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The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win by [Jocko Willink, Leif Babin]

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Editorial Reviews



“Until this point in my life, I've never read a book that reveals the truths of leadership in such detail and rawness. The true value of this book cannot be quantified in words.” Pete Roberts, Co-Founder & CEO, Origin Maine USA

The Dichotomy of Leadership needs to come with a warning label: BRUTALLY HONEST. Finally, a book that tells the truth on how hard and complex it can be to tackle leadership challenges.”Lindi Horton, Director of Cloud Services, Cyber Security Company

“Inspiring, practical, and honest lessons that transcend the battlefield. Buy this book, read it, and apply the lessons to any challenge.” ―Sarah Armstrong, CFO, Mesa Technical Associates

The Dichotomy of Leadership provides even more depth and dimension to the principles of Extreme Ownership.” ―Sonja Winkler, Senior Director of Operations, Nashville Symphony

"Jocko and Leif have done the impossible. The Dichotomy of Leadership is better than Extreme Ownership. In this book they refine the principles that made two of the leading voices in management and leadership today. All of the questions your team asked after reading Extreme Ownership are answered. The nuance provided in The Dichotomy of Leadership is exactly what our team needed to fully implement Extreme Ownership. " ―Bryce Maddock, CEO, TaskUs

“Even better than Extreme Ownership. It’s FREAKING AWESOME.” ―Joe Masciantonio, Vice President of Sales, The Nature’s Bounty Company

--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Dichotomy Of Leadership

Balancing The Challenges of Extreme Ownership To Lead and Win

By Jocko Willink, Leif Babin

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2018 Jocko Command LLC and Leif Babin LLC
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-19577-7


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Introduction: Finding the Balance,
Chapter 1: The Ultimate Dichotomy,
Chapter 2: Own It All, but Empower Others,
Chapter 3: Resolute, but Not Overbearing,
Chapter 4: When to Mentor, When to Fire,
Chapter 5: Train Hard, but Train Smart,
Chapter 6: Aggressive, Not Reckless,
Chapter 7: Disciplined, Not Rigid,
Chapter 8: Hold People Accountable, but Don't Hold Their Hands,
Chapter 9: A Leader and a Follower,
Chapter 10: Plan, but Don't Overplan,
Chapter 11: Humble, Not Passive,
Chapter 12: Focused, but Detached,
Also by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin,
About the Authors,


The Ultimate Dichotomy

Jocko Willink


"Sir," the young SEAL whispered in a faint voice, "come here." Our hands were clasped in a handshake. Not a formal handshake like two businessmen, but palm to palm with thumbs wrapped around the back of the hand like an arm-wrestling contest — a handshake of brotherhood. The young SEAL was feeling the morphine. I saw it in his eyes, but he was still there, still conscious and aware. He was everything a young man should be: smart, brave, athletic, funny, loyal, and tough. He had been shot in the leg about half an hour before. I found out later that Mikey Monsoor, a young SEAL machine gunner, had run out into heavy enemy gunfire and dragged this SEAL out of a war-torn street in the Malaab District in the city of Ramadi, the violent heart of the insurgency in Iraq.

The wounded SEAL now lay on a gurney in Charlie Med, the Camp Ramadi field hospital where U.S. military surgical teams worked furiously to save the lives of gravely wounded troops almost every day. The bullet, a mammoth armor-piercing 7.62 × 54 millimeter round with a steel core, had entered his leg at the lower thigh, ripped apart flesh and bone inside his leg, and exited in his upper thigh, close to the groin. It was hard to say if he would keep his leg. From the looks of the wound, my guess was no, he would lose it.

The wounded SEAL's grip on my hand tightened and he pulled me in, drawing me just inches from his face. I could tell he wanted to say something to me, so I turned my head and put my ear next to his mouth. I wasn't sure what to expect. Was he scared or angry or depressed that he might lose his leg? Was he nervous about what might happen next? Was he confused?

He took a breath and then whispered, "Sir. Let me stay. Let me stay. Please. Don't make me go home. I'll do anything. I'll sweep up around the camp. I can heal here. Please, please, please just let me stay with the task unit."

There you go. Not scared. Not angry. Not depressed that he might lose his leg. Only concerned that he might have to leave our task unit.

Task Unit Bruiser. Our task unit. Our lives. This SEAL was our first significant casualty. We had had guys catch some frag on previous operations. We had had some very close calls. But this was the first wounded SEAL from Task Unit Bruiser whose life would be forever changed by a grave combat injury. Even if he kept his leg, the damage was so substantial that it didn't seem possible he would ever fully regain the extraordinary athleticism he had displayed previously. And yet this SEAL was only concerned that he would let me down, let the task unit down, let his platoon — his team — down.

This was a man. This was a true friend — a brother. This was a hero: young, brave, and without question more concerned for his friends than for his own life.

I was moved. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I fought them back and swallowed the lump in my throat. This was no time to break down. I was "the Leader." He needed me to be strong.

"It's alright, brother. We've got to get you healed up first," I whispered. "As soon as you heal up, we'll get you back over here. But you have to get healed up first."

"I'll be okay," the wounded SEAL replied. "Just let me stay ... let me stay."

"Brother," I told him earnestly, "I'll bring you back as soon as you can stand. But you have to go and get yourself healed up."

"I'll heal up here. I can work in the TOC," he argued, referencing our tactical operations center, where we monitored combat missions via radio and television screens that displayed overhead video feed from aircraft, both manned and unmanned.

"Listen," I told him, "that won't work. This wound is no joke. You're going to need real rehab — and we don't have that here for you. Go home. Heal up. Get back on your feet and I'll get you back over here. I promise."

I meant it. Whether he kept his leg or not, once he was stable enough, I would do all I could to bring him back.

"Okay, sir," he replied, convinced that it wouldn't take long, "I'll be back soon."

"I know you will, brother. I know you will," I told him.

Soon he was being loaded onto a medevac1 helicopter and flown to a more advanced medical facility where he would get the surgery he needed — a place where they might be able to save his leg.

I went back to my camp, a compound of tents and buildings we called Sharkbase sandwiched between the large U.S. military base of Camp Ramadi and the Euphrates River.

I went to my room on the second floor of the building that housed our TOC, a once lavish structure with ornate columns that had previously belonged to members of Saddam Hussein's regime. Now it was our headquarters and barracks, with sandbagged windows and makeshift furniture. I sat down on my crude bed, constructed of plywood and two-by-fours.

Reality set in: we were only one month into our deployment. My guys were getting in gunfights on a daily basis. The city of Ramadi, where we operated, was crawling with insurgents. And the insurgents were good: they were well equipped, well trained, and well disciplined. They fought with tenacity and ruthlessness.

Of course, we were better. Our training, gear, and attitude were among the best of any combat troops in the world. We were in Ramadi to make the city safe for the local populace by taking the fight to the enemy — to hunt the evil insurgents down in the streets and kill them. All of them.

But we weren't bulletproof. We couldn't run around this city day in and day out and not expect to take casualties. If you cut wood, you get sawdust. When you wage war, especially in violent urban combat, you take casualties. That was the nature of the business. Oddly enough, up until this point, SEALs in Iraq had been very lucky. Three years into the war, only a handful of SEALs had been wounded — and none had been killed. The incidents were fairly random, often more bad luck than anything else.

But we weren't going to get lucky this whole deployment. The proof was evident, as I'd just witnessed, seeing my wounded SEAL, pale from blood loss, hazy from morphine, and lucky — so extremely lucky — to be alive.

The wounded SEAL was a young man. This was only his second SEAL platoon and his second deployment to Iraq. He was an excellent SEAL operator and a crucial member of the team. A great guy to be around: Faithful. Loyal. Funny.

Although all the SEALs in the task unit were different, they were also, in many ways, the same. Sure, they had quirks and little personality traits that made them individuals. Of course, they were far from perfect. We all are.

But at the same time, all of them, individually, were amazing people. Patriotic. Selfless. They were in "the Teams" — what we SEALs call our community of Naval Special Warfare SEAL Teams — for the same reasons: to serve, to do their duty, and to offer everything they had for the task unit, the team, and our great nation.

And I was in charge of them.

But being "in charge" fell short of explaining the way I felt about these men. All of them. They were my friends, because I joked and laughed and carried on with them. They were my brothers, because we shared the common bond of our fraternal order. They were also like my children, because I was responsible for what they did — good and bad — and it was my job to protect them to the best of my ability: I had to overwatch them as they overwatched the city from rooftops and moved through the violent streets.

They gave me everything they had. At work, in training, and now on the battlefield. In turn, they were everything to me. In many ways I was closer to them than I was to my own parents, my siblings, even my wife and actual children. Of course I loved my family. But the men in this task unit were also my family, and I wanted nothing more than to take care of them.

But as much as I wanted to protect them, we had a job to do. A job that was violent and dangerous and unforgiving. A job that required me to put them at risk — tremendous risk — over and over and over again. This was an example of the Dichotomy of Leadership, perhaps the ultimate Dichotomy of Leadership that a combat leader must face: it is a combat leader's duty to care about his troops more than anything else in the world — and yet, at the same time, a leader must accomplish the mission. That means the leader must make decisions and execute plans and strategies that might cost the men he loves so much their very lives.

And this was incredibly difficult for me. Because in Ramadi, it wasn't a matter of if we would lose someone. It was a matter of when.

This is not to say I was fatalistic. I wasn't. It doesn't mean I thought we had to take casualties. I prayed we would not. We did everything we could to mitigate the risks we could control in order to prevent casualties.

But it did mean that I was facing reality. The reality was that U.S. Army Soldiers and Marines were being wounded and killed every day in Ramadi. Every day.

We continually attended memorial services for these fallen heroes.

I recognized that this deployment to Ramadi was completely different from my first deployment to Iraq in 2003–2004, where things had been much more controlled and much less kinetic. In Ramadi in 2006, the violent, sustained urban combat held risks that were beyond our control. And every day that my men were in the field, which was almost every day, I knew it could be The Day.

That was the heaviest burden of command.

And then The Day came.

On August 2, 2006, Leif and his Charlie Platoon SEALs, along with the Iraqi Army platoon for whom they were combat advisors, teamed up with our U.S. Army brethren from Team Bulldog2 for a large clearance operation in South- Central Ramadi. The operation kicked off in the early morning hours, and for the first hour or so, all was quiet.

Suddenly, a single shot rang out, quickly followed by a frantic "man down" call over the radio. Ryan Job, an outstanding young Charlie Platoon SEAL machine gunner, had been hit in the face by an enemy sniper's bullet. He was gravely wounded. All hell broke loose in South-Central as insurgents started shooting from multiple directions. Leif and Charlie Platoon fought to get Ryan evacuated, and Team Bulldog M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M1A2 Abrams tanks came to their rescue with heavy firepower. Charlie Platoon loaded Ryan into a medevac vehicle and sent him off the battlefield to proper medical care. Then Leif and the rest of Charlie Platoon and their Iraqi soldiers patrolled back to Combat Outpost Falcon (or COP Falcon), a fortified U.S. Army position several dangerous blocks away. But the fighting in South-Central Ramadi only escalated as enemy fighters flooded the area. Charlie Platoon could hear the gunfire as their U.S. Army brethren from Team Bulldog — Main Gun Mike and his Soldiers — were still engaged in a vicious gunfight that spread across multiple city blocks. Leif and the leadership of his platoon discussed it briefly, and finally Leif called me on the radio and requested permission to go back out and take down some buildings where suspected enemy fighters were holed up. "Do it," I told him.

Leif and his platoon did everything they could to mitigate risk. They rode to the suspected buildings in heavily armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles. They had the Bradleys soften the target buildings with fire from their powerful 25mm chain guns. They even had the Bradleys ram through the walls of the compounds so that the platoon could get off the open street and have some protection from enemy bullets as they moved toward the buildings to breach the entryways. But even that couldn't mitigate all the risk. And it didn't.

I watched on a live video feed from a drone overhead as Charlie Platoon dismounted from the Bradleys and entered a building. I could tell the gunfire was heavy. Once my SEALs entered the building, I could no longer see what was happening.

A few long minutes after they entered, I saw a group of SEALs carrying a casualty out of the building and back to a waiting Bradley nearby. It was one of ours. A lifeless body.

As I watched from the TOC, a horrible pit opened up in my stomach. I wanted to cry and scream and throw up and shake my fists at the sky.

But I had to stifle those emotions — I had a job to do. So I simply stood by the radio and waited for Leif to call me. I did not call him, because I knew he had work to do and I did not want to interfere with what he was doing.

A few minutes later, he called. I could tell he was forcing himself to sound calm, but I heard a flood of emotions in his voice.

He gave the report: as Charlie Platoon entered the building, they were engaged by enemy fighters from an adjacent building. As SEAL machine gunner Marc Lee courageously stepped into a doorway to engage the enemy fighters and protect the rest of his SEAL teammates entering the hallway behind him, he was struck by enemy fire and killed. It was over instantly.

Marc Alan Lee, an amazing warrior, friend, brother, son, husband, uncle, man of faith, comedian, and truly incredible spirit of a human being, was gone. This was on top of the fact that Ryan Job, another Charlie Platoon machine gunner and saint of a human being, had already been severely wounded and was in a medically induced coma and en route to surgical facilities in Germany. Ryan's fate was yet unknown.

The burden of such loss settled heavily on my soul.

When Leif got back to base, I could see his heart was heavy with grief. His eyes were filled not only with tears but with doubt and questions and the solemn weight of responsibility. Leif never even mentioned that he had also been wounded: a bullet fragment had entered his back, just missing the protection provided by his body armor. He didn't care about his wounded flesh. It was his heart that was broken.

A day passed.

Leif came to my office. I could see his soul was in absolute turmoil.

As the leader on the ground, Leif had made the decision to go back into the firestorm. I had approved that decision. But it was Leif who carried the burden that he had survived and Marc had not.

