Extreme Ownership Book Summary

Being a leader sometimes leads to extreme situations. An example is having the task of securing the city of Ramadi in the Iraq War–one of many violent battles in the Middle Eastern nation.

This summary is sourced from the insights of two Navy Seal unit leaders who were stationed in Ramadi and their ability to save their troops by how well they took charge in the battlefield.

You may think how on earth this could be relevant to you if you’re not part of the military. However, the values and tenets that these Navy Seal soldiers holds true for every teams and companies who want to succeed in difficult tasks and challenging missions.

You will learn to lead and become victorious with military strategies like “prioritize and execute.” and “cover and move.”

You will also learn…

How taking blame can help you keep your job.

Why groups in a company must work together than compete with each other; and

Why getting faced with machine guns and grenades is not a reason to give up on a mission.

Being A Leader Means Taking Full Responsibility For The Failures of Each Member Of The Team

Jocko Willink was one of the Navy Seal soldiers stationed in Ramadi, Iraq in 2012 as a commander when he and his team were met with an outburst of heavy fire from what seemed to be mujahedeen–enemy insurgents. However, it was later revealed that the attack did not come from the mujahadeen. It was in fact another Navy Seal unit. And in the midst of the friendly fire, a soldier died.

Jocko Willink was the ranking officer in charge and he was only sure of one thing: the whole disaster was his fault. By taking full responsibility, he was actually still able to keep his job.

His superiors understood something many business leaders don’t–all leaders make mistakes, but only the best ones own up to them. This was the reason he was still the commander of his unit after that.

There is much importance in highlighting the attitude of the commander during worst-case-scenario trainings that the soldiers go through. Units that underperform in such operations often have leaders who put the blame on the situation, subordinates, and the soldiers themselves. Another way to put it is failing missions by not taking responsibility.

On the flip side of the coin, Navy Seal units that excel in training are headed by commanders who fully take blame, ask constructive criticism, and take extensive notes on how to do their job better.

When people in charge do not take responsibility, the effects become detrimental. As in Willink’s case, if a Navy Seal commander blames a fiasco to everyone except himself, subordinates start to copy this bad attitude. This leads to the whole group to become ineffective and unable to carry out missions.

Teams like this just end up passing the blame to anyone but themselves and as a result, no problems are solved. Leaders who take responsibility have subordinates who imbue this virtue resulting to a company that is accountable for its actions all across the employee board.

To Execute A Mission Successfully, You Must See It’s Importance

When Willink was told by his superiors that the Iraqi army would be fighting alongside his perfectly trained SEAL team, he thought “hell no.” He did not think the Iraqis were properly trained, and they were also horribly equipped and every now and then disloyal to their American colleagues.

Even so, he kept silent and did not share his cynical thoughts to his troops. Why?

He did not want to speak out against the move. He thought there must be a reason why it was decided. As things turned out, merging the Iraqi army and the Navy Seals was a move to withdraw the US forces from Iraq in due course. Upon knowing this, he believed in the move and started to convince his troops too.

He started to pass his conviction to his soldiers. They began to understand the assigned mission and committed to it and execute it properly.

If Willink had turned down the mission then and there, giving outright backlash to his units, his troops would have seen him negatively after the mission. Doing so, even when he would change his mind at the end, would make his troops think negative thoughts and doubts towards him, and the whole mission could have failed.

Another way to put it is whether you’re the leader of a military troop or a company, you need to have faith and become a believer and support the decisions of  your team. Receiving an order that might seem questionable to you should not garner instant rejection from you, rather, consider how it might align with the bigger picture and the goal at large for the whole organization.

At the end of the day, as a boss, you are part of a larger unit than just you and your team. Not understanding why you’re asked to do something means you have to look deeper for the answers for the decisions. Asking questions to your higher-ranks why a decision was implemented may seem daunting, but failing to understand a strategy damages your sense of responsibility–something a leader must steer clear of under any circumstance.

What’s Next?

Now that you know what the Extreme Ownership book is all about, let’s take a deep dive into the biggest key insights and how you can apply them to get the results you truly want in your life.


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