Learn Jocko’s Leadership Skills and Apply to Your Startup

Jocko’s Leadership Skills Training Course

Humility. Balance. Ownership. Teamwork. According to Jocko, these are the four attributes that make a great leader. He learned that at the Battle of Ramadi in Iraq. Now, he shares it with others, so you can learn Jocko’s leadership skills. This is particularly important for entrepreneurs following our KDAlive Entrepreneur Around the World Series.

That’s how ex-Navy Seal, Jocko, began his leadership training sessions at Echelon Front in Florida. Together with Leif Babin, he established Echelon Front to bring Navy Seal leadership to the corporate world. About 450 people, ranging from firemen to city commissioners, teachers, doctors, and clergymen joined the two-day session. It was inspirational and educational to learn about Jocko’s Leadership Skills

He covered a lot (much of which you can read in his books), so for this blog post, I’m going to distil it into his “4 Laws of Combat.”
  1. Teamwork – Cover and Move
  2. Keep it Simple – Strategy to Tactics
  3. Prioritize and Execute
  4. Decentralized Command

Teamwork – Cover and Move

Everyone must work together— no silos. While you are responsible for your job, you are also responsible for integrating with your team. “You can’t zone out with your teammates; people depend on you and you need to know how to support them. It’s natural to focus on your own problems and neglect others’ overall mission.” The key takeaway is to spend time understanding how you fit into the mission and how others are impacted by you.

Foremost, you need to take time to build relationships.

Trust and Accountability:

If a team fails, everyone fails. You must trust your team. You need to build trust within your team and that takes time. Building personal and professional relationships is paramount. Professional relationships always come first. As a leader, you cannot get too close to your team on a personal level if it threatens to weaken the professional relationship. 

Leaders must hold their team accountable while holding the line on getting the job done. The best captains act as a “we” in the team and look to learn from their subordinates, just as much as they coach them. 


By building good relationships, you can support people when they need help. Relationships are stronger than the chain of command. In fact, 99% of things get done as a result of relationships, rather than the chain of command. Admittedly, some relationships experience friction. But it’s your responsibility to bring that person into the fold until the point they cannot be part of the team anymore. 


To do this, you need to understand leadership capital and build it. To gain it in the first place, you need to offer trust, listen to people and treat them with respect. Let them influence you.  For example, if work is slow and there is nothing to do, then allow people to go home. Rather than controlling everything, give capital. 


Then when you need that capital, you take it back. Perhaps it’s a case of: “I need you to work nine days, 20 hour days.” Use the capital that you built up. Treat it like gold or real estate. It’s the most valuable thing you have as a leader, so don’t waste it. Keep it at the front of your mind. Use it with your friends, family, and companies.

Keep it Simple – Strategy to Tactics

Tactical goals have to be aligned strategically. But too often, this doesn’t happen. Don’t win tactically but lose strategically. Jocko’s leadership skills all have this foundation. Without simplicity in planning, communication, and relationships, they will all falter.

A new counterinsurgency manual was written for the Battle of Ramadi. It was established with a different strategy to try and take out the new bad guys that kept replacing the old bad guys in Iraq. The Battle of Ramadi used a strategy that shut ISIS out of Ramadi and, later, from other key places in Iraq. To make a business work, we must tactically and strategically communicate with our teams.

Your mission and communication should be simple and clearly understood. You have to break things down from a strategic to a tactical level. “Taking complex things and making them simple.” If the team isn’t doing what you need/want them to do, it’s the boss’s problem. Communication should be simple, clear, and concise. If people don’t understand, they can’t execute. 

Here are some of the communication keys to building trust:
  • Give everyone a sense of fulfilment and a sense of purpose about your new mission 
  • Build trust – you have to give power to others to build trust, so loosen your control
  • Listen (don’t cut someone off mid-sentence)
  • Respect what others have to say, even if it may seem stupid or irrelevant
  • Allow other people’s ideas to influence the plan
  • Keep your mouth shut and ears open!

Ownership Lesson: Don’t get frustrated with others – look at yourself first! If they don’t get it, you’ve failed. Take ownership of the mission statement and communication.

