How did we go from that guy to this toxic person who is undermining the organization? And what is it that you don’t know about what’s going on in this person’s life? But all of a sudden, everybody else is telling you, get rid of them. And you don’t know how you got to that point.

The Debrief w/ Jocko and Dave Berke #3: Jocko and Good Deal Dave analyze problems and find solutions for companies.

Jocko Willink (00:00):

This is the Jocko Debrief podcast, episode three, with Dave Berke and me, Jocko Willink. Dave, let’s debrief. What do you got?

Dave Berke (00:11):

I’ve got a really small tech company that’s actually doing pretty well, even despite what’s going on. Small company but they’re growing a bunch. They work in the software space and they’re actually doing just fine. Which is actually cool because not every company is doing so well right now. Working with the COO, kind of the number two, there’s a small enough company, everybody kind of, there’s a lot of overlap on their jobs. There’s only like 15 or so folks here. So they all have a lot of overlap, but he’s head of operations. He’s really designed to make sure this thing is working.

Dave Berke (00:43):

He has someone working with him, the CTO, the Chief Technology Officer. That is really critical to the operation, kind of is the driver behind the software that they’re building, but he’s really hard to deal with. And actually, what the problem he’s having is that, this CTO who’s really sharp is overstepping in his bounds, he’s getting in his peers business. His ego is running out of control, and he’s creating a whole bunch of friction across the organization. And there’s a little bit of a fear that he’s kind of irreplaceable.

Dave Berke (01:15):

That nobody has the corporate knowledge he has, nobody really understands what he does, and he has positioned himself that having or they feel like they have to tolerate the way he is because of what he knows and what he can do. And this Chief Operating Officer is struggling with how to handle that situation.

Jocko Willink (01:33):

Well, clearly there’s an issue if you’ve got people on your team that are irreplaceable, right? We don’t want to let that happen. We don’t want to let it happen for defensive reasons, meaning, we don’t want to be put ourselves in a situation where we lose somebody for whatever reason. And for offensive reasons, if someone is out of line, we need to be able to handle that problem, right? We need to be able to get rid of somebody. No one should have that leverage over the company, right? That just doesn’t make sense. I mean, that had to be the first thing that you are talking about.

Dave Berke (02:11):

First thing was, listen, you can’t have anybody on your team that if that person goes away for any reason, unforeseen, he leaves whatever it is, that when that person departs the team fails. The team is going to fall apart because somebody on your team hold so much knowledge or so much ability that the team can’t succeed without them. That’s actually true for the person in charge as well. So we just talked about the fundamentals of even for the person in charge of the company, the company cannot be relying on you that if you went away the company fails. That’s not the type of leadership situation you want to set up.

Dave Berke (02:43):

The other component of the issue is that there’s a lot of potential in the CTO. He’s a really capably smart. And for a while, especially when they initially brought him on board, he was a really positive contributor. And what’s happened is, as he has succeeded and contributed, the ego has been growing. And really, once we got past the initial conversation and the COO didn’t object, he understood like yeah, I cannot have somebody on my team that’s a single source of failure. The other question is, how do you cultivate the relationship?

Dave Berke (03:15):

How do you continue to develop this with him so that he continues to contribute in the positive ways and we manage the things that he’s doing that’s negatively? And trying to find out what it is that’s causing that, and what his role is? What I didn’t want him to do was write this person off. Like, hey, this person is a problem. I got to get somebody who can replace him so I can get rid of this person. It’s actually, hey, what’s the real problem here? How do we solve that? And what can we do to make this person continue to be a really valuable, constructive, contributing member of the team?

Jocko Willink (03:44):

Yeah. We want to attack this problem from two different directions. One is make sure that they’re not irreplaceable. And two is, how do we get this person reeled in? How do we reel in their ego?

Dave Berke (03:54):


Jocko Willink (03:55):

And I think that boils down to an escalation of counseling. You know what I mean? On the one hand, obviously, this boils down for the one attack is an escalation of counseling. Hey, are you okay? Is there something bothering you? Is there someone on the team that you feel like you need to flex on? Because man, that last meeting was a little bit hostile, right? I mean, this is just a conversation. Hey Dave, or did you have some friction with [Laife 00:04:20] about that? Because that last meeting was you were going at him pretty hard. Is everything, is there something I’m not seeing? Right?

