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Summary of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

This book covers the fundamental principles of leadership that are necessary for effectively leading and winning in life. There are only two types of leader, effective and ineffective. By applying the following principles, the core building blocks of leadership, you can enable yourself to become an effective leader. These principles are based on the fundamental concept of Extreme Ownership which is the core mindset of an effective leader:

“The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.”

– Jocko Willink

Free Audiobook and Summary of Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

The book is divided into three parts:

Part I: Winning the War Within: the mindset necessary to lead and win

Part II: The Laws of Combat: four critical concepts that enable a team to perform at peak performance

Part III: Sustaining Victory: how to maintain the edge and keep the team at peak performance

Part I: Winning the War Within

Chapter 1: Extreme Ownership

Leaders must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures by taking ownership of them and developing a plan to win.

The best leaders don’t just take responsibility for their job. They take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission. Total responsibility for failure is a difficult thing to accept, and taking ownership when things go wrong requires extraordinary humility and courage.

A leader who exercises Extreme Ownership does not take credit for his team’s successes but bestows that honor upon his subordinate leaders and team members. When a leader sets the example of Extreme Ownership and expects it from his subordinates, the mindset develops into the team’s culture at every level.

When you take Extreme Ownership, you take complete ownership of what went wrong, even if it means getting fired. By taking Extreme Ownership, subordinates, and superiors start respecting you because, unlike the average person, you don’t blame other people. You accept responsibility for what went wrong, and you develop a strategy to get the job done.

Conclusion: Take Extreme Ownership of everything. I am the only one to blame, there is no one else.

Chapter 2: No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

“If you build an army of 100 lions and their leader is a dog, in any fight, the lions will die like a dog. But if you build an army of 100 dogs and their leader is a lion, all dogs will fight as a lion”

– Napoleon Bonaparte

Leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. Good leaders don’t make excuses. Instead, they figure out a way to get it done and win.

If substandard performance is tolerated and no one is held accountable — if there are no consequences — poor performance becomes the new standard. The leader must enforce standards.

The leader must unite the team together, with everyone focused exclusively on how to best accomplish the mission [7-Transform Your War Into A Crusade-33 SoW]. Once a culture of Extreme Ownership is built into the team, the entire team performs. This is what leadership is really about.

Conclusion: The most fundamental and important truths at the heart of Extreme Ownership: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.

Chapter 3: Believe

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it”

– Simon Sinek

The most important question you can answer is why? Once you understand the mission and the why behind it can you truly believe in it. In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission, the leader must believe in the greater cause.

If a leader does not believe, he or she will not take the risks required to overcome the inevitable challenges necessary to win. Actions and words reflect belief with clear confidence and self-absurdness that is not possible when belief is in doubt. If subordinates understand the why, they can move forward, fully believing in what they are doing.

Conclusion: In order to believe I have to understand the WHY.

“For this reason, they must believe in the cause for which they are fighting. They must believe in the plan they are asked to execute, and most important, they must believe in and trust the leader they are asked to follow.” 

– Jocko Willink

Chapter 4: Check The Ego

When the ego clouds our judgment and prevents us from seeing the world as it is, the ego becomes destructive. Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility.

Conclusion: Don’t let ego cloud my judgment.

“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.” 

– Jocko Willink

Part II: The Laws Of Combat

Chapter 5: Cover And Move

Cover and move means teamwork. Each member of the team is critical to success, though the main effort and supporting efforts must be clearly identified. The focus must always be on how to best accomplish the mission. 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.

“Cover and Move, Simple, Prioritize and Execute, and Decentralized Command.” 

– Jocko Willink

Conclusion: The focus of the team must be to accomplish the mission, each member of the team must work together to better achieve the goal.

Chapter 6: Simple

In order to excel as a leader it is vital that things that can be simplified are simplified. Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success. As a leader, your role is to help your team excel and avoid making mistakes. When plans or orders are overly complicated, then this opens up the opportunity for mistakes. These types of mistake, which are based on misunderstanding instructions, are your fault as a leader. Additionally, if an individual makes an individual mistake, the complexity of your instructions will only compound issues and potentially lead to a disaster.

So, you want to provide orders, as a leader, that are:

  • Simple
  • Clear
  • Concise

Your instructions must be understandable by everybody in the team, even your weakest member.

“Leadership is simple, but not easy.”

– Jocko Willink

It is also extremely important that your team feel willing to ask you, as a leader, questions. They should feel comfortable asking for clarification before they proceed. As a leader, encourage your team members to seek clarification and not be ashamed about doing so.

“Simple as a principle is not only limited to the battlefield but rather to all walks of life.”