Prioritize and Execute

This is the most important part of any business. You have to prioritize and execute. Figure out your biggest problems – the ones that may kill you – then solve those and work your way down. The keys to doing this are detachment, planning, prioritization, and the indirect approach. 


Jocko says that one of the most important things he learned early on in Navy Seal training was to detach himself emotionally from any idea, plan, or thought. He didn’t take things personally and logically decided what was best. Too often people are too attached to the plan or too emotionally involved. Detach, relax, look around, and make a call. Recognize. Analyze. React. The battlefield changes just as your business does.

Lose the ego! Your idea isn’t always the best idea. Your plan isn’t the only plan. Most importantly, detach from your own emotions to see what the actual problem is. Follow the best idea’s lead. Let others lead with their ideas and follow them. Know when to lead and when to follow.


Have SOPs for everything: Standard Operating Procedures. It helps to have an established working procedure so that things move very quickly. Caveat: Don’t overdo it! Plans aren’t rigid: be flexible, agile, dynamic and highly efficient. Remember, even the best procedures don’t work in all situations. 

Time Management:

Want more time? Learn to be disciplined in your time management and say no to things that aren’t beneficial. Be critical when analyzing what doesn’t matter. To achieve this, do your homework and be informed before you make decisions. Information overload is important. This may mean you need to go where others won’t go or look where others won’t look. The more focused you are on one thing, the deeper you can dive into solving problems. Go deep, not wide.

Take the indirect approach. Too often people take the direct approach. Personally, I’ll often be frank and tell them they are wrong. That is the point of most friction. By learning to go indirect, you can maneuver around the situation, the conversation, or the emotion. Going indirect almost always softens the blow.

Decentralized Command

Everyone leads when building a decentralized, empowered command. However, there are some rules to follow. You need to be aggressive, innovate and adapt, and strive for extreme ownership.

Here are just some ways you can empower your team:
  • They need to not only understand what to do but “why?” Why are they doing what they are doing? If your team doesn’t understand the “why” of it, then they can’t make effective ad hoc decisions.
  • They must understand the mission, goal, and end state.
  • They must know the parameters to work within.
  • You need to establish a culture that allows people to ask questions. Create forums where people can voice up and talk back.
  • They need to understand how their individual roles contribute to the mission. If that isn’t done, then there won’t be action. Don’t ask if you need to take a shot. If the “why” is there, then take the shot.
  • Whenever people are coming to you about what they know, there are all kinds of indicators that they don’t know.
  • If people need to check with you before making decisions (because you are a control freak), then it’s too late. This is not effective leadership. 

Important takeaways from Jocko’s Leadership Skills

Default aggressive: Bias for action

Problems don’t solve themselves. If someone is not performing, have the conversation. Solve the problem. That’s how to make things happen. Seize initiatives and mitigate risks.

Innovate and adapt: Adapt or die

The battlefield changes and so does your business. The enemy adjusts. New tactics emerge. Technology evolves. Educate yourself. Make changes or die.

Extreme ownership 

Jocko has written a book about this, here. You must take ownership of everything you can – how your team performs, how people act, how you execute. There should be no excuses and no one else to blame. If you blame others and get defensive, so will everyone else. Everyone will start pointing fingers at each other and no one will take ownership. The result? Problems don’t get solved. 

Take for example the following conversation after a team gave its best but didn’t perform well. 

As a leader, you should say: “I didn’t give you the people you needed. Let’s look at the target and give you the people you need. It was my fault you failed.” 

The subordinate says: “Boss I made the mistake, I rounded down. I failed to have the right set of armour or information.”

Leader: “It’s my fault, I only had one piece of info. I lost track of where you are – I didn’t know where you were. That’s my fault. I failed as a leader.” 

Subordinate: “Boss, I didn’t know where I was. I’ll get you more information next time.”

Leader: “It’s my job to fix this. We will fix this.”

That’s extreme ownership. The team watches how you react and responds by also taking responsibility. The entire team takes ownership of the problems. This is the ideal culture of any organization.

Whether it’s an organization or a team, there will always be a small percentage of people who don’t want to take ownership. Those who want ownership will steamroll those who don’t. That will make you unstoppable. It all begins with you. Jocko’s leadership skills all start with you.


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