Jocko Willink (04:26):

So that’s not an attack, that’s a legitimate question of concern. Hey, I want to make sure everything is okay. So I think this is an escalation of counseling situation to try and figure out what’s going on. And if Dave says, you know what, Laife really made me, he put a bunch of stuff on my plate and I was mad about it and I let it get to my head. I’m sorry, it’s my fault. Okay, cool, and maybe it’s not a problem. And as we know, maybe you fix it and it’s okay. You handle it, maybe it continues. And you get hostile with him or you get hostile with someone else. And then I got to escalate that counseling.

Jocko Willink (05:00):

Hey Dave, you went off on Mike today. What’s going on? Did Mike do something that bothered you? Because in the meeting, from what I saw in the meeting, look, man, that seemed unprovoked what’s going on. And so now we’re starting to escalate. And by the way, last week you went off on Laife and now you’re going off on Mike, who is next? And if you’re only attacking people, guess what? That tells me that you’re not really listening to what other people are saying. So if you’re not listening to what people are saying, then we’re not moving ideas forward, so what’s going on? And then it goes from there, right?

Jocko Willink (05:40):

So I think on the getting the ego in check, there’s an escalation in counseling that needs to happen. On the front of, how do we get other people to make sure that this person isn’t irreplaceable, well, I talk to you and I say, “Hey Dave, look, I know you’ve been spearheading this project from the beginning. What we actually need is some backup. Who on your team is like really understands this?” And of course, if you’re a big ego guy, what do you say? No one, I’m the only one that gets this done. You know what Dave, I know that you’re smart and of course, I suspected that maybe you’re the only person that really understood this.

Jocko Willink (06:20):

And although that sounds cool, guess what? It ain’t cool. Because if you’re the only one that knows how to do this and you get hit by a bus, we got problems. So what can we do to get this other person trained up? You know what I actually want you to do? I want you to take a two week vacation and when you get back I don’t want you in these meetings for another two weeks. I want to go a month with no Dave. Because I want to make sure, look, you got a month to get this ready, but after a month I want Bill to run this thing. And so that’s how I’d approach these two approaches from two different directions.

Dave Berke (06:56):

Yeah. Really similar and that multiple two things at once, a parallel efforts that you have to manage. The first one I think is spot on that as an organizational leader, you actually have to be looking at risk all the time. You have to be looking around, up and out while your people are down making things happen, you have to look and see where you’re exposed. Where is there potential for risk? From the outside competition, environment thing, and also from the inside. And the assessment of risk in that case is an internal problem.

Dave Berke (07:28):

Which is, Jocko goes away, Jocko is the only one that can do this, the company fails. That’s risk that you cannot accept any different than if your competition is maneuvering on you and they are going to outmaneuver you and then they’re going to beat you in the same fashion. And that should be happening all the time. The other piece when you were talking about that second effort and parallel, what was happening with this COO, this boss but somewhat parallel, but a little bit senior was, the rest of the organization. Remember, this is a small team.

Dave Berke (07:56):

They are all kind of very close, know each other, loosely define roles. A lot of people were going direct to the COO, bullying him into that escalation of counseling you described, they kind of wanted to get to step four. Which was this guy is awful, he’s toxic, we got to get rid of him. And what he was struggling with is, hey, I haven’t done any counseling at all. I’m getting a ton of pressure, I got to get rid of this guy. He’s causing a lot of problems while I’ve got some of this risk. But also recognizing that you actually can’t go to step four. And there’s two different reasons that I thought of as to why that is.

Dave Berke (08:33):

One is, look, there actually is a fairly straightforward HR process. Like when we have to move people out of organizations, that was a deliberate process to do that. You don’t get to just skip steps because your mind tells you this is the best way to do it. But the real question that he needed to ask is, how did this guy go from a key contributor who joined this startup from the beginning, who believed in what this was, and invested all his time and energy and all the risk with startups, because startups are high risk. There’s no guarantee they are going to work.

Dave Berke (09:02):

How did we go from that guy to this toxic person who is undermining the organization? And what is it that you don’t know about what’s going on in this person’s life? But all of a sudden, everybody else is telling you, get rid of them. And you don’t know how you got to that point. Which is another reason why you have to start with step one what you described is Jocko man hey, you seemed really out of character in that meeting, what’s going on? That’s that first step in the escalation of counseling, no matter what it is, whether they showed up late, or people are telling you to fire them on the spot. You need to start with, hey, what is going on in your life?

Jocko Willink (09:38):

Yeah, that’s cool. And one thing that’s good to note about the escalation of counseling. Like you said, if you’re skipping steps, if you’re skipping steps because you made errors. There was hard conversations that you should have had that you didn’t have. So if you’re skipping steps, you put yourself in that position and it’s going to be ugly. One thing that’s nice about the escalation of counseling is it’s a compressible timeline. So you could have, you could go through the entire escalation of counseling in a week. I always use the example of construction sites when you’re on a big construction project where there’s a timeline.

Jocko Willink (10:11):

And if you don’t make the timeline, you pay the owner money, you pay them 50,000, $80,000 a day in some cases when you miss a timeline. So sometimes those timelines are really compressed. If I got a foreman that’s not doing their job, guess what? I’m going to tell you today you’re not doing your job, the next day I’m going to write you up, the third day you’re getting fired, I’m bringing someone else in there. With let’s say commission based sales people, hey, I’m not paying you anything Dave. So that escalation of counseling could be six months, right? In this particular case, if you’re getting pressure cool, you should be getting pressure because you’re not doing your job.

Jocko Willink (10:49):

If you hadn’t said anything yet, that’s absolutely you failed as a leader. So, you do have to start, I recommend you start with step one, a nice, friendly, positive conversation to let that person know, hey, you’re out of line. I see it, the team sees it. What’s going on? Let’s move forward.

Dave Berke (11:11):

Yeah. You made the connection when you were talking about it to what’s going on with this person, this person’s ego is getting out of control. One of the main issues with this guy was is he thought he was smarter than everybody else. And what he was coming to discover at least the way that it looked was, he had been in long enough to think that he should be in charge a little bit and he knew more than other people. So, same thing, you could also go one of two directions. You can sort of jump at the conclusion that he’s this toxic guy that needs to go away, or you can actually dig in and find out what’s really going on.

Dave Berke (11:44):

When we role played the discussion to have, and this, we had a couple different iterations of this, went on for a couple weeks working through this problem to get where we are now. When the COO came to realize that the frustration that this guy was having was that he wanted to have more influence. He wanted to be able to, part of why he was overstepping with his peers is that he thought he should have more influence over his peers. The amazing connection there you talked about is, what he had to show him is, hey, listen, if you want to have more influence in this organization, if you feel that you’re the type of person that can level up and start to influence the organization.

Dave Berke (12:19):

One of the most important things you can do is actually train people to do the job that you’re doing so we can free you which is exactly what you just described. He wasn’t making the connection of, I’m going to get to elevate you to some other role in the organization if you’re the only person that can do this, you’re going to be doing this. And we don’t want to train his replacement as a hedge of getting rid of him. The ideal situation, even though we’re doing this in parallel is, we train his replacement so we actually can contribute more if indeed he has something viable to contribute.

Dave Berke (12:49):

And the frustration with this person’s ego is like you said, the last time like you said, every single time was his own ego saying, who does this guy think he is? And the ego V ego solution is not.

Jocko Willink (13:01):

Wait, was that the COO?

Dave Berke (13:01):


Jocko Willink (13:04):

And so the COO’s ego is clashing with the CTO’s ego-

Dave Berke (13:08):

A little bit.

Jocko Willink (13:09):

Who does this guy think he is that he can roll into these meetings and all of a sudden it’s hostilities?

