Extreme Ownership

(this post was previously seen on Benoitfoucher.com)

Amazon Link Here

This book has triggered many thoughts and aha moments for me. I think, especially as a man, many of us can get more confidence and leadership using the lessons they describe. Here are some notes to illustrate why.


  • Listen to the interview of the author, Jocko Willing, with Tim Ferriss here.

Extreme Ownership. How US Navy SEALS Lead and Win. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

To understand the following notes, this book takes example from the battlefield with inspiring stories and then apply the same lessons in the business world. 

Chapter 1: Extreme Ownership

Right in our face, just from the beginning:

Only one person to blame that had gone wrong in the operation: me.

Vs excuses or justifications!

When we think we do the right things:

“I always thought I was a good leader. I always been in leadership positions”, said one of the leader they coached. 


“That might be one of the issues: in your mind you are doing everything right.

So when things go wrong, instead of looking at yourself, you blame others.

But no one is infaillible. With Extreme Ownership , you must remove individual ego and personal agenda.

It’s all about the mission.

How can you best get your team to most effectively execute the plan in order to accomplish the mission? “I continued. “That is the question you have to ask yourself. That is what Extreme Ownership is all about. “”

Something I would consider changing how they say it, while I get their point: 

What am I doing wrong as a leader?

It all starts right here with you [..] You must assume total ownership of the failure to implement your new plan. You are to blame. And that is exactly what you need to tell the board.

I agree with the advice, not with the “must”, “blame” parts. This calls for a right and wrong mindset, which is not good for Peak Performance in my opinion. Anyway, acknowledging our mistakes, yes, definitely!

Downward Spiral:

When a bad Seal Leader walked into debrief and blamed everyone else, that attitude was picked up by subordinates and team members, who then followed suit. They all blamed everyone else, and inevitably the team was ineffective and unable to properly execute the plan.

[…] In those situations, you end up with a unit that never felt they were to blame for anything. All they did was make excuses and ultimately never made the adjustments necessary to fix problems.

Again, all agreed except the tone of Right and Wrong, associated with blame. 

{Upward Spiral} Now, compare that to the commander who came in and took the blame. He said, “My subordinate leaders made bad calls; I must not have explained the overall intent well enough.” Or, “the assault force didn’t execute the way I envisioned; I need to make sure they better understand my intent and rehearse more thoroughly.

In any case, this is a great story about change of leader that changes the results dramatically = mindset changes everything!  


Chapter 2: No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

Once a culture of Extreme Ownership is built into the team at every level, the entire team performs well, and performance continues to improve, even when a strong leader is temporarily removed from the team.

Like every behaviour, this one is worth reminding ourselves: “Extreme Ownership- good leadership- is contagious”

Now, this one, I would challenge the author, because it’s not always about winning in short term that lies our real victories:

If you aren’t winning, then you aren’t making the right decisions.


A funny expression: Tortured Genius:

No matter how obvious his or her failing, or how valid a criticism, a Tortured Genius, in this sense, accepts zero responsibility for mistakes, makes excuses, and blames everyone else for their failings (and those of their teams).

In their mind, the rest of the world just can’t see or appreciate the genius in what they are doing. An individual with a Tortured Genius mind-set can have catastrophic impact on a team’s performance.



When it comes to performance standards, It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.


In our face again:)

There are no negative repercussions to Extreme Ownership{…} There are only 2 types of leaders: effective and ineffective. Effective leaders that lead successful, high-performance teams exhibit Extreme Ownership. Anything else is simply ineffective. Anything else is bad leadership.


Chapter 3. Believe


A leader must be a true believer in the mission.


Extreme Ownership again:

If you don’t understand or believe in the decisions coming down from your leadership, it is up to you to ask questions until you understand how and why those decisions are being made. Not knowing the why prohibits you from believing in the mission.

It takes courage to go to the CEO and explain that you don’t understand the strategy behind her decisions. You might feel stupid. But you will feel far worse trying to explain to your team a mission or strategy that you don’t understand or believe in yourself. And, as you pointed out, you are letting the boss down because she will never know that her guidance is not being promulgated properly through the ranks. If you don’t ask questions so you can understand and believe in the mission, you are failing your leader as a leader and you are failing your team.


Chapter 4. Check Your Ego

About discipline and why it’s important: 

Discipline in such situation started with the little things: high-and-tight haircuts, a clean shave every day, and uniforms maintained. With that, the more important things fell into place: body armor and helmets worn outdoors at all times, and weapons cleaned and ready for use at a moment’s notice.

Discipline created vigilance and operational readiness, which translated to high performance and success and the battlefield.


When personal agendas become more important than the team and the overarching mission’s success, performance suffers and failure ensues.

[..] Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes[..] and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team. Ego can prevent a leader from conducting an honest, realistic assessment of his or her own performance and the performance of the team.

In the SEAL Teams, we strive to be confident, but not cocky.


As a leader, it is up to you to explain the bigger picture to him, and all your front line leaders. That is the critical component of leadership.


About communication when not happy with someone, very important for any relationship actually:

If you approached it as he did something wrong, and he needs to fix something, and he is at fault, it becomes a clash of egos and you two will be at odds. That’s human nature. But, if you put your own ego in check, meaning  you take the blame, that will allow him to actually see the problem without his vision clouded by ego. Then you both can make sure that your team’s S.O.P- when to communicate, what is and isn’t within his decision-making authority- are clearly understood.

[…]our egos don’t like to take blame. But it’s on us as leaders to see where we failed to communicate effectively and help our troops clearly what their roles and responsibilities are and how their actions impact the bigger strategic picture.


