Extreme Ownership: 12 Leadership principles to learn from the Navy SEAL

Extreme Ownership

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Looking at leadership through the lens of Extreme Ownership simplifies a complicated issue. Two former SEALs discuss how the principles they learned in battle, in life-or-death circumstances, apply to leaders in any job.
Jocko Willink served in the military and participated in combat operations during the Iraq War, serving as the Commander of Task Unit Bruiser of SEAL Team 3, which participated in the Ramadi insurgency.

All responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader in any organization or team.

Jocko Willink, Leif Babin

As you will see, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s principles are simple but not easy. The most effective leaders are not motivated by ego or personal ambitions. They are solely concerned with the objective and the best way to complete it. Leaders must believe in the cause they are fighting for. They have to Think about the strategy they have to carry out and, more importantly,  believe in and trust the leader they have to follow.

1. Extreme Ownership

Extreme Ownership
12 Leadership Principles by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

The leader bears all responsibility for the success and failure of any team or organization. Everything in the leader’s universe must be his or hers. There are no other people to blame. The leader must recognize mistakes and shortcomings, accept responsibility for them, and devise a winning strategy. If a team member is not performing to the level necessary for the team to succeed, the leader must coach and mentor that underperformer.

It all depends on the leader. However, if the underperformer consistently fails to meet expectations, a leader who practices Extreme Ownership must put the team and the purpose ahead of anyone. If underperformers cannot improve, the leader must decide to fire them and employ those who can do the job.

2. No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

What you accept as a leader is more important than what you teach regarding standards. When setting standards, no matter what is stated or written, if bad performance is allowed and no one is held accountable—if there are no consequences—that poor performance becomes the new standard.

3. Believe

A leader must be a sincere believer in persuading and inspiring others to follow and complete it. Leaders must constantly remember that they are a part of something bigger than themselves and their personal goals. They must communicate this understanding to their teams, all the way down to tactical-level operators on the ground. Solid confidence in the objective is far more vital than training or equipment for any group or organization to succeed and produce outstanding outcomes.

Trust is the first stage of team development. To know more, read How to form a high-performance team.

4. Check the Ego

Everything is clouded and disrupted by ego: the planning process, the capacity to accept excellent counsel, and the ability to accept constructive criticism. The hardest ego to cope with is often your own. It can even suffocate a person’s sense of self-preservation.

The most successful individuals in life—in the SEAL Teams, the military, and the corporate world are driven by their egos. They want to be the greatest, to win. That’s great. When our judgment is clouded by ego, and we cannot view the world as it is, the ego becomes harmful. When personal agendas precede the team’s success and the overall objective, performance declines, and failure occurs.

Implementing Extreme Ownership, as presented by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, necessitates putting your ego aside and functioning with humility. Ego can impede a leader from undertaking an honest, realistic appraisal of their own and the team’s performance. Admitting mistakes, accepting responsibility, and devising a strategy to overcome obstacles are essential components of every successful team.

5. Cover and Move: TeamWork

It is an essential tactic. Departments and groups within the team must work together to break down silos, rely on one another, and understand who depends on them. If they abandon this idea and act independently or against each other, the effects can be disastrous for the team’s overall success.

Team Work - Extreme Ownership

Each team member is vital to the team’s success. The leader has to define the primary effort and the supporting activities. If the entire team fails, everyone fails, even if a single individual or piece of the team performs admirably. Pointing fingers and blaming others tend to deepen divisions among groups and individuals.

Get to know your team members on a personal level. Explain to them what you want from them and why, and ask what you can do to assist them in obtaining what you require. Make them a member of your team rather than an excuse for your team.

Teamwork, team players, and collaboration are crucial.

6. Simple

Combat, like everything else in life, has layers of intricacy. It is critical for success to simplify as much as possible. People may not grasp plans and directives that are overly complex. And when things go wrong, as they always do, complexity exacerbates problems, which may spiral out of control into complete calamity. You must communicate plans and directives in a straightforward, clear, and succinct way.

Read Four Steps to remove complexity at work to keep it simple and remove complexity at work.

7. Prioritize and Execute

Even the most capable leaders might become overwhelmed if they attempt to tackle several problems or projects simultaneously. The crew will very certainly fail at each of those responsibilities. Leaders must instead identify and execute the highest priority job. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember this rule: Prioritize and carry out.

To apply the principles of Prioritize and Execute in any business, team, or organization, a leader must first:

  • Assess the highest priority problem.
  • Describe your team’s top priority effort in clear and succinct words.
  • Decide on a solution, and seek inputs from key leaders and the team when feasible.
  • Direct the implementation of that solution, directing all efforts and resources toward this high-priority job.
  • Move on to the next most important problem.
  • Do it again.

Pass information up and down the chain when priorities change

8. Decentralized Command

Humans cannot manage more than six to ten individuals, especially when things go wrong and unavoidable circumstances emerge. No senior leader can manage dozens, much alone hundreds, of people.

Divide teams into manageable components of four to five people, each with an identified leader. Those leaders must grasp the fundamental objective and the mission’s ultimate goal—the Commander’s Intent. Decentralized Command does not imply that junior leaders or team members run their programs; it leads to anarchy. Instead, junior leaders must fully comprehend what is within their decision-making power—the “left and right boundaries” of their authority.

9. Plan

What exactly is the mission? The study of the mission is the first step in planning. Leaders must establish clear guidelines for the team. Once they grasp the task, they may pass this information on to their key commanders and frontline troops entrusted with carrying it out. The mission must be carefully revised and streamlined so that it is unambiguous and mainly focused on achieving the larger strategic goal of which it is a part. The assignment must clarify the operation’s overarching purpose and ultimate outcome, or “end state.”

After each combat mission, the finest SEAL units perform a “post-operational debrief.” No matter how tired they are after an operation or how busy they plan for the next mission, time is set aside for this debrief since lives and future mission success are at stake. In a concise style, a post-operational debrief reviews all aspects of an operation, from preparation through execution.

Addresses the following for the just-concluded military mission:

  • What went well?
  • Where did things go wrong?
  • How can we improve our tactics to be even more effective and get an advantage over the enemy?

Extreme Ownership Leader’s planning checklist should include the following items:

  • Examine the mission. Understand the Commander’s, Top Management’s Intent, and the final goal.
  • Determine employees, assets, resources, and available time.
  • Make the planning process more decentralized. —Assign key team leaders the task of analyzing potential courses of action.
  • Decide on a precise plan of action. —Selecting the most straightforward path of action is preferable. —Concentrate your efforts on the best path of action.
  • Delegate authority to key leaders to create a strategy for the chosen course of action.
  • Plan for possible eventualities at each stage of the procedure.
  • Minimize hazards as much as possible.
  • Delegate parts of the strategy and provide briefings to junior leaders.
  • Check and challenge the strategy regularly in light of new facts to verify it still applies to the circumstance.
  • Accentuate the Commander’s Intent. Inform all participants and supporting assets about the plan. Ensure that the team understands, asks questions, and participates in conversation and engagement with them.
  • Conduct a post-operational debriefing following execution. Analyse lessons learned and incorporate them into plans.

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

10. Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command

Nonetheless, each must comprehend the other’s role. Top commanders must also communicate to their subordinate leaders and troops on the ground how their job contributes to overall mission success. First and foremost, blame yourself. Don’t blame your employer if they fail to make a timely decision or provide crucial assistance to you and your team. Examine what you can do to improve the communication of essential information for choices to be taken and support to be allocated.

While pressing your superior to grasp what you require, remember that your employer must allocate limited resources and make judgments with the broader picture. You and your team may not be the most critical effort at that moment. Perhaps the top leadership has taken a different path. Have the humility to recognize and accept this.

The following are the most important considerations while leading up and down the chain of Command:

  • Accept responsibility for guiding everyone in your world, including subordinates and superiors.
  • If someone isn’t performing what you want or need them to do, look in the mirror first and see what you can do to improve their performance.
  • Instead of asking your boss what you should do, tell them what you intend to do.

11. Decisiveness amid Uncertainty

The combat leader virtually never has a complete picture or a clear and confident grasp of the enemy’s actions or reactions, let alone awareness of the immediate implications of decisions made in the heat of battle.

This “incomplete picture” approach is not unique to fighting. It applies to almost every area of our daily life, such as personal healthcare decisions or whether or not to evacuate from the projected route of a severe storm. It is very relevant in corporate leadership and decision-making. While corporate executives are not usually in life-or-death circumstances, they are undoubtedly under tremendous pressure.

Extrem Ownership I Jocko Willink

12. Discipline Equals Freedom—The Dichotomy of Leadership

A leader must be not only able to lead but also willing to follow. Sometimes another team member—perhaps a subordinate or direct report—may be better positioned to design a strategy, make a decision, or lead through a given scenario. When others stand forward and take leadership, a genuine leader is not afraid.

A good leader must be:

  • confident but not arrogant;
  • courageous but not reckless;
  • fighter but a good loser;
  • attentive to details but not obsessed with them;
  • strong, but with perseverance
  • humble but not disinterested;
  • Aggressive but not overbearing;
  • Quiet but not silent;
  • logical, but not emotionless;
  • close to the members but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so tight that they forget who is in Command.

    Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

Conclusion: Extreme Ownership

In one word: teamwork. You are only as good as the men or women who support you. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin Willink’s insightful military experiences and anecdotes give this book key and straightforward leadership lessons. Thanks to them, we review various leadership principles beneficial in both military and civil settings.

A good leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove.

Jocko Willink, Leif Babin

To an excessive degree, the habit of owning everything in your world is known as extreme ownership. It implies you are accountable for all tasks that impact your mission’s success, not just those you directly manage. If you want to discuss the subject, implement it and develop your soft skills, email me or visit the corporate website David Gousset.

Want more Jocko Willick? Read Jocko Willink Quotes. If you like an inspirational post about leadership, read You Win in the Locker Room First.