There is a certain frustration that we sometimes feel when the actions and behaviors of others seem to be preventing us from living a productive life and achieving our goals. That frustration can even build to the point where we throw up our hands, and say, “See! There’s no way to be successful when I’m dealing with THAT.” What’s left is a feeling of helplessness, and we find ourselves spending more time and effort pointing the finger than actually solving the problem. Because, why bother?
Enter Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, co-authored by two former Navy SEALs, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. While the book is primarily targeted at business leaders, its principles are applicable to personal life as well and are a powerful answer to the helplessness and finger-pointing described above. Here are a few takeaways from three of my favorite chapters in the book:
A true leader does more than simply take responsibility. He takes extreme ownership for everything in his world, including the problems and their solutions. He looks in the mirror when things go wrong, and seeks to improve. This principle applies to all of us, whether at work, in school, or in relationships. Often our default reaction to challenges and failures is to blame our circumstances or the people around us. But this is the reality: making excuses is the best way to never get any better. Additionally, our excuses leave us constantly feeling frustrated as they, by definition, remove power from us.
No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
It's not what you preach, it's what you tolerate. When we start accepting substandard performance from ourselves, or from those we are responsible for leading, that level of performance becomes the new norm. Leaders should never be satisfied. They should always be striving to improve, and they should instill that mindset in their team. To accomplish this, we must be brutally honest in assessing our own performance, as well as that of our teams, and come up with a plan to combat weaknesses.
You cannot be effective in accomplishing the mission if you don't believe in what you are doing. This sounds trite, but how often do we just blindly obey some instruction that we don't understand or agree with because it's the easiest path? If your boss gives you an order you don't understand or think is wrong, you need to first make an effort to understand it, and then ask for clarification if the reasoning still doesn't make sense to you. You cannot be effective or expect to lead others well if you don't believe in what you are doing. If the leader does not believe in the mission, he will not take the risks necessary to overcome the challenges and execute the mission. Additionally, those under him will sense his lack of belief and they will lose confidence.
Ultimately, leadership is about influencing others in order to achieve the team's mission. A true leader strives for excellence. He builds relationships, helps others, deflects credit when things go well and takes ownership when things go poorly.
I’ve read a large number of personal development and leadership books over the last few years and most of them are forgettable and mediocre. Of all those books, Extreme Ownership has been the one that by far has most transformed my mindset when dealing with challenges. Jocko also produces a weekly podcast that is even better than the book, in my opinion. I can’t recommend this book enough to any of you who want to be better leaders and lead a more disciplined life in pursuit of excellence.