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Powerful Jocko Willink Quotes to Motivate Leaders

A master of discipline and leadership, retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink is a source of inspiration for all.

Read a collection of motivational Jocko Willink quotes below. 

Do you have a personal connection to the military? 

John Gretton “Jocko” Willink is most well-known for co-authoring the New York Times bestselling books Extreme Ownership and The Dichotomy of Leadership.

Willink received many awards throughout his military career, including the Silver Star Medal and the Bronze Star.

Willink now co-hosts a weekly podcast entitled The Jocko Podcast.

During the podcast, Willink discusses a variety of different topics including leadership, self-control, and his experiences as a Navy SEAL with his co-host Echo Charles.

Read these Jocko Willink quotes to gain insights into his perspectives on leadership, success, wellness, and more. 

We also have a collection of Chesty Puller quotes that will motivate you to push it to the limits.

Be sure to also read that.

1. “The more you practice, the better you get, the more freedom you have to create.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: Practice won’t make you perfect at something, but it will make you better. When you get better at something, you can do it quicker and more easily. That frees up time that you can use for other things. It also might bring you new opportunities. There is freedom to be found in doing your best.

2. “The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.” – Jocko Willink

3. “Leadership is simple, but not easy.” – Jocko Willink

4. “Good leaders don’t make excuses. Instead, they figure out a way to get it done.” – Jocko Willink

5. “A good leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove.” – Jocko Willink

6. “There can be no leadership when there is no team.” – Jocko Willink

7. “I know that somewhere out there, another man is also preparing. That man is the enemy.” – Jocko Willink

8. “Didn’t get promoted? Good. More time to get better.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: Sure, setbacks like this one do not feel good. Not everything in life does. However, this does not mean you failed. This means you can continue to learn, improve, and be better. Maybe there is an even bigger opportunity waiting for you, and this just wasn’t the right moment. Don’t give up, keep going, and your moment will come.

9. “Extreme Ownership is a mind-set, an attitude.” – Jocko Willink

10. “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.” – Jocko Willink

11. “When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable — if there are no consequences — that poor performance becomes the new standard. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: This is great advice for anyone: leaders, parents, and anyone trying to achieve a goal. Follow through matters. Once an expectation is set, then we need to hold ourselves (and sometimes others) accountable. Check out this article for more tips on managing accountability.

12. “Just do some kind of workout. Doesn’t matter if it’s going for a walk around the block, going for a jog, doing some calisthenics, lifting weights, going to a pool and swimming – you name it. But do something that gets your blood flowing and gets your mind in the game.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: There are mental and physical benefits to being active each day. Physical activity causes your brain to releases chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for feeling happy and good. Physically, you keep your joints and organs working in an optimal manner when you are active. Bonus points if you take your activity out into nature!

13. “Jiu-Jitsu is probably the No. 1 activity that I could recommend to someone to improve their lives overall.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: What is Jiu-Jitsu and why is good for you? Well, Jiu-Jitsu is a form of Japanese martial arts that was developed based on the warrior class of the 17th century. Physically, it is could for weight management, flexibility, heart health, and overall conditioning. Mentally, it helps you learn discipline and focus while also improving your problem solving skills. If those aren’t enough reasons, you will also be much safer if you find yourself the victim of a physical attack.

14. “It is essential to develop a standardized planning process.” – Jocko Willink

15. “Leading people is the most challenging and, therefore, the most gratifying undertaking of all human endeavors.” – Jocko Willink

16. “We learned that leadership requires belief in the mission and unyielding perseverance to achieve victory, particularly when doubters question whether victory is even possible.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: People will follow a leader long before they sign up to follow a vision. This is why leaders within an organization should be good leaders that people want to get behind. If you don’t have the right leadership in place, then the vision is almost certainly doomed.

17. “The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. When mentored and coached properly, the junior leader can eventually replace the senior leader, allowing the senior leader to move on to the next level of leadership.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: This is the downfall of many leaders. They fail to teach the people they supervise to be better than they are. When a leader’s own insecurity or need to be the best is greater than their need to mentor those around them, the organization will suffer. It is the mark of true leader that can allow others to shine brighter than themselves!

