it. So what I want to do when I detach is I want to oscillate. I want to PIO. And what do I mean by that? I want to go to 20,000 feet, 30,000 feet but guess what? Then I want to go right back down to four feet and I want to look at that problem then I want to take a step back out to 12 feet then I want to go to 100 feet. So I’m going to oscillate my altitude up, down, close, far, close, medium, so I’m going to oscillate. And then I’m not just going to go up and down an altitude, I’m going to maneuver around. I’m going to look at things from different vantage points. I’m going to see different angles, I’m going to ask more questions.

Jocko Willink (32:59):

By the way, everything that I’m talking about physically, this is important, everything I’m talking about physically doing, I’m not just talking about physically doing it, I’m talking about mentally being able to go to different altitudes, seeing things from different perspectives. I’m going to check my flank. I’m going to check my six to see what I’m missing, which is a habit that I formed. I would check the flank. Like when I was the doing an immediate action drill with a rifle in my hand, I would always check the flank, it was an instinct and then I would check my six. It’s an instinct that you get. You guys had to have something like that.

Dave Burke (33:29):

Totally. Absolutely.

Jocko Willink (33:32):

And you’re checking your flank, then you’re checking your instrument, then you’re checking this, then you’re checking that, and you’re just going through this cycle. I’m going to question if my reality is even correct, because I don’t trust myself. And now, I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I did a podcast with Echo Charles a little while ago. I think it was an underground podcast. I was talking about the fact that we’re all crazy. We’re all crazy. This is a true statement. Do you know what? So we’re all insane I think is that, so the technical definition of insane means that what I think is reality is not reality. That’s someone that’s insane. Well, here’s what’s go going on. Check this out. Is the reality that Dave Burke sees the same reality that I see? Is it?

Jocko Willink (34:30):

No, there’s differences. You see things a little bit differently. And look, we are probably as closely aligned as two humans can get as far as what reality looks like to us, but still my reality looks a little bit different. So therefore you’re a little bit insane and so am I because neither one of our realities is actual reality. The reality is a little bit different than what you see and what I see. So everybody’s a little bit crazy. So I have that in my mind too. I’m thinking all the time, when I think I know reality, I’m thinking to myself, well, I am actually a little bit crazy and my reality might be different than Dave’s, and it might be different than Leif’s, and it might be different than whoever else we’re working with. So I have that going on. And then on top of all that, I don’t find conclusions in my fault patterns. I don’t get to a point where I say, “Okay, there’s the answer right there.”

Jocko Willink (35:20):

I don’t find conclusions. I just find a new perspective and I don’t think I’m done yet. I don’t find a perspective and say, “Okay, this is reality right here. This is what it looks like. Now I can stop.” Once I find a perspective, once I find that little section of reality, I’m immediately looking for another one. And so I’m constantly running that through this loop. And I know we like running loops. I know we like running the [inaudible 00:35:50] loop, which I’ll talk about, but I’ve also got another loop that I’m running, like a little combat leadership, extreme ownership loop that I’m running. So the [inaudible 00:36:01] loop is real obvious. I’m running that one. Observe.

Jocko Willink (36:04):

And by the way, observe, what are we talking about? I’m talking about oscillating perspectives. So, observe means moving around, looking and trying to see other perspectives. That’s what observe is. Orient. How am I going to orient in a leadership situation? I’m going to ask questions. That’s how I figure out where I am and how all this fits together. Then I’m going to decide what kind of decisions am I going to make? I’m going to make small decisions because I’m going to make them rapidly. And then I’m going to act, what am I going to take? I’m going to take a small action based on a small decision. And by the way, when I take an action, my anticipation is that I’m actually wrong.

Jocko Willink (36:45):

I have at least 50% of my brain that’s saying, “You know what? You could be wrong right now. You could be wrong right now. So you better check yourself and you better start running this loop again immediately.” I think there’s people that make decisions and they think they’re going to be right. 98% of their brain thinks they’re going to be right and I never think that. So that’s the first loop that we’re on. It’s your basic [inaudible 00:37:08] loop. And then I’m going to run it again. And I know we don’t have to run the whole thing. I know that you can run part of it and you can backfill in other sections, but that’s what I’m doing. But then I get this combat leadership, this extreme ownership loop that I’m going to run. And it’s real straightforward. And I got to tell you this, I made one adjustment to this as I was coming here today, this one adjustment because it’s a big deal for me. The one adjustment that I made is the first thing that I think about. The first thing that I think about is time.

Jocko Willink (37:49):

I am acutely aware of time. I pay attention to time. I am always tracking time because time is the thing that we can’t adjust. We can’t control it. We can’t get it back. If we don’t pay attention to time, it will bite us. So, the primary thing that I’m thinking about in my head, well, let me rephrase it. The first thing that I’m going to think about, the first little checklist I’m thinking, okay, how much time do I have? How much time do I have? What is the clock doing? And I have to revisit that all the time. I was thinking I was brag. Is that the right word? Yeah. I brag that I was never late in the Navy for 20 years. How come? Because I’m always paying attention to the time, always thinking, “Hey, this is going to take a little bit longer. Hey, I need to move a little bit quicker.” Always paying attention to time.

Jocko Willink (38:44):

So time comes first then guess what comes next? Cover and move. Am I supporting my team and the teams around me? That’s a little sanity check. It’s a little looped. There’s a little check. Am I supporting my him and the teams around me? Am I doing that? If I’m not doing that, I got a problem. Can I make this more simple? Can I make this situation that we’re in, can I make it more simple right now? What about right now? Because things are trying to become more complex. That’s what’s trying to happen. I’m constantly saying, “Okay, how can I simplify this?” Prioritize next to you? What’s the priority right now? Here’s a little additional information. What’s the priority right now? What was it? And most important? What’s it going to be? I know what the priority is right now.

Jocko Willink (39:38):

I already told everyone what the priority is, but I’m not thinking about that anymore. Now, I’m looking, what is the next priority going to be? Because I got the team. When I say, “Hey, we need to get in that building.” Good. And guys are moving out that building. I’m not thinking about that anymore. I’m thinking what’s the next priority going to be? Decentralized command. Check this out. Here’s a little loop to run on yourself. What can I task out and to who? We are in a firefight. We are in a critical situation. What can I task out? Stoner, go take that building right there. Get on the rooftop. It’s done. What can I get off my plate?

Jocko Willink (40:19):

“Hey, Dave, take my radio, man, go freaking get comms.” Cool. That’s not on my plate anymore. I’m not worried about it. Is the team going to be able to act without me, without communicating with me, without asking me for a decision. If I say, “Hey Dave, go make comms with the aircraft.” Cool. But did I just empower him to do anything with that? “Dave, go make comms with the aircraft. Get the enemy shout out on the west over there.” Cool, you don’t need to talk to me again because I know what you’re going to do. You’re going to get bombs on target.

Jocko Willink (40:58):

After that, what am I doing? I’m thinking about my ego and I’m thinking about humility, because wait a second, what role is my ego playing in the decisions that I’m making right now? Am I putting the team before myself? Am I putting the mission before myself? Am I making a mistake, right? Am I making a mistake? Am I wrong? What about my emotions? There’s a little check. Are my emotions under control? Are my emotions impacting my decision making process? Have you ever caught yourself in the act of making an emotional decision?

Dave Burke (41:42):

Yes, absolutely. And I’m more of thinking of the feeling of when you catch yourself.

Jocko Willink (41:48):


Dave Burke (41:48):

I was getting spun up there.

Jocko Willink (41:49):

You were getting spun up there.

Dave Burke (41:50):


Jocko Willink (41:50):

Didn’t like that. Imagine if you’re not running this loop in your head.

Dave Burke (41:57):

You could just bypass all these things.

Jocko Willink (41:59):

You’re bypassing all these things. You’re not covering move. You’re not worried about any of these things. You’re not keeping things simple. You’re not prioritizing next to you. You’re not decentralized command. You’re not paying attention to time. You’re not paying attention to your emotions. Here’s another one, perspective. I’m constantly running my mind thinking, “Wait a second. What is Dave seeing right now? What is Leif seeing right now? What is the enemy seeing right now?” Because I know Dave’s in that building. I know Leif’s over here. So what does Leif see? What does Dave see? What does the enemy see right now? Oh, and by the way, is there an easier way to do what we’re doing? I’m constantly asking myself that. Asking myself, “Hey, is there an easier way that we could get this done?” Wait, why are we exposing ourselves over here? Why are we pouring our resources over there? Is there not an easier way to get it done?

