Extreme Ownership1

Extreme Ownership

Author –  Jocko Willink, Leif Babin

The Dichotomy of Leadership

It is all about the Team. The sum is far greater than the parts.

💡The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything = Extreme Ownership.

  • This concept is the number one characteristic of any high-performance winning team.
  • On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader.
  • The leader must own everything in his world.
  • There is no one else to blame.
  • The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.

The best leaders don’t just take responsibility for their job. They take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission.

When subordinates aren’t doing what they should, leaders that exercise Extreme Ownership cannot blame the subordinates. They must first look in the mirror at themselves.

The leader bears full responsibility for explaining the strategic missiondeveloping the tactics, and securing the training and resources to enable the team to properly and successfully execute.

If an individual on the team is not performing at the level required for the team to succeed, the leader must train and mentor that underperformed. But if the underperformed continually fails to meet standards, then a leader who exercises Extreme Ownership must be loyal to the team and mission above any individual.

If underperformers cannot improve, the leader must make the tough call to terminate them and hire others who can get the job done. It is all on the leader.

💡 Total responsibility for failure is a difficult thing to accept, and taking ownership when things go wrong requires extraordinary humility and courage. But doing just that is an absolute necessity for learning, growing as a leader, and improving a team’s performance.

Extreme Ownership exercising leaders bestow the credit for success upon their subordinate leaders and team members. When a leader sets such an example and expects this from junior leaders within the team, the mindset develops into the team’s culture at every level.

With Extreme Ownership, junior leaders take charge of their smaller teams and their pieces of the mission.

The direct responsibility of a leader includes getting people to listen, support, and execute plans. ‘You can’t make people listen to you. You can’t make them execute.’ That might be a temporary solution for a simple task. But to implement real change, to drive people to accomplish something truly complex or difficult or dangerous, you can’t make people do those things. You have to lead them.

💡 No matter what, never blame other people when a mission goes wrong.

You must remove individual ego and personal agenda. It’s all about the mission.
How can you best get your team to execute the plan in order to accomplish the mission? That is the question you have to ask yourself.

In order to execute this plan, in order to truly become an effective leader, you have to realize and accept total responsibility. You have to own it.

The team members see Extreme Ownership in their leaders, and, as a result, they emulate Extreme Ownership throughout the chain of command down to the most junior personnel. As a group, they try to figure out how to fix their problems, instead of trying to figure out who or what to blame. = Become the standard and role model, the bar of company culture.

No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

💡 There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.

Leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader.

The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader either drives performance or he doesn’t.

And this applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team, but to the junior leaders of teams within the team.

Leaders must accept total responsibility, own problems that inhibit performance, and develop solutions to those problems. A team could only deliver exceptional performance if a leader ensured the team worked together toward a focused goal and enforced high standards of performance, working to continuously improve.

With a culture of Extreme Ownership within the team, every member of the team could contribute to this effort and ensure the highest levels of performance.

Extreme Ownership is a difficult and humbling concept for any leader to accept. But it is an essential mindset for building a high-performancewinning team.

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

💡 When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable if there are no consequences, that poor performance becomes the new standard.
-> If below-average performance is not rectified and addressed, it will become the new standard.

Consequences for failing need not be immediately severe, but leaders must ensure that tasks are repeated until the higher expected standard is achieved. Leaders must push the standards in a way that encourages and enables the team to utilize Extreme Ownership.

Leaders should never be satisfied.

They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mindset into the team. They must face the facts through a realistic, brutally honest assessment of themselves and their team’s performance. By identifying weaknesses, good leaders seek to strengthen them and come up with a plan to overcome challenges.

The best teams are constantly looking to improveadd capability, and push the standards higher.

It starts with the individual and spreads to each of the team members until this becomes the culture, the new standard. The recognition that there are no bad teams, only bad leaders facilitates Extreme Ownership and enables leaders to build high-performance teams that dominate on any battlefield.

💡 Constant growth is not only a mindset but a company culture.

Good leaders don’t make excuses. They figure out a way to get it done and win.
Never become comfortable with substandard performance.

Working under poor leadership and an unending cycle of blame, the team will constantly fail. No one will take ownership, assume responsibility, or adopt a winning attitude.

Most important of all, you need to believe winning is possible. The belief that the team actually can improve and win is essential.

Establish a new and higher standard of performance and accept nothing less from the team.
Extreme Ownership and good leadership is contagious.

