Jocko Willink: Life is All Based On The Decisions That YOU Make. So Live a Good One

I really enjoyed this episode of the Jocko podcast and got a lot out of it. When I am trying to learn I always find it best to write out some notes and then go over them. It makes me focus when I listen. Here are my notes on episode 345.

Video link:

Jocko Podcast 345: Life is All Based On The Decisions That YOU Make. So Live a Good One.



This is the process Jocko uses for making Leadership decisions. It known as the “Extreme Ownership Leadership Loop”. This loop is used more in the conceptual realm than the physical.

It provides framework for making decisions.

All these items are somewhat fluid. Except the first one…


1: Time

This is the number one thing to consider when making a decision. No one can stop the clock. We have influence over our actions, but we have no influence over time. That clock keeps going. Time causes stress, so you should get ahead of it.

This why you should show up early. When you are early nothing can make you panic. Think about going to the airport to catch a flight. If you show up early:

  • Busy car park. No problem
  • Long check in queues. No problem
  • Delays at security. No problem

When you are late, everything seems to go against you. You get all the red lights when you are late. And the lights seem to take forever to change when you are late.

Stay ahead of time. When making a decision, time should be the first thing you assess.

  • How rapidly are things changing?
  • What are the things I can do to buy more time?


2: Cover and Move

When making a decision ask yourself:

  • Am I supporting the team?
  • Does this help my team?
  • Am I putting the team first?

I need to make sure I am not putting myself first and I am not making a decision that will leave someone else in the lurch. If you are making a decision and it is benefitting yourself, there is a huge chance that it is a bad call.

The military term is “supporting distance”. This means if you are supporting another team you have stay within a distance you can give support from.

Sometimes leaders are not being supportive of their team, but they think no can see it. Maybe someone is being left behind. Well that person can see it.

Cover and Move means “am I being supportive to the rest of my team?”. If you’re not, it’s a problem.


3: Keep it Simple

Ask yourself:

  • Will this decision take our current situation and simplify it? If so that is great.
  • Will this decision make our situation more complex? If so , that’s usually not a good decision.


4: Prioritise and Execute

  • Does this decision I am about to make match the priorities we should be working on?
  • Are the priorities I am focused on right now the correct priorities?

Sometimes what you are focused on right now changes and you have to adapt.

Try not to get distracted and keep focused. Also try not to take on too many priorities at once. This goes back to number 1, Time.


5: Decentralised Command

Ask yourself:

  • with this decision I am about to make, can I delegate the action?

The goal is to be not be focused on doing the actions yourself. Because when you are doing things yourself, you cant look up and look out which will impair your ability to lead.

You only want to do the things, that only you can do. Sometimes you have to do the action yourself, and that’s Ok. You just have to make sure you let your team mates know and they need to cover you.

BTW, the things that only you can do, you eventually want to train someone else to be able do those things.

ECHO asks a question about delegating the tasks that suck

If a task sucks, make sure you are getting there and doing some of it yourself. If it sucks, use caution while delegating.  If you are alway running away from the tasks that suck, people will recognise that.


6: Ego

Make sure ego is not driving your decision.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I making this decision based on my ego?
  • Am I making this decision to impose a punishment (even a subconscious punishment) on someone else?
  • Am I forcing this to prove to someone else that my plan was the better plan?
  • Am I driving this decision with my rank  or position?
  • Have I listened to other people with an open mind?

Your ego is smart. It tries to manipulate you to do things.


7: Emotion

Am I making an emotional decision?

  • Am I mad?
  • Am I frustrated?
  • Am I vengeful?
  • Am I guilty?
  • Am I frustrated?

Don’t let your emotions drive the decision.

But you have to calculate the emotions of you team in the decision.


8: Perspective

Try and get as many different perspectives on an idea as you can:

  • Peers
  • Subordinates
  • Superiors
  • Competitors
  • enemies

Ask them, “Hey what does this look like from your perspective?”

The more angles you can see of the problem or target, the better you can understand it.


Go hard against the bias of picking your own plan. If someone else has a viable plan, pick their plan and support them. This will be easier and faster than trying to convince them of your plan. And you may be able to add to their plan to improve it.


9: Mission

  • Does this decision support the mission you are tying to execute?
  • Does is support your overall strategic mission?

Ask yourself:

  • What is our tactical mission?
  • What is our overall mission?
  • Does this decision support them?


10: Leadership Capital

When you ask someone to do something it costs you Leadership Capital.

  • If they don’t want to do it, it costs more (“Hey, do this”)
  • If they want to do it, it costs less (“Hey, do this fun thing”)
  • If they do it on their own accord, its very cheap and maybe even free (“Hey, I wish we had someone do this fun thing”)
  • If you let them do what they want, you might even collect some leadership capital (“Hey, I don’t know what we should do here”, then they come up with the plan and execute it)

Every time you interact with someone there is Leadership Capital being exchanged. We always think we have more leadership capital than we do.

How to earn leadership capital:

  • Giving ownership to someone on a project or task
  • Listening to someone. Give them time to speak and write down what they are saying
  • Getting in the trenches and doing the difficult tasks with the team

What uses up Leadership capital:

  • Not listening or cutting someone off when they are speaking
  • Sitting in the air conditioned office when everyone else is outside doing the difficult task

Leadership capital is the currency to win. Most of the times ideas or plans that you come up with, and someone else comes up with, are very similar and its not worth arguing about. If you force your plan on the other person, it costs you Leadership Capital. If you tell them their plan is great and give them ownership of it, you earn Leadership Capital. This is more important than forcing your plan.

By banking the Leadership Capital,  then when you need to get someone to do something they don’t want to do, they will do it and you still have surplus Leadership Capital. If you have used up all your Leadership Capital forcing your plan, then it will be hard to get them to do what you want.

When making a decision put a lot of weight on how much Leadership Capital this is going to cost you. If its al lot of Leadership Capital, most of the time this is not the right decision.



11: Symptom Vs Root Cause

Last thing to think about, “Am I looking at the symptoms? or am I looking at the root cause?”

Will your solution fix the symptom or the root cause?


Final Thoughts

Don’t get stuck in any of these areas. You need to go through the loop and take action.

Don’t ignore feedback. Don’t lie to yourself. Take a step back and detach, go through the loop of these areas listed.. The solution to the problem is not in the problem. Don’t get wrapped up in the problem itself.

Life is a series of decisions, all day every day. That’s why you need a protocol for making decisions. Maing better decision swill make you a better person and a better leader.

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