As a former Navy SEAL officer, Jocko Willink, along with Leif Babin, has led some of the highest-performing military teams in history. Their book “Extreme Ownership” highlights the powerful leadership principles they learned in their time with SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser during the Battle of Ramadi in Iraq. In this post, we’ll explore some of the key concepts from their book and how they can be applied in different contexts (hint: this stuff isn’t just for former navy seals!) – from the corporate workplace to the home office in a remote job to the role of a stay-at-home mom and housewife!
But first, let’s cover the Extreme Ownership Principles.
12 Extreme Ownership Principles
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s book “Extreme Ownership” outlines a set of 12 powerful leadership principles that can help leaders achieve high-performance teams. These principles were developed based on their experiences as Navy SEAL officers during the Battle of Ramadi in Iraq. This isn’t just another leadership book – Extreme Ownership goes deep into tangible ways to level up as a leader. Let’s explore each principle in depth:
- Extreme Ownership
Extreme Ownership is the fundamental principle of effective leadership. It means taking full responsibility for the team’s performance, not just for your own actions but for the actions of your team. Leaders must own everything in their world, from the successes to the failures. When things go wrong, it is the leader’s responsibility to take the necessary actions to correct them. By taking extreme ownership, leaders create an environment of trust and accountability that is necessary for the team’s success.
- No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
This principle emphasizes that the leader is responsible for the team’s performance, and there are no bad teams, only bad leaders. Leaders must take ownership of their team’s performance and identify what they need to improve to achieve their mission. This principle highlights the importance of the leader in creating an environment where everyone is working together towards a common goal. No one is just “a member of the team” – each individual is a core component of the team success.
Belief is essential for effective strong leadership. Leaders must believe in their team’s abilities, in their mission, and in their own abilities as a leader. This principle emphasizes the importance of having a positive attitude and a strong sense of confidence in one’s abilities to achieve success.
- Check the Ego
Leaders must check their ego and put the team’s needs before their own. This principle highlights the importance of humility and the ability to admit mistakes. Leaders must be willing to listen to their team members, accept feedback, and adapt to changes in the environment.
- Cover and Move: TeamWork
This principle emphasizes the importance of teamwork. Leaders must work with their team to achieve the mission by covering and moving together. Cover and move is a military tactic where one team provides cover while the other moves, and then they switch. This principle highlights the importance of working together as a team to achieve the mission.
- Keep It Simple
Leaders must keep things simple. This principle emphasizes the importance of clarity and simplicity in communication and planning. Leaders must communicate their plan clearly and concisely to their team members, and avoid unnecessary complexity.
- Prioritize and Execute
Leaders must prioritize their tasks and execute them in order of importance. This principle highlights the importance of focusing on the highest priority task first and executing them in a timely manner. Leaders must also be able to balance competing priorities and make difficult decisions in a timely manner.
- Decentralize Command
Leaders must decentralize command and empower their team members to make decisions. This principle emphasizes the importance of trust and delegation. Leaders must give their team members the necessary tools and guidance to make decisions and take action.
Leaders must plan ahead and be prepared for any situation. This principle highlights the importance of preparation and contingency planning. Leaders must anticipate potential problems and develop plans to address them.
- Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
Effective leadership requires leaders to lead up and down the chain of command. Leaders must be able to communicate effectively with both senior and junior leaders. Leaders must be able to provide guidance to junior leaders and take direction from senior leaders. By leading up and down the chain of command, leaders can ensure that everyone is working together towards a common goal.
- Decisiveness amid Uncertainty
Leaders must be able to make decisions quickly and confidently based on the information available to them. This principle emphasizes the importance of decisiveness in uncertain situations. Leaders must be able to make difficult decisions in a timely manner and communicate those decisions to their team members.
- Discipline Equals Freedom
Discipline Equals Freedom is the dichotomy of leadership, meaning that discipline is the path to freedom. This principle emphasizes the importance of discipline in achieving success. Leaders must be disciplined in their actions, decisions, and plans to ensure the team’s success. By being disciplined, leaders can create an environment of trust and accountability that leads to high-performance teams.
Using Extreme Ownership as a Stay-at-Home Mom and Housewife
While the book Extreme Ownership is focused on the military context, its set of principles can be applied in different ways – leadership lessons can be valuable in so many different contexts. As a stay-at-home mom or housewife, you are the leader of your household. In fact, millions of homes all across the world are run by great leaders – moms who operate as COOs and CEOs of their domain. Applying the principles of Extreme Ownership means taking full responsibility for the household’s success or failure.
It means setting the tone for the rest of the family and creating an environment where everyone works together towards a common goal. It also means being disciplined and following a plan that allows you to adapt to changes quickly and make the best decisions for your family. Because at the end of the day – the failure rests on me when things don’t go well.
An example of how I practice extreme ownership as a mom is: recognizing that when my toddlers melt down it is usually on me. Either I haven’t built in enough downtime to their day, I’ve pushed them too hard, we went too long without snacks or hydration, or too long without some wrestling and physical/rough play.
Additionally, when we’re over budget because I ordered takeout too many times this month, I don’t get frustrated with anyone but myself. It is my job as the leader in that domain to ensure I have systems in place (including roles for my husband and kids) to ensure our home life runs smoothly enough that meals are planned for and prepped a certain number of nights.
Laundry piling up? Unending tasks feel overwhelming? It’s not your husband’s fault for not helping enough or your kids’ fault for existing. In my home, the job of managing the home is on me. Therefore, if it’s not running like a well-oiled machine, it is my responsibility to look at the current systems and processes in place and start figuring out how to improve them.
That doesn’t mean I can’t ask for help – in fact, good leaders lean on other people! But I am the person who needs to recognize the problem and start orchestrating a solution – even if part of that solution is: Husband takes the trash out every morning on his way to work, oldest son runs the dishwasher every night before he goes to bed, etc.
Using Extreme Ownership in a Remote Job
In today’s world, many people work remotely, which presents unique challenges for effective leadership. However, leadership development is an important responsibility, whether you work remotely or in a physical office.
Applying the principles of Extreme Ownership in a remote job means taking full responsibility for your performance and not blaming others for substandard performance, just like it does in a physical office. It means setting the tone for the rest of the team and creating an environment where everyone is working together towards a common goal. It also means being disciplined and following standard operating procedures to ensure that you can adapt to changes quickly and make the best decisions for your team’s success. And if your organization isn’t already practicing extreme ownership: set a new standard.
Being remote just means that you’ll need to be more proactive and engaged with your team through virtual communication options like Slack and Google Meet or Zoom. You’ll also need to be depend even more heavily on intelligence gathering – it’s important to aggregate all the contextual information before making decisions, and this can be even harder in a remote environment.
In my remote position as a manger, I work on applying the Extreme Ownership principles in ways that work for our entirely remote work culture:
Tips for Practicing Extreme Ownership in a Remote Work Environment:
- Hold regular, recurring check-ins with other leaders and key players so I’m always aware of what’s going on and so I can help them navigate difficult conversations and decisions.
- Never skip 1:1s with my reports – since there’s no “water cooler” or lunches together, our 1:1 time has to be treated as the most sacred thing at work.
- Ensure all processes and expectations are as thoroughly documented as possible so people can access information they need quickly and effortlessly.
- Don’t shy away from calling last minute meetings when a decision needs to be made quickly.
- Never hold out on addressing poor performance. Do it quickly, transparently, and don’t try to lessen the blow or sweeten it with niceties and fake or forced compliments. Be direct and get it done.
- Fall on the sword when my team messes up: if they missed a deadline or messed up in some big way, at the end of the day, it means I didn’t catch something soon enough, I didn’t have the best processes in place, or I was too distracted to see the signs in advance that the team wasn’t doing well. If I am offering swift feedback, making good decisions, “covering and moving” – then chances are, the team is going to do well. In which case, they get 100% of the credit! When they fail, we talk about what went wrong and what we need to do better, but when it comes to how other people see my teams – I am the fall person. I represent them, for better or for worse.
- Celebrate the wins a little louder. In a remote setting, it can feel like you work in a vacuum. So in order to keep morale up it’s vital to shed light on the good work your team does so that other teams and departments can see it. You can achieve this with a “praise” channel or a kudos system in Slack, or a thoughtful shoutout in an All Hands meeting, or something fun like a meme/funny award they all use in their Google Meet or Zoom backgrounds for a week.
It’s All About You
At the end of the day, Extreme Ownership is all about taking ownership of your actions and decisions, and creating an environment where everyone is working together towards a common goal. By applying these principles, you can become a better leader in whatever context you find yourself in – whether you’re a CEO, a manager, a mom, a housewife, or a shift leader in the service industry.