Become a Better Leader Through Balancing Differences

Leadership training and development in our military takes place on two fronts. First, officers identify, build, and utilize the skills that will allow individuals and teams to effectively and efficiently achieve their goal. Second, officers focus on training methods and techniques that will allow those same individuals and teams to practice effective combat and leadership skills in the fields.

The same types of leadership training and development can also serve leaders in your organization – beginning with you.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

With their first book, Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin set a new standard for leadership, challenging readers to become better leaders, better followers, and better people, in both their professional and personal lives.

Now, in The Dichotomy of LeadershipJocko and Leif dive even deeper into the unchartered and complex waters of a concept first introduced in Extreme Ownership: finding balance between the opposing forces that pull every leader in different directions. Here, Willink and Babin get granular into the nuances that every successful leader must navigate.

Mastering the Dichotomy of Leadership requires understanding when to lead and when to follow; when to aggressively maneuver and when to pause and let things develop; when to detach and let the team run and when to dive into the details and micromanage. In addition, every leader must:

  • Take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission; yet utilize Decentralize Command by giving ownership to their team. 
  • Care deeply about their people and their individual success and livelihoods, yet look out for the good of the overall team and above all accomplish the strategic mission. 
  • Exhibit the most important quality in a leader―humility, but also be willing to speak up and push back against questionable decisions that could hurt the team and the mission.

With examples from the authors’ combat and training experiences in the SEAL teams, and then a demonstration of how each lesson applies to the business world, Willink and Babin clearly explain THE DICHOTOMY OF LEADERSHIPskills that are mission-critical for any leader and any team to achieve their ultimate goal: VICTORY.


The most difficult – and essential – element of leadership requires finding the balance between opposing forces that exist for every leader.

The list of dichotomies is infinite. Because for every positive behavior a leader should have, it is possible to take that behavior to the extreme, where it becomes a negative. Often a leader’s greatest strength can also be his or her greatest weakness. But knowing and understanding that these dichotomies exist is the first part of keeping them from becoming a problem.

A good leader builds powerful, strong relationships with his or her subordinates. But while that leader would do anything for those team members, the leader must recognize there is a job to do. And that job might put the very people the leader cares so much about at risk.

The key is balance, maintaining an equilibrium where your team have the guidance to execute but at the same time freedom to make decisions and lead.

There are limitless dichotomies in leadership, and a leader must carefully balance between these opposite forces. But none are as difficult as this: to care deeply for each individual member of the team, while at the same time accepting the risks necessary to accomplish the mission.

This dichotomy reveals itself in the civilian sector as well as the military. This is one of the most difficult dichotomies to balance, and it can be easy to go too far in either direction. If leaders develop overly close relationships with their people, they may not be willing to make those people do what is necessary to compete a project or a task. They may not have the wherewithal to lay off individuals with who they have relationship even if it is the right move for the good of the company. And some leaders get so close to their people that they don’t want to have hard conversations with them – they don’t want to tell them that they need to improve.

On the other hand, if a leader is too detached from the team, he or she may overwork, overexpose, or otherwise harm its members while achieving no significant value from that sacrifice. The leader may be too quick to fire people to save a buck, thereby developing the reputation of not caring about the team beyond its ability to support the strategic goals.

So leaders must find the balance. They must push hard without pushing too hard. They must drive their team to accomplish the mission without driving them off a cliff.

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, The Dichotomy of Leadership


In order for leaders to find the balance described above, authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin had developed two checklists: one with common symptoms resulting from a leader being too close to a team, and the other which indicates a leader might be too hands-off with his team.

Reproduce each of the two lists below on separate chart tablets, and review them first by yourself. Add to the lists as needed.

Then, bring the sheets into your next team meeting for a general team discussion about this dichotomy of leadership.

Too Close to Your Team

  1. Bold and aggressive action becomes rare.
  2. Creativity grinds to a halt.
  3. Even in an emergency, the team will not mobilize and take action.
  4. The team shows a lack of initiative; members will not take action unless directed.
  5. An overall sense of passivity and failure to react.

Too Far Away from Your Team

  1. Lack of vision in what the team is trying to do and how to do it.
  2. Lack of coordination between individuals on the team and efforts that often compete or interfere with each other.
  3. Initiative oversteps the bounds of authority; individuals and teams carry out actions beyond what they have authorization to do.
  4. The team is focused on the wrong priority mission or pursuit of solutions that are not in keeping with the strategic direction of the team.
  5. There are too many people trying to lead.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 119-2, released May 2019


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<


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