Here at Zion & Zion, we’re constantly learning. Whether we travel to national conferences, international conferences, or bring speakers into our office for an agency-wide training, we’re continually furthering our knowledge. Over the past few years, the entire Zion & Zion team has had the pleasure to work with and learn from decorated, retired Navy SEAL Lieutenant Commander, Jocko Willink, co-author of the NY Times bestseller, Extreme Ownership, and co-founder of the leadership consulting firm, Echelon Front.
Jocko traveled to our office in Tempe, Arizona to work with our team through several days of workshops and share his experiences in combat, Navy SEAL leadership principles, and how to apply these principles to business. We continue to this day to work with Jocko and the co-founder of Echelon Front, Leif Babin, also a decorated Navy SEAL officer, regularly having them in to work with our entire agency team. Read on to find out how the lessons we have learned over the past few years of work with them have become a part of our culture.
1. Extreme Ownership
On the battlefield, anything can happen. Even the unspeakable: friendly fire. Blue-on-blue, as Jocko puts it, is a mortal sin to the Navy SEALs. When it happened to Jocko’s Task Unit Bruiser in Ramadi, Iraq, it was devastating, and he needed to place the blame somewhere. While there were a multitude of factors that contributed to the upsetting incident, as the leader, Jocko took sole responsibility—he took extreme ownership. This increased the trust his team had for him, and instead of pointing fingers, they were able to dissect the situation and implement new procedures from the lessons that were learned.
This principle of extreme ownership applies to business too. At Zion & Zion, we have a flat management structure. There are no managers and no managers’ managers; we’re all responsible for ourselves and our work. Which makes this principle all the more significant. When we take on a project as an agency, we all have an important job to do. Each and every one of us must take complete responsibility over our own roles. Everyone must do their part to ensure we achieve success for our clients. And if you make a mistake, don’t point fingers. Own it, then overcome it.
2. Cover and Move
Cover and move is a common tactic utilized by the Navy SEALs in Jocko’s task unit time and time again. The SEALs cover other troops with sniper overwatch to eliminate threats, so the troops are able to move about the dangerous roads. Within a smaller team, cover and move is employed with some individuals covering, while others are moving, alternating to maneuver safely through the streets. The SEALs support each other and the greater mission, working as a team to accomplish it. As the book puts it, it is “foolishness to not work together.”
As this applies to Zion and Zion, working together is key. We don’t have to act independently or in silos. We can, and should, use the support available to us from our team, whether it’s a smaller team like the PR department, a larger team such as the group that works on a particular client, or the agency as a whole. We utilize the resources we have available—each other. This allows us to work as one cohesive team supporting each other to achieve our best possible performance.
3. Prioritize and Execute
In battle, an array of challenges can present themselves all at once, and as the leader, you must figure out how to handle the complicated situation. Picture this: you’re escaping from a building littered with IEDs (improvised explosive devices), one of your men falls 20 feet to the ground and is likely wounded, the rest of your men escape to a rooftop but are exposed in plain enemy sight. The only way down from this building is blocked by an iron gate. It would be easy to get overwhelmed with all of the problems you need to solve. However, SEAL leaders are trained to take a step back and determine which challenge is the highest priority, and direct their team to attack it; then move on to the next priority. In the aforementioned situation, the first priority is to the secure the SEALs on the roof (so they can engage any enemy threat to themselves and the man on the ground). Once that’s accomplished, the second task is to get the SEALs off the roof and down to the man that had fallen—so the task at hand is to break through the locked iron gate. Next, take a head count to ensure no one is left in the building that is at risk of an IED explosion. Lastly, everyone moves down to recover the wounded man. Mission accomplished.
At Zion & Zion, we don’t encounter any life-or-death situations like the SEALs, but we can be under great pressure to succeed for our company, our clients, and ourselves, and at times we’re presented with multiple challenges simultaneously. When confronted with a big project (or a multitude of projects) we can’t get caught up on small details or try to take on everything at once. We must take a step back, prioritize our to-do list, and take care of each task one at a time, starting with the task that’s the highest urgency or importance to the project. This allows us to focus our energy and attention to achieve the best possible outcome.
4. Check the Ego
Navy SEALs are the best of the best. They have seemingly superhuman strength, can successfully execute complex missions, and can defend against forceful enemy attacks. But they don’t let that give them a big head, especially when they’re working alongside other teams of Army Soldiers and Marines. While it may be easy to get cocky about their skills, they realize they’re not superior to anyone else—they obey the same rules, and work towards the same mission with the other military units. Whether it’s an Army troop providing heavy fire support, Marines helping with a casualty evacuation, SEALs protecting men on the ground with sniper overwatch, or even simply giving advice to each other, supporting one another is the key to success. Realizing that and checking one’s ego is of the upmost importance.
The same goes for agency life. Yeah, Zion & Zion has some pretty awesome people, and we do some pretty amazing work. Which means egos can flare up at times—it’s human nature. However, we know that it’s important to stay humble, have mutual respect for our team members, and support each other in our mission. No task is too small, no project belongs to just one person. We’re always striving to achieve our goals, together. Ain’t nobody got time for egos!
As you can see, Navy SEALs and Zion & Zion employees may have little in common when it comes to their workplaces and job descriptions. However, applying the Navy SEAL principles listed above has changed the way our agency approaches leadership, teamwork, problem solving, and more. Having the mentality of extreme ownership at Zion & Zion is critical to our success, and the success of the work we do for our clients.
Now that you also have these principles at your fingertips, go forth and lead at your organization!