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Book Review: 'Extreme Ownership' by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

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What does it take to lead and win? This is the basis of the book Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin — two U.S. Navy SEAL officers, who bring their real life learnings and experiences from the battlefield to inspire business leaders of all kinds the powerful principles of leadership. Of all things, the art of combat teaches people a great deal about how to manage unimaginable, dynamic situations where courage and leadership are necessities, not nice-to-haves. U.S. Navy SEAL officers Willink and Babin explain the nature and role of leadership in the essence of combat, drawing insight from the world’s most dangerous battlefields of Iraq. This is a book that’s filled with gripping, firsthand accounts of heroism, loss, and victory, and spotlights leadership as the central theme in determining whether a team succeeds or fails. Laying out a list of principles, this book inspires potential leaders in all fields. Willink and Babin, on leaving the U.S. Navy SEALs service, go on to establish a company called Echelon Front that promotes these leadership principles, training leaders across every category nationally and internationally, designed to turn teams into high-performance teams. Companies worldwide have used parts of these principles to design their own leadership programs, and this is a book that serves as a comprehensive guide to extreme leadership, useful for personal and professional context.

Willink and Leif Babin’s Extreme Ownership unfolds the concept of extreme leadership, born from their real life experiences as U.S. Navy SEAL officers on the battlefields of Iraq. In such nerve wracking, grueling situations, the consequences of poor leadership can lead to dire outcomes. Extreme leadership is about leading with full responsibility, taking accountability for every action and outcome, and is therefore the highest form of leadership. When mastered, extreme leadership is a powerful driving force for success in all areas of life.

One of the key aspects of extreme leadership is to win the war from within — this deals with fundamental aspects like organizing one’s internal self-discipline and personal responsibility. Willink and Babin’s Extreme Ownership expresses ideas on how one can master their drive and perspective of winning from within. They suggest that when one conquers their emotions and egos, they cultivate a new type of leadership that’s more practical and powerful in influencing progress and negotiating obstacles.

Willink and Babin’s Extreme Ownership highlights the power of belief — a belief in vision and mission as a driving force in inspiring action. They reveal that leaders who communicate their purpose with clarity and conviction are more likely to achieve success because of their focus. In battlefield scenarios, a lack of focus can have devastating effects with poor management. Drawing on real learnings, Willink and Babin expose the crucial role of belief in driving success and achieving organizational goals.

Ego is a devil, and overcoming one’s ego is a decisive factor in creating a culture of strong team dynamics. Willink and Babin’s Extreme Ownership brings out the nature of ego, and how it can be a destructive force in operations. They suggest that a culture of collaboration, built on humility, helps teams work better and strategically in achieving success. The book details a whole lot of practical advice and tools to help leaders tame their ego and lead with effectiveness. Good teams work together, in a synchronized way, to achieve goals. Even the most complex of goals can be achieved with the right type of teamwork and collaborative frameworks in place. 

Willink and Babin’s Extreme Ownership draws on strategies and tactics applied in real battlefields to demonstrate the art of achieving complex objectives by means of supporting one another, and executing responsibilities collectively. They present the principle of cover and move, as one way to think about orchestrating complex objectives with efficiency and effectiveness.

There are two ways to think about how decisions are passed down: centralized and decentralized. Willink and Babin’s Extreme Ownership makes the case for decentralized decision-making, which is a successful way to achieve executive objectives by empowering leaders on the front line. By giving leaders a degree of autonomy, they argue for the advantages of a decentralized command to drive greater organizational agility and a culture of trust.

Willink and Babin’s Extreme Ownership explains the different types of chains of command: leading up and leading down. These are pertained to leaders of all levels, the ones that are up, as superiors, and the ones that are down, as subordinates. While upwards communications, like conveying information, sharing concerns, and making recommendations, to senior leaders matter, as does the downwards chain of command to give subordinates the ability to grow and excel.

Making decisive decisions in the face of uncertainty is a high pressure task. Willink and Babin’s Extreme Ownership offers readers ways to deal with this dilemma with tools such as how to analyze information, seek input and make certain decisions confidently. The book features lots of real references of stories that demonstrate ways to make decisions with convictions. 

Willink and Babin’s Extreme Ownership is more interesting because it’s written by two former U.S. Navy SEAL officers who actually lead the SEAL Team 3 during the Iraq War. It’s a book about how to win, and makes the case of leaders who take full responsibility for their actions, recognize the value of communication, trust and accountability. Taking ownership means full responsibility, not blaming others for mistakes. Communicating effectively means the ability to be clear and succinct, in articulating their purpose, vision and goals. Trust is a key factor because it creates respect and relationships, strengthens team dynamics and the overall propensity to achieve goals as a result. This is a book that provides insight and serves as a guide for leaders of all levels, kinds and categories. Coming from two U.S. Navy SEALs, this is a genuinely interesting read. And it’s fundamentally important because it reveals the necessity to cultivate a specific type of leadership — extreme leadership — to win and lead effectively. Get your copy here:



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