James Altucher Show: Jocko Willink Show Notes (#531)

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In episode 531 of the James Altucher Show, James has Jocko Willink on to discuss leadership strategy and tactics.

Jocko Willink (@jockowillink) is the retired U.S. Navy SEAL Officer who commanded SEAL Team 3’s Task Unit Bruiser in the battle of Ramadi against Iraqi insurgents. He retired from the U.S. Navy after 20 years of service and now runs a Leadership Consulting Company, Echelon Front LLC, and an MMA & Fitness Gym in San Diego, Victory MMA and Fitness. Jocko Willink is the co-host of the Jocko Podcast with Echo Charles and has written books on Leadership and Discipline for adults and kids. His latest book is Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual.

Enjoy the James Altucher Show Jocko Willink show notes covering humility, values, decision making, opportunities, decentralized command, leadership, and more.

Here are the key takeaways from the conversation.


  • When there are two big egos in the room, they start rubbing against each other.
  • Being humble is close to being the most important thing to be a good leader
  • It’s only the people with extreme views that are waging wars on social media
  • The extreme answer is generally not the correct answer for questions
  • Jocko Willink says that Joe Rogan is exactly the same as he is on his podcasts, the Joe Rogan Experience. He is a laid back person who talks the same way he does on his podcasts.
  • James Altucher notices that Jocko Willink has his core values at the center with all his ventures branching out like spokes of the wheel from the center.
  • Jocko Willink looks for demand signals and makes iterative decision making in scaling up any new venture. He now manufactures supplements, jiu-jitsu gis, jeans, and boots.
  • Following a tweet from Trump to buy Greenland, James Altucher did a little research on Greenland and found that Trump is aiming for the natural resources in Greenland while China is interested in it too. So, he opened up a GoFundMe campaign to raise $100 million to get Greenland which was shut down by GoFundMe. It was one of the little experiments of James Altucher from which he learned something new.
  • Pass the credit up and down the chain of command. Meaning, pass the credit to the boss and to the team.
  • People can see right through your acts so you cannot get away with maneuvering all the time.
  • The indirect way of advising or approaching a problem with a person is more effective than being brutally honest all the time.
  • In a decentralized command, the big leader sets up the mission, goal, and the broad result of the strategy being implemented while the subordinate leaders can make decisions on their own to support the big mission.
  • When you’re in a leadership position you don’t want to be looking down and in at your team. You want to be looking up and out for obstacles, new opportunities, etc.
  • Detaching from situations will help in getting the broader picture and enable making good decisions.
  • You have to understand people better to be a good leader.


  • “You put two big egos in a room, they’re going to start rubbing against each other.”
  • “The extreme answer to questions is generally not going to be correct.”
  • “If you don’t know everything which you don’t, don’t act like you know everything. Everyone will see right through it.”
  • “When you’re in a leadership position, you don’t want to be looking down and in at your team, you want to be looking up and out. Where you can see what the next obstacle is, where you see where the enemy is maneuvering, where you can see what market is opening up. That’s where you want to be looking. You don’t want to be looking down and in.”
  • “The better you understand people, the better that you’re going to lead people.”


In the new book, Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual, Jocko Willink talks about his time putting his own ego in check when he was dealing with a 32-year-old CEO of a 100 million dollar company who was 6 foot and 5 inches and was in good shape.

  • Jocko Willink noticed that every other person in the company was getting along well with the CEO while Jocko seemed to have problems with getting along even after spending a couple of days with the CEO.
  • Jocko realized that it was his ego going against the ego of the CEO and subordinated his ego and told the CEO that he was doing a fantastic job with the company. After he had subordinated his ego and told these words, the CEO returned saying that it was not him but Jocko who had done bigger things like being in combat and leading men.
  • Jocko realized yet again that when you put two big egos in a room, they will start rubbing against each other.


James Altucher sees that social media wars have become bad with people holding extreme opinions. Jocko Willink agrees and says that the majority of people are living their lives while the extreme ones engage in wars on Twitter. James also talks about the Joe Rogan Experience with Jocko Willink and Tulsi Gabbard.