Remember, it’s not about you. It s not about the drilling superintendent. It’s about the mission and how best to accomplish it. With that attitude exemplified in you and your key leaders, your team will dominate.


Chapter 6. Simple

Again, I would not say it this way, and hey, I’m not in the army either!..Still great advice …

When things go wrong, and they inevitably do go wrong, complexity compounds issues that can spiral out of control into total disaster. Plans and orders must be communicated in a manner that is simple, clear, and concise.

[…]You must brief to ensure the lowest denominator on the team understands.

Chapter 7. Prioritize and Execute:

Relax. Look around. Make a call.


A recipe for peak performers during competition, when possible: 

  • Evaluate the highest priority problem
  • Lay out in simple, clear and concise terms the highest priority effort for your team
  • Develop and determine a solution, seek input from key leaders and from the team where possible.
  • Direct the execution of that solution, focusing all efforts and resources towards this priority task.
  • Move on to the next highest priority problem. Repeat.
  • When priorities shift within the team, pass situational awareness both up and down the chain
  • Don’t let the focus on one priority cause target fixation. Maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shift as needed


On the battlefield, if the guys on the front line face-to-face with the enemy aren’t doing their jobs, nothing else matters. Defeat is inevitable.

With all your other efforts-all your other focuses- how much actual attention is being given to ensuring your frontline salespeople are doing the best job possible? How much of a difference would it make if you and the entire company gave them one hundred percent of your attention for the next few weeks or months?

[..]focus on one and when one is completed or at least has some real momentum, then you move on to the next one and focus on it.


Chapter 7. Decentralized Command

Great idea: Humble yet confident.

About teams and how to effectively lead them:

Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than 6 to 10 people, particularly when things go sideways and inevitable contingencies arise.

[..]teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to 5 operators, with clearly designated leaders.

Decentralized command does not mean junior leaders or team members operate on their onw program; that results in chaos. Instead, junior leaders must fully understand what is within their decision-making authority- the left and right limits- of their responsibilities.

To be effectively empowered to make decisions, it is imperative that frontline leaders execute with confidence. Tactical leaders must be confident that they clearly understand the strategic mission and Commander’s Intent.

There are. Likewise, other senior leaders who are so far removed from the troops executing on the frontline that they become ineffective.

Contrary to a common misconception, leaders are not stuck in any particular position. Leaders must be free to move to where they are the most needed, which changes through the course of operation.

                                                A mission statement tells your troops what you are doing. But they have got to understand why they are doing it. When the subordinate leaders and the frontline troops fully understand the purpose of the mission, how it ties into strategic goals, and what impact it has, they can then lead, even in the absence of explicit orders.

 Junior leaders must know that the boss will back them up even if they make a decision that may not result in the best outcome, as long as the decision was made in an effort to achieve the strategic objective.


Chapter 9. Plan

Never taking anything for granted, preparing for likely contingencies, and maximizing the chance of mission success while minimizing the risk to the troops executing the operation.


The mission must explain the overall purpose and desired result, or “end state”, of the operation. The frontline troops tasked with executing the mission must understand the deeper purpose behind the mission.

Get it???!  

The test for a successful brief is simple: do the team understand it?


The best SEAL units, after each combat operation, conduct what we called a “post operational debrief”. No matter how exhausted from an operation or how busy planning for the next mission, time is made for this debrief because lives and future mission success depend on it.


Establishing an effective and repeatable planning process is critical to the success of any team.

The brief laid out the specific details of who, what, when, where, why, and how a combat operation would be conducted.

The true test for the brief is whether the troops execute it.

As leaders we must not get dragged into the details but instead remain focused on the bigger picture.


Chapter 10. Leading Up and Down the chain of command

  • Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world, subordinates and superiors alike
  • If someone isn’t doing what you want or need them to do, look in the mirror first and determine what you can do to better enable this.
  • Don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do.


Chapter 12: Discipline equals freedom- the dichotomy of leadership

About discipline and leadership again, just in case we didn’t get it:)

The best SEALS I worked with were invariably the most disciplined.

They woke up early.

They studied tactics and technology.

They practiced their craft.

Some of them even went out on the town, drank, and stayed out until the early hours of the morning.

But they still woke up early and maintained discipline at every level.



When you have the discipline to get up early, you are rewarded with more free time. […] the more discipline you have to work out, train your body physically and become stronger, the lighter your gear feels and the easier you can move around in it.

The more disciplined S.O.P a team employs, the more freedom they have to practice Decentralized Command and thus they can execute faster, sharper and more efficiently.


The balance btw discipline and freedom must be found and carefully maintained.

[…] in fact discipline IS freedom


Leadership requires to find equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly  contradictory qualities, btw one extreme and another. The simple recognition of this is one of the most powerful tools a leader has. With this in mind, a leader can more easily balance opposing forces and lead with maximum effectiveness.

The dichotomies of Leadership :

A leader must be calm but not robotic. It is normal – and necessary- to show emotion. The team understand that their leader cares about them and their well-being. But a leader must control his emotions. [..] leader who lose their temper also lose respect.

Attentive but not obsessed by details.

Humble but not passive.


Generally when a leader struggles, the root cause behind the problem is that the leader has leaned too far in one direction and steered off course.



The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job.


So, lots of stuff here. My biggest take aways: 

  • Discipline is freedom. Jocko has inspired me to be even more disciplined than before.
  • I love the confidence that speaks through him, he definitely shows he’s the real deal. 
  • Accepting we do mistakes and tell others we did. Then things can shift. 

What’s your take away? Email me if you’d like to share. In any case, let’s build this confidence with discipline!