Authors: Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Read in August 2020
Five Sentence Summary
Extreme Ownership means taking ownership of everything in your world. This mindset is important because your attitude and behavior are emulated by other people; if you exercise Extreme Ownership, others will as well. This applies to all other timeless principles of leadership for how to work together in a team as well as how to overcome and solve many common problems in war, business, and life. Chief among them is discipline, according to Jocko Willink the most important quality of an individual. Discipline equals freedom means that if you exercise discipline in any area of your life, you’ll enjoy more freedom as a result.
When you stop making excuses, stop blaming others and take ownership of everything in your life you are compelled to take action and solve your problems.
Ask yourself: What can I take ownership of to improve X?
Failure is hard but important. It contains the most important lessons.
The only meaningful measure for success is success or failure of the end result.
The bigger the mistake, the greater the lesson.
The best leaders focus on how to best accomplish the mission. They aren’t driven by ego or personal agendas.
What you do matters, because your choices have (potentially far-reaching) consequences.
Extreme Ownership is the mindset to own everything in your world and accept responsibility for everything. You acknowledge mistakes, admit failures, take ownership of them and develop a plan to win.
Set your ego aside and look at problems objectively. Attack weaknesses and consistently work to improve yourself.
You can’t make others do things. You have to lead them.
We often believe that we do everything right and blame others when things go wrong. But no one is infallibel.
Other people emulate your behavior and attitude. If you exhibit Extreme Ownership, others will adopt your mindset. If you blame others, others will do the same. They’ll soon feel like they aren’t responsible for anything and only make excuses to avoid the necessary adjustments to fix problems.
Figure out how to fix a problem instead of figuring out who is to blame.
Begin with what you will do differently, not with what other people need to do.
The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team.
Put yourself in the most difficult position and lead.
Focus on immediate goals that are attainable, not “some day” goals.
Enforce high standards of performance. Tasks need to be repeated until the expected standard is achieved. If poor performance has no consequences and is tolerated, it becomes the new standard. It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.
Asses yourself realistically and brutally honestly.
Stay focused on how to best accomplish the mission.
Get all team members working together to accomplish the mission.
Standards start with the individual and spread until they become the new standard.
Never make excuses.
Victimization prevents you from looking inward and seeing where you could improve. It results in an unending cycle of blame.
When success is far beyond reach, believing you can improve and still win is essential.
Repetitive exceptional performance becomes a habit.
A Tortured Genius accepts zero responsibility, blames everyone else and believes that others can’t see or don’t appreciate the genius in what they are doing. This mindset has a catastrophic impact on performance.
How to reach a “some day” goal: Focus on and execute with monumental effort to reach the immediate goals. Do that and you’ll reach your someday goal eventually.
The leader’s attitude spreads to the entire team. Because of this his attitude, actions and example are/is of paramount importance for the performance of the team.
It is critical to believe in a mission. If we don’t, others won’t follow us or won’t commit to the mission which will ensure failure.
To believe in a mission you need to always understand that you’re part of something greater than yourself and must impart this understanding to your team. Additionally, you need to understand why you must do what you are doing or asked to do. If you don’t understand this, it’s your responsibility to ask questions up the chain of command until you do.
If you believe in a mission, your behavior reflects a clear confidence that others pick up.
Your goals must always be in alignment. If they aren’t, fixing this is a top priority.
You should always explain why to do something, not just what to do.
Everyone has an ego, but our own ego is often the most difficult to deal with.
Ego drives us to win and excel and makes us proud of our achievements.
Yet, ego also leads us to prioritizing our personal agendas over doing what’s best overall. It clouds and disrupts everything. Our ability to plan, take good advice and accept constructive criticism. It prevents us from seeing the world as it is and prevents a realistic assessment of us and others. It makes us complacent. It also leads to an inability to let go of ideas.
Overall it leads to worse performance, failure, and defeat.
We can check our ego by developing an attitude of humility, mutual respect and open-mindedness. We can also counterbalance the tendency of ego to make us overconfidence by instilling a culture of never being satisfied.
Cover and move means teamwork. Ideally all elements of a greater team work together to accomplish a mission. If they do, they get better results and benefit from improved performance.
The opposite of working together is working in isolation or against each other. This “us versus them” mentality negatively impacts results and performance.
Instead, break down silos and keep the strategic mission in the front of your mind. Remind others to do that, too. Communicate with your and other teams. Understand who depends on you and your team and support these elements.
“Make them part of your team, not an excuse for your team.” (p 125)
Start simple and expand as you get more experience.
Keep plans and information simple, clear and concise.
If you don’t simplify, plans are complicated. Complexity compounds. Complicated plans will be misunderstood and mistakes will be made. When something goes wrong people will be confused and disaster will ensue.
