Extreme Ownership - Book Summary
This is a summary of Jocko Willink's and Leif Babin's book Extreme Ownership.
The Main Message
Navy SEALs are one of the highest performing teams, and the same principles that empower soldiers to succeed in battle can also help people succeed in business and life. Of utmost importance, leaders must take responsibility for the mission, the people on their team, and the performance of the team.
In Five Bullets or Less: Extreme Ownership
- Two retired Navy SEALs—Jocko Willink and Leif Babin—share leadership lessons learned during the Iraq War and draw parallels with the business world. "Combat is reflective of life, only amplified and intensified."
- There are no bad teams; there are only bad leaders.
- Don't let ego get in the way of taking responsibility and being a respectful leader that learns from mistakes.
- Keeping things simple, prioritizing your work, and creating a clear plan is how you execute successfully and achieve your mission.
- Leaders are not just those in positions of power. Anyone can be a leader, and you can lead up the hierarchy, too.
Highlights of Extreme Ownership
- The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. When mentored and coached properly, the junior leader can eventually replace the senior leader, allowing the senior leader to move on to the next level of leadership.
- "A person's biggest strength can be his greatest weakness when he doesn't know how to balance it."
- The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether the team success or fails. For all the definition, descriptions, and characterizations of leaders, there are only two that matter: effective and ineffective. Effective leaders lead successful teams that accomplish their mission and win. Ineffective leaders do not.
- "Relax. Look around. Make a call."
Get out of bed:
The moment the alarm goes off is the first test; it sets the tone for the rest of the day. 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 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 to translate to more substantial elements of your life.
— Jocko Willink
- Extreme Ownership requires leaders to look at an organization's problems through the objective lens of reality, without emotional attachments to agendas or plans. It mandates that a leader set ego aside, accept responsibility for failures, attack weaknesses, and consistently work to build a better and more effective team. Such a leader, however, does not take credit for his or her team's successes but bestows that honor upon his subordinate leaders and team members.
- The leader bears full responsibility for explaining the strategic mission, developing the tactics, and securing the training and resources to enable the team to properly and successfully execute. If an individual on the team is not performing at the level required for the team to succeed, the leader must train and mentor that underperformer. But if the underperformer continually fails to meet standards, then a leader who exercises Extreme Ownership must be loyal to the team and the mission above any individual. If underperformers cannot improve, the leader must make the tough call to terminate them and hire others who can get the job done. It is all on the leader.
- 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 on e else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop 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.
- The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything. Extreme Ownership is the fundamental core of what constitutes an effective leader in the SEAL Teams or in any leadership endeavor.
- When the boss makes a mistake but then owns up to that mistake, it doesn't decrease respect. Instead, it increases respect for that leader, proving he or she possess the humility to admit and own mistakes and, most important, to learn from them.
- ..."the full ownership I took of the situation actually increased the trust my commanding officer and master chief had in me. If I had tried to pass the blame on to others, I suspect I would have been fired—deservedly so."
- 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 personal agendas.
Extreme Ownership story:
VP's plan looked good on paper. But it wasn't working, and the board wanted to find out why and who was at fault. VP was technically sound and experienced, but wasn't meeting goals. Plan: consolidate manufacturing plants to eliminate redundancy, increase worker productivity through an incentived bonus program, and streamline manufacturing process. Problem was in the plan's execution. At each quarterly board meeting, the VP gave myriad of excuses. Jocko arrived and began coaching the VP. Reviewed plan details. VP explained that the consolidation of manufacturing plants had failed because his distribution managers feared that increasing the distance between plants and distribution centers would prevent face-to-face interaction with manufacturing team and reduce ability to tweak order specifics. VP dismissed the concerns as unfounded. Plant managers pushed by on incentive bonus program because they were concerned employees wouldn't make enough money and would leave for jobs with higher pay. But the VP pushed them harder, and they teamed up with the sales managers, and both groups opposed the VP's plan. Pushback against the streamline process was universal, "we've always done it this way, if it ain't broke then don't fix it." Jocko so the VP was the cause of the issues because he wasn't leading effectively... not communicating the mission, the why, inspiring. Jocko said to take ownership and explain to the board it was the VP's fault. The board would respect it. The VP also said the corrective measures he was going to take.
No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
- Rather than tolerate their bickering and infighting, he pulled the team together and focused their collective efforts on the single specific goal of winning the race.
- 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.
