Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink
Started and finished in February 2019
Having Jocko and Lafe read the book makes it very engaging.
Leadership requires vision and belief in the mission, and perseverance to prevail.
This book is about principles, format, and training of leadership.
Relax. Look around. Make a call.
The laws of combat apply to any situation with a team and a mission.
Leadership: the most important part.
There is no leadership without a team. If the team is effective, the leader is successful.
You will fail. You must confront this failure.
The worst situation possible, Ramadi.
Leader ship does not just mean the top… There is leadership at every level.
Winning the war within
Despite all the factors, all the pieces and crazy… I am the commander. I take full responsibility for what happens.
In any team, in any organization, the sole responsibility for success or failure rests with the leader.
Owning your mistakes allows you to face them and make a plan to win.
Consequently, you must pick the right mission.
No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
Story of swapping the boat leaders. It really is that important.
References Col. Hackworth's memoir.
As a leader, it's not what you preach, it's what you tolerate. If you tolerate a substandard performance, that becomes the new standard. You must enforce the standards.
You must foster junior leaders.
You are looking for constant improvement.
Bad leaders show victimization. They blame the environment. They focus on failure rather than the mission.
Good leaders believe winning is possible.
The tortured genius mindset believes no one can see their genius… they are making the right decisions, "but no one can see it."
Leadership is the single greatest factor on the battlefield.
Questioning the mission…
You have to take the time to understand and believe in the mission.
You must persuade your team to believe. You have to take them on the same journey. You have to trust them to understand. Help then see the strategic perspective.
They don't have to rejoice. Them just have to understand.
No one will hand you the why. You have to find it for yourself.
By understanding the mission, you can improvise, adapt, and improve.
In order to convince and inspire and lead others, the believer has to be a true believer. If the leader doesn't believe, they won't take risks for the mission. They have to see themselves as part of something bigger than themselves. You must align your thoughts and words to the mission.
Every leader must be able to detach themselves from the tactical situation and align it to the strategic mission.
If you can't align to the strategy, it's the leaders responsibility to get alignment from their leadership.
A good leader supplies the "why" to their team.
Many leaders think they have an open door policy, think that they have an easy relationship. They forget their position has weight.
Check The Ego
Some spec ops units took advantage of their status in a way that showed disdain towards conventional troops and contempt for their practices.
Bruiser insisted upon keeping their uniforms regulation and their haircuts trim… As a visual sign of solidarity with the conventional troops.
Ego is pride. It lies that you are better, special. That your plan is faultless, people just don't understand it.
The platoon commander let his ego go a little too far. Ego can prevent collaboration. Ego can fight your allies instead of the enemy.
Ego keeps you from taking advice.
Ego prevents you from taking good advice. It can even block self preservation.
The hardest ego to deal with is my own.
When personal agendas block the mission, victory is at risk.
Ego prevents you from recognizing and addressing weakness.
Ego opens your weaknesses to your enemies unaddressed.
Ego can keep you from seeing the world correctly.
Ego can keep your teammates from improvising and improving.
Jocko and Leif often ask the opposite obvious question in order to reset mindset. "Do you think [other person] is out to hurt the mission?" Very powerful tool for realigning the "we" and "them".
The Laws Of Combat
Cover and move: bounding motion. One team provides cover, the other moves and swaps.
Part of cover and move is considering and understanding all of the units in your team.
It's easy to get so focused on your own team that you forget the overall strategy of all units. This is huge.
Cover and move is teamwork. All elements work together. Break down silos. Support each other. Don't forget your buddies. You can forget to look to depend on others.
Blaming is against cover and move. The focus must be on the mission.
We must be willing to take a step back and see how we can support and depend on those around us.
Make those around you a part of your team, not the excuse for your team.
Prepare for combat.
In an urban environment, even a few hundred meters can be dangerous. Don't count on radio in urban.
Calm, clear, concise voice
Greet and thank your leaders for good decisions.
Combat like all of life has layers of complexity. Simplify. Complex plans and orders can confuse. When things go wrong and they will, complex plans will make it worse. Orders must be clear and simple. Everyone must understand their role and the backup plan. It doesn't matter how clear you think you have been, if your team doesn't get it, you haven't kept the orders simple enough. You must make sure that your team feels permission and welcome to ask clarifying questions.
Everything is part of communication to the team, especially compensation.
It's easy to be too close to the complexity of a problem that you can't understand how someone else can't understand it.
People take the path of lead resistance.
Ask yourself... is your complex plan working at all? Why are you still pursuing it?
You can't cover everything in your plan...
Regardless of how you think an operation is going to go, the enemy always gets a vote.
You can't adjust something on the fly that you don't understand.
