Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink on the dichotomy of leadership

Jocko Willink is a retired
Navy SEAL commander who led SEAL Team 3, Task Unit Bruiser, the
most highly decorated US special-operations unit of the Iraq

Jacobs/Business Insider

  • Former Navy SEAL commander Jocko
    retired from the SEALs in 2010 after nearly two
    decades of service.
  • He led SEAL Team 3, Task Unit Bruiser, the most highly
    decorated US special operations unit of the Iraq War.
  • He now teaches civilians leadership lessons from his
    time in the SEALs through a hit podcast, a business
    consultancy, and a bestselling book written with his business
    partner and fellow former SEAL Leif Babin, with another soon to
    be published.
  • He spoke with Business Insider about his path to become
    a SEAL, why SEAL training isn’t the impossible nightmare most
    people think, and why you won’t find him sleeping in and having
    breakfast in bed.

For Jocko Willink, becoming a Navy SEAL was just like answering
any other calling.

As he described it: “I guess there are some people who say, ‘I
want to be a businessman,’ and there are some people who say, ‘I
want to be a rock star,’ and there are some people who say, ‘I
want to be a car mechanic,’ and I wanted to be a machine gunner
in a SEAL platoon, you know?”

Willink was the commander of SEAL Team 3, Task Unit Bruiser. It
was the most highly decorated US special operations unit of the
Iraq War — and the one where Chris Kyle, of “American
,” served.

Willink retired from the SEALs in 2010 and started a consulting
company called Echelon Front, which he founded with fellow SEAL
Leif Babin.

He and Babin cowrote the bestselling book “Extreme
” in 2014. He’s also got a hit podcast, a line of
jiujitsu products, and even two bestselling children’s books in
the “Way
of the Warrior Kid
” series.

In an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “Success! How I Did
It,” Willink told us that passing on leadership lessons, whether
to executives or to kids, is just a continuation of what he did
in the SEALs.

Listen to the full episode here:

Subscribe to “Success! How I Did It” on
Apple Podcasts
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The following is a transcript of the podcast, edited for

Jocko Willink: Now on the civilian sector,
that’s actually what I do, is teach people combat leadership and
how to lead their troops in businesses, through whatever it is
they’ve got to lead them through. It’s the same thing I’ve done
for a very, very long time, which is get up early, work out, work
hard, get after it.

Richard Feloni: What were you like as a kid?

Willink: I grew up in the sticks in Connecticut,
like on a dirt road and out in the middle of the woods. My
parents were schoolteachers, so a pretty normal childhood. I was
a pretty rebellious kid. I was into hardcore music. But really,
nothing crazy about my childhood.

Feloni: I saw that you said that you wanted to
be a commando as a kid. When did that idea enter your mind?

Willink: I can’t even remember when it entered
because it seemed like it was always there. I remember when I was
a little kid, I collected little Army soldiers, little toy
plastic soldiers, the miniature ones.

Feloni: The little green ones?

Willink: Well, there are smaller ones. These
were more detailed. Like the generic green one you get from the
dollar store are one thing — I got these higher speed ones that
had actually military units, historical units. And one of the
historical units that I had was the British commandos, and so
they had little Zodiac boats and
little kayaks. I thought to myself, “Well, that’s awesome.” They
had grappling hooks to throw up cliffs. And so I had these little
figures, and I always thought some kind of waterborne commando
was what I wanted to be. And eventually I figured out that the
SEAL Teams was sort of the American version of the waterborne
commando, so that’s what I ended up joining.

Feloni: You were just a little kid. How old?

Willink: Six, 8, 10 — very young. I mean, I
would burn the end of a cork and paint my face black and beg for
old camouflage, Army-Navy gear, and wear it around ever since I
can remember.

Feloni: Did you have any military in your

Willink: My grandfather was an officer in the
Army for 20 years.

Feloni: Did you feel like there was something in
your personality that gravitated you toward this?

Willink: I’m not sure what the specific
characteristic would be that drove me in that direction, but I
wanted to be some kind of fighter. I wanted to fight. I know
there should be some deep philosophical reason, but the reason is
— I guess there’s some people who say, “I want to be a
businessman,” and there are some people who say, “I want to be a
rock star,” and there are some people who say, “I want to be a
car mechanic,” and I wanted to be a machine gunner in a SEAL
platoon, you know? That’s what I wanted to be.

Feloni: Just a calling.

Willink: Yeah.

jocko willink
Navy SEAL Task Unit Bruiser commander Jocko

Courtesy of Jocko

Feloni: I remember in one of your podcasts you
had said something that the types of guys who go toward the
SEALs, they might end up in trouble if they hadn’t ended up in
the military. What did you mean by that?

Willink: I mean exactly what I said! You think
about the job that you’re getting into, right? You’re going to be
risking your life; you’re going to be shooting guns; your job is
to kill people. Let’s not forget that, because no one wants to
talk about that, but your job is to kill people. And your job is
to take the risk of being killed. So what kind of person does
that? What kind of person says, “Oh yeah, that sounds like a good
time to me”? Well, there are people who decide that they’re going
to do that and they become criminals. So there’s some element of
your personality that has to be OK with that kind of thing if
you’re going to go in the SEAL Teams.

Feloni: Does that become a problem as you’re
adjusting in the military? Do you have to tamper some impulses
down? How do you get that out?

Willink: Oh yeah, for sure. SEALs get in trouble
all the time. Yeah, SEALs cause all kinds of problems because
they’ve got that high-level of aggression and testosterone, and
you’re 22 years old. Yeah, we constantly have to rein guys in.
And those are the kind of guys you want. There’s nothing wrong
with those guys. But, you know, they’re born to do something.

Feloni: Were you like that yourself?

Willink: Yeah.

Feloni: What were you like when you first
entered the Navy?

Willink: I joined when I was 18 years old. And
what was I like? Yeah, I was like that.

Feloni: When you’re saying, “Getting into
trouble,” like what?

Willink: Oh, guys would get in fights, bar
fights, DUIs, and trouble with women, just every kind of problem
that you can imagine for a 20- to 25-year-old male human. That’s
what you see. And you know, as I continued to grow up in the SEAL
Teams and I became responsible for these guys, you’d see the same
stuff and you’d say to yourself, “OK, well, I know what this
kid’s doing and I’ve got to steer him in the right direction.”

Feloni: How did you learn that yourself? Did you
have people intervene?

Willink: No, you just get older, you know? I
just grew up. And I mean, sure people would say stuff along the
way, but nothing that was so impactful, nothing that was remotely
as impactful as just getting older. You start to see, well, “What
do I want to do? And where do I want to go?” And you need to put
yourself on the right path.

Feloni: How old were you when you went to BUD/S
SEAL training?

Willink: Nineteen.

Feloni: What was that experience like?

Willink: It’s fun. Everyone makes a big deal
about it, the big SEAL training. It’s push-ups, pull-ups, dips,
ropes, climbs, swims, and runs. And you don’t sleep a lot. You
are exhausted and people do get sick. There’s an 80% attrition
rate, so I’m not saying BUD/S is easy. It’s not easy, and it
wasn’t easy for me, but it’s not some mystical, life-changing
experience, I can tell you that much. I mean, maybe for some
people it is. It wasn’t for me. It’s, like, “Yeah, we’re going to
be cold, wet, miserable, and we’re going to keep going. Next
question.” It’s no big deal.

Feloni: So do you know that outsiders kind of
have this warped concept of what it actually is?

Willink: Yeah, well they also think that they
train you in some way to handle tough situations, but the fact of
the matter is they don’t train you at all. There’s very limited
amount of training in basic SEAL training. And they don’t say,
“OK, listen. When you start to get to a point in your mind where
you’re feeling tired, what you need to do is calm your breath,
relax your inner mindset.” They don’t say that to you. They’re,
like, “If you don’t like it, quit.” And so a lot of people quit,
and other people don’t quit. There’s the big lesson: Don’t

jocko willink
left, crouches on a roof during the 2006 Battle of Ramadi in

Courtesy of Todd

Feloni: At what point in your SEAL career did
you realize that you wanted to be a leader?

