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Extreme Ownership Principles - Leader Resource on Taking Extreme Ownership

The front cover of the book Extreme Ownership

At The Leadership Mission, we will post resources that we feel will be impactful for leaders that will help grow them and/or provide a quality perspective. All of these resources will be beneficial for any leader, as leaders must always be learning. However, each resource would be more impactful for different levels of leaders. So for each resource we will give a "suggested for" rank of leader. Our four ranks that we will use are: Aspiring, New, Experienced and Veteran.

Suggested for: New and Experienced Leaders

Extreme Ownership was written by two former Navy Seals, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. They have since started a leadership development company called Echelon Front. This book dives into the finer points of why leaders are accountable for not only their own actions but the actions of their whole team as well.

This book gives real world, practical examples from their time in the military as well as applications to business from their work with Echelon Front.

The main points in the book are broken down into 12 sections, their extreme ownership principles. We are going to paraphrase them here but to get the full impact, we recommend the audiobook which is read by the authors and is powerful. You can just hear it in their voices when they discuss these principles. They don't just 'sell it' they preach it because they have lived it.

1 - Extreme ownership principles

The first chapter dives into the main point behind the book right away. It challenges the common practice of most leaders in Corporate America today of avoiding and shifting blame. It goes on to describe why accepting responsibility actually helps your credibility as a leader with your team.

If the leader is willing to shoulder the weight of the actions and decisions of the team, their teams will follow them more willingly. This will make the leader exponentially more effective and enhance their leadership.

Leaders must own everything in their world, there is no one else to blame

2 - No bad teams only bad leaders

From the standpoint of team leadership, the leader must be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their team. If the team fails, then it is the responsibility of the leader to reassess why they failed and put them in a position to succeed. The leader's attitude plays a huge role in team leadership, especially when it comes to dealing with challenges.

The leadership tools learned through training, combat, from a course or from experience all contribute to the success or failure of the team. This has an application to business as well. If the leader is weak, the team will be hesitant to follow them or support the decisions they make.

There can be no leadership when there is no team

3 - Believe in the mission

This principle digs into the leader's opinion of a particular mission or goal. Specifically, that if a leader does not believe in the mission, then neither will the team. Even if the leader is pretending to be on board with the plan, their disbelief shows through in their attitude.

Leaders must take extreme ownership over the mission regardless of how they feel about it. This means being the one to champion the objectives regardless of personal feelings. Leadership isn't always about having your way, often leaders must follow as often as they lead.

Leaders must always operate with the understanding that they are part of something greater than themselves and their own personal interests.

4 - Leaders must check the ego

Leaders must leave their egos behind for good. There is no place for leaders to allow how they might be perceived or what their role is or any of the trivial things your ego tells you to worry about. Leaders cannot have the mission clouded by personal egos.

Learning to understand why this principle matters can take a long time and a lot of effort. Grasping the concept is key to success however. You must be able to lay aside your personal feelings to accomplish the goal.

Ego clouds and disrupts everything. Leaders must leave their ego at the door

5 - Cover and move principles

This principle is about teamwork within and between departments and teams. They must be able to work together and cover for each other so that they can succeed not only as individual teams but as a collective team. If one member of the team is bogged down, other members must cover for them until they can reposition. Then the original member needs to cover so the teammates can move forward as well. Wor

king together in this way ensures the team can all move forward together. The same holds true in business as well. One department might need to cover another during a time or transition. Everyone must play as a team in order to win.

Teamwork is required to accomplish the mission, if the team wins, everyone wins. If the team loses, everyone loses

6 - Leaders must keep it simple

Complexity compounds issues, especially in times of crisis. The plan must be simple so that when things go wrong, the team still understands the basic functions of the mission. This allows leadership at the lowest levels to make better choices even amidst bad circumstances because the plan was simple from the start.

If the team can understand the objectives set forth by the leader, they will execute the plan far better. This can be accomplished through training, technology or experience. Regardless of how the team is looped in, they must be bought in.

Simplify the mission, if people don't understand they can't execute

7 - Prioritize and execute as a team

This extreme ownership principle is about handling challenges in the moment, especially at times when things are overwhelming. If you had properly executed the previous principle of 'simple' then put things in their proper place with their proper weight and go from there. Don't be afraid to assign some tasks to the back burner as you focus on the mission.

If you are the one everyone is looking at to make a decision, then making a decision is the key to surviving. The same holds true in business. While the decisions are not life and death like in combat, the decisions are vitally important. The team will lean on your guidance and expertise to guide them through to the goal.

Relax, look around, make a call

8 - Decentralized leadership command

Pushing decision making ability down to the lowest possible level is critical to the success of the team. Front line leaders that are bought in, clued in and able to make decisions makes teams highly agile. This gives your team a competitive advantage in your mission because they can react quickly without much oversight or bureaucracy.

Constant training, going over the plan or mission and creating understanding amongst the whole team is how to get everyone to think like a leader. If everyone fully understands the plan and the decisions that made that plan, they can execute it better.

Everyone leads, the team must understand what to do and why, don't wait for orders, lead

9 - Learning the plan and taking extreme ownership

Effectively executing a plan, starts with the planning process itself. With the previous principle in mind, loop in the lowest level of leadership to as much of the plan as you can. Not everyone needs to know everything, but everyone knowing something can be the difference between success and failure. Not to mention buy in from the team. The more they know, the more they buy into the mission.

If the whole team can buy into the mission the chances of success increase greatly. The more the team understands the better they can execute.

Giving frontline leaders ownership of even a small piece of the plan gives them buy in and better enables them to believe in the mission which translates to far more effective implementation and execution on the ground.

10 - Leading up and down the chain of command

Effective leaders must lead up as well as down the chain of command with extreme ownership in mind. If you find yourself frustrated by your boss's inability to make a decision or make the decision you want them to, take ownership of it. How can you change how you presented the need for this decision? How could you more clearly convey why you need what you need?

If your boss isn’t making a decision in a timely manner, or providing necessary support for you and you team, don’t blame the boss – first blame yourself

11 - Decisiveness amid uncertainty

Leaders, at the core of their responsibilities, are there to make choices. This is even more critical in times of uncertainty. Leaders cannot afford to be indecisive as their teams look to them to be the calming presence in times of trouble. We wrote extensively in our article on leadership characteristics if you want to go more in depth on this topic.

Good leaders don't make excuses, they figure out a way to get it done and win

12 - Discipline equals freedom

This last extreme ownership principle is our favorite. What it's saying is that when you are disciplined to do the right things and be the kind of leader you need to be, you are free. You are free mentally from so many of the challenges that plague other leaders. You are free to pursue what you want to pursue because you are disciplined to accomplish everything else that is required of you.

Discipline equals freedom

While we did our best to paraphrase these extreme ownership principles, there is so much value in the concepts detailed in Extreme Ownership, to do it justice, we highly recommend you read their book. Like we mentioned before, we think the audiobook is incredible because Jocko and Leif read it themselves. There is just something extra to be gained hearing them tell their story in their own words that physical books just can't match!

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The Leadership Mission
The Leadership Mission

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