Jocko Willink (42:54):

And then what about this question? And this is one that gets left off the plate all the time when it comes to leadership decision making. This one’s so obvious but let me throw it at you. What’s our mission? What’s our mission? What is our long term strategic mission and does whatever I’m doing right now, support it? Because you end up making one small decision, another small decision, another small decision, all of a sudden you’re doing something that has nothing to do with the reason that you’re out there. And then guess what? Then I run that loop again. I think this is the key part of my “intuition”, my leadership intuition.

Jocko Willink (43:41):

I think the key component of my leadership intuition is that I don’t mentally stagnate. I don’t get caught in a rut of thought. On the battlefield, you have to maneuver if you’re going to win. You have to. You can’t stay still. You can’t get stagnant. And it’s the same in life and business and in your head of making any decision. If you get caught in a one channel of thinking, you are going to get crushed, you are limiting your vision. And when you limit your vision, you limit your possible solutions. You limit your possible decisions that you can make to win. You get caught in one channel of thinking. When the GPS came out, I didn’t have the [inaudible 00:44:35]. There was one prior one that was issued in the field but I used the GPS system called, I think it was called the PSN8, PNS8, PSN8 satellite navigation, something.

Dave Burke (44:45):

Yeah, precision navigation system, whatever.

Jocko Willink (44:47):


Dave Burke (44:50):

Yeah. PNS8, something like that. I think I know what you’re talking about. Yeah.

Jocko Willink (44:50):

So, at the time, I don’t know if they had the full, what did they call it? Constellation. They had the constellation of satellites up. I don’t know if they had all of them yet, but there were supposed to be 24 satellites in the constellation. And they only had, maybe they had 15. And each one of those satellites is on a different frequency Of megahertz. So, when you would turn on the GPS, that initial GPS only got one frequency at a time. And by the way, if you only know where one satellite is, you have no idea where you are. So, that GPS when you turned it on, it would search for a frequency and it would tune itself to one frequency to listen and it would wait for 20 minutes before it would shift to the next one. And sometimes, you couldn’t even manually say, “Hey, here we are. Where’s the satellites?” You couldn’t do that. It had to find itself.

Jocko Willink (45:57):

Sometimes it would take four hours to figure out where it was. Now, once it knew which satellites were up and which ones were in the constellation, then it could start maintain and keep track and it would shift. As one would fade, it would go to another one. Now, on your phone and my phone, those things are tracking. As soon as they’re tracking 24 frequencies, it finds itself immediately. It always knows where it is because it’s keeping all those channels open. Well, you got to think of your mind like that. If you get stuck on one of these frequencies, if you get stuck on one of these channels, you’re not going to know where you are. And if it’s not hard, here’s what’s scary, it’s not hard to get stuck. It’s not hard to get stuck, whether it’s your emotions, whether it’s you get stuck in one perspective, whether it’s you don’t pay attention to time.

Jocko Willink (46:46):

You get stuck in one of these ruts, one of these channels and you’re not going to be able to make good decisions. So, that’s the “intuition.” It’s not intuition. I don’t have a superpower. I ran this loop. I ran these two loops basically. And if you run them quick and you don’t get stuck in a rut, you’re going to see more and you’ll be able to lead correctly. What do you got Dave?

Dave Burke (47:28):

I got too much to talk about on this podcast, but I think the note that I wrote down, the biggest thing for me to think about on what you just said when you were talking about oscillations, at the very beginning, you were talking about oscillations and I said, “Hey, there’s a version of that in the airplane too.” Is the difference between the, the oscillations that we were talking about is, the one you described at the beginning and the one I described, the PIO, those are reactive. I’m at 17, supposed to be at 12 and I’m reacting. You were talking about being proactive with those oscillations. I’m at 12 feet and if I stay at 12 feet, all I’m going to see is the world at 12 feet. So I am going to move to 17 feet and, yeah, okay. There’s an aviation version. I’m at 10,000, whatever. It doesn’t matter. It is the forcing myself to proactively move to a different point of view to see what the world looks like. And I was thinking about how comfortable it was.

