Extreme Ownership Fundamentals

I cannot express how grateful I am for discovering Jocko Willink and the message that he, and his teammate Leif Babin, deliver. Their book, “Extreme Ownership” and distills lessons learned on the battlefield down to fundamental concepts that can be applied to everyday life. Those lessons apply to both business and personal life. I myself have found tremendous value in applying a greater degree of ownership to everything in my life and have already benefited from the added level of discipline. Willink prescribes four fundamental concepts that he calls the Law of Combat.  They are Cover and Move, Simple, Prioritize and Execute, and Decentralized Command.

Willink and Babin intimately describe each of these concepts in great details in “Extreme Ownership” and “The Dichotomy of Leadership.” Additionally, their Leadership Development Handbook summarizes each of these concepts. Those summaries are ideal for this forum.

Cover and Move: “Each member of the team is critical to success, while the main effort and supporting efforts must be clearly delineated. If the team fails, everyone fails. Even if a specific member of the team or an element within the team did their job, but the overall team fails and the mission isn’t accomplished, they all still fail. If the team succeeds, they all succeed. Accomplishing the mission is the highest priority.”

Simple: “Combat, like anything in life, has inherent layer of complexities. Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success. When plans and orders get too complex, people will not understand them. And when things go wrong, which they inevitably will, this lack of understanding will make things worse. Plans and orders must be simple, clear, and concise.”

Prioritize and Execute: “Leaders must recognize the situation they are in, analyze the issue, and respond. Then, move on to the next priority and execute on that. And the same for the next priority, and so on. Certainly in combat, and in any dynamic environment, the most important quality in a leader is to remain calm under pressure and make good decisions. When feeling overwhelmed, combat leaders are taught to Relax, Look Around, Make a Call.”

Decentralized Command: “Simply put, everyone leads. Leaders at all levels understand the overall mission (the commander’s intent) and are empowered to make decisions in key tasks necessary to accomplish that mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible.”

There have been countless situations that I have encountered where these simple philosophies have served me well, and passed the test of their functionality. Using one of Leif Babin’s own litmus tests by asking if this approach is effective or ineffective, these principles have resoundingly passed the test.


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“As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen


This is a short book that tries to encapsulate a lot in a very little amount of writing. I appreciate it for its succinctness as well as for its message. Man is, in one way or another, in control of everything around him, including his circumstances. Many of those circumstances are a result a Man’s willingness to accept responsibility, protect one’s mind, and live a life of daily, unmitigated discipline. Don’t like your job, then fix it. Don’t like your body, then fix it. Don’t like your friends, then fix it. One especially pertinent point James Allen makes, is that many people do not treat their mind as such a critical piece of the body. “If you would protect your body, guard your mind. If you would renew your body, beautify your mind.” It seems obvious that we must protect our bodies from harm. However, many of us are flippant to protect our minds in the same way. The thoughts we have, the ideas that we let in, can all be attacks on our mind. These attacks weaken our resolve and make us question our very being. At the same time, some of those perceived attacks could be the mechanism we use to beautify our minds.

