There are nuances to leadership that everyone has to uncover for themselves. Leaders are different. Followers are different. Peers are different. Everyone has their own individual characteristics, personalities, and perspectives. I often tell leaders that what makes leadership so hard is dealing with people, and people are crazy. And the craziest person a leader has to deal with is themselves.
You can never rest on what you have achieved in the past. You always have to improve.
Detachment is one of the most powerful tools a leader can have.
Be aware. Pay attention to yourself and what is happening around you. Make it a goal to avoid being fully absorbed in the minute details of any situation. Don’t let it happen. If you are staying aware, checking yourself, you will be likelier to avoid getting tunnel vision.
I realized I didn’t always need to lead. I didn’t need to be at the center of decision-making. I realized it was my job to support the team and the mission, which meant supporting the boss.
The Laws of Combat: Cover and Move Simple Prioritize and Execute Decentralized Command
Extreme Ownership is a mind-set of not making excuses and not blaming anyone or anything else when problems occur. Instead of casting blame or making excuses, good leaders and good teams take Extreme Ownership of the problems, find solutions, and implement those solutions.
The Dichotomy of Leadership describes opposing forces that are pulling leaders in contradictory directions at the same time. Any trait, technique, or attitude can easily go too far in one direction or the other. To lead properly, a leader must be balanced.
Leadership requires relationships; good relationships with people above you, below you, and beside you in the chain of command are critical for a strong team. The better the relationships, the more open and effective communication there is. The more communication there is, the stronger the team will be.
The approach you use to discuss this is important. Put the onus on yourself as to why the idea doesn’t make sense. For example: “You know, boss, I really want to support the plan to the best of my ability, but I’m having a hard time understanding how to execute this part of it. Can you explain why you want it done that way so I can do it right?”
How much will be gained by approaching the boss and trying to convince them to change their plan? If the difference is minimal, it is probably not worth investing any time or effort into it. Next, ask yourself how much of your concern is just your ego; there is a chance that you see your way of doing something as “smarter” or “more efficient” than what the boss has offered. If that is the case, and you don’t truly think there is much to be gained by using your method, let it go. Don’t create drama over your ego. Lastly, ask yourself if you will be moving your relationship with your boss forward or backward by raising this issue. This is important because you should be constantly trying to build that relationship. You are not building the relationship so you can garner favor from the boss; no, you are trying to build a relationship so the boss trusts you and will listen to you so you and the team can more effectively accomplish the mission. For these reasons, choose your battles carefully.
It is obvious that building a trustworthy relationship with your superiors is important. But how do you do that? One of the simplest ways is obvious, but it often gets overlooked—that is performance. Your boss expects you to complete certain tasks. So complete them. Do them on time, on budget, and with as little drama as possible. Get the mission done. This includes doing things you might not be in 100 percent agreement with.
When I do what needs to be done, the boss trusts that I can make things happen. The boss also knows that if I do raise an objection, it is likely to be founded on solid facts that should be considered. Since I get things done and don’t constantly voice my objections, the boss actually listens.
One of the most powerful tools you have is a good relationship with your boss.
When you’re the boss and your subordinates come to you objecting to something you say, listen and ask for alternatives, and when they give you a decent one, say yes to them and utilize the alternative. Even if their alternative doesn’t seem quite as effective or efficient as your methodology, let them do it. This builds the trust and relationships with the people below you in the chain of command.
As often as you can, listen and say yes.
Playing the game is not easy, but it will build trust and relationships, improve the integrity of the team, and make the team more capable of accomplishing the mission. Don’t let your ego or your team’s ego cause turmoil. Get a grip on yourself and play the game.
If you are doing something small for your boss and you feel it might not be the best way, you aren’t a hypocrite for following his or her instructions. You are simply storing up leadership capital for a time when it really matters. There is nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make you a hypocrite; it makes you smart.
It is much better to take an indirect approach. It is better for the subordinate to ask questions that put the fault on themselves. Try an approach like, “I want to make sure I understand your thinking here so I can learn to think through these issues myself,” or “It’s hard for me to understand this clearly since I don’t have the experience you do.” Each of these approaches will disarm the boss and make sure they don’t feel they are under attack.
Do not pit your idea against the boss’s idea. That move brings out egos and can negatively impact decision-making. Instead, try to root your ideas back to the boss so the idea is tied directly to them. People almost always like their own ideas better than anyone else’s.
The better a person can communicate their ideas in a simple, clear manner, the more effective a leader they will be.
