Jocko Willink spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy SEALs, rising through the ranks to a become a highly decorated commander. In his new book, Leadership Strategy and Tactics, Willink has written a field manual for leaders in the business world.
The book, published on Tuesday, covers a variety of strategies that have been tested and proven on the battlefield. One section focuses on a fundamental tool that all leaders need to master--communication skills.
Regardless of the field you're in, following these strategies will turn you into a leader people want to follow.
Keep everyone on the team informed.
For SEALs, the primary mode of transportation is foot. Soldiers are weighed down with up to 70 pounds of gear as they navigate steep and unforgiving terrain. The point man leads the way. He's followed by the patrol leader, radioman, first machine gunner, medic, another machine gunner, assistant patrol leader, and rear security. Each person has a job.
The point man is up front and reading maps. He knows where he's going and where the team should go. But communication can easily break apart down the line. "Because I had walked all the different positions, I realize that the farther back in the patrol you were, the less you knew," says Willink.
When Willink became a platoon commander, he made it his mission to ensure that everyone in the patrol knew exactly what was happening. "Troops that know what is happening remain engaged, prepared, and operationally capable of doing their jobs with efficiency and high morale."
Your job as a leader is to keep everyone on the team focused on the road ahead. Everyone in the organization must know the objective.
Get ahead of rumors.
Willink recommends that leaders get ahead of rumors before they spin out of control.
"Need to lay some people off? Explain why. Have to discontinue a product? Tell the troops why. Shutting down an office? Communicate the reason."
I once met an award-winning principal who said his biggest communication challenge--and the one he worked to overcome--was to get ahead of rumors. If he wasn't the first one to clearly explain a new policy, word would begin to spread among parents on the school grounds before the final bell.
Rumors start in an instant, spread quickly, and are often wrong. Stay one step ahead.
Communicate the mission clearly.
When you do explain a new policy, goal or idea, "make your guidance to the troops simple, clear, and concise."
During one mission early in his career, Willink says the rules of engagement (when and how to engage the enemy) were very complex and difficult to understand. He was handed documents that were several pages long and read like legal contracts. Later, as a leader and trainer, Willink "translated the rules of engagement for my team into simple language that could be more easily understood."
Everyone on the team needs to understand your vision and goals. The best way to make sure they do is to communicate through as many channels as possible: speaking, writing, emails, video, and face-to-face conversations. There's no such thing as over-communicating when it comes to your company's mission.
And if you want to make sure a listener really grasps the message, have that person repeat it back to you.
Consider your listener's perspective.
"You have to explain why a mission is important not just strategically [for the country or company] but how it impacts the frontline troops," writes Willink. "No matter what the mission or goal, the troops need to understand how it will positively impact them."
For example, Willink was working with a CEO who announced that his company had turned a profit for the first time in two years. When he delivered his presentation, the CEO focused on the how--cutting expenses, reducing headcount, etc. The CEO was surprised that employees didn't share his enthusiasm. "It was nothing but good news," he told Willink.
Willink reminded the CEO that good news was his perspective. The front line employees saw it differently. If the CEO had framed the message from their perspective, it would have sounded like this:
"We were profitable for the first time in two years. What this means is we can put more money back into advertising." More advertising leads to more leads, more customers, more sales, "and long-term job security and more opportunity for everyone in this room."
Before you draft your message, shift your perspective to that of your listener.
I read 50 to 75 nonfiction books a year. When it comes to communication skills, few authors have anything new to offer. Willink's book is different. His communication strategies are worth learning and adopting.