Extreme Ownership

I’m working through the book Extreme Ownership, and its great! It’s a bit ‘macho’ and American, but the lessons in it are excellent. It reminds me a little of the ‘proactivity’ lesson in Seven Habits of Highly Successful people who I read years ago, and its brought the principles of responsibility right back to the front of my mind. Response – ability, your ability to respond to a situation, a really powerful message.

I’ve done a bit of digging into Jocko and it seems he is a quite well established personality in this space now, with a few more ebooks under his belt, and a successful podcast even. But I stumble across extreme ownership on Audible and so I’ll start there. But I very much encourage you to check out the full work he does with his company Echelon Front too.

Jocko is an ex Navy SEAL officer, and the simple premise of the book is to apply lessons in leadership learned in combat to everyday life, and especially business. A sort of updated “Art of War” but by an American war hero, and not a fictional Japanese general from thousands of years ago!

The lessons are simple, and straightforward and delivered in the book with a repeating formula. 1) War Story, exciting and compelling stories of life on the front lines of one of the most dangerous places on the planet over the last decades or so. 2) The lesson, what is to be taken from the story and 3) How it applies to business.

Like I said, simple and direct and very compelling. I really like the messages in the book, and so I thought I’d share a quick overview. Bit I really do recommend having a read too. It’s really entertaining and has valuable leadership lessons throughout.

Extreme Ownership – There are no bad teams, only bad leaders

The book kicks off with a story of a combat mission in Iraq that goes horribly wrong, with the soldiers involved paying the ultimate price for mistakes, blue on blue action. Or Friendly fire, resulting in death an injury of their own team mates. Jocko goes on to explain how reflecting on the mission he came to realise that it was all his fault. As the commander in the field, the primary leader, he would take the responsibility, ownership, of all of it. Whether he physically made a mistake or not, and he clearly did not, his view was that each breakdown of the plan came down to his failure somewhere in the planning, communication, or implementation. Basically, it came down to him.


If people don’t want to follow the mission, or don’t believe in the mission, which is much the same thing, it’s the leaders responsibility to explain WHY it’s so important to the overall goal. If the junior leaders don’t get it, teach them the why, if the men and women in the field don’t get it, it’s the leaders responsibility to teach them why as well.

Control your ego

This is a huge task! For a leader, setting aside your own ego so you can learn the lesson of your (or someone else’s) failures is really hard. But the team and the mission are all important. No person is bigger than the team.

Simplify the plan

Dont make the plan simplistic, make it simple. Easy to understand, easy to communicate and readily achievable goals are the way to ensure the plan survives contact with the enemy and remains useful all the way through the mission.

Prioritise and Execute 

When all about you are losing their heads… Combat is chaotic, loud, dangerous and above all confusing. The US Navy SEALs are taught to ‘relax, look around, and make a call’. Deal with whats in front of you, and only that, then move onto the next problem and the next problem. Don’t try to solve everything at once, or basically do what so many businesses do, and that’s get so confused about everything, they end up doing nothing.

Build Trust 

In the military, and within your teams, trust is vital. We must learn to trust each person in the team to do their job to their utmost. And we also must be able to show them they can trust us to do the same. Let go of those task you oversee and let the teams take ownership of the mistakes you can see they will make, but ensure they learn from those mistakes too. They’ll learn you trust them and so will begin to trust you too.

Communicate up and down the chain of command 

Make sure everyone know their part, and why it’s so important. And make sure your boss knows what you are doing too. It’s so much better to present a problem AND the solution to the boss. Tell them what you are going to do to solve it, and see your standing in the organisation soar.


Freedom comes from discipline. Keeping yourself in shape and combat ready. Agile, mobile and ready to react. But also feeding yourself the right food to perform, getting the rest you need and doing the activities to keep you in shape. Its Jocko’s final piece, and features in the next book if his I’m going to be reading, and the podcast he does too.

Watch the video, read the book, and let me know what you think of extreme ownership!