Lessons from Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

extreme ownership jocko willink leif babin

The book Extreme Ownership, by two former Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, is a very unique book that contains a simple but not-easy-to-implement principle which they called “extreme ownership”. In each chapter of the book, the authors talked about something that they learnt from the their missions they have accomplished or failed as navy SEALs and how the lesson, which surrounds the single theme of extreme ownership, can be applied to achieve success in a business or in life. Whether you are working as a junior employee of a company, a team leader, or an owner of a business, here are some lessons that can inspire you to rethink how you should approach your work.

You Need Extreme Ownership to Succeed

What is extreme ownership? It is about saying and believing that it’s your fault everytime something bad happens. There is no question that there are times when you may think it is only ten perfect your fault while it’s ninety percent your teammate’s fault. But if you adopt the extreme ownership mindset, you should be able to understand that it is better to think that you own the responsibility to get the job done properly. If it’s your teammate’s fault mostly, ask yourself whether you have done your best job to make sure your teammate understands what to do. There are so many factors that determine the outcome of an event, but you should own 100% of the responsibility mentally so that you make every necessary move to make sure the task is well delivered.

There Are No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

In the book, the authored talk about a very challenging training section they were hosting as trainers of the navy SEALs. It was a canoeing competition, with team A consistently beating team B. They decided to switch the leaders of both teams and team B suddenly became the team that was consistently winning. In a corporate world, I believe that there are indeed bad, or at least relatively bad, teams. But if you are the leader, ask yourself whether you are the leader that simply allow your team to lose or the leader that works on turning things around.

Let Everyone Understand the Task and the Mission, the What and the Why

If you want your team to do the job right, letting them know what to do is not enough, but you have to also let them know the ultimate mission of what they are trying to achieve, the why of the task. Without knowing the why, they simply don’t have the north star to guide them make the proper decisions. Remember that it is impossible for you to help make all the micro decisions that your team are supposed to make.

Set a High Standard for Yourself and Your Team to Follow

Without a standard, things become too subjective. The team would become more like a group of random talented people than a collective unit that is designed to accomplish a mission. If you want to win consistently, you need to create a system that is built around high standards for you and your team to follow.

Teach Your Team Extreme Ownership

Everyone should have the extreme ownership mindset. If you are the leader of a team, own the responsibility of leading your team. If you are at the lowest level where you don’t lead a team, own the responsibility to achieve the task assigned to you.

The Simpler The Plan, The Better

A good game plan is usually very simple. Don’t confuse being simple with being easy. A plan can be very difficult to execute as your goal grows bigger, but the plan should always stay simple. Since communication between team members plays an essential role in accomplishing the mission, you don’t want to have a plan that cannot be explained with simplicity and clarity.

You Have to Communicate Up a Level and Down a Level

Usually, as a leader, you are very naturally focused on leading your team, the teammates that are immediately down one level, but you forget, avoid, or even afraid of communicating with the person who leads you. Make sure the mission, the approach and the progress are well communicated to one level above and one level down. Imagine what a company can become if the CEO doesn’t communicate well with the investors. That could lead to a scenario where the CEO’s team is performing well but in a direction that is not aligned with the investors’ interests, leading to a company close down or a CEO replacement.

Decentralize Command

As mentioned, you have to communicate well up one level and down one level, but what about the people two levels below? That’s why you have to let your team know both the task and the mission so that they can effectively lead the people one level below them, which are two levels below you. You don’t want to be the single leader in a big team. You need to allow and equip your team to command and lead other people.

Prioritize and Execute

There are times when the whole procedure is just too big and has too many unknown. It is very importance to prioritize and then execute. When a certain milestone is hit, you should always re-evaluate the situation at that moment, re-prioritize or even re-plan if needed.

Check Your Ego

Heros are not required in a team game. You always have to think as a member of a team if you want to achieve team success. You have to check your ego before you go to a battle. It’s not only you that could suffer from your ego, but your teammates too.

Don’t Micromanage

With a good plan or system of high standard, you shouldn’t try to micromanage. To achieve the best team success, you need everyone to have extreme ownership. Allow your team to come up with their own solutions within the guidelines or principles of your plan. Fix their approaches with explanations when you need to.

Don’t Make Friends with Your Teammates

In the book, the author explained that the best distance between a leader and the team should be a distance that let the team feel supportive but not so close that they become friends. Otherwise, you will eventually have people that are above the system. For example, are you still able to fire someone who severely underperform if he or she has become one of your closest friends?

Discipline Equals Freedom

This is a very counter-intuitive concept that I found extremely true. Having very strong self-discipline, or in other words having a framework to live your life in, can actually produces more time and resources to do more things with better flexibility. For example, if you decide to wake up every day at five o’clock and save ten percent of your income every month, imagine how much more time and resources you have to execute things that you could have never even started.

If I can only pick two lessons from the above list to live by, the two important lessons would be: to say that it’s my fault every single time and to deeply believe in discipline equals freedom.