Cover and Move

As I continue on my path to embracing Extreme Ownership, I find myself in a textbook situation in which I need to rely on others. And it’s hard!

Last week, I shared an experience with one of my teams. We had a major outage and it took us all week to get things figured out.

Even before that week and its problems, I had told my boss that I was close to needing some help. The challenges I was seeing on the maintenance Legacy team were enough to keep me busy nearly full-time, and I was also managing two other teams building our next-gen software.

In the middle of the outage week, it became clear to me that I needed to take a drastic step. I came to the leadership group over those three teams and asked for their help and opinion.

I proposed stepping away from two of the three teams for the full month of July. I would stop attending team meetings, cancel 1:1s with those team members, and mute all Slack channels. My entire attention and focus would go to the Legacy team and I would work to correct some of my mistakes and get us in a better place.

The response from those leaders was warm and supportive.

My favorite part of the meeting was the immediate response from our principal engineer. He said, “Cover and Move, right? We’ve got you.”

I have been teaching my teams about the principles of Extreme Ownership since starting in January, and trying to practice them. Cover and Move is the First Law of Combat in that framework, and is the bedrock for everything else to succeed. We must have the relationships and trust to be able to take decisive steps forward.

And here meeting my proposal was my friend recognizing the perfect opportunity to put this into practice. I was touched and thrilled.

We made plans for how this would go, and I shared the news with the teams the next day. Again, one of my team members spoke up, “This is a chance for us to Cover and Move! Of course, we’ll miss you, but we’ve got this.”

This also represents another concept that Jocko often teaches—leadership capital.

The idea is to think of building up a surplus of trust that can be drawn on when needed without destroying morale or relationships.

If my teams didn’t trust me, my decision to step away could easily come across as lazy and selfish. But we have worked together enough this year for them to see that while I often make mistakes, my intentions are good and I truly care about them.

I’ve only had a couple days in which to flex the feeling of freedom this focus has brought. It already resonates as the right thing to do. I am optimistic that as we buckle down and work hard this month, we can get ourselves in a much better situation than we are currently.

My biggest regret is that I have not yet built up enough subordinate leaders to mitigate the impact of my absence. The team isn’t ready yet to step up and do my job.

Or maybe they are!

Perhaps in August, I will learn that my opinion of myself was inflated and inaccurate. Maybe we will find that there are leaders in the team who were just being stunted in their growth by my ego and lack of giving them ownership.

No matter what happens, I firmly believe it is the right thing to do. We will deal with the natural consequences of this decision, whatever they may be.

Now is the time for me to trust in Decentralized Command. I need to be willing to say no to things that I enjoy doing and consider important to Prioritize and Execute on those that are currently crucial.

I am under no illusions that this will be easy. But the plan is Simple. And we are ready to get to work. Let’s do this!

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