You must instill a culture of Extreme Ownership, of winning, and how to win in every individual. You need to develop a solid team of high-performing individuals. Each member demands the highest performance from the others. Repetitive exceptional performance becomes a habit. Each individual knows what they need to do to win and do it. They will no longer need explicit direction from a leader.

Whether or not your team succeeds or fails is all on you. Extreme Ownership is a concept to help you make the right decisions as a key leader so that you can win.

Shortcut to failure

  • Take no meaningful action to improve own performance.
  • No push to improve the team.
  • Refuse to admit his own performance is substandard.
  • Refuse to admit you and the team can do better.
  • Blame others.
  • Refuse to take ownership or responsibility.

Tortured Genius

  • No matter how obvious his failing, is or how valid the criticism is, they accept zero responsibility for mistakes, makes excuses, and blames everyone else for their failings.
  • In their mind, the rest of the world just can’t see or appreciate the genius in what they are doing.
  • An individual with a Tortured Genius mindset can have a catastrophic impact on a team’s performance.
There are only two types of leaders: effective and ineffective.

Effective leaders that lead successful, high-performance teams exhibit Extreme Ownership. Anything else is ineffective. Anything else is bad leadership.

Leadership is the most important thing on any battlefield; it is the single greatest factor in whether a team succeeds or fails.

A leader must find a way to become effective and drive high performance within his team in order to win. There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.


In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish the mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission.

💡 Leaders must always operate with the understanding that they are part of something greater than themselves and their own personal interests.

They must impart this understanding to their teams down to the tactical-level operators on the ground.

Far more important than training, or equipment, a resolute belief in the mission is critical for any team or organization to win and achieve big results.

Understanding the mission

  • It is extremely important for senior leaders to take the time to explain and answer the questions of their junior leaders so they too can understand the why and believe in the mission or task at hand.
  • It is critical that senior leaders impart a general understanding of the why, and the strategic knowledge to their troops.
  • Only when leaders at all levels understand and believe in the mission can they pass that understanding and belief to their teams so that they can persevere through challenges, execute and win.
  • If employees don’t understand or believe in the decisions coming down from leadership, it is up to the employees to ask questions until they understand how and why those decisions are being made.
  • If you don’t ask questions so you can understand and believe in the mission, you are failing as a leader and you are failing your team.
  • Ask questions until you understand why so you can believe in what you are doing and you can pass that information down the chain to your team with confidence, so they can go out and execute the mission.
As a leader, you must build an open culture for questions and constant confirmation.
Leadership is not one person leading a team. It is a group of leaders working together, up and down the chain of command, to lead.

Check the Ego

You must instill a culture within your team to never be satisfied.

Push each other harder to continuously improve our performance.

Discipline creates vigilance and operational readiness, which translates to high performance and success on the battlefield.

Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism.

💡 Often the most difficult ego to deal with is your own.

When personal agendas become more important than the team and the overarching mission’s success, performance suffers and failure ensues. Many of the disruptive issues that arise within any team can be attributed directly to a problem with ego.

Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team. Ego can prevent a leader from conducting an honest, realistic assessment of his own performance and the performance of the team.

Never get complacent.

💡 You are in charge, so the fact that team members did not follow the procedure is your own fault.

As leaders, you need to see where you failed to communicate effectively and help our troops clearly understand what their roles and responsibilities are and how their actions impact the bigger strategic picture.

It’s not about you. It’s about the mission and how best to accomplish it. With that attitude exemplified in you and your key leaders, your team will dominate.

Cover and Move

Covering and move means teamwork. All elements within the greater team are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose. Departments and groups within the team must break down silos, depend on each other and understand who depends on them.

It falls on leaders to continually keep perspective on the strategic mission and remind the team that they are part of the greater team and that the strategic mission is paramount.

Accomplishing the strategic mission is the highest priority. Team members, departments, and supporting assets must always cover and move, help each other, work together, and support each other to win. This principle is integral for any team to achieve victory.

How can you help these team members do their job more effectively so they can help you accomplish your mission and you can all win?

Engage among team members, and facilitate engagement among team members. Explain to them what you need from them and why, and ask them what you can do to help them get you what you need. Make them part of your team, not an excuse for your team.

Work together and win.

💡 Have key personnel from the production team’s team leaders encourage them to sit in on their coordination meetings.


Plans and orders must be communicated in a manner that is simple, clear, and concise.

💡 It is critical to keep plans and communication simple.

💡 If there is not a strong enough correlation between the behavior and the reward/punishment, then the behavior will never be modified.

Humans need to see the connection between action and consequence in order to learn or react appropriately.

If the plan is too complex, the team can’t make rapid adjustments to it, because there is no baseline understanding of it.

Prioritize and Execute

Leaders must determine the highest priority task and execute it. When overwhelmed, fall back upon this principle: Prioritize and Execute.

A particularly effective means to help Prioritize and Execute under pressure is to stay at least a step or two ahead of real-time problems. Through careful contingency planning, a leader can anticipate likely challenges that could arise during execution and map out an effective response to those challenges before they happen.

If the team has been briefed and understands what actions to take through such likely contingencies, the team can then rapidly execute when those problems arise, even without specific direction from leaders. This is a critical characteristic of any high-performance, winning team in any business or industry.

It is crucial, particularly for leaders at the top of the organization, to ‘pull themselves off the firing line, step back, and maintain the strategic picture.

To implement Prioritize and Execute in any business, team, or organization, a leader must:

  • evaluate the highest priority problem.
  • layout in simple, clear, and concise terms the highest priority effort for the team.
  • develop and determine a solution, and seek input from key leaders and from the team where possible.
  • direct the execution of that solution, focusing all efforts and resources toward this priority task.
  • move on to the next highest priority problem. Repeat.
  • when priorities shift within the team, pass situational awareness both up and down the chain.
  • don’t let them focus on one priority cause target fixation. Maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shift as needed.

Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful.

Focus on one problem and when that one is completed, or at least has some real momentum, then you move on to the next one and focus on it. When that one is done, then move on to the next, and so on down the line until you have knocked them all out.

Decentralized Command

Frontline leaders must also have trust and confidence in their senior leaders to know that they are empowered to make decisions and that their senior leaders will back them up.

Each leader is trusted to lead and guide his team in support of the overall mission. Those junior leaders learned that they were expected to make decisions. They should not be asking senior leaders ‘What do I do?’, but instead should be informing them ‘This is what I am going to do.’

Every leader down the chain of command makes their decisions based on the underlying commander’s guidance that drives the over-watch operations:

  1. Cover(document) as many foreseeable issues and solutions as possible.
  2. Set up communications and delivery schedules and meeting schedules that mutually support each other.
  3. Pick a solid path of development that will not be influenced by outside factors.

💡 What is the standard operation procedure(SOP)?

Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of 4~6 operators, with a clearly designated leader.

Those leaders must understand the overall mission and the ultimate goal of that mission-the Commander’s Intent.

Teams within teams are organized for maximum effectiveness for a particular mission, with leaders who have clearly delineated responsibilities.

Every tactical-level team leader must understand not just _what to do but why they are doing it.

Frontline & junior leaders

  • Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks necessary to accomplish that mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible.
  • If frontline leaders do not understand why they must ask their boss to clarify the why.
  • Junior leaders must fully understand what is within their decision-making authority, ‘the left and right limits of their responsibility.
  • Additionally, they must communicate with senior leaders to recommend decisions outside their authority and pass critical information up the chain so the senior leadership can make informed strategic decisions.
  • To be effectively empowered to make decisions, it is imperative that frontline leaders execute with confidence. Tactical leaders must be confident that they clearly understand the strategic mission and Commander’s Intent. They must have implicit trust that their senior leaders will back their decisions. Without this trust, junior leaders cannot confidently execute, which means they cannot exercise effective Decentralized Command.
  • To ensure this is the case, senior leaders must constantly communicate and push information, ‘situational awareness, to their subordinate leaders.
  • Likewise, junior leaders must push situational awareness up the chain to their senior leaders to keep them informed, particularly crucial information that affects strategic decision-making.

💡 Design a system(SOP: Standard Operating Procedure) such that any team member knows exactly what to do and what the next step is.

Leaders must be free to move to where they are most needed, which changes throughout the course of an operation. Understanding proper positioning as a leader is a key component of effective Decentralized Command.


Three most important things to remember in R&D:

  1. Maintain a high level of research.
  2. Speed is important. Go through referencescompetitors, and study cases in speed.
  3. Identify issueslimitationsfuture hiccups, and complexities.

Planning begins with mission analysis. Leaders must identify clear directives for the team.

The mission must be carefully refined and simplified so that it is explicitly clear and specifically focused to achieve the greater strategic vision of which the mission is a part.

The Commander’s Intent is actually the most important part of the brief.

When understood by everyone involved in the execution of the plan, it guides each decision and action on the ground.

Leaders must delegate the planning process down the chain as much as possible to key subordinate leaders.

Once the detailed plan has been developed, it must then be briefed to the entire team and all participants and supporting elements.

Leaders must carefully prioritize the information to be presented in a simple, clear, and concise format as possible so that participants do not experience information overload.

