Big Questions with Cal Fussman – Jocko Willink on Going to War with Your Weaknesses

What did Cal miss by not going into the military?
  • Jocko stresses that in basic training, they drill “attention to detail” into your head
    • “In war, little mistakes can cost people their lives”
  • Jocko doesn’t remember wanting to do anything besides go into the military as a kid
Jocko’s Love of Literature
  • Despite a father who was a history teacher, and a mom who was an English teacher Jocko did not read growing up
  • As an Navy SEAL officer, Jocko realized – “Writing, reading, and verbal communication, are the most important skills to have as a leader in the military”
    • It’s very important to be able to verbally communicate with people and articulate a plan
    • Often, officers have to write documents detailing how they’ll conduct an operation
    • Because of this, when Jocko went to college as a 28 year old after his first stint with the SEALs, he studied English
      • Note that he still hadn’t been to war yet
  • “I read every single line, of every single book I was required to read in college”
    • “The books I was reading, revealed to me lots about human nature”
      • Although…”Combat is the most revealing thing in regards to human nature”
    • Jocko knew that the authors he was reading, understood human nature more than him, and he could learn something
      • Especially Shakespeare
    • Jocko recalls a line from his favorite novel, Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era
      • “If you understand the way broadly, you’ll see it in everything”
High School
  • As a kid, Jocko was skinny, yet fairly rebellious
  • He listened to a lot of hard core heavy metal music
  • Jocko knew after high school, he would enlist in the Navy
    • “They’ll give me food, a place to sleep, and I’ll get to run around the woods with a machine gun. What’s not to like?”
Navy SEAL Training
  • Jocko claims he was never nervous
    • “Everyone wants to be a SEAL, but 80% of people quit during the training”
    • Jocko says that when a person quit, he would never talk to them again
  • According to Jocko, the training was VERY hard
  • Your mindset isn’t everything
    • “If you’ve got the right mindset, but you can’t climb that rope on the obstacle course because you’re too weak – you won’t make it through the program”
    • Technique is everything – if you don’t know the technique to whatever you’re doing, you’ll be at a significant disadvantage
  • “Your going to be awake a lot, it’s a lot of exercise, you’re going to get tired, but you’re going to keep going”
    • “I never thought about quitting at all. I wanted to be a SEAL, and SEALs don’t quit”
  • Shallow water blackouts are common in the training
    • How does this happen?
      • Under water, while you’re holding your breath – you’ll get a first urge to breath –  “Ignore the first one”
      • Then it will happen again – “Ignore that one too”
      • Finally when the third urge comes, listen to this one – “If you don’t listen to this one, you’ll go unconscious very quickly”
    • Note from Podcast Notes – I’m sure you could apply this to other areas of life
  • But the real training, Jocko claims, is done out in the field
  • The instructors are looking for weakness – “When they find your weakness, they’ll rip it apart”
    • “They want to break you. They’re trying to see if you’ll lose your temper, or get flustered in a bad situation.”
    • They’re looking to see how you’ll handle pressure and things unwinding that you can’t control
Vulnerability, Humility, and Weakness
  • “If you try to cover up your vulnerabilities, the only person that thinks you’re actually covering them up, is you, because everyone else can see right through”
  • Ask yourself – “Where are my weak points?” and fix them – simple as that
    • DON’T hide them
    • You could also delegate or ask for help but DON’T HIDE YOUR WEAK POINTS
  • Admit your weaknesses, go to war with them… how?
    • Every day ask yourself where you can improve
  • According to Jocko, the most important characteristic of a leader is humility
    • “Humility is the ability to admit that there’s things you don’t know, skills you don’t have, and weaknesses you possess”
    • You must be open to other people helping you in those areas
    • “If you’re not humble in a war zone, that’s very problematic”
    • “Listening reflects humility. If someone doesn’t listen to others, they lack humility, and that’s problematic.”
  • However, you can’t be so humble that you lack confidence
  • “Often times, when you dig into leadership problems, it roots back to an ego problem – someone who lacks humility”
Extreme Ownership
  • The leadership principals used in combat, apply to a corporate organization as well
    • You have a bunch of individual human beings, being unified, with a plan, to go and execute a mission
    • The competition is the enemy – “They’re trying to take food off your table, by stealing your market share”
    • Accidents are also an enemy (in the construction industry for example) – things can go horribly wrong if egos get in the way
Takeaways From Combat
  • The 4 Fundamental Laws of Combat
    • Cover and Move 
      • Lay down, cover fire (keep the enemy distracted), and then maneuver to a better position where you can flank
      • You can also do this in business and relationships
        • “Maneuver so you can get inside someones head, and make someone see things a way they wouldn’t have seen them before”
        • “If I’m trying to manipulate you, to get you to do something that’s actually gonna benefit you, and the whole team, that’s called leadership”
        • If you are proficient at flanking people, that’s going to make you a better leader
          • For example, for someone with a big ego..
          • Instead of saying “Cal, your plan sucks”…
          • Say “Cal, I’m looking at your plan and because you’ve been doing this longer than me, I’m not seeing everything you’re seeing. Can you explain this in a little more detail so I can see what you’re trying to make happen?”
          • You can’t go head on – you need to build up their ego and establish trust
    • Keep thing simple
      • Have simple plans
      • Communicate in a concise manner that your team understands
    • Prioritize and execute
      • You’ll always have lots of problems, don’t try to solve them all at once – just solve the biggest first, then move on to the next
    • Decentralized Command
      • Everybody leads on a team
      • “Who knows better what maneuver to make in the front lines, than the person that’s in the front lines?”
  • War
    • “Imagine being in a situation where every single thought you have, is about one thing and one thing only. and doing the best possible job at that one thing – that’s a good feeling”
      • There’s zero distractions
Wrapping Up
  • Examine for your vulnerabilities, and attack them, day in and day out
    • Do NOT hide from them
  • Jocko has another book coming out in September called The Dichotomy of Leadership