"I feel like I made the wrong decision," Leif said quietly. "I just wish I could take it back. I wish I would have done something — anything — differently so Marc would still be here with us."

I could see that this was tearing Leif apart. He felt that in all that chaos and all that madness, he could have made a different decision, chosen a different path.

But he was wrong.

"No, Leif," I told him slowly, "there was no decision to make. Those Army Soldiers were in a vicious battle — a massive fight — and they needed our help, they needed our support. You gave it to them. The only other option would have been to sit back and let the Army fight it out by themselves. You couldn't let Charlie Platoon sit inside the protected compound and let Team Bulldog take the risk and take the casualties. That's not what we do. We are a team. We take care of each other. There was no other choice — there was no decision to make."

Leif was quiet. He looked at me and slowly nodded. As hard as it was to hear, he knew I was right. He knew he couldn't have sat on the sidelines while other Americans were in harm's way and needed help, in what was probably the largest single engagement in the months-long campaign of the Battle of Ramadi. If he had, everyone in the platoon would have known it was the wrong decision. Leif would have known it was wrong, too. But with the weight of such a burden on his soul, he needed more reassurance.

So, I continued: "We are Frogmen. We are SEALs. We are American fighting men. If there is something we can do to help our brothers-in-arms, we help. That is what we do. You know that. Marc knew that. We all know that. That is who we are."

"I just wish I could trade places with Marc," Leif said, his eyes teared up with emotion. "I'd do anything to bring him back."

"Look," I said. "We don't have a crystal ball. We don't know when guys are going to get wounded or killed. If we could know that, then we wouldn't go out on those particular operations. But we don't know. We can't know. The only way we can guarantee everyone will be safe is to do nothing at all and let other troops do the fighting. But that is wrong — and you know it. We must do our utmost to win. Of course, we have to mitigate whatever risks we can, but in the end, we cannot eliminate every risk. We still have to do our duty."

Leif nodded again. He knew I was right. He believed it because it was the truth.

But it did not take away the punishing torment of losing Marc. Marc's death was something Leif would carry with him forever. I already knew that. And so did Leif.

It was difficult to grasp, the hardest and most painful of all the dichotomies of leadership: to care about your men more than anything in the world — so much so that you'd even willingly trade your life for theirs — and yet, at the same time, to lead those men on missions that could result in their deaths.

(Continues...)Excerpted from The Dichotomy Of Leadership by Jocko Willink, Leif Babin. Copyright © 2018 Jocko Command LLC and Leif Babin LLC. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B079Y51FC3
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ St. Martin's Press (September 25, 2018)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ September 25, 2018
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 20635 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 311 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.8 out of 5 stars 5,866 ratings

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By Bryon Gaskin on October 4, 2018
As an adult, this is the quickest I ever read a book cover to cover (a little less than 5 days). It is written in natural language and doesn’t do what a lot of books on leadership do which is reference studies and theories that tend to leave most readers with the “yeah, that is interesting but so what” feeling. The book is laid out like a military SOP (Standard Procedure). Each chapter is laid as follows:
A. First person account of a war or training story: This is usually the longest part of each chapter, but it serves its purpose by getting the reader entrenched in the moment of the war/training story. This serves the purpose of preparing the reader to better understand the principle
B. Principle: This addresses how the real-life war/training story fits the principle
C. Application in Business: This takes the Principle and illustrates how the principle was used to solve a real-life business problem
There are several takeaways that really stuck with me.
• There’s story about how one of the SEAL Teams was dead tired after a two-day deployment and the Marines were stacking sandbags, the Marine commander asked them to stand down because they were tired, but the SEALs refused and helped anyway. This small act (although laborious act), helped to solidify the SEALs relationship with the Marines.
• There’s another story about how they SEALs were told remove their patches (for a variety of political reasons) but also to lessen the confusion and establish mutual respect with their Army and Marine counterparts. There is also a good lesson on the flexibility of oversight.
• EGO, everyone has one, but it needs to be checked at the door
• Be humble or get humbled (this was another favorite lesson). If you are not humble, you are going to get cocky and you will get outflanked
• Leadership is a balance, train your people, but don’t train them too hard, help your people but don’t help them so much they don’t learn, don’t abandon them either; there are times to crackdown, and there are times to let things slide, but don’t let them slide too much.
For me, every story in the book reminds me of the sacrifice every soldier is ready to make. If any of the following phrases make you uncomfortable, you are not going to like this book; however, if the following phrases fill your heart with pride in the military, then you are probably going to love this book:
-“Brave fighting men of xxx company
-“were outstanding, aggressive, and professional soldiers”
-“outstanding, aggressive warriors”
-“he was a Big Tough Frogman (BTF)“
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