Leadership Strategy and Tactics: FM-02 is the latest book by Jocko Willink, whom I’ve written about before. In his normal, straight forward style, Jocko provides concise guidance for leaders of all types, in any kind of organization. But as with everything he espouses, the essence of leadership as taught by Jocko begins and ends with you.
The goal of leadership seems simple: to get people to do what they need to do to support the mission and the team. But the practice of leadership is different for everyone. There are nuances to leadership that everyone has to uncover for themselves. Leaders are different. Followers are different. Peers are different. Everyone has their own individual characteristics, personalities, and perspectives. I often tell leaders that what makes leadership so hard is dealing with people, and people are crazy. And the craziest person a leader has to deal with is themselves. That being said, even crazy has a pattern; there are patterns to human behavior. If you can recognize the patterns, you can predict the way things are likely to unfold and influence them.
The craziest person a leader has to deal with is themselves, indeed. That’s certainly been my experience as a leader of people in corporate settings, church teams, or even in my own household. More than anyone else, I have been and remain the single largest obstacle to the success of my teams and, therefore, to my own success.
To me, the salient themes of this book center upon building relationships, playing the game, and your ego.
Leadership requires relationships: good relationships with people above you, below you, and beside you in the chain of command are critical for a strong team. The better the relationships, the more open and effective communication there is. The more communication there is, the stronger the team will be.
Over and over again Jocko emphasizes the importance of building relationships up, down, and across the chain of command. Without strong relationships built on trust, your teams will not follow your lead. Without strong relationships built on trust, your leadership will not accept you pushing back (tactfully) and challenging ideas. Without strong relationships built on trust, your peers will not consent to your ideas and allow themselves to be led.
You have to play the game. To be more specific, you have to play the long game.
In order to build strong relationships you often have to “play the game” and not just any game. Willink writes extensively about using someone else’s 90% or even 70% solution to a problem, even when you have a better one, for the sake of building the relationship. He also discusses not getting entangled with self-serving people even when they’re actively criticizing you, because over time, those people will not succeed. And he talks about how by playing the game and strengthening relationships, those relationships can be leveraged to help our team win.
There is a subtle nuance here and throughout the book that must not be glossed over. In order to successfully build relationships to achieve the mission, you cannot be self-serving. Accomplishment of the mission cannot be about you.
I am not trying to build the relationship for my own personal gain; I am trying to build a relationship with my boss so we can better accomplish the mission.
You are not doing this for personal gain. You are not doing this for a promotion. You are playing the game so the team can win.
This is where the ego aspect of Jocko’s message becomes so important and so challenging. You cannot build relationships and lead teams if your objective is self-promotion. One of the biggest challenges of leading people is that it requires someone who is selfless, who’s objective is for the team to win.
Leadership is all on you. But at the same time, leadership is not about you.
As Willink would say, you have to engage in a bit of mental jiu jitsu. Do you want to win? Yes, of course. Do you want to succeed personally? What fool would say “no”? But to win and succeed personally, you have to shove your needs aside and focus on the needs of your team, enabling them to win. In so doing, you too will win, but the moment you begin focusing on your needs and what you want, the whole thing comes apart.
If you are in a leadership position, the team is watching you. Your people are watching your attitude. They are watching your behavior, and they don’t miss a thing. If you are late for a meeting, they notice it. If you roll your eyes, they notice it. If you yawn, they are watching and are thinking you are tired or bored or both. The team members are watching everything, and on top of that, they will imitate what they see. If you are late, they will be late too. If you dress like a slob, they will dress that same way. If you break the rules, they will also break the rules, so you have to behave correctly at all times. You have to be the ideal.
Our teams have a choice of where they work and who they work for. Every day when they show up they’re choosing to work with and for you. Leaders owe it to their teams to return the confidence and support them in every way possible.
One of my favorite Jocko podcast quotes is his response to a listener’s question, “How do you become mentally tougher?” The answer, of course, is “be tougher”.
It’s both simple and hard, but the point in this book is to be the best leader you can, be the best leader you can. Set aside what you want for the good of the team and pursue their success mercilessly, tirelessly. In the end, you’ll be successful and get what you want, because what you want really has to be the success of the team.
Like I wrote about in the review of Chop Wood, Carry Water if your objective is to be a warrior, begin living the warrior’s life. Jocko is saying if you want to be a leader, live the leader’s life and pursue it as the discipline that it is. Study the lives and lessons of great leaders that have come before. Hone your craft. Treat it as your vocation.
Leadership Strategy and Tactics: FM-02 by Jocko Willink is a practical manual that can be used as a reference, day to day, in your role as a leader. It’s also an ever-present reminder that being a leader of people isn’t a way to become successful in your chosen profession. Being a leader of people is a chosen profession and it’s critically important that this world have good leaders. Check your ego at the door, play the game, and build relationships so you can help your team win. God knows we need more and better leaders in this world.
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