How to Overcome the Struggles of Decentralized Command | Jocko Willink and Dave Berke on The Debrief #18 (Jocko Podcast)

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Key Takeaways

  • Successful leaders constantly allow their opinions/plans to be negotiated; this creates honest/open discourse
    • Understand that everyone in the organization wants to win, earnest dialogue creates legitimate feedback
    • Appropriate strategic discourse is only obtained from offering solutions, and not just identifying problems
  • The phrase ‘well-oiled machine’ is actually counterproductive to decentralized command
    • Machines are typically single function and follow the rule of the task given. This limits your employees to be adaptive and creative in their opportunity to take ownership of a solution.
  • The best form of leadership is no leadership
    • When culture creates a common understanding of purpose and goals, leadership becomes invisible


  • The Debrief rendition of the Jocko Podcast with Jocko Willink (@jockowillink) & Dave Berke (@davidrberke) provides an examination of anonymous stories about leadership solutions through their business consulting company, Echelon Front. This episode dives into the subject of decentralized command and how earnest discourse creates an exponential opportunity for leadership

Decentralized Command

  • It’s not just assigning everyone unwanted tasks, everyone has an opportunity to lead
  • Anonymous business backstory:
    • Team leader was elevated to a higher level of management, supervisor
    • Had a reputation of being a micro-manager
    • How does he balance his involvement, leadership, and supervision in his new role?
  • Supervisors are there to help the team be successful
    • Moving from a tactical role to a strategic role can be challenging
    • Give leadership and power to the team
    • Don’t just give the task. Give ownership to the employee on the whole process from problem to solution
    • Next level, ask the employee if the task makes sense in the first place
    • Successful leaders constantly allow their opinions/plans to be negotiated, this creates honest/open discourse
      • Creates exponential opportunity for dispersed power

Leadership Push Back

  • Anonymous business backstory:
    • Company works outdoors with common potential for physical risks
    • Leader wanted tighter safety protocols
    • Safety protocols ended up being too restrictive for productivity
    • How do you address this issue?
  • Don’t simply collect all the data and reasons the strategy won’t work, identify a solution first
  • Everyone absolutely wants to be safe but the side effects of the strategy also need to be evaluated
    • If productivity is willing to be sacrificed for the benefit of safety, this has to be an openly discussed strategy rather than a silent trade-off
  • Understand that everyone wants to win, earnest dialogue creates legitimate feedback

Bruce Lee & Leadership

  • Attempted to move marital arts to have no form, a formless form
    • “The form of no form” – Jocko Willink quoting Bruce Lee
    • Ability to operate in any and all capacities
  • The best form of leadership is no leadership
    • The highest form of leadership requires the absolute minimum force
  • You don’t want your organization to run like a ‘well-oiled machine’
    • Machines are typically single-function and can not adapt to given scenarios
    • This phrase creates a culture of rule-followers which is often counterproductive to decentralized command


  • Culture is the ultimate form of decentralized command
  • Prioritize and execute – a common understanding of actions and goals amongst entire team, recognized ownership
  • Culture drives purpose to the point where leadership is unnecessary
Jocko Podcast : , , ,
Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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