What is the key to being a great leader? Is it about having the right personality type, training, or team? Former U.S. Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, authors of Extreme Ownership, argue that the best leaders take responsibility for every aspect of their team and every task they’re working to accomplish. Extreme Ownership requires a leader to own her team’s mistakes and failures — without blame or excuses — and objectively assess what works and what doesn’t in order to constantly improve. As Willink and Babin warn, the concept is simple but not easy.
Willink and Babin honed the leadership principles of Extreme Ownership while serving in Ramadi, Iraq, the deadly and hostile center of enemy insurgency, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After their military careers, they helped companies apply the same tenets in a corporate context through their business consulting firm, Echelon Front.
Each chapter of the book examines a different aspect of Extreme Ownership and is divided into three sections — one explaining the core principle, another illustrating how it proved pivotal on the battlefield in Ramadi, and the last showing how it applies in a business setting.
The book first discusses the cornerstones of a successful leader’s mindset, rooted in the practice of Extreme Ownership. As the leader, your team’s performance ultimately falls on you: If an employee or subordinate makes a mistake, don’t blame her, but rather question whether you provided the information, training, and support she needed to be successful. Then, take it upon yourself to train and mentor that person for the good of the team. The success of the team as a whole must be prioritized above all else.
A leader is responsible for maintaining and enforcing high standards of performance, and refusing to tolerate anything less. Within the parameters of Extreme Ownership, a leader needs to own her responsibility in helping the team reach high standards and ensure that every member of the team — down to the most junior level — knows his individual role in a project and understands how he is contributing to the overall goal. Leaders can only do this when they have a thorough understanding themselves of a plan and its larger purpose.
Finally, a leader must check her ego; otherwise, Extreme Ownership is impossible. A leader has to admit her own mistakes, be open to constructive criticism, and put the team’s interests ahead of her own.
With an Extreme Ownership mindset, a leader can implement key strategies to help her team achieve its goals. The authors collectively call these the Laws of Combat.
The first strategy is Cover and Move. The entire team must work together, supporting and protecting each other, for everyone’s success. This requires breaking down silos between teams and departments to jointly accomplish the company’s larger mission.
The second Law of Combat is to keep things simple. Simple plans lead to success. If you keep plans simple and control what you can, your team is more likely to understand the plan and better able to adapt when something inevitably goes wrong.
The third strategy is Prioritize and Execute. When it feels like there are five fires that need to be put out at the same time, a leader has to be able to calmly take stock of the situation, decide what needs to happen first, and carry it out. Trying to address several issues at the same time is overwhelming and inefficient; instead of dividing your efforts, you will be more effective by putting your focus and resources toward tackling one issue at a time, starting with the most pressing.
The fourth and final Law of Combat is Decentralized Command, which means the leader spreads her authority to be more efficient. You can only effectively manage about six to 10 people, so on larger teams you need junior leaders to delegate tasks to. Empower these junior leaders to take actions and make decisions (within their authority), and let them know that you will back them up; this frees you up to lead and keep your focus on the big picture.
Even with the right knowledge and strategies in place, leadership comes with many challenges that must be carefully navigated. There are several key practices that, when exercised regularly, help leaders work through, minimize, or altogether avoid these challenges.
First and foremost, leaders need to develop a clear and well-thought-out plan. The plan needs to be specific and straightforward, minimize risks, be clearly communicated to every member of the team, and be reviewed after completion to determine what can be improved in the future.
Second, Extreme Ownership calls for taking responsibility of everything in your world, and as a leader that includes your team of subordinates as well as your bosses — or leading up and down the chain of command. Provide support and leadership for your team members, and also make sure you are getting the information, resources, and support you need from your senior leaders.
Additionally, be decisive, even if you only have limited information. Sometimes a decision needs to be made, and you don’t have time to wait for more research or to see how things unfold; your team is relying on you to be decisive and sure-footed.
Finally, as leaders navigate challenging situations, they must keep a careful balance of seemingly opposite forces — including being confident yet humble, aggressive but not overbearing, brave but not reckless, competitive but able to lose graciously, and...
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The book’s authors, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, are both former U.S. Navy SEALs who trained SEAL leaders and led teams of their own as officers during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Willink was a lieutenant commander and Babin served under him as a ground force commander in Ramadi, Iraq, the deadly and hostile center of Iraqi insurgency. After their military careers, they went on to advise businesses in a wide range of industries through their consulting firm, Echelon Front.
Willink and Babin found combat to be a more intense, amplified version of regular life. But the principles of decision-making and leadership that they developed in combat still hold true in business and day-to-day life. Whether on the battlefield or in corporate America, Willink and Babin found one primary trait among all successful leaders: Extreme Ownership. Leaders are responsible for the direction and success of their teams, and practicing Extreme Ownership entails taking responsibility for every aspect of their team and the task they’re working to accomplish. This leaves no room for blame or excuses, only an honest assessment of what works and what doesn’t in order to constantly improve.
When a leader exercises Extreme Ownership, she puts putting her own ego aside for the good of the group. It sets an example and creates an environment in which everyone on the team can do the same on an individual level. Again, this discourages people from spending time and energy making excuses and placing blame on other people or circumstances, and instead puts all the focus on how to work together to achieve the task at hand.
Willink and Babin intermittently repeat the caveat that the concept of...
In this chapter we get an introduction to the concept of Extreme Ownership and several leadership principles and strategies. Each of the principles will get a more in-depth explanation in later chapters.
While many leadership books and training courses focus on developing individual habits and traits, leadership is inextricably tied to the team’s performance. There are only two types of leaders — effective and ineffective — and the only way to measure a leader’s effectiveness is based on whether her team succeeds or fails.
As the person at the top of the chain of command, everything ultimately reflects back on you. You must make decisions quickly and definitively, and accept their consequences, good or bad.
Additionally, you need to believe in your mission or plan, and have no doubt about why you and your team are working to achieve it. When a leader displays that confidence and certainty, her team will also feel confident and can carry out the plan effectively and with conviction. If someone on the team doesn’t agree with or understand the purpose — the “why” — of a plan, then the leader must be able to thoroughly explain it. We’ll explore this more in Chapter 3.
Finally, every leader will inevitably face failure. How leaders respond to failure is a key indicator of how well they will be able to adapt, improve, and move forward for ultimate success. Owning your mistakes is a critical aspect of Extreme Ownership and requires leaders to have the humility to admit and address their mistakes in order to find a better strategy for next time.
The same principles apply to leaders at every level, from senior officers to junior officers, and from C-suite executives to middle managers. Each leader has her own team to direct and supervise, and the top leaders can’t succeed unless the lower-level leaders do.
Similarly, leaders should not only accept but also encourage input from all team members, down to the lowest seniority. Each person on the team has a distinct role and insight, and they are all necessary to collectively accomplish the team’s goals.
The SEALs are on a nighttime mission in a small village near Ramadi, where intelligence reports claim a terrorist leader (and possibly his armored group of fighters) are staying. After three months spent trying to capture the terrorist, a leader for al Qaeda in Iraq, the SEALs are determined tonight to find and kill him so that he can’t orchestrate any more attacks on U.S. and friendly forces or innocent civilians.
