The James Altucher Show – How Navy SEALS Lead with Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

James Altucher’s Website  

Key Takeaways

  • To be a good leader, you must also be a good follower
  • Communication is the way to bridge the dichotomies of leadership
  • People gain respect for the leaders who put their ego in check
  • “When you get on a path, it’s easy to stay on it. When you get off the path, it’s a slippery slope.”


  • Jocko Willink: (Jocko’s website, Twitter:@jockowillink)
    • Podcaster, author, and retired United States Navy SEAL
      • Awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his service in the Iraq War
      • Willink was commander of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser during the Battle of Ramadi
      • Here’s Jacko’s first appearance on the James’ podcast.
  • Leif Babin (Leif’s website, Twitter: @LeifBabin)
    • Former U.S. Navy SEAL officer, Author
    • President/COO/Co-Founder of Echelon Front


  • Problems found in the biggest corporations are correlated to issues in smaller corporations
    • Solutions can be learned from both military and corporate experiences.
      • Rules are made to be broken! Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
  • Grasping a good understanding of both sides of an issue (dichotomy) is the building block of leadership


  • It is hard to change and adopt creative solutions in organizations, because you are constantly trained to perform a standard procedure
    • Train yourself in a way that does not rely on a standard procedure
      • For example, Jimmy Page, one of the top rock and roll artists, began his career as a studio musician. He was disciplined in that practice, and when he was let loose, he saw he was free to create his own materials. (Trained away from his standard procedure).
  • “You can’t be experimental unless you know the rules of grammar” – Kurt Vonnegut
    • Your understanding of a topic stems from earlier experiences


  • Ego causes so many problems
    • Ego can be good in the sense that you want to be the best at what you do, but you don’t want to put yourself before the mission or team
  • If you can take a step back and ask what the best decision is for the group/team you can start thinking productively
    • You begin to listen to valid constructive criticism
    • You are not above anyone because of a title
  • Leaders must be humble and take a stand, get out of your office get to the details and solve issues
    • You must not compromise standards unless it is for the benefit of the group
  • Anger is a good indicator that you need to check your ego. Articulate those feelings to the individual/group.
    • Is this worth expending leadership capital?

Leadership Capital

  • Understand what your followers bring to the table
  • For example, the Navy Seals
    • Go out and risk their lives daily
    • Constant pressure
    • Always professional
    • Get no sleep
    • Eat crappy food
    • Are away from family for long periods of time
  • You have a fixed set of Leadership Capital, knowing how to manage it properly is detrimental
    • Do not daily micromanage followers. (Negative Leadership Capital)
    • Trust your followers to manage themselves at times. (Positive Leadership Capital).

Solving Issues

  • First thing is to get over your ego and find out what the real problem is
    • “If there is a problem, it is a leadership problem”
  • The first reaction to an issue may be ego and anger, but you must step back and ask yourself… “Why?”
    • If the why is not good enough, then you should ask yourself if you communicated it properly. If this is important for the group, why would someone not listen?
  • Being disappointed in someone rather than being angry can be a more effective manner of punishment. No one wins by yelling or allowing ego to win.”

Taking Ownership

  • As a follower, you must explain to your boss why something might be wrong
    • You have an obligation to understand why you are doing something
  • One of the hardest decisions to do is to terminate an individual. People feel guilty when firing because they wonder if it was partly their fault.
    • When an issue arises, don’t expect someone to change without displaying the issue (they need to be aware of it)
    • Letting someone know they need to step up is hard, but if you have the hard conversations earlier, they are easier
    • Scaling people can be very difficult, train people to meet up to your expectations. Put people into leadership positions.