That huge change came about not by process or tech, but by simple communication.
Prioritize And Execute
Having a routine makes handling emergencies easier.
You have to step back to prioritize.
Headcount is important in emergencies.
Problems snowball. Compound. You have to make a call. Relax. Look around. Make a call.
Stay ahead of problems with contingency planning. PACE.
You have to step back and find a strategic perspective.
Target fixation prevents you from realizing when the priority shifts.
You have to actively maintain situational awareness as you execute. Don't zone in.
Decisively engaged: you can't maneuver or retreat.
"With all you have planned, does your team know which objective is most important ?" This is super important.
One at a time.
Full focus of effort on the highest priority.
It's the only way to Operate.
Train your junior commanders, and trust them to execute on the front lines.
Coach them. Help then learn from their mistakes.
Decentralized command allows the top leader to focus on the big picture, the strategic view.
The strategic view has to be clearly communicated so the front line leaders can ensure that their tactical decisions align with the strategy.
Seal leaders have to say: "this is what I'm going to do."
Seals arrange so that each person controls/leads four.
Your leaders should ask you what to do, they should tell you what they are going to do.
Decentralized command prevented disaster. It allowed Jocko to manage the chaos by trusting his leaders and limiting his distractions.
Humans aren't able to manage more than 6-10. Teams need to be 4 to 5 with a clear leader. Teams need clearly delineated responsibilities. Leaders need to understand and believe the mission. This doesn't mean junior leaders don't have their own plan. That is chaos. They need to know what is in their domain. Junior leaders need to know that seniors have their back. All leaders push situational awareness up and down the chain.
Not using effective decentralized command can result in senior leaders being too close or too far from the front line.
Be in the middle. Not too far forward that you can't see the big pictures, nor too far back that you don't know operational details.
When a leader has to manage more than 10 or so, he usually ends up focusing on his favorite high performers and the rest get lost in the shuffle.
The leaders with teams sub five struggle to lead… they have to be on the frontlines to generate value.
Simplicity is required for decentralized command. Otherwise you end up with a game of telephone.
You must give guidance and set boundaries for your junior leaders.
As a leader, it takes strength to let go.
You have to let the juniors make decisions that you are capable of solving efficiently.
List your assets.
Understand your constraints.
Convey the plan to leaders of all elements.
Finish with the top priorities. "If you have to pull the trigger, make sure the people you kill are bad." is a great top priority.
Mission planning is about planning for likely threats so that if they arise, we can be successful.
What's the mission?
Identify clear directives. Communicate. To broad a mission is a recipe for failure. Narrow and specific goals. Measurable end goal. Commander's intent is communicated.
Explore different courses of action.
Gather info on a course of action
Delegate planning to those who execute.
Team participation brings buy in and belief.
Senior leaders shouldn't get bogged down in all details.
Present the info clearly and succinctly in a forum that encourages discussion. Avoid info overload.
A brief can be successful or fail. A successful brief is understood.
Focus only on risks that can be mitigated.
The best teams make time for self analysis. Post-op debrief is required. Don't repeat mistakes.
Standardize your format and process. This makes it shared and repeatable.
- Analyze the mission: understand The commanders mission and the end of state, or goal
- ID personnel, resources and assets
- Decentralize the planning by IDing key leaders
- Identify possible courses of action
- choose the best course of action: Lean towards simple course of action
- Focus efforts on the best
- Empower key leaders to plan their parts
- Plan for contingencies: mitigate risk that can be controlled
- Delegate and brief the key leaders
- Step back to watch, question, measure the plan against current data. You hold the strategy, trust the leaders with tactics.
- Brief the plan; emphasize intent and end goal. Make sure they understand.
- Conduct Post-op, identify the ways you'll improve.
Without execution, plan is paper.
The test for a brief is not whether your boss is impressed, but whether your team understands and believes.
Letting juniors plan their parts allows them to take ownership.
Planning gives ownership that enables ownership in execution.
Leading Up And Down The Chain Of Command
As a senior leader I can bless my junior leaders by showing them the strategic impact of our team.
Your team enters briefs wondering "what are we doing next". You need to give them a "why". Your men need help to connect their tactical missions to the greater strategic goal.
If a team member helps plan the mission, they'll often catch the vision and keep their morale and purpose thanks to hearing their commander's intent.
This is leading down the chain of command. Providing vision to those junior to you. Giving them ownership.
Leading down the chain: any leader is involved in planning for their team. They have insight into the mission and purpose. Such knowledge doesn't automatically translate to the juniors and teams. While it's not needed that the full strategic mission be owned by everyone, each member needs to understand their role and purpose in the mission. It is never obvious to each member without assistance. Regularly stepping out the office to have face to face conversations and see how they are performing. If they don't get it, it's your responsibility to help them understand clearly.
