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A former Navy SEAL commander has a checklist every new leader should review daily. Here's his best advice for avoiding 'imposter syndrome' and earning respect

Published by Business Insider on Fri, 17 Jan 2020


Jocko Willink is a former Navy SEAL commander turned bestselling author, podcast host, and leadership consultant. His new book is "Leadership Strategy and Tactics."Willink said that a new leader must go into a role with a balance of confidence and humility. It is natural and healthy, he said, to feel nervous and unsure about new responsibilities, but toxic and dangerous to go in feeling entitled.The best way for a new leader to earn respect, he said, is to show respect to each team member and be open to all of their insights.This article is part of our series C-Suite Insider, where we collect the best management lessons from executives and their coaches.Visit BI Prime for more stories.Former Navy SEAL commander Jocko Willink, whose military and post-military careers have both been been defined by bold confidence, is the last person you'd expect to talk about "impostor syndrome." But it's a topic he discussed with Business Insider in an interview about his new book, "Leadership Strategy and Tactics," and he revealed how in many ways, the idea of what makes for good military leaderor a leader in generalis based on a myth of bravado.Willink rose to the top of SEAL Team 3 Task Unit Bruiser, the most highly decorated special operations unit that served in the Iraq War. Since retiring, he and one of the platoon commanders who reported to him, Leif Babin, built a leadership consulting firm called Echelon Front and cowrote two bestselling books. These experiences have taught Willink that great leaders are humble, and it's both normal and healthy to feel unprepared ahead of a new position or major challenge, he said.That myth of excessive confidence as good leadership applies to leaders of all experience levels, but it's a myth that can be especially harmful to new leaders. If you've been given a new leadership position, "You want to be humble, you want to listen, you want to take advice from other people," he said. "One of the most liberating things to keep in mind is that you're new to the job. Everybody knows you're new to the job. You can't possibly know everything about how to perform that job and no one really expects you to be able to perform that job perfectly out of the gate."In his book, he shares a checklist he recommends every new leader review daily: be humble, don't act like you know everything, listen, treat people with respect, take ownership of failures and mistakes, pass credit for success up and down the chain, work hard, have integrity, be balanced, be decisive, build relationships, and get the job done.Two new leaders, only one right approachSEAL commanders can give leadership roles suddenly and unexpectedly in platoons, and before he was a commander himself, Willink saw both the right and wrong way to embrace a new position of authority, in nearly identical scenarios.In both cases, a SEAL was elevated from the enlisted ranks to leading petty officer (LPO), which was, at the time, the fourth in command of a platoon. This meant that an enlisted SEAL becoming an LPO was immediately elevated above the peers he was hanging out with minutes before.In the first scenario, the SEAL Team's master chief and their platoon's commanding officer took one of the men into an office to inform him of the promotion. They emerged 30 minutes later and told the platoon they had a new LPO, effective immediately. After the announcement, the new officer took out his notebook and told everyone he was honored to have the new position.Then he broke down a checklist of what the platoon still had left to do that day, and offered guidance on how they needed to prioritize each task and execute it most efficiently. If the plan worked out, they would finish their work early for the day. He asked if anyone had any questions, which he'd be happy to answer. It was simple, and he behaved confidently but respectfully."This guy just came down with his notebook and put out the word," Willink said. "We were happy to have that happen. So that worked really well and he did a great job as a leader."About 18 months later, Willink was in a different platoon when the same situation unfolded. After the master chief's announcement, however, the new LPO gave the impression he felt awkward about suddenly being in charge of his friends. He made a joke along the line of, "Looks like I'm responsible for all the crap now," and gave a list of tasks and deadlines without explanation. That was that. He didn't appear to consider himself a leader yet, and so his teammates didn't, either. In this case, impostor syndrome had hit this SEAL and the new officer responded to that anxiety by belittling the role. That approach can be as harmful as going in cocky, Willink explained, because in both cases, the team is left without someone they can trust.Willink said that this LPO did eventually become a solid leader, but it took a few months of realizing that he was not taking himself or the role seriously enough. "You don't have to jump yourself up onto a pedestal, but you do have to elevate yourself a little bit," he said. "You're now in a leadership position. So lead."Earn respect by showing respectThe SEAL teams aren't any different from most organizations in respect to how young people can be placed in leadership positions over those who have more experience and expertise, or who may be significantly older."When you getting put into a leadership position, regardless of if you're older, younger, more experienced, less experienced, you listen to what people have to say. You form good relationships with people up and down the chain of command. You treat people with respect. If you do that, you're going to end up getting respect back," he said.In all situations, it's about going in humble, aware that all members of your team have valuable insights, and that none of them should be dismissed.Willink said that leadership is a skill that can be honed, and there is only one specific type of person not fit for leadershipthe person who feels entitled. "Because if someone lacks humility, they don't listen to anyone else," he said. "If you think you're the greatest leader in the world, why would you ever listen to anything I have to say'"SEE ALSO:A CEO coach who's worked with Twilio and Etsy says that successful leadership begins with asking yourself fundamental questions ' not mimicking Jeff BezosJoin the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: A former Navy SEAL commander on how to handle stress
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