Dave Berke (13:15):

Yes. And that was the, hey, he’s getting pressure to go right to step four and get to the, you’re out of here. And some of it was, yeah, and it was like hang on, why are we at this level? It’s like you said, what did we not do? What did we skip to get to this? And all the things we skipped had nothing to do with this person, it had to do with the CEO. Not even not just having hard conversations, but just saying, the first time when he noticed three or four months ago going Jocko man, hey, what’s going on? These guys we’re all close, they’re all friends. All of a sudden, Jocko is acting out of a character.

Dave Berke (13:50):

I don’t want to wait four months to start asking Jocko what’s going on in his life when in the back of my mind I’m thinking, well, the best thing is to get rid of Jocko. So, he skipped steps and there’s a whole bunch of reason why he’s skipping those steps. But the barrier there was, when you come to the conclusion that this other person is the problem, you lose the potential of not just salvaging this person for the company, but actually helping them become what they want to become as well which is the ideal out outcome. Now, you don’t pretend that that’s the only way it’s going to work.

Dave Berke (14:19):

You absolutely protect your organization. You build backups, you manage that risk. But in your mind what you’re really trying to figure out is how can you help this person get past these problems that are frustrating them? And understanding why his ego is getting out of control.

Jocko Willink (14:34):

It’s always interesting when Dave is mad because Dave thinks he should have my job. And if I have a big ego that makes me mad. If I can keep my ego in check, you know what I say to that? That’s awesome. I’m glad Dave wants my job. I hope he can come and take it when I go on to the next job. Instead of using that to drive you crazy. I look at that as an awesome situation. I’m not threatened by Dave. I’m happy that Dave wants my job, and I hope he works hard enough to get it from me. I heard that question a long time ago. I forget what it was. I think it was just on the podcast. But what do I do when this guy is vying for my job?

Jocko Willink (15:29):

And I’m like hey, if someone’s vying for my job, that’s awesome, that’s awesome. I’m going to work even harder. And guess what, if they beat me, they beat me. They do a better job than me. If they’re more suitable for this job and I fail, good on them, I should do better. Now, if you think someone is going to outwork me, good luck, bring it. But what does that do? All that does is help the team because now we’re working hard. but yeah, don’t be threatened by those things. All right, next one. What do you got?

Dave Berke (16:08):

Company we’ve been working with again, I keep saying this, but these companies we’ve been working with for a long time. And that’s one of the most fun things we get to do is we get to stay with them for a long time see how things evolve and improve and get better and get more connected to what they’re doing. And makes it easier to help when we understand this is a company we’ve been working with for a long time.

Jocko Willink (16:28):

And another thing that’s important to note when you say that is this, we work with companies for a long time. And oftentimes, when we show up there, they are already deep into extreme ownership. They got everyone listening to the podcast, they got the laws of combat printed on their walls. I’ve been in places where they have murals of the laws of combat. It’s awesome, it’s awesome. And they are totally on board, they’re totally engaged. And yet, we still have to talk about the issue that they’re having because it is hard. It is simple, not easy. Go ahead.

Dave Berke (17:10):

Look, that’s what all these scenarios we’ve been talking about and we’ll continue to talk about is the constant reminder of, because most of the companies we work with are exactly how you described and they still struggle with this stuff because this stuff is all hard. And one of the best things that we do is that we come in from a detached position. And it’s much easier for us to see what’s going on and help and make the connection between the principles and mindsets that they can apply to help solve those problems because we are detached. Which is actually what was going on in this situation.

Dave Berke (17:41):

We had this key, they had a leadership team that was made up a four or five small group of people, a key leadership team that was influencing a much larger company. And one of the key leaders in this organization had developed himself a reputation of being the hammer. And it reminded me when back in the military is probably similar with you is, you have someone in charge of the unit called the squad commander or the battalion commander. And they always had a number two. The number two was typically called the EXO, the executive officer, the number two. And the number two had the reputation of being the hammer.

