Extreme Ownership, written by former Navy Seals Leif Babin and Jocko Willink, talks about leadership effectiveness. Leaders who choose to accept accountability for actions are better than those who blame others for mistakes. Babin and Willink talk about why leaders need to take responsibility and what that means for the corporate environment.
The authors discussed some of their failures in the book. One failure came when Willink commanded a SEAL unit in Ramadi, Iraq when his team came under fire. After returning fire, Willink realized that they were taking fire from a friendly unit. This friendly-fire incident killed one soldier.
Willink emphasized ownership over the situation. Since he was in charge, he needed to be accountable. He took full responsibility for the incident, and he was allowed to remain in command. It’s important to realize that leaders are not infallible; rather, good leaders learn from their mistakes and take responsibility when problems arise.
The book also emphasizes how the worst leaders lay blame on those below them, which creates a toxic culture that permits passivity and complaint. Organizations are ineffective when leaders allow blame and complaining.
Priorities are essential. Tasks start to pile up at whatever we’re doing throughout our day. Babin recounted an experience where he had an injured team member, but they were still in enemy territory. Because of competing priorities, Babin decided to keep his team safe then take care of the wounded team member.
Babin goes into depth on this one, and he applies it to the business world. People have tasks and priorities every day. Babin argues that leaders must “relax, look around, make a call.” That’s an essential lesson that Babin gives to readers because we don’t always stop and take stock of what’s happening around us.
Leaders must understand what risks they face on the battlefield. Babin and Willink emphasized this point with several accounts of planning for missions. One mission Babin had included a last-minute intelligence report on fortified positions within buildings on Babin’s target location. Babin had already accounted for those variables and was able to get the mission underway without delay.
Similarly, Babin and Willink apply this to business as leaders project their products. What risks can the company face within the next 1-5 years? These authors talk a lot about how to assess risk.
Extreme Ownership weaves combat experience with business experience. Being in the military, I had more affinity towards the military accounts. However, I saw some valuable leadership advice for daily work rhythms.
First, I liked the author’s interpretation of responsibility. If you make a mistake, fix it. There’s no ambiguity. Responsibility was critical for me because my first job as a lieutenant was humbling. I did not account for my mistakes, and it weakened my ability to lead. If there is nothing that you get from this book, it’s that ownership of problems will exponentially increase your capacity to lead.
Second, I learned about dealing with superiors. Have you had a boss that keeps nagging you for information? I have. It’s not fun. Babin and Willink talk about how your bosses have specific priorities they want to fulfill. If they need essential information, reports, or briefs, then ask. You must take responsibility to ask your boss what they need. It’s not useful for you or your bosses if you keep getting annoyed while you’re trying to work. It boils down to priorities. Ask what your boss wants. Also, be clear to your subordinates about what you want.
Finally, the book talked about coordinating measures with other units. If you don’t take responsibility for that coordination, then you’re liable. Refer back to Willink’s account about his friendly-fire incident. Facilitating conversations with neighboring units was paramount for him and the success of the team. Similarly, business dealings are intricate projects. Ensure you know who to go to when you need help and/or resources.
This book molded me during a difficult time in my early military career. I still refer back to the principles in this book today.
I would put this book in my top five books for everyone to read, not just leaders. Even the people at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole need to understand what to expect from leadership and what they can do to improve their work performances. Extreme Ownership displays a reliable performance of how workplaces should handle responsibility.
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How have you embraced accountability and ownership in your careers? Have you read this book? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Thanks!