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.