18. “One of the key qualities a leader must possess is the ability to detach from the chaos, mayhem, and emotions in a situation and make good, clear decisions based on what is actually happening.” – Jocko Willink

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Everyday Application: This ability is also known as emotional intelligence. According to Daniel Goleman, the American psychologist who popularized the term, there are five key components to emotional intelligence. These elements are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Self-awareness and self-regulation would include the qualities that Jocko mentions.

19. “A good leader does not get bogged down in the minutia of a tactical problem at the expense of strategic success.” – Jocko Willink

20. “A leader must lead, but also be ready to follow. They must be aggressive, but not overbearing. A leader must be calm, but not robotic. They must be confident but never cocky. A leader must be brave, but not foolhardy. They must have a competitive spirit, but be a gracious loser.” – Jocko Willink

21. “The temptation to take the easy road is always there. It is as easy as staying in bed in the morning and sleeping in. But discipline is paramount to ultimate success and victory for any leader and any team.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: Discipline is the answer to everything in life. Want to be healthier? That takes discipline to eat well and exercise. Want to achieve your dreams? That takes discipline to avoid distractions and stay focused. Check out this article for tips on improving your level of self-discipline.

22. “Put your leaders in stressful scenarios. Make them figure out solutions under pressure. See if you can make them frustrated, angry, and flustered, and then demand decisive leadership from them. They will be challenged at first, but they will get better over time.” – Jocko Willink

23. “Leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities, between one extreme and another.” – Jocko Willink

24. “If I went back to my 20-year-old self, what I would tell my 20-year-old self is, ‘You don’t know anything.’ Because everyone, when they’re young, they think they know what’s going on in the world, and you don’t.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: Most people are “guilty” of this and most people would have something to say to their younger selves. However, we can not go back in time. What we can do is have an attitude of always being willing to listen, learn, and accept that we can take away something new from everyone!

25. “When I was running training, we would fire a couple of leaders from every SEAL team because they couldn’t lead. And 99.9% of the time, it wasn’t a question of their ability – it was a question of their ability to listen.” – Jocko Willink

26. “The best leaders understand the motivations of their team members and know their people – their lives and their families. But a leader must never grow so close to subordinates that one member of the team becomes more important than another, or more important than the mission itself.” – Jocko Willink

27. “Overconfidence was risky in such a hostile environment, a mistake most often made by warriors who had never truly been tested.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: Confidence is great. We need it to be successful. However, part of confidence is recognizing the areas you are not an expert in and seeking mentorship and guidance. Learning from someone else doesn’t mean you lack confidence, it means you are confident enough to accept help.

28. “Staying ahead of the curve prevents a leader from being overwhelmed when pressure is applied and enables greater decisiveness.” – Jocko Willink

29. “While discipline and freedom seem like they sit on opposite sides of the spectrum, they are actually very connected.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: Create a life that is disciplined by creating a routine, prioritizing your work, and being focused. This will lead to working processes and shorter time spent trying to get things done. This will open you up to more free time. Being disciplined enough to do the work to follow your passions and dreams, will also make you live a life that feels much more free.

30. “Leaders must always operate with the understanding that they are part of something greater than themselves and their own personal interests.” – Jocko Willink

31. “I’m always reading the next book. Taking notes. Highlighting, researching, studying. It doesn’t stop.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: You are capable of learning and understanding much more than you give yourself credit for. If something interests you, then put in the work to master it. You don’t have to have a natural talent. Hard work and effort will win every time!

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32. “I would venture to guess that the biggest reason creative types don’t produce isn’t because they don’t have vision… or talent… in most cases, it’s a lack of discipline.” – Jocko Willink

33. “Don’t think in the morning. That’s a big mistake that people make. They wake up in the morning and they start thinking. Don’t think. Just execute the plan. The plan is the alarm clock goes off, you get up, you go work out. Get some.” – Jocko Willink

34. “If you continue to keep low performers on your team, that are actually dragging the team down; you’re failing the whole team, and eventually, the whole team is going to fail.” – Jocko Willink

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Everyday Application: You are only as strong as your weakest link. This goes for teams in business and the people we include in our inner circles. Work with people and see if you can help them improve, but if they are truly draining you or the team, then know when to let go!

