#128: Default Aggressive, Humility vs Confidence, and a Little Jocko Fuel – Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink (CrossFit Games 2023)

Saturday November 04, 2023

Default Aggressive: a leader’s mindset to take deliberate and decisive action. As leaders we face challenges both known and unknown, with real consequences from our action or our inaction. We won’t always get it perfectly right, but doing nothing is almost always wrong. 

It’s the final day from the US Army Fitness Truck at the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games where Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff are joined by Jocko Willink, Founder of  Jocko Fuel, bestselling author, leadership coach, podcast host and retired Navy SEAL. 

In this conversation, Jocko shows us the power of taking action aggressively and intentionally, and how the greatest leaders have a bias for action while balancing humility with confidence and a little bit of cockiness when they step into the arena of execution. He also shares the vision behind Jocko Fuel, the hole he saw in the energy drink market and how combining the same caffeine as a cup of coffee with fermented sugar cane is providing the right amount of energy without the crash; and it tastes great. 

In our drive to be all we can be, doing hard things individually and as teams, combined with a decision-making attitude, humility and some Jocko Fuel is the recipe to make an impact. Learn more and read the transcript on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube

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Default Aggressive, Humility vs Confidence, and a Little Jocko Fuel – Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink (CrossFit Games 2023)

Jocko, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Thanks for having me on.

CrossFit Games 2023. It is the final day of CrossFit Games 2023. We’ve had the teams go on the North Park. We had the men and the women are getting ready to go. They’re probably going to kick off as we’re talking and then it’s into the coliseum. You’re here for a couple more hours. Thanks so much for spending a little time with Jessie. You launched Jocko Fuel. It’s been a big part of this event. Talk about CrossFit and talk about why that partnership is so important.

I was initially introduced to CrossFit when I was in the SEAL Teams and it was one of the earlier seminars they did for the SEAL Teams. It was probably like we’re trying to figure it out with Dave Castro. It was like either the 2005 or 2006 timeframe. The CrossFit started doing seminars for SEALs and I went to one of the first ones that they did and I guess I got a Level One certification. I don’t remember, but I think that’s what I got.

I got that. I kept training, but I was still in the SEAL Teams and going on deployment and stuff. In 2007, I trained in jujitsu and had a couple of different gyms that I’d worked out of with my training partners in San Diego. We’d gotten kicked out of a bunch of different gyms. 2007, we said, “Let’s just open our own gym.” We started putting that together, got the CrossFit affiliate, and opened up on January 2nd, 2008.

I’ve had the CrossFit affiliate in San Diego, Victory CrossFit. That’s been at Victory MMA since 2008. A bunch of other things happened along the way. I’ve always had that CrossFit gym inside my MMA gym. Jocko Fuel started a few years ago and as Jocko Fuel grew, there were opportunities to do stuff with a bunch of different companies, and you want to be doing stuff with companies that align with how you do things. There’s no better alignment than I’ve had a CrossFit affiliate for fifteen years and people who do CrossFit want to get stronger, smarter, faster, and better. That’s what Jocko Fuel’s for. That’s how we ended up here.

Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

What was missing on the market as far as sports drinks that you wanted to fill?

The biggest thing, I’m sure Fran can tell you, on deployment, you’re going to going to drink energy drinks. You’re going to drink a lot of energy drinks and they do give you that immediate energy for a couple of hours, maybe an hour, an hour and a half and then you have this terrible crash, not to mention the long-term negatives from a health perspective. I wanted to make something that you could drink and not have it be bad for you and still give you a good impact. We reduce the amount of caffeine in it, so it’s only got 95 milligrams of caffeine, which isn’t some crazy amount that makes you feel like you’re going to have a heart attack.

It’s less than a cup of coffee.

It’s like a strong cup of coffee. That’s what I based it on. “How much caffeine?” I said, “How about a cup of coffee?” We made it like a cup of coffee and then we put other nootropics in there, Alpha-GPCs and other things that are going to help you get your mental focus. We sweetened it with monk fruit, which is a natural sweetener and it tastes good. We use another sweetener now as well, which is called Reb M, which is fermented cane sugar. They take cane sugar and they ferment it and it gets it down to the goodness, the good taste. It still has no impact on your insulin level and all that.