  1. Character is not a thing of favour or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking.
  2. Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armoury of thought he forgoes the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.
  3. As a being of Power, Intelligence, and Love, and the lord of his own thoughts, man holds the key to every situation, and contains within himself that transforming and regenerative agency by which he may make himself what he wills.
  4. When he begins to reflect upon his condition, and to search diligently for the Law upon which his being is established, eh then becomes the wise master, directing his energies with intelligence, and fashioning his thoughts to fruitful issues. Such is the conscious master, and man can only thus become by discovering within himself the laws of thought; which discovery is totally a matter of application, self analysis, and experience.
  5. Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be the creature of outside conditions, but when he realizes that he is a creative power, and that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself.
  6. Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.
  7. Here is a man who is wretchedly poor. He is extremely anxious that his surroundings and home comforts should be improved, yet all the time he shirks his work, and considers he is justified in trying to deceive his employer on the ground of the insufficiency of his wages. Such a man does not understand the simplest rudiments of those principles which are the basis of true prosperity, and is not only totally unfitted to rise out of his wretchedness, but is actually attracting to himself a still deeper wretchedness by dwelling in it, and acting out, indolent, deceptive, and unmanly thoughts.
  8. Here is a rich man who is the victim of a painful and persistent disease as the result of gluttony. He is willing to give large sums of money to get rid of it, but he will not sacrifice his gluttonous desires. He wants to gratify his taste for rich and unnatural viands and have his health as well. Such a man is totally unfit to have health, because he has not yet learned the first principles of a healthy life.
  9. Here is an employer of labour who adopts crooked measures to avoid paying the regulation wage, and, in the hopes of making larger profits, reduces the wages of his workpeople. Such a man is altogether unfitted for prosperity, and when he finds himself bankrupt, both as regards reputation and riches, he blames circumstances, not knowing that he is the sole author of his condition.
  10. Law, not confusion, is the dominating principle in the universe; justice, not injustice, is the soul and substance of life; and righteousness, not corruption, is the moulding and moving force in the spiritual government of the world. This being so, man has but to right himself to find that the universe is right; and during the process of putting himself right he will find that as he alters his thoughts towards things and other people, things and other people will alter towards him.
  11. The body is the servant of the mind.
  12. If you would protect your body, guard your mind. If you would renew your body, beautify your mind.
  13. Even if he fails again and again to accomplish his purpose (as he necessarily must  until weakness is overcome), the strength of character gained will be the measure of his true success, and this will form a new starting point for future power and triumph.
  14. Strength can only be developed by effort and practice.
  15. There can be no progress, no achievement without sacrifice.
  16. Victories attained by right thought can only be maintained by watchfulness. Many give way when success is assured, and rapidly fall back into failure.
  17. They do not see the long and arduous journey, but only behold the pleasant goal, and call it “good fortune,” do not understand the process, but only perceive the result, and call it chance.
  18. The calm man, having learned how to govern himself, knows how to adapt himself to others.
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Successful People vs. Unsuccessful People

successful_unsuccessful peopleSuccessful People

  1. Give other people credit for their victories.
  2. Compliment
  3. Embrace change
  4. Forgive others
  5. Keep a “to be” list
  6. Read everyday
  7. Accept responsibility
  8. Operate from a transformational perspective
  9. Exude joy
  10. Have a sense of gratitude
  11. Share information and data
  12. Continuously learn
  13. Keep a journal
  14. Keep a “to do/project” list
  15. Talk about ideas
  16. Set goals and develop life plans
  17. Want others to succeed

Unsuccessful People

  1. Secretly hope other fail
  2. Never set goals
  3. Have a sense of entitlement
  4. Criticize
  5. Fear change
  6. Think they know it all
  7. Say they keep a journal but really don’t
  8. Horde information and data
  9. Don’t know what they want to be
  10. Blame others for their failures
  11. Hold a grudge
  12. Talk about people
  13. Fly by the seat of their pants
  14. Take all the credit for their victories
  15. Operate from a transactional perspective
  16. Exude anger
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9 Rules of Combat for Everyday Life

By combining military principles with everyday life, I find that it is easier to keep myself disciplined in both arenas. The military application of the following nine rules are evident. How they apply to civilian life, whether it be family or work, are harder to distill. Either way, going through each of the nine principles is just another way to look at all of life’s problems, and hopefully solve some of the challenges, both foreseeable and unknown.

  1. OBJECTIVE: Your goal(s) must be clearly defined, decisive, and obtainable.
  2. OFFENSIVE: Seize the initiative when it presents itself. Be aggressive, not reckless.
  3. MASS: Use and concentrate your greatest strengths.
  4. ECONOMY OF FORCE: Know what is secondary and give it minimal effort. Utilize all of your resources in the most efficient means possible.
  5. MANEUVER: Be flexibly and adaptable to changing needs.
  6. UNITY OF COMMAND: Delegate authority and responsibility but be accountable for the final result.
  7. SECURITY: Understand what you are up against.
  8. SURPRISE: Choose the right time to attack.
  9. SIMPLICITY: Simple does not mean easy. Make plans that are clear, concise, and easily communicated.

In life we must choose a path to follow. At the end of path there should be goals. Look at yourself and define what your objective is. Never lose sight of that goal so you can ask yourself if the things you are doing are keeping you on the path, or if they are bringing you closer to your objective. When the opportunity presents itself, act. Do no hesitate to take quick and decisive action. Be aggressive, not reckless, when pursuing opportunity. Do not be a victim of analysis paralysis. Concentrate your greatest strengths at your enemy’s greatest weaknesses. Be careful dividing your forces or resources. As once said, when a dog chases two rabbits, they both get away. By having a clearly defined objective, you can easily identify distractions. Do not let those secondary detractors fool you. Prioritize your expenditures and pay minimal heed to everything else. Because you are ready to strike decisively and aggressively, maintain a posture that allows flexibly and the ability to adapt to the changing landscape. Do not become so beholden to your own thoughts and plans that you are unwilling or unable to adapt. A leader should have three things; authority, responsibility, and accountability. Be humble enough to grant authority to your subordinates and give them responsibility. Hold them accountable but be willing to accept ownership of everything, even when they fail. During success, give credit to subordinates. During failure, take responsibility. That is the first step to developing solutions. Know your enemy and the situation. Knowledge will provide security, but do not rest. Use that understanding to surprise your demons. Simple does not mean easy. Simple does not assure success. Simplicity does allow for strong fundamentals, on which taller and taller structures can be built.

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The Armed Forces Officer 2017 Edition

While the 2017 version is not as entertaining as the 1950 version, there are still numerous reminders found within The Armed Forces Officer manual published by the National Defense University Press. It is interesting and a little disheartening to me to be finding these lessons this late in my career. As many are aware, young officers either do not want to hear or do not appreciate the professional musings of older officers. Just as I was at that stage, I was more focused on establishing my technical competence vice my leadership abilities. Now that I see the value of the latter I wish I could go back and appreciate the lessons that I am learning today.

  1. …abilities, or the power or skill to do something, are subject to training and improvement. Abilities can be enhanced. Abilities become capabilities or capacities through practice and application.
  2. The officer remains under obligation to extend his or her inherent abilities to their maximum potential.
  3. The military man or woman may be called upon at any time to perform duties under conditions not only of great discomfort, but also of threat of serious injury, loss of limb, or death.
  4. The Nation will bestow on the officer the authority to command his or her fellow citizens. While officers depend on the counsel, technical skill, maturity, and experience of subordinates to translate their orders into action, the ultimate responsibility for mission success or failure resides with the officer in charge.
  5. No other profession holds out to the worthy so certain a reward for intelligence and fidelity, no people on earth so generously and willingly accord to the soldier the most exalted praise for heroic conduct in action, or for long and faithful service, as do the people of the United States; nor does any other people so overwhelmingly cast away those who fail at the critical moment, or who betray their trusts.
  6. “The Honorable Absurdity of the Soldier’s Role” that the soldier’s lot “is inherently and voluntarily a tragic role, an undertaking to offer one’s life, and to assume the right to take the lives of others… The intelligent soldier recognizes that the two undertakings are connected. His warrant to kill is integrally related to his willingness to die.” When one is not willing to go into harm’s way, he or she is not a soldier but a technician of death, or just a technician. A defining moral quality is absent. The military ethic is based on a commitment to disciplined service under conditions of unlimited liability, whether or not one has a military occupational specialty that involves combat.
  7. The profession of arms exists to serve the larger community, to help accomplish its purposes and objectives, and to protect its way of life.
  8. Why the Military is viewed differently by society: They serve at frequent cost to their convenience, comfort, family stability, and often their limbs and lives. It is ultimately because of their willingness to endure hardship and risk life and limb on behalf of the Nation, not the willingness to kill and destroy in the Nation’s name, that members of all the Armed Forces enjoy the respect and gratitude of the American people.
  9. Huntington’s basic thesis was that the military belonged in the ranks of the classic professions, including clergy, medicine, and law. The “distinguishing characteristics of a profession as a special type of vocation…expertise, responsibility, and corporateness.” Experience has shown the importance of a fourth characteristic, a professional ethic and an ethos.
  10. The concern now is not to prove that the military is a profession, but rather to inspire men and women in uniform to reflect the expected characteristics of professionals in their day-to-day activities: to hold themselves and others to uniformly high standards of performance and conduct, lest they lose their discretion in performance that is the acknowledgment of professional status.
  11. A profession has a body of expertise, built over time on a base of practical experience, which yields fundamental principles and abstract knowledge. Professional knowledge has a history, and some knowledge of that history is essential to professional competence.
  12. Harold Lasswell stated “the management of violence involves (1) the organization, equipping, and training of the force; (2) the planning of its activities; and (3) the direction of its operation in and out of combat.”
  13. The organizational and planning skills of Armed Forces officers are often transferrable to nontraditional assignments, and no less valuable than their material contributions. The armed forces great strength lies in our capacity to analyze a problem, plan a solution, and then implement it under pressure.
  14. In exchange for the service that a profession provides, the society grants to members of that profession certain privileges, prerogatives, and powers that it does not extend to the rest of its citizens.
  15. A sense of organic unity and consciousness of themselves as a group apart. There are at least two important dimensions of this corporateness: a shared identity, and the wish to exert control over membership in the profession. The shared identity comes from the culture and ethos of a profession. It reflects a sense of common endeavor and can be manifested in the adoption of distinctive titles and/or distinctive attire, and reciprocal recognition of members.
  16. A professional ethos is the collective and internal sense of what each member must be as a member of the profession. The ethos, which includes the tribal wisdom and oral tradition handed on from one generation to the next, is the standard-bearer of the profession. An ethos is more about what it means to be a member of that profession that it is about what members of the profession do. Service ethos is the foundation of esprit de corps, the “sense of unity and of fraternity in its routine existence which expresses itself as the force of cohesion in the hour when all ranks are confronted by common danger.”
  17. The man who feels the greatest affection for the service in which he bears arms will work most loyally to make his own unit know a rightful pride in its own worth.
  18. The most basic element of character is moral discipline. Its most essential feature is the inner capacity for restraint- an ability to inhibit oneself in one’s passions, desires, and habits within the boundaries of a moral order. Moral discipline, in many respects is the capacity to say “no”; its function, to inhibit and constrain personal appetites on behalf of the greater good.
  19. “Never for an instant can you divest yourselves of the fact that you are officer. On the athletic field, at the club, in civilian clothes, or even at home on leave, the fact that you are a commissioned officer in the Army imposes a constant obligation to higher standards than might ordinarily seem normal or necessary for your personal guidance. A small dereliction becomes conspicuous, at times notorious, purely by reason of the fact that the individual concerned is a commissioned officer.” General George Marshall
  20. Character development involves training the will as well as the intellect.
  21. Mature adults can be reminded of the values, qualities, characteristics, and virtues that constitute individual or institutional norms or epectations, but whether they choose to act in accordance with the tenets of character, or contrary to them, remains a function of free will- and disposition. In relation to peers who commit various offenses, “They know it is wrong, but they do it anyway.” Their weakness is one of will, not understanding. ONLY FOCUSED INDIVIDUAL EFFORT, REFLECTION, SELF-ASSESSMENT, AND A CONCISOUS EFFORT TO DO BETTER WILL LEAD FORMED ADULTS TO MODIFY THEIR BEHAVIOR.
  22. It is in the superior’s interest to create an environment in which honest communication is the norm, in which discourse is forthright, and mutual expectations for candor are clear to all.
  23. The superior who values the perspective of subordinates must create a space in which it is possible for subordinates to express doubt or disagreement without prejudice, and without the superior fearing a loss of authority and the intermediate distance between levels of responsibility that enables objectivity and enhances authority.
