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Discipline Equals Freedom - The Dichotomy of Leadership

In the final chapter of this book, the author, Willink, recounts a time during his first deployment in Iraq when he was still a platoon commander. During his first tour, his platoon mainly performed targeted raids. His team would receive intelligence from the higher command or from a previous mission on the next terrorist target, usually a house or office building. The targeted raids, which almost always happened at night, followed the same format. The process is to breach the entrance, quickly secure all people and rooms, question those men of military age, identify possible terrorists and detain them, and search the building for intelligence and evidence. The author admits that the last part of the mission, searching for intelligence and evidence was the least organized as the SEALS basically ransacked the rooms. This resulted in rooms sometimes being missed and others getting searched more than one time. All in all, the search part of the mission could take up to 45 minutes. At the same time, the newly formed Iraqi court system put new requirements in place for providing evidence in order for it to be used with a “higher level of confidence”. This meant that the SEAL team needed to organize its search procedures. Willink had his second in command to develop the new procedures, which relate to both Chapter 8; Decentralized Command and Chapter 10; Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command. Initially, Willink thought the procedures were too complex. However, after hearing the explanation, he changed his mind after finding out the procedure was highly organized with each team member having a specific task. The team practiced the new procedures for searching for intelligence and evidence in practice buildings located within their post. They eventually got their search time down to 10 minutes and when put into use in a targeted raid, the time saved by using the new structured approach to searching allowed them the ability to perform 1 or 2 more additional raids in an evening. By using a more disciplined method, they had more time available to them. Allowing the freedom to perform more targeted raids. “[D]iscipline actually made us more flexible, more adaptable, and more efficient. It allowed us to be creative.” Additionally, “ We had the freedom to work within the framework of our disciplined procedures”.


The concept that discipline allows freedom reminds me of my good friend Michael Snell who is a master of time management. In fact, he wrote a book on it; Clockwork Time-Saving Routines and Tested Strategies for Success. I have learned a tremendous amount from Michael about taking charge of your day. The two biggest takeaways were the idea of not using your email inbox as your to-do list and always using your electronic calendar and sharing it with your administrative assistant, if you are lucky enough to have one. When I speak to my fellow administrators, I sometimes ask how many emails they have in their inbox. Most laugh, the sad kind of laugh, shake their heads and give me a number in the 100’s or more. I then ask what they are going to do with all of those emails. Typically the response includes, “ I hope to get to them one day.” As Rudy Giuliani said, “hope is not a strategy.” Michael's email strategy is fairly simple. If the email can be dealt with in under a few minutes, take care of it. If it’s strictly informational, file it. If it requires action, more than a few minutes, create a task and assign a due date and then file it. Your inbox should have fewer than 20 total emails, sometimes I get it down to zero! You work your day out of your task manager which is linked to your calendar. Every day you will have tasks to do. Your job is to prioritize them and then to start completing them. By allowing your administrative assistant access to your calendar, and always using it, you create less work for yourself and you are more in sync with your administrative assistant. Both of these strategies take discipline. However, by utilizing just these two tactics, I have freed up time in my day, and more importantly, I feel in control of my day.


Thanks for reading!

Erik Bentzel

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© 2019 by Erik Bentzel. 

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