How To Balance Opposing Values: One Big Idea from “The Dichotomy of Leadership” by Navy SEALs, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

February 9, 2020
Traditional computers, like the one you’re using to read this now, run their calculations on the binary system using 1’s and 0’s.

Quantum Computing, or the holy grail of computer science, is said to be almost infinitely more powerful than traditional computers because it runs its calculations somewhere in the gray area between 1 and 0.


Quantum Computer ^

I’m not going to pretend like I understand the in’s and out’s of computer science, but from a conceptual level…

What does this say about a deeper, more universal truth?

On a base level, we all understand the universal struggle between good and evil. Almost every book, movie, TV show, religious book, etc. pits these two forces against each other.

And in the really good stories… the good guys almost never reach their goal without painfully understanding or getting seduced by the “dark side.”

But what about when you’re trying to balance two good values at the same time?

How can you know when to lead and mentor vs. when to follow and learn?

When should you trust your feelings instead of trusting the data?

These are some of the core questions that make up “The Dichotomy of Leadership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

In this book, Jocko and Leif talk about their experiences as Navy SEAL leaders in the Iraq war, the lessons they learned, and how those lessons can be applied to life and business.

In almost every situation they faced, whether it was during training or in live combat, they found themselves counterintuitively trying to balance two values that, each on their own, are positive and good.

The final sentence in the book:

“…if you can think and act with balance, you will achieve the goal of every leader and every team: Victory.”

Leif was leading a team of troops as they were about to breach through the door of a building in Ramadi, Iraq.

His whole team was lined up against the wall and, out of nowhere, they heard the YAK YAK YAK YAK booming of an AK-47 machine gun.

His first reaction was that enemies from inside the building were firing at his team.

For a moment, he almost ordered his lead soldier to toss a grenade inside to neutralize the threat.

That was – until he noticed the shocked face of one of his Iraqi troops and some fresh, smoking holes in the dirt near his feet.

In this moment, he realized the soldier had accidentally pulled the trigger on his gun, firing bullets into the ground.

Had they tossed a grenade inside, they would have opened the door to find the bodies of an innocent Iraqi family…

This story, Leif says, illustrates the delicate dance between hardcore focus on the task at hand and the necessary mental detachment needed to understand your overall mission.

As a leader, you can’t focus so intensely that you get tunnel vision and lose sight of the big picture.

The book reveals these truths in the concrete and dramatic way that the life/death scenarios of combat show so well.

But, in life and business, these “battles” are always underneath the surface of every decision that entrepreneurs make.

The simple awareness of the gray area is the first step towards progress.

This is important because as entrepreneurs and Navy SEALs both know, we don’t have the luxury of a 1 or a 0.

It’s by operating somewhere in between that will get us closer to where we want to go.

Buy the book here:

Watch the Jocko Podcast about the book here:

See Jocko’s team’s leadership consulting company here:

© 2020 – Michael J. McGovern