Willink: Probably in my second SEAL platoon. It
was actually an interesting situation. We had a mutiny. The
officer in charge of the platoon was a tyrannical leader, and he
wasn’t very experienced and he wasn’t very confident. He made up
for that by being tyrannical. And we rebelled against him and
went before our commanding officer and said, “We don’t want to
work for this guy.” Which is amazing, right? You don’t hear about
very much of this happening. But it’s also something that you
deal with in the SEAL Teams. It’s something that you deal with in
the military.

If you’re a bad leader, you’re not going to be able to maintain
that leadership position. And so we rebelled against our leader,
and then he got fired. Then the new leader who came to take his
place was this extremely experienced, extremely capable,
extremely intelligent guy who’s also extremely humble and great
to work for. And all of us just aspired to make him happy and
make him proud and make him look good.

When I saw that difference between those two leaders, I said to
myself, “Wow, that’s important, and I need to pay attention to
that.” And that was what sort of got me thinking about moving to
the officers’ side and becoming a leader in the SEAL Teams.

Feloni: So that’s kind of a misconception that a
lot of people in the public have that, “If you’re in the
military, you’re just taking orders unquestioningly. You just do
whatever you’re told.”

Willink: Yeah, that’s complete fallacy.

Feloni: So you learned at just 22 that if you’re
a bad leader, people just aren’t going to listen to you?

Willink: Yeah, absolutely. Now, can you make it
work for a little while? Yeah. And that bad leader that we had,
we did what he said. He said, “We’re going to do this like that,”
and we went, “That doesn’t make sense.” He said, “Do it anyways.”
“OK.” But that only lasts so long. So that’s another thing that
in leadership positions, sometimes people feel like they need to
force people to do things. And it’ll work once. It’ll work twice.
But it doesn’t work forever, and it actually doesn’t work as
effectively even right away as someone else saying, “Hey, here’s
how I think we should do it.” “OK, well, I like your plan. Go
ahead and do it.”

Feloni: How did you rise through the ranks in
the SEALs?

Willink: Well, after that I got picked up for a
commissioning program. There’s two different sides to being a
person in the military. There’s being an enlisted guy and being
an officer. The basic separation is, officers go to college and
enlisted guys don’t. And so I enlisted right out of high school
and then I got picked up for an officer program. Once I did, I
went to officer candidate school down in Pensacola, Florida. From
there, I went to SEAL Team 2, and I was an officer. And then I
went to college after that, and then went back to SEAL Teams

Feloni: And then when did you end up leading
Task Unit Bruiser?

Willink: That was after I deployed to Iraq as a
platoon commander, and I came back from that, and then I ended up
as the commander of Task Unit Bruiser.

Feloni: Task Unit Bruiser, this was the most
highly decorated US Special Operations Unit of the Iraq War. It
included Chris Kyle of “American Sniper.” You created this
culture that you called “extreme ownership.” That’s also the
title of your first book. What does that mean and how did you go
about creating this culture?

Willink: Well, it means don’t make any excuses
and don’t blame anybody else.

I can give thousands of examples illustrating that concept. The
one that I started off with in the book “Extreme Ownership” is
the most extreme example of extreme ownership because there was a
horrible situation that happened on the battlefield. There was a
blue-on-blue, fratricide. So we had friendly forces, friendly
Iraqi forces, fighting against us, fighting against a SEAL
element on the battlefield. And an Iraqi soldier got killed,
several Iraqi soldiers got wounded, and one of my SEALs got
wounded. And again, this is fighting against each other.

When we came back, of course, people are pointing fingers because
this is the most horrible thing that can happen in combat, in my
opinion: friendly-fire death. People are pointing fingers at each
other and blaming each other, and I came back and said, “This is
my fault. This is my fault because I’m the person in charge, and
I will take responsibility, and here’s what we’re going to do to
fix it.” That’s another piece that people now miss out on. You
can’t just say, “This is my fault” and then everyone claps their
hands. No, you have to say, “This is my fault. This is what
happened, and this is what I’m going to do to fix it.”

Feloni: Now, was your inspiration for coming to
these conclusions based on that commander that you had when you
were 22?

