ICE Book Review: Extreme Ownership – How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win

By: Rob Cooney

 

By Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

The US Navy SEALs have a reputation for being a resilient group of warriors. While the actions of individual soldiers often capture the imagination of the popular press, Jocko and Leif, Navy SEAL officers turned leadership coaches offer us a different glimpse into the functioning of the teams. The lessons that they share with the reader through their book, Extreme Ownership, are truly battle tested. Together, they led one of the most decorated special operations units from the Iraq war.

Afterwards, utilizing the lessons learned, they were responsible for revising and implementing Navy SEAL leadership training before founding their own leadership coaching company.

The background for their title is that they believe that leaders must take “extreme ownership” of and for their actions. Leaders must “own everything in his or her world (p 30).” When looking at successful leaders, they recommend a binary approach: the success or failure of the team being led. As such, the leader is either effective or ineffective. Fortunately, they openly acknowledge that failure is not final and must be approached as a learning opportunity.

The book is divided into three sections, each containing four principles of extreme ownership. The topics cover the:

inner game in which they explore:

  • mindset,
  • personal responsibility,
  • ego, and
  • behavior;

teamwork, in which they explore:

  • complexity,
  • prioritization, and
  • delegation; and

high-level leadership, in which they explore:

  • planning,
  • decision-making, and
  • discipline

Every chapter begins with a “war story” that provides the reader with a vivid picture of how these concepts apply during combat. While this is an extreme example, as they state in their introduction, “combat is reflective of life, only amplified and intensified… the right decision… can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The wrong decision… can result in deadly, catastrophic failure (p 12).”¬† The story is followed by an explanation of the principal and application and then the chapter closes with another true example from business realm that illustrates how the principle may apply to the rest of us.

Perhaps my favorite part about the book is the fact that these lessons come from more than a leader’s personal reflections on what worked for them. The principles were tested in a real world, complex, high-risk laboratory. Their examples contain not only their successes, but also how ignoring the principles led to failure and how they had to struggle to learn, implement, and improve. This is one of the few books that clearly defines skills that can be practiced and mastered by those seeking to improve their leadership ability.

(For more on leadership lessons from the Special Operations community, check out an ICE book review here )