Dave Burke (48:24):

Because in my aviation brain it’s, “Okay, our plan today is we’re going to go from point A to point B at 30,000 feet.” Cool. I’m going to do it 30,000 feet. And I’m going to stay there, I’m going to lock in my autopilot and not move one foot off it. And how much of the world I won’t see and how comfortable and actually is a pilot like, if this is 30,001, I’m like, “Oh, it’s kind of annoying. I want to dial that down to exactly 30,000 feet.” When we are landing aboard the aircraft carrier, we would fly something called the meatball, which is a big yellow light that’s oriented to another series of lights that are across a horizon line that are green and if I put the yellow light in the middle of the green lights, I’m right where I’m supposed to be. And the worst thing you can do when you’re landing aboard the carrier is be reacted to this ball.

Dave Burke (49:08):

If I’m low, I’m so behind and I got to throw a whole bunch of power. And I’m not going to put it right back in the middle, I’m going to end up going super high. And then I got to pull this power back off and bring it back down, and I’m just reacting to the position of this light, which is really the reaction of the position of where I’m supposed to be, which is not on the right path to where I’m supposed to go. But if I’m actually flying and I see what we call a centered ball, which is that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be, I don’t leave it there. Proactively, I’m going to just a little bit of power to push it just a little bit up and I’ll bring power. I’m going to proactively control where I am as opposed to being reactive and how easy it is to get complacent with your position because of the work that it takes to move away from where you are. Hey, the company’s doing really well here.

Dave Burke (49:58):

They said, “We’re in a really good place. You guys, let’s just ride this for a while. Let’s just stay where we are.” As opposed to, I guess what it boils down to, certainly when I think of you as the discipline that it takes to force myself to look at other things when we could just stay here. This is good. And the different perspectives that you see when you proactively oscillate as opposed to the reaction, which is a very different thing than we’re talking about of, I’m off so I’m reacting and I’m behind and I’m just moving around and how different it is to, I can’t stay here. I don’t see everything. I have to go somewhere else. I’m going to direct myself to do that, which what you’re talking about too is, there’s a physical component but really the brain is the hardest part and I’m going to force my brain not to agree that what I see is everything. The conclusion that I’ve drawn isn’t right because there’s not enough information. I’ve got to go somewhere else.

Jocko Willink (50:59):

Yeah. You want my instinct? That’s my instinct.

Dave Burke (51:01):


Jocko Willink (51:01):

My instinct is I don’t have a conclusion right now. When you’re parachuting, if you have a malfunction with your parachute, they give you a lot of warnings and a lot of training that, “Hey, don’t get sucked into that problem because what you’ll do is you’ll sit there and try and fix your parachute, fix your parachute, fix your parachute, fix your parachute, fix your parachute and you hit the ground and you die.” What they tell you is, “Check your parachute, check your altimeter, check your parachute, check your altimeter, check your parachute, check your altimeter, 2,500 feet. Cut that thing away. Get your reserve out.” I know that you guys have to have things like that where if you allow yourself to get fixated on any aspect of your aircraft or any aspect of the enemy, you’re taking that thing into the dirt.

Dave Burke (51:50):

Totally. 100%. And there’s a whole nother segment I wrote down here and I’ll try to do it quickly because I don’t want to talk too long because I’m trying to digest in my brain. What you’re saying is there’s two sides to that. One is, we call it fixation. There’s target fixation, but, oh, I’ve got a malfunction on my gauge or whatever. And if I focus on that one thing and I loose sight of everything else, I will literally fly under the ground and kill myself even if it’s the altimeter, because there’s other cues that I can look at when my altimeter isn’t working to make sure I don’t hit the ground. There’s vertical speed. There’s angle. There’s a bunch of things. So I can’t get fixated on any one thing. But I was thinking even in the terms of the word that you used at the very beginning of instinct is, if that’s the answer then I can’t teach it, which is awful.

