This is part four of a series on Extreme Ownership. View the previous parts if you haven’t already: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

One of the principles of Extreme Ownership is “Check the Ego”. Although the Navy SEALs are regarded as the super elites of the armed forces, Jocko Willink’s unit learned to operate with humility in Iraq. When conventional Army and Marine units arrived to bolster U.S. presence on the battlefield, the SEALs took steps to build their relationship with their peers. First, the unit adopted the stricter standards of grooming and hygiene of the other branches of the military; this was seen as an outright sign of comraderie by the non-SEAL units and it won their respect. When it came time to enter the battlefield, the SEALs made sure that the Army and Marines had their say in the planning process and made sure the right people were put to the task regardless of their affiliation. Newer SEALs came in as overconfident and jumped into situations that put the entire force in danger; they later wisened up, deferred to the wisdom of others, and admitted when they needed aid from the other units.

2020 has been a difficult year. Many are suffering – some to much higher degree than the rest – and the world needs leaders to steer society along a better path. Having an online presence means I have some level of responsibility influencing the attitudes and worldview of my readership and driving them toward a reasonable plan of action. So far I’ve done a terrible job.

In the past I’ve viewed myself as regulator of sorts when it comes to social discourse. I picture a valve I can use to tone down the voice of my friends if they become too extreme, and ramp it back up if the discussion goes too far in the other direction. Not only is this line of thinking arrogant, it’s also grossly inaccurate. In reality I simply remain silent, letting discussions play out while I sit on the sidelines – and that’s if I’m aware they’re happening. That hardly counts as having control of the situation. Rather than tag-teaming with my colleagues I’d instead lash out at them claiming they’re approaching things the wrong way. Although I thought it would help them win it just comes off as acting like an armchair quarterback, thinking I have it all figured out when I’ve never done the actual ground-level work. I just end up holding them back at best and alienating them at worst.

I’ve also viewed myself as part of the cavalry, a hero jumping in at the last minute to save the day. It’s another one of my fallacies, and for two reasons. First, there’s no guarantee that the idea I had pocketed would be the thing that sways the discussion. Since I haven’t participated in the debate my arguments haven’t gone through the process of being picked apart; I wouldn’t know what the countpoints are or how to respond to them. Outside the world of politics I’ve never been regarded as charismatic; so how can I think I’ll be the difference maker when discussing more controversial topics? Additionally, there’s the assumption that I’ll actually step up when the time comes. Too many times I was too afraid to speak up. I’m comfortable talking back at my own allies but I don’t know how to navigate the space when faced with someone I disagree with.

I have to approach things differently going forward. Foremost I need to acknowledge that I can only speak for myself. I can’t go in thinking I know better than everyone else, especially not the very people I’m trying to support. I’ll defer my judgement to the people who are tackling social issues for real. I need to stop and listen and find out what they need instead of criticizing them for angering the opposition. Overall I need to be proactive instead of reactive; perhaps I’ll learn more if people have to respond to me instead of the other way around.

Some may be taken off guard by I detour I took for today’s post; some may view the above as a misapplication of Check the Ego. Still, this is a debt I need to repay as I’ve stayed quiet on the issues for all of June. There are many aspects of life one can improve on; this was just the one I chose to focus on this week. Next post I’ll discuss how the principle of Cover and Move applies when different product teams interact.