  • Most of the people are working to improve the world and their own lives and it is only the extremists who are on Twitter engaged in wars.
  • James Altucher has only recently (in the past 6 months) started listening to podcasts and loves the conversations. He mentions the good conversation Jocko Willink had with Tulsi Gabbard and Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience.
  • Jocko Willink says that he might not agree with everything that Tulsi Gabbard says but he can hang out with her because of the shared interests between them.
  • Jocko Willink says that at the moment Tulsi Gabbard is the only hopeful candidate for the Democratic Party.
  • Jocko Willink says that Joe Rogan is exactly the same person that he is on the podcasts – a laid back and fun-loving person.


James Altucher mentions that Jocko Willink has his values at the core and his ventures are like spokes that arise from the core values in the center. Jocko Willink says that he looks for demand signals and makes iterative decisions to fill the demand gap.

  • Jocko Willink looks for demand signals in the market and fills them with iterative decision making.
  • Jocko saw the demand for people wanting to know what supplements he takes, hence started the Jocko line of supplements. Similarly, he saw demand signals for other things that enabled him to make Jiu-Jitsu Gis, Jeans, and Boots, all made in America.
  • Jocko Willink tests the run of his new products by making an initial fixed quantity and if the market loves the products, he recognizes the demand and scales it up.
  • Echelon Front started with only Jocko Willink and Leif Babin but slowly and steadily they brought in members and have grown.
  • EFonline.com is the product that rose out of the need to train thousands of members of the client companies of Echelon Front. The online training platform enables people to take leadership training lessons even without the physical presence of the Echelon Front team.


  • Pass credit up and down the chain of command. This means that one has to pass credit to the boss as well as the team members. A tactful person will know this is the right thing to do.
  • If you are maneuvering and think to yourself that people don’t see it, you are wrong. People can see right through your act and you can’t get away with it.
  • Most of the time, being indirect is far more effective than being direct. If brutal honesty is your go-to tool, people won’t respond properly. Try to be friends with the person and then express the concern indirectly.


Jocko Willink is comparing a good leader to being a good woodworker. A good woodworker knows how to adjust his equipment to different types of wood – eg. Pine and Oak.

A good woodworker also knows how to adjust his tools for different pieces of the same type of wood, eg. Pinewood with and without cracks.

Jocko says that there is no one tool to deal with people. Since every person is different, leaders must mix their tools to deal with individual people.


  • The decentralized command is effective and works when the big leader lays out the overall mission, goal, and the broad result of the strategy being implemented and lets the subordinate leaders make individual decisions in alignment with the big goal.
  • People in leadership positions should not be looking down and in at their team. Instead, they should be looking up and out so that they can see what the next obstacle is, the new market opportunities available, etc.


  • In the late 1990s, James Altucher was running an agency designing websites for Fortune 500 companies and many other big players. He was running for a contract with the United States Postal Office Services.
  • Though the deal was almost secured with the team with James Altucher sacrificing their weekends and working at it hard, it fell off in the final moment when the manager in charge sent out the proposal through FedEx.
  • Jocko Willink says that this could have been prevented if,
    1. There was a checklist of things available to check before sending the package out
    2. James Altucher had taken some pre-emptive ownership and made a final check of the package before it went out
    3. If the team had detached a little bit from the situation and saw the overall picture. Seeing things from an altitude positively influences decisions than seeing things from point-blank range.
  • James Altucher draws a similar analogy to a chess game where when taking a break and walking around the room and coming back to one’s place will give one a new insight on the game being played.


  • There are a lot of ideas bouncing around in James Altucher’s head. He mentions when Donald Trump expressed interest in buying Greenland, James researched about Greenland and came to know about the natural resources in it and the involvement of China in Greenland. He created a GoFundMe campaign for $100 million to get Greenland but the campaign was shut down by GoFundMe. It was a learning experience for him and he got a good story out of it.
  • Jocko Willink says that the Jocko Podcast is about Human Nature
  • Jocko Willink says that one has to understand people better to lead them better.