“Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Every problem can be solved by leadership. That has been my mantra since reading this book. I have encountered problems at home and at work and I keep reminding myself that these are my problems. In some way or another I either turned a blind eye to the conditions that allowed these problems to breed, or my actions were a direct cause to the problem I am now facing. Taken through that lens, and owning the problem without placing the blame on anyone else, I have been able to move forward to finding a solution. Here are some excerpts from this phenomenal book. If you are interested in supporting us, buy the book here: Extreme Ownership

-Without a team-a group of individuals working to accomplish a mission-there can be no leadership.

-The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether the team succeeds or fails.

-For leaders, the humility to admit and own mistakes and develop a plan to overcome them is essential to success.

-Leadership is simple, but not easy.

-Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.

-The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.

-When subordinates aren’t doing what they should, leader that exercise Extreme Ownership cannot blame subordinates. They must first look in the mirror at themselves. The leaders 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.

-Taking ownership when things go wrong requires extraordinary humility and courage.

-The best leaders checked their egos, accepted blame, sought out constructive criticism, and took detailed notes for improvement.

-Leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. 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.

-Leaders must accept total responsibility, own problems that inhibit performance, and develop solutions to those problems.

-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.

-Teams need a forcing function to get the different members working together to accomplish the mission and that is what leadership is all about.

-Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mind-set into the team.

-Good leaders don’t make excuses. Instead, they figure out a way to get it done and win.

-In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission.

-When leaders receive an order that they themselves question and do not understand, they must as the question: why? Why are we being asked to do this? Those leaders must take a step back, deconstruct the situation, analyze the strategic picture, and then come to a conclusion.

-Whether in the ranks of military units or companies and corporations, the frontline troops never have as clear an understanding of the strategic picture as senior leaders might anticipate. It is critical that those senior leaders impart a general understanding of that strategic knowledge-the why-to their troops.

-If you ever get a task or guidance on 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.

-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.

-If the overall team fails, even if a specific member or an element within the team did their job successfully. Pointing fingers and placing blame on others contributes to further dissension between teams and individuals. These individuals and teams must instead find a way to work together, communicate with each other, and mutually support one another. The focus must always be on how to best accomplish the mission.

-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, and they inevitably do go wrong, complexity compounds issues that can spiral out of control into total disaster.

-All animals, including humans, need to see the connection between action and consequence in order to learn or react appropriately.

-Regardless of how you think an operation is going to unfold, the enemy gets their say as well-and they are going to do something to disrupt it. When something goes wrong-and it eventually does-complex plans add to confusion, which can compound into disaster. Almost no mission ever goes according to plan. There are simply too many variables to deal with. This is where simplicity is key. If the plan is simple enough, everyone understand 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.

-Prioritize and execute: Even the greatest of battlefield leaders could not handle an array of challenges simultaneously without being overwhelmed. That risked failing at them all. I had to remain calm, step back from my immediate emotional reaction, and determine the greatest priority for the team. Then, rapidly direct the team to attack that priority. Once the wheels were in motion and the full resources of the team were engaged in that highest priority effort, I could 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.

-Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful. I explained how a leader who tries to take on too many problem simultaneously will likely fail at them all.

-Junior leaders 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.” Since I made sure everyone understood the overall intent of the mission, every leader worked and led separately, but in a unified way that contributed to the overall mission, making even the most chaotic scenarios much easier to handle.

-There are, likewise, other senior leaders who 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. We call this trait “battlefield aloofness.” This attitude creates a significant disconnect between leadership and the troops, and such a leader’s team will struggle to effectively accomplish their mission.

-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. Understanding proper positioning as a leader is a key component of effective Decentralized Command, not just on the battlefield. In any team, business, or organization, the same rule applies.

-A mission statement tells your troops what you are doing. But they have to understand why they are doing it. When the subordinate leaders and the frontline troops fully understand the purpose of the mission, how it ties into strategic goals, and what impact it has, they can then lead, even in the absence of explicit orders.

-There is truly nothing more important than an understanding of the dynamics of Decentralized Command. This is proper command and control in a nutshell. It is one of the most complex strategies to pull off correctly. As a leader, it takes strength to let go. It takes faith and trust in subordinate frontline leaders and their abilities.

-Trust is not blindly given. It must be built over time. Situations will sometimes require that the boss walk away from a problem and let junior leaders solve it, even if the boss knows he might solve it more efficiently.

-Junior leaders must 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.

-What mission planning is all about: never taking anything for granted, preparing for likely contingencies, and maximizing the chance of mission success while minimizing the risk to the troops executing the mission.

-Planning begins with mission analysis. Leaders must identify clear directives for the team.

-Following a successful brief, all members participating in an operation will understand the strategic mission, the Commander’s intent, the specific mission of the team, and their individual roles within that mission.

-The test for a successful brief is simple: do the team and the supporting elements understand it?

-A leader’s checklist for planning should include the following:

Analyze the mission: Understand the higher headquarters’ mission, Commander’s intent, and endstate (the goal)

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.

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 situation.

Brief the plan to all participants and supporting assets: Emphasize Commander’s Intent, 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.

-As leaders, we must not get dragged into the details but instead remain focused on the bigger picture. The most important part of the brief is to explain Commander’s Intent. When everyone participating knows and understands the purpose and end state of the mission, they can theoretically act without further guidance.

Any good leader is immersed in the planning and execution of tasks, projects, and operations to move the team toward a strategic goal. Such leaders possess insight into the bigger picture and why specific tasks nee to be accomplished. This information does not automatically translate to subordinate leaders and the frontline troops.

-It is paramount that senior leaders explain to their junior leaders and troops executing the mission how their role contributes to the big picture success.

-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 decision to be made and support allocated.

-Leading up the chain takes much more savvy and skill than leading down the chain. Leading up, the leader cannot fall back on his or her positional authority. Instead, the subordinate leader must use influence, experience, knowledge, communication, and maintain the highest professionalism.

-In combat, as in flie, the outcome is never certain, the picture never clear. There are no guarantees of success. But in order to succeed, leaders must be comfortable under pressure, and act on logic, not emotion. This is a critical component to victory.

-As a leader, my default setting should be aggressive-proactive rather than reactive. This was critical to the success of any team. Instead of letting the situation dictate our decisions, we must dictate the situation.

-Discipline equals freedom.

-The only way you could make time, was to get up early. That took discipline. By discipline, I mean intrinsic self-discipline-a matter of personal will.

-Nothing is easy. The temptation to take the easy road is always there. It is as easy as staying in bed in the morning and sleeping in. But discipline is paramount to ultimate success and victory for any leader and any team.

-The more disciplined Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) a team employs, the more freedom they have to practice Decentralized Command and thus they can execute faster, sharper, and more efficiently. Just as an individual excels when he or she exercises self-discipline, a unit that has tighter and more disciplined procedures and processes will excel and win.

-If frontline leaders and troops executing the mission lack the ability to adapt, this becomes detrimental to the team’s performance. So the balance between discipline and freedom must be found and carefully maintained. In that, lies the dichotomy: discipline-strict order, regimen, and control-might appear to be teh opposite of total freedom-the power to act, speak, or think without any restrictions. But, in fact, discipline is the pathway to freedom.

-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 other step up and take charge. Leaders that lack confidence in themselves fear being outshined by someone else.

-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 lose their temper also lose respect. But, at the same time, to never show any sense of anger, sadness, or frustration would make that leader appear void of any emotion at all-a robot. People do not follow robots.

-A leader must be confident but never cocky. Confidences is contagious, a great attribute for a leader and a team. But when it goes too far, overconfidence causes complacency and arrogance, which ultimately set the team up for failure.

-A leader must be brave but not foolhardly. He or she must be willing to accept risk and act courageously, but must never be reckless. It is a leader’s job to always mitigate as much as possible those risks that can be controlled to accomplish the mission without sacrificing the team or excessively expending critical resources.

-Leaders must have a competitive spirit but also be gracious losers. They must drive competition and push themselves and their teams to perform at the highest level. But they must never put their own drive for personal success ahead of overall mission success for the greater team. Leaders must act with professionalism and recognize others for their contributions.

-A leader must be attentive to details but not obsessed by them. A good leader does not get bogged down in the minutia of a tactical problem at the expense of strategic success. He or she must monitor and check the team’s progress in the most critical tasks. But that leader cannot get sucked into the details and lose track of the bigger picture.

-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. Leaders must recognize limitations and know to pace themselves and their teams so that they can maintain a solid performance indefinitely.

-Leaders must be humble but not passive; quiet but not silent. They must possess humility and the ability to control their ego and listen to others. They must admit mistakes and failures, take ownership of them, and figure out a way to prevent them from happening again. But a leader must be able to speak up when it matters. They must be able to stand up for the team and respectfully push back against a decision, order, or direction that could negatively impact overall mission success.

-A leader must be close with subordinates but not too close. The best leaders understand the motivations of their team members and know their people- their lives and their families. But a leader must never grow so close to subordinates that one member of the team becomes more important than another, or more important that the mission itself. Leaders must never get so close that the team forgets who is in charge.

-A leader must exercise Extreme Ownership. Simultaneously, that leader must employ Decentralized Command by giving control to subordinate leaders.

-Finally, a leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove. By virtue of rank and position, the team understand that the leader is in charge. A good leader does not gloat or revel in his or her position. To take charge of minute details just to demonstrate and reinforce to the team a leader’s authority is the mark of poor, inexperienced leadership lacking confidence. Since the team understand that the leader is de facto in charge, in that respect, a leader has nothing to prove. But in another respect, a leader has everything to prove: every member of the team must develop the trust and confidence that their leader will exercise good judgment, remain calm, and make the right decisions when it matters most.

-Leaders must earn that respect and prove themselves worthy, demonstrating through action that they will take care of the team and look out for their long-term interests and well-being. In that respect, a leader has everything to prove every day.

-THE DICHOTOMY OF LEADERSHIP: 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 but not passive; aggressive but not over-bearing; 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; not so close that they forget who is in charge; able to execute Extreme Ownership while exercising Decentralized Command.

-The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. This means leaders must be heavily engaged in training and mentoring their junior leaders to prepare them to step up and assume greater responsibilities.




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