The planning process and briefing must be a forum that encourages discussion, questions, and clarification from even the most junior personnel.

Leaders must ask questions of their troops, encourage interaction, and ensure their teams understand the plan.

The test for a successful brief is simple: Does the team understand it?

💡 Those who will not risk cannot win.

The best teams employ constant analysis of their tactics and measure their effectiveness so that they can adapt their methods and implement lessons learned for future missions.

Often teams claim there isn’t time for such analysis. But one must make the time.

Post-operational debrief

  • examines all phases of an operation from planning through execution, in a concise format.
  • What went wrong?
  • What went right?
  • How can we adapt our tactics to make us even more effective and increase our advantage?
  • Allows all team members to reevaluate, enhance, and refine what worked and didn’t so that they can constantly improve.
  • It is critical for the success of any team to do this and implement those changes into their future plans so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes.
  • After each project, pull the team together and talk it through in detail.
  • In a concise and to-the-point format, analyze what had worked and what hadn’t, how we might refine our standard operating procedures, and how we could do it better.

Planning process

  • The planning process must be standardized so other departments within the company and supporting assets outside the company can understand and use the same format and terminology.
  • It must be repeatable and guide users with a checklist of all the important things they need to think about.
  • The plan must be briefed to the team members, geared toward the frontline troops charged with execution so they clearly understand it.
  • Implementing such a planning process will ensure the highest level of performance and give the team the greatest chance to accomplish the mission and win.

Checklist for planning:

  1. Analyze the mission.
  • Understand Commander’s Intent and end state & goal
  • Identify and state your own Commander’s Intent and end state & goal for the specific mission.
  1. Identify personnel, assets, resources, and time available.
  2. Decentralize the planning process.
  • Empower key leaders within the team to analyze possible courses of action.
  1. Determine a specific course of action.
  • Lead toward selecting the simplest course of action.
  • Focus efforts on the best course of action.
  1. Empower key leaders to develop the plan for the selected course of action.
  2. Plan for likely contingencies and dependencies through each phase of the operation.
  3. Mitigate risks that can be controlled as much as possible.
  4. Delegate portions of the plan and brief to key junior leaders.
  • Stand back and be the tactical genius.
  1. Continually check and question the plan against emerging information to ensure it still fits the situation and narrative.
  2. Brief the plan to all participants.
  • Emphasize Commander’s Intent
  • Ask questions and engage in discussion and interaction with the team to ensure complete understanding.
  1. Conduct post-operational debriefs after execution.
  • Analyze lessons learned and implement them in future planning.
Establishing an effective and repeatable planning process is critical to the success of any team.

Mission brief

  • lays out the specific details of who, what, when, where, why, and how an operation will be conducted.
  • Allow every team member to understand the overall plan, their role in the plan, what to do when things went wrong, and how to contact help if the worst-case scenario took place.
  • The true test for a good brief is not whether others are impressed by it. It’s whether or not the troops that are going to execute the operation actually understand it. Everything else is bullshit.
  • You need to brief so that the most junior man can fully understand the operation, the lowest common denominator. That is what a brief is.
  • As leaders, you must not get dragged into the details but instead, remain focused on the bigger picture.
  • The most important part of the brief is to explain the Commander’s Intent.

Planning for perspective

  • When everyone participating in an operation knows and understands the purpose and end state of the mission, they can theoretically act without further guidance.
  • As a leader, if you are planning the details with your guys you will have the same perspective as them, which adds little value.
  • But if you let them plan the details, it allows them to own their piece of the plan.
  • It allows you to stand back and see everything from a different perspective, which adds tremendous value.
  • You can see the plan from a greater distance, a higher altitude, and you will see more.
  • As a result, you will catch mistakes and discover aspects of the plan that need to be tightened up.
Develop a standard process with terminology and planning methods that are interchangeable and can be utilized across all elements within your team and within the company.

Leading up and Down the Chain of Command

💡 Team members who have some ownership of the planning process in each operation will remain focused, and positive, believe in what they are doing, and be eager to continue.

Conversely, the team members who have the least ownership of the planning for each operation will suffer the worst work fatigue, negative attitudes, failure mentality, and unproductiveness.

Team members with little or no ownership are in the dark. They have a harder time understanding why we take certain risks and what specific impact is made through their actions.

The leaders must give greater ownership of plans to team members, especially to those who are negative and are not fully committed to the mission.

💡 Put together a routine strategic overview brief and regularly deliver it to operators.

