Book Review: Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

Author: Jocko Willink & Leif Babin
Hardcover: 320 pages

Favorite Quotes:

“A true leader is not intimated when others step up and take charge”
“As a leader it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate”

Extreme Ownership Book Summary & My Takeaways

If you are interested in a top leadership book, I would highly recommend you buy Extreme Ownership. I have a feeling that I will be reading and referring back to this book many times.

Two former Navy SEAL leaders, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, wrote this book in which they describe leadership tactics used during battle and how to apply them to business. The book has excellent structure and doesn’t require you have any military knowledge to understand the principles described. Jocko and Leif do an excellent job of explaining military terms and acronyms.

The book goes in to great detail about war and just how awful it really is. Jocko and Leif provide the reader a real sense of what it was like to be in battle in Iraq and more specifically, Ar Ramadi, Iraq.

Extreme Ownership - Ramadi Map

Map of Ar Ramadi, Iraq

This book is much more than battle stories from SEALs in Iraq. Jocko and Leif do a wonderful job at explaining situations they had on the battlefield leadership tactics that were used to win. Each chapter is divided into three parts. First they describe a particular battle or situation that some sort of guiding principle of leadership can be derived form. Second, they clearly define the principle or takeaway from the battle story they just told. After defining the principle, great detail is provided with a true real world example of how the tactics can be used in business. The real world examples come from actual business that Jocko and Leif have consulted through their leadership consulting company, Echelon Front.

Extreme Ownership has twelve chapters and is divided up in to three parts.

Part I: Winning The War Within

Extreme Ownership
No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
Check the Ego

Part II: Laws of Combat

Cover and Move
Prioritize and Execute
Decentralized Command

Part III: Sustaining Victory

Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
Decisiveness amid Uncertainty
Discipline Equals Freedom

If I had to choose the top three principles that I enjoyed the most they would be, ‘No Bad teams, Only Bad Leaders’, ‘Check the Ego’, and ‘Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command’.

Extreme Ownership - Back Cover

No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

This principle in this chapter is that leaders must hold their people to a higher level of standard. They have to recognize that as a leader, “it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate”. This means that you have to set expectations and follow through on those expectations. A leader must also help those that need help. They must give them the tools and resources needed to get better and progress. Alternatively, if an employee or teammate is dragging the team down and not showing signs of improvement, it is important the leader make the ultimate decision to remove them. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team they just don’t know how win or they simply need encouragement. This is why having a great leader can help any team win.

Check the Ego

Ego is often why we compete for a greater cause, to do our best, it is our drive to win. Ones ego can, however, cloud our judgment and cause disruption. Ego prevents us from seeing clearly so we are unable to identify a situation for what is truly is. Personal agendas (ego) can takeover a mission and cause it to fail. How do you check your ego? Admit when you are wrong, take ownership of problems, and develop a plan to overcome any issues that stand between you and the ultimately goal.

Leif provides a business application where he identifies how a leader can handle situations in which their subordinate made a mistake and how that leader can take ownership of that problem.

Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command

This chapter goes in to detail by describing what it means to lead up and down the chain of command. I think most people understand the idea of leading down the chain of command. Leading up the chain of command was a new idea for me. This ultimately means that you need to give your superior the best information you have so that they can make the best decision. They aren’t on your level so they don’t know everything that is going on. It isn’t their job to know everything that is going on with you and your team. It is YOUR job to inform them. This is a direct principle from chapter 1, Extreme Ownership.

About the Authors:

Jocko Willink & Leif Babin served as U.S. Navy SEAL officers in SEAL Task Unit Bruiser through the Battle of Ramadi, some of the toughest urban combat in the history of the SEAL teams. Their task unit remains the most highly decorated special operations unit from the war in Iraq. After returning, Babi and Willink built and led Navy SEAL leadership training for the next generation of SEALs. Then they took those lessons learned form the battlefield and launched Echelon Front, a leadership consulting firm that teaches others to build and lead their own high-performance, winning teams.