Review: Rogue Warrior’s Strategy for Success

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The Rogue Warriors Strategy for Success, by Richard Marcinko. Pocket Books, 1998.

This is not your usual leadership book. I guess I really like military leadership books because they harbour less bullshit.

Richard Marcinko was a Navy Seal and operated the infamous Seal Team Six during the 80s.

In short….

The book is terse, and contains a lot of italics. You can easily imagine him looming over you with a finger poking at your chest.

He goes over the problem of business like it’s an operations debriefing. Here are the chapter titles:

  1. Assess Your Mission: Goals, Tactics and Resources
  2. Dictating the Rules of Engagement
  3. Building a Team with Character
  4. Training for Victory
  5. Mistake is Not a Dirty Word
  6. Rewriting the Rules of Engagement
  7. You Can’t Keep it if You Don’t Risk It
  8. Lead From the Front
  9. Killing Complacency
  10. Change or Die
Business strategy, at least as described in the books I’ve read, doesn’t seem to emphasize the importance of not doing what your competition expects of you, refusing to play on a level playing field. They tend to be very focussed on soft skills, marketing, HR. This is not that kind of book.
I really liked it a lot, and not just because it was so refreshing. I like it because he ably templates his style of leadership, and outlines why it works. That’s all he can do. It’s up to you to see the drawbacks to the style, whether it will work for your situation, and whether you want to be that type of leader at all. In other words, he gives you all the information you need, but it’s up to you to use it.

Morality in Business

This book would be interesting in counterpoint to say, a business ethics class. I personally think it should be read alongside some personal journalling, to unpack your responses to the harrowing episodes he recounts.

He talks a lot about character, and loyalty in particular. It’s a very us/them worldview because in Chapter 6, he talks about expedience.

“Whoever gets hurt by your rewrite of the rules will probably try to oppose you. They’ll dig in their heels and tell you what a bully and a cheat you are. Well, fuck ’em. You didn’t invent the concept of renegotiating a contract or revising a strategy. People have always changed the rules, and always will.”

I think that he walks a fine moral line here, which is all any of us can ever do. He has a very strong integrity framework, but it’s just not that opaque. However, you have to have it in order to be able to navigate these difficult situations.

Because he’s right; it will be done to you if you’re not aware of how this works. And you’ll be the one whining about how it isn’t fair. So you need to have your own standards. But he also points out that morality changes depending on the circumstances. This example is from Winston Churchill.

…Churchill discovered this as a young soldier in India, fighting militant Moslems. Initially, he wouldn’t allow his men to use the new “dumdum” bullet, remarking that “the bullet’s shattering effects are simply appalling. I believe no such bullet has ever been used on human beings before, but only on game–stags, tigers, etc.”
But as the conflict escalated, Churchill’s troops began to encounter the full barbarity of the enemy, who began to attack field hospitals and to torture to death all of the wounded and sick soldiers as well as all their doctors and nurses.
Churchill then began to allow the use of the dumdum bullets.

View the same conflict from the enemy’s perspective and they would no doubt be “changing the rules of engagement” would they not?

This is a book that will make you think, because you’ll read his words and either be charmed or repelled. And then you’ll start to think about how you would go about making similar black and white decisions, and realize how tough it is to play with high stakes.

Of course, you don’t have to play at high stakes, but wouldn’t you like the option?

My Take:

The book is a kind of double-distilled liquor of 20 years of combat experience followed by 20 years of business experience which evidently didn’t shake many of the combat paradigms. As such, it’s a powerful hit that may leave you reeling, but there’s more solid advice and experience per ounce that, to me, at least, makes it worth the roughed-up feeling you get from it.

At the very least, it gives you the sense that it is possible to have integrity and play with the big boys. He ranks his loyalties, decides his objectives and then does everything in his power to achieve them, up to and including grey-hat tactics.  He can do this, skate very close to the edges because he is precisely clear on what his own rules are.

People who aren’t clear on them tend to float around either avoid the edges with extreme prejudice or not see them until they’re past them.

So if this description is pushing your buttons, I would encourage you to read the book and see if you can’t reserve judgement and at least see that Marcinko does what he thinks is right by his own lights.

And if the book intrigues you, read it, but be sure to consider the other side or the issue as well.

It’s a scant 200 pages, and a pretty fast paced read. But you might have to slow down to catch all the “quotables,” because this man doesn’t pull his punches.


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