Extreme Ownership: Training Managers to Lead and Win

Author Harrison Uffindell, 7 months ago |

Written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, “Extreme Ownership” offers strong leadership principles from two navy SEALS who led the special operation unit during the Iraq war. The insights that they shared, although arising from strict military tactics, can also be applied by the managers of today’s companies and businesses.

Babin leads a unit that reports to Willink and together, they shared several battlefield stories that solidified their approach to leadership. Willink and Babin then instituted a SEAL leadership training method that forged the next generations of SEAL leaders.

Upon departing that role, they launched the company Echelon Front, which teaches military-level leadership to CEOs and managers. They help companies build high-performance teams and conquer their respective battlefields.

The key lessons obtained from the “Extreme Ownership” book are listed below. Applying the key principles of military leadership can revolutionise the way companies are managed. Through this approach, managers are trained to lead and win.

Leadership from Extreme Ownership

The Principle of Extreme Ownership

Extreme Ownership teaches us that managers must always assume extreme ownership of every situation. They must own everything that’s happening in the workplace and their employees. If anything went wrong, there’s nobody else to blame but themselves.

A leader is only as good as his or her team. The book defines a team as a group of people working together to complete a mission. Without a team, there can’t be a manager. The success of managers depends solely on their team.

Effective managers lead high-performing teams that can reach their goals quickly and bring success to the company. On the other hand, ineffective leaders are managers who fail to accomplish the tasks that were assigned to them.

The principle of Extreme Ownership states that leaders cannot blame their subordinates if they fail. Instead, it challenges them to look right into themselves and determine what went wrong. Since managers bear the full responsibility of the task’s execution, they should have total control of what’s supposed to happen.

Managers with an underperforming team should work harder in training and mentoring each member. Leaders have to do what it takes to help their direct reports improve. If all have been done but the employee fails to improve, then the leader must let go of that person and hire somebody else who can do the job. This implies that managers should practice full control of the situation.

The fundamental principle of Extreme Ownership states that there are no bad teams, just bad leaders. Managers must learn to accept total responsibility of their teams. They should own the team’s problems and develop solutions for them.

Teams can deliver exceptional performance if managers work to get everyone focused on a single goal. They should also enforce the highest standards of performance and build a culture of continuous improvement.

Check the Ego

Extreme Ownership also talks about ego clouds and how they can disrupt everything, from the planning process to accepting constructive criticism. Managers have to put their egos in check because it can cloud their judgement to the point that it becomes destructive.

Ego can make managers prioritise their personal agenda over that of the entire team and its goals. When this happens, then the team’s performance suffers, ensuring its failure. Ego also prevents managers from doing a realistic and honest assessment of their personal and team’s performance.

Managers must operate with humility and ownership. They should be ready to admit their mistakes and develop a plan to address the challenges that the team faces. Egotistic managers tend to put the blame on their subordinates instead of themselves.

Prioritise and Execute

SEAL combat leaders follow a protocol called ‘Prioritise and Execute’. In simple terms, it means “Relax, look around and make a call.” It’s important for leaders to remain calm when making decisions so they’ll come up with the best path forward.

Prioritise and Execute also means managers must think ahead when planning so as to provide solutions to problems before they arise. Managers should perform careful contingency planning even under pressure. They should know about the challenges that may possibly arise during the execution of the plan.

The principle of Prioritise and Execute can be applied to businesses, teams and organisations by allowing managers to evaluate what problems require the highest priority and develop a plan on how to solve it. The manager must direct the execution of the solution, focusing all team efforts toward it.

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Decentralised Command

The concept of decentralised command, when applied in a business model, states that managers should be empowered to make decisions on the key tasks that are necessary to reach the team’s goals in the most efficient manner possible. Managers should be free to create smaller teams if it makes the execution more effective.

Managers must mentor the junior leaders well to align their goals with the rest of the team. They must clearly understand what they should do and why they’re doing it.

But aside from knowing what the goal is and having a roadmap to get there, managers must be assured of the complete trust of their superiors. Without it, they can’t confidently execute the plan or do what is expected of them.

Managers should also constantly communicate and convey the necessary information to their subordinates so that they become aware of what’s happening on the other end. Junior leaders, if they exist, must do the same thing to their respective teams.

Decentralised command is crucial to every team’s success, regardless of the industry they’re in. Managers must make critical decisions to fuel their team towards success. But then, managers should also explain the boundaries of their power in a clear, concise and simple manner.

Managers must learn to trust their subordinates and allow them to do what they do best. Trust plays a crucial role here. Managers should trust that their subordinates will do the right thing. In the same way, the subordinates should also trust that their managers will support their decisions.

But then, trust can’t be achieved overnight nor blindly given. People build and nurture it over time. Managers can only enjoy trust and a good sense of leadership if they foster a good working relationship in the workplace.

Leading Up the Chain

The ‘Leading Up the Chain’ principle from “Extreme Ownership” applies to managers that report to somebody higher in rank. Oftentimes, a manager’s actions rely solely on the decision of their bosses. While the manager’s hand seems tied in certain a situation, it is still not right to simply blame the boss.

Instead, managers must seek ways to convey the information necessary for their boss to make the decision. Managers must not dwell on their limited authority but use their position to communicate and influence the decision-makers of the company.

Instead of blaming the upper management, managers should support their bosses. After all, they have the resources needed to allocate the assets that you need to execute a plan. You need their support to rally your team to achieve whatever goal they need to accomplish.

When leading up the chain, managers must use respect and caution. They should do what’s necessary to educate, clarify, convince or influence the upper management. Take responsibility by showing your bosses what to do instead of waiting for them to tell you what you should do.

Extreme Ownership Leadership

Discipline Equals Freedom

Discipline is a very crucial management skill and it works not just individually but also for the entire team. For starters, the team should employ disciplined standard operating procedures, so they’ll have more freedom to do the things that they should do.

With discipline, managers can execute faster and more efficiently. If each person in the team exercises self-discipline, the team becomes more tightly knit, which is necessary to win and excel. That’s why discipline becomes the pathway to freedom.


After reading this book, readers will realise that every workplace issue is actually a management issue. The success of the company is reliant on the success of the team. For a team to be successful, their manager should train every member well.

The book also shows us that managers should always look at the mirror and assess themselves. They must assume responsibility for whatever is happening in their team, the workplace and the rest of the organisation.

Extreme Ownership is a must for every manager who wants to become more empowered. It teaches managers leadership, how to take action, take the blame, check their ego and deliver their team towards success with no excuses.