Book Notes: The Dichotomy of Leadership

The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with the previous book Extreme Ownership the content itself is quite simple but it is the stories from Iraq along with the lessons which make it an interesting read.

  • People and mission – you have to care about the people and also the mission, the two (at times) might be opposing e.g. having to let some people go so that the company can remain viable not doing it may mean the business fails.
  • Micromanagement and la say fair – being too controlling can be bad and so can being too hands on, you have to balance both and find an appropriate middle which will change with different situations
  • Resolute but not overbearing – setting and expecting high standards also being pragmatic on which is critical for the mission and what is not
  • When to Mentor, when to Fire – most people just need help to grow but if this is not producing improvements then it is the tough call to have to let someone go which is important for the team not to have to carry someone who is not up to the job.
  • Train hard, but train smart – training is key to growth but the training effort needs to be targeted to improve the team not just repeating easy exercises.
  • Proactive not reckless – being proactive and pushing things forward but with consideration if things don’t go as planned. Sometimes proactivity removes time for opposition or valuable discussion and risk evaluation which is reckless.
  • Disciplined not rigid – being disciplined is important but having procedures for everything goes too far. There needs to be a balance where by the important procedures exist but there is also space for leadership at all levels.
  • Hold people accountable but don’t hold their hands – requiring the approval of all work means that the leader quickly becomes a bottleneck and although there is a place for people doing this to be accountable for their work there is also a need for the leader to actually lead and clearly explain the why so that the team have space.
  • Leader and a follower – a leader must lead but also know when to follow someone either more senior or more junior (perhaps with more specialised knowledge etc)
  • Plan but don’t overplan – planning is important as this help set the direction, assess risks and ensure alignment. The challenge is to know when to stop planning and when to start doing as the plan can never be perfect.

Humility is the most important quality in a leader

  • Humble not passive – humility is good but not if it means an unwillingness to push back, voice concerns, stand up for the good of the team or provide feedback.
  • Focused but detached – there needs to be a balance between looking into low level detail and thinking about the higher level picture. Neither on their own is sufficient and their balance is key.

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