Willink: It was based on that. That was sort of
what opened my eyes, but once my eyes were opened and you start
looking around all the time, you see it all the time. You see up
and down the chain of command.

You see some young kid, for instance, that gets in trouble. I
talked about kids getting in trouble. Some kid gets a DUI, and
you bring him into the office, and he says, “Well, you know I
wasn’t supposed to be the designated driver. Mike was, but he
started drinking and I was the more sober one, so it’s really his
fault.” And you go, “No. You’re the idiot who drank and drove,
and that’s why you’re going to pay for this.” You see it up and
down the chain of command.

And you see it up the chain of command, too, where something goes
wrong or there’s a problem and the leader says, “Oh, well it’s
because my team member did this.” Well, who’s in charge of your
team member? You are! So you’re responsible for your team
member’s actions. Own it. And if you own it, you fix it. If you
don’t own it, you won’t ever fix it.

jocko willink and leif babin
and Charlie Platoon leader Leif Babin.

Courtesy of Jocko Willink and Leif

Feloni: What was it like the day that you
officially retired from the SEALs?

Willink: I literally gave my retirement speech
and went back to the team area where I had spent 18 out of 20
years of my adult life and packed up my locker, put my gear in my
van, and drove home. That was it. It’s definitely an interesting
feeling. I don’t know how else to describe it because it’s not
like I was upset or sad or happy. I just knew that I was moving

Feloni: So you weren’t sad about this?

Willink: I was definitely bummed. I mean,
there’s no better job in the world. It’s literally the best job
in the world. And the guys you work with are awesome, and when
you leave, you’re not there for the guys anymore. That’s the
hardest thing. The hardest thing of all of it is knowing that the
guys are going to continue. Guys are going on deployment, the
guys are going to go back on the battlefield and you won’t be
doing anything to help them. That’s the hard part. Other than
that, you know, I did 20 years and I had to go do other things.

Feloni: When you decided to found the leadership
consulting firm Echelon Front with Leif Babin, one of your
platoon leaders, what went behind that decision?

Willink: What we realized over time was, as we
started talking to people in the civilian sector, they had
problems with leadership. Significant problems in every different
arena, in every different industry, every different kind of
company. And the things that we had learned on the battlefield
and from training leaders in the SEAL teams were the solutions to
the problems that they were having.

The first CEO I sat down and talked to, I was asking what kind of
issues he was having and he was talking about how he has this
division and that department and they don’t communicate. They
don’t work together. And I said, “Oh, they don’t cover and move
for each other.” And he was, like, “What’s that?” And I explained
cover and move to him — it’s a gun-fighting tactic that you use
on the battlefield — and he said, “Yes, that’s what we need to
do.” That was one of those moments where I said, “This is totally
applicable across the board.” And every time I talked to a leader
about what kind of issues they were having, it’d be stuff that
we’d already seen inside a SEAL platoon over and over and over
again. The good thing is not only did we know what the problems
were, we knew what the solutions were, too. And so that’s why the
business was able to grow so quickly.

Feloni: And if this was something that you
weren’t planning on doing once you retired from the SEALs, what
were you thinking of doing?

Willink: I was going to surf, do jiujitsu, work
out, hang out with my wife and kids. Yeah. That didn’t happen. I
mean, I still surf, do jiujitsu, and hang out with my kids as
much as I can, but it’s definitely been a chapter that I wasn’t
expecting to write.

Feloni: When you did finally retire then, was it
weird adjusting back to home life?

Willink: You know, I don’t know — I guess the
way my mind works or whatever, it’s, like, “OK, new mission is go
do this.” And so I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on what the
past was and I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I
can’t change it. It’s happened. I can’t get it back. It’s gone.
So I just focus on what I can do today.

Feloni: Are there some things from your service
that you can’t shake? For example, you still wake up at 4:30 in
the morning to go work out. You’ll go on these long fasts. You
work out really hard. What was it about your time in the SEALs
that you wanted to keep this habits up?

Willink: They’re good habits.

Feloni: Well, you don’t have to wake up at 4:30

Willink: Why would you not wake up at 4:30?

Feloni: Well, what does this bring to you?

