Book notes: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin book summary.

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


Synopsis: “In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin share hard-hitting Navy SEAL combat stories that translate into lessons for business and life. With riveting firsthand accounts of making high-pressure decisions as Navy SEAL battlefield leaders, this audiobook is equally gripping for leaders who seek to dominate other arenas.

This audiobook explains the SEAL leadership concepts crucial to accomplishing the most difficult missions in combat and how to apply them to any group, team, or organization. It provides the listener with Jocko and Leif’s formula for success: the mind-set and guiding principles that enable SEAL combat units to achieve extraordinary results. It demonstrates how to apply these directly to business and life to likewise achieve victory.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

Purely got this one because of the high ratings, compelling summary, and because it has a yellow cover. Otherwise, I like it when I’ve found a book that’s a bit outside of what I typically listen to: personal development books around business and marketing. I like that this is going into a completely different field of expertise and translating the principles into valuable insights. Not only that, I expect some good action and war stories while I listen to it.

Key notes:

  • Prioritize and execute, and decentralize command
  • The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether or not the team succeeds or fails
    • Only two characteristics matter: effective or ineffective
  • Combat leadership requires getting a diverse team of people in various groups to execute highly complex missions in order to achieve strategic goals
  • Leaders must own everything in their world, there is no one else to blame
  • Part one: winning the war within
  • He took complete ownership of a disaster situation where he was a blue on blue situation
  • Principle: 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’s no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes, and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win
    • No one is infallible. With extreme ownership, you must remove individual ego (read more about ego here) and personal agenda. It’s all about the mission
      • How can you best get your team to most effectively execute the plan in order to accomplish the mission?
  • Chapter 2: no bad teams, only bad leaders
    • Leadership is the single greatest factor in any teams performance. The leaders attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance or doesn’t
    • Leaders must enforce standards
  • Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and build that mindset into the team
  • Good leadership is contagious. Good leaders instill a culture of extreme ownership, of winning and how to win, in every individual
  • Chapter 3: Believe
  • Principle: in order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission
  • Every leader must be able to detach himself from the immediate tactical mission and understand how it fits into strategic goals
  • Principle: Ego clouds and disrupts everything
    • The planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to except constructive criticism. Often, the most difficult ego to deal with is your own
    • Remember, it’s not about you. It’s not about anyone else. It’s about the mission and how best to accomplish it. With that attitude exemplified in you and your key leaders, your team will dominate
  • It’s on us as leaders to see where we fail to communicate effectively and help our troops clearly understand what their roles and responsibilities are and how their actions impact the bigger and strategic picture
    • He made the mistake of not utilizing cover and move beyond his own small unit. He could’ve utilize the other units resources and work together to make it back safely to base
    • He realized that he had forgotten he was a part of a larger team should’ve worked together with them on the common mission
  • 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 could be catastrophic for the overall team’s performance
  • Principle: Cover and move. It is the most fundamental tactic. Perhaps the only tactic. Put simply, this means teamwork
    • All elements within the greater team are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose
  •  Chapter 6: Simple
  • Principle: Combat, like anything in life, has inherent layers of complexities. Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success
    • When plans and orders are too complicated, people may not understand them. And when things go wrong, complexity compounds issues that can spiral out of control
  • Chapter 7: Prioritize and execute
  • Principle: Prioritize and execute
    • Pass situational awareness both up and down the chain of command when priorities shift
  • “Decisively engaged” is a term used to describe a battle in which a unit locked in a tough combat situation cannot maneuver or extricate themselves. In other words, they cannot retreat. They must win.
  • Chapter 8: Decentralized command
  • Principle: human beings are generally not capable of managing more than 6 to 10 people, particularly when things go sideways and inevitable contingencies arise
    • No one senior leader can be expected to manage dozens of individuals, much less hundreds
    • Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of 4-5 operators with a clearly designated leader. These leaders must understand the overall mission and the ultimate goal of that mission, the “commanders intent”
  • Junior leaders must fully understand what is within their decision-making authority, the left and right limits of their responsibility
    • Additionally, they must communicate with senior leaders to recommend decisions outside their authority, and pass critical information up the chain so that senior leaders can make informed, strategic decisions
  • Command and control for decentralized control requires strength and trust up and down the chain of command
  • Part 3: Sustaining Victory
    • Chapter 9: Plan
  • Principle: What’s the mission? Planning begins with mission analysis. Leaders must identify clear directives for that team
    • Leaders must be comfortable accepting some level of risk
    • The planning process must be standardized
  • Chapter 10: Leading up and down the chain of command
  • Principle: Leading down the chain. Any good leader is immersed in the planning and execution of a task, projects, and operations to move the team toward a strategic goal
    • Senior leaders and junior leaders do not need to know all the details, but need a general understanding of each other’s roles and how their role plays a part of the bigger picture
  • Leadership doesn’t just flow down the chain of command, it also flows up. Sometimes you need to lead those above you to help them
  • Principle: Leading up the chain. If your boss isn’t making a decision in a timely manner or providing necessary support for you and your team, don’t blame your boss. First blame yourself
    • Examine what you can do to better convey critical information for decisions to be made and support allocated. It requires tactful engagement with the immediate boss
    • One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss, your immediate leadership
      • In any chain of command, the leadership must present a united front to the troops
      • A public display of discontent or disagreement with the chain of command undermines the authority of leaders at all levels
    • Don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you’re going to do
  • Chapter 11: Decisiveness amid uncertainty
  • Principle: Nothing can truly articulate the pressure from uncertainty, chaos, and the elements of the unknown with which real combat leaders must contend. They will never have a total or a complete picture of the situation or knowledge of the consequences
    • It is critical for leaders to act decisively amid uncertainty, to make the best decisions they can based on only the immediate information available
    • As a leader, your default setting should be aggressive, proactive rather than reactive
  • A good leader must put aside their ego and personal agendas to ensure 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 out-shined by someone else
  • Principle: Every leader must walk a fine line. Leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities between one extreme and another
    • A leader must be aggressive but not overbearing
    • A leader must lead but also be ready to follow
    • A leader must be confident, but never cocky. Confidence is contagious, a great attribute for a leader and a team
  • Chapter 12: Discipline = freedom. The dichotomy of leadership
    • Discipline is not only the most important quality for an individual, but also for a team
    • A leader must be strong, but likewise have endurance, not only physically but mentally. He or she must maintain the ability to perform at the highest level, and sustain that level for the long term
    • 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

Closing thoughts:

I really enjoyed how the book was structured. Very straightforward, but easy to follow and take notes. Each chapter contained a principle and a few war stories that illustrated this principle in action. They then followed up each principle with a subsequent “business application” and a story from the business world during their consulting.

The principles themselves were fantastic. Solid leadership principles, which center around the leader taking full responsibility for everything in their world. It is basically a mindset and how to translate that into action to improve the effectiveness of a team. These principles have been tested in the military and he demonstrates their application to the business world as well.

Nutshell: Excellent leadership, the single greatest factor in a teams performance, relies on the leader taking extreme ownership of everything in their world.

Rating: 4/5

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