Life gets busy. Has Extreme Ownership been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
Jocko Willink is a retired US Navy SEAL officer who currently hosts the top-rated Jocko Podcast. Jocko is the cofounder of Echelon Front, where he serves as chief executive officer, leadership instructor, speaker and strategic advisor.
Leif Babin is a former US Navy SEAL officer and a cofounder of Echelon Front. Here, he serves as president/chief operating officer, leadership instructor, speaker and strategic advisor. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, Leif served thirteen years in the Navy, including nine in the SEAL Teams.
Extreme Ownership teaches readers the lessons that two US Navy SEAL officers obtained during their service. These officers led the most highly decorated special operations unit of the Iraq War. In Extreme Ownership, they apply powerful leadership principles from the battlefield to business and life. Through life-threatening experiences, the two authors learned that leadership is the most important factor responsible for success.
Part I: Winning the War Within
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. Instead, they take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission. Taking this responsibility for failure is challenging and requires extraordinary humility and courage.
What’s more, a leader who exercises Extreme Ownership does not take credit for their team’s successes. Instead, they bestow that honor upon their subordinate leaders and team members. When a leader sets the example of Extreme Ownership, this mindset develops into the team’s culture at every level.
And when you take Extreme Ownership, you take complete ownership of what went wrong. You do this even if it means getting fired. By taking Extreme Ownership, both subordinates and superiors will start respecting you. 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.
Take Extreme Ownership of everything. You are the only one to blame.
No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
Leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails depends on the leader. Good leaders don’t make excuses. Instead, they figure out a way to succeed.
If leaders tolerate substandard performance and don’t hold team members accountable, poor performance becomes the new standard. So, it’s up to the leader to enforce standards and unite the team together, with everyone focused exclusively on how to best accomplish the mission. Then, once a culture of Extreme Ownership is built into the team, the entire team performs.
There are no bad teams, only bad leaders. Therefore, take responsibility for your whole team.
The most important question you can answer is why you are adopting a certain approach. Once you understand the mission and the reason behind it, you can fully get behind the mission. And to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in it. The leader must believe in the greater cause.
If a leader does not believe, they won’t take the risks required to overcome the inevitable challenges necessary to win. Their actions and words need to reflect a firm belief in the mission. And when subordinates can see this belief and understand the why, they can proceed while fully believing in what they are doing.
To believe in your team, you have to understand your team’s mission.
“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
Check the Ego
Do not let your ego cloud your judgment. Egos prevent us from seeing the world as it is and can easily become destructive. Extreme Ownership means checking your ego and making sure to stay humble.
Do not let your ego cloud your 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
Cover and Move
The authors describe Cover and Move as helping each other, working together and supporting one another. Essentially, this chapter is all about teamwork. Each member of the team is critical to success, although the main effort and supporting efforts must be clearly identified. The focus should always be on how to best accomplish the mission. Team members, departments and supporting assets must always Cover and Move. This principle is integral for any team to achieve victory, and is the first of the Laws of Combat.
The focus of the team must be to accomplish the mission. Each member of your team must work together to better achieve the goal.
To excel as a leader, it is vital that you simplify concepts. Simplifying as much as possible will help increase your chances of success.
As a leader, your role is to help your team excel and avoid making mistakes. When plans or orders are overly complicated, this opens up the opportunity for errors. These types of mistakes, 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 that are:
Your instructions must be understandable by even your weakest member.
It is also crucial that your team feel willing to ask you, their 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
Prioritize and Execute
Leaders must determine the highest priority task and execute it. When overwhelmed, fall back on this principle. A leader can prevent pressure by staying one or two steps ahead.
Plan possible contingencies that can occur in the mission and brief the team about these contingencies. Once the team has been briefed, they can 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.”– Jocko Willink
To Prioritize and Execute, a leader must:
- Evaluate the highest priority problem.
- Lay out this priority in simple, clear and concise terms.
- Develop and determine a solution. Seek input.
- Direct the execution of that solution, focusing all efforts and resources toward this priority.
- Move on to the next higher priority problem.
- When priorities shift, communicate both up and down the chain.
- Don’t let the focus on one priority cause target fixation. Target fixation prevents you from seeing the bigger picture.
Identify your highest priority at the moment. Develop a plan to tackle the priority and execute.
“Relax, look around, make a call.”– Jocko Willink
Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than six to ten people. Teams have to be broken down into four to five operators. Each of these operators must have a clearly designated leader. Those leaders must understand the overall mission and the ultimate goal of that mission. Every tactical-level team leader needs to understand not only What to do but Why they are doing it. This is Decentralized Command.
Junior leaders must also 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 and concise orders that can be easily understood by everyone in the chain of command.
Small teams, with designated leaders, must understand the What and Why. The easiest way to highlight the reasons behind an order is to make sure these orders are clear and concise.
“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.”– Jocko Willink
A leader must identify clear directives for their team because a broad and ambiguous mission results in a lack of focus and ineffective execution. The mission needs to also explain the overall purpose and desired results of the operation.
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, they have to be careful to not get bogged down by the details. If you have planned effectively, all members participating in the operation will understand the commander’s intent, the specific mission of the team, and their individual roles.
After you have completed a plan, you must consider what went right and what went wrong. Therefore, the authors recommend a post-operational debriefing.
These debriefings examine:
- 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?
An effective plan must have the following features:
- Clear objective
- Simple plan
- Delegated planning process
- Post-operational debriefing
“On 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
Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
Leading up the chain of command requires tactful engagement with the immediate boss. Use this engagement 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. This means building a shared understanding of the current environment and how to best move forward.
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.
“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
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, you first have to look at yourself when problems arise. Rather than blaming your team for not appreciating the strategic picture, you must figure out a way to better communicate. Keep things simple, clear and concise, so that they understand.
Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty
Leaders cannot be paralyzed by fear. Fear results in inaction. It is critical for leaders to act decisively amid uncertainty. Leaders must make the best decision they can based on the immediate information available. There is no perfect solution to dilemmas. So, leaders must be comfortable with this and able to make decisions promptly.
Avoid being indecisive. Instead, 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
Final Analysis and Review
The book concludes by offering readers an outline of what a leader who adopts Extreme Ownership looks like:
- 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 lacking emotions.
- Close but not so close with 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
PDF, Free Audiobook, and Animation
Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.
New to StoryShots? Get the PDF, and animated versions of this analysis and hundreds of other best-selling nonfiction books in our free top-ranking app. It’s been featured by Apple, The Guardian, the UN, and Google as one of the world’s best reading and learning apps.
Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins
Leadership Strategy and Tactics by Jocko Willink
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Atomic Habits by James Clear
Fortitude by Dan Crenshaw
Scrum by Jeff Sutherland
The Mamba Mentality by Kobe Bryant
You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero
Linchpin by Seth Godin
The Dip by Seth Godin
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Everything Is F*cked by Mark Manson
Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop
13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin
Total Recall by Pippa Mattinson
The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C.Maxwell
Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven
The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Jim Huling, and Sean Covey
First Things First by Stephen Covey
The 80-20 Principle by Richard Koch
It’s All in Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan
The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins