Leading a team is tough. You have to balance different responsibilities, make hard decisions, keep the team happy, make sure results are delivered, get your own things done. But it could be worse, people could die as the result of a wrong decision. For those of us in the corporate world, this is not something we need to worry about usually, but in the military, this is a daily reality. Jocko Willink is a Navy SEAL commander who outlines how to balance all of this in his book “leadership strategy and tactics”. Although most of us are never going to be a Navy SEAL, there are a multitude of relevant tips and tricks for corporate leaders. So, what exactly can we learn from the book?
Good leadership requires balance and accountability
In business you will often hear terms like “take no prisoners”. But when it comes to leadership, aggressive behaviour is rarely the path to success. Instead of assertiveness and aggression, a good leader looks to find balance. This surprises many. When the author is coaching business leaders, they often expect him to talk about a very top down, authoritarian, militaristic leadership style based on a strict hierarchy. But you can not be a successful leader in business or the military by just screaming at people to get things done all day. It requires a balance. You can’t be too aggressive, or too hands off. Too loud or too quiet, too authoritarian, or passive etc. A successful leader creates strong relationships based on mutual trust and respect. The easiest way to do this, is to be accountable and take extreme ownership. Own up to all mistakes, problems, and failures. Take responsibility for it all as the leader. If one of your team makes a mistake, it means you didn’t train them properly. Failure ultimately lies with the leader.
Be willing to get your hands dirty
There is a menial job known as “picking up brass”. This is the act of picking up the bullet shells after target practice. Many leaders make the mistake of thinking such a menial task is below them. There are much more important things they could be doing. But very few things can be as effective at building respect with your team as chipping in to help them pick up brass and help them done quicker. This does not mean you should always be volunteering to do all of the dirty work, but its good practice to get in the trenches once in a while. It’s a sign of respect and solidarity and shows the team you aren’t asking them to do something, you aren’t willing to do yourself. Its also a great way to get to know each of the team members and the personalities and dynamics at play within the team. Its also a great way of reminding yourself that although you may have a higher rank than the others, it doesn’t mean you are superior to them.
Decision Making can be an iterative process
Many leaders can slip in to an all or nothing mindset. There could be a huge amount of pressure on a decision and they can feel like they need to go all in on the strategy or abandon it completely and not take the risk. It’s not easy being in charge. At any given moment there can be multiple decisions waiting to be made. Many leaders can feel the pressure to either go all in on a strategy, or to call it off altogether. But decision making does not need to be absolute at any given moment. You can make small iterative decisions on the basis of finding out more. You can go step by step and as you gain more intel, make another decision. A lot of the time the reason why a leader feels overwhelmed is because they don’t have enough information to decide themselves in that moment. Take your time and make decisions to help you gain more intel. Something may look like a good opportunity, but you don’t need to seize the opportunity, you can investigate the opportunity, there is a big difference in approach as a result and allows for better decisions down the line.