Highlights from Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

The right decision, even when all seems lost, can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The wrong decision, even when a victorious outcome seems all but certain, can result in deadly, catastrophic failure.

They must literally risk life and limb to accomplish the mission. For this reason, they must believe in the cause for which they are fighting. They must believe in the plan they are asked to execute, and most important, they must believe in and trust the leader they are asked to follow.

Such concepts are simple, but not easy

These principles empower those teams to dominate their battlefields by enabling leaders to fulfill their purpose: lead and win.

No doubt, as an outstanding leader himself, he felt somewhat responsible.

I was the leader. I was in charge and I was responsible. Thus, I had to take ownership of everything that went wrong.

They must first look in the mirror at themselves. The leader bears full responsibility for explaining the strategic mission, developing the tactics, and securing the training and resources to enable the team to properly and successfully execute.

Every mistake, every failure or shortfall—those leaders would own it.

The best leaders checked their egos, accepted blame, sought out constructive criticism, and took detailed notes for improvement.

there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.

Consequences for failing need not be immediately severe, but leaders must ensure that tasks are repeated until the higher expected standard is achieved.

Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mind-set into the team.

His attitude reflected victimization: life dealt him and his boat crew members a disadvantage, which justified poor performance.

“We may not be winning,” said the CTO resolutely, “but we’re making the right decisions.” “If you aren’t winning,” I responded, “then you aren’t making the right decisions.”

When it comes to performance standards, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.

As a critical part of our culture, we constantly challenged each other to tests of physical strength.

I didn’t believe that this mission made sense. I didn’t believe it was smart. I didn’t believe it would be successful.

But once I understood and believed, I then passed that understanding and belief on, clearly and succinctly, to my troops so that they believed in it themselves. When they understood why, they would commit to the mission, persevere through the inevitable challenges in store, and accomplish the task set before us.

Even when others doubt and question the amount of risk, asking, “Is it worth it?” the leader must believe in the greater cause. If a leader does not believe, he or she will not take the risks required to overcome the inevitable challenges necessary to win.

Every leader must be able to detach from the immediate tactical mission and understand how it fits into strategic goals.

But in the minds of her sales managers, she was still The Boss: experienced, smart, and most important, powerful. That position demanded a high level of reverence—so high, in fact, that for an employee to question her ideas seemed disrespectful.

Leadership isn’t one person leading a team. It is a group of leaders working together, up and down the chain of command, to lead. If you are on your own, I don’t care how good you are, you won’t be able to handle it.

It was immaterial which units did what or who conducted the most operations. It was about the mission and how we could best accomplish it and win.

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

This isn’t his fault, it’s yours. You are in charge, so the fact that he didn’t follow procedure is your fault. And you have to believe that, because it’s true.

If you approached it as he did something wrong, and he needs to fix something, and he is at fault, it becomes a clash of egos and you two will be at odds. That’s human nature. But, if you put your own ego in check, meaning you take the blame, that will allow him to actually see the problem without his vision clouded by ego.

When plans and orders are too complicated, people may not understand them. And when things go wrong, and they inevitably do go wrong, complexity compounds issues that can spiral out of control into total disaster.

He fearlessly stood in the window braving incoming enemy rounds as he unleashed three to five round bursts of his own into insurgent positions.

Even the greatest of battlefield leaders could not handle an array of challenges simultaneously without being overwhelmed. That risked failing at them all. I had to remain calm, step back from my immediate emotional reaction, and determine the greatest priority for the team. Then, rapidly direct the team to attack that priority.

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.

I trusted them to lead. My ego took no offense to my subordinate leaders on the frontlines calling the shots. In fact, I was proud to follow their lead and support them.

Every time we called for help, the company commander fearlessly placed himself and his men at great risk. He personally saddled up and drove out in his tank to bring the thunder on our behalf and beat back enemy attacks on SEAL positions.

Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to five operators, with a clearly designated leader. Those leaders must understand the overall mission, and the ultimate goal of that mission—the Commander’s Intent. Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks necessary to accomplish that mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

Leaders must be free to move to where they are most needed, which changes throughout the course of an operation.

Situations will sometimes require that the boss walk away from a problem and let junior leaders solve it, even if the boss knows he might solve it more efficiently.

If frontline troops are unclear about the plan and yet are too intimidated to ask questions, the team’s ability to effectively execute the plan radically decreases.

No matter how exhausted from an operation or how busy planning for the next mission, time is made for this debrief because lives and future mission success depend on it.

It was a realization for him that even when a leader thinks his troops understand the bigger picture, they very often have difficulty connecting the dots between the tactical mission they are immersed in with the greater overarching goal.

Leaders must routinely communicate with their team members to help them understand their role in the overall mission.

I needed to check my negative attitude, which was corrosive and ultimately only hampered our ability to operate.

Leading up the chain takes much more savvy and skill than leading down the chain. Leading up, the leader cannot fall back on his or her positional authority. Instead, the subordinate leader must use influence, experience, knowledge, communication, and maintain the highest professionalism.

Don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do.

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.

Regardless, leaders cannot be paralyzed by fear. That results in inaction. It is critical for leaders to act decisively amid uncertainty; to make the best decisions they can based on only the immediate information available.

Instead of letting the situation dictate our decisions, we must dictate the situation. But for many leaders, this mind-set was not intuitive. Many operated with a “wait and see” approach.

Discipline equals freedom.

The test is not a complex one: when the alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed, or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep? If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win—you pass the test. If you are mentally weak for that moment and you let that weakness keep you in bed, you fail.

Instead of making us more rigid and unable to improvise, this discipline actually made us more flexible, more adaptable, and more efficient. It allowed us to be creative.

If frontline leaders and troops executing the mission lack the ability to adapt, this becomes detrimental to the team’s performance.

A true leader is not intimidated when others step up and take charge. Leaders that lack confidence in themselves fear being outshined by someone else.

It is a leader’s job to always mitigate as much as possible those risks that can be controlled to accomplish the mission without sacrificing the team or excessively expending critical resources.

Leaders must never get so close that the team forgets who is in charge.

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