- When leaders who epitomize Extreme Ownership drive their teams to achieve a higher standard of performance, they must recognize that when it comes to standards, as a leader, it's not what you preach, it's what you tolerate. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards.
- Leaders must accept total responsibility, own problems that inhibit performance, and develop solutions to those problems. A team could only deliver exceptional performance if a leader ensured the team worked together toward a focused goal and enforced high standards of performance, working to continuously improve.
- Leadership is the single greatest factor in any team's performance.
- When people see Extreme Ownership in their leaders, they're more likely to emulate it throughout the chain of command down to the most junior personnel. "Extreme Ownership—good leadership—is contagious."
- The best-performing SEAL unites had leaders who accepted responsibility for everything. "My subordinate leaders made bad calls; I must not have explained the overall intent well enough." "The assault force didn't execute the way I envisioned; I need to make sure they better understand my intent and rehearse more thoroughly."
- The direct responsibility of a leader included getting people to listen, support, and execute plans.
- 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.
- In any organization, goals must always be in alignment.
- Leaders must always operate with the understanding that they are part of something greater than themselves and their own personal interests.
- 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 themselves question and do not understand, they must ask the question: why? Those leaders must take a step back, deconstruct the situation, analyze the strategic picture, and then come to a conclusion.
- In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must have a true belief in the mission. Once a leader believes in the mission, that belief shines through to those below and above in the chain of command. Actions and words reflect belief with a clear confidence and self-assuredness that is not possible when belief is in doubt.
- Actions and mind-set carry great weight among the team, so you must believe in the strategy and mission.
- Understand the why. Put yourself in the shoes of your own leader, and view it from a higher strategic point of view.
- "If I expressed doubts or openly questioned the wisdom of the plan in front of the team, their derision toward the mission would increase exponentially. They would never believe in it. As a result, the would never commit to it, and it would fail. But once I understood and believe, I then passed that understanding and belief on, clearly and succinctly, to my troops so that they believe in it themselves. When they understood why, they would commit to the mission persevere through the inevitable challenges in store, and accomplish the task set before us."
- Battlefield aloofness: Some senior leaders are so far removed from the troops executing on the frontline that they become ineffective. These leaders might give the appearance of control, but they actually have no idea what their troops are doing and cannot effectively direct their teams. This attitude creates a disconnect between leadership and the troops, and such a leader's team will struggle to effectively accomplish their mission.
- A mission statement tells your troops what you are doing. But they have got to understand why they are doing it.
- A board an ambiguous mission results in lack of focus, ineffective execution, and mission creep. The mission must explain the overall purpose and desired result, or "end state", of the operation. "Commander's Intent" Planning begins with mission analysis.
- Contrary to a common misconception, leaders are not stuck in any particular position. Leaders must be free to move to where they are most needed, which changes throughout the course of an operation.
- For young SEAL officers learning the ropes of leadership, running through the kill house with the platoon provides a great training opportunity to determine how much they should be involved and where to position themselves. Sometimes, the officer gets so far forward that he gets sucked into every room clearance, meaning he is continually entering rooms and engaging targets. When that happens, he gets focused on the minutia of what's going on in the immediate room and loses situational awareness of what is happening with the rest of the team and can no longer provide effective command and control.
Check the Ego
- When personal agendas become more important than the team and the overarching mission's success, performance suffers and failure ensues. Many of the disruptive issues that arise within any team can be attributed directly to a problem with ego.
- Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism. It can even stifle someone's sense of self-preservation.
- Often, the most difficult ego to deal with is your own.
- Discipline created vigilance and operational readiness, which translated to high performance and success on the battlefield.
- You let your boss down when you don't ask questions and communicate.
- 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.
- "If you don't understand or believe in the decisions coming down from your leadership, it is up to you to ask questions until you understand how and why those decisions are being made. Not knowing the 'why' prohibits you from believing in the mission. when you are in a leadership position, that is a recipe for failure, and it is unacceptable. As a leader, you must believe." - Jocko Willink
Cover and Move
- Put simply, Cover and Move means teamwork.
- Failing to support or help each other. It was foolishness not to work together. We were all trying to accomplish the same mission. One element must cover so that the other element could move.
- "One team covered, their weapons trained on threats, while the other team moved. Then those teams reversed roles. In this way, the teams leapfrogged in bounds, constantly utilizing Cover and Move to ensure we were prepared to fend off an attack as we maneuvered through the streets."
