"Extreme Ownership" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
12 minutes read
Chapter 1: Extreme Ownership
The best-performing [SEAL] units had leaders who accepted responsibility for everything
Good [SEAL] leaders took ownership of failures
When a bad [SEAL] leader walked into a debrief and blamed everyone else, that attitude was picked up by subordinates [..], who then followed suit. They all blamed everyone else, and inevitably the team was ineffective and unable to properly execute a plan.
Good leaders took ownership of their mistakes and shortfalls.
They [SEAL platoons] see Extreme Ownership in their leaders, and, as a result, they emulate Extreme Ownership throughout the chain of command down to the most junior personnel. As a group, they try to figure out how to fix their problems - instead of trying to figure out who or what to blame.
Chapter 2: No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
Leaders must accept total responsibility, own problems that inhibit performance, and develop solutions to those problems.
When it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.
When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable - if there are no consequences - that poor performance becomes the new standard.
Leaders must ensure that tasks are repeated until the highest expected standard is archived.
Teams need a forcing function to get the different members working together to accomplish the mission and that is what leadership is all about.
Once the culture of Extreme Ownership is built into the team at every level, the entire team performs well, and performance continues to improve, even when a strong leader is temporarily removed from the team.
Every team must have junior leaders ready to step up and temporarily take on the roles and responsibilities of their immediate bosses to carry on the team’s mission and get the job done.
Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mindset into the team.
The best teams anywhere, like the SEAL Teams, are constantly looking to improve, add capability, and push the standards higher. It starts with the individual and spreads to each of the team members until this becomes the culture, the new standard. The recognition that there are no bad teams, only bad leaders facilitates Extreme Ownership and enables leaders to build high-performance teams that dominate on any battlefield, literal or figurative.
Extreme Ownership - good leadership - is contagious.
Chapter 3: Believe
to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission.
If a leader does not believe, he or she will not take the risks required to overcome the inevitable challenges necessary to win.
Leaders must always operate with the understanding that they are part of something greater than themselves and their interests. They must impart this understanding to their teams down to the tactical-level operators on the ground. Far more important than training or equipment, a resolute belief in the mission is critical for any team or organization to win and achieve big results.
Every leader must be able to detach from the immediate tactical mission and understand how it fits into strategic goals.
When leaders receive an order that they question and do not understand, they must ask the question: why? Why are we being asked to do this? Those leaders must take a step back, deconstruct the situation, analyze the strategic picture, and then come to a conclusion.
The leader must explain not what to do, but why. It is the responsibility of the subordinate leader to reach out and ask if they do not understand. Only when leaders at all levels understand and believe in the mission can they pass that understanding and belief to their teams so that they can persevere through challenges, execute and win.
If you don’t ask questions so you can understand and believe in the mission, you are failing as a leader and you are failing your team. So, if you ever get a task or guidance or a mission that you don’t believe in, don’t just sit back and accept it. Ask questions, until you understand why so you can believe in what you are doing and you can pass that information down the chain to your team with confidence, so they can get out and execute the mission. That is leadership.
Chapter 4: Check the Ego
Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team. Ego can prevent a leader from conducting an honest, realistic assessment of his or her performance and the performance of the team.
Chapter 5: Cover and Move
Cover and Move: it is the most fundamental tactic, perhaps the only tactic. Put simply, Cover and Move means teamwork.
All elements within the greater team are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose. Departments and groups within the team must break down silos, depend on each other and understand who depends on them. If they forsake this principle and operate independently or work against each other, the results can be catastrophic to the overall team’s performance.
It falls on leaders to continually keep perspective on the strategic mission and remind the team that they are part of the greater team and that the strategic mission is paramount.
If the overall team fails, everyone fails, even if a specific member or an element within the team did their job successfully.
Accomplishing the strategic mission is the highest priority. Team members, departments, and supporting assets must always Cover and Move - help each other, work together, and support each other to win. This principle is integral for any team to achieve victory.
Chapter 6: Simple
Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success. When plans and orders are too complicated, people may not understand them.
Plans and orders must be communicated in a manner that is simple, clear, and concise. Everyone that is part of the mission must know and understand his or her role in the mission and what to do in the event of likely contingencies.
As a leader, it doesn’t matter how well you feel you have presented the information or communicated an order, plan, tactic, or strategy. If your team doesn’t get it, you have not kept things simple and you have failed.
Chapter 7: Prioritize and Execute
Leader must remain calm and make the best decisions possible - utilize Prioritize and Execute - relax, look around, and make the call.
Leaders must determine the highest priority task and execute it. When overwhelmed, fall back upon this principle: Prioritize and Execute.
Through careful contingency planning, a leader can anticipate likely challenges that could arise during execution and map out an effective response to those challenges before they happen.
If the team has been briefed and understands what actions to take through such likely contingencies, the team can then rapidly execute when those problems arise, even without specific directions from leaders. This is a critical characteristic of any high-performance winning team in any business or industry.
To implement Prioritize and Execute the leader must:
evaluate the highest-priority problem
lay out in simple, clear, and concise terms the highest priority effort for your team
develop and determine a solution, seek input from key leaders and from the team where possible
direct the execution of that solution, focusing all efforts and resources toward this priority task
move on to the next highest priority problem. Repeat
when priorities shift within the team, pass situational awareness both up and down the chain
don’t let the focus on one priority cause target fixation. Maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shift as needed
Chapter 8: Decentralized Command
Human beings not capable of managing more than six to ten people.
Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to five operators, with a designated leader. Those leaders must understand the overall mission and the ultimate goal of that mission.
Teams within teams are organized for maximum effectiveness for a particular mission, with leaders who have delineated responsibilities.
Every tactical-level team leader must understand not just what to do but why they are doing it. If frontline leaders do not understand why they must ask their boss to clarify the why.
Junior leaders must fully understand what is within their decision-making authority - the “left and right limits” of their responsibility. They must communicate with senior leaders to recommend decisions outside their authority and pass critical information up to the chain so the senior leadership can make informed strategic decisions.
Chapter 9: Plan
What is the mission? Planning begins with mission analysis. Leaders must identify clear directives for the team.
The mission must be carefully refined and simplified so that it is explicitly clear and specifically focused to achieve the greater strategic vision of which that mission is part.
The mission must explain the overall purpose and desired result, the “end state”, of the operation.
The frontline troops tasked with executing the mission must understand the deeper purpose behind the mission. While a simple statement, the Commander’s Intent is the most important part of the brief.
Leaders must delegate the planning process down the chain as much as possible to key subordinate leaders. Team leaders within the greater team and frontline, tactical-level leaders must have ownership of their tasks within the overall plan and mission.
Team participation - even from the most junior personnel - is critical in developing bold, innovative solutions to problem sets. Giving the frontline troops ownership of even a small piece of the plan gives them buy-in, helps them understand the reasons behind the plan and better enables them to believe in the mission.
Senior leadership supervises the entire planning process by team members, he or she must be careful not to get bogged down in the details. They must “stand back and be the tactical genius” - identify weaknesses or holes in the plan, and fill in those gaps before execution.
Chapter 10: Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
Leading Down the Chain:
It is paramount that senior leaders explain to their junior leaders and troops executing the mission how their role contributes to big-picture success.
Leaders must routinely communicate with their team members to help them understand their role in the overall mission. This understanding helps the team members prioritize their efforts in a rapidly changing, dynamic environment. It requires regularly stepping out of the office and personally engaging in face-to-face conversations with direct reports and observing the frontline troops in action to understand their particular challenges and read them into the Commander’s Intent.
As a leader employing Extreme Ownership, if your team isn’t doing what you need them to do, you first have to look at yourself. Rather than blame them for not seeing the strategic picture, you must figure out a way to better communicate it to them in terms that are simple, clear, and concise, so that they understand.
Leading Up the Chain:
Leading up the chain takes much savvier skill than leading down the chain. Leading up, the leader cannot fall back on his or her positional authority. Instead, the subordinate leader must use influence, experience, knowledge, and communication, and maintain the highest professionalism.
One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your boss - your immediate leadership.
In any chain of command, the leadership must always present a united front to the troops. A public display of discontent or disagreement with the chain of command undermines the authority of leaders at all levels. This is catastrophic for the team performance of any organization.
If you don’t understand why decisions are being made, requests denied, or support allocated elsewhere, you must ask those questions up the chain. Then, once understood, you can pass that understanding down to your team.
Once the debate on the particular course of action is over and the boss has made the decision - even if that decision is one you argued against - you must execute the plan as if it were your own.
When leading up the chain of command, use caution and respect. But remember, if your leader is not giving you the support you need, don’t blame him or her. Instead, reexamine what you can do better to clarify, educate, influence, or convince that person to give you what you need to win.
The major factors to be aware of when leading up or down the chain of command are these:
Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world, subordinates and superiors alike.
If someone isn’t doing what you want or need them to do, look in the mirror first and determine what you can do better to enable this.
Don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do.
Chapter 11: Decisiveness amid Uncertainty
Leaders cannot be paralyzed by fear. That results in inaction. Leaders must act decisively amid uncertainty; to make the best decisions they can based on only the immediate information available.
There is no 100 percent right solution. The picture is never complete. Leaders must be comfortable with this and be able to make decisions promptly, then be ready to adjust those decisions quickly based on evolving situations and new information.
Waiting for the 100 percent right and certain solutions leads to delay, indecision, and an inability to execute.
Chapter 12: Discipline Equals Freedom - The Dichotomy of Leadership
A true leader is not intimidated when others step up and take charge, he should be ready to follow.
A leader must be aggressive but not overbearing.
A leader must be calm but not robotic, it’s normal - and necessary - to show emotion.
The team must understand that their leader cares about them and their well-being.
It is a leader’s job to always mitigate as much as possible those risks that can be controlled to accomplish the mission without sacrificing the team or excessively expending critical resources.
Leaders must act with professionalism and recognize others for their contribution.
A leader must be attentive to details but not obsessed with them. A good leader does not get bogged down in the minutia of a tactical problem at the expense of strategic success. He or she must monitor and check the team’s progress in the most critical tasks. But that leader cannot get sucked into the details and lose track of the bigger picture.
Leaders must be humble but not passive; quiet but not silent.
Leaders must be able to speak up when it matters. They must be able to stand up for the team and respectfully push back against a decision, order, or direction that could negatively impact overall mission success.
Leader must be close with subordinates but not too close. The best leaders understand the motivations of their team members and know their people - their lives and their families.