When people say “they”, it's an insight into who are their we.
Realize that frustrations come from within
Your CO is not your enemy.
It is important to know how to lead up the chain of command…
Paperwork being a part of war not being expected, expectations creating frustration
If the CO doesn't get it, we aren't doing a good job leading up. Should he come near to see what is up? Schedule it.
This is extreme ownership of everything in their battle space. If the CO doesn't understand, make them understand by providing them insight and information. Check your attitude (ego), and go above and beyond to help them understand.
With this campaign of leading up passed down to junior leaders, the SEALs were able to provide more detailed mission plans and reports, invite senior leaders to come witness and understand, and created a more understanding and trustful relationship that let them be successful.
Before blaming the boss, blame yourself. What can you do to push SA up the chain?
Requires a lot more skill than leading down.
Recognize your needs are part of a larger picture, you may not be the priority.
If you don't understand, you must ask up the chain.
At the end of the day, you must execute the plan as if it were your own.
Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world.
Don't ask your leader what you need to do, tell them what you are going to do.
Beware blaming the "they"
Decisiveness Amidst Uncertainty
Chris Kyle made his own luck through discipline.
You have to take a step back, understand the situation. You have to resist and push back on stress. You will be pressured to comply. Part of being decisive is understanding some decisions can be reversed and some are irreversible or alterable.
Be decisive amidst uncertainty. Act on logic, not emotions.
I am not good at being decisive at all.
Fiction can't capture the pressure with which leaders in combat must contend. They won't even know the immediate impact of decisions.
Leaders can't be paralyzed by fear, acting decisively with only the information you have on hand. You must be able to grasp that you will never have all the intel. You can't wait for the 100% right decision. You have to make a call, and be prepared to adjust. As a leader, your default setting is aggressive: proactive instead of reactive. Don't let the situation dictate your actions to you. You'll never have enough info.
Discipline Equals Freedom / The Dichotomy Of Leadership.
(This chapter wound up spinning off two separate books!)
Talking through DA raids.
The destructive process of searching took too long, was too messy, and inconclusive.
A more systematic plan allowed more speed and compliance with court orders.
This disciplined procedure seemed complex, but was in fact simple.
A dress rehearsal helped persuade the high performing seals that the disciplined plan was effective.
Discipline starts every morning at the first alarm clock. The moment the alarm goes off is the first test. If you get out of bed. You win. If you stay. You fail.
This faithfulness and discipline builds from little things to greater things. (Sound familiar?)
Discipline is about resisting ease. Controlling emotion.
Discipline is critical for a team. The more SOPs a team has, the more easily their leadership can be decentralized.
(Buddy systems, etc.)
Discipline paradoxically makes you more flexible and creative.
A balance must be struck between discipline and freedom.
The Dichotomy Of Leadership
Every leader must walk a fine line. Leadership requires balancing extremes.
A leader must be prepared to lead, but also to follow. Put aside ego to allow the team to win.
It is important to not be robotic, show emotion, but control it. People don't follow robots. People don't follow people who can't control their emotions.
Recognize others contributions.
Don't get bogged down in details.
Humble, but not passive.
(This section deserves a relisten)
There is a dichotomy between extreme ownership and decentralized command.
A leader has nothing to prove. A leader has everything to prove.
You must find the balance. Awareness of the dichotomy enables correction.
A good leader must be:
- Confident not cocky
- Courageous not foolhardy
- Competitive but gracious
- Attentive to details but not obsessed
- Strong and endurance
- Leader and follower
- Humble not passive
- Aggressive but not overbearing
- Quiet not silent
- Calm not tovitic
- Logical but not devoid of emotions
- Close, but not so close that an individual or team is more important than the mission.
- Not so close that they forget who is in charge.
- Extreme ownership but decentralized.
- Nothing to prove but everything to prove.
It takes discipline and clarity to find the balance and make hard calls.
Preview Of Dichotomy Of Leadership
The primary requirement for leadership is humility, to understand your shortcomings.
Leadership isn't extreme. It requires balance.
The title of extreme ownership is misleading.
Resolute But Not Overbearing
The importance of knowing your radio… communications.
When and where do you hold the line? When do you choose to be overbearing on what's important?
Jocko handled holding the line without anger. He understood why they didn't. He just held the line without ego.
Finding this balance is hard. When to hold the line, and when to allow slack.
Concept of leadership capital… when do you invest the power you have?
The key question is "why" these standards are important. What is the strategic value. What are the consequences.
NEVER because I said so.
Rigid authoritarianism is not the actual way of the military…