Teamwork & Leadership

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Summary of leadership advice

Have a crystal-clear understanding of the objective(s)

Have a crystal-clear understanding of all of the possible courses of action and their likely effects

  • In my debate against the Yale students, I don't think I was familiar-enough with the rules to know that their choice of subject-matter arguably violated the rule against overly-complicated topics.  So I didn't instruct my debate partner to go for that angle, and didn't go for it myself.
  • The great directors (e.g. Tarantino) seem to often have encyclopedic knowledge of film.  They know all of the different camera angles they can use, etc.
  • When commanding in Combat Mission, you need to understand all of the possible orders you can give, and what the likely effect of each order is going to be based on the environment, the unit you're giving the order to, etc.

Get good subordinates

  • a lot of being a good leader is being able to get good people under you; it's like you're all one big brain; the people under you are just an extension of you.

Help your subordinates improve themselves

  • a corollary of this is that a big part of being a good leader is being able to bring out the best in the people working for you. Sam Walton said he spent a significant amount of time focusing on taking care of his associates and managers. I've noticed the same thing when playing basketball/soccer: i used to shout a lot when both good and bad things happened, but then i had an epiphany one day while playing basketball when i realized that my teammates really didn't like it when i shouted at the top of my lungs in anger about mistakes. so I switched to just being very excited about the successes, and since then I've noticed that people really seem to perform much better that way. it's gotten to the point where I've seen teams of individually-worse players beat teams of individually-better players, at least partially because of this factor.
  • In my experience rotating between the leader and follower position has given me a better idea of how to serve in each role (e.g. what kind of information to pass to the other person, and when to do it).


  • one of the biggest challenges for a leader that I've experienced is managing how decisions are made; as the guy at the top you can get flooded with information and not have time to give every decision the thought it should get, so your biggest decisions can end up being the delegation of decisions to other people based on their skills.
  • you need to remind the people under you exactly what authority you're delegating to them or they may sit around waiting for you to give them instructions for something you were expecting them to take the initiative on.

Solicit ideas from everyone

  • You need to remind the people under you to challenge anything you say/order that has a flaw in it that you're not aware of; when you're pressed for time you can overlook things that the people under you may spot.
  • The Making of MGS2: Sons of Liberty
    • Like I said, Mr. Kojima didn't just want to use his own ideas, he wanted everybody to contribute. He insisted on encouraging team participation. Hence our "idea notebooks". Team members were given a notebook and were supposed to write down at least one idea a day. So we got them brainstorming. Every evening, Mr. Kojima and I read these notebooks to look at what the team produced. If Mr. Kojima thought it was a good idea, we took it and we ran a programming test. If it worked from a technical standpoint and added to the pleasure of the gameplay, then we kept it.
  • 2013.07.22 - Bloomberg - Charles Manson's Turning Point: Dale Carnegie Classes
    • Manson became especially obsessed with Chapter Seven [of "How to Win Friends and Influence People"], on how to get cooperation, and often practiced key lines in his cell, a former prison mate told Guinn. Carnegie’s advice—”Let the other fellow feel that the idea is his”—became vital in helping him recruit and control a band composed mostly of young women. Former “Family” members Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten (who was denied her 20th bid for parole last month) both say Manson mastered the technique: Not only did he often solicit and praise his followers’ advice, he was careful to frame every killing as a Family decision.

      Jackie Kellso, who runs Dale Carnegie courses in New York, says, “it’s a very hard concept to understand.” The notion of letting others take credit for your ideas goes against what most people are taught, she explains, yet “it’s fundamental to being a good leader.”

  • 2017.08.04 - YouTube - Bryan Cranston Made Jerry Seinfeld Laugh Once
    • In the episode where Bryan Cranston (as a dentist) takes a hit of the nitrous oxide before giving it to Jerry, the idea to do that came from a guy who was working the lights on the set.
    • "...So, we rehearse this scene and they all go to another scene. I stayed on that set to get used to the stool and the instruments and where things were, and I hear a voice saying, 'Hey, you know it would be funny?', and I look out and on a ladder adjusting a light is a guy. I go, 'You're talking to me?'  'Yeah.'  I went, 'What?'  He goes, 'It'd be funny if you first took a hit of the laughing gas before you gave it to him'.  'And I thought, 'Oh my god, that is funny...'"
  • Full Metal Jacket - Drill Instructor's dialogue
    • The drill instructor's dialogue in Full Metal Jacket was actually pieced together from the best lines in the audition tapes of thousands of people who submitted videos auditioning for the role of the drill instructor.
    • YouTube - Casting R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket
      • 1:05 - There were many thousands of tapes that were sent over to audition for the role.
      • 6:05 - They had the tapes transcribed and stitched together the drill instructor's lines from 800 pages of material.

Assign one or more subordinates to help you verify that your other subordinates are doing what they should be doing

  • Cibit talking about leading players in an OFP mission: "the hardest part about leading is getting the players-being-led to do what you need, when you need it. Some of my most successful missions, where I have taken lead, I have appointed a sergeant major type, generally the Baron, to make sure orders are understood and carried out."

Verify that your subordinates are doing what they should be doing

  • Cibit talking about leading players in an OFP mission: "the hardest part about leading is getting the players-being-led to do what you need, when you need it. Some of my most successful missions, where I have taken lead, I have appointed a sergeant major type, generally the Baron, to make sure orders are understood and carried out." 
  • The Making of MGS2: Sons of Liberty
    • Like I said, Mr. Kojima didn't just want to use his own ideas, he wanted everybody to contribute. He insisted on encouraging team participation. Hence our "idea notebooks". Team members were given a notebook and were supposed to write down at least one idea a day. So we got them brainstorming. Every evening, Mr. Kojima and I read these notebooks to look at what the team produced.
    • The interesting thing about this example was that he didn't just send an email saying, "Hey everyone, feel free to email me with any ideas you have".  Instead he instituted a process by which he could ensure everyone was following his directive.  So the lesson here might be: Whenever you decide you want your employees to do something, you need to also come up with a process by which you can verify that they're doing it, and have that verification occur as quickly and as frequently as possible.
  • One thing Edwina did that that seemed to be extremely effective for her (and exhausting for me) was to sit there right across a desk from me and work with me in a very piecemeal fashion, delegating very small tasks and having me do them right in front of her while she waited.  I think the equivalent in software development would be pair programming, where you have the subordinate doing the programming, thinking out loud, and the manager as the assistant.  It would be interesting to see an experiment where you tried to have a single manager pair-programming with several subordinates (say, 4?), and see if the manager could keep up with four different trains of thought at the same time.


Turn the Ship Around!

  • Amazon
  • This is a very helpful book.
  • The main idea (from what I've read so far) was that the ship was suffering from an inability to delegate, and so what he did was to have delegation+confirmation, where the subordinate would say to his superior officer, "I intend to do X" (where X was something the superior officer had previously been doing himself) and the superior would have a chance to correct any mistakes in the decision.


  • I had the opportunity to ride the USS Sante Fe during Captain Marquet's command tour and observed firsthand the impact of his leadership approach. (...) Shortly after getting under way, a young officer approached the captain an said, "Sir, I intend to take this ship down four hundred feet." Captain Marquet asked about the sonar contacts and bottom depth and then instructed this young man to give us another few minutes on the bridge before carrying out his intention.

    Throughout the day, people approached the captain intending to do this or to do that. The captain would sometimes ask a question or two, and then say, "Very well". He reserved only the tip-of-the-iceberg-type decisions for his own confirmation. The great mass of the iceberg–the other 95 percent of the decisions–were being made without any involvement or confirmation by the captain whatsoever. (...)

    I asked David how he achieved this turnabout. He said he wanted to empower his people as far as he possibly could within the Navy's confines, and maybe a little bit more. (...) He felt if he required them to own the problem and the solution to it, they would begin to view themselves as a vitally important link in the chain of command. He created a culture where those sailors had a real sense of adding value.
  • The book presents a comprehensive paradigm shift for how we think about leadership. Captain Marquet has coined the phrase "leader-leader" to differentiate it from the leader-follower approach that traditional leadership models have espoused.
  • Our world's bright future will be built by people who have discovered that leadership is the enabling art. It is the art of releasing human talent and potential. You may be able to "buy" a person's back with a paycheck, position, power, or fear, by a human being's genius, passion, loyalty, and tenacious creativity are volunteered only. The world's greatest problems will be solved by passionate, unleashed "volunteers".


  • The Problem: Leader-Follower
  • The Solution: Leader-Leader

Part I: Starting Over

  • Our greatest struggle is within ourselves. Whatever sense we have of thinking we know something is a barrier to continued learning. For me, my ideas of leadership were formed by reading Western classics like Beowulf and The Odyssey, reading histories of the sea, and watching popular movies. These notions of "leader as individual hero" were strongly reinforced when I got to the U.S. Naval Academy.

    In this part of the book, I describe my frustration, questioning, and ultimate rejection of that type of leadership.

1. Pain

2. Business as Usual

3. Change of Course

4. Frustration

5. Call to Action

6. "Whatever They Tell Me to Do!"

7. "I Relieve You!"

Part II: Control

  • My primary focus when I assumed command of Sante Fe was to divest control and distribute it to the officers and crew. Control is about making decisions concerning not only how we are going to work but also toward what end.

