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Leadership lessons from a retired Navy Seal

The American public has been conditioned to conceptualize military leadership as the forceful drill sergeant screaming in the faces of new recruits. While that behavior may have a time and a place in military training, retired U.S. Navy SEAL Jocko Willink’s lessons during an event we held challenged that type of leadership, both in message and in style. And, they were extremely relevant to real estate.

Jocko recently headlined our event, Lucido Global’s Momentum, with proceeds donated to Building Homes for Heroes.

Here are some key takeaways for real estate professionals.

The count is zero

Jocko shared a story about an instructor during a SEAL training evolution. Invariably, when the team made a mistake — regardless of how many previous successful runs — the instructor cued up the microphone: “The count is zero,” signaling the team to start over from the beginning.

If you want to truly lead, reset your count to zero every day. Regardless of your title, fame, or even accolades, you must earn your status as a leader every day. As Babe Ruth famously said, “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.”

Be a humble leader

Doing so will require humility. In fact, Jocko said that humility grounded in confidence is the most important trait of an effective leader. Insecure leaders fear being outshined by others. They issue commands by brandishing their title and exerting their organizational authority. They will put themselves ahead of the mission in order to retain their standing.

They crave credit and, therefore, foster a culture that stifles initiative. (Often, to further elevate themselves, they ironically complain about how they “have to do everything.”) These individuals may make people do things, but they are certainly not leading them. 

Conversely, a confident, humble leader will not accept a situation in which leadership is restricted to one individual. They encourage and expects their subordinates to lead, up and down the chain of command.

They stand prepared to accept the blame for the team’s shortcomings and ready to give the team the laurels when successful. “Competent leaders require no title to gain the respect of their followers. Leaders who make too much of their title generally have little else to emphasize.” Those words were written in Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich in 1937 and remain relevant to this day.

Check your ego

Ego is a powerful motivator. Indeed, it’s the fuel that drives many of the world’s highest achievers. It strengthens the drive to be outstanding, compete and win. However, while unbridled ego may make you an achiever, it will also leave you with no one willing to be led. 

If you stand ready to work eight hours every day, you will invest 2,920 hours per year towards the pursuit of your mission. Instead, if you and a partner work merely a standard work week, taking your holidays and vacations, together you will have invested 4,000 hours towards your objective. This simple arithmetic does not account for the improved productivity of those 4,000 hours that arises from collaboration and the ability to specialize.

Bottom line: you alone will neither accomplish as much nor do so as quickly as you could with a team prepared to lead together.

It’s not about you; it’s about the mission. And the mission must be pursued with confident humility every day. Your count is zero.

If not you, then who?

Jocko shared a story of the final days of Task Unit Bruiser’s deployment to Ramadi. After six long months of heavy fighting, they were finally headed home. Their gear was loaded onto the C-130 and, with fewer than 24 hours to go before reuniting with their families, they received intel on the location of a longstanding target who had killed countless Iraqi civilians and American forces. 

Another respected SEAL approached Jocko and expressed that some of the platoon didn’t feel they should attempt the mission. Their concerns were valid: they had taken 12 casualties, recently lost another brother, were ready to see their families and this mission would be dangerous. 

Jocko contemplated the concerns with his team and ultimately asked them: “If we don’t do it, who will?”

What would our world look like if everyone took the perspective of “If I don’t do it, who will?” What would your team look like if, instead, you answered that question with “We will.”

This is the core of extreme leadership and what it means to own everything in your world. It does not mean that you, personally, must do everything (that is actually the antithesis of optimal leadership), but it does mean that you and your team figure out a way to delegate personnel and resources to accomplish the mission. 

What task have you been putting off? 

What skill have you refused to learn or delegate appropriately? 

What habit do you continue to perpetuate even though you know you shouldn’t?

Do not run from challenges, as the human brain perceives what we run away from as dangerous, whether it’s a dog or a dragon. 

Instead, start by burning off the deadwood. Start by stopping the actions you know you should stop, such as skipping your prospecting or rationalizing not doing your weekly client calls. Or, maybe, it’s your desire to not only control, but to personally do everything in your business, which slows the rate of advancement of the entire team. Prioritize, execute, then raise your sights.

Jocko asked of his team, “If we don’t do this mission, who will?” That question was met with no verbal response;. the platoon geared up, went out, and successfully captured the target.

If you want to be in charge of everything, strive to be in charge of nothing.

Natural leaders are naturally compelled to take ownership. Their type-A personalities prevent them from relaxing aboard a rudderless ship. Invariably, these individuals have found themselves in situations in which others have dropped the ball, seeming to validate the old adage, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”

Yet, how effective would Task Unit Bruiser have been in Ramadi if Jocko had done everything himself, from reconnaissance and mission planning, to gear prep, IED clearing, communications, overwatch, and clear and control?

Leadership does not mean doing everything yourself. It means doing the tasks in your defined purview and taking on additional responsibilities as long as it does not impair your critical responsibilities to the team. This invariably requires delegating responsibilities to the appropriate team members and empowering those members with the authority and accountability to lead.

As a leader, you are responsible for the team and every aspect of the mission. You cannot perform that duty if all of your focus is consumed by one aspect of the mission. So if you are a “control freak,” you need to recognize that your desire to control everything is precisely the source of your anxiety and underperformance. 

Leadership can’t be boiled down to one litmus test. It requires real-time, critical thinking and a keen sense of judgment to maneuver the infinite dichotomies that will seek to pull you in opposing directions. Learn to lead so that your team can do what you could not alone. If you want to be in charge of everything, be in charge of nothing.

Robert Lucido Jr. is chief strategy officer of Lucido Global and with the Bob Lucido Team of Keller Williams Lucido Agency.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of RealTrends’ editorial department and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Robert Lucido at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tracey Velt at

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