35. “If you allow the status quo to persist, you can’t expect to improve performance, and you can’t expect to win.” – Jocko Willink

36. “That nice, soft pillow and the warm blanket, and it’s all comfortable, and no one wants to leave that comfort – but if you can wake up early in the morning, get a head start on everyone else that’s still sleeping, get productive time doing things that you need to do – that’s a huge piece to moving your life forward.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: People are notorious for wanting to stay inside their comfort zones. We do not like to do things that make us feel uncomfortable. However, since most people will never leave their comfort zones, you can jump ahead of the crowd by doing so!

37. “We all have a tendency to avoid our weaknesses. When we do that, we never progress or get any better.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: Your weaknesses are not something you should avoid or be ignorant about. Being self-aware can help you improve on your weaknesses because you acknowledge they exist. Then you can work on being your best self by focusing your attention on what needs improvement. Make progress and face your weaknesses head on.

38. “There are people in the world who have skills and strength and talent that I will never have. Never. These notions that you can ‘be whatever you want to be as long as you want it bad enough’ are not true. They are fairy tales.” – Jocko Willink

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39. “What makes you a SEAL, what makes you a SEAL is being a good tactician on the battlefield, understanding how to shoot, move, and communicate, knowing small unit maneuver warfare.” – Jocko Willink

40. “They didn’t have to jump for joy at the thought of fighting alongside Iraqi soldiers on a dangerous battlefield. But they did have to understand why they were doing it so that they could believe in the mission.” – Jocko Willink

41. “If frontline troops are unclear about the plan and yet are too intimidated to ask questions, the team’s ability to effectively execute the plan radically decreases.” – Jocko Willink

42. “Waking up early was the first example I noticed in the SEAL Teams in which discipline was really the difference between being good and being exceptional.” – Jocko Willink

43. “SEALs are human beings. We may all have the same haircuts, but we aren’t robots. Some SEALs are great people. Some are not great people. Some have done unspeakably terrible things. You’re dealing with different people, different dreams, different desires.” – Jocko Willink

44. “Don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on Discipline.” – Jocko Willink

45. “People do not follow robots.” – Jocko Willink

46. “Getting out of bed is like the foundation of the discipline, and I think it carries over into everything else.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: Get out of bed in a way that sets you up for success during the day. Wake up early enough so that you are not rushing in the morning. Don’t hit the snooze button. Also, try having a morning routine. You will be amazed at how this one small shift will carry into other areas of your life.

47. “Ego clouds and disrupts everything.” – Jocko Willink

48. “Stop researching every aspect of it and reading all about it and debating the pros and cons of it … Start doing it.”  – Jocko Willink

49. “Don’t fight stress. Embrace it. Turn it on itself. Use it to make yourself sharper and more alert. Use it to make you think and learn and get better and smarter and more effective. Use the stress to make you a better you.” – Jocko Willink

50. “Things won’t get better dwelling on the past. Accept what has happened. Then move forward.” – Jocko Willink

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51. “When personal agendas become more important than the team and the overarching mission’s success, performance suffers and failure ensues.” – Jocko Willink

52. “Everyone wants some magic pill—some life hack—that eliminates the need to do the work. But that does not exist.” – Jocko Willink

53. “Once the wheels were in motion and the full resources of the team were engaged in that highest priority effort, I could then determine the next priority, focus the team’s efforts there, and then move on to the next priority.” – Jocko Willink
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54. “Go down swinging. And I’ll tell you: If you fight with all you have, more often than not, you won’t go down at all. You will win.” – Jocko Willink

55. “To implement real change, to drive people to accomplish something truly complex or difficult or dangerous — you can’t make people do these things. You have to lead them.” – Jocko Willink

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56. “There are people in the world who have skills and strength and talent that I will never have. Never. These notions that you can ‘be whatever you want to be as long as you want it bad enough’ are not true. They are fairy tales.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: There will always be someone who is more talented than you, smarter than you, and has things you don’t. That does not mean you can not be successful. Are they putting in the work and using anything they have to their advantage? You might not be the best at “whatever you want to be.” Yet, I think fairy tales do come true to some extent. and you can be anything you want!

57. “All animals, including humans, need to see the connection between action and consequence in order to learn or react appropriately.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: Every choice we make, action we take, or words we say has some kind of consequence attached to it. Sometimes they are negative consequences, but consequences can also be positive. It is this reaction of action and consequences that shapes much of our behavior.

58. “You’re not going to find happiness. You have to make it. So get out there and make some happiness.” – Jocko Willink

59. “A lot of times, people have something that they’re afraid of. They’ve got a client that’s mad at them. They’ve got a project that’s due. And they let that stress hang over their head. I don’t let that happen.” – Jocko Willink

Everyday Application: It sounds so simple, but it is powerful advice. How can you just not let stress like that happen though? Of course you can reduce stress by taking care of yourself: eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. However, you can also plan more, prioritize your time, and stay organized so tasks don’t add more stress!

60. “If you don’t think you are disciplined: It is because you haven’t decided to be disciplined. Yet.” – Jocko Willink

61. “Discipline equals freedom.” – Jocko Willink

62. “Don’t let your mind control you. Control your mind.” – Jocko Willink

63. “There is no growth in the comfort zone.” – Jocko Willink

64. “Cover and Move, Simple, Prioritize and Execute, and Decentralized Command.” – Jocko Willink

65. “Leadership isn’t one person leading a team. It is a group of leaders working together, up and down the chain of command, to lead.” – Jocko Willink

66. “Instead of letting the situation dictate our decisions, we must dictate the situation.” – Jocko Willink

67. “Don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do.” – Jocko Willink

68. “Good leaders are rare; bad leaders are common.” – Jocko Willink

69. “There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.” – Jocko Willink

70. “As leaders, we must not get dragged into the details but instead remain focused on the bigger picture.” – Jocko Willink

71. “Faster. Stronger. Smarter. More humble. Less ego.” – Jocko Willink

72. “Generally, when a leader struggles, the root cause behind the problem is that the leader has leaned too far in one direction and steered off course. Awareness.” – Jocko Willink

73. “So how can a leader become great if they lack the natural characteristics necessary to lead? The answer is simple: a good leader builds a great team that counterbalances their weaknesses.” – Jocko Willink

74. “Although discipline demands control and asceticism, it actually results in freedom. When you have the discipline to get up early, you are rewarded with more free time.” – Jocko Willink

75. “Take care of your gear and your gear will take care of you.” – Jocko Willink

76. “The focus must always be on how to best accomplish the mission.” – Jocko Willink

77. “A leader must care about the troops, but at the same time the leader must complete the mission, and in doing so there will be risk and sometimes unavoidable consequences to the troops.” – Jocko Willink

78. “Even the most competent of leaders can be overwhelmed if they try to tackle multiple problems or a number of tasks simultaneously.” – Jocko Willink

79. “Once people stop making excuses, stop blaming others, and take ownership of everything in their lives, they are compelled to take action to solve their problems.” – Jocko Willink

80. “It is critical for leaders to act decisively amid uncertainty; to make the best decisions they can be based on only the immediate information available.” – Jocko Willink

How disciplined are you? 

Becoming more disciplined is a goal of many.

A piece of advice that Jocko Willink gives above, is to wake up early.

If you want to become a morning person, commit to a schedule.

Try to wake up and go to bed at the same times every day.

Schedule an alarm on your phone to ensure you’ll stick to it. 

To help yourself wake up earlier, put activities into your routine that will make you excited about going to sleep.

For example, treat yourself to an awesome breakfast or watch your favorite television show while you get dressed.

With time, you may find that you’re more of an early riser than you thought. 

What’s your favorite quote from Jocko Willink?

Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Nia Simone McLeod
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