As troops enter the house they are targeting, a SEAL spots a squirter — someone escaping from the targeted building. The SEAL and Babin, the ground force commander and leader for this operation, chase the unidentified man, unsure whether he’s the terrorist leader himself or has information about the leader’s whereabouts. They chase the man around the corner and finally catch him, but Babin realizes that not only are they now separated from their team and surrounded by buildings that haven’t been cleared for safety, but the other SEALs don’t even know where they are. Worse, a group of men are now approaching with AK-47s and other heavy weapons.
Babin’s mind is spinning with the four tasks that all need immediate action:
Babin remembers the words of his boss, Lieutenant Commander Willink: “Relax. Look around. Make a call.” He implements one of the Laws of Combat, Prioritize and Execute.
Babin’s first priority is to handle the group of enemy fighters. If he doesn’t address this first, he will likely be killed, and the enemies could move on to attack the rest of the nearby SEAL forces. He shoots at the group of men, killing and wounding some and dispersing the rest.
His second priority is to get himself and his fellow SEAL back to the rest of their force, in case the enemies who managed to escape regroup and come back with more fighters. To get back to their team, the two implement another Law of Combat, Cover and Move; on or off the battlefield, this strategy is all about teamwork. Babin provides cover while the other SEAL moves forward, then the SEAL provides cover as Babin moves ahead. Using this method, they essentially leapfrog back to the team, bringing their prisoner along with them.
Babin’s third priority is to check the captive for explosives. Now that he and his teammate are with the rest of their force, they can hand off the captive to the SEAL team responsible for dealing with prisoners.
The final priority is for Babin to resume his role as leader of the mission. He can safely turn his attention back to the operation now that the three more pressing and dangerous matters have been addressed.
By strategically prioritizing, Babin actually accomplishes everything more efficiently, as handing off the prisoner to his teammates saves him the time and trouble of checking the captive himself, while also putting the task in the hands of the experts.
The mission is not entirely successful because the SEALs don’t ultimately find or capture the terrorist leader; however, they make their presence felt and, presumably, temporarily distract the terrorist from orchestrating another attack while he finds a new place to hide.
As he does after every mission, Babin assesses what can be done better next time. He determines that he and his team can study the map more carefully to be more familiar with the area in and around the mission; in this case, that would have helped him be better oriented to his surroundings when he chased the man out of the main mission area without having his map on hand. In the future, Babin can also develop clearer guidelines to determine how far...
The first four chapters discuss the mindset a leader must have to lead her team successfully. The foundation of good leadership starts within, and a leader needs the right attitude to implement the strategies in Part II. An effective leader takes responsibility for her team’s shortcomings, establishes and maintains high standards, understands and clearly communicates the purpose of each goal, and checks her ego.
This chapter focuses on how leaders can practice Extreme Ownership by taking accountability for everything that happens under their direction. Leadership carries great responsibility, and a leader’s authority to direct her team means that she is also the one who must answer for the team’s performance.
If an employee or subordinate makes a mistake, a leader should not blame him. Instead, the leader has to question whether she adequately explained the mission and the plan, and if she gave the team member the training and resources he would need to be successful.
If a member of your team is underperforming, you must take it upon yourself to train and mentor that person for the good of the team. However, if the team member continues to fall short, the leader eventually needs to make the call to fire that person and replace him with someone more competent. The success of the team as a whole (and its goals) is always more important than any one individual, whether the boss or an employee.
Extreme Ownership calls for leaders to take full responsibility for their failures. This is one of the hardest aspects of leadership: It’s tough enough admitting your mistakes as an individual, but it’s even harder when you’ve been charged with leading a whole team of people and have to own up to leading them astray or failing them in some way. Nonetheless, this is absolutely necessary to learn, grow, and succeed.
If you deny or try to shift the blame for a failure, you can’t learn or grow from it. Taking responsibility allows leaders to unflinchingly and objectively analyze a team’s problems and challenges; this process is critical to succeeding in the long run and continually improving.
This is even harder when you have to admit your — or your team’s — shortcomings to senior leadership. It may feel like professional suicide to call attention to your mistakes, but most likely your bosses are already aware of the lacking performance and will be impressed if you can own it and commit to improving it.
Don’t let your successes cloud your ability to see your failures (or areas that could use improvement). You may develop a great plan but come up short in leading your team to carry it out, or you perhaps you avoid one pitfall but fall victim to another. You can pat yourself on the back for your good work, but don’t neglect to take an objective view of everything and fix the issues that exist or find the ways you can be more effective next time. No person or plan is perfect, and there is always room for improvement. A good leader seeks constructive criticism and constantly looks for ways to perform better.
As a leader, don’t take credit for your team’s success. Instead, pass on the credit to all the team members and lower-level leaders who made success possible. This sets the tone for everyone on the team that success is achieved as a unit, creating a culture that is entirely focused on the good of the team.
When a leader takes responsibility for failures and gives credit to her team for successes, it serves as an example to the lower leaders to adopt the same mindset of Extreme Ownership. Infecting the whole team with an attitude of Extreme Ownership causes everyone to operate with the team and its mission as the main priority, and this puts the whole organization in the best position to succeed.
It’s the spring of 2006 and Willink is leading his forces in their first major operation in Ramadi, Iraq, where they’ll be deployed for nearly six months. Their mission involves about 300 U.S. and Iraqi troops, including SEALs, Army Soldiers, and Marines. The operation aims to wrest control of a particularly dangerous, enemy-held neighborhood called Mala’ab District from the enemy insurgent fighters.
The troops are progressing from building to building, clearing each one of enemy fighters as they go. A few hours into the mission, several gunfights are blazing between U.S. troops and insurgents.
A Marine sergeant reports to Willink that he is targeting a building where he suspects that enemies are hiding and have killed and wounded several Iraqi soldiers. A U.S. tank is positioned to shoot at the building, and the sergeant is coordinating airstrikes to also drop bombs on the building. However, Willink feels that something is off.
One of the SEAL sniper teams was originally stationed nearby, abandoned its post, and was in the midst of relocating when the gunfire went off at this building. The sniper team hasn’t yet reported their new location, and Willink worries that in the confusion of battle the SEALs could be in the targeted building.
Against the advice of the Marine sergeant, Willink insists on checking out the building before attacking. When he enters, rifle drawn, he comes face to face with a fellow SEAL.
The SEAL explains to Willink what happened: The SEAL sniper team had mistakenly shot the Iraqi soldiers, not recognizing them as friendly forces in the early morning darkness. Thinking they were under attack, the SEALs then called in for backup, and the Marines and Army troops responded by attacking this building, assuming it where the enemy fighters were located. The SEALs in the building couldn’t tell that it was U.S. troops shooting at them, so they fired back, and each side was convinced they were under vicious enemy attack.
Willink’s calm, clear thinking under (literal) fire prevented a bomb from dropping on the SEAL team. However, with one Iraqi soldier dead plus a SEAL and...
Accepting fault and admitting failure is one of the hardest things to do as a leader. Use this exercise to practice recognizing and admitting your own shortcomings in order to improve for the future.
Describe a recent incident in which you were working with at least one other person to accomplish something, and either you didn’t achieve it or things didn’t go as planned.
