Extreme Ownership, How US Navy Seals Lead and Win

In Extreme Ownership, Jacko Willink and Leif Babin, Navy SEAL task unit leaders, relate military principles and tactics to business leadership.  In the past, I shared a summary of their recent book, The Dichotomy of Leadership.  Here’s a few minute overview of their original book Extreme Ownership along with some of my thoughts:

  • At the end of the day, all leaders are responsible for success or failure.  As Jim Collins shared, good leaders look out a window when there’s a success (i.e., you give praise) and when there’s a problem, you take 100% of the fault.
  • State the why when sharing goals or missions. Willink’s superiors said he’d be responsible for taking Iraqi soldiers on every mission; his initial thought was “no.” Then he understood the why.  If Iraqis couldn’t protect their own country, the US could be a permanent presence in the area.  For more on “why,” check out Start with Why by Simon Sinek.
  • When asked to do something by your leader and unsure why it makes sense, ask questions to understand.  Without understanding, it will be hard to be 110% behind the mission or goal.
  • When thinking of who’s on the “team,” look for the big picture.  In the book, one of the authors extracted his team from a mission in Ramadi, Iraq.  He led his team on a risky mission to get out of the city during the day.  In the end, they made it, but his commanding officer asked why he didn’t enlist a nearby SEAL team to provide coverage.  He admitted he was wrong and was thinking too narrowly about who was on his team.
  • Prioritize and execute.  In the book, there was a mission where it was a shit show, and many things went wrong at the same time.  As leaders, when this happens, it’s our job to be calm, prioritize, and execute.  In the book, they share the SEAL mantra of “relax, look around, make a call.”
  • When planning, to be successful, identify and mitigate risks. A complete communicated contingency plan increases the odds of success because everyone knows what will happen if things don’t go as planned.
  • Decentralize management.  Any person can manage six to 10 people.  If you or your leaders have bigger teams, break them down to this size.  Let them make decisions.  As a leader and friend of mine said many times, lead from behind and manage from the sides (i.e., let your leaders do their jobs and if they’re doing it well, stay out of the way.  If not, guide them).
  • Whether upstream or downstream, we can’t fault someone for not knowing something we didn’t tell them or answer vital questions they didn’t ask.  When in doubt, overcommunicate.