Dave Berke (18:13):

Well, this person had become the hammer, which means they had any kind of issue that required some sort of counseling or discipline, this person was the one to do it. And the simple question this person asked me, because he’s been in the game on extreme ownership and reading. He’s burned through leadership strategy tactics repeatedly and looking at things, he was talking about that book, talking about how you should lead in these particular situations. And he says, “I’m worried that I’m being pigeonholed as the hammer. Should I be concerned about that?” Was the simple question.

Dave Berke (18:46):

And of course, my answer was, yes, absolutely, do not want to be positioned or have the reputation of being the hammer. And the question was, hey, talk to me about why that is. And why that is, is that his-

Jocko Willink (19:01):

You mean why it is that he got this reputation?

Dave Berke (19:05):


Jocko Willink (19:05):

The thing I’m thinking is the reputation that you have is the reputation that you earned.

Dave Berke (19:11):


Jocko Willink (19:12):

And very, very seldom is someone running around with a reputation that they didn’t earn and deserve.

Dave Berke (19:19):

Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Jocko Willink (19:20):


Dave Berke (19:20):

And that was, hey, why do you have this reputation? Well, I don’t like to wait. I don’t see the reason to just sit on things. I am default aggressive, I like to get in there and solve problems. And really what that translated to was that when issues that he was involved in, he would get a little fired up, get a little emotional. He had a reputation of diving in there and he had built a reputation of someone who is aggressive. The problem with that approach of being aggressive is it was out of balance. He had the same approach to every single problem.

Dave Berke (19:53):

And being pigeonholed was, they were starting to use him only in places where the other leadership thought it made sense. So areas where they thought, hey, we need to take a slow approach to this. Maybe a longer, more strategic view. He was being a little excluded, a little isolated, because they could predetermine his approach which was going to be over the top, make things happen. He’s like absolutely. And the connection they were making was that concept of being detached. And the thing that was great about this was that the question he asked and he made the comment he goes, “I feel like I need to be more detached before I make decisions.”

Dave Berke (20:28):

I’m like look, man, you’re actually making this very easy on me because that’s exactly what you need to do. And the reputation you want isn’t the hammer, the reputation that you want is the reputation of someone that is detached even on things that directly affect you. And so that the decisions you make and the contribution you make is what’s in the best interest of the organization. And you don’t pigeon yourself as someone who goes off every single time something is wrong.

Jocko Willink (20:54):

Yeah. That’s if you think about it, any halfway marginally decent organization should not have scenarios unfolding on a regular basis that require a “hammer.” This is not an optimal situation. I mean, look, do you occasionally get a rogue element of people that have gone off the reservation and are now doing things that they shouldn’t be doing and you’ve got toxic scenarios happening? That does happen. And sometimes you got to go in there like look, when I go into that situation, I’m going to straighten things out and I’m going to do it with a hammer.

Jocko Willink (21:32):

That is so rare that if that’s your reputation, you should hardly ever get utilized. And what’s scary about that is that’s what your goal is. Number one, it’s scary to think that you’re in an organization where the hammer needs to get used all of time. Number two, it’s scary to think that you’re in an organization if the hammer doesn’t get used all the time, but your leadership thinks that the hammer is the best tool for the job. That’s a little bit scary. So what I would do in this situation is, yeah, obviously he’s got to detach, obviously he’s got to get control of his temper.

Jocko Willink (22:03):

But also I would look at these scenarios and say, okay, when go into this, I’m going to actually detach. I’m going to handle these with the minimum force required. The minimum leadership required, I’ve been using that term a lot lately when it comes to leadership, using the minimum force required is almost always the optimal way to do it. And what’s interesting, is I’ve been lately sort of preemptively answering the question, hey, look, I get things done on default aggressive. If Dave’s got an issue, the most efficient thing for me to do is to go in there, sit down in front of Dave and say, here’s the things that you’re screwing up, you need to get on board with the program.

Jocko Willink (22:46):

That’s the most efficient way. And on the surface that seems very efficient. What does it actually create? What it creates is resentment from Dave, it creates resentment from Dave’s team. It creates a lack of effort. It creates a lack of initiative, it creates a lack of ingenuity. It creates a lack of initiative, all those things. That’s what it does. And it won’t matter on in this particular tactical situation it’s okay because I got what I wanted from Dave. But I haven’t developed Dave, I haven’t developed Dave’s team. I’ve squashed his ability to think at that moment.