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A leader is responsible for maintaining and enforcing high standards of performance as her team works toward its goals. The leader must not only dictate high standards, but refuse to tolerate anything less, because if poor performance is accepted without consequence, that becomes the new standard. If a team or team member completes a task that is not up to par, the leader needs to insist that task be re-done until it meets the standard.
Initial consequences for poor performance don’t need to be extreme. But if the problem is consistent and unaffected by efforts to correct it, then a leader needs to take more serious action. If a particular team member consistently performs poorly — despite the leader’s efforts to mentor and help her improve — and is holding the team back from its potential success, the leader must remove her from the team as a means to maintain high standards. Allowing her to stay means implicitly accepting her substandard performance, which indicates to the rest of the team that this is acceptable.
A leader should always be looking for ways to improve, and inspire her team to adopt the same mindset. As a leader, you can consistently raise the bar by objectively assessing your team’s and your own performance. You need to practice Extreme Ownership in order to take stock in this way, with brutal honesty and humility. When your recognize areas of weakness, develop a plan to improve them; similarly, you should recognize how individual team members can best contribute to the goal, and help everyone work together in a way that maximizes each person’s strengths to best achieve that goal.
An effective leader keeps her teams consistently focused on the next immediate, actionable goal, while she has the big-picture goal in mind. The larger goal can be daunting or too abstract for team members to grasp, so the leader must push and direct her team toward each individual goal along the way.
When an effective leader establishes a culture of Extreme Ownership throughout her team, the team can continue to perform well even in the leader’s temporary absence. Each junior leader — operating with the same mindset of Extreme Ownership — should be prepared and confident to step up in her leader’s absence to continue the team’s progress toward achieving its goal.
It’s Hell Week in SEAL training, and the students are being pushed to their limits; they are physically and mentally exhausted.
The trainees are split into seven-person teams called boat crews that work together to carry the 200-plus pound inflatable rubber boats through obstacle courses, across the beach, and into the Pacific Ocean to paddle in seemingly endless races. For the races, each group’s designated boat crew leader receives orders from the training instructors, relays the instructions to the rest of his crew, and leads his team in a race against the other boat crews to be the first to correctly carry out the mission. The winning crew gets to sit out the following race, earning a few minutes of precious rest, while the crew in last place has to endure extra exercises as punishment.
The boat crew leaders have several responsibilities resting on their shoulders.
During this particular Hell Week, two boat crews stand out: one is excelling, and the other is struggling.
Boat Crew II performs well and wins often. The crew’s leader is effective, and the crew members are all motivated and competent. The team members all work together and make up for each other’s weaknesses.
Boat Crew VI ends just about every race in last place. The team members yell and curse at each other, complain, and fail to work together. Boat Crew VI’s leader seems to think he simply has the bad luck of getting stuck with a bad team, and that their poor performance is beyond his control.
One of the training officers decides to switch the leaders for boat crews II and VI to see how it impacts each team’s performance. In the first race with the swapped leaders, Boat Crew VI actually wins; the leader gets them to work together as a team. And Boat Crew II still performs well, coming in second place.
Boat Crew VI continues to win races, and their disorganization and failure to work together is transformed, under their new leader, to smooth teamwork.
Boat Crew II also continues to do well, in spite of their new leader, because the crew members already know how to work together. Their previous leader established a culture of teamwork that they are able to maintain in his absence.
The experiment suggests that the leader is the biggest predictor of any team’s success.
Boat Crew VI’s original leader has a victim mindset. He puts all his energy on rationalizing and justifying poor performance, focusing on the hurdles without finding ways to overcome them. He and his crew get accustomed to their poor performance. This is not a winning attitude.
When Boat Crew II’s leader takes over the failing Boat Crew VI, he recognizes and accepts that the team is performing poorly without submitting to any excuses as to why they are failing. Boat Crew VI’s new leader sets a higher standard for the crew and helps the crew members reach it, not tolerating anything less. Through a firm belief that winning was possible, he is able to assess the reality and develop a plan to improve the crew’s weaknesses.
A financial services company recently launched a new product, and it essentially flopped. The company’s finances are now in the red and the company is in a critical position, so the CEO and founder...
As a leader, you have to believe in a plan and its goal before you can inspire your team to work toward it. How can you effectively explain a strategy to your team, let alone expect them to carry it out, unless you understand and believe in the purpose, or the “why”?
Doubts — or anything less than full confidence and conviction — will be apparent to your team members or employees, and that will undermine their confidence in the plan. Why would they execute something that their leader clearly doesn’t believe in? Additionally, if you don’t believe in the plan or the goal, you won’t do the hard work and take the necessary risks to achieve it. That means neither you nor your team is on the path to achieving anything unless you first believe in it.
If you don’t believe in the plan, adapt it (if you have the authority to do so) to something you can stand by. If that’s not an option, talk to your boss and reach an understanding about the purpose of the mission and how it fits into the entire organization’s larger goal. It takes Extreme Ownership to ask your boss for clarification on a plan or its why; it shows that you have the humility to admit that you don’t understand, and that you own your responsibility to lead your team in fully and correctly executing the directive.
As you gain a better understanding and carry out the plan, you may find that it benefits your team in ways you didn’t expect. Furthermore, your boss will appreciate that you’re doing all you can to execute her plan, and she may be more inclined to give you and your team additional support.
With a thorough understanding of the goal, it’s especially important that a leader adequately explain each mission and its “why” to her junior leaders, so that they can do the same with their teams. Junior leaders need to ask questions when in doubt and raise concerns so that higher-ups understand potential hurdles in the execution. The junior leaders and their teams may have insights that the bosses have overlooked. This ties in with the Decentralized Command, the fourth Law of Combat, which we’ll discuss in Chapter 8.
Willink gets an order from the higher-ups that his task force unit must train and fight alongside Iraqi Army soldiers, but he feels this directive will put his SEALs at a disadvantage and could put them in danger on the battlefield. The order doesn’t make sense to him, and he doesn’t see how it could be effective.
The SEALs are exceptionally well trained and operate under universal rules and conventions, so they work together smoothly and efficiently. On the other hand, the Iraqi soldiers are poorly trained, ill-equipped and unmotivated; few job prospects mean many join the Iraqi Army as a way to earn money, and are not necessarily driven by a strong belief in the mission.
Knowing that, as a leader, his attitude and conviction in the purpose of each mission sets the tone for his team, Willink conceals his skepticism from his troops. Willink tries to step back and think about the strategy from his bosses’ perspective: What would cause them to come up with this plan? He breaks the question down into smaller pieces.
The U.S. troops need to not only help prepare the Iraqi Army to eventually defend themselves as the only force on the ground, but also defeat the insurgency enough to lower its strength and give the Iraqi Army and police a better chance at maintaining power and stability.
Now understanding the “why” of the order, Willink can effectively carry it out and explain it to his troops so that they understand and believe in its purpose. Although his troops are frustrated and wish there was an alternative option, after Willink explains the reasoning they understand the importance. And, ultimately, the Iraqi troops become assets in unexpected ways: Their knowledge of the area and the culture help the troops work more efficiently and better identify enemies.
