Review of Jocko Willink’s Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual

To be one of the most popular books ever at all on is quite a feat. Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual by former U.S. Navy SEAL Jocko Willink is one of those books. It’s a quick, engaging, no-nonsense guide to effective leadership in just about every professional and personal setting. The book provides guidance from historical and contemporary context that any reader serious about improving their leadership skills will find essential.

Leadership Strategy and Tactics delivers its lucid direction in two parts and seven divisions. Part one is on “Leadership Strategies: Foundations, Core Tenets, and Principles.” Part two addresses “Leadership Tactics: Becoming a Leader, Leadership Skills, Maneuvers, and Communication.”

After a personal SEAL team member perspective, Mr. Willink gets right to his “most important and fundamental principles of combat leadership”: “Cover and Move,” “Simple,” “Prioritize and Execute” and “Decentralized Command.”

“Cover and Move” involves cooperative teamwork that improves mission effectiveness;

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“Simple” relates to plans, directives, goals, communications and the like that must be kept at a level readily grasped by team members; “Prioritize and Execute” deals with the right order and performance of a task; “Decentralized Command” requires that every team member be ready to step up and lead.

These are Mr. Willink’s “Laws of Combat” that are fanned out in Leadership Strategy and Tactics. He adds “Extreme Ownership and Dichotomy of Leadership” as other components important to the formation of a successful leader.

Far from being only applicable to the battlefield, these laws and principles are tactfully applied quite clearly to leadership situations in the office and factory settings.

Leadership Strategy and Tactics is not what you might expect from an Iraq War combat veteran. It does not promote in-your-face drill sergeant-like commands or my-way-or-the-highway attitudes. In fact, the strategy and tactics aptly expressed by Mr. Willink are forceful without being brutal. Leadership Strategy and Tactics places true leader characteristics like humility and perspective in a rightful position of central command. The book stresses these points throughout and puts the emphasis of success or failure of a mission squarely on the shoulders of the leader.

To help shoulder the immense responsibility of leadership, Mr. Willink gives plenty of thorough, specific guidance with ample relatable real-world examples for current and future leaders to consider. Leadership Strategy and Tactics deals with earning influence and respect, equitable distribution of attention among staff, placing people “in roles that make sense for their personalities,” giving simple, clear, concise directions and much more.

Leadership Strategy and Tactics provides and expands on basic advice like “a leader has to balance between being too confident and not being confident enough.” Or it is very easy “for a leader to mistakenly use all his or her leadership tools universally in all situations.” This is wrongheaded because, even though in many respects people are the same, there are enough ways people are different.

You need to discover differences to best develop individual traits. Or, a phrase Mr. Willink repeats frequently, “look up and out, not down and in.” That is, in a critical situation, look at the strategic big picture and figure out the next move, instead of focusing on tactical-level issues.

Beyond the valuable insight and recommendations, perhaps the best point made early on and throughout Leadership Strategy and Tactics is the one on the importance of humility. Mr. Willink asserts that “there is one type of person who can never become a good leader: a person who lacks humility.” And, Mr. Willink reminds leaders of the reality that “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.”



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