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Want to Lead Like a Navy SEAL? These Former Navy SEALs Reveal the Surprising Secret

Former Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin know a lot about leadership–and how to win.

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BY Peter Economy - 25 Sep 2018

Want to Lead Like a Navy SEAL? These Former Navy SEALs Reveal the Surprising Secret

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

While the missions that Navy SEALs are trained for and routinely execute are often shrouded in secrecy, it's no secret that they are the among the most difficult and dangerous tasks that the military can assign to anyone. When a seemingly impossible tactical goal needs to be successfully achieved, Navy SEALs are the ones who get it done.

In their book The Dichotomy of Leadership, former Navy SEAL officers Jocko Willink and Leif Babin reveal how leaders in this tremendously accomplished organization turn the impossible into the possible -- every day of the week.

According to Willink and Babin, it's all about finding "the balance needed to most effectively lead and win." The authors continue,

"If a leader imposes too much authority, the team becomes reluctant to execute; not enough, and the team has no direction. If leaders are too aggressive, they put the team and the mission at risk; yet if they wait too long to take action, results can be equally catastrophic. If a leader trains his or her people too hard, they may burn out; yet without challenging and realistic training, the team remains unprepared for real-world situations they may face. The dichotomies go on and on, each one requiring balance."

Willink and Babin explain that the balance required to lead most effectively comprises three different aspects: balancing people, balancing the mission, and balancing yourself. While most leaders put the focus on others and on the work they are required to do, I personally believe they often neglect to focus on themselves -- the "balancing yourself" part that these former Navy SEALs talk about in their book.

Balancing yourself requires four different things. According to Willink and Babin, these four things include:

  • A leader and a follower. Every leader must be willing and able to lead, but just as important is a leader's ability to follow.
  • Plan, but don't overplan. Careful planning is essential to the success of any mission. However, overplanning creates additional and sometimes far more difficult problems.
  • Humble, not passive. Humility is the most important quality in a leader. But being too humble can be equally disastrous for the team. A leader cannot be passive.
  • Focused, but detached. Naturally, leaders must be attentive to details. However, leaders cannot be so immersed in the details that they lose track of the larger strategic situation.

These are just some of the dichotomies of leadership that every leader routinely faces. Master them and you'll be on the way to becoming a truly great leader. Fail to recognize them, and your leadership will be challenged at every turn.


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