Jocko Willink (23:22):

I’ve squashed his future ability to think because he’s afraid of getting “hammered” by me. So there’s even though for the moment something in the short term, immediately might seem like it’s more efficient in the long term. Well, what I have to do is just constantly hammer people. And once you use the hammer, guess what? You got to use it again, and you got to use it again. Because people don’t learn when they get hammered. They just end up like a beaten dog. What is a beaten dog like? A beaten dog is like two things. Number one, they don’t show an initiative they are scared. And then guess what they do, they lash out. Beaten dogs are ones that bite people because they get abused.

Jocko Willink (24:00):

So if I abuse you you’re going to bite at some point, whether that’s leave the company, whether that blow up, whether that’s cause a mutiny. Whatever it is, I’m not developing my relationship. And by the way, if you don’t like me, if you don’t like me, what performance are you giving me? Are you giving me your best performance? If all I do is slap you every time I work with you, every time I do give you direction it comes with a slap to the face. Every time you need correction, it comes with a punch to the gut. Do you like me? The answer is no. Do you respect me? The answer is no. Do we have a good relationship? The answer is no.

Jocko Willink (24:39):

Do we trust each other? The answer is no. So what kind of team is that? It’s a freaking crappy one. So, does the hammer need to be used on occasion? Yes. Does it need to be the primary? Should you have it in your toolbox? Sure. Do I have a hammer in my toolbox? I sure do, it’s a big one. How often do I take it out? Almost never. Think through that. Well, you got one more?

Dave Berke (25:08):

Yeah, we got one more. We had a manager that we’ve been working with, emailed me and said, “Hey, I’d like to jump on a call. I have a subordinate who feels like they are not being given a fair opportunity to get promoted.” So, the way this company is designed is that there’s a pretty quick opportunity to elevate. So managers have a bunch of subordinates and the subordinates do well. The company is broad enough that you can elevate pretty quickly and get a leadership role and have some folks working for you. And upward mobility is not a huge problem.

Dave Berke (25:46):

So there’s an opportunity there, and had someone that felt like they were being passed over repeatedly to people who were less qualified than him. So not just that they wasn’t getting opportunities to get promoted, but the people that were getting those opportunities, he felt like they weren’t as good as them. And the real question they came out when this subordinate went to the boss and said, “Hey boss, I feel like I’m getting overlooked here. And I feel like other people are getting promoted ahead of me.” Was that he said, “I don’t think I understand the process of what I’m supposed to do to be able to get considered for this promotion.”

Dave Berke (26:23):

And that boss asked me he’s like, “Hey, what do I do with someone who feels like they don’t understand the process? When clearly I’ve got people on my team that are getting promoted up and out on a regular basis.”

Jocko Willink (26:36):

And you told him?

Dave Berke (26:37):

I told him it was his fault. Now, I mean, it was one of those that I think part of the issue was-

Jocko Willink (26:44):

It was his fault that what?

Dave Berke (26:45):

That that person didn’t understand the process.

Jocko Willink (26:47):


Dave Berke (26:47):

So when this person, so as simple as this one sounds, so the barrier that this person was having was, Hey, it’s crazy for someone to come to me and say they don’t understand what to do because on a regular basis, I prepare the people on my team and I’ve got an awesome track record of people on my team who are going to leave my team. I’m not trying to keep people down on my team, every opportunity people on my team get, I prep them, I put them in front of what is essentially a promotion board opportunity. Most of my people do well, they go up. They leave and go somewhere else and I get a new crop of young people or new people and I do the same thing.

Dave Berke (27:25):

So for someone to say to me, hey, I don’t understand the process. I don’t know how else I can explain it because I’m confident that people on my team know the process and I’ve got a lot of evidence proof to show you that I’m doing it. I don’t understand what the problem is here.

Jocko Willink (27:42):

And so you said, hey, look, you need to do a better job of explaining the process, it’s on you.

