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The Relationship Between Discipline and Leadership

June 9, 2018 by

Jocko Willink, an author, podcast host, and retired United States Navy SEAL commander, has been speaking to the public for years about what he has learned from his experiences. Willink received both the Silver and Bronze Star for his service in the War on Iraq. He was the commander of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit, Bruiser. He is the author of Extreme Ownership and hosts a weekly podcast called The Jocko Podcast.

Willink also founded a consulting firm in 2010 called Echelon Front. He worked with his fellow former SEAL commander, Leif Babin, to do this. He has since realized that some of his clients assumed that he would act like a tough military man and yell at their teams, but that is not how Willink works.

He found that his clients expected him to “whip their employees into shape,” but Willink knows that if you want to motivate people to act a certain way, it is important to not treat them like that. Doing so just beats people down instead of lifting them up. Further, if you treat people in that way, they will begin to rebel and do the opposite of what you want them to do.

Willink learned his methods as a 22-year-old SEAL when he had an officer who was a dictatorial leader who was inexperienced and did not show any signs of confidence. Willink believed that his leader made up for his lack of confidence by being oppressive. For example, if a team member disputed an order, he would tell the person to do it anyway without explaining the reasoning behind it. The leader used too much discipline in his leadership and it ended up working against him.

This type of leadership caused Willink and his fellow SEALs to have a rebellion. They didn’t want to be treated this way and wanted some more autonomy and say in their jobs. They joined together and stopped taking orders from their officer and approached the commanding officer to express their concerns. They told the commanding officer that their leader was not equipped to do this job and they were no longer willing to work for him or follow his rules. Their leader was then quickly dismissed and replaced by someone who had better leadership qualities.

The new leader had a lot of experience in leading people and proved himself to be very capable of doing the job. He was also very smart and humble, which made it easy for Willink to work for him. He used discipline in the proper way without overdoing it to gain the trust and respect of his team.

One of the best things about the new leader was that the team all wanted to make him happy and proud. They wanted their hard work to reflect their leader’s ability to lead. This was a big difference from their previous leader, which was very obvious to Willink and his team. This sparked Willink’s attention and inspired him to want to become an officer himself.

Willink learned that forcing someone to do something will only work for a short period of time. However, not only does it not work forever, but it actually as not as effective in the short term than telling someone how you think something should be done before considering suggestions from the team. An effective leader also allows their team to work using the methods that are most comfortable for them so that everyone can maximize their own abilities.

Willink now teaches others that in order to be an effective leader, it is important to use discipline with caution. Too much discipline will turn people away, while if you are able to work with your team and take their suggestions, they will be more likely to want to follow your lead and respect you as a leader.

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