– Jocko Willink

Chapter 7: Prioritize And Execute

Leaders must determine the highest priority task and execute it. When overwhelmed (happens quite frequently), fall back upon this principle: Prioritize and Execute. A leader can prevent pressure by staying one or two steps ahead by planning possible contingencies that can occur in the mission, briefing these contingencies to the team can enable them to act rapidly and execute when those problems arise. Priorities can rapidly shift and change when this happens, communication of that shift to the rest of the team, both up and down the chain of command, is critical.

“Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful.” I explained how a leader who tries to take on too many problems simultaneously will likely fail at them all.” 

– Jocko Willink

To implement Prioritize and Execute a leader must:

  1. Evaluate the highest priority problem
  2. Lay out the highest priority in simple, clear, and concise terms
  3. Develop and determine a solution, seek input
  4. Direct the execution of that solution, focusing all efforts and resources toward this priority
  5. Move on to the next higher priority problem
  6. When priorities shift communicate both up and down the chain
  7. Don’t let the focus on one priority cause target fixation

Conclusion: Identify the highest priority at the moment, develop a plan to tackle the priority, execute.

“Relax, look around, make a call”

– Jocko Willink

Chapter 8: Decentralized Command

Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than six to ten people. Teams must be broken down into elements of four to five operator, with a clearly designated leader. Those leaders must understand the overall mission, and the ultimate goal of that mission. Every tactical-level team leader must understand not just what to do but why they are doing it.

Junior leaders must fully understand what is within their decision-making authority. They must communicate with senior leaders to recommend decisions outside their authority and pass critical information up the chain. Proper Decentralized Command requires simple, clear, concise orders that can be understood easily by everyone in the chain of command.

Conclusion: Small teams, with designated leaders, must understand what and why, clear and concise orders.

“The leader must explain not just 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.” 

– Jocko Willink

Part III: Sustaining Victory

“We learned that leadership requires belief in the mission and unyielding perseverance to achieve victory, particularly when doubters question whether victory is even possible. As” 

– Jocko Willink

Chapter 9: Plan

The leader must identify clear directives for the team. A broad and ambiguous mission results in a lack of focus and ineffective execution.

The mission must explain the overall purpose and desired results of the operation. Different courses of action must be explored on how best to accomplish the mission.

Leaders must delegate the planning process down the chain as much as possible to key subordinate leaders. While senior leaders supervise the entire planning process by team members, he must be careful not to get bogged down by the details [Intro-Elevate Yourself Above The Battlefield-33 SoW].

Members participating in the operation will understand the Commander’s Intent, the specific mission of the team, and their individual roles.

A post-operational debrief examines: What went right? What went wrong? How can we adapt our tactics to make us even more effective and increase our advantages over the enemy?

A leaders checklist for planning should include the following

Conclusion: Clear objective, simple plan, delegate planning process, become a tactical genius, post-operational debrief

“Any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.” 

– Jocko Willink

Chapter 10: Leading Up And Down The Chain Of Command

Leading Down:

A leader must routinely communicate with their team members to help them understand their role in the overall mission. 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:

Leading up the chain of command requires tactful engagement with the immediate boss to obtain the decisions and support necessary to enable your team to accomplish its mission. To do this, a leader must push situational awareness up the chain of command.

A public display of discontent with the chain of command undermines the authority of leaders at all levels. This is catastrophic to the performance of any organization.

Conclusion: Take Extreme Ownership, look in the mirror first and determine what you can do better, don’t ask what you should do, tell them what you are going to do.

“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.” 

– Jocko Willink

Chapter 11: Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty

Leaders cannot be paralyzed by fear. That results in inaction. It is critical for leaders to act decisively amid uncertainty; to make the best decision they can based on only the immediate information available. There is no 100% right solution, leaders must be comfortable with this and be able to make decisions promptly.

Conclusion: Implement Prioritize and Execute

“You can’t make people listen to you. You can’t make them execute. That might be a temporary solution for a simple task. But to implement real change, to drive people to accomplish something truly complex or difficult or dangerous—you can’t make people do those things. You have to lead them.” 

– Jocko Willink

Chapter 12: Discipline Equals Freedom — The Dichotomy Of Leadership

  • Confident but not cocky
  • Courageous but not foolhardy
  • Competitive but a gracious loser
  • Attentive to details but not obsessed
  • Strong but have endurance
  • A leader and a follower
  • Humble but not passive
  • Aggressive but not overbearing
  • Quiet but not silent
  • Calm but not robotic
  • Logical but not devoid of emotions
  • Close but not so close with the troops, they must not forget who is in charge
  • Able to execute Extreme Ownership, while exercising Decentralized Command

“The test is not a complex one: when the alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed, or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep? If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win—you pass the test. If you are mentally weak for that moment and you let that weakness keep you in bed, you fail. Though it seems small, that weakness translates to more significant decisions. But if you exercise discipline, that too translates to more substantial elements of your life.” 

– Jocko Willink

What did you learn from the book summary of Extreme Ownership? What was your favorite takeaway? Is there an important insight that we missed? Comment below or tweet to us @storyshots.

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