What People Teach Us: Jocko Willink, Arguing For Your Point Yet Asking For Balance

Leadership Lesson: To be effective and credible, we should seek to balance what it is we support with conveying both that we understand its limitations, and that there are other considerations to be taken into account.

This piece by retired Navy Seal, management consulting firm founder, bestselling author, and burgeoning podcaster Jocko Willink is an article of defense. In what he writes, Willink stands firmly against an effort to disarm what he firmly believes in, that in which he’s worked in and for which he has probably — and proudly — stood his entire life and career

The source of his frustration is a recent report by the American Psychological Association called “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Men and Boys.”

This quote from the Association explains the gist of the report’s findings and highlights the source of Willink’s gripe: “The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity – marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression – is, on the whole, harmful.” 

Enter Jocko.

Being a retired Navy Seal, in the article Jocko goes on to outline how important those attributes may be for survival and improvement. And that like any other skill or ability, these can only be as effective and responsible as how they are impressed upon and taught to someone, and how they are carried out and lived by that student.

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And I agree with him.

Shouldn’t we think a little deeper about what we say when it comes to dismissing or accepting most things wholesale?

We’re at a dangerous crossroads in society nowadays, where every conversation seems to be all-or-nothing. You’re for something, or you’re completely against it. You’re either with me, or you’re trying to discredit me. You either back me up, or you’re plotting against me.

And be ready to be judged on which side you pick.

Moderation is falling by the wayside.

For example, on TV, do you think it’s common to find a good moderator of issues, one who isn’t blatantly endorsing one side or the other and is trying to get each side to see the other’s logic? If you can name one, they’re probably more the exception than the rule or the norm.

There’s no seeing the case for the other side, or the vulnerability of our own, in most interactions taking place. And of course there is a time and place for debates. This isn’t to say there shouldn’t be. But most general interactions, which should be conversations, seem to unravel strictly to argue and attack, not to convince or at least find common ground.

So every now and then, when you see someone outline their point while calling for balance, you have to admire it.

And that’s what I respect about Jocko’s article. Although he makes his case against the report, he highlights there is always a need for balance, and he goes on the break down what too much of his preferred traits can do to someone and their leadership.

Think about it: Those marks outlined by The American Psychological Association – stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression – can definitely be harmful…in the wrong hands. It’s like guns, alcohol, cars, baseball bats, social media, or, hell, even hot water. Each of those can be dangerous, and even weaponized, based on whose hands it falls into.

We need balance of intent, control, and desire to use them correctly — and safely.

You can’t stay on any course of logic, action, or mission without room for assessment and self-awareness of what you’re doing.

It blows my mind that, in most cases, someone can be completely for or against something, and stand staunchly so. No wonder there are so many problems in the world in which we can’t get out of our own way.

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And like a good number of debates I read about, watch, or listen to, I always try to see both sides of the argument — or at least for a way to try to convince the other side — even if I tend to agree more with one. (Pounding our chest with our own points is not trying to convince; it’s staking a claim.)

But I digress. Back to Jocko.

In addition to his acknowledging a need for balance, I also appreciate that Willink extends the use of these attributes to girls alongside boys. It’s admirable that he extends the power of the conversation topic to another stakeholder or group. (I would have preferred he make more of a case for passing the attributes to girls as well, instead of merely mentioning it in the last paragraph, but I’ll take the mention. That brief conclusion is ripe for a follow-up post.)

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In any case, both these steps demonstrate that he’s self-aware. In the first, he demonstrates there needs to be balance in the power we wield, in whatever form it may take. In the second, he opens up the discussion further, outlining that the attributes go beyond what we believe we understand now — what men are capable of — and that they should also be imparted on girls/women.

Very easily and very quickly, he indicates that it’s important to both find balance for what’s in front of us and consider where else we can take the ideas of the conversation. He’s both making sure there’s moderation and a breaking of the mold.

That’s what we have to do more often in society, at every turn, and with every opportunity we’re afforded: Defend what we must, balance the current conversation while discussing where else we can take it going forward, and build from there.

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