Once convinced of the importance of including the Iraqi soldiers in their operations, Willink doubles down on the order, insisting that every mission includes the Iraqis. As a result, every operation plan his team submits to the higher-ups for approval gets the green light, and Willink’s task force unit is able to take more action and make a bigger impact in Ramadi. Because Willink came to understand and strongly believe in the importance of his bosses’ directive, he implemented it so thoroughly and effectively that his team benefitted from the support they got from the higher-ups.
The SEALs’ and Iraqi forces’ missions increasingly establish some safety and stability in Ramadi as they beat back the insurgents’ power. Seeing these effects, local residents stop passively supporting the insurgents and instead show support of the U.S. and Iraqi troops.
The senior leaders in a corporate company recently rolled out a new pay structure for the company’s sales team. The plan cuts pay significantly, especially for low performers.
The mid-level managers are confused and frustrated, saying that the new structure will make it hard to keep salespeople from leaving and working for competing companies. They don’t believe in the plan, and can’t defend it to their salespeople. The middle managers...
Sometimes upper management issues a directive that seems to have no logic. This exercise can help you make sense of it (of course, if possible, the fool-proof way to understand it is simply to ask).
Describe an order or plan your boss recently handed down that you disagreed with or didn’t understand. What part of the plan didn’t make sense to you?
Too much ego — whether the leader’s or a team member’s — inhibits a team’s or company’s ability to succeed. You must be humble and open-minded to practice Extreme Ownership, and that requires you to check your ego.
The team and its mission must always come first; no one person can be more important than the collective team. As a leader, you set the tone for your team; establishing a culture that encourages teamwork and discourages competitiveness and ego sets your team up for success.
Too much ego can cause a leader or team member to put herself and her own personal goals above the team’s mission. As soon as someone is acting in their own interest, instead of the best interest of the team, it is detrimental to the team and its success. No matter how talented a person is, having too much ego can jeopardize an entire organization’s success. Leaders need to recognize when an employee’s ego is outweighing her strengths, and they must cut her if she is holding back the team or company.
Ego impedes progress; you can’t objectively assess your performance and continually look for ways to improve in the future if your ego is telling you that you did everything right. As a leader, a dominating ego doesn’t allow you to take the blame for something that you didn’t directly do (but someone on your team did). But putting your ego aside and humbly accepting that responsibility allows you and your team to be open to constructive criticism, learn from the mistake, and move forward.
Ego also causes you to be reactive and inhibits your ability to have productive conversations. If you are approaching a subordinate, your ego can make her less receptive to your message. On the other hand, if you are taking directions from a superior, your ego will make you less receptive to hearing and benefitting from the information.
Keeping your focus on the team and its larger goal will help you keep your ego in check. Recognize others’ strengths and expertise and how they can help the team achieve its mission. Don’t let your ego lure you into seeing others’ strengths as competition, but rather appreciate them as assets.
If someone’s actions bruised your ego, consider her perspective and what might have led her to act in that way. For example, if an employee did something outside her authority or your boss seems to be questioning you excessively, think about what her motive might be and that it likely has nothing to do with trying to show you up in some way. Furthermore, Extreme Ownership calls for you to consider how you may have mistakenly contributed to those actions, by not giving your employee explicit instructions, or not providing enough information to your boss.
The U.S. troops in Ramadi — including the Army, Marines, and SEALs — must work together to successfully tamp down insurgent forces. The insurgents’ attacks are well planned and executed, so Willink tries to instill a culture among his SEALs of constantly improving and never getting cocky or complacent.
Although SEAL units have a reputation for not always keeping their hair and uniform to typical military standards, Willink makes the members of his task unit keep their uniforms neat and haircuts short. He makes this mandate out of respect for the Army and Marine forces they work with, to show that the SEALs will maintain the same standards as those who are fighting alongside them. The SEALs who are stationed at Camp Corregidor with the Army forces even wear the same Army Combat Uniform as the Soldiers, which fosters camaraderie.
A group of extremely well-trained Iraqi soldiers and American advisers are preparing to arrive at Camp Corregidor, and one of the SEAL commanders at the camp tells Willink he is worried that the new arrivals will be better than his own troops and take over the mission. The commander even considers withholding some help and information from the new arrivals. But Willink reminds the commander that the U.S. and friendly forces must all work together to defeat the outside enemy. The commander can’t let his ego get in the way of the team’s overall success and ability to complete the mission.
Unfortunately, some of the new arrivals have their own ego issues. First, several don’t abide by the same standards for neat uniforms and military haircuts as the Army Soldiers and SEALs at Camp Corregidor. This attitude sends the message that they think they are above the colonel’s grooming rules, which fosters resentment among others at the base.
Second, some of the American advisers fail to show proper respect to their colleagues at camp, talking down to the Army Soldiers and even the senior leaders.
Third, the newly arrived unit shows little interest in learning from the SEAL commander and troops, despite the fact that the SEALs’ experience in Ramadi has given them invaluable knowledge about what works and what doesn’t in this environment.
And fourth, the new unit doesn’t share details of its plans and operations with the other troops, even though it is critical that all forces are in the loop about each other’s missions for the sake of everyone’s success (and survival). Failing to coordinate could also put the other U.S. forces in danger; this unit could get itself in a sticky situation and need backup from the troops. The supporting troops — who weren’t given an opportunity before the operation to bring up possibly preventable issues — now wouldn’t have basic information about the mission they’re coming in to rescue. In a worst-case scenario, failing to share information can even lead to blue-on-blue (friendly fire), meaning that the unit’s ego and behavior could jeopardize everyone involved.
After a few weeks, the colonel orders the new unit to leave Camp Corregidor. **Although the unit’s skill and equipment could have been a big help to the U.S. Army Soldiers and SEALs at the camp, the troops’ egos make them more of a risk than an...
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With the appropriate mindset — one that involves taking Extreme Ownership, setting high standards, emphasizing the “why” of each goal, and checking your ego — a leader can implement key strategies to help her team achieve its goals. In chapters 5-8 we will discuss each of four critical strategies, collectively called the Laws of Combat.
Chapter 5 explores the Cover and Move strategy. On a battlefield, Cover and Move allows a team to work together to reach a destination: One group provides cover — keeping an eye out and having weapons ready to ward off enemies — as the other group advances forward. Then they switch roles, essentially leapfrogging forward, until they reach their destination.
This may not appear to have much relevance outside a warzone, but the principle of Cover and Move is teamwork. The entire team must work together, supporting and protecting each other, for everyone’s safety and success. Everyone on the team (or in the company) must be aware of everyone else’s position and objective to be able to move and act cohesively for one effort.
Leaders need to keep the bigger picture in mind to use Cover and Move most effectively. While a leader can come up with a strategy to use Cover and Move within her own team, there might be an even better way to accomplish the same goal by working with another team or department — and that strategy could be twice as effective if it mutually benefits both departments. To do this, a leader needs to be able to collaborate with other leaders, identify their common goal, and clearly communicate to both teams how working together will help everyone achieve success.
Individual teams and departments need to consider how other groups depend on them, and they depend on other groups, to accomplish the company’s larger mission. All individuals and groups within the larger organization have to do their part to contribute to the success of the greater mission. By contrast, when teams compete against each other, it creates tension and undermines the greater goal. When the group fails, everyone fails; when the group wins, everyone wins.
