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Extreme ownership is a set of leadership principles born from the battlefield of the Iraq war that are universally applicable in all forms of leadership, war, business, or government. There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.
Top Lessons Learned
- Extreme Ownership. Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.
- Leadership requires belief in the mission and unyielding perseverance to achieve victory, particularly when doubters question whether victory is even possible.
- The only measures of leadership that matter are success or failure.
- The best leaders are not driven by ego or personal agendas. They are simply focused on the mission and how best to accomplish it.
Principle: On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world.
- It is unacceptable to pass blame onto any subordinate or to make excuses.
- Extreme ownership will have a trickle down effect to everyone in the chain of command.
- Taking these actions will increase trust both up and down the chain of command.
- Applied to an underperformer, it is the leaders job to train that person to get them up to speed. If they cannot, then the leader must demonstrate loyalty to the team and to the mission and let them go.
- Leaders must own the way that they communicate plans and other information, if somebody doesn't understand it's not their fault, it's the leaders.
Principle: There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.
- You cannot leave somebody in who is not willing to take responsibility for their actions and consequences
- If a team isn't grasping something or executing properly then the leader needs to explain it differently or continue to drill.
- Leaders should never be fully satisfied and seeking weaknesses.
- Extreme ownership is the only way to be effective
Principle: Always ask why when you receive orders, you need to understand them so you can lead with conviction.
- It is critical that you understand and that your team understand why a mission is happening or that something needs to happen a certain way.
- If you don't understand why, you won't believe in the mission and if you don't believe in it, you will fail to execute it.
- If a leader does not believe then will not take risks to achieve the mission, they will not effectively convince others to do what is necessary to achieve victory.
- It is the responsibility of the subordinate to ask questions if they don't understand and the leader to be willing to explain until something makes sense.
- Extreme ownership means having the courage to step up and ask questions of leadership.
Principle: Ego clouds everything in leadership and it's impossible to be humble and practice extreme ownership with a big ego.
- Ego is the root of many problems and is something that gets in the way of proper collaboration with others, it leads to complacency.
- Ego on the battlefield can lead to a lack of humility, lack of cohesiveness while working with others, withholding information, and a slew of other issues; it’s not acceptable to put ego over the mission.
- Checking the ego is important for the leader and there subordinate, if giving feedback on something gone won't, take ownership on the fact that you didn't make it clear enough, then provide the feedback and see where things can improve.
- The leader must take the blame and own up, that will help subordinates more effectively talk about improvement.
Principle: Teams must remain agile and with together to cover each other. Cover and move.
- Cover and move in business is all about working together, communicating openly, breaking down silo's and keeping the bigger mission in mind; don't get hyper focused on your own objectives or well being.
- Depend on each other and understand who depends on you.
- Work as a single team and focus on the bigger strategic mission, that is all that matters.
Principle: Leaders must keep all instructions simple and take the time to explain it.
- Simplicity is key to success, simple and direct communication, simple planning, etc. Always try to minimize complexity and confusion to maintain the advantage.
- Briefings must be given so that the lowest common denominator understands.
- Structure communication such that you keep an open forum for questions, everyone must understand the objectives and the mission, it's the leader's job to own this.
- This is also true for developing systems and processes.
- If trying to change behavior, the correlation between action and consequence needs to be extremely clear.
- Simplicity increases adaptability, especially under adverse consequences because "the enemy gets a vote".
Principle: Identify, prioritize and execute on the biggest fires first and foremost.
- Prioritize and execute, or else risk failing at everything simultaneously.
- Prioritizing supports decentralized command structures by making sure that teams know where to direct their efforts.
- Leaders must evaluate the highest priority problem, lay out the solution, seek advice from key advisors, move on to next high priority problem, repeat.
- Maintain the ability to see other problems emerging so you can adapt, don't fall victim to target fixation.
- Leaders must cearly communicate to their team what is highest priority so they can align their time accordingly.
Principle: Information must flow freely throughout an organization so that small, decentralized teams can be empowered to execute.
- Decentralized command works by relying on subordinate, smaller and more manageable teams. Those smaller team leaders have to make decisions, "what I'm going to do" instead of " what do I do?".
- No leader has the capacity to manage every little thing in combat and other complex situations.
- Teams need to understand the bigger mission at play and must have the power to make decisions quickly without beauracracy. This enables the leader to focus on the bigger picture.
- It is important to rely on standard operating procedures as a common language for how things pan out, with specific decisions evolving under changing environmental conditions.
- The ideal team size is 4-5 operators with a leader.
- Situational awareness must be pushed up and down command structures to maximize effectiveness.
- Decentralized command is similar to creating a network effects across teams, tie in to the I/we/it model.
Principle: Have a standardized process for planning which includes clarifying the purpose and a debrief for improving.
- A centralized and standardized planning process is essential, it is critical to always consider risks and their respective management plans.
- The deeper purpose and intent is just as important as the specifics of any plan, this must be communicated.
- Team participation at all levels increases the buy-in and therefore the execution.
- Plans and associated contingency plans should be structured to maximize chances of achieving the mission and minimize risk as much as possible, it is impossible to achieve without some risk so contingencies are critical to push through and adapt.
- Retrospectives after a plan should always be done to continue learning and improving.
- Leaders should make sure they delegate specifics to their subordinate leaders and stay back to keep a broader perspective to stay focused on possible issues and the overall mission.
Principle: Leaders must own and manage up the chain of command and never show dissent as it will destroy the mission.
- It is important for leaders to understand how a mission ties into the broader strategic objectives, this must then be communicated down the chain of command.
- Tactical level operators don't need the full awareness of all details, just like leaders don't need all the boots on ground details, but there should be some basic understanding of the contributions to big picture success.
- If the team is not performing, a leader must look at themselves and how they are explaining things to their teams instead of passing blame to subordinates.
- It's important that leaders also manage up the chain of command, to see things from the higher level leaders eyes. Leaders lead up by pushing situational awareness up the chain as well, owning this step of the process as well.
- If the boss is not making decisions quickly, don't blame them, blame yourself first and ask how you are framing and delivering information up the chain and whether more can be done. Clarify, educate, influence, or report are all things that might be improved.
- A public display of discontent is unacceptable, it introduces mistrust in the chain of command.
- Don't ask leaders what to do, tell them what you're going to do.
Principle: Never let a situation control your decisions by sitting and waiting; user your decisions to control the situation.
- Leaders cannot be paralyzed by indecisiveness. They must choose to act swiftly amidst chaos, with the information they have and be willing to adapt as new information is learned.
- Decisions should be made from past experience, current Intel, and understanding of the situation going in.
- Leaders must be decisive and their teams must know that they will act in this way as it inspired confidence.
- With both Will and Brendan, I should have acted more decisively and taken bold and swift execution of both situations.
Principle: Disciplined procedures allow you to have more time and freedom to be creative when it matters.
- Discipline equals freedom, the more discipline you have the more effective you will be, this works the same for teams.
- Waking up early is one of the best way to make more time, it also starts your day off making a disciplined choice to wake up with the alarm and get out of bed.
- The more disciple a team has, the more they can practice decentralized command. This comes through in standard operating procedures and all the little things.
- A leader must be close with his team to build trust and really know them as people, but not close enough that one person ever becomes more important than another.
- Your decisions should dictate the situation, never let the situation dictate your decisions.