The Dichotomy of Leadership

The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (St. Martin’s Press, 2018, 320 pages)

The Dichotomy of Leadership is the sequel to the authors’ first book, Extreme Ownership, which presented leadership advice the authors developed while serving as US Navy SEALs and then as consultants through their leadership training group, Echelon Front. Like their first book, The Dichotomy of Leadership provides examples of the authors’ leadership principles in action during a combat deployment in Iraq. Both authors were members of Task Force Bruiser, where Willink served as the commander of the unit and Babin worked for him.  

Extreme Ownership introduced the term “the dichotomy of leadership,” and here the authors expand on that phrase and discuss the requirements of being a leader, in particular, having balance. Leaders must be aggressive, but not reckless. They should not micromanage, but should not be too hands-off, and so on. 

The authors present twelve principles or dichotomies and devote a chapter to each. They discuss the principle and its importance through anecdotes about their time in Iraq and then how the principle was applied to a business situation in an Echelon Front assignment.

Clear Discussion of the Value of Good Leadership

Like Extreme Ownership, this book is accessible to everyone. It’s easy to understand, the stories about Iraq are engaging and generally make up half of each chapter. It clearly shows why good leadership is vital in the military, and discuss the sometimes tragic consequences if leadership is lacking. Further, through the business anecdotes, it demonstrates the universality of the principles—that they aren’t only important in combat, or in the military. 

Some Overlap With the Previous Book

If there is a downside, it’s that the two books overlap. Some chapters in both books discuss similar principles, Extreme Ownership’s chapter “Plan,” for example and The Dichotomy of Leadership’s “Plan, but Don’t Overplan.” Both also have chapters discussing humility on the part of the leader, as well as how the leaders should relate to the chain of command. 

In some instances, the authors quote from Extreme Ownership then elaborate on the topic in this book. This may prove helpful for readers who haven’t read the first book, but for those who have, these passages are redundant. 

The Bottom Line

If you liked Extreme Leadership and found it helpful, you’ll like The Dichotomy of Leadership. Although a sequel, The Dichotomy of Leadership can be read on its own. It is easy to read, the information is clearly presented, and the real-life anecdotes are effective. And, it gives leaders at all levels something to consider. 

Being a good leader is definitely a balancing act, as the book explains. And, a challenge. As the authors state in the afterword, “It is the immense challenge of leadership that makes the reward of success so fulfilling.” Are you ready for the challenge?

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Stephen Lepper is a 21-year veteran of the US Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. He lives with his family in central Massachusetts and can be found on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephen-lepper.

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