Everyone that is part of a plan must know and understand his or her role in the mission and what to do in the event of likely contingencies.
Create an environment where everyone feels comfortable asking questions. Take time to clarify them until everyone understands the plan.
Simple plans guarantee a core-understanding for everyone involved that allows rapid adjustments, adaptations and modifications.
Behavior will only be modified if there is a strong enough correlation between reward and punishment. You need to see the connection between action and consequence to learn.
People generally take the path of least resistance.
For recall: “Relax, look around, make a call.”
Remain calm and make the best decisions possible.
When overwhelmed, fall back upon priority and execute.
Determine the highest priority problem. Layout a simple, clear and concise solution. Focus all energies toward execution. When the solution is implemented or has real momentum: Repeat.
Communicate when priorities shift.
Avoid target-fixation and maintain the ability to see other problems.
Unfixed problems can compound in a snowball effect that can overwhelm you.
From time to time, take a step back and look at the big picture to prioritize correctly.
Decentralized Command means to communicate the intent of a mission to subordinates that trust you and that you trust, so they can execute on their own with bounded responsibility.
Earn trust through months of training, open conversation, overcoming stress, challenging environments, working through emergencies, see how people react.
Decentralized Command requires simple, clear, concise orders that can be easily understood. It also requires that you have constantly communicate information – situational awareness – to others so they can make better decisions. Teams need to be broken down into manageable elements with designated leaders.
The opposite of Decentralized Command is called ‘battlefield aloofness’. Then, you are so far removed from what’s happening that you have become ineffective.
Never take anything for granted.
Develop a standardized planning process.
Begin planning by identifying clear directives. Refine and simplify the mission so that it is explicitly clear. Focus on achieving the greater strategic vision of which the mission is a part.
Explain the desired mission result so that everyone understands the deeper purpose behind the mission. This guides each decision and action.
Explore different courses of action, gather detailed information and develop a thorough plan utilizing all available assets.
Delegate the planning process as much as possible by giving others ownership of parts of the plan.
Maintain perspective to identify weaknesses and fix them.
Present information simply, clearly and concisely.
Focus on the risks that can be controlled and accept some level of risk.
Constantly analyse the effectiveness of your tactics, actions and implement the lessons learned. Examine: What went right? What went wrong? How can I adapt? Reevaluate, enhance, refine and constantly improve. Don’t repeat mistakes.
Have a checklist of all important things.
Without successful execution the best-laid plans are worthless.
Connect what you do every day to your overarching goal. This helps prioritize efforts.
Ownership of plans helps troops understand how what they are doing contributes to the overarching goal.
If problems appear, first blame yourself. Examine what you can do better.
You lead down the chain of command by improving what you do and communicating simply, clearly and concisely so that your team understands.
You lead up the chain of command by pushing more situational awareness to them than seems necessary so they feel comfortable.
If someone isn’t doing what you want or need them to do, determine what you can do to help them.
If others ask you questions, critique or give you paperwork, they need some critical information.
Outcomes are never certain. Thus, act quickly, when your decision can quickly be reversed or altered.
Act on logic, not emotion.
Uncertainty can paralyze you with fear and lead to inaction. Instead, you need to act decisively amid uncertainty and make the best decision based on the information available.
Make decisions promptly and adjust quickly.
Don’t wait for perfect solutions. It leads to delay, indecision, and an inability to execute.
The “incomplete picture” principle applies to every aspect of individual lives.
You should be default aggressive, which means to be proactive rather than reactive. Try to dictate the situation.
Discipline equals freedom.
Discipline starts with waking up early. Immediately getting out of bed is a decisive moment. It sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Discipline with seemingly insignificant decisions translates to discipline in more substantial elements of life.
The temptation to take easy road is always there. (p 272)
Discipline is the most important quality for an individual and a team.
When things go wrong, fall back on your disciplined procedures.
If you don’t show emotions you appear void of emotions, like a robot. People don’t follow robots. Showing emotions signals that you are human. But you must control your emotions.
A good leader must be confident, courageous, competetive, a gracious loser, attentive to detail, strong, leader and follower, humble, aggressive, quiet, calm, logical and close with the troops.
A person’s biggest strength can be his greatest weakness when he doesn’t know how to balance it.
With a mind-set of Extreme Ownership, any person can develop into a highly effective leader. (p 285-286)
As a leader your goal should be to work yourself out of your job. Mentor and prepare junior leaders that can eventually replace you so that you can move on to the next level of leadership.
A lot of important knowledge exists for hundreds or even thousands of years. But what is simple to understand in theory, is difficult to apply in life.
Infinite numbers of options for solutions exist.