  24. A key element of subordinate success is maintaining a professional demeanor that accepts as an opening premise that the superior commander is guided by good intentions, has greater experience, far wider responsibilities, as well as many sources of information not available to subordinates.
  25. Subordinates must keep in mind that the measure of any specific mission is its contribution to its total effort, not immediate convenience or cost to their particular unit. Sometimes, when confronted with a problematic tasking, a good approach is to offer a better alternative to achieve the same or more productive result, rather than outright rejection of the superior’s immediate vision.
  26. Four basic virtues are central to the character of the Armed Forces Officer: DISCIPLINE, COURAGE, COMPETENCE, and SELF-SACRIFICE.
  27. The Armed Forces officer requires the courage to dare, the courage to endure, the courage to keep one’s head in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, “when everyone around is losing their.” The officer requires the courage to decide and act. Physical courage is sine qua non for the officer, as war is a dangerous business. But equally important is moral courage. This is the courage to speak truth to authority, and the courage to act and then to be accountable.
  28. Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur. “Battle is the ultimate to which the whole life’s labor of an officer should be directed. He may live to the age of retirement without seeing a battle; still, he must always be getting ready for it exactly as if he knew the hour of the day it is to break upon him. And then, whether it come late or early, he must be willing to fight– he must fight.”
  29. Self-sacrifice is a measure of commitment to a cause as opposed to a simple search for martyrdom.
  30. Being a person of virtue and good character is integral to being a professional. It is necessary, but not sufficient.
  31. If the first time an officer things about the ethical aspects of the use of force is in combat, under fire, the outcomes for the officer, the troops, and innocent noncombatants in the area are likely to be more unfortunate than they might otherwise be.
  32. Leadership is convincing others to collaborate effectively in a common endeavor.
  33. Taking care of the troops means attending tot their personal needs- physical, mental, and spiritual- and, to a great extent, to their families’ needs as well. It also means treating everyone with dignity and respect.
  34. Individual development means going beyond the immediate requirements of the job and the mission, to helping subordinates grow in their own careers, preparing them for higher rank, for greater responsibility, and most especially for current and future leadership of their own troops. A good leader leads, and a great leader develops other leaders.
  35. Troops obey because they must; they follow because they want to. They obey superiors; they follow leaders. The obvious is worth stating: an officer must be capable of being both a superior and a leader.
  36. Marshall’s core list of leadership attributes from 1950 onward was:
    1. Quite resolution.
    2. The hardihood to take risks.
    3. The will to take full responsibility for decisions.
    4. The readiness to share its rewards with subordinates.
    5. An equal readiness to take the blame, when things go adversely.
    6. The nerve to survive the storm and disappointment and to face toward each new day with the scoresheet wiped clean, neither dwelling on one’s successes nor accepting discouragement from one’s failure.
  37. Rear Admiral Mike Mullen’s core attributes to succeed as a leader: “Truthfulness in everything you do; Trustworthiness to follow direction; Demonstration of a capacity for active listening; and Always do your personal best.” To these he added what he called “the fundamental goals of a good liberal education: courage, judgment, curiosity and imagination.”
  38. Admiral Mullen also encouraged new leaders to do three things:
    1. Learn from their mistakes.
    2. To not be afraid to question their seniors- to stand up for what’s right.
    3. To accept accountability.
  39. Leaders set and enforce standards: “A strictly imposed discipline is not condescending… To allow a soldier to disobey orders is really to insult him. A good man, in any walk of life, knows what he can do, and what he should do. If he fails, he expects the just reward of failure.. A man in authority who lets his subordinates get away with poor performance implies in doing so that they and their actions are of no consequence… Tolerance is not only disliked by the soldier for its implication that his efforts do not matter much, but also because it is to some extent an abnegation of duty by his superior.”
  40. Officers set the example every day by demonstrating their technical knowledge, their physical conditioning, and their professional appearance and deportment, and particularly by exhibiting a positive attitude in the face of adversity.
  41. As a Commanding Officer, you must build trust with those Officers and Sailors under your command. You must build trust through your character and in your actions which demonstrate professional competence, judgment, good sense, and respect for those you lead. This trust can only be built through personal interaction on a daily basis at every level in your chain-of-command. Human interaction remains the dominant factor in leading Sailors.
  42. Accountability involves accepting the consequences for the outcomes of action or inaction in circumstances for which one bears responsibility.
  43. What the civilian ideally should be, military officers MUST be, if they are to fulfill the obligations of subordination and service to which they are committed.
  44. Three traits- VISION, COURAGE, and CHARACTER- will form the essence of effective military leaders in the years ahead.
    1. Vision. The primary function of any leader is to point the way ahead. This requires the ability to “see around corners”- to see something significant about the future that isn’t readily apparent to others.
    2. Courage. It takes courage to lead, and always has. Nothing good happens without risk, and it takes courage to act in the face of uncertainty and risk. And to succeed you must act. Acting is more important than not being wrong.
    3. Character. Character is most important in the leader. People trust men and women of character because they know that they will do the right thing for the organization and not themselves when the going gets tough; and that trust becomes the glue that binds organizations together. Aristotle states that moral goodness (character) is the result of habit. If you do good things repeatedly, you will be a good person.
  45. Fortune favors those that have prepared themselves, mentally and physically, for uncertainty.
  46. As an American Armed Forces officer, one accepts responsibility both for faithful execution of the office, to include a life of continuous study and application, and for the maintenance of a exemplary personal life.
  47. Three primary responsibilities of the military professional:
    1. First, to give his honest, fearless, objective, professional military opinion of what he needs to do the job the nation gives him.
    2. Second, if what he is given is less than the minimum he regards as essential, to give his superiors an honest, fearless, objective opinion of the consequences of these shortages as he sees them from the military viewpoint.
    3. Third and finally, he has the duty, whatever the final decision, to do the utmost with whatever he is furnished.