So how can a leader become great if they lack the natural characteristics necessary to lead? The answer is simple: a good leader builds a great team that counterbalances their weaknesses.
And that is what a good leader does—finds other people to bring onto the team who compensate for his or her shortfalls. By doing that, even the biggest deficits in leadership traits can be overcome. Combine that with hard work to try to improve on areas of weakness, and soon any person can drastically improve their ability to lead. Well, I should say almost anyone. Because there is one type of person who can never become a good leader: a person who lacks humility. People who lack humility cannot improve because they don’t acknowledge their own weaknesses. They don’t work to improve them, and they won’t bring someone onto the team to offset their shortfalls. This person will never improve.
Leadership and manipulation are closely related, but one is deemed to be bad and the other is considered good. They are closely related because they are both trying to do the same thing: the aim of both leadership and manipulation is to get people to do what you want them to do. The highest form of both leadership and manipulation is to get people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.
Both leaders and manipulators use many of the same techniques. They both build relationships, leverage their influence, and maneuver politically to attain the outcome they desire. Both leaders and manipulators capitalize on others’ egos, personal agendas, and individual strengths and weaknesses to achieve their own preferred outcome.
While there are many similarities between leaders and manipulators, there is one glaring difference: manipulators are trying to get people to do things that will benefit the manipulator, while leaders are trying to get people to do things that will benefit the team and the people themselves.
To put your ego in check, to subordinate your ego, you must have incredible confidence. If you find you cannot put your ego in check because you are afraid it might make you look weak, then guess what? You are weak. Don’t be weak.
Truth and honesty are perhaps the most essential of leadership qualities. Tell the truth to your people. Tell the truth to your boss. Tell the truth to your peers. And, of course, tell the truth to yourself.
The more communication there is with subordinates, the easier it should be to communicate with them, even if the things being communicated are negative.
If the frontline troops aren’t sure why something is happening, they will make up their own reasons, and the reasons they come up with will likely be much worse than reality.
Don’t wait to have hard conversations; they will only get harder.
Stay humble, and always learn.
A leader must know and understand the jobs, skills, and equipment used by the people below him or her in the chain of command. This isn’t to say a leader needs to be an expert in everything; that is impossible.
What should a leader do if he doesn’t know or understand a skill or a job that plays a role in the accomplishment of the mission? Simple: ask.
Most people avoid this process because they fear they will look stupid. They think their subordinates will lose respect for them. But the opposite is true. This is another area where ego can be a real impediment to success. Some leaders feel it is a weakness to ask for help.
If you need help with something, ask for it. Subordinates understand that their leaders might not know everything. Put your ego in check, and ask for help. You will do a better job, and you will gain respect from your team. Stepping down and learning frontline skills also shows your humility. It proves you aren’t above what the frontline troops are doing, and it shows you know their job is hard.
When you get down in the dirt with the frontline troops, you get to know them. You build relationships. And when you have relationships with the frontline troops, they actually tell you what is going on. They give you information. They tell you what is working and what isn’t. That is powerful knowledge to have.
If two people trust each other, they have a relationship; if there is no trust, there is no relationship.
To build trust and relationships down the chain of command, you have to give trust.
If I want my subordinates to trust me, I need to give them trust. So, for instance, I will allow—and trust—them to run a mission. I will allow—and trust—them to make a decision. I will allow—and trust—them to work through a problem without my oversight.
Make sure you distinguish between telling the truth about things the boss needs to know and complaining about every little thing that goes on.
Too often, leaders think they deserve to be respected because of their rank or experience. Similarly, they think their position of authority equates to influence.
Generally, a subordinate looks to a superior and expects that their superior’s training and experience will give the superior the ability to make good decisions and lead the team in the right direction. Rank and position do carry some level of respect and influence. But such respect and influence are extremely limited. The leader needs to build upon that initial platform and increase the respect and influence they receive from the troops as much as possible.
Similar to building trust, to build respect and influence you have to give respect and influence.
Treat people with respect. What does that mean? Allow them to give their opinion. Listen to them. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t disparage the importance of their job or position. Share the burden of hard tasks.
The same is true for influence. If you want to have influence over others, you need to allow them to have influence over you. That means when you listen to them, you actually listen. You consider their recommendations and, whenever possible, you incorporate their thoughts and ideas into whatever you are trying to accomplish. You keep an open mind.
When people take ownership of their jobs and their mission, the jobs get done and the mission gets accomplished. When there are problems and people take ownership of those problems, the problems get solved.
