ext ownership

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win

Authors: Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

I am often skeptical of military writings and war stories. Without a doubt there are many lessons that can be carried to other sectors – the comparisons to civilian life just make me nervous. My grandfather served in the Korean War, my uncle in the Vietnam War, and my cousin in the Iraq War. I have a great respect for our service members and am cautious to not be impolite.

With that being said, the lessons we can learn are too profound to completely ignore. After numerous recommendations I decided to indulge in Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

We are all familiar with the relationship of one who leads with those who are led. Motivation and direction likely come to mind when reflecting on such relationships. They certainly apply. But what elements allow for the optimization of such a relationship? That is the question Extreme Ownership attacks.

The authors gifted me with 4 main take-aways…

Decentralized Command

A necessary component of large, well-functioning groups, decentralized command provides the framework for optimization. It refers to allowing those being led to possess a level of autonomy.

The opposing command – Centralized Command – defines a dictatorship where all decisions and processes must run through one individual or a small group. In this structure, those in command are kept busy micro-managing the rest of the team and do not have the freedom to do whatever it is they do best.

Additionally, by decentralizing command, those at the top of the organization open the door to nurture great leaders through a trickle down effect as well as promoting extreme levels of…


As made evident through the title of the book, all members of the team must accept a certain level of ownership for their roles and responsibilities. Leaders must take ownership for all that occurs under their control. Additionally, they must instill a sense of ownership within those who lie lower on the ladder.

When all the members of the organization take ownership of the elements they are responsible for new levels of performance can be achieved. We eliminate the process of assigning blame to others – which is nothing more than a waste of the most valuable resource – time.

What do you tolerate?

The full phrase from the book is, “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate”. Take a moment and read that again,

“It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate”.

While my four take-aways certainly complement each other, I have to say this is my favorite. It’s an easy trap to fall into. We can preach all we want but if we don’t both accept accountability and hold others accountable as well, our words will turn into noise and fall on deaf ears.

Ultimately, the culture we create is a product of that which we tolerate. As leaders, the standards we set must be upheld otherwise we run the risk of losing control.

Discipline Equals Freedom

While it may sound counterintuitive at first glance, proper discipline – particularly through standardized operating procedures – cultivates freedom for all involved. When lower-level management has a clear understanding of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ it is much easier for them to perform tasks autonomously and operate under decentralized command. This in turn relieves some of the micro-management that may come from the senior level.

The example from the book discussed to process of evidence collection by the Seals. Prior to any standardized operating procedures the typical “protocol” was a free-for-all ransack of the building. This resulted in too long of a duration spent in hostile territory and often culminated in evidence being left behind and rooms going unchecked.

Recognition of the issue led to the creation of standardized operating procedures. The discipline involved here was initially met with resistance. All parties began to buy-in once it was clear that the collection of evidence could be performed in half the time with virtually zero mishaps.

Within civilian life, discipline begins first thing in the morning. Those who rise out of bed at an appropriate time, make their bed, and proceed to prepare for the day in an appropriate manner are the same ones who benefit from additional freedom throughout their day and once they return home.

Ask Yourself…

What is the state of command?

Where can you increase ownership within your responsibilities?

What do you tolerate?

Do you discipline for the sake of it or to increase freedom?