How many people do you get to lead on a daily basis?
While it may seem like some of us have a greater opportunity to lead than others, I would argue differently.
Every single one of us has the opportunity to lead EVERYONE in our sphere of influence.
Each and every day we have the chance to lead ourselves, our friends, our families, and our coworkers.
This is one of the key principles I learned from two former Navy Seals while volunteering at their leadership event in Austin, Texas.
Jocko Willink was the commander of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, the most highly decorated Special Operations Unit in the Iraq War. Leif Babin was one of Jocko’s two platoon commanders. The two of them, along with others, led troops to victory during the battle of Ramadi, one of the war’s most violent battles.
After getting back to the US, they began teaching others the leadership principles they learned and refined in battle. You can find their teachings in the book Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win, their consulting company Echelon Front, Jocko’s podcast, and their leadership event, The Muster.
The principles they discuss in their book and Jocko’s podcast have drastically improved my thinking and performance.
Ever since I found their content, Jocko and Leif have been two of my biggest inspirations and role models.
The Muster is a business and leadership conference they host a couple times a year alongside two other highly qualified leaders, former Navy Seal JP Dinnell and Top Gun pilot David Berke.
At the Muster, hundreds of business leaders meet to learn how to apply the combat tested lessons to their own businesses and life.
The third and most recent Muster took place July 13-14th in Austin, Texas.
As a recent college grad, the price tag of the event was a bit steep for me but I knew I needed to be a part of it. So I sent a cold email to their company seeing if I could volunteer at the event… and I got accepted!
Soon after getting accepted I took off of work, packed my bags, and flew to Texas, not knowing a single person who would be at this conference. My desire to learn from and meet some amazing people and leaders was all I needed to take this leap out of my comfort zone.
The weekend was even better than I could have expected.
The other volunteers and staff were amazing and we worked hard the whole event. The best part was that in between our volunteering duties, we were rewarded by getting to sit in and listen to most of the presentations!
It didn’t take long to see that Jocko and the Echelon Front team were the real deal.
On more than one occasion the speakers had my adrenaline pumping and even brought me close to tears.
At the end of every session, I was left with the voice in my head repeating “I have to get better. I have to lead more. I have no excuses.”
To top it all off, there’s nothing quite like doing bear crawls before the sun comes up next to some of your heroes.
The Muster taught me an incredible amount about how to lead myself and others.
At the end of day 2, I left with a notebook packed full of practical advice to apply to my life.
While I couldn’t fit all my notes here, I want to share some of my biggest takeaways from Muster003. If you read Extreme Ownership, you’ll recognize many of the topics but can still learn from how the topics were expanded on.
Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
It’s our responsibility to lead everyone in our sphere of influence. We need to lead both people below and above us in the chain of command.
If you didn’t get the sufficient information or access for something from your boss, it’s your fault, not theirs. You need to be the one who steps up and insures you have what you need to complete the task.
This concept applies to life outside of work as well. As leaders, we are called to lead everyone around us, even people older than us. This doesn’t mean we are disrespectful or boss people around. It means that we lead by our actions and use strategic tactics to help everyone as a whole.
Personally, I’m trying to lead up the chain of command by motivating my parents to exercise more. I know how important it is for their health and I want them to be healthy and mobile for a long time. So I use strategic ways of encouraging and challenging them to get some sort of fitness in.
Lose the Ego
Our egos can be our biggest downfalls if they aren’t in check. A bad ego stops you from being able to accurately self-assess your strengths and weakness and take criticism from others.
Ego also hinders your ability to communicate effectively. Sometimes, we need to drop our ego and let someone else be the “big dog” because it is best for the team. When we go into a situation with a big ego, we immediately cause the other person’s ego to flare up. Nothing productive comes out of an ego battle.
As someone who loves psychology and understanding how to best communicate with people, this is one of my favorite techniques.
Flanking is a military term use to describe sneaking up on the enemy from behind where they aren’t expecting it. We too can use flanking in life to lead others.
Flanking in real life is about approaching situations from unexpected angles to prevent others’ guards from going up.
One great tactic for flanking is to give the other person ownership of the plan, even if you came up with it.
If we tell our boss how we think things should be done, they may be less inclined to go through with it. But, if we plant the seed of change in their mind and water it, we can give them ownership of the plan. This makes it far more likely to happen.
While this may seem like manipulation, as long as it is for the good of the team, it’s called leadership.
