How to Motivate, Lead & Keep Talent With Jocko Willink’s 4 Laws of Combat   

One of the biggest challenges that a lot of marketers face involves not only attracting top industry talent into their organization, but retaining them for as long as possible. These people want to help use their passion to further someone else’s mission – but it isn’t a guarantee that the mission will be yours. 

To get to that point, they need to be motivated. They need to see that someone worth following is in charge. If you think that sounds a lot like the thinking process that people have in the Armed Forces – you’re right, as some of the laws of combat go a long way towards proving. 

Law #1: Cover and Move 

As was literally true for Mr. Willink on the battlefield, one of the most important laws of combat has to do with the idea of ‘cover and move’. That is to say, especially in the world of marketing, teamwork is everything. All parties must learn how to work together, each offering something of unique value that others might not be able to achieve on their own. 

As they say, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If the team fails, everyone fails – regardless of what an individual’s contribution happened to be. Because of that, the team must be forged on a rock-solid foundation of relationships. You’re all in this together and you have to believe it to move forward. 

Law #2: Simple 

Another law of combat that absolutely applies to the world of marketing involves the idea of keeping things as simple as possible whenever you can. Yes, marketing and team building have a lot of moving parts – but ultimately nothing is more important than the straightforward goal that you’ve set out for yourself. 

Because of that, leadership needs to become a hub of communication. This doesn’t just have to do with digital marketing or email marketing. Everything needs to be simple, clear, and concise. If people don’t understand what you want them to do, they can’t execute on those objectives. 

It may seem straightforward, but this is absolutely one of the best ways to not only motivate and lead talent, but to prevent them from getting frustrated to the point where they begin looking elsewhere as well. 

Law #3: Prioritize and Execute 

For Jocko Willink, one of the most critical laws of combat has to do with one’s ability to prioritize and execute based on the conditions you’re faced with, not necessarily the conditions you were expecting. 

In the world of marketing, nothing frustrates top talent like being forced to stick to a plan even when it becomes clear that the plan now needs to change to account for new information. On the battlefield, that may literally get someone killed. 

Because of that, Mr. Willink argues that leadership needs to be able to relax, look around, and make a call when appropriate. They need to recognize that things have changed, analyze this new information they’re presented with, and react. 

Sometimes this will be a change in consumer behaviors. Sometimes it can be something as wildly unpredictable as an ongoing global pandemic. Regardless, for the sake of your team and your talent, you need to be able to detach from what you thought would happen and play to the strengths of what is happening. 

Law #4: Decentralized Command 

Finally, one law of combat that Jocko Willink believes will dramatically motivate and help keep talent involves embracing decentralized command at an organizational level. That is to say, it’s not that people are reporting to one person in particular for new information about what to do next. Everybody should be a leader in their own unique way. 

Once the intent of a commander (or in this case, a team leader) has been decided on, the team needs to understand not just what to do, but why making this move at this moment is so important. All the while, people shouldn’t just sit around and wait for orders. They know what that intent is – they should take up the charge and lead themselves through bold decisiveness wherever necessary. 

All of this goes a long way towards motivating talent at work across the board. 

This runs contrary to the idea of extreme ownership that a lot of marketers are used to, yes. But extreme ownership is also one of the most efficient ways to alienate top talent and especially younger workers in particular. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room for discipline in the team itself, because there absolutely is. But it does create an environment where that discipline almost immediately translates into the type of freedom that talent craves. 

It’s not being dramatic to say that leadership in business is a lot like leadership in war. But if you remember a few basic rules, you’ll be successful at goals like retaining talent at work regardless of the situation you find yourself in. 

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