Jocko Willink: Here is the secret weapon of leadership (hint: it will surprise you)

Leaders face challenges every day. Being a leader is demanding and dynamic—especially when it comes to dealing with people up, down, and across the chain of command. Egos, personality conflicts, and individual agendas can all play a role in making leadership a challenge. A leader must contend with problems from personnel every day, such as these:

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  • A subordinate leader has a harsh critique of a new process.
  • One of the troops complains about her immediate superior.
  • A peer makes accusations of failing to support them.
  • The boss has an issue with the way you handled a situation.
  • One of your teams approaches you demanding additional resources.
  • All your direct reports verbally protest a new directive.

These types of situations can be uncomfortable to deal with. Many of them directly assault and offend your precious ego. How dare a subordinate attack my new process? Who does that team think they are to demand more resources? I would like to have seen my boss handle that situation better than I did!

Throughout my career in the military, my work in the civilian sector, and even in dealing with my family, I use my ears exponentially more often then I use my mouth. And I don’t just mean hear the words people are saying to you; no, I mean actually listen to what they have to say.

The minute you allow your ego to be offended you have already lost. So, when you feel frustrated, mad, or aggravated by someone’s opinion, the first thing you should do is put your ego in check. Then, unleash the secret weapon of leadership: LISTEN.

That's right, throughout my career in the military, my work in the civilian sector, and even in dealing with my family, I use my ears exponentially more often then I use my mouth. And I don’t just mean hear the words people are saying to you; no, I mean actually listen to what they have to say. Assume that they have some information you don’t have. Open your mind to the fact that their perspective may reveal some angles you don’t see. Take what they are saying on board and try to mentally apply it to the situation at hand.

If a subordinate leader has a harsh critique of a new process, perhaps the process could use some modifications. If one of the troops complains about her immediate superior, maybe the superior is making bad decisions. If a peer accuses you of not supporting them, listen to them explain how you can do a better job. If the boss has a critique of how you handled a situation, take note of their thoughts and how you can change your actions in the future.

Too often leaders are offended by critiques, complaints, or even suggestions. Instead of listening with an open mind, they dig in and go on the attack. Don’t be that leader. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. Listen, learn, and lead.

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.