Willink: Waking up early? You just get a jump on
a day. And it doesn’t feel good at 4:30 when you get up, but by
the time 7:00 rolls around and you’ve already worked out, and
you’ve already gotten some work done, and you’ve got some time to
say goodbye to your kids before they go to school, it’s
infinitely better than sleeping in until 6:45, and you get out of
bed and now you missed your kids going to school or whatever.
You’re not prepared for the day. It’s awful. So it’s a good

jocko willinkCourtesy of Jocko Willink

Feloni: So the discipline of the SEALs — it’s
impossible to leave?

Willink: No, it’s possible to leave. There are
retired SEALs all over the place who are undisciplined. They’ve
moved on and they don’t care about that anymore. It’s fine. I
don’t have anything against it. I don’t judge other people on
what they’re doing. They’re probably stoked to sleep in and hang
out with their kids and eat breakfast in bed. That’s fine. I
don’t have anything against that. But for me, I want to get up
and go.

Feloni: Your work now with Echelon Front and
with the podcast, do you take the same discipline that you had in
the SEALs to this?

Willink: Yeah, very much so. And with Echelon
Front, we’re basically slowly bringing back together Task Unit
Bruiser. Our mindset is the same. the same mindset that we had in
Ramadi. And with the podcast, same thing. It’s a privilege to be
able to do that. I don’t take it lightly, you know? Just like I
didn’t take my old job lightly. I don’t take this lightly. It’s a
burden, and I accept the burden, and I enjoy the burden.

Feloni: Is that something that you always want
to have? Like you enjoy having a burden? You need that to drive

Willink: I think so, and I think most people
need that. I think it’s healthy to have some kind of a struggle
that you’re going against. Could that be overwhelming? Yes, it
can be. And people are faced with much greater struggles and
burdens than I face in my life, but I think it is healthy to have
some level of, whether it’s a struggle or whether it’s a goal or
whether it’s something that you’re driving toward, I think it’s
good to have things like that in your life. And I definitely will
do better when I’m pushed. If there’s no one that’s pushing me,
then I’ll push myself.

Feloni: A couple years ago, there was this SEAL,
Lt. Forrest Crowell, who wrote a paper. It was getting passed
around, and he called it “Navy
SEALs Gone Wild
.” And he said, “The raising of Navy SEALs to
celebrity status through media exploitation and publicity stunts
has corrupted the culture of the SEAL community by incentivizing
narcissistic and profit-oriented behavior.” And he said that this
would erode military effectiveness. He was just very critical of
having celebrities from the Navy SEALs. Do you feel like you fell
into what he was criticizing?

Willink: Well, it was an interesting point that
came out. Of course the paper that got written by the guy, it was
on the front page of all these newspapers, and it was a very
challenging topic because there are multiple sides to it and
there are multiple ways to look at it.

When Leif and I wrote “Extreme Ownership,” it’s like we went from
being “one of us” to being “one of them” because we wrote a book,
and no matter how much you say, “Hey, this isn’t about me” and no
matter how much the book says, “Well, we’re doing this so we can
share lessons learned,” it doesn’t matter. You’re still writing a
300-page book about yourself and there’s no way to put lipstick
on that pig. That is what it is. At the same time, for me,
getting that story out there was important.

Also, there’s a real line, I think, with this type of behavior.
If you try to represent yourself as something you weren’t, that’s
very problematic inside the SEAL community. If you try to
represent yourself like you were this super stud and you were the
best ever and that’s your attitude, the guys in the SEAL teams
will know it and they will call you out on it and you will be
ostracized from the community. If you represent yourself as what
you actually were and you don’t expand or try to make yourself
look better than you were, then guys look at you and say, “Yeah,
you told the truth about what happened.” And so I think there’s
kind of a line in my mind. I think that shows a level of humility
one way or another. Either you’re out there just trying to say,
“Hey, look at me,” or you’re out there saying, “Hey, here’s some

I think anyone that read “Extreme Ownership” would say, “Well,
this was a book that was not meant to make these guys look good.”
In fact, the book was about not things we did that were great; it
was about mistakes that we made. It was lessons we learned. We
didn’t learn lessons from doing great things. We learned lessons
from making mistakes. So I think that sort of honest talk about
what the experience is like is considered to be in a better
light. Now, the bottom line is, though, you’re still talking
about your old job and there are some guys that are not going to
like that. That’s the way it is. And when I was in, I was one of
those guys, too. That’s the way it is.

Feloni: So you would have been one of the guys
criticizing the SEAL celebrities?

Willink: Yeah. And again, it goes back to what I
already said. If it was a guy who was telling the truth about
what he experienced in his time and didn’t glorify himself, well
then, I get it and I want to know those stories and I want those
stories to be passed on. So I think, like I said, if a SEAL comes
out, or a military person comes out, and they don’t glorify what
they did, they talk about what they did in a truthful and
meaningful way, I think that’s acceptable. I think if someone is
out there trying to glorify themselves, well, then that’s going
to be problematic for sure.

jocko willink
Willink addresses an audience at a leadership


Feloni: Your podcast and books are very popular.
You have bestsellers. Your podcast’s always in the top of the
charts. Are you conscious of your own ego as you get more of a
spotlight on you?

Willink: Well, there’s a song by the White
Stripes, and it’s called “Little Room.” It basically says, “Hey,
we’re sitting in a little room and we’re working on something
good. And if it’s really good, we might need a bigger room. And
when we get to the bigger room, we’ve got to remember how we
started in that little room.” That’s the way I think about it all
the time. I’m not sitting here thinking that I’m doing anything
great. I’m just, again, I’m just doing what I’m doing. I could
wake up tomorrow and people could be saying, “Hey, we don’t want
to hear you anymore.” And I’d say, “That’s cool, because I’m
doing it because I like doing it and I’m learning a lot from it
myself. I appreciate that you did listen. I’m glad you found
something better. What is it, so I can listen to it, too?”

Feloni: As you’re building out your brand, what
are you thinking of when you’re building a community around your

Willink: In the same way that I’m doing what I’m
doing, the products that I’m making are products that I use and
products that I need. It’s a great platform because now I can
make things that I really want and that I really use. It’s not
like a calculated thing of, “Hey, let’s do a market test and A,
B, C, which one of these is doing the best?” I don’t do that at
all. I do no market research. I simply do what I want to do and
what I think is effective. Why do people like it? Because of the
things I just said. Because I know that these things work. We’re
making jiujitsu gear and athletic apparel in America, by American
hands, with American materials, 100%, without compromise. That’s
awesome. No one else is doing that. So when we’re doing that,
people like it. Same thing with the supplements. When I can sit
there and create the supplements exactly the way I want them,
well, then, guess what? I want something that’s effective. So
when people try them, they go, “Wow. This is effective,” and they
start using it. It’s just me living and creating things that I
already use, and I guess that strikes a chord with people.

Feloni: Do you think that some of your followers
almost see you as a superhero, kind of taking this whole SEAL

Willink: I certainly would hope not. People
shouldn’t think that I’m a superhero at all because I’m not.
Believe me, I’m an average human, maybe slightly above in some
areas and slightly below in others. But I’m a pretty average guy.
And in jiujitsu, oh yeah, I get beat by my training partners
sometimes, and that’s the way it is. And guess what? jiujitsu
works. If somebody gets you in an arm lock, you can either tap or
they break your arm. So the choice is yours. And I’m here to
train and not be in a cast. I think if anyone listens to me for
any amount of time, they’ll realize that I’m no superhero for
sure, of any kind.

Feloni: And when you’ve done some business
consulting, have you ever had someone who was maybe working with
you and Leif and maybe they were too gung ho about things? They
thought that, “Oh, Navy SEALs were going to be overly

Willink: Oh, for sure. One of the early clients
that I worked with, he said, “You know, I can’t wait until you
come here and whip my people into shape.” I said, “Well, if you
want someone to whip your people into shape, you should hire
someone else, because I’m not going to whip anyone into shape.”
If you want people to do things, you don’t whip them. You ended
up with a beaten dog, and a beaten dog is useless. Or you’ll get
a rebellion. The people that you’re beating, the slaves, will
rebel against you and kill you.

