Why the leader must be a true believer 

1: “In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission,” writes Jocko Willink in Extreme Ownership.  Jocko was commander of SEAL Team Three’s Unit Bruiser, the most highly decorated Special Ops Unit of the Iraq War for their heroism during the battle of Ramaldi.

Yesterday we explored how Jocko responded when higher command sent down an order with which he strongly disagreed: Iraqi soldiers would be required to participate alongside the SEALs in every combat operation.  Jocko realized he had to change his mindset and his perspective.  The situation required a different goal: “We would have to crush the insurgency and lower its capability to a point where Iraqi soldiers and police would at least have a chance to maintain a relative peace by themselves—a chance to win,” he writes.

“These Iraqi troops may never be good enough to take on a well-equipped and determined enemy,” he observes.  “But they could be good enough to handle a less substantial enemy.  We could ensure the current enemy fit into that category by reducing the insurgents’ ability to wage war.”

As unit leader, Jocko knew he must believe in the greater cause:  “If a leader does not believe, he or she will not take the risks required to overcome the inevitable challenges necessary to win,” he writes.  “Leaders must always operate with the understanding that they are part of something greater than themselves and their own personal interests.”

This belief is a critical component of leadership.  “Far more important than training or equipment, a resolute belief in the mission is critical for any team or organization to win and achieve big results,” Jocko notes.  “Actions and words reflect belief with a clear confidence and self-assuredness that is not possible when belief is in doubt.”

2: Often, doing so requires a leader to seek to understand the big picture.

“Every leader must be able to detach from the immediate tactical mission and understand how it fits into strategic goals.  When leaders receive an order that they themselves question and do not understand, they must ask the question: Why? Why are we being asked to do this?”

To arrive at an acceptable answer, we must ask questions up the chain of command until we understand the greater why.

The next critical step is to invest the necessary time to explain and answer questions so junior leaders can also understand and believe.  “It is critical that those senior leaders impart a general understanding of that strategic knowledge—the why—to their troops,” Jocko observes.  “The leader must explain not just what to do, but why.”

3: So, how did things go with Iraqi soldiers accompanying the SEALs on ever mission?

“The Iraqi soldiers frustrated the hell out of our SEALs who trained and fought alongside them,” Jocko writes. 

“But they also proved useful in ways we hadn’t anticipated.  Our Iraqi soldiers knew how the doors and gates were secured and would quietly pop them open by hand with little effort,” Jocko notes.  “They also could tell the bad guys from the good.  To our American eyes, when unarmed enemy fighters were hiding among the civilian populace, we often couldn’t tell the difference.”

In time, despite the grumblings from the SEALs on Task Unit Bruiser, “a certain base level of camaraderie formed between our SEALs and their Iraqi counterparts through the blood, sweat, and tears of difficult combat operations.”

And, most importantly, the greater mission was a success and proved to be a critical turning point in the Iraq War.

“Because we included Iraqi soldiers with us on every operation, our chain of command approved all of our plans to push deep into dangerous enemy territory in support of this strategy,” Jokco writes.  “That enabled us to hammer enemy fighters with deadly effect, making those areas a little safer for the U.S. Soldiers and Marines that built the permanent combat outposts and lived and patrolled out of them, forcing the insurgents out of their former strongholds.

“Over time, the level of violence decreased dramatically, as did the insurgents’ military capability.  By the end of our deployment, the area was secure enough to enable our Iraqi Army units to begin operations under their own command and control: patrolling into the city, engaging the enemy, and capturing or killing insurgents.”

More tomorrow.

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Reflection:  Consider a current project I am working on.  Have I taken the time to understand the bigger picture?  Have I invested the time to explain the “why” to others on my team?

Action:  Do it.  Today.

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