We’ve got a good taste for them all now and you can drink them and they’re literally good for you. They still give you positive energy. In my mind, it wasn’t in the market. I liked the immediate feeling I would get from energy drinks before, but I would crash and feel like crap afterward. Long-term health, the hole in the market was, “Can we make something that’s legitimately good for you?” We did.

Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Can we talk about leadership for a second?

We sure can.

You know something about leadership? Our whole show is based on leadership, building effective leaders, those lessons we learned in Special Operations, those characteristics that we take as Special Operators and then we apply them to the rest of our lives in any organization. I want to ask about doing hard things because right now, in society, we’re at a place where doing hard things has fallen to the wayside.

We know from your background, my background, that we need leaders who are committed to 1) Doing hard things themselves and then 2) Building teams that are ready and prepared and willing to have a bias to action to do hard things. Why do we have to do hard things? Why does someone like CrossFit build that with you and in your individuals and teams?

Clearly, when you do hard things, you get stronger. If you lift weights, you’re going to get stronger. If you go running, you’re going to build endurance. It’s not physical endurance and physical strength that you build when you do hard things. It makes you mentally stronger and tougher too. There’s the whole aspect of becoming a better human being by doing hard things.

[bctt tweet=”You do not only build physical endurance and strength when doing hard things. It also makes you mentally stronger.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I’m not a scientist, but I can guarantee you that you’re not going to become a better human being by playing video games and sitting on the couch. It’s not going to happen. You’ve got to go out there. As I said, I’m not a scientist, but that is a true statement. There’s that aspect to it. If you want to be a better human being, you want to be mentally and physically stronger. You’ve got to put yourself under physical and mental stress, which is what something like CrossFit is.

Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

On top of that, when you want to unify a team or build a team, it’s very helpful if you, as a team, get to do hard things together. That’s the whole basis of the military and the military training. It’s, “They’re going to take a group of civilians that are between the ages of 18 and 30, in some cases 17 and 30.” How do you unify people from all over the country and in some cases, from other countries? How do you take all these random people and get them unified?

Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

You send them to bootcamp and they do a bunch of hard stuff together. Every time they do something hard, they get closer and they form bonds. If you continue in the Army and you go from there to Airborne school, now you’re all jumping out of an airplane together. You have a bond that’s even closer. If you go to Ranger school, you’re going to have a bond that’s even closer. They continue to make you do hard things and you become closer. That’s why units that have been in combat together often have very strong bonds because they’ve done the hardest thing together. There are absolute benefits to doing hard things, not only as an individual but it helps to do it as a group as well.

What do you look for when you’re developing a team and assessing and selecting the individuals you want to be around you? We build businesses. We built teams in the military, but we’ve gone on to build businesses and you got to surround yourself with people who are going to take you from here to there. When you assess your team and you look around, what are you looking for in those characteristics to bring in and stand beside you?

The most important thing that we’re looking for, that I look for is people who are humble. Someone who lacks humility doesn’t listen to anybody else. They don’t need to train or work because they already think they’re there. When you have somebody that lacks humility, it usually turns into a problem. The most important characteristic for a leader or for a human being is to be humble.

Anytime that you’re sitting around and saying, “I got this,” or, “I already know this,” that’s going to be a problem. I did a podcast and I was talking about the fact that when you step into the arena, when you step into the execute phase of an operation, you got to get a little bit cocky. You got to be a little bit like, “I’m going to crush this right now.” Humility is the most important thing, but then you can train people that they also get the confidence that they’re going to need to win.

Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

That balance of humility and confidence.

Jessie’s probably one of the best displays of both of those that I’ve ever met.

You wouldn’t have the success that you had if you thought, “I’m the best. I don’t need to train.” At the same time, when you’re getting ready to go, if you were like, “I might not be good at this,” that would impact you in a negative way.

[bctt tweet=”You would not have success if you believe that you are already the best and do not need to train.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I’ve gotten comfortable with assuming it’s going to be too hard, in which case I have to come up with the most brilliant strategy to be as efficient as possible because I’m more inspired by impossible challenges and then it’s like, “I know I’m not strong enough to get through, but if I do this and this, maybe there’s a chance.” I have so much extra focus that I hyperfocus on everything, optimize everything I can do, and then succeed further than I thought I could.

