Extreme Ownership is a book by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin, both former Navy SEALs and both tough as nails. After leaving the SEALs, they formed a leadership training company, Echelon Front. Extreme Ownership is their leadership training manual.
There has to be a certain amount of admiration for guys who survive one of the toughest training and selection programs on the planet, BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) a 24 week, hell on earth, then multiple deployments to Iraq… So when they decide to write down their thoughts on leadership, it’s probably worth having a flick through.
The book is full of insights and comparisons between life in the SEALs and civilian/business life. Jocko and Leif alternate chapters, which is a clever way of equally dispensing their knowledge.
The overriding principle of the book in Extreme Ownership is the idea is that no matter what happens to you in any aspect of your life, you must take full responsibility for it. While this sounds almost flippant, it holds much more power and depth than first glance.
Jocko illustrates this idea with a personal experience in the SEALs. During an operation in which he was in charge, things went south, and to paraphrase extremely, a ‘blue-on-blue’ occurred (for those who don’t know what that is, a ‘blue-on-blue‘ is military lingo for friendly fire). During the blue-on-blue, there were injuries to multiple friendlies. An investigating officer and other high ranking officials were sent out looking for someone to blame. Jocko’s neck was on the line.
Jocko was tasked with detailing exactly what happened during the operation, and proceeded to evaluate every detail. It turned out there were multiple reasons for the event. Mistakes had been made up and down the chain of command, ranging from an ambiguous communication plan to the location of friendly forces not being reported, plus many more. All these culminated in the blue-on-blue disaster.
Jocko had all the details he needed for the report, but could not identify a single point of failure. After deliberating the facts, he realised that even though there were multiple errors from different people, responsibility ended with him. He owned it, reported that to his superiors – despite the implications to his career and ego – and kept his career and ego in on one piece.
Here’s Jocko telling the story (much better) himself:
“Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.” Jocko Willink
Take ownership of everything in your world
What this book achieves is a sense of personal power. That through hard work, mental strength and focus, anything can be accomplished. And unsuprisingly for a book about leadership, it really instils the reader with a deep sense of how important leadership is, not just in the military and business worlds, but in day-to-day life. With your family and your friends.
While it may be written by two former Navy SEALs, there is still a sense of application to the ‘real’ world. And props to the authors for managing to achieve that. Jocko has now become a firm favourite of mine and I listen to his podcast religiously. His somewhat intimidating military delivery (and “I look like a serial killer” his words, not mine) has actually become a soothing presence during my daily workouts and his insights are more valuable and profound than many podcasters out there. I am now aware that the book review has turned into a ‘Jocko’ review (did I mention he’s also a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt?)…
Get after it. Don’t make excuses.