Jocko Willink’s Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual  — Here are My Five Lessons and Takeaways

Jocko Leadership StrategyLearn to build trust. Learn to be decisive. Learn to take command. Learn to control your emotions. Learn to deliver the truth. Learn balance. Learn the strategies and tactics. LEARN TO LEAD.
Jocko Willink, Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual


I think we never quite get a handle on leadership.  We read about leaders; we study leadership.  But there are so few really great leaders, it seems.

I’ve read books by former coaches (Phil Jackson), great athletes (Abby Wambach), retired Generals (the most recent, Jim Mattis), business leaders, biographies of presidents…

I am currently pretty high on Jocko Willink in my ongoing quest to learn about great leadership.

Jocko Willink was a leader among his fellow Navy SEALs.  He trained SEALs.  He has now written this third book on leadership (the first two were co-authored by Leif Babin, another retired SEAL:  Extreme Ownership and The Dichotomy of Leadership).

This new book, Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual, immediately jumped to the #1 spot on the New York Times best-selling business books list after it was published. It is a very good book. I presented my synopsis of this book at the February, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

I begin my synopses by asking What is the point?  Here’s what I said for this book:  To help people develop, a leader must lead them. To help people complete the mission, a leader must lead them. Becoming such an accomplished leader is a long-term commitment.

And I ask Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reasons for this book.

#1 – This book includes stories, and insights, from what Jocko Willink learned as a Navy SEAL. The stories are fully transferable to “regular” life.
#2 – This book provides a comprehensive look at leadership challenges; real world challenges about those one will lead, and about leaders that will lead you.
#3 – Thus book reminds us that there is always the next new thing to learn about the challenge(s) of leadership.

I always include Quotes and Excerpts from the books I present – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages. Here are a few of the passages I included in my synopsis of this book:

• The goal of leadership seems simple: to get people to do what they need to do to support the mission and the team. But the practice of leadership is different for everyone.
• That is one of the underlying themes of SEAL Team culture: you can never rest on what you have achieved in the past. You always have to improve.
• The more you talk, the less people listen.
• First, a leader can become more articulate. …practice speaking, study to expand their vocabulary, and read and write to practice and improve their ability to clarify and communicate their thoughts. …A leader can also get better at simplifying things. …The leader can pay attention to their posture and countenance.  …A leader can also focus on things like looking people in the eye when talking to them, listening intently to what others say, and speaking clearly with humble authority.  …The leader can make sure they project their voice so they are heard. …the leader can start to pay more attention to body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
• If two people trust each other, they have a relationship; if there is no trust, there is no relationship. So relationships are built on trust. Teams are built on relationships. If there aren’t relationships between people, there is no team.
• The best-performing athletes in the world reach greatness because of how hard they push themselves, not how hard others push them. …Always remember that imposed discipline is an uphill battle; it is not the best way to lead.
• The number one way to give yourself a chance for a promotion and leadership is simple and straightforward: performance. Do your job well. Work hard. Be the first person to show up to work and the last person to leave.
• In military parlance, tactical means the immediate situation right in front of you, the actual existing battle that is happening here and now. Strategic is the broad, long-term, overall objective you are trying to achieve. For example, a tactical objective might be trying to take a hill or a section of a city, whereas a strategic objective might be removal of a tyrannical leader who threatens the stability of the region he is in, which creates a clear and present danger. 

Though the book includes many insights not found in his earlier books, he reminded usaf what he had already green about extensively; he reminded us to Remember the basics – the “Four Laws of Combat” — also included in his earlier books: Those four concepts, Cover and Move, Simple, Prioritize and Execute, and Decentralized Command, are the four Laws of Combat, and they work.
• Cover and Move
• Simple
• Prioritize and Execute
• Decentralized command
• Commander’s Intent – the mission reigns supreme

Jocko expects and demands genuine integrity in leaders.  I really like this emphasis, repeated throughout the book:  ALWAYS legal; always moral; always ethical…
• But if a leader is asking the team to do something that is illegal, immoral, or unethical, it is the duty of the subordinates to refuse that order. This is obvious. It is inexcusable to do something simply because a person ordered you to do it.
• Truth and honesty are perhaps the most essential of leadership qualities.

I made a list of 25 things to learn in this book.  Here are a few of the 25.  (I left them in their original “number” from my list in my synopsis):  

#1 – You might need to detach (the “high porting my weapon” story)
#3 – You know, because you learned, as you were given opportunity to plan, and execute, and lead. Give others such opportunities to learn.
#4 – Cultivate humility; beware of arrogance — 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.
#5 – Be very aware of the danger of ego; yours, and others.
#7 – The leader owns the results; entirely! (the leader alone!)
#9 – Be a good leader; be a good follower…
 #11 – Communicate – communicate constantly. And simply. And clearly. — The better the relationships, the more open and effective communication there is.
#13 – Do not take credit for a job well done. Share the credit!
#15 – The leader does not have to have every needed leadership strength; but the team does… — The answer is simple: a good leader builds a great team that counterbalances their weaknesses.
#17 – Spend time with the troops (but…don’t be a “buddy” – R.M..)
#18 – Everyone is the most important member of the team.– every person’s job is absolutely critical. Explain to them what happens if they don’t do their jobs well.
#19 – Discipline — In the SEAL Teams, if you really care about your people, you won’t coddle them at all. You will push them hard. You will train them hard. — The easy path leads to misery. The path of discipline leads them to freedom.
#22 – Be very wary of “yes men” – As a leader, you should not want to be surrounded by yes-men—people who agree with everything you say. As a subordinate, you should not be a yes-man; you should speak up when something doesn’t make sense.
#23 – Be decisive! Make a decision! – Be decisive. When it is time to make a decision, make one.
#25 – Put others (especially “difficult” others) in charge of something – something that matters.

• And, as I always do, I ended my synopsis with my lessons and takeaways:

#1 – Leaders lead. Leaders must lead.
#2 – The way to learn to lead is to always be leading (when the opportunity presents itself; every time!).
#3 – Leaders own the results; leaders share the credit; and leaders accept all the blame.
#4 – Dealing with difficult leaders, inadequate leaders, is the reality of life. Learn to deal with them in a way that opens the next door for you to lead.
#5 – Leaders let people lead themselves. (They set them up to do it…) This is critical!

There are a few business subjects where reading one good book can set you on a good path. But there is no one such book on leadership.  It is too big a subject; it is too imposing a challenge. A leader (or, an aspiring leader) needs to make the study of good and effective leadership a life-long task. This book is one to put near the top of your leadership reading list!

——————–Extreme Ownership

My synopsis, with the audio recording of my presentation, along with my multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handout, will be available soon on this site.  You might want to check out my synopses of his two earlier books: Extreme Ownership and The Dichotomy of Leadership.  Click on the buy synopses tab at top of this page, and you can search for these two synopses. The synopsis of this new book will soon be added to our newest editions page. Click here to see our newest additions.

And, I have written posts like this, with my lessons and takeaways, for many good business books.  Search “lessons and takeaways” in our search box to browse through these articles.

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