- Like a well-oiled machine, we executed a "center peel" maneuver: a coordinated tactic where two columns systemically alternate shooting at the enemy and moving away in a safe direction until able to break contact.
- "Our team made a mistake and it's my fault. It's my fault because I obviously wasn't as clear as I should have been in explaining why we have these producers in place and how not following them can cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- You are extremely skilled and knowledgeable superintendent. You know more about this business than I even will. It was up to me to make sure you know the parameters we have to work within and why some decision have got to be run through me. Now, I need to fix this so it doesn't happen again."
- "Engage with them." "Build a personal relationships with them. Explain to them what you need from them and why, and ask them what you can do to help them get you what you need. Make them a part of your team, not an excuse for your team."
- 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.
- Within any team, there are divisions that arise. Often, when smaller teams within the team get so focused on their immediate tasks, they forget about what others are doing or how they depend on other teams. They may start to compete with one another, and when there are obstacles, animosity and blame develops. This creates friction that inhibits the overall team 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 the street admission is paramount.
- When the team succeeds, everyone within and supporting the team succeeds.
- Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success.
- Things may sound simple, but may require focused effort and training to implement.
- People generally take the path of least resistance.
- Operant Conditioning on rats
- 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. They need to understand it to a point that they don't need to be thinking about it to understand it.
- Complexity compounds issues that can spiral out o control into total disaster.
- Simple, clear, concise communication. Plans and orders must be communicated in a manner that is simple, clear, and concise.
Prioritize and Execute
- "Decisively Engaged" -- In other words, they cannot retreat. The must win.
- "With all your efforts—all your other focuses—how much actual attention is being give to ensuring your frontline salespeople are doing the best job possible? How much of a difference would it make if you and the entire company gave them one hundred percent of your attention for the next few weeks or months?"
- "But you won't move the needle on them when you are spread so thin. My suggestion is to focus on one and when that one is completed, or at least has some real momentum, then you move on to the next one and focus on it. When that one is done, then move on to the next, and so on down the line until you have knocked them all out."
- This focus on a singular initiative unified the efforts of the entire campaign. Progress was seen quickly and gained momentum. The CEO recognized the traction, and the effectiveness of the method: Prioritize and Execute.
- "Once the wheels were in motion and the full resources of the team were engaged in that highest priority effort, I could then determine the next priority focus the team's effort there, and then move on to the next priority. I could not allow myself to be overwhelmed. I had to relax, look around, and make a call. That was what Prioritize and Execute was all about." —Leif Babin
- How can you possibly tackle so many problems at once?
- On the battlefield, countless problems compound in a snowball effect, every challenge complex in its own right, each demanding attention. But a leader must remain calm and make the best decisions possible. To do this, SEAL combat leaders utilities Prioritize and Execute. We verbalize this principle with this direction: "Relax, look around, make a call."
- Almost no mission ever goes according to plan. There are simply too man variables to deal with. This is where simplicity is key. If the plan is simple enough, everyone understands it, which means each person can rapidly adjust and modify what he or she is doing. If the plan is too complex, the team can't make rapid adjustments to it, because there is no baseline understanding of it.
- Frontline leaders must have trust and confidence in senior leaders to know they're empowered to make decisions and that senior leaders will back them up.
- "...leaders didn't call me an ask what they should do. Instead, they told me what they were going to do."
- "My ego took no offense to my subordinate leaders on the frontline calling the shots. In fact, I was proud to follow their leads and support them."
- "My platoon commanders didn't just tell me what the situation was, but what they were going to do to fix it. That sort of Extreme Ownership and leadership from my subordinate leaders not only allowed them to lead confidently, but also allowed me to focus on the bigger picture."
- Without successful execution, the best-laid plans are worthless.
- I realize that the SEALs and Charlie platoon who suffered their worst combat fatigue, whose attitude grew progressively more negative as months of heavy combat wore on, who most questioned the level of risk we were taking on operations - they all had the least ownership of the planning for each operation. Conversely, the SEAL operators who remain focused and positive, who believed in what we were doing, and who were eager to continue and would have stayed on beyond our six-month deployment if they could - they all had some ownership of the planning process in each operation.
- "The other platoon commander and I gave an overview of the mission and then our key leaders got up and briefed the details."
