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What C-suite executives can learn from a former Navy SEAL

Jocko Willink, a retired, decorated US Navy SEAL officer, co-author of The New York Times bestselling book Extreme Ownership and co-founder and CEO of leadership consulting company Echelon Front shares lessons from the navy and his top strategies for success.

After a 20-year career as a Navy SEAL, I was six months away from retiring when a CEO approached me to come and speak to his executives about leadership.

I gave them the same brief I used to give my SEAL teams and used it for every division within his company. Then, the CEO of the parent company asked me to speak to the CEOs from his other companies.

So there I was, standing in front of 35 industry leaders and when I was done, nearly half the room came up to ask me if I could speak to their companies. It all snowballed from there and that’s how Echelon Front came about.

Together with Leif Babin and our small team, we talk to companies about their problems, addressing everything from productivity to profitability. What we’ve found is that every single one of those problems can be solved through one thing: leadership.

Jocko Willink Navy Seal

If you’ve got a process in the company that’s failing, it’s because there’s a leader that’s allowing that to happen. By attacking these issues, we help companies get their leadership aligned.

“Surround yourself with the best, take ownership of your faults and strengths, give 110 percent to your customer and be truly passionate about your work.”

How do we know it works? We tell the company to pick whatever metric they want – whether it’s profitability, efficiency, or cost per unit. We guarantee that the specific metric will improve as we improve the leadership inside the company.

This strategy ties into my mantra ‘discipline equals freedom’. It might seem counterintuitive, but if you truly want freedom, the only way to get there is to show discipline.

If you want financial freedom, you have to control your spending. If you want more free time, you have to have more discipline in the time management of your business or work life.

That means making a to-do list the night before, waking up early, moving your body and attacking your goals every day.

For those wanting to start their own business, I’d say start small and build up. From there, surround yourself with the best, take ownership of your faults and strengths, give 110 percent to your customer and be truly passionate about your work.

I believe everyone is born with certain leadership qualities and then there’s some you need to develop – I know I’m working on mine all the time.

You can’t be too laissez-faire but you also can’t micromanage: it’s about finding that sweet spot. That’s the only way people are going to follow you.

The full article appears in the May issue of The CEO Magazine, on sale 19 April 2018. Subscribe today.

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