Dave Burke (52:39):

But we also know that that’s not true. But when we start teaching, and we do this all the way up to the top gun level and the very beginning level is, I need you to learn you got to check your flanks and I need you to learn you got to check your six o’clock. You need to learn that skill. And so what I will do is say, “When you go through an engagement, you push through the engagement, count to 15, look over your right shoulder, count to 15, look over your left shoulder.” And what I do is, I introduce a rote mechanics that you’re going to do it at 15 seconds. And what that eventually evolves into is, I don’t look at my watch anymore. I don’t have to set 15 seconds. I don’t count in my head one, two. It becomes instinct.

Dave Burke (53:19):

But what you’ll find is that, if I go on the debrief and I look at your camera, you’ll push through this engagement and I will in my brain count to 15. And without a clock, you will do exactly and people will go, “Oh, great instincts. Jocko’s got great instincts.” No, that was taught. That was a skill and it started with the rudimentary set your clock, look over your shoulder, check behind you. And you do it enough and enough and enough. And then what will start to happen is you’ll start to go, “Man. I think I’ve missed this. I have not checked my six recently enough.” And you’ll start to look over your shoulder and what it will come back and do is, “Jocko, it’s almost like you knew the enemy was rolling.” That they’ll attribute it to great instincts, but it’s not.

Dave Burke (54:03):

It’s your brain saying, “Dude, you haven’t been looking at other places.” And so we teach that and it starts with this very rote thing and it turns into instinct, and yes, I guess look, I would be lying if I didn’t say that there are some people I guess have some intuition about things. There are people that have some good intuitions about things, but this is 100% teachable. 100%, at least in terms of getting people better at doing it.

Jocko Willink (54:29):

What’s crazy is, in the aircraft, I’ve flown at F18 before.

Dave Burke (54:34):

Flown in an F18 before? Yeah.

Jocko Willink (54:35):

In an F18.

Dave Burke (54:37):

But it’s got all these warnings, these audio warnings, warning, altitude, altitude. And there you go. So even a guy that’s been highly trained can get sucked into and has to have a voice come and tell them to check your altitude. And guess what? There’s no warning lights in leadership. T there aren’t any. So, if you just decide to focus and start getting emotional or your perspective gets locked into just what you’re seeing or just what your boss is seeing, or you lose track. There’s nothing that goes, “Hey, what’s your mission? What’s your mission.” There’s nothing that said, “You’re getting emotional. You’re getting emotional.” There’s nothing that says, “This is your ego driving this.” There’s nothing that says, “Check the clock. You’re going to run out of time.” Think about this. This is what I’m saying. This is what I’m saying. This is the loop that my mind is running and it’s happening instinctually because I’ve trained it that way.

Dave Burke (55:39):

And it all starts. And the key component of it is to be able to detach. If you can’t detach, none of this other stuff is going to happen. It’s not going to happen. Look, you could actually detach and write these things down on an index card and be like, “Cool, next time we have a issue at the company, I’m going to pull this out and as I’m talking, I’m going to sit there and I’m going to go through this checklist and make sure that I’m following this protocol.” You could do that and it would add actually be helpful. And if you do that long enough, eventually you’ll realize, hey, it’s going to seem like instinct. But what you’ve really done is trained yourself. Oh, you feel your emotion spiking up. Oh, there’s my ego. Oh, I’m only looking at one. I need to check my six right now. I need to understand Dave’s perspective. Wait? Can I simplify this right now? Those are the things. It’s a loop and it seems like instinct but it’s a habit. It’s a habit that was formed.

Jocko Willink (56:42):

Check. All right. Another 57 minute debrief. Get some. Good place to stop. Hey, if you want to dig deeper in all aspects of leadership in any area, you can join Dave and myself and the rest of the Echelon Front team at, the extreme ownership academy. This is what we do all the time. By the way, leadership is not like an injection that you get and now you’re good to go, it’s more like going to the gym and you have to work out to stay in shape. So, come to the leadership gym and get a leadership workout, Extreme Ownership Academy. And if you want leadership guidance inside your organization, check out

Jocko Willink (57:23):

We’ve all also written a bunch of books, extreme ownership, the dichotomy leadership, which I wrote with my brother Leif Babin, also leadership strategy and tactics. Got some other podcast, Jocko podcast, Jocko unraveling, grounded, and warrior kid podcast. And if you want to support any of these podcasts, including this one, you can get some gear from or or Thank you for listening to us. Debrief. Now, go and lead. This is Dave and Jocko. Out.


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