Leading Your Leaders

One of my favorite conversations to have with business leaders that I respect is asking what their favorite books are that they’ve read recently. The answers often vary, but one of the most recent answers particularly struck me because it introduced a new concept of leadership that has rarely been mentioned to me. The book is titled “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win”. Its authors, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin are former U.S. Navy Seals that served on Seal Team 6 during the Iraq War. They also literally wrote the manual on leadership for U.S. Navy Seals. Needless to say, what they say carries massive value to anyone. 

The principle that my friend related to me that I found most fascinating was the concept of leading your leaders. I admit, the initial thought confused me, so I asked for further clarification. In the book, Willink and Babin speak about how military leadership relies on their on the leaders on the ground to give them tactical advice so that they can develop high level strategies. The leaders on the ground rely on their fellow troops to provide them with accurate views of the battlefield so that they can make the proper adjustments to the battle plans and receive proper supplies from above to give them the best chance to succeed. The chain continues to go down the until each position is actually leading someone above him. 

Almost always when I’ve thought of leadership, it’s been a top-down approach. The boss tells the subordinate what to do and the channel simply runs downhill. However, under the concept of leading your leaders, the importance of personal responsibility is maximized at each level of command. It’s incumbent on subordinates to show their superiors the best way to lead them so that the team achieves success. 

How can you lead those who are in a position of leadership above you? Could better communication with them make your challenges easier to accomplish, because the reality is that leaders can’t make adjustments when they aren’t fully aware of the challenges. Do your superiors know the causes behind the challenges you’re facing? The reality is that your leaders desire for their teams to succeed.