A leader is responsible for everything a person on his or her team does.
Simply taking ownership—is obvious, but it can be a hard one to figure out. It is hard to do this, once again, because of our egos. It hurts our egos when we accept the blame and take ownership of
When you are a leader and someone blames you for something going wrong, you accept the blame. You own it.
Leaders might be above their subordinates in the rank structure, but they are not actually superior to those below them in the chain of command, and this means leaders must respect them. It also means there is no job too small or menial for a leader to do.
A leader has to lead. A leader does have to attend meetings, take care of administrative work, plan for the future, and attend to all kinds of pressing tasks. But there are times, especially when a job is particularly taxing on the troops, when it is important to get down in the dirt with the folks on the front line and do work.
Good leaders will do the hard things their subordinates do every day so they never forget to respect the job itself and the people who do the job, and also so the troops recognize the leader’s willingness to shoulder some of the burden so he or she can understand the true challenges of the job.
If the leader doesn’t take action, no one will.
A leader must be judicious about when and where to take risk.
When the leader allows the team members to come up with the plan, those members have already bought into it; there is no need to convince them of anything.
The best ideas often come from the people on the team who are closest to the problem;
Overreaction is always bad. Not only does it lead to poor decisions, it also makes you look bad as a leader. People don’t like it when leaders overreact; it means the leader is not in control and might make irrational, snap decisions. So take a step back, detach from your emotional reaction, find out what is really going on, and then make calm, logical decisions based on the reality of the situation.
The ability to not care goes a long way, but it is also a hard ability to acquire. Why? Because it requires being able to subdue and subordinate the most powerful driving force a human being has—their ego.
Every person has some shared characteristics that make them human, but at same time, every person is a one-off, unique individual who requires handling specific to their singular nature.
While success in the past certainly indicates a probability of success in the future, it does not guarantee it.
Put people in roles that make sense for their personalities.
To grow and learn, people must be assigned tasks that bring them outside their domain of competence.
The leader must make the final decision. If the decision results in failure, it wasn’t “the team’s decision.” No, it was the leader’s decision. There is no escaping that reality; no matter how many advisors weighed in, no matter how much a leader was swayed by the arguments of their team, the ultimate decision rests solely on the leader and the leader alone. That is all there is to it.
Any good leader must be able to do the same thing: discriminate between what is important and what is not.
Change is the reality of life; almost everything is in a constant state of flux. And it is a crucial part of a leader’s job to figure out which changes are important and which are mere distractions.
Good leader detaches and elevates above the tactical situation, where they can see what really matters. Before they dive into a problem, they ask themselves questions. How will this problem impact the team’s strategic goals? Can it cause mission failure? Is it worth my time and effort to engage in it? How bad can it get if I leave it alone?
A good rule to follow is that a leader should err on the side of not getting involved in problems; the goal is always to allow problems to get solved at the lowest level. When subordinates are solving low-level problems, it allows the leader to focus on more important, strategic issues.
The more control a leader can put into the hands of his or her subordinates, the better.
When the past is held up and put on display in honor, it becomes the standard for all to pursue. Ideally, the goal is to have the team members strive for that high standard individually—to have them hold themselves and one another to that level of excellence. Optimally, a leader doesn’t have to constantly police infractions and motivate them to give their best; if there is pride, the team polices itself. The team will not allow substandard performance. Anyone who slacks off is corrected not by the leadership but by the team itself. That is the power of pride.
When the opportunity is available, let your subordinates come up with the plan. Not only will it result in their taking ownership and buying into it, it will also give you the standoff distance and altitude you need to see holes in it. By not getting into the weeds, you can stand back and be the tactical genius.
If you want optimal performance, don’t just count on your own brainpower. Instead, encourage the rest of your team to think and to question you. Don’t surround yourself with yes-men. They do nothing to help you or the team. And if it makes you uncomfortable to get pushback or questions from your team, check your ego; it is probably a little inflated.
Be humble. It is an honor to be in a leadership position. Your team is counting on you to make the right decisions. Don’t act like you know everything. You don’t. The team knows that. Ask smart questions. Listen. Ask for advice and heed it. Treat people with respect. Regardless of rank, everyone is a human being and plays an important role in the team. Treat them that way. Take care of your people and they will take care of you. Take ownership of failures and mistakes. Pass credit for success up and down the chain. Work hard. As the leader, you should be working harder than anyone else on the team. No job is beneath you. Have integrity. Do what you say; say what you do. Don’t lie up or down the chain of command. Be balanced. Extreme actions and opinions are usually not good. Be decisive. When it is time to make a decision, make one. Build relationships. That is your main goal as a leader. A team is a group of people who have relationships and trust one another. Otherwise, it is just a disconnected, incoherent cluster of people. Lastly, get the job done. That is the purpose of a leader—to lead a team in accomplishing a mission. If you don’t accomplish the mission, you fail as a leader. Performance counts.