By keeping the entire company’s goal in mind and understanding that everyone within the company is working together to achieve it, the leader can make decisions that not only help her own team succeed but gets the whole organization closer to success.
In their efforts to take control of Ramadi from the Ira qi insurgents, the U.S. forces are using an aggressive strategy called Seize, Clear, Hold, Build. This entails forcing their way into the most strongly enemy-held neighborhoods, fighting back enemy fighters to clear the area, and then creating permanent U.S. combat outposts there.
One step in this strategy involves cordoning off a neighborhood, and then systematically searching and clearing each building in the neighborhood to ensure the area is safe. While necessary, this process is very dangerous for the U.S. troops, who risk coming face to face with enemy fighters. While U.S. forces move through the buildings, snipers are stationed strategically on a nearby rooftop to provide cover.
During one mission, the troops target a building for their sniper overwatch, but it turns out that the only clear view from the building is on a balcony where they would be exposed and visible to enemy fighters. They size up another nearby building, but find that it doesn’t offer a clear view either.
Time is running low to decide; the other teams will begin their search efforts soon and the snipers need to be in place for their safety. Babin, who is leading the team, decides the lesser of the two evils is to do the best they can from the first building.
The snipers get into position and the mission goes off successfully, with no U.S. injuries or deaths. The rest of the troops retreat back to base, while SOP calls for the sniper teams to wait until nightfall to return to camp. Although this policy is meant for the snipers’ safety — to avoid the danger of becoming walking targets as they move through the streets in broad daylight — it creates a risk in this case because they’re on a relatively exposed balcony; the building and position they’re in is not as secure as it should (and normally would) be. Hours of gunfire have already given the insurgents a decent idea of the snipers’ location, and following SOP would give them another eight to 10 hours to figure out where the snipers are and attack them.
Babin must again determine the lesser of two evils: In this case, he decides they will return to camp and not wait until darkness. The team uses Cover and Move to get there safely. With this tactic, one group positions themselves, weapons drawn, to cover and protect as the other group moves forward. Then the two groups switch roles, allowing the first group to move ahead, and they continue alternating until they safely reach the base.
Along the way, the team does encounter a spurt of attacks and gunfire, but they are still able to work together to stay safe and make it back to camp. However, when the snipers return to base, the chief angrily tells Babin that he made a mistake: He could have left a second sniper team in place at its overwatch position to cover his team as they moved back to base. Then, from an overwatch position at the base, his team could have provided cover for the other sniper team as they retreated back.
Babin had been so focused on his own team that he forgot the bigger picture. If Babin had used the same Cover and Move technique on a bigger scale involving more teams than his, it would have provided both teams better safety and coverage.
The production manager at a company is frustrated with a subsidiary company his team uses to transport their product. The manager’s...
When another department is creating a hurdle for your own team’s success, sometimes the best course of action is to figure out how to help them get their work done so they can do what you need from them.
Describe a current or recent situation in which another team, department, or division impeded your team’s work.
Life always brings surprises, so you must always expect the unexpected. If you keep plans simple, you control what you can while minimizing confusion when something inevitably goes off course. Simplifying a plan also requires you to narrow your focus to the most critical priorities, which helps reinforce the overarching goal for both you and your team.
By contrast, when plans are complicated, you increase the chances of people not understanding them. If people don’t understand the basic plan, how can they execute it? Furthermore, they are less able to adapt when things go wrong with complicated plans.
A team works more effectively when communication is simple and straightforward. Everyone on the team should strive to relay information to each other simply, explicitly, and concisely, especially in times of stress. This reduces the chance of wasted time and effort due to confusion or misunderstanding.
Plans must be made to be simple, and leaders need to explain them in a simple, clear, and concise way. A leader should also encourage all team members, no matter how junior, to speak up if they have questions or concerns. (As we discussed in Chapter 3, a leader is responsible for getting every member of her team to understand a plan or goal — and conversely, team members are responsible for speaking up if they don’t understand.)
The SEALs and Army are working together on a mission to clear an enemy-held area of Ramadi and establish an outpost. Although enemy fighters are attacking the U.S. troops as they build this outpost, the U.S. and (friendly) Iraqi forces have chosen this specific location to do a presence patrol, which entails establishing a presence in enemy-held territory to show strength and to indicate to the local civilians that U.S. forces are determined to take the city back from insurgents.
A military transition team (U.S. Army Soldiers and Marines who train and advise Iraqi soldiers), known as MiTT, joins the effort by creating a plan to patrol the neighborhood with Iraqi soldiers. But when Willink hears the MiTT leader’s operation, he worries that the plan reflects a poor understanding of the reality and risks of a city as dangerous as Ramadi.
First, the route the MiTT plans to take winds through some of the most hostile areas of the city, on roads that the minesweeping teams haven’t cleared for safety.
Second, the route takes the team through several different U.S. military territories — including multiple Army and Marine Corps companies and an Army battalion — that each have distinct SOPs and radio networks. Passing through all those groups’ battle spaces would require coordinating with all of them, adding unnecessary complexity to the plan.
Third, the long proposed route in the intense heat of the Iraqi summer calls for lots of water, and its path through such hostile enemy territory requires immense amounts of ammunition.
Willink suggests that the MiTT leader simplify the plan, at least for the team’s first few operations. After some skepticism and resistance, the leader agrees to a shorter route that passes only through SEAL-controlled battlespace.
As the MiTT and Iraqi soldiers review the plan before going out on patrol, Willink notices that everyone seems a little too casual and unconcerned about the operation. He doubts that they realize the risks involved. Willink directs a team of SEAL snipers to cover the patrol from an overwatch position for extra protection.
Twelve minutes after the patrol begins, gunfire starts and the MiTT and Iraqi soldiers are attacked. Willink gets a report that two are wounded and need help. A SEAL leader relays the information to Willink — simply and clearly, despite the chaos and confusion — so that he can send help to the right location.
When the MiTT returns, Willink discovers two Iraqi soldiers have been killed. The MiTT leader is rattled by the experience, and recognizes that the operation would have been even riskier had he not agreed to simplify the plan.
A company is rolling out a new bonus program for its manufacturing plant, but the employees are baffled by it: They don’t understand how bonuses are calculated and what aspects of their performance the new plan intends to reward or punish.
The chief engineer and plant manager developed the bonus plan to maximize the production staff’s efficiency, factoring in several factors:
The engineer and manager worked so hard to create a system that reflected every level of complexity, that they overlooked how that complexity makes the system virtually useless to their employees; if the plan is too confusing for workers to understand, then it does nothing to incentivize them. The elaborate system created to maximize efficiency is not accomplishing that goal, so it’s a failed plan.
The chief engineer and plant manager simplify the bonus system to capture the main priorities of production — the demand for various products, and the quality at which they’re being produced. The engineer and manager explain the simpler...
There are times when it feels like everything goes wrong at once, and that there is no way to accomplish everything at the same time. In these situations, a leader has to be able to calmly take stock of the situation, decide what needs to happen first, and carry it out; this Law of Combat is called Prioritize and Execute.
Trying to address several issues at the same time is overwhelming and inefficient. Most likely, you are only dividing your attention and won’t be able to tackle any of them effectively. Instead — even when it feels like five fires are burning at once — leaders must assess which problem poses the highest risk to everything else, and attack it.
Stress and high stakes can make this even more difficult, clouding a leader’s ability to clearly take stock of the situation and make definitive decisions. Leaders must be able to keep their eyes on the big picture in order to effectively prioritize.
Thorough planning can help leaders anticipate what problems may come up while carrying out a plan, and develop responses to those issues. This allows leaders to stay a step ahead, and makes it easier to Prioritize and Execute; a leader won’t get flustered by a problem that she already considered and has a solution for. Again, controlling what you can makes it easier to deal with the uncontrollable.
If the leader then explains to her team the potential hurdles and responses before executing a plan, the team is also able to quickly adapt and respond if the problem does arise. In that event, the team might not even need guidance from leaders, which frees up leaders to continue focusing on the big picture — adjusting the larger plan, if necessary — and allows for Decentralized Command, a strategy we’ll discuss in Chapter 8.
If circumstances cause priorities to change mid-course, it’s essential that leaders communicate that change to higher-ups as well as lower leaders and team members. Everyone needs to be aware of a shift in focus and priorities to be able to successfully complete the mission and reach the goal. When priorities shift, leaders and team members alike need to be agile and willing to change course. Getting stuck on the original plan and refusing to adapt hinders the whole team’s success.
A platoon of SEALs and a group of Iraqi soldiers are carrying out a mission to push deep into enemy territory. They plan to temporarily station themselves in a building in the enemy-held area so that they can kill enemy fighters and send a message that the insurgents have no safe haven in this neighborhood.
The team is occupying an apartment building that offers excellent strategic views and a fair amount of protection from enemy gunfire. However, a single narrow stairway is the only entrance and exit, which creates the risk of enemy fighters putting an explosive near the exit and trapping the group. The group is not far from a U.S. combat outpost that could offer help if needed, but they are positioned in such a hostile area that it would be dangerous for any backup that came to their aid.
The team carries out an overall successful operation but as they prepare to leave, two bomb technicians spot something suspicious at the entrance of the building: The object looks like a silver cylinder concealed under a plastic tarp, and the likelihood that it’s an explosive is too high for the group to take the chance.
Babin, the platoon leader, tries to determine another way for the team to escape from their position on the second floor. Three sides of the building drop nearly 20 feet to the ground; without any rope and with their heavy gear in tow, this isn’t a feasible option. Plus, the street below is likely to have more explosives.
The fourth wall of the building has no windows or doors, just solid concrete. But the team decides this is the best option, and starts sledgehammering through the wall. Meanwhile, the bomb technicians work on a strategy to set off the bomb at the entrance below in a controlled way, so they don’t leave it to explode later and potentially hurt other U.S. forces or innocent civilians.
When the hole in the wall is ready for everyone to escape, Babin signals to the bomb technicians to set off their controlled explosion; once they do, the whole team will have a couple minutes to safely exit before the detonation.
The team passes through the hole in the wall to an adjacent rooftop, where they must all be on guard because they are visible and exposed to attack. Suddenly one of the SEALs falls 20 feet to the ground — what they thought was the edge of the rooftop, where the SEAL had been walking, is actually just a tarp. This leaves the rest of the team in a vulnerable position on the rooftop, with just minutes before the bomb detonates and a SEAL hurt and on the ground below.
It is a literal life-or-death situation, and Babin must stay calm to Prioritize and Execute.
Within minutes, Babin and his team address all problems, retrieve the fallen SEAL (who ultimately only needs stitches on his elbow), and exit before the bomb detonates. Babin successfully implemented Prioritize and Execute, with the help of his team, and led them all out to safety.
A pharmaceutical company has recently been losing...
You can be the best leader in the world, but you’re still human and you simply can’t do everything yourself. Decentralized Command is a form of delegating that allows leaders to stay focused on their unique job — leading the overall team in pursuit of the larger goal — by allowing each junior leader and team member under them to carry out her own unique job.
Leaders can only be effective at managing a limited number of people, generally about six to 10 people. To work efficiently, teams must be divided into smaller groups; senior leaders directly manage junior leaders, who directly manage teams of employees.
Senior leaders need to have an understanding of the larger goal and the plan to reach it. They must communicate this clearly to junior leaders, so that they, too, can understand the plan and the “why” (as we discussed in Chapter 3). Junior leaders have to understand the mission and how it ties in with the greater goal so that they can relay that to their teams and answer questions if anyone is unclear or skeptical of the plan.
With the understanding of the company’s mission and plan to achieve it, junior leaders must also be empowered to take action and make decisions that get the overall team closer to accomplishing that goal. A junior leader knows her team better than anyone else, and knows what will put her team in the best position to execute a plan. If a junior leader is empowered to act, she can keep her team moving efficiently toward the goal.
However, this doesn’t mean junior leaders should go rogue; they need to understand what falls within their authority and consult senior leaders on anything that lies beyond their authority. Furthermore, junior leaders need to keep senior leaders in the loop with important information and updates, so that the leaders — who are always responsible for keeping the big picture in mind — can make informed decisions.
The relationship between senior and junior leaders requires trust, confidence, and balance to successfully have Decentralized Command. Junior leaders must have confidence in their understanding of the mission and the “why,” and in their authority to make certain decisions. They must also trust that their senior leaders will support them and their decisions. Even if a junior leader makes a mistake in her decision making, the senior leaders can gain trust if they recognize the junior leader made that decision in an earnest effort to achieve the goal.
Senior leaders need to keep a balance between being too involved and too distanced. Leaders who are overly involved (e.g. micromanage) get too pulled into the details and lose sight of the bigger picture. Without a clear view of the broader goal and the team’s overall progress in reaching it, a leader loses the ability to direct the team and strategically adapt to changes. On the other hand, leaders who are too disconnected from the front lines are out of touch with what their team members are doing, and are unable to lead them.
Leaders need to be agile enough to move around and help where they are most needed at any given point; this means a leader’s role will change somewhat over the course of a mission, but she will also maintain a view of the team’s overall goal and progress.
The SEALs are conducting a huge operation that also incorporates two U.S. Army battalions with hundreds of soldiers each, a Marine Corps battalion, plus almost a hundred armored vehicles and military aircrafts. Willink can only lead a mission this large through Decentralized Command.
Willink has already trained and instructed the leaders under him to make decisions. He trusts their judgment to act in difficult situations, as well as their ability to empower the leaders under them to make strategic decisions. What’s more, he expects them to make decisions and not need to constantly ask what to do. Decentralized Command gives Willink the peace of mind that his junior leaders are taking care of all the details, allowing him to stay focused on the strategic mission.
Not only does Willink have confidence in his junior leaders, but those leaders also trust that Willink and other senior leaders will support their decision-making authority. That kind of mutual trust comes with time and experience. Willink has seen his junior leaders act wisely and strategically in past situations, and the junior leaders have gained confidence in themselves and in the way Willink has empowered them.
