The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin – Here are my seven lessons and takeaways

Dichotomy of LeadershipI presented my synopsis of The Dichotomy of Leadership:  Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin at the November First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  This is the second book I have presented from these former Navy SEALs. (I presented their first book, Extreme Ownership, shortly after it was published, at the December, 2015 First Friday Book Synopsis).

I think this is a very good follow-up, next step book.  In their first book, they included this description of the dichotomy of leadership:

A good leader must be: confident but not cocky; courageous but not foolhardy; competitive but a gracious loser; attentive to details but not obsessed by them; strong but have endurance;
a leader and follower; humble not passive; aggressive not overbearing; quiet not silent; calm but not robotic, logical but not devoid of emotions; close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge. able to execute Extreme Ownership, while exercising Decentralized Command. A good leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove. 

This book expands on such ideas.

I recently added this element to my synopses:  I ask What is the point? Here is the point, in my view, of this book:

The leader’s job is to always hit the right balance.  Some of this; not too much of this.  Each time.

And I ask Why is this book worth our time?  Her are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book combines the real world experiences of combat with principles and applications to the business world.  It is valuable because of this combination.
#2 – This book provides real-to-the-world case studies of difficult business situations.  Thinking through these is a valuable exercise.
#3 – This book flows from a place of deep integrity.  We need more such integrity these days. 

Here are a few key excerpts from the book; the best of the best of Randy’s highlighted passages.  (I include many more in my synopsis handout):

The goal of this book is to help leaders overcome that struggle through examples of how to find the right balance in leadership—to moderate the idea of leading from the extremes and focus on maintaining balance—within teams, among peers, and both up and down the chain of command.
So leaders must find the balance. They must push hard without pushing too hard. They must drive their team to accomplish the mission without driving them off a cliff. 
Training had to be hard, but it couldn’t be so hard that it crushed the team and diminished the learning that is supposed to take place.
On the other side of the dichotomy, good leaders must ensure that training incorporates the most difficult, realistic challenges of the real-world battlefield.
But leaders who never pushed the team outside its comfort zone in training, who didn’t push the standards and drive their team toward exceptional performance, and who didn’t provide a direct and honest critique ended up with less productive, less effective teams that failed when truly tested under the rigors of real-world challenges.
There is no growth in the comfort zone.
Training must be repetitive. …Each person gets better with iterations, so it is important to plan repetitive training over time that challenges each member of the team—particularly leaders.
(this is repeated from their first book) — “when it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.”

The book deals with one “dichotomy of leadership” per chapter.  Here are just a few of these dichotomies tackled in this book:

INTRODUCTION Finding the Balance (Leif Babin)
Every behavior or characteristic carried out by a leader can be taken too far.

CHAPTER 2 Own It All, but Empower Others (Jocko Willink)
Don’t micromanage! — my micromanagement was so controlling that they had shut down mentally.
Principle — Micromanagement and hands-off leadership styles are obviously opposites.

CHAPTER 3 Resolute, but Not Overbearing (Leif Babin)
Principle — Leaders, on the one hand, cannot be too lenient. But on the other hand, they cannot become overbearing.
The most important explanation a leader can give to the team is “why?”

CHAPTER 7 Disciplined, Not Rigid (Jocko Willink)
Follow the SOPs (SOP = Standard Operating Procedure) – except when you shouldn’t).
Principle — While “Discipline Equals Freedom” is a powerful tool for both personal and team development, excessive discipline can stifle free thinking in team leaders and team members. 

CHAPTER 8 Hold People Accountable, but Don’t Hold Their Hands (Jocko Willink)
Principle — Accountability is an important tool that leaders must utilize. However, it should not be the primary tool. It must be balanced with other leadership tools, such as making sure people understand the why, empowering subordinates, and trusting they will do the right thing without direct oversight because they fully understand the importance of doing so.

CHAPTER 11 Humble, Not Passive (Leif Babin)
Principle — Humility is the most important quality in a leader. 

Each chapter has a terrific, insightful story from the world of Navy SEALs, (note: these guys are good story tellers!); followed up by the description of a principle, and then a real-world case study elaboration of the principle.

I like the words and terms I learn from reading their books.  Here are a couple of helpful vocabulary additions I found especially helpful:

  • he quickly gets “task saturated.” “Task saturated” was a term we used in the SEAL Teams to describe how an individual, or a team, would get overwhelmed when multiple problems were encountered simultaneously.
  • deconflicted — Deconflict: a U.S. military term for detailed coordination between units to integrate timelines, ensure maximum support to each other, and prevent friendly fire or “blue-on-blue” incidents.

And, here are my seven lessons and takeaways:

#1 – Once selected for the team, people need training, coaching, and correction to master the elements of their jobs.  This book reminds us of that; and helps us better know how to do that.
#2 – Here’s the order of work activities:  Hire; train; practice; do (work); debrief. And, with plenty of repetition. — (We probably need to do much, much more with case-studies and role-plays – studies/simulations of real-world situations, over and over again).
#3 — Start with, and master, the basics! And then, and only then, do you move forward into more difficulty.
#4 – First, figure out where you are.  Re-check that often, to determine where you are now. – Then, move toward where you want to go.
#5 – Plan – but build flexible plans.
#6 – The success of the team matters more than anything else. In other words, the team and its success matters more than any one person on the team.
#7 – And, a note from Randy – remember that all persuasion is self-persuasion.  (People can say “no”).

If you were to ask me “what is the best book to read on leadership?,” I do not have a one-book answer.  There are so many good ones.  But, I would definitely add this book, along with their first book, to the list of books to read.  Read this: you will think; you will evaluate your own leadership style.  And, if you pay attention and do some things differently that you learn from this book, you will become a better leader.


Extreme OwnershipYou can purchase my synopsis of this book, along with the audio recording of my presentation and my multi-page, comprehensive handout, at the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  Click here for the newest additions, which at time of this writing, includes The Dichotomy of Leadership). My synopsis of Extreme Ownership is also available.

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