Extreme Ownership

Extreme Ownership — recommended book

Extreme Ownership is one of the top five leadership books I’ve read since 1993.

I recommended this book to a pacifist friend of mine – not to persuade him to change his views on military and violence, but because they address the courage/tenacity/clarity issues that he faces in his organization.

I first heard Jocko Willink speak on Tim Ferriss’ podcast and was extremely impressed.  His humility is discussing mistakes and how he learned from them was truly remarkable. He voice is gentle and soft.

Chapters are organized around these key ideas:

  • The leader is always responsible. This is what they call “extreme ownership.” Basically, leaders must always “own” the mistakes and shortcomings of their teams.
  • Everyone on the team must believe in the mission, beginning with the leader.
  • Work with other teams to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • Keep plans simple, clear, and concise.  That enables you to operate in Decentralized Command mode with efficient sub-teams.
  • Check your ego.
  • In confusing situations with many variables, detach in order to identify the top priority.  Apply concentrated effort.  Then move to the next priority.
  • Clarify your mission (i.e., your plan).
  • Engage with your senior leaders; keep them in the loop–especially when they frustrate you.
  • Act decisively, even when things are chaotic.

A few passages which were significant to me:

There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.  … Leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance.  … The leader drives performance, or doesn’t.  And this applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team but to the junior leaders of teams within the team.  (p.49)

[Reflecting on which SEAL candidates make it through selection] …it was far more effective to focus their efforts not on the days to come or the far-distant finishing line they couldn’t yet see, but instead on a physical goal immediately in front of them. (p49)

When it comes to standards as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate…. Teams need a forcing function to get the different members working together to accomplish the mission and that is what leadership is all about. (p54-55)

If you aren’t winning then you aren’t making the right decisions. (p60)

[Discussing the necessity of everyone understanding the big picture, the commander’s intent, and how their part fits, because stuff happens you didn’t expect]  Remember, the enemy gets a vote. (p145)

Those junior leaders learned that they were expected to make decisions.  They couldn’t ask, “What do I do?” Instead, they had to state, “This is what I am going to do.” (p173)

The true test for a good brief is not whether the senior officers are impressed. It’s whether or not the troops that are going to execute the operation actually understand it. Everything else is bullshit. (p 213)

I like their “dichotomy of leadership” list:

A good leader must be:

  • Confident but not cocky
  • Courageous but not foolhardy
  • Competitive but a gracious loser
  • Attentive to details 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
  • Close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; and not so close they forget who is in charge
  • Able to execute Extreme Ownership while exercising Decentralized Command

If you don’t want to read the whole book I recommend you pick up the Key Point Breakdown (15 min read) summary ebook.