If you want to successfully lead those around you, you need to provide the answer to “why?” when giving orders.
Knowing “why” helps you when situations don’t go according to plan. And they never do.
Inevitably, plans get messed up. But if you know WHY you were instructed to do a specific thing, you can adjust to get the same outcome. If you don’t know why, then you are just following the exact orders like a robot.
In addition, knowing why you are doing something or how it will affect you and those around you will give you far more motivation to complete it.
When giving orders, explain why. When getting orders, ask why.
There is nothing wrong with asking your superior why you’re doing what you’re doing, as long as it’s in a respectable way.
Getting Out of the Weeds
Jocko emphasized how his main goal as a leader was to do nothing.
Okay, he didn’t exactly mean nothing, but almost.
What this means is that if he was a perfect leader, everyone around him would be able to clearly understand their role and know what to do and when.
This would leave Jocko with nothing to “do” except oversee the mission.
A good leader makes it his or her duty to spend the majority of their time zooming out to look at the bigger picture of what they are trying to get accomplished.
A leader that is bogged down in the small details won’t be able to see the whole picture and properly lead.
But of course this doesn’t always happen.
Therefore, there are times when leaders need to get “into the weeds” and small details to help. But the goal is to always get back out of the weeds and see the mission from a “30,000 ft view” as quickly as possible.
In our lives, we can apply this by asking ourselves if what we’re doing is playing into the bigger picture.
Sometimes we have to wait and be patient for a reason. Whether it’s staying in that job you don’t like or finishing school, there are times when the smart and tactical thing to do is just hold out a little longer and be patient.
I absolutely understand this point but nevertheless struggle with it, which is why it stuck out to me.
Relax, Look Around, Make a Call
This is the basis for the theory of detachment.
Detachment is when you take your emotions out of the current situation. Instead, you look at the problem from a third person point of view.
When a stressful situation is brought to you, you need to be able to detach in order to better handle it. If you’re emotionally invested in the situation, you’ll react with emotion, not logic.
Smart decisions are made from logic, not from impulse or emotion. This applies to both business and life.
In using the “relax, look around, make a call” theory you detach from the situation, analyze your options, then logically make a call on what to attack first.
Simply put: be proactive, not reactive.
Our default mode needs to be taking action, not sitting around planning everything out to perfection.
When you’re laying in bed pondering on if you should get up and exercise or just sleep a little longer, use the default aggressive principle to force yourself to get up and get after it.
Don’t sit around passively letting things happen, make things happen.
You can apply this to your job as well.
Instead of asking your boss what to do, tell them what you are going to do. Proactive versus reactive!
For example, instead of approaching your boss looking for a task, find several possible tasks you can accomplish and bring these to him or her asking them which they want you to execute first.
This way, you aren’t asking them to use their time or limited capacity to come up with something for you to do. Instead, you are showing that you’re thinking ahead and taking action.
I love my cousin Kory’s summary of this principle, “When your back is against the wall… go for the jugular.”
A Campaign, Not a One Shot Kill
A task like changing someone’s habits isn’t a one shot one kill; it’s a campaign.
Whether you’re trying to change your own habits or the habits of your boss, fellow employees, or family members, it won’t happen after just one conversation.
Instead, it needs to be in the form of a longer, more tactical campaign. You need to slowly introduce them to the new habit and let them think it’s their idea (as above!).
This theory works well in combination with flanking.
For example, telling a family member they need to exercise may not get the point across. But a tactical outing to a location with several flights of stairs may plant the seed that regular exercise is beneficial.
A debrief is asking questions about a completed mission, project, or task.
We need to make time to debrief and constantly self-assess.
After missions, Jocko, Leif, and their guys would want nothing more than food and sleep. However, they forced themselves to have a post-mission debrief in order to assess what they did well and what they needed to improve.
If Navy Seals force themselves to debrief, we certainly need to take note and do the same.
If we never stop to assess our performance, we will never see where we can improve.
Instead of immediately moving on to the next task, we need to make time to analyze the results from every major “mission” in our lives.
Drop the ego and have the humility to regularly ask yourself where you can improve.
I’m implementing this as a Sunday debrief where I break down my successes and failures of the week to see how I can improve.
Carry On, My Wayward Son
These were my major takeaways from the Muster003 presentations; however, much more than this was said and learned.
Hopefully some of these apply to you as well.
Use these principles to develop yourself as both a student of life and a leader.
Now go forth and get after it!