So yeah, like I said, I can whip you and get you to do something
right now. I can get you to clean this floor if I’m in charge of
you and I threaten you. But as soon as you leave or as soon as I
walk away, you’re sabotaging everything about my plan. That is
not a good situation to put yourself in.

So yeah, some people think that. I think they think less of it
now, but actually, we have a new book coming out, Leif and I do.
And I open up with this: One of the problems with “Extreme
Ownership” is the title because the title uses the word
“extreme.” And there are very few times that leaders should
actually be acting extreme. They should, more often, be
balanced. And that’s what the book, “The Dichotomy of
Leadership,” is about because you have to balance these various
dichotomies, and there are an infinite number of them in being a

We just talked about multiple examples of someone being too hard
on his troops, but you can also have someone that’s too soft on
their troops. And the troops say, “We’re not going to clean this
floor. We’ll do it later. We’ll do it tomorrow.” And they leave.
And so that leader is not effective, either. You have to balance
the dichotomy of these leadership styles and end up somewhere in
the middle and be balanced. People aren’t used to that. People
don’t think about that, but that’s why we had to write the book.

Feloni: How do you define success?

Willink: I don’t think any person can define
success because I think it all depends on what you want
individually. How do you feel in the morning when you wake up? Do
you feel like you’re on the right path? Or do you feel like
you’re off the path? Do you feel like you’re on the slippery
slope? And you know what you should do every day. Do you do them?
If you’re doing them, then you’re being successful. And if you’re
doing them daily and you continue down that path, you’ll end up
with that success, whatever that definition of success is that
you envision.

leif babin jocko willink
and Willink in Ramadi in 2006.


Feloni: What is your path?

Willink: It’s what I do every day. It’s what I
do every day. It’s working hard. I have five-year goals and
10-year goals. But I’ll tell you this: They are also very, very
flexible goals because two years ago I didn’t have a podcast.
Three years ago I didn’t have a book. We’ve only just merged with
Origin, the jiujitsu company, and started making our own
supplements. That’s all within the last six months and it’s been
going crazy. So, of all the irons I have in the fire, and I’ve
got a lot of them in there, I don’t know which one I’m going to
pull out and ignite and what it’s going to do when it ignites.

So just like being in combat, my mind is open. I’m not sticking,
I’m not hanging on to one plan. I’m not hanging on to a five-year
plan. I’ll tell you broadly what I want to do. What I broadly
want to do? Hey, I want a bunch of money. I want to be able to do
whatever I want. I mean, that’s kind of normal, right? I want to
be able to take care of my family. That’s great. I want to be
able to take care of my friends. That’s awesome. Those are clear,
real simple, obvious goals that I think many people have. Now,
you can say that, “Well, my goal is to be happy.” Well, that’s
cool. I want to be happy, too. The things that make me happy are
the things that I do every day, is being on the path every day.
That brings me happiness.

Feloni: What advice would you give to someone
who wants to have a career like yours? Not necessarily military,
but just having leadership and rising through the ranks leading

Willink: Well, stay humble, for one. But I think
it’s really important to do something that you enjoy. I loved
being in the SEAL Teams. It wasn’t even work. It was just
activities with my friends, that’s what it was. It was that
awesome. Same thing now. What I do right now working with
companies, it’s not work. I completely enjoy it. I don’t like
traveling. That’s the only part that seems like work is getting
on an airplane. But B.B. King said, “I get paid to travel and I
play for free.” That’s kind of what I feel like. You pay me to
travel, but when I show up, I’m there. I enjoy it.

Same thing with the podcast. I don’t consider it work to read and
learn and be able to share a story with millions of people.
That’s awesome. And you know what’s great? I meet people in every
industry and there’s people in every different kind of industry
that are absolutely passionate and fanatical about their
industry. And those people that love what they’re doing, they’re

People that don’t love what they’re doing, that don’t like what
they’re doing, they have problems. They’re not enjoying it,
they’re not putting in the extra hours, they’re not being
creative in trying to find new solutions. So when you love
something and you’re passionate about it, you put the extra
effort into it naturally, you try and get creative with it
naturally, and you end up more successful naturally because it’s
something that you care about.

Feloni: Thank you, Jocko.

Willink: No problem.

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