Ex-Navy SEAL Jocko Willink: Good leadership is a campaign -- It's a fight, a struggle and a daily test

I recently completed a day-long leadership workshop with a client. Before my closing remarks, I went around the room and asked for any good take-aways or final thoughts. Overall, people were excited. One knew she had to develop better relationships with her peers. Another mentioned that he got too emotional and made bad decisions. Yet another said he always complicated plans and needed to improve his ability to simplify.

Continue Reading Below

Then one of the executives sighed loudly and mumbled, “This is like a 'Rocky' movie!”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“Well, this feels when you watch a 'Rocky' movie. When it’s over, you want to run, you want to train — you want to get some gloves and become a boxer, for crying out loud!” he joked, earning some laughter from the crowd.

“But a few days later, you are back in the same rut, eating cookies and sitting on the couch. That’s what this feels like. Right now, everyone is all excited about leadership. Everyone is talking about what they can improve. But in a few days, once everyone is inundated with emails and conference calls and customer complaints and all the other drama that goes on here, we will all slide back to our old selves. Just like when you watch a 'Rocky' movie.”

Good leadership is not an inoculation that you get and then you magically become a good leader. Being a good leader is a campaign—it’s a fight, a struggle, a daily test that you have to work at every day.

I thought about that statement for a moment.

Then I nodded my head and said, “You know what? You are right. You are exactly right. Good leadership is not an inoculation that you get and then you magically become a good leader. Being a good leader is a campaign — it’s a fight, a struggle, a daily test that you have to work at every day. Does anyone think you become a good boxer after watching a 'Rocky' movie?” I asked the group.

They chuckled and shook their heads.

GET FOX BUSINESS ON THE GO BY CLICKING HERE

“Of course not. You have to hit the heavy bag. You have to do your road work. You’ve got to put in the time shadowboxing and sparing. That is how you get good. And it’s the same thing with leadership. You have to work at it. You have to pay attention to it. You have to assess your performance every day and see what you can do better and where you can improve. That’s what you need to do."

I continued, "Leadership is the most important factor in the success of any organization. But leadership is not easy. Study it. Read about it. Ask for feedback. Own your mistakes. Make incremental improvements in yourself as a leader. And if you do that, you will become a better leader for you, for the people on your team, and for this company. And — in the long run, just like Rocky, you and your team will win.”

I wrapped up the training session and sent them on their way — not with a simple shot of motivation that would last a few days, but with the realization that good leadership requires a long-lasting campaign to sharpen leadership skills and that the work of improving as a leader is never done.

Jocko Willink is a retired Navy SEAL Officer, author of “Extreme Ownership,” “Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual,” “The Dichotomy of Leadership,” “Mikey and the Dragons,” and the “Way of the Warrior Kid” series, and hosts the top-rated podcast: “Jocko Podcast.” He is the CEO of Echelon Front, the world’s premier leadership consultancy. Twitter: @jockowillink; Instagram: @jockowillink; Facebook: @jockowillink.