A good leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove.
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s leadership manual titled, Extreme Ownership, How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead And Win is a real-life story about two combat-proven SEAL officers who led the fight in the Iraq War. Attached to SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, their firsthand accounts of heroism, devastating loss, and painful victory brought about leadership lessons that transcend the battlefield. For business applications large and small, they provide these valuable lessons that are easily understood by the reader — no combat experience required — and give a detailed blueprint of time tested principles that have been forged through harrowing war scenarios.
They tackle everything from removing ego, the importance of simplicity, and proper planning — all of which are critical to extreme ownership and dignified leadership.
They rightly state that, “when it comes to standards, it’s not what you preach. It’s what you tolerate.”
The Leadership Three
WIN – What’s important now? Jocko and Leif call this “prioritize and execute”. The essential concept here is that leaders understand the alligator that is closest to the boat. SEAL candidates first step in their career training occurs at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALS also known as BUD/S.
Early in their training, they must own a leadership role to ensure the success of their “boat crews”(SEAL candidates are grouped into boat crews of seven men and assigned to a WWII-relic inflatable boat that weighs more than 200 pounds.
The most senior-ranking sailor becomes the boat crew leader responsible for receiving, transmitting, and overseeing the execution of the lead instructor’s orders).
This is where Jocko and Leif first encounters the massive effects a leader can have stating, “there are no bad teams, only bad leaders”. They recount good leaders prioritizing and executing the highest priority with monumental effort.
Getting through “hell week” was about focusing your team not on the days ahead or the far-away finish line, but on the physical goals in front of you — the next beach marker, landmark, or road sign one hundred yards ahead. Pieced together, these individual efforts led to sustained excellence and performance.
Transfer of Power. “Decentralized Command” as put by the authors, allows leaders to focus on their bigger pictures without getting lost in the details.
This takes great time and effort to perfect as this requires placing full faith and confidence in your junior leaders, while allowing them to manage their teams. Place trust in your junior leaders and set the expectation that they are to lead the men and women under them. Encourage them to call the shots.
Human beings are not generally capable of effectively leading more than six to ten people. Teams within teams that have designated leaders work best. Those leaders are then responsible for placing their subordinates in the best possible situation to be successful. Due to this command structure, it can be easy for senior leaders to become detached from lower level teams.
Those that fail to stay engaged, become ineffective and inauthentic(easily detectable when people know their senior leadership is so far removed that they have no idea what is actually going on). These senior leaders must keep a “trust, but verify” mentality to ensure all levels of the organization are performing at a peak level.
Cover and Move. Teams inside the same organization must mutually support one another. Teams, even if inside the same organization, can inherit a different style as workload, hours, and team members vary.
Teams can naturally produce a competitive spirit that flows through the organization, which is not a bad thing. However, if they forsake the principle of teamwork and operate independently or against one another, the results can be catastrophic.
This friction can be mitigated if leaders at all levels constantly remind their team that they all serve the same mission. It can be easy to assign blame and point fingers when an obstacle is met, however the dissension can be stopped in its tracks if communication lines stay open and the focus stays on the mission.
Work to build personal relationships across team lines and make sure the other team knows you support them. Also, remind them that you depend on them and that you are thankful they are alongside you.
Jocko and Leif’s extreme ownership mindset in one that allows someone to admit mistakes, make honest assessments, and execute simple plans with confidence.