It is critical that each have an understanding of the other’s role. And it is paramount that senior leaders explain to their junior leaders and troops executing the mission how their role contributes to big-picture success.

Leaders must routinely communicate with their team members to help them understand their role in the overall mission. Frontline leaders and troops can then connect the dots between what they do every day, the day-to-day operations, and how that impacts the company’s strategic goal.

This understanding helps the team members prioritize their efforts in a rapidly changing, dynamic environment. This is leading down the chain of command. It requires regularly stepping out of the office and personally engaging in face-to-face conversations with direct reports and observing frontline troops in action to understand their particular challenges and read them into the Commander’s Intent.

As a leader employing Extreme Ownership, if your team isn’t doing what you need them to do, you first have to look at yourself. Rather than blame them for not seeing the strategic picture, you must figure out a way to better communicate it to them in terms that are simple, clear, and concise, so that they understand.

If your boss isn’t making a decision in a timely manner or providing necessary support for you and your team, don’t blame the boss. First, blame yourself. Examine what you can do to better convey the critical information for decisions to be made and support allocated.

A public display of discontent or disagreement with the chain of command undermines the authority of leaders at all levels. This is catastrophic to the performance of any organization.

Once the debate on a particular course of action is over and the boss has made a decision, even if that decision is one you argued against, you must execute the plan as if it were your own.

Factors to be aware of when leading up and down the chain of command:

  • Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world, subordinates, and superiors alike.
  • If someone isn’t doing what you want or need them to do, look in the mirror first and determine what you can do to better enable this.
  • Don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do.

Provide them with constructive feedback so they can appreciate the impact those plans or requirements have on your operations.

Team members need to do better in pushing situational awareness, information, and communication up the chain.

Understand what specific information they needed and went overboard pushing that information to them.

Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty

There is no 100% right solution. The picture is never complete. Leaders must be comfortable with this and be able to make decisions promptly, then be able to make decisions promptly, then be ready to adjust those decisions quickly based on evolving situations and new information.

💡 The default setting should be aggressive, proactive rather than reactive.

As a leader, you want to be seen, you need to be seen, as decisive, and willing to make tough choices.

Discipline Equals Freedom-The Dichotomy of Leadership

Freedom to operate and maneuver had increased substantially through disciplined procedures. Discipline equals freedom.

If you need extra time to study materials, prepare things, or complete other tasks, you need to make that time. Just because it is not written on the schedule does not mean you are excluded or exempted from it.

You need to make time. The only way you can make time is to get up early. That takes discipline.

💡 Although discipline demands control and asceticism, it actually results in freedom. When you have the discipline to get up early, you are rewarded with more free time. When you have the discipline to keep your helmet and body armor on in the field, you become accustomed to it and can move freely in it. The more discipline you have to work out, train your body physically and become stronger, the lighter your gear feels and the easier you can move around in it.

The more disciplined standard operating procedures(SOPs) a team employs, the more freedom they have to practice Decentralized Command and thus they can execute faster, sharper, and more efficiently.

💡 There is a disciplined methodology for just about everything.

The balance between discipline and freedom must be found and carefully maintained. In that, lies the dichotomy: discipline-strict order, regimen, and control-might appear to be the opposite of total freedom-the power to act, speak, or think without any restrictions. But in fact, discipline is the pathway to freedom.

A leader must lead but also be ready to follow.

Good leaders must welcome putting aside ego and personal agendas to ensure that the team has the greatest chance of accomplishing its strategic goals. A true leader is not intimidated when others step up and take charge.

If team members felt something was wrong or thought there was a better way to execute, encourage them, regardless of position, to come up with questions and present opposing views.
Do not accept any complaints about the hard work and relentless push to accomplish the mission.

The dichotomy of leadership:

  • confident but not cocky
  • courageous but not foolhardy
  • competitive but a gracious loser
  • attentive to details but not obsessed with them
  • strong but have endurance
  • a leader and follower
  • humble not passive
  • aggressive not overbearing
  • quiet, not silent
  • calm but not robotic
  • logical but not devoid of emotions
  • close with the team but not so close that one becomes more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge
  • able to execute Extreme Ownership, while exercising Decentralized Command
A good leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove.


Leaders are either born or made.

With a willingness to learn, with a humble attitude that seeks valid constructive criticism in order to improve, with disciplined practice and training, even those with less natural ability can develop into highly effective leaders.

Training is a critical aspect that must be utilized to develop the foundations of leadership and build confidence in leaders’ abilities to communicate and lead.

The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. This means leaders must be heavily engaged in training and mentoring their junior leaders to prepare them to step up and assume greater responsibilities.