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

Summary
  1. Describes SEAL combat operations and training through Jocko’s and Leif’s eyes and applies this experience to leadership and management practices in the business world. Extreme Ownership describes the mindset that top leaders have – they “own” everything in their world and would never even think of blaming anyone but themselves when they experience failure
Key Takeaways
  1. In any high performing team, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts – leaping emergent effect!
  2. Complete buy in is necessary to have a top echelon team
  3. Simple, prioritize, execute, decentralized command are central leadership tenets any leader needs to embody
  4. “For leaders, the humility to admit and own mistakes and develop a plan to overcome them is essential to success. the best leaders are not driven by ego or personal agendas. They are simply focused on the mission and how best to accomplish it.”
  5. Combat is reflective of life, only amplified and intensified
  6. These principles are simple, but not easy
  7. There are no bad teams, only bad leaders
  8. Leader must be a true believer of a mission before they can convince and inspire others. All members of the team must understand the “why” of a mission/project
    1. The leader must align his thoughts and vision to that of the mission. Once a leader believes in the mission, that belief shines through to those below and above the chain of command
  9. Ego disrupts everything and one of the most difficult egos to deal with is your own. When ego clouds your judgement and prevents you from seeing the world as it truly is, then the ego becomes destructive
  10. Cover and move – teamwork vital to survive; avoid silos; make sure everyone on team knows what the main mission is and which are simply playing supporting roles to the bigger picture
  11. Keeping things simple, clear and concise is crucial for success
    1. Remain 2 steps ahead of the game through contingency planning and thinking of worst case scenarios
  12. Prioritize and execute – relax, look around and make a call
    1. Evaluate the highest priority problem
    2. Lay out in a simple, clear and concise terms the highest priority effort of your team
    3. Develop and determine a solution, seek input from key leaders and from the team where possible
    4. Direct the execution of that solution, focusing all efforts and resources toward this priority task
    5. Move on to the next highest priority problem. Repeat.
    6. When priorities shift within the team, pass situational awareness both up and down the chain
    7. Don’t let the focus on one priority cause target fixation. Maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shift as needed
  13. Decentralized command
    1. Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than six to ten people. Therefore, the ideal group size is 4-5 operators and a clearly designated leader
    2. Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks necessary to accomplish that mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible
    3. Every tactical level team leader must understand not just what to do but why they are doing it
    4. Junior leaders must trust that senior leaders will have their backs no matter what happens
  14. Must have a standardized planning process
    1. Analyze the mission
      1. Understand higher headquarter’s mission, the intent and desired endstate
      2. Identify and state your own boss’ intent and endstate for the mission
    2. Identify personnel, assets, resources and time available
    3. Decentralize the planning process
      1. Empower key leaders within the team to analyze possible courses of action
    4. Determine a specific course of action
      1. Lean towards the simplest course of action
      2. Focus efforts on the best course of actoin
    5. Empower key leaders to develop the plan for the selected course of action
    6. Plan for likely contingencies through each phase of the operation
    7. Mitigate risks that can be controlled as much as possible
    8. Delegate portions of the plan and brief to key junior leaders
      1. Stand back and be the tactical genius
    9. Continually check and question the plan against emerging information to ensure it still fits the situation
    10. Brief the plan to all participants and supporting assets
      1. Emphasize the boss’ intent
      2. Ask questions and engage in discussion and interaction with the team to ensure they understand
    11. Conduct post-operational debrief after execution
      1. Analyze lessons learned and implement them in future planning
  15. Leading up and down the chain of command
    1. Leading down the command chain requires regularly stepping out of the office and personally engaging in face to fac conversations with your direct reports and observing the “front line troops” in action to understand their particular challenges and make sure they truly understand the goal and why that is the goal. This enables the team to understand why they are doing what they are doing which facilitates decentralized command
    2. Leading up the chain of command means pushing situational awareness up the chain of command so that leadership understands what obstacles you’re dealing with and what you need to solve them. However, must have humility to understand and accept that senior leadership may not agree or may have different priorities
      1. One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss
    3. Both require: taking 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 to better enable this; don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do
  16. Must act decisively amid uncertainty; to make the best decisions you can based on only the immediately available information
    1. There is never one 100% right solution. The picture is never complete
    2. Waiting for certainty leads to delay, indecision and ability to execute
    3. Outcomes are never certain; success never guaranteed. Even so, business leaders must act decisively amid the chaos and uncertainty
  17. Discipline equals freedom. Leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities, between one extreme and another. The simple recognition of this is one of the most powerful tools a leader has
    1. A good leader must be:
      1. Confident but not cocky
      2. Courageous but not foolhardy
      3. Competitive but a gracious loser
      4. Attentive to details but not obsessed by them
      5. Strong but have endurance
      6. A leader and a follower
      7. Humble and not passive
      8. Aggressive not overbearing
      9. Quiet not silent
      10. Calm but not robotic, logical but not devoid of emotions
      11. 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
      12. Able to execute Extreme Ownership, while exercising Decentralized Command
  18. A good leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove (leaders must earn the respect and right to lead of their team)
  19. While some are born with more inherent leadership skills, these skills can be taught and learned
  20. Some of the boldest and most successful plans in history have not come from the senior ranks but from frontline leaders
  21. Extreme Ownership is a mindset, an attitude
  22. The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job – heavily engaged in training and mentoring of junior leaders
  23. When a boss makes a mistake but owns up to it, it doesn’t decrease respect. It increases it, proving he or she possesses the humility to admit and own mistakes and, most important, to learn from them
  24. Leading people is the most challenging and, therefore, the most gratifying undertaking of all human endeavors
What I got out of it
  1. A good read on leadership principles that can be applied to any field. As the book says several times, these principles are simple, but not easy