Leadership Principles from Extreme Ownership,How US Navy Seals lead

Extreme Ownership is a book written by Jocko Willink , Retired American Navy Seal commander ,Iraq and Leif Babin former navy seal officer. They both operated in Iraq, Ramadi.

Extreme Ownership streamlines principle of leadership used in dangerous and precarious military situations to the business world. From deciding in Life and Death situations to people’s Livelihood.

The book is composed by 11 chapters,each one dedicated to explain a specific leadership principle learnt form real war scenario and then translated to various consultancy cases in the corporate world.

The most informative leadership principles gained from reading this book are:

1) Extreme ownership of the leadership.

Jocko and Leif make abundantly clear that a leader must own everything in his and her responsibility; healthy corporations,(and people) own their mistakes. While in incompetent organizations have a culture of continuous shifts of blame and finger pointing, a real culture driven organization its leaders must admit mistakes and own them.

If a subordinate did an error that compromised the good results of his mission, it is the leader that did not make clear and simple enough what was the actual task to perform and the reason why these operations were necessary to the mission. This does not give a free pass to a subordinate, since part of the leadership needs to be delegated as per principle

but makes abundantly clear that if there is an under-performer, the leader needs to mentor and train him before thinking of firing him.

A real leader needs to remove individual and personal agenda from his vocabulary, it is all about accomplish the mission.

2) It is what you Tolerate, not what you Preach.

When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one his held accountable, if there are no consequences,that poor performance become the new standard.

Most of the bad performances are dictated by bad leaders that do not care enough to rise higher standards and clarify why and how those are necessary to the good result of the objective. Punitive actions on the teams do not need to be applied immediately, instead a mentoring mentality needs to be applied to rise new quantitative and qualitative standards.

An extension of this principle is that it is important to set a culture in a team where even if a leader is removed, the group will continue to operate to the same efficiency. One practical example from the book is the boat races held during Hell’s Week.(the training that every operative has to pass to enter in the finest US elite)In these races Seal’s candidates after numerous taxing exercises and sleepless nights need to compete rowing boats in teams of 6. During these races one of the appointed boat-commanders always got last. In excusing his performance to the trainer he blamed his team on the losses. The trainers did a little experiment. They switched the commander of the best boat with the one of the low performance, lo and behold! The losers boat started to win against all other boats consistently.

3) A leader must be a true believer.

When a plan is formulated, a leader must not question it in front of his team, or they would never buying into it. The leader needs to understand how the tactical need align with the grand strategy and later explain the reason why apparently nonsensical operations are the right things to do. However if he does not come to a conclusion that he can explain to his subordinates he needs to question the chain of command.The leader must explain not just what to do but why.

4) Ego clouds anything and everything.

Our own past accomplishments and pride in our of organization blind the weak spots in our character, proposition and lead us to complacency. When personal agendas become more important than the team (or organization), it reflects on the overarching mission,leading to poor performance and failure.

5) Cover and Move

Like soldiers to advance in the enemy lines need cover fire in order to move, organizations need to be coordianted within and with other teams and departments. Each department is critical to success, if one group fails, everyone loses. More organized competitors will obliterate any organization that is misaligned, mismanaged and with too much politic.

6) Simplify,every,procedure.

Life and business are complex when plans and orders are too complicated or detailed something is bound to go wrong. If the team does not get the message, when unexpected events come, it will be difficult to keep a plan steady and executable and be flexible enough to overcome hurdles.

7) Prioritize and Execute

Countless problems in business create a snowball effect.Our brain is not wired to multitask, when we usually try to do multiple task at once the result are a) poor performance or b) failure altogether. To implement prioritization in a company a leader should

a)Rank Priorities.

b)Lay out in simple, clear and concise terms the highest priority effort to the team.

c)Develop and determine a solution, seek input from key leaders and from team where possible.

d)Direct the execution of that solution, focusing all resources and effort to that priority task.

e)Move to the next highest priority problem repeat.

f)When a priorities shift within the team pass situational awareness both up and down the chain.

e)Do not let focus on one priority cause target fixation. Maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shifts as needed.

When too many responsibilities and tasks are being executed together the likelihood of error and failure raises exponentially.

8) Decentralized command.

For leaders is not possible to manage directly teams of 6-10 people. Team must be broken in manageable elements (4-5 elements) with a clear designated leader. These leaders need to understand their superior intent. Every team leader must understand both the what to do and why of their piece of mission. Team leaders need to understand the boundaries of their responsibility;At the same time they need to let their superior work on the bigger picture. They need to be able to give to their superior a proactive plan on what are they going to do rather than be reactive. Since team leaders need to execute swiftly and confidently a continuous communication from the seniors leaders needs to be made and give situational awareness to their team leaders. Junior leaders need to have their certainty of their superiors support even if they did not the best choice in the given situation,as long as their decision was made in light of the strategic objective.

9) Planning

Planning start with mission analysis and explanation of the overall purpose and desired results and end states.Different courses of actions must be explored on how best accomplish the mission. Planning must be delegated as much as possible to to team leaders in order for them to buy in. Give also a small ownership of the plan to everyone is an important part for the to buy in into it. After the crafting of a detailed plan, a simple and understandable brief must be delivered. 3 elements are pivotal in this brief:

1) Clear understanding of the mission

2) Clear understanding of the Leader’s intent

3) Their individual roles in the mission

A brief is strong if the team and supporting elements understand it. It also need to plan for contingencies in case the desired results are not achievable.

A post brief need to be made at team level to understand what went wrong and what went well in order to improve and not repeat the same mistakes.

A checklist for planning is:

1) Analyze the mission

2)Understand the larger why, the intent and end goal

3)Identify and state the intent and the end goal to the team

4)Identify resources (personnel, time, assets,resources)

5) Decentralize the planning

6) Determine a specific course of action

7) Focus on the best course of actions

8) Mitigate risks

9) Check and question the plan against emerging information

10) Ask questions and engage in discussion and interaction with the team to ensure understanding

11) Analyze lessons learned and implement them in future planning

10a) Leading down the chain.

It is important to remind the role and responsibilities of the leaders to their team toward the overall goal. In particular a leader should be aware of the challenges subordinate have and giving insights on his work so that the subordinate can understand clearly what is needed from him.

10b) Leading up the chain

On the other side if the resources required are not allocated, the subordinate should provide a tactful and engagement to get the best possible support. It is much more difficult because the subordinate can not use his positional authority to highlight his arguments. Influence, experience,knowledge, communication and high professionalism are needed.

11) Decisiveness amid Uncertainty

In every scenario there is always an incomplete picture. It does not exist a 100% right solution to a problem. A leader must be confident on acting with his current immediate information.

12) Discipline Equals Freedom

There is a Dichotomy in the skills and characteristics that a leader must show. Jocko and Leif make a point that a fine balance must be found between ambivalent values such as brave but not foolhardy, competitive but a gracious loser,know how to lead but also how to follow,attentive to details but not obsessed by them,quiet not silent, calm but not robotic,logical not devoid of emotions etc.

All in all I found Extreme Ownership a book with practical tips and powerful images. The military part of the book helps to understand how this principles can be carried and applied in different contexts.

Gamification to learn Data analysis with Harvard Business Publishing

The business world is revolving around the idea of big data.

The most successful companies strive to collect everyone’s data in order to make optimal decisions and predict the outcome of future profits.

Trinity Business Schools choose to use gamification, the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.

More information about gamification and how it can impact real case scenarios in this video:

Trinity Business School chose to use a Harvard Business Publishing case presented as a game: a Detergent Company trying to get the best possible profit in a period of 5 years.

The Case

In the game, we were put in the shoes of Blue’s Marketing directors, a fictional US detergent company with a slowly declining market share and a traditional Marketing and Manufacturing process. 

The company had recently decided to use forecast and reports to improve its profits against the main player of the Market, Turbo, Flash and Retailer’s Stores.

A brief with the history of the industry was given to flesh out the business case

First Run of the game First Failure

We were given 10 minutes to figure out the data from the company  and how to maximize the profit a lot of information was given at the same time:

 a Market report,

Market situation Blue

 an income statement

A sentiment analysis  with changing live feedback,

An explorable database,

explorable database

A decision dashboard,

We started with a market share of 11 %, our initial thought process was to differentiate ourselves and serve the market range where we were strong.

So we checked every market area and jotted down on paper

Region – Top player for the region – Household composition – Income-Age

We found out that in most of the markets we were popular with an age range from Under 35 to 44 years old, families with 3-4 components and income from under 20.000 $ to 40.000 $.

So we decided to market softness as an attribute since no one in the market was doing the same move, use liquid detergent as we thought that an innovation would be understood by the younger costumer base.

We used the innovation in the product to justify an increase in price by  1 dollar since competitors already could ask a higher price with newer formulations.We also wanted to differentiate from the cheaper powder private labels.

The real mistake that we did was using the forecast tool.

We thought that the number shown in the cell was the increase from base production. So we inputted 3 mln thinking that it was adding up that quantity to the current sales. We passed from producing 32 mln of units in 2018 to 3 mln total in 2019 !!!

The following turns to do decision lasted 10 minutes each. With so little time we were unable to detect the error we made until the last round of the game where we understood that the forecasting tool was also used to set up production.

Our other choices were influenced by the big loss in revenue on the first turn.

In 2020 we switched back our formula to powder seeing that the customer could not understand how to use the liquid formulation in the sentiment analysis and to reduce costs. In the sentiment analysis, we spotted that most of our customer did not like our old advertising so we optimized the media spending by reducing spending in Radio and Print to increase the one in Digital Advertising.

We also noticed that our product was selling more in Convenience and Club trade channels, therefore, we invested more there in 2020 and 2021.

In 2021 we saw that there was more demand than supply for pods and odor elimination features. We changed the attributes to sell more on the market and finally saw a rise in profit. 

Finally, for 2022 we understood that we were producing fewer units than we were meant to. We upped the production and went back to a market share of 11%, the same condition as the start year.

                                             (our decisions history)


( Despite the loss  in the first year at the end we were able to have more profitability than Fresh and Retailer stores)

What we should have done instead

Other than the mistake in the production, we should have noticed sooner the trends in the Demand. We should have shifted to odor control and pods, give more attention to data analytics and weigh less the initial company brief.

What we have learned

We need to listen more to the market and follow its dynamics. Both Social Media and quantitative data on the market are fundamental to listen to the customer.

Social feedback from the customer is useful when analyzing the most positive and negative reviews and ratings. Checking them is a good indicator of what can be fixed and what can be improved.

Quantitative data is important to spot new opportunities to sell and monitoring the market every year allow to reduce risks associated with demand shifts and adapt the quantity of product sold.

In business, companies should strive to gain near-perfect information, to increase their profits and having a competitive edge against adversaries.