Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Written by Navy Seals turned corporate coaches Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Their theories on leadership were forged on the streets of Ar Ramadi, Iraq, during the period following the attacks of 9-11. As leaders of Naval Special Warfare Task Unit Bruiser they were responsible for the training of personnel, planning & execution of missions, and were held accountable when things went wrong.

The lessons of combat apply equally to the lessons of life. The key points are as follows:

1. Extreme Ownership – This is the key point that everything else hinges on. If you are the leader of a team you are responsible for everything that transpires, especially the failures. If you are a team member then you are responsible for everything that transpires. Own the situation fully.

If this type of culture can be spread through your organization then the entire team will improve constantly, even when the leader isn’t around.

2. No bad teams, only bad leaders – It is the leaders duty to instill a sense of purpose in their team. When striving towards a higher standard remember, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate. If a standard is set and not met, and nobody is held accountable, then that performance sets the new standard. Leaders must ensure that tasks are repeated until standards are met.

Leaders should never be satisfied, but always be striving to improve. This is done by being realistic about past performances, strengths, and weaknesses. Once identified, a plan can be implemented to shore those weaknesses up.

3. Belief – You must believe in the goal if you are to inspire others towards its pursuit. The mission is bigger than you. Much of this is passed through the ranks by ensuring that the entire team is aware of the overall strategy, not just the immediate mission.

4. Check your ego at the door – Leadership requires a high level of humility if your judgement is not to be clouded. Be confident, not cocky.

5. Cover and Move – on the battlefield this refers to covering your team while they move, then they do the same for you. Translated to life this means Teamwork. A leader needs to ensure that all departments are pulling in the same direction and avoid conflicts or fiefdoms from developing. These hinder the progress towards the ultimate goal.

Communicate with other departments, sub-contractors, etc. Find out what problems they have that are affecting your operation and work with them to fix it. Take extreme ownership.

6. Simple – the KISS principle. Most people take the path of least resistance and just want to be told what to do. Make it easy for them.

7. Prioritize and Execute – “Relax, look around, make a call”. Don’t spend all your time putting out little fires; go after the kid with the lighter.

Contingency planning can help you anticipate likely challenges and have a response ready. Stay ahead of the curve.

When the shit is hitting the fan you need to take a step back and look at the situation with dispassionate eyes, in the light of your overall mission. Then select the highest priority effort and focus all attention on it.

Evaluate the highest priority problem
lay out the highest priority effort in simple language
develop a solution; get input from your team
focus all resources towards the priority task
move to the next priority problem and repeat.

8. Decentralized Command – Humans are not capable of effectively leading more than 6-10 people. Teams should be broken down into manageable teams of 6 people with one clear leader established.

Each team leader needs to understand not only what, but why they are doing what they are doing.

Subordinates need to be given clear boundaries between freedom of action and expectations, then be allowed to operate within them.

Senior leaders need to constantly push information to the juniors, while juniors should push situational awareness up the chain to the seniors. In this way everyone remains focused on the overall strategy and remains empowered to make decisions.

Don’t micro-manage, but do know what everyone is doing.

Leaders at all levels must be empowered to make decisions.

9. Planning

  • Analyse the mission – understand Commanders Intent and the end goal
  • Identify personnel, assets, resources and time available.
  • Decentralize the planning process.
  • Determine a specific course of action. KISS. Focus all resources towards this empower key leaders to develop the plan for the specific course of action plan for contingencies through each phase of the operation
  • Mitigate risks as far as possible
  • Delegate portions of the plan to key junior leaders
  • Continually check and question the plan to ensure it still fits the situation
  • Brief the plan to the team. Emphasize Commanders Intent.
  • Conduct after action review. Lessons learned

10. Leading up and down the chain.

Leading down – Communicate constantly to the juniors how their role contributes to the big picture success. It’s not as obvious to the workers as the leader might think it is. Sometimes you are too close to the problem/situation.

If your team isn’t doing what you need them to be doing then first look at yourself. Don’t blame them, figure out how to better communicate with them.

Leading Up – if your boss isn’t doing something that you think they should, first look at yourself. Are you giving them the support and info they need?

One of the most important jobs of a leader is to support your immediate boss.

11. Decisiveness amongst uncertainty.

Don’t be paralyzed. A good decision now is better than a great one 24hrs from now.

12. Discipline equals freedom.

Waking up early is an example of a discipline that is the difference between being good and being exceptional. You need to make the time to be exceptional. When that alarm goes off it is a test. Do you exercise discipline and get up, or do you fail the test? The carry over to other decisions and your life is greater than you think.

Intrinsic self discipline – a matter of personal will. The best SEALs were the most disciplined.

Discipline demands control and asceticism, but it results in freedom.

Check out Jocko’s twitter account for a display of this discipline in action.  He posts a picture of his watch every morning and then gets to it.

Get this book.  It is full of stories from the front lines of business and war, told in a no-nonsense style that is inspiring and actionable.

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