Book by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Book Review by Nicholas Haberling
During the Global War on Terror the US Navy SEALS have developed a near mythological status in the mind of the American public. When looking at their accomplishments there is no doubt that the elite warriors of the SEAL teams are among the most lethal military units on the planet. But like other units in the United States Military, what separates the SEAL teams from their global counterparts is a commitment to leadership principles across all echelons. Oftentimes when reading books about leadership in the Military it can be difficult to figure out how these principles, which are developed in a combat environment, can translate to our civilian careers. Luckily the work involved with that type of self-reflection is done for us in Extreme Ownership. Written by former SEAL commanders Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, Extreme Ownership takes the leadership lessons these warriors implemented during the Battle of Ramadi and then provides examples of the principles being applied as they mentored various business leaders.
Extreme Ownership is broken up into three parts which each carry four lessons about leadership. Part 1 discusses four obstacles we must face internally if we are to be successful leaders. Essentially it forces you to ask if there is anything you are doing that is preventing the team from accomplishing its goal. Part 2 deals with external threats and how you can counteract them. Leadership decisions aren’t made in a vacuum and you must always contend with an external environment. Finally, Part 3 focuses on developing systems to continue positive progress. While Extreme Ownership touches upon a variety of leadership principles, at the end of the day if I had to summarize its concept I would say it’s learning to own the situation you are in and the decisions you make moving forward.
Probably the most rewarding part of reading Extreme Ownership is when you come across a chapter that immediately resonates with you. For me that was Chapter 10 which discussed the concept of leading up the chain of command. Personally I have found that when you are a mid-level leader it can be easy to develop an “Us VS Them” mentality with your team and whoever is above you. Sometimes it appears that the people at top are making strange decisions or being unreasonable. In those situations it is can seem easier to side with your team instead of implementing decisions you don’t agree with. However what leading up the chain of command says is that when this occurs you need to ask questions to clarify the situation and make sure those above you are at least aware of what you think you need in order to win. Sometimes though the truth of the matter is that whatever you are dealing with isn't the leader's main priority. It's a frustrating situation to be in but as any economics professor would you tell, resources are scarce and must be allocated appropriately. This includes the attention, focus, and materials those above you can bring. In short, when a decision is made, even if it goes against your advice, you must possess the integrity to follow through with the plan as if it was your own. If you implement the wishes of higher management half-heartedly your team will see it and that ultimately undermines the position of those above you. A textbook example of toxic leadership.
Should you add Extreme Ownership to your personal library? In my opinion you can never have a shortage of well-reviewed books on leadership and this one certainly hits the mark. If you are looking to be wowed by an eloquently detailed or expansive vocabulary you may be disappointed; the structure is simple and the sections with dialogue are straight to the point. But that's not a strike against Extreme Ownership and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the intent of the authors. I think this book was written with the idea of being clear, concise, and easy to grasp. When you look at today’s leaders you see politicians, movement organizers, and CEOs constantly blame their predecessors or unforeseeable external forces for their misfortunes. There is likely a lot of truth to their complaints but isn't what Extreme Leadership is about. As leaders we must accept the problem and work to overcome it. Jocko and Leif have certainly done the public a service by providing this easy to follow road map to true leadership principles.