    A submarine has a built-in structure whereby information is channeled up the chain of command to decision makers. Instead, we were going to deconstruct decision authority and push it down to where the information lived. We called this "Don't move information to authority, move authority to the information."

    The chapters in this part will introduce you to the initial set of mechanisms we devised to implement leader-leader practices. I've organized the mechanisms into three groups: control, competence, and clarity. Although the initial focus was on redistributing control, it was necessary to work in all three areas.
    • Find the genetic code for control and rewrite it.
    • Act your way to new thinking.
    • Short, early conversations make efficient work.
    • Use "I intend to..." to turn passive followers into active leaders.
    • Resist the urge to provide solutions.
    • Eliminate top-down monitoring systems.
    • Think out loud (both superiors and subordinates).
    • Embrace the inspectors.

8. Change, in a Word

9. "Welcome Aboard Sante Fe!"

10. Under Way on Nuclear Power

11. "I Intend To..."

12. Up Scope!

13. Who's Responsible?

14. "A New Ship"

15. "We Have a Problem"

Part III: Competence

  • One of the two pillars that support control is competence. Competence means that people are technically competent to make the decisions they make. On a submarine, it means having a specific technical understanding of physics, electricity, sound in water, metallurgy, and so on.

    The emphasis in the book thus far has been on pushing decision making and control to lower and lower levels in the organization. We found, however, that control by itself wasn't enough. The chapters in this part will focus on the mechanisms we employed to strengthen technical competence. They are:
    • Take deliberate action.
    • We learn (everywhere, all the time).
    • Don't brief, certify.
    • Continually and consistently repeat the message.
    • Specify goals, not methods.

16. "Mistakes Just Happen!"

17. "We Learn"

18. Under Way for San Diego

19. All Present and Accounted For

20. Final Preparations

Part IV: Clarity

  • As more decision-making authority is pushed down the chain of command, it becomes increasingly important that everyone throughout the organization understands what the organization is about. This is called clarity, and it is the second supporting leg–along with competence–that is needed in order to distribute control.

    Clarity means people at all levels of an organization clearly and completely understand what the organization is about. This is needed because people in the organization make decisions against a set of criteria that includes what the organization is trying to accomplish. If clarity of purpose is misunderstood, then the criteria by which a decision is made will be skewed, and suboptimal decisions will be made.

    The chapters in this part will introduce you to the mechanisms we devised to implement leader-leader practices by stressing clarity. The mechanisms described are these:
    • Achieve excellence, don't just avoid errors.
    • Build trust and take care of your people.
    • Use your legacy for inspiration.
    • Use guiding principles for decision criteria.
    • Use immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviors.
    • Begin with the end in mind.
    • Encourage a questioning attitude over blind obedience.

21. Under Way for Deployment

22. A Remembrance of War

23. Leadership at Every Level

24. A Dangerous Passage

25. Looking Ahead

26. Combat Effectiveness

27. Homecoming

28. A New Method of Resupplying

29. Ripples


What I have learned from my different leadership experiences

Playing basketball / indoor soccer

  • I should figure out exactly what I was doing when I encourage people in soccer and make them perform better. For example, I seem to be very vigorously encouraging effort / process rather than results. And I tell people very vigorously to not worry when they make mistakes. I should come up with a list of these things so I can apply them to business.
  • Don't get angry when things go poorly. It doesn't help. People just resent you for being angry and yelling. I learned this first at 6 school in Cliffside Park, probably around 5th / 6th / 7th grade. And then in college I had the lesson drilled into my head again when playing indoor soccer and being amazed at how it seemed to get people to play better. If someone took a good shot and it missed, I would yell "Good shot" or "Great shot" (depending on how good it was). If someone scored I would yell "Yes!" or clap, depending on my energy level.
  • When I was playing soccer that one time at Infer, I yelled "Shot!" at Craig when he was in a position to take a shot, and he did, and he missed, and I not only yelled, "Good shot!", but I added, "That is how we're going to win.  If we just keep doing that, we're going to win."  And then the same situation repeated itself later, and he made the shot.  And we won!

Participated in the WIRED 24-hour play competitions in college

  • There are two HUGE factors in how good your play is: 1) the script, and 2) your actors. As a director in this particular competition you don't have control over either! They're both assigned to you. And since the scripts are written by students, #1 and #2 are really the same thing (if you assume that good script-writers will consistently produce better scripts than bad script-writers; although I guess that's the same as assuming that good actors will consistently produce better performances than less-good actors)
    • This is extremely analogous to starting a company. The script is the "idea", the "plan", the "product-market fit". The actors are the people you get to work with you, the founders, the people who get hired.
  • As an actor, you'll frequently look at the director and think, "Oh, why isn't he/she doing [idea]! It's obvious that's the best thing to do!" Or you'll think, "Why isn't he/she giving me feedback about my performance! I need ideas for what I should do!" But when I finally got to be a director, I was astounded at how overloaded I felt. I got the feeling that actors were expecting me to take care of the blocking and give them feedback, but I just didn't have enough time. I really needed the actors to take the initiative to handle their own blocking and come up with ideas for things to do.
  • After I did the competition I recommended to the organizers that they put together a list of advice to give to future participants, because a lot of the plays would make the same mistakes over and over again. Something like this would be very useful for entrepreneurs to have. I remember thinking that all you would need to do is ask each of the directors to come up with some things they wish they had done differently, or advice they'd give to future participants.
  • Immediately delegate all of your responsibilities to subordinates! You need to have time to think, to "move around" and see where you can have the maximum impact, like when you're just a subordinate. That was the problem I ran into when I was directing for the "Wired" competition and directing the films for the directing class I took: I felt overwhelmed with things I needed to think about, so I wasn't able to look for areas where I could have the maximum impact.

Others' examples of teamwork and leadership

  • Lindybeige - Skirmish skill
    • From his time studying combat he noticed something:
    • there were guys who were very good with their weapons, and would dominate in a 1-on-1 fight
    • ...but those guys were often not the most useful people in a skirmish (team battle)
    • The skills the good skirmishers had were basically:
      • attending to the entire situation of a skirmish, not just your own
      • seeing where you can maneuver to make the biggest difference to a skirmish
  • Amazon - Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II
    • This was highly recommended by Francis "Snuffy" Fuller, who headed a tank platoon in WW2:
      • "There’s a book, someday, if you ever get the chance to read, it’s called "Company Commander," and I wish I could remember the author’s name. I think I read that book three times already. It’s an infantry story, but it’s terrific."
      • He doesn't specifically mention it as being a good source of information about leadership.  He seems to just mention it as being a good source of stories.
  • - Interview with Arnold Brown, a company commander in the 90th division
    • This was an amazing interview. This guy was basically an amazing company commander; he was able to accomplish dangerous missions while losing no men, or only one or two men.
    • The major takeaway I got from it was that his success was owed to his years of experience and knowledge and training; he knew what to do in various situations:
      • "look, I had nine years of training and experience before I got into combat. No matter how smart a guy is, it’s no reflection on him, they’re good men, you can’t send a person because he’s got a college degree to OCS for 90 days and make a combat leader out of him, not really psychologically or they don’t know tactics. You can’t teach them in that amount of time."
      • "it takes luck and training and everything combined to get through this [survive the war]."

How to organize a mass movement

I have a strong interest in human psychology, and one of the things I've found interesting is the fact that mass movements seem to come into existence again and again through history. I'm interested in having a better understanding of how and why this happens.


  • Speak where people congregate.
    • Examples
      • Churches, political meetings, beer halls, any kind of club meeting (eg a "fight club"), online forums, chat rooms, YouTube videos
  • Have a vision / message that can have mass appeal, even if it may require some adjustment of opinion on the part of the masses.
    • Examples
      • "We can achieve harmony between black and white people in the US", "We can make Germany great again", "We can make people happier by bringing society back to a more primitive state."
  • Begin by recruiting people who are the most down-on-their-luck / receptive to the message.
  • Have these members perform easy-to-perform "missions" that attract attention and spread awareness of the movement.
    • Examples
      • The Civil Rights movement had people perform nonviolent "sit-ins" and marches.
  • Gradually recruit more- and more-talented / "normal" members.

Examples of mass movements

  • The Civil Rights Movement
    • About
      • This movement seemed to grow out of the churches, in the way that the political movements of the early 20th century grew out of the common-gathering-places of political meetings and beer halls.
  • Fight Club
    • About
      • This wasn't a real mass movement, but I suspect the author did research on how mass movements tend to get started, because the story seems to parallel the descriptions of other mass movements I've heard: a charismatic leader is able to organize a small group of dissatisfied people into a unit that is capable of recruiting new members, etc.
  • The Nazi SA
    • About
      • This was the Nazi equivalent to the "Project Mayhem" recruits you see in  the movie Fight Club: guys who were down on their luck and could be recruited to perform easy-to-execute missions on behalf of the intellectual leadership of the movement. In the Nazi's case they were protecting Nazi meetings, disrupting opposing-parties' meetings, parading through the streets. In both the Nazis' case and in Fight Club, they were used to create drama that would raise the profile of the movement.
    • Websites
    • Books

Related pages