Volunteer to lead whenever possible, but don’t make that your primary focus. Make your primary focus helping the team accomplish its goals.
For leaders, there is such a thing as a dumb question. If you haven’t taken the time to research as much as you can, if you haven’t looked through manuals, read operating instructions, studied the names and basic qualifications of the team—basically, if you haven’t done your homework, the team will see just that: you didn’t care enough to invest in understanding the mission, the gear and equipment, and, most important, the people. That lack of preparation shows the team you don’t really care.
When you transition from within a group to becoming a leader of that group, you have to step up. This doesn’t mean you have to know everything. This doesn’t mean you need to lay down the law. But it does mean you have to differentiate who you were as one of the troops from who you are now as a leader. Come up with a plan. Give simple, clear, concise direction. Stay humble, take input, and listen. And, of course, lead.
Don’t be the leader with your hands in your pockets, but don’t be the leader with your hands in everything.
When you have an idea, thought, or opinion, don’t dig in. That means don’t overcommit to ideas. Keep an open mind, and leave yourself an out.
Arguing is generally bad. It means wasting time without moving forward—and what is worse, people often argue not for the best idea but for their idea.
As a leader, you have to learn to let situations develop, to allow things to unfold enough that you have a clear picture of what is happening. Until you have a relatively good idea of what is going on, it is foolish to make a conclusive decision about what you and your team should do.
So be decisive when you need to be, but try not to make decisions until you have to. Assess what is happening to the best of your ability with the information you have, and then make smaller decisions with minimum commitment to move in the direction you most highly suspect is the right one.
Don’t stunt the growth of your team members. Don’t solve every problem they come to you with. Don’t be the easy button.
To be in the group, don’t be overaggressive. Don’t alienate yourself from the group. Become part of it and earn your influence.
Bad things are going to happen. When they do, it is important for the leader to maintain a positive attitude, to find the good in the situation.
When a person is placed into a leadership position, their perspective changes, and the new perspective often reveals to them the errors of their ways. Because of this, putting people into leadership roles is one of my most common remedies for a wide variety of leadership challenges.
One of the best tools a leader has to help shape others is leadership itself; giving people responsibility and putting them in leadership positions teaches them to be better in a multitude of ways.
Putting junior people in charge makes them better. It makes them understand what is going on way above their pay grades and how their jobs tie into the strategic mission. It is one of the best possible ways to develop subordinates to become not only better at their jobs but better leaders in the future.
One of the best ways to subdue your own ego and start building a relationship with your peers is by supporting their ideas. They might come up with a plan slightly different from yours, but if it is functional and will get the job done, support it. Let them take the lead. Don’t feel the need to stick out your chest and flex your ideas; instead, support your peers’ ideas.
Support your peers. Stay humble. Take ownership of problems. Pass credit on to the rest of your team. Build relationships. That is how you lead your peers.
There are many reasons why people micromanage. The primary cause is a lack of trust; the micromanager does not trust their subordinates.
I never looked at a weak boss as horrible; I always looked at a weak boss as an opportunity. If my boss doesn’t want to come up with a plan, guess what? I will. If my boss doesn’t want to clarify the mission, guess what? I will. If my boss doesn’t want to take ownership, guess what? I will. And if my boss doesn’t want to lead, guess what? I will.
If I am working for a micromanager, that means I am working for someone who is engaged and cares about doing a good job. Guess what? That’s what I care about as well. If the person I am working for is indecisive, that’s also fine with me. That means I can set priorities and guide decisions. And if my leader is weak, good, because if my boss isn’t leading, then it means I can step up and lead.
When the troops understand the mission, know the parameters they are allowed to work within, and have the skills to execute, then there isn’t much left for the leader to do except sit back and await the outcome.
Having good relationships up and down the chain of command is one of the most important leadership elements for any successful team.
The need to punish someone on the team is almost always a direct reflection of the leader and the failure to lead appropriately.
To punish an individual for the infraction of an unwritten rule is usually inappropriate, unless the behavior is grievous enough that any reasonable person would deem it out of line. Barring that level of violation, unless rules are clear and documented, it is difficult to punish an individual for their judgment, however far off it might be.