The operation entails taking hold of a major road between two especially hostile areas of Ramadi. During this mission, one SEAL platoon needs to use a different building than planned, so they alert Willink and make the necessary move, and Willink updates the rest of the cooperating forces. Sometimes, Willink’s junior leaders on the front lines need to adjust their location because the original plan is not feasible, or the map they used to plan logistics didn’t accurately show certain details (like the distance to the road or other buildings) so they need to adapt. Knowing the junior leaders will make the necessary adjustments, Wililnk can continue to focus on the overall mission.
As the mission continues, the U.S. troops detect possible enemy fighters moving into position to attack. Everyone is on high alert, and Willink gets a radio report that someone has spotted what appear to be enemy snipers on a nearby building. The forces are eager to shoot heavy fire at the building and eliminate the sniper threat, but knowing how easily mistakes and confusions can be made in the midst of urban battle, Willink calmly insists on doing his due diligence.
Willink identifies the building in which the enemy snipers are located (the U.S. forces all use a uniform map with each building in the area labeled with a number) and confirms that no U.S. troops are in that building; the platoon that moved location confirms they are in...
Even with the right knowledge and strategies in place, leadership comes with many challenges. In the next four chapters, we’ll explore the hurdles leaders need to navigate and the balance they must keep in order to use their tools and strategies effectively.
This chapter discusses the importance of planning. It may sound obvious, but a leader has to be able to develop a clear and well-thought-out plan; with a whole team of people following you, you can’t simply wing it. There are several steps to developing an effective plan.
In order to craft a plan, the leader needs a clear understanding of what the overarching mission or goal is. The mission must be simple, concise, and explicit, targeting a very specific goal that gets the team or company one step closer to the larger strategic vision. A mission that is too broad or vague leads to a lack of focus and prevents a team from successfully achieving the goal.
Furthermore, the mission needs to incorporate the larger purpose and goal, so that everyone, from the leader down to the lowest level employees, understands the “why.”
A leader should explore different possible ways to achieve the mission before determining the best course of action. Once decided, the leader needs to flesh out the details of the plan in a way that uses the resources available and takes advantage of various team members’ expertise.
Leaders should involve junior leaders and other employees to give input and help develop the plan. An employee’s on-the-ground perspective will be different than the big-picture lens of a manager, and both are valuable to bring up different considerations and concerns. Additionally, involving the whole team gives everyone a sense of ownership of the plan, which makes them more invested in the mission and helps them to better execute it.
During this process, the leader should be supervising the development of the plan and keeping a focus on the bigger picture and mission. Stepping back in this way allows her to see any weaknesses or issues and steer the team to correct them.
Not all risks can be avoided, and many aggressive and innovative plans will necessarily involve some inevitable risks; as the saying goes, no risk, no reward. But an effective leader balances the necessary risks by planning for risks that she can control. A well-developed plan should include contingency plans for risks that the team and leader can anticipate. Contingency plans help everyone involved to be prepared and know how to react if something goes wrong, so the plan can continue smoothly.
When the plan has been entirely fleshed out and checked over, the leader needs to explain the course of action to everyone involved. This explanation needs to be clear, concise, and simple to avoid any misinterpretations and ensure thorough understanding for everyone involved — down to the most junior team member. The brief doesn’t need to include every exhaustive detail of the plan, only pertinent information that helps the team members execute their roles in the plan.
While briefing the team on the plan, an effective leader encourages discussion and questions from everyone; as we discussed in Chapter 3, Extreme Ownership means a leader is responsible for equipping all members of her team with the information and resources they need to execute a plan. The leader can also use techniques to reinforce understanding, such as pausing at various points during the briefing and asking team members questions about what’s been explained so far.
After a team executes a plan, a successful leader makes time for the entire team to meet and debrief. This allows the team to review the whole process — from planning to execution — and discuss what worked well, what didn’t work, and how they can be more effective next time. This constant self-assessment helps a successful team continue to grow and constantly improve.
Standardizing the planning process (including the format and terminology used) across a business creates even more success. A standardized process allows every department as well as supporting assets (e.g. contractors and subsidiary companies) to speak the same language with their plans and save time, since they don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every plan or project. Everyone in the company should be briefed on the standardized planning process, and it needs to be designed to be repeatable and include some sort of guide or checklist to help employees implement it.
Babin is leading a team of SEALs on a mission to rescue the teenage nephew of an Iraqi police colonel, who is being held hostage by a terrorist group connected to al Qaeda. Intelligence reports say that the hostage is in a house in an extremely dangerous, enemy held neighborhood, where the roads are littered with explosives. Babin has to develop a plan that carefully mitigates as much risk as possible while giving his team the greatest chance of success.
Babin plans to lead SEALs, a bomb technician, and Iraqi soldiers into the house to clear it for safety, while Willink will command the assault force, armored vehicles, and aircraft that will provide support for the mission. Babin discusses the plan with Willink as well as a U.S. Army officer who is very familiar with the neighborhood where the hostage is being held. The officer is able to offer some advice to fine-tune the plan.
Babin quickly and thoroughly briefs everyone involved in the operation. It’s a lot of information in a short amount of time, so he closes the brief with the three most important takeaways: implement the element of surprise when entering the house, focus on getting in and out as quickly as possible, and be careful not to hurt the hostage or mistake him for a captor.
After the brief, as the team is preparing to start the...
A leader needs to coordinate the efforts of her team as well as her senior leaders in order to accomplish any goal. This is called leading up and down the chain of command, and requires careful balance of your role as both a leader and a subordinate, effective communication, and Extreme Ownership. In order to successfully lead up and down the chain of command, keep three things in mind.
First, take ownership of leading everyone in your world, from the junior team members below you to the bosses above you. It is your responsibility to inform everyone of your plan, how that fits into the larger vision and goal, and what you need to accomplish that.
An effective leader makes a point of interacting with her team members and observing the challenges and reality that employees face in the field. Understanding employees’ roles and challenges can be a huge asset in making future plans and decisions for the team. However, leaders don’t need to know every detail of frontline employees’ jobs, and junior employees don’t need to know every aspect of the big picture; it can distract and overwhelm them. Having a whole team of people who all know the same insight and information is not helpful.
Second, if you aren’t getting what you need from either a boss or an employee, first look at what you can do to help them help you. Did you clearly explain what you need? Does this person have all the information and resources she needs to deliver what you want? Does she understand how her contribution affects the success of the overall mission?
When directing her team, a leader must make sure all team members understand their duties in the plan and how they’re contributing to the larger goal. (Shortform note: This overlaps with what we discussed in Chapter 3 about ensuring that team members thoroughly understand the “why” of each plan they execute.)
In order to effectively lead her team, a leader also needs to have the information and resources she needs from her higher-ups. If you aren’t getting the information or support you need to lead your team, Extreme Ownership requires you to take responsibility and talk to your boss about what you need and what you can do to make it easier for your boss to provide it to you (e.g. deliver information more efficiently so she can make key decisions, or communicate more clearly what support you need for your team).
A leader needs to be able to tactfully communicate with her boss to explain her needs and give the boss situational awareness. This requires more finesse than leading down the chain of command, when the leader’s authority over her employees holds a lot of persuasive power in its own right. When leading up the chain of command, a leader needs to demonstrate her skill, knowledge, experience, and professionalism to get what she needs from her boss.If done well, your boss will appreciate that you are doing what you can to help her do what you’re asking, and she may be more inclined to provide support and resources in the future.