Dave Berke (27:47):

Yes. I mean simply, and I think what it was is that this person’s arsenal, the tools that this person had to share with their subordinates, the approach, was effective but it was really limited. Hey, this is the one would, and what was happening is they would get it brought in front of like a panel of two or three people that would interview them. And this person that kept on getting passed over actually knew what to say, they understood what to say, but they didn’t say it very well and was constantly getting passed over by people that he would look around and go. I’m outperforming this person, but I think I might be missing something.

Dave Berke (28:26):

And what they were struggling with, this boss was struggling with is they know exactly what to do and exactly what to do. They cannot look me in the eye and say, they don’t understand the process. The issue was again, hey, so talk to me through when you interact with this person, what does that conversation look like? And when they role play with you what they are going to go say in that board, what do they say? I said, well, I don’t role play with them. I just tell them the best way to answer these questions and the best way to be prepared for that. So what was the disconnect there is, the first thing this manager did with the subordinate is they went back.

Dave Berke (29:04):

There was two elements of this. The first is the obvious one where he went in like, “Hey, listen, Jocko, first of all, if you don’t feel like you understand the process, that is completely my responsibility. It’s absolutely my responsibility to make sure what that process is. I’m going to do it again. And I want break it down step by step so you understand it.” That actually wasn’t what was wrong. What was wrong is that when they role played the conversation that you would have with that promotion board, you weren’t very good at having the conversation. You didn’t know how to say what you wanted to say.

Dave Berke (29:31):

And so it wasn’t really the process that was the problem, the problem was this person wasn’t comfortable and didn’t like communicating to this board. So they did a role play scenario a couple times and started with the ownership piece. And it was the role play piece, not the process piece that was actually the issue here.

Jocko Willink (29:51):

Yeah. When you were talking through this initially you were saying, oh, the guy, the subordinate didn’t understand the process. That’s my fault because my subordinate didn’t understand the process so I need to explain it to him better. But there’s more to it than that which you were just starting to get to which is, it’s not that you didn’t understand the process, it’s that you are not doing a good job. And what this boils down to, this is a hard conversation. And so now we’re going to talk and I think this is a very important thing to understand.

Jocko Willink (30:27):

Because I talk all the time about the general superiority of indirect coaching and mentoring, the general superior. It’s not always superior, it’s like grappling and striking. Grappling has some inherent advantages over striking. It’s just the way it is. There’s things in the world I’m sure you could name me aircraft, that there’s this aircraft has a inherent advantage over this other aircraft. It’s not necessarily that the inferior aircraft is always worse, sometimes you want that supposedly inferior aircraft. We get it. So, I constantly elevate an indirect approach and I denigrate the direct approach.

Jocko Willink (31:17):

Why? Because the direct approach is something that offends people when delivered the wrong way. On top of that, if Dave works for me and Dave is not doing what he’s supposed to be doing, I have to, I am responsible as a leader to explain to him what he’s doing wrong so that he can do the right thing. Does that start off with an indirect conversation? Yes, it absolutely does. It absolutely starts off with me saying, “Hey, Dave, when you do your task over there, do you know what the standard is?” And you go, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure.” Tell me what it is. We say I got to do this many pieces in every hour. Actually, you know what?

Jocko Willink (32:06):

That’s not the standard, the standard is actually this many pieces. Oh, wow, I didn’t even know that I was over here kind of slacking. Well, we definitely don’t want you slacking. Yeah, no problem. I’ll stop. So it starts off with a nice little indirect conversation. And then as we’ve talked about already, then as if I fail, if the indirect approach fails, well, then I have to escalate it more. If the indirect approach fails again I have to escalate it again. So, where I’m going with this is that when it comes time for promotion, you should have already escalated through the escalation of counseling.

Jocko Willink (32:43):

You should have already explained to people what they’re doing wrong. You should have already gotten there. And if you haven’t, and Dave doesn’t get promoted, guess what just happened? What just happened is Dave got a direct slap in the face. I went from zero to slap in the face, direct slap in the face, direct assault on your ego, direct assault on your being because you didn’t get promoted. So now, the direct approach has already been taken. And I can’t now go back and there’s no point in me having an indirect conversation with you. What I owe to you now is actually, look, I failed 14 times when I didn’t have the first hard conversation that was a level one and the second hard conversation that was a level two.

Jocko Willink (33:37):

Now I have to go and have a level 10 hard conversation with you that says, Dave, I think I let you down because the look on your face when you didn’t get promoted, you looked pretty shocked. Which means you didn’t understand some shortfalls that you have. And I want to make sure that you understand those crystal clear. Look, I already messed up. I already allowed events to occur that caused a direct assault. I can’t retract those. What I have to do is I have to go in and follow up with the truth and explain to the person what happened and why they didn’t get promoted. Look, this isn’t authorization to be a jerk about it.

Jocko Willink (34:24):

It’s authorization to say, hey, listen, I know it’s a slap in the face that you didn’t get promoted. I can see by the look on your face you have no idea why, that’s on me. And I got a list of 14 items right now that I want to talk to you about, because next time I want you to know exactly what you need to do so that you can get promoted.

Dave Berke (34:46):

It turned out that the scenario you just described when this manager had the conversation in front of the larger executive team meeting to do, that same problem persisted across the entire organization. And they had a whole bunch of other managers that had subordinates go through the same thing. So, the application of that, that’s not an isolated thing either. That’s when your folks are struggling and you’re talking about the type of conversations to have to help them. He wasn’t the only one going through that having that problem. And there’s people across the organization struggling with the exact same thing.

Dave Berke (35:19):

And the ability to take ownership of that when you have already made a mistake, or like you said, I’ve already screwed up to allow this to happen. That’s again, that’s a barrier on your ego, that’s a challenge to your ego to be able to say, hey, listen, and then to go to whatever that next level is like you said, indeed.

Jocko Willink (35:44):

Yeah. Here’s a good ego savior. Hey, I’m not responsible for getting these guys promoted, that’s on them, right? That’s on them. Okay, let’s see what that does to your team then.

Dave Berke (35:53):

They should know.

Jocko Willink (35:54):

They should know. Hey, I’m not going to hold their hands to get them promoted. So now you got people out there that don’t understand why they are not getting promoted. What does that do for morale? What does that do to the team? What does that do? By the way, nevermind the morale, nevermind the team. Check this out. If Dave Berke doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do to win, how in God’s name is he supposed to do it? If I don’t give you the standard and I don’t tell you what you’re supposed to be doing, and those things that you are supposed to be doing aren’t aligned with how you get promoted. Well, then I’m an idiot.

Dave Berke (36:33):

What does that say about you as a leader? Yeah.

Jocko Willink (36:35):

What does it say about your team? So, for some strange reason once again, it’s on you. Good place to stop. And if you want to dig deeper into all aspects of leadership in any arena, when we’re talking about, we’re talking about every different industry there is, every different level of leadership this is what we do. If you want to learn more about it, you can join Dave and me and the rest of the Echelon Front team online live. You want to talk to us? Talk to us. You don’t just have to sit here and listen to us. You can talk to us too. Go to efonline.com where we solve problems through leadership.

Jocko Willink (37:20):

Right now, three times a week we are doing live Zoom meetings. Where we will sit there and answer your questions. So come and get some of that. If you want deeper leadership guidance inside your organization, come and check out our leadership consultancy at echelonfront.com. I’ve also written a bunch of books about leadership, Extreme Ownership, The Dichotomy of Leadership, Leadership Strategy and Tactics. Got some other podcasts. Jocko Podcast also talks about leadership usually from a military perspective, but you’ll see that it applies to every leadership perspective.

Jocko Willink (37:56):

Also of Jocko Unraveling. We have Grounded and we have the Warrior Kid podcast. And if you want to support any of these podcasts including this one, you can get some gear from jockostore.com or originmaine.com. Thanks for listening to the Debrief. Now go lead. This is Dave and Jocko, out.

Ben Duff

Ben Duff

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