Extreme Ownership is about the principles of leadership that are used within the US Navy Seals. This gem was written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, former Navy Seal officers for SEAL Task Unit Bruiser. Both are decorated combat veterans who now run a leadership training and consulting firm called Echelon Front. The book was written with the belief that “how Navy SEALs train and prepare their leaders, how they mold and develop high-performance teams, and how they lead in combat – are directly application to success in any group, organization, corporation, business, and, to a broader degree, life”.
The principles that are taught and discussed throughout the book are told through incredible stories and lessons from Willink and Babin’s experience leading combat troops in the battle of Ramadi. They then break down, examine and discuss each leadership principle individually, and, finally, share these principles from client examples of how they show up in the business world.
You’ll not only gain appreciation and respect for what these men did in combat, but you’ll learn practical and actionable leadership principles to help you succeed in your leadership role!
"The leader must own everything in his or her world."
Looking at leadership through the paradigm of “Extreme Ownership” makes a complex subject quite simple. In any organization, on any team, “all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader”. This is one of those mindsets that “say easy but do hard”. We all have egos and none of us like to fail or fall below the line, however, it’s going to happen. The best leaders check their egos, accept blame, seek out constructive criticism and take detailed notes to improve individually and as a unit.
It’s unfortunate how common and acceptable it is in business and society today to place blame elsewhere and say “that’s the reason we failed” or “it’s that person’s fault”, etc. Willink and Babin write, “The best leaders don’t just take responsibility for their job. They take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission. This concept is the number-one characteristic of any high-performance winning team, in any military unit, organization, sports team or business team in any industry”.
What I found compelling is that, by a leader taking Extreme Ownership of their team and the situations the team encounters, they will actually increase their trust and credibility with their leadership team and their subordinates at an accelerated rate. When leaders set this precedent, this mindset of “Extreme Ownership” starts to permeate into the culture of the team and the organization. When this starts to happen, look out!
No bad teams, only bad leaders
"Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance – or doesn’t."
The title of this insight captures the very nature of what Extreme Ownership is all about. “This is a difficult and humbling concept for any leader to accept,” the authors write. “But it is an essential mind-set to building a high performance winning team”.
As a leader, you must take full ownership of the standards of your team. Any leader knows all too well how difficult this can be but when it comes to these standards, as the leader, “it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate”.
No matter what those standards are, no matter if they are written or spoken, if team members are falling below that line and aren’t being held accountable to that precedent, then that poor performer/performance becomes the new standard. To put it bluntly, leaders must enforce their expected standards.
“A leader must find a way to become effective and drive high performance within his or her team in order to win,” the authors advise. “Whether in SEAL training, in combat on distant battlefields, in business or life: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders”.
Discipline Equal Freedom – The Dichotomy of Leadership
"Although discipline demands control and asceticism, it actually results in freedom"
Discipline defined is: strict order, regimen, and control. While that sounds like the complete opposite of freedom, Willink and Babin challenge us to look at discipline past the initial inconvenience of doing the task. They suggest that discipline is the pathway to freedom and is paramount to success for any leader, team and organization.
Think about your team and the standard operating procedures that you have in place. Why do you have them? I would venture to guess it’s so that things get done in an efficient, effective manner, across the variance of people that may be responsible to accomplish a task. These standard procedures allows you to not have to reinvent the wheel every time this situation presents itself. By creating a culture of disciplined execution, it allows your organization to be more flexible, adaptable and ultimately more efficient. Now there is a balance between discipline and freedom and as a leader that balance must be identified and maintained but once you get it right, you open up the opportunity for success within that setting.
Jocko and Leif also share with us a list of leadership dichotomies that must be carefully balanced. A good leader must be:
- Confident but not cocky
- Courageous but not foolhardy
- Competitive but a gracious loser
- Attentive to details but not obsessed by them
- Strong but have endurance
- A leader and a follower
- Humble not passive
- Aggressive not overbearing
- Quiet not silent
- Calm but not robotic, logical but not devoid of emotions
- Close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge
“A good leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove,” they say.
There are thousands of books out there about leadership and while many are great, few I’ve read are as practical, actionable and frankly emotionally moving as Extreme Ownership. Extreme Ownership is a mind-set, an attitude, and the authors do an incredible job of laying a foundation for both in this book. I’ll leave with you the last paragraph from the book as I feel it is so appropriate…
“While there is no guarantee for success in leadership, there is one thing that is certain: leading people is the most challenging, and, therefore, the most gratifying undertaking of all human endeavors. So, with that humbling reward in the distance, embrace the burden of command and go forward onto your battlefield, in whatever arena that may be, with the disciplined resolve to take Extreme Ownership, lead, and win”.