- Once the detailed plan has been developed, it must then be briefed to the entire team and all participants and supporting elements. Leaders must carefully prioritize the information to be presented in a simple, clear, and concise of format as possible so that participants do not experience information overload. The planning process and breathing must be a forum that encourages discussion, questions, and clarification from even the most junior personnel. If frontline troops are unclear about the plan and you are too intimidated to ask questions, the team's ability to effectively execute the plan radically decreases. Thus, leaders must ask questions of their troops, encourage interaction, and ensure their teams understand the plan.
- Never take anything for granted, preparing for likely contingencies, and maximizing the change of mission success while minimizing the risk.
The Bigger Picture
- As leaders, we must not get dragged into the details but instead remain focused on the bigger picture. Maintain focus on bigger picture. When embroiled in details of tactical problem, there's noone to fill role of strategic mission.
- While the senior leaders supervise the entire planning process by team members, he or she must be careful not to get bogged down in the details. By maintaining a perspective above the microterrain of the plan, the senior leader can better ensure compliance with strategic objectives. Doing so enables senior leaders to “stand back and be the tactical genius” - to identify weaknesses or holes in the plan that those immersed in the details might have missed.
- If you are down in the weeds planning the details with your guys, you will have the same perspective as them, which adds little value. But if you let them plan the details, it allows them to own their piece of the plan. And it allows you to stand back and see everything with a different perspective, which adds tremendous value. You can then see the plan from a greater distance, a higher altitude, and you will see more. As a result, you will catch mistakes and discover aspects of the plan that need to be tightened up, which enables you to look like a tactical genius, just because you have a broader view.
- It is crucial, particularly for leaders at the top of the organization, to "pull themselves off the firing line," step back, and maintain the strategic picture. This is essential to help correctly prioritize for the team. With this perspective, it becomes far easier to determine the highest priority effort and focus all energies toward its execution. Then senior leaders must help subordinate team leaders within their team prioritize their efforts.
- "A good leader does not get bogged down in the minutia of a tactical problem at the expense of strategic success."
Span of control
- Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than six to ten people, particularly when things go sideways and inevitable contingencies arise.
- Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to five operators, with a clearly designated leader.
- SEAL Teams and most militaries throughout history are based on building blocks of 4-6 person teams with a leader.
- Junior leaders must fully understand what is within their decision-making authority.
- Junior leaders must be proactive rather than reactive.
- They must have implicit trust that their senior leaders will back their decisions. Without this trust, junior leaders cannot confidently execute, which means they cannot exercise effective Decentralized Command. To ensure this is the case, senior leaders must constantly communicate and push information--what we call in the military "situation awareness"--to their subordinate leaders.
- Likewise, junior leaders must push situational awareness up the chain to their senior leaders to keep them informed, particularly of crucial information that affects strategic decision making.
- It is important that junior leaders are allowed to make decisions--and backed up even if they don't make them correctly.
- Junior leaders must know know that the boss will back them up even if they make a decision that may not result in the best outcome, as long as the decision was made in an effort to achieve the strategic objective.
- Utilize all assets and lean on the expertise of those in the best position to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information.
- Leaders must delegate the planning process down the chain as much as possible to key subordinate leaders.
- 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, which translates to far more effective implementation execution on the ground.
- Analyze the mission. 1) Understand higher HQ's mission, Commander's Intent, and endstate (the goal). 2) Identify and state your own Commander's Intent and endstate for the specific mission.
- Identify personnel, assets, resources, and time available.
- Decentralize the planning process: Empower key leaders within the team to analyze possible courses of action.
- Determine a specific course of action. 1) Lean toward selecting the simplest course of action. 2) Focus efforts on the best course of action.
- Empower key leaders to develop the plan for the selected course of action.
- Plan for likely contingencies through each phase of the operation.
- Mitigate risks that can be controlled as much as possible.
- Delegate portions of the plan and brief to key junior leaders. Stand back and be the tactical genius.
- Continually check and question the plan against emerging information to ensure it still fits the siutation.
- Brief the plan to all participants and supporting assets. 1) Emphasize Commander's Intent. 2) Ask questions and engage in discussion and interaction with the team to ensure they understand.
- Conduct post-operational debrief after execution: Analyze lessons learned and implement them in future planning.
- The best teams employ constant analysis of their tactics and measure their effectiveness so that they can adapt their methods and implement lessons learned for future missions.
Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
- Leadership doesn't just flow down the chain of command, but up as well. Leading up the chain takes much more savvy and skill than leading down the chain.
- Three Major Factors
- 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 to better enable this.
- Don't ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do.