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Glover Johns Leadership Lessons

I stumbled across the leadership lessons from Col. Glover Johns while listening to the Jocko Podcast. Lately I have found myself making more and more lists to remind me of the principles I need to use while making decisions. Sometimes those decisions affect the people around me and other times they only impact me personally. More than anything, I’m still trying to figure out the guidelines I need to adhere to while trying to achieve my short term and long term personal goals.

* Strive to do small things well.

* Be a doer and a self-starter — aggressiveness and initiative are two most admired qualities in a leader — but you must also put your feet up and think.

*Strive for self-improvement through constant self-evaluation.

*Never be satisfied. Ask of any project, How can it be done better?

* Don’t over-inspect or over-supervise. Allow your leaders to make mistakes in training, so they can profit from the errors and not make them in combat.

* Keep the troops informed; telling them “what, how, and why” builds their confidence.

* The harder the training, the more troops will brag.

* Enthusiasm, fairness, and moral and physical courage — four of the most important aspects of leadership.

* The ability to speak and write well — two essential tools of leadership.

* Have consideration for others.

* Yelling detracts from your dignity; take men aside to counsel them.

* Understand and use judgment; know when to stop fighting for something you believe is right. Discuss and argue your point of view until a decision is made, and then support the decision wholeheartedly.

* Stay ahead of your boss.

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Following the Difficult Path

“It is far more likely that a given individual has just decided to reject the path upward, because of its difficulty. Perhaps that should even be your default assumption, when faced with such a situation. That’s too harsh, you think. You might be right. Maybe that’s a step too far. But consider this: failure is easy to understand. No explanation for its existence is required. In the same manner, fear, hatred, addiction, promiscuity, betrayal and deception require no explanation. It’s not the existence of vice, or the indulgence in it, that requires explanation. Vice is easy. Failure is easy, too. It’s easier not to shoulder a burden. It’s easier not to think, and not to do, and not to care. It’s easier to put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today, and drown the upcoming months and years in today’s cheap pleasures.”


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