Third, instead of asking your boss what to do, tell her what you plan to do. Be proactive and show your boss that you have the knowledge and confidence to effectively lead. This shows that you are doing everything you can within your authority to make things run smoothly, taking some weight off the boss’s shoulders and hopefully freeing up her energy to do what you need from her.
However, as a leader, you must also keep in mind that your boss has to consider the bigger picture when making decisions — just as you do with your own team — and you should respect your boss’s decision whether or not it comes down in your favor. Even when you disagree with your boss, it’s critical to the entire company’s success that leadership presents a united front; therefore, you should relay all decisions and plans to your team as if they were your own.
Willink and Babin have just returned home from Iraq, and Willink is tasked with creating a presentation for the head of the U.S. Navy to explain what his task unit achieved in Ramadi. Willink takes a map of Ramadi and overlays a visual representation of all the areas where the team pushed out the enemy and built a combat outpost to spread the presence and power of U.S. and Iraqi forces; when Babin sees the illustration, it’s the first time he grasps the breadth of their impact.
During their deployment, Babin was involved in just about every mission represented on the map, but he had been so caught up in the details of each operation that he never took a step back to see the big picture of what they were accomplishing. He realizes that if he didn’t recognize the full impact of their efforts, there was no way his troops had. As a leader, he should have kept a better sense of the big picture, and in turn imparted that to his team.
Leaders often overestimate their teams’ understanding of how a plan or their individual duties tie in with the overarching goal. A leader is responsible for helping her team connect the dots between their performance and the larger organization’s success, for the sake of their morale, conviction, and quality of work.
Upon reflection, Babin feels he should have taken more time to explain the “why” to his team and delegated more planning to his troops so that they would have more ownership of the mission. A strong sense of investment in each mission and conviction that their work was making a significant difference in the region was essential for the SEALs to endure the difficult and extreme conditions they faced in Ramadi — from the intense desert heat to the constant threat of death.
Babin receives an email from higher-ups with questions about a mission he’s planning to begin in a few hours. He’s frustrated and furious that he has to spend precious time explaining details to...
Although sometimes it feels like your boss is creating hurdles for you to do your job, Extreme Ownership requires you to analyze what you can do to break down that barrier.
Describe a recent occasion when you felt your superiors were impeding your work more than supporting it. Specifically, how were they creating roadblocks?
Part of a leader’s responsibility is to lead her team courageously and decisively, no matter what stress and confusion is happening around her; presumably, this is part of the reason she has earned her position as the head of the team. Sometimes, a leader will only have limited information available to make a critical decision, and in these cases she must be comfortable making the best decision possible with what she has.
At times an educated guess will be the best option available, and this is when a leader’s knowledge and experience is especially critical to compensate for missing information. But leaders or not, there are times in life when we all must make decisions based on an incomplete picture — for example, in healthcare decisions when you know only the likelihood of a risk but not its certainty, or in deciding whether to evacuate before a forecasted severe storm.
Leaders can’t afford to waste time with too much deliberation, waiting on further research or hoping to reach the absolute right solution. They need to be able to make decisions quickly, and to adapt those decisions just as quickly if new information or circumstances arise.
Additionally, it’s important that a leader be decisive to reinforce her team’s confidence in her ability to lead. If a leader appears indecisive or unconfident, that her employees are more likely to start questioning her competence.
Babin is leading a team of SEALs on a Seize, Clear, Hold, Build mission with U.S. Army and Marine Corps battalions. Babin’s team comes into the enemy-held neighborhood early in the morning and the SEAL snipers set up an overwatch position to cover the U.S. Army troops that are coming to create a new combat outpost.
After the soldiers move into the area, a SEAL sniper named Chris Kyle (who went on to write the bestselling book American Sniper that later inspired the Hollywood movie) alerts Babin that he’s just seen a dark figure in the window of another building, and he’s unsure whether to take the shot. Normally, if Kyle can positively identify an enemy — if he has no doubt that the person he sees through his scope is an insurgent — then he can take the shot without asking permission. If the target is an enemy sniper, it’s even more urgent he shoots before the enemy has a chance to harm a U.S. soldier or SEAL.
U.S. Soldiers are clearing buildings in the same area, so both Kyle and Babin are apprehensive about shooting in case the target turns out to be part of U.S. forces. Babin radios the U.S. Army commander to confirm none of his men are in the building where the target was spotted (all the American forces in Ramadi operate on the same map, which labels each building with a number). The commander confirms his soldiers are not in the building, and urges Kyle to take the shot; the commander feels certain the target must be an enemy, and doesn’t want to allow any time for an enemy sniper to hurt any U.S. troops.
Kyle gets another glimpse of the target in the window before he disappears again, but he’s still can’t positively identify him. Despite the Army commander’s urging for Kyle to shoot, Babin asks the commander to have his men clear the building where the target is located. Impatient and frustrated, the commander initially pushes back, but finally relents at Babin’s insistence; the Army soldiers are ordered to clear the building while Kyle covers them from his overwatch position.
With only limited information available — unable to positively identify the target and knowing that friendly forces are nearby — Babin has to make the best decision he can, based on logic and not emotion. Babin can’t risk authorizing Kyle to take the shot because the prospect of friendly fire is worse than the risk of missing the chance to take out an enemy sniper. He makes the decision and stands firmly by it, regardless of the Army commander’s urging.
As soon as the commander calls for his men to clear the building, Babin sees his error: He and Kyle misidentified the building on the map. The soldiers who are heading out to clear the building with the target actually come out of the building where Kyle saw the target — meaning the man Kyle saw was a U.S. Soldier and not an enemy sniper. Despite the mistake with the map, Babin is grateful that both he and Kyle listened to their gut and didn’t succumb to pressure to shoot the target. The commander, too, is relieved that Babin didn’t give in to his pressure.
Babin and Willink are working with Jim, the CEO of a software company, and Darla, the CEO of a subsidiary engineering company. The CEOs are dealing with challenges, even though the software company has seen impressive growth and revenues in the five years since its launch. Their primary issue is that competitors are trying to recruit their top talent, namely the five senior engineers; if the engineers leave, their teams could leave with them, and that would jeopardize the company’s future.
What’s more, the senior engineers have created a culture of being competitive — rather than collaborative — and even trying to outperform each other. Two senior engineers in particular, Eduardo and Nigel, often bicker and blame each other for problems on their own projects. Darla has tried to resolve the issue, but nothing has worked and Eduardo’s and Nigel’s hostility has become detrimental to the entire team.
Eduardo and Nigel each insist that the other should be fired because they can no longer work together. Darla and Jim are both at a loss. Darla feels that losing either Eduardo or Nigel would hurt the company, and carries the risk of also losing some key people from their teams; losing both, she says, would be disastrous.
Darla thinks it over and concludes that she wants to let the situation play out; she doesn’t know who, if anyone, to...
Leaders set the tone and example for their teams, and as they navigate challenging situations leaders must constantly keep a careful balance of seemingly opposite forces. When a leader struggles or is ineffective, it is typically a sign that she has veered too far to either side of one of these dichotomies; in this way, a leader’s greatest strength can become her weakness if she doesn’t keep it balanced.