- One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss, your immediate leadership.
- Our senior leaders need to be comfortable with what we are doing. We need their support to get additional approvals. We can't expect them to be mind readers.
- Our leaders aren't trying to burden us with questions. They are working to get the information they need so they can get approval of our plans.
- If your boss isn't making a decision in a timely manner or providing necessary support for you and your team, don't blame the boss. First, blame yourself. Examine what you can do to better convey the critical information for decisions to be made and support allocated.
- "I realize that if my chain of command had questions about my plans or need additional information or more detailed paperwork, it was not their fault. It was my fault. I knew we were making the right decision to be careful to mitigate every risk we could control. I knew our combat operations were critical to achieving strategic victory Ramadi So if my boss wasn't comfortable with what I was doing, it was only because I did not clearly communicated to him."
- A public display of discontent or disagreement with the chain of command undermines the authority of leaders at all levels. This is catastrophic to the performance of any organization.
- If our leaders have questions, it is our fault for not properly communicating the information they need. We have to lead them.
- It is paramount that senior leaders explain to their junior leaders and troops executing the mission how their role contributes to big picture success.
- Even when a leader thinks his troops understand the bigger picture, they very often have difficulty connecting the dots between the tactical mission they are immersed in with the greater overarching goal.
Decisive and Uncertainty
- As a leader, my default setting should be aggressive—proactive rather than reactive. Instead of letting the situation dictate our decisions, we must dictate the situation.
- Leaders cannot be paralyzed by fear. That results in inaction. It is critical for leaders to act decisively amid uncertainty; to make the best decisions they can based on only the immediate information available. Waiting for the 100% right and certain solution leads to delay, indecision, and an inability to execute. Leaders must be prepared to make an educated guess based on previous experience, knowledge of how the enemy operates, likely outcomes, and whatever intelligence is available in the immediate moment.
- As a leader, you need to be seen as decisive and willing to make tough choices. The outcome may be uncertain, but you have enough understanding and information to make a decision.
- Leaders in any chain of command will not always agree. But at the end of the day, once the debate on a particular course of action is over and the boss has made a decision--even if that decision is one you argued against--you must execute the plan as it if were your own.
Discipline Equals Freedom
- "Our freedom to operate and maneuver had increased substantially through disciplined procedures."
- "By discipline, I mean an intrinsic self-discipline--a matter of personal will."
- "Although discipline demands control and asceticism, it actually results in freedom."
- Standardization = Freedom to work within a framework
- "Instead of making us more rigid and unable to improvise, this discipline actually made us more flexible, more adaptable, and more efficient. It allowed us to be creative."
- Dichotomy: Discipline (strict order, regimen, and control) might appear to be the opposite of total freedom (the power to act, speak, or think without any restrictions). But discipline is the pathway to freedom.
Dichotomy of Leadership
Leaders show emotions.
- A leader must be calm, but not robotic. It is normal and necessary to show emotion. The team must understand that their leader cares about them and their well-being. But a leader must control his or her emotions. If not, how can they expect to control anything else?
- Leaders who who lose their temper also lose respect. But at the same time to never show any sense of anger, sadness, or frustration would make the leader void of any emotion at all, a robot.
- People do not follow robots.
Confident leaders are also good followers
- A leader must lead but also be ready to follow. Sometimes, another member of the team--perhaps a subordinate or direct report--might be in a better position to develop a plan, make a decision, or lead through a specific situation.
- Perhaps the junior person has greater expertise in a particular area or more experienced. Perhaps he or she simply thought of a better way to accomplish the mission.
- Good leaders must welcome this, putting aside ego and personal agendas to ensure that the team has the greatest chance of accomplishing its strategic goals. A true leader is not intimidated when others step up and take charge.
- Leaders that lack confidence in themselves fear being outshined by someone else. A leader must be confident enough to follow someone else when the situation calls for it.
- confident but not cocky
- courageous but not foolhardy
- competitive but a gracious loser
- attentive to detail but not obsessed by them
- strong but have endurance
- a leader and a follower
- humble not passive
- aggressive not overbearing
- quiet not silent
- calm but not robotic; logical but not devoid of emotions
- A leader must be close with subordinates but not too close. Leaders must never get so close that the team forgets who is in charge.
- close with followers 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
- able to execute Extreme Ownership while exercising Decentralized Command
Trust is not blindly given. It must be built over time. Open conversations build trust. Overcoming stress and challenging environments builds trust.