Book Review: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

I haven’t read every leadership book out there, but I think it’s safe to assume that Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin is one of the best leadership books that you can read. Who else would you rather learn about leadership than from Navy Seals, who MUST master leadership because stakes are so high on the battlefield. You may think that military leadership doesn’t translate to civilian life, but this is not true. Willink and Babin do a great job of explaining universal principles of leadership that you can apply to sports, business, parenting, etc.

The main idea of the book is extreme ownership, which is a sense of responsibility for EVERYTHING that you have control over in your life. The logic behind this idea is pretty simple. When people lack ownership and blame others for problems, then they are less compelled to TAKE ACTION to solve problems, get things done, and succeed. They may think to themselves “Why do I have to work harder if it’s not my fault?” When people do this, they are choosing the ego satisfaction of deflecting blame over real success. On the other end, when people take ownership and say things such as “This is my fault. I can do better,” then they are more compelled to TAKE ACTION to solve problems, get things done, and succeed. They care more about team success than satisfying their ego.

When you take extreme ownership, you start to realize how much control you have in your life. When you realize that you can DECIDE to wake up earlier, have a good attitude, eat healthier, exercise more, watch less TV, study more, and go to sleep earlier, your confidence increases. You believe these things are possible, therefore your motivation increases and you become more disciplined.

When it comes to working with a team, people may think, “I can’t take ownership of everyone’s responsibilities. If I do that, then everyone else will become lazy and expect me to do everything.” This is not what extreme ownership means. First of all, taking extreme ownership and making no excuses inspires other people to do the same. It creates a culture that promotes hard work and mental toughness and discourages useless complaining and excuse making. When an athlete sees their coach display extreme ownership, they usually think to themselves, “Wow, I need to be like that. I need to take ownership of my responsibilities and stop making excuses.”

Secondly, extreme ownership doesn’t mean you should never delegate as a leader. It doesn’t mean as a leader, you have to fulfill every team responsibility. Your teammates and subordinates still have their own responsibilities, but as a leader, it is your responsibility to LEAD them to fulfill them. If they’re not fulfilling their responsibilities, don’t just blame them for team failures. That doesn’t help very much. As a leader, you must first blame yourself for being an ineffective leader and resolve to lead better and give your followers the motivation, confidence, knowledge, and tools to do their jobs better.

This brings up an important theme of the book: There’s not such thing as bad teams, there’s only bad leaders. This statement stems from the author’s belief that leadership is the most important factor in a teams performance. According to the book, any problem can be solved with better leadership, and better leadership starts with extreme ownership. As the authors say, there’s only two types of leaders: efffective and ineffective leaders. As a leader, you need to take ownership of your leadership and figure out how to become the best leader that you can be.

The book doesn’t end here. It also breaks down the most important elements of leadership. The book is well organized and gives you a clear understand of what leadership consists of. After talking about the importance of getting your team to believe in the mission and checking your ego, Willink and Babin break down what they call “the laws of combat,” which includes chapters on teamwork, the importance of simplicity and prioritizing, and decentralized command.

The remaining chapters go on to explain the importance of planning, leading up and down the chain of command, being decisive amid uncertainty, and the dichotomy of leadership.

The purpose of this book is to do two things. First, it’s meant to help cement in you an “extreme ownership” attitude. This part of the book is very inspiring and empowering. This alone makes the book worth reading. But if you really want to improve as a leader, this is not enough. If you truly apply the extreme ownership attitude, you’d want to learn everything you can about leadership. And that’s what this book also provides, a ton of practical knowledge about leadership. This book gives a solution to almost every specific issue that leaders deal with.To succeed in life, you need both the motivation/mindset, and practical/technical knowledge. Not many books do a great job providing both of these things. This book does! For a bonus, this book can be pretty entertaining and fun to read, especially if you’re interested in war and military.