A leader who considers mitigating factors will be seen not as lenient but as sensible. To show clemency is not being a pushover; it is being understanding. Those are not bad things.
Troops that know what is happening remain engaged, prepared, and operationally capable of doing their jobs with efficiency and high morale. Uninformed troops are a disaster waiting to happen.
In any leadership situation, it is critical for the leader to keep everyone on the team as informed as possible. When the team members don’t know where they are, where they are going, or how much longer they have to go to reach an objective, they are lost. When people are lost, they don’t know in which direction to move. They don’t understand how their efforts impact the strategic mission. They can no longer effectively do their jobs. Morale plummets.
The hardest part of this from a leader’s perspective is understanding that the team doesn’t always see what you see. Team members aren’t given the information that you have, and assuming they do have that information is careless. You have to be proactive in updating your troops. You have to continually keep them abreast of what is happening. And you can’t count on them to ask questions either; they might not know what they don’t know. Don’t assume they know anything; in fact, assume the opposite—that they know nothing—and then take responsibility as the leader to keep the troops informed at all times.
If rumors are running rampant in your organization, you have created the environment to allow them to grow. The environment that rumors grow in is one in which there is a lack of information. If you don’t tell people what is going on, they will make up their own versions, and their versions will not be pretty ones.
If your subordinate leaders or frontline troops aren’t doing what you want them to do, the first person you should check is yourself. The most likely cause of this problem is unclear or misaligned guidance.
Make your guidance to the troops simple, clear, and concise. More guidance does not necessarily make guidance clearer; in fact, more guidance can actually make things more confusing and convoluted. It is also important to ensure that the guidance given at every level of leadership is aligned. While there might be differences in the details at different levels of an organization, the guidance that underlies the message must be the same.
If one of your subordinates asks why you are asking them to do something a certain way, and the only reason you can give is “Because I said so,” this is an indicator that you don’t know the reason why. And if you don’t know why you are doing something, then why are you doing it?
Explaining why not only ensures the frontline troops can execute with understanding, it is also a way of ensuring the frontline troops aren’t wasting time and resources on things that don’t matter. And “Because I said so” defeats all that benefit. So if you find yourself saying, “Because I said so,” stop, assess, and give your subordinates, and yourself, a real reason why.
When delivering criticism, it is important to do it with consideration and delicacy. If you punch someone in the face with criticism, they will become defensive and are unlikely to take the criticism on board, so a more indirect approach is needed.
When you are a leader, your words will impact the behavior of your subordinates and the team more than you might think. Think before you speak, and measure your words carefully.
Hope is not a course of action. You cannot rely on hope. You have to plan. You have to consider contingencies. You have to stack the deck in your favor. You cannot have hope play a role in planning or execution. See more about Hope and Mark Manson.
But hope does play a role in leading and in winning. While hope must not be a course of action or a pillar of planning, it must be present in the hearts and minds of the people executing the mission. If there is no hope for relief or success or victory, the will cannot endure. Without hope, there will be surrender.
Reflect and Diminish means to reflect the emotions you are seeing from your subordinate but diminish them to a more controlled level.
If someone wants to talk a lot, then listen. There is no better cure for a person who wants to talk a lot than letting them get their thoughts out of their head. Let them say what they want to say. When they have nothing left, you will be able to make your point. This is also good because as they unload all their ideas, you now know not only everything you know, you also know everything they know. Armed with this knowledge, you can assess their ideas. You can formulate counterpoints or recommendations around their thoughts.
The less you talk, the more people listen.
There is nothing wrong with apologizing when you make a mistake. That is part of taking ownership. This is especially true in relationship situations where you have done something that had a negative impact on someone. You left them out, overlooked them, or otherwise disrespected them in some way. When that happens, apologies are completely acceptable; actually, an apology is more than acceptable, it is the right thing to do.
If you find yourself in situations where you might not feel you owe an apology—you feel it wasn’t your fault—first check your ego; chances are, there is something you could have done differently. Apologize for that. And if you truly think you weren’t at fault, guess what? You are. And taking ownership is still an effective tool. Disarm the people who are looking to place blame by saying sorry and taking the blame yourself. Then find the solution and start moving toward it.
A leader must choose their words very carefully and remember that their words can have immense impact; positive remarks can incite and intensify enthusiasm while negative remarks can fully crush spirits. So be judicious and thoughtful about what you say, who you say it to, and how you say it.