Extreme Ownership: Summary Review & Takeaways

This is a summary review of Extreme Ownership containing key details about the book.

What is Extreme Ownership About?

Extreme Ownership shows how to apply the mindset and principles that enable SEAL units to accomplish some of the most difficult missions in combat to any team, family, or organization. This book revolutionizes business management and challenges leaders everywhere to fulfill their ultimate purpose: lead and win.

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Who is the Author of Extreme Ownership?

Leif Babin is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Echelon Front, where he serves as President and Chief Operating Officer, leadership instructor, speaker, and strategic advisor to companies and business leaders across the civilian sector. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Leif served thirteen years in the U.S. Navy, including nine years in the SEAL Teams.

John Gretton "Jocko" Willink is an American author, podcaster, and retired United States Navy officer who served in the Navy SEALs and is a former member of SEAL Team 3.

What are the main summary points of Extreme Ownership?

Here are some key summary points from the book:

  • Great leaders own everything in their world. They check their ego, admit mistakes, and take full responsibility for failures.
  • Often, an imperfect decision is better than no decision at all. Indecisiveness can lead to procrastination, overthinking, sudden impulsive actions, and of course, missed opportunities.
  • There are no bad teams, only bad leaders. Your team’s performance and results ultimately fall on your shoulders.
  • As a leader you want to enjoy the process of improving and pushing the standards higher. And then inspire your team to do the same.
  • As a leader you must always operate with the understanding that you are part of something greater than yourself and your own personal interest. Great leaders keep their ego in check.
  • As a result of the previous point, great leaders put their team ahead of their own self-interest, and their mission ahead of their own comfort.
  • Tackling every problem at once is ineffective. Instead, good leaders prioritize problems/goals and execute them one at a time.
  • Executing everything at once leaves you and your resources spread very thin.
  • You can’t make people listen to you and make them execute. You have to lead them. You must explain not just what to do, but why you are doing it.
  • Great leaders avoid blaming. When you blame or deny, you are less likely to learn and grow from it.
  • Leadership requires finding equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities, between one extreme and another. A great leader is someone who is...
    ..confident but not cocky;
    ..courageous but not foolhardy;
    ..competitive but a gracious loser;
    ..attentive to details but not obsessed with them;
    ..strong but has endurance;
    ..a leader and also a follower;
    ..humble but not passive;
    ..aggressive but not overbearing;
    ..quiet but not silent;
    ..calm but not robotic;
    ..logical but not devoid of emotions.
  • As a leader, you will inevitably face failure. How you adapt and respond to it is essential to becoming successful in the long term.
  • Avoid taking credit for your team’s successes — great leaders share the limelight.
  • If you think you are always right, you are less likely to listen. Furthermore, if something goes wrong, your tendency will be to blame and not be accountable.
  • Great leaders refuse to tolerate poor performance or compromise their long-term mission for short-term gains. They use consequences whenever necessary.
  • Great leaders have high conviction about the purpose of their mission, their goals, and their plans. They know they must first believe in their mission before they communicate it to others.
  • Great leaders collaborate with other leaders on common objectives, ones that support and help everyone elevate.
  • Knowing how to balance and minimize risk can spell the difference between a failed investment of resources and a successful one.
  • Extreme Ownership, although simple, is not easy to adopt. It requires a real commitment.

What are key takeaways from Extreme Ownership?

Takeaway#1. Taking Responsibility for Failures

Leaders, business or otherwise, are called to take responsibility for the failures (as well as successes) of everything they are in charge of as, ultimately, everything that goes wrong comes down to the leader. When you as a leader accept that principle, you become a better leader.

Today, though, few of our leaders, business or political, have the courage to apply this principle, preferring to pass the buck by blaming the mistake on individuals within the team or circumstances outside of their control.

Jocko Willink, the author of Extreme Ownership, gained insight into this philosophy when his unit was under heavy fire from what he thought were enemy insurgents, but who turned out to be another SEAL unit. A soldier died because of this mistake and Jocko, the ranking officer in charge of the operation, knew he had to take full responsibility.

You might think that owning up to a dreadful mistake could mean you lose your job, but as Jocko found out, by taking responsibility you can actually save your job and become a better leader; it means you are willing to take constructive criticism and learn from the mistake.

It erodes the trust of an entire team when a leader doesn't exhibit the courage to take responsibility, which ultimately leads to unrest, the team unable to work together effectively. They themselves don’t shoulder the responsibility with the mentality of “if my boss won’t take the blame, why should I?”which spreads right on down the chain of command.

Takeaway#2. Understanding the Why Is Crucial

To successfully execute a plan suggested by a peer or someone in a role senior to your own, you first have to fully understand its importance and the why behind it. This means being less defensive and biting back any negative exclamations when the plan is first raised and taking the time to understand why the plan is being suggested, especially if it’s a plan you don’t agree with or believe in.

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Jocko Willink had to bite back his gut reaction of “hell no” when he was told that his elite team of SEALs would be fighting side-by-side with the poorly trained, ill-equipped, and occasionally disloyal Iraqi army. Instead of kicking up a fuss and speaking out against the order, he considered why it was being implemented. Turns out, it was a strategic move to allow the US forces to eventually withdraw from Iraq. Once Jocko understood this, realizing that the order was part of a greater strategic goal of the organization, he could get on board with the plan, convince his team to also believe in the plan, and execute it.

It’s no different in a business environment. Openly voicing your concerns about a plan only creates fallout within the team, which ultimately leads to the inability to execute a plan. If you’re part of a big organization, remember that you as a leader are just one cog in the wheel and that you and your team are part of something much bigger; ask your superiors, away from the team, why something has been actioned (in a curious rather than dismissive way), and you’re one step closer to being a good leader.

Takeaway#3. Your Allies Are Your Support Network

How often have you been so focused on your own problems, head buried deep in the sand, that you haven’t looked up and asked for help from someone standing close by?

The Navy SEALs have a foundational team tactic of “cover and move,” which means that everyone has to work together and support the other people to achieve success. In the business world, this means always ensuring that you have 1 eye on the mission and 1 eye on the bigger picture, but also that you don’t blame something on another team within the company (the marketing team blaming the sales team and vice versa).

Leif Babin learned this the hard way after his unit got caught deep in enemy territory without backup. He was so focused on the objective to “evacuate without injury” that he thought the only way out was to risk walking the team through the city of Ramadi in broad daylight. He later found out that there had been another SEAL team close by who could have provided cover, but in the intensity of the moment he had forgotten that they might be able to help.

Takeaway#4. Set Clear Priorities, Even When Under Pressure

What should a leader do when they’re under extreme pressure with a number of unexpected problems cropping up at once?

The answer is to remain calm and figure out the best plan of action using the principle “prioritize and execute,” which essentially means you pause, assess the situation calmly, evaluate your highest priority, and then communicate the order of priority to the team in a clean and concise manner.

As a leader, you may seek input from leaders around you on how to solve the problem before you get the team to execute the plan of action. It’s important to remember that you cannot tackle every problem at once, so you prioritize and focus on fixing one thing at a time. But also remember that priorities can change, so your team always needs to be kept in the loop.

Leif Babin experienced multiple unexpected problems one night in Ramadi when they were deep within enemy territory without backup. The SEAL team had just successfully left one building (which had a bomb at the exit) and were moving onto what they thought was the roof of the building next door. But it wasn’t a roof ; it was a tarpaulin. One of the SEALs fell through the tarp leaving himself injured in the 20 foot fall and exposed to the enemy. As the unit commander, Leif Babin applied the “prioritize and execute” principle, deciding that his first priority was the team’s security. Next, he needed to get to the injured SEAL, and last of the immediate priorities was to get a headcount of his team.

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Takeaway#5. Identify and Mitigate Risks Ahead of Time

A responsible leader is always prepared for unexpected hazards and accounts for all known possible risks when preparing a comprehensive plan and outlining it to the team so that everyone knows what to do if things start to go crazy.

Thanks to Leif Babin’s ability to identify and mitigate risks ahead of time, he didn’t need to postpone an operation to rescue an Iraqi hostage when it was discovered, moments before the team left, that the hostage was not only surrounded by explosives but bunkered machine guns too.

Unfortunately, you can’t prepare for the unknown, but when leaders have a plan for the possible risks that they do know about( or can imagine), the chance of success is high. In general, if you can still answer “yes “ to the question, “Would you still have executed this plan after discovering X Y Z risks?” you’re doing things right.

Takeaway#6. Don’t Resent Interference by Superiors

If you think your supirior is interfering or pestering you with stupid questions, perhaps even trying to micromanage you, it’s probably because you haven’t given them the information that allows them to know you’re in control of the situation.

Jocki Willink would frequently have Leif Babin bursting into his office asking why their commanding officer was pestering him, asking stupid questions, when he was already so busy on other things.

Jocki told Leif it was because he (Leif) wasn’t keeping the commanding officer informed about his operations with sufficiently detailed reports and updates. He explained that their commanding officer wasn’t psychic and was asking questions to get the information he needed, so that he could approve Leif’s plans and allow him to execute the missions.

The same problem arises in the business world, too, with leaders often feeling upset and annoyed by a lack of support from their superior when making decisions. Instead of blaming someone in a role senior to your own, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have given your superior the critical information they need.

Remember, good leaders are responsible for passing on critical information not only down the line to their team, but also up the line of command.

Book details

  • Print length: 320 Pages
  • Audiobook: 9 hrs and 33 mins
  • Genre: Leadership, Business, Nonfiction

What are the chapters in Extreme Ownership?

Chapter 1: Extreme Ownership
Chapter 2: No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
Chapter 3: Believe
Chapter 4: Check the Ego
Chapter 5: Cover and Move
Chapter 6: Simple
Chapter 7: Prioritize and Execute
Chapter 8: Decentralized Command
Chapter 9: Plan
Chapter 10: Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
Chapter 11: Decisiveness Amidst Uncertainty
Chapter 12: Discipline Equals Freedom-the Dichotomy of Leadership

What are good quotes from Extreme Ownership?

"Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.

“Discipline equals freedom." (Meaning)

― Jocko Willink, Extreme Ownership Quotes

What do critics say?

Here's what one of the prominent reviewers had to say about the book: “Leif and Jocko are the real deal. I’m honored to have served with them. They led SEALs in the fight through the hell that was the Battle of Ramadi. This book shows how they did it.” — Marcus Luttrell, U.S. Navy SEAL and #1 national bestselling author of Lone Survivor

* The summary points above have been concluded from the book and other public sources. The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any published quotes, chapters, or takeaways

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Chief Editor

Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.

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