Good game plan.Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

One more question about action because you brought up action. You step into the arena. Now it’s time to go. We talk a lot in leadership about bias to action and so many times, what we see with leaders is they get into that point of execution. They don’t have all the information. They’re scared to make a decision. They’re worried about the residual effects of a decision they might make. Talk about the importance of bias to action and why when we’re in charge, it’s so important to stand up, be in charge, make a decision, execute, and be ready to change if the conditions change.

Interestingly, bias for action is a statement from the Marine Corps and I love the Marine Corps. They’re outstanding. I work with the Marine Corps.

We had the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Troy Black. He’s going on to go to the DOD now.

Bias for action. When I teach leadership, I teach something called default aggressive, which is the same thing as bias for action, but it’s a little bit stronger. Bias for action means, “I’m going to lean towards taking action.” Default aggressive is, “My default mode is going to be to be aggressive and make things happen.”

For a while, when you say default aggressive to some companies, some businesses, they might be a little bit nervous. “You want people to be aggressive?” The thought is why don’t you change it to bias for action? That’s clearly a proven military principle. Why don’t you change it back to that or change it to that because it’s a little bit softer and it still has a very powerful meaning?

The reason that I say bias for action has an awesome place is I’m 100% in support of bias for action, but there’s a time when a bias for action isn’t strong enough when things are chaotic, when there’s mayhem going on. I used to see this with young SEAL leaders when they were going through my training program where they’d be taking action and taking action, but then when things got bad during a training operation, they would freeze up. They would not want to address the problem. They would want to avoid the problem.

Default aggressive was like, “You’ve got to make your default mode aggressive, that you’re going to go take action and solve these problems.” It can’t just be a bias. It’s got to be a default mode. This doesn’t mean you run like an idiot into the gunfire. It doesn’t mean that you take action without thought, but you have to get people to say, “At the moment of truth, I am going to make something happen. I’m going to do something.”

Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Without having a bias for action or a default aggressive mindset, most people will freeze up or many people will freeze up. You have to have that bias for action. You have to have that default aggressive mindset. All this being said, as you pointed out earlier, there’s a balance and if you have people that are overly aggressive or they take action without thought, it’s going to be a problem. There’s going to be a balance to everything that you do.

A lot of people probably don’t like the word aggressive because they associate it with anger and violence. How would you define aggressive that is more productive that is in line with your intention?

If you think about, “I’m going to be aggressive towards solving problems, I’m going to be aggressive towards interacting in a positive way, but I’m going to aggressively do things.” I’ve been asked those questions from a safety perspective at working with a construction company. They’ll say, “If we’re being aggressive, how does that keep us safe?”

It’s simple. You’re going to aggressively follow the safety protocols. You’re going to aggressively make sure that the people on the team are doing the right thing. You’re not going to be bashful about it. You’re going to be like, “We need to make sure we’re following the procedures here.” Aggressive attitude, definitely not about yelling at people. It’s not about being hostile. It’s about a higher level of taking action.

Test question. The Jedburghs in World War II had to do three things every day to be successful as core foundational tasks or habits. If anyone builds on their habits, they can focus their attention on more complex challenges that come their way. The Jedburghs had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. You know those statements very well. What are the three things that you do every day in your world to set the conditions for success?

Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

First of all, you’ve got to know what you’re going to do. Before you go to bed at night, if you figure out what it is you have to do tomorrow, that to me is three-quarters of the battle because if you don’t know what you’re going to do tomorrow, what are you going to do when you wake up? I have no idea what you’re going to do when you wake up.

If you know what you’re going to do tomorrow, you know what you’re going to do when you wake up. Know what you’re going to do tomorrow, write that stuff down, that you know what it is you need to knock out, and then aggressively go and do those things. To me, what’s that? That might be two things. Know what you’re going to do and then go do it. I only need two things to make this happen. My third thing would be, at the end of the day, to assess what you did and see how you can make it better tomorrow and fill the gaps. Those would be my three things. Know what you got to do, do it, and then assess to see if you got it done.

I also loved your reaction. Most of the time, when you say test question, everyone goes, “Oh, gosh,” and you were just like, “Bring it.” Chill under pressure.

I get asked a lot of questions.Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

There’s a lot more action to come. You’re going to get to see a little bit more of the games before you take off. I appreciate you sitting down with us. It’s an inspiration to watch what you’re doing for veterans, for leaders out there, for the entire soft community. Keep up the great work and thanks a lot for joining us.

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.


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