Extreme Ownership | Jocko Willink

Summary of: Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
By: Jocko Willink


Embark on a journey through the powerful lessons the U.S. Navy SEALs have to offer in the book ‘Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win’ by Jocko Willink. Explore the significance of assuming responsibility for your actions, embracing accountability, and effectively communicating with both subordinates and superiors to ensure mission success. Discover how true leadership is shaped through a commander’s attitude, their commitment to the objectives of the organization, teamwork, prioritization, risk assessment, and preparedness when faced with challenges.

Embrace Responsibility, Empower Teams

In 2012, Jocko Willink, a SEAL task unit commander, faced a devastating friendly fire incident in Iraq. By owning up to the mistake, he retained his position, proving that great leaders take responsibility for their actions. Such an attitude influences the performance of a team. SEAL units led by accountable commanders excel in their missions, while those with blame-shifting leaders underperform. Accepting responsibility improves team effectiveness and ensures that every member, from top to bottom, mirrors this trait, fostering a culture of ownership and initiative.

When Jocko Willink, a SEAL task unit commander in Iraq, encountered heavy fire in 2012, he assumed his team was facing enemy insurgents. Tragically, the opposition was another SEAL unit, and the friendly fire resulted in a lost life. As the operation’s ranking officer, Willink accepted that everything that went wrong was his fault. Surprisingly, this accountability saved his job. His superiors understood a valuable lesson many business leaders don’t: exceptional leaders take responsibility for their mistakes.

This concept also applies to the daunting training exercises SEAL teams experience. Most underwhelming units have leaders who shift blame to the scenario, their subordinates, or the troops. On the flip side, top-performing SEAL units boast commanders who embrace blame, welcome constructive criticism, and actively learn from setbacks.

Failing to take responsibility as a leader can trigger far-reaching consequences. When a weak SEAL leader blames others, their subordinates adopt this toxic attitude, and the team becomes incapable of executing plans effectively. Contrarily, teams led by leaders who promote total responsibility imitate this behavior, which cultivates accountability and ambition throughout the chain of command.

By taking responsibility for errors, leaders empower their teams to excel in their missions and professional growth. Owning up to mistakes and learning from them not only safeguards a leader’s position but also encourages team members to adopt similar attitudes, ultimately fostering a thriving culture of ownership and accountability.

The Power of True Believers

Willink, a SEAL team leader, initially faced reluctance when instructed to fight alongside the poorly trained and equipped Iraqi army. Instead of voicing his concerns to his unit, he sought understanding of the plan’s strategic value which aimed to enable the withdrawal of US forces. Upon realizing this, he convinced his team to commit to the mission. The key learning is that leaders must be true believers, supporting their team’s objectives and aligning them with the organization’s greater strategic goals, as their duty is to the larger organization, not just their individual team.

Jocko Willink, a military commander, was once told that his highly trained and skilled SEAL team would fight alongside the less-practiced Iraqi army. His gut reaction was “hell no,” as he worried about their lacking readiness and potential betrayal of American allies. However, he didn’t let his distress spread to his team.

Instead, Willink sought understanding and answers to why this plan was being executed. He discovered that working with the Iraqi army was a strategic move, aimed at eventually facilitating the withdrawal of US forces. This insight allowed him to believe in the mission and persuade his team to join him.

Had Willink openly criticized the mission and expressed his concerns to his team, their trust in the mission would have likely eroded. If he then attempted to garner their support, lingering doubts might have jeopardized the mission’s success.

This story teaches us that leaders, whether in the military or corporate world, need to be true believers by fully supporting their team’s objectives and aligning them with the organization’s larger goals. If the rationale behind an order seems questionable, it’s a leader’s responsibility to seek answers and understanding from superiors.

Remember, as a leader, your duty extends beyond just your team—it’s to the greater organization as a whole. Seeking clarity from higher-ups is crucial for maintaining your team’s trust and commitment, essential qualities that help prevent failure and ensure success in any challenging mission.

Teamwork Amidst Chaos

During a high-stakes mission in Ramadi, Iraq, Navy SEAL Leif Babin overlooked a crucial aspect of effective teamwork, known as “cover and move”. This risky experience taught him the importance of not just focusing on his immediate team, but also keeping an eye on the larger organization and potential collaborations. By using the “cover and move” tactic, leaders can work together with other teams to achieve their common goals, whether in combat or business. In Babin’s experience as a business consultant, he found that internal cooperation is often neglected, leading teams to compete against each other instead of uniting against external competitors.

In the treacherous streets of Ramadi, Iraq, Leif Babin’s SEAL unit found itself in a perilous situation – trapped deep in enemy territory without backup. Their only hope of escape was to traverse the city in broad daylight, despite the looming threat of enemy attacks. Miraculously, they returned to base unharmed. Later, Babin discovered another SEAL team nearby could have provided cover, but his singular focus on his own team’s issues led him to neglect this potential assistance.

Babin’s oversight demonstrated his failure to utilize a key Navy SEAL tactic known as “cover and move”. This strategy emphasizes the importance of teams working together and supporting one another in pursuit of a shared mission. By ignoring what other SEAL units were doing, Babin unintentionally put his team in more danger than necessary.

In both combat and business environments, leaders must remain aware of not only their immediate challenges but also the broader organization and potential partnerships with other teams. Babin observed the detrimental effects of ignoring this principle during his work as a business consultant. He witnessed internal teams blaming each other and competing against one another, undermining the organization’s overall well-being. The “cover and move” tactic is a reminder that the real competition lies outside the organization, not within it. Supporting each other and recognizing the true enemy—external competitors—is essential for successful teamwork and achieving common goals.

Prioritize and Execute in Crisis

In the midst of chaos, leaders must remain calm and rely on the principle of “prioritize and execute” to navigate through challenging situations. This approach allows leaders to focus on the most pressing issues one at a time, ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in problem solving. By evaluating highest priorities, communicating them clearly to team members, seeking input, and directing resources towards execution, leaders can successfully handle crises and keep teams focused on actionable steps.

In the high-stakes chaos of Ramadi, a SEAL team found themselves in a vulnerable position – one of their own injured and exposed in enemy territory. Amid multiple urgent issues, the leader needed to remain composed and decide on the best course of action. Drawing from his SEAL training, Babin employed the principle of “prioritize and execute,” guided by the mantra, “relax, look around, make a call.”

Attempting to tackle every issue at once would overwhelm even the most competent leaders. Instead, focusing on the top priority ensures a systematic and effective solution to each problem. Babin first prioritized security, then moved to reach the wounded soldier, followed by accounting for all team members. By taking a mental step backward to calmly assess the situation, he successfully carried out his duties under immense pressure.

Though rarely facing life-and-death scenarios, business leaders can apply a similar approach to crisis management. Begin by evaluating the highest priority, then clearly convey its importance to your team. Seek input from key leaders on problem-solving methods, and direct your team’s resources towards the execution of the devised plan.

As you address each priority, don’t forget to communicate any shifting priorities to your team. Adaptability and clear communication are crucial during times of uncertainty and rapid change. By embracing the principle of “prioritize and execute,” leaders can tackle any challenge, empower their teams, and foster a culture of calm, focused decision-making.

Want to read the full book summary?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed