Owning your situation, in life and work, allows you to determine your future rather than let circumstances determine it. Leadership is simple but not easy given the numerous dichotomies in leadership. Effectively communicating not only the what but also the why is important so that even the lowest level understands the greater picture to a degree. Through constant dedication, discipline, and continous improvement, individuals and teams can attain the ultimate freedom: intrinsic self-discipline.
Chapter 1: Extreme Ownership
Who is to blame?
Ultimately, you own and are responsible for everything that you and your team does, says, and reacts to. That includes interactions with outside entities. You DO NOT own the outside entities actions, but you do own your reaction to their actions and how you communicate, think about, and interact with them. The leader must own everything in their world. If a supporting unit didn’t do what was needed, then they weren’t given clear enough instructions by you.
With the above, there’s only one person to blame: you. Despite the blow to your reputation and ego, it is the right thing to do. The full ownership of the situation increases trust more often than not.
The deep meaning of responsibility: the leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures. Total responsibility for failure is on their shoulders. Leaders must set ego aside, accept responsibility for failures, attack weaknesses, and consistently work to build a better and more effective team.
When subordinates aren’t doing what they should, the leader cannot and should not blame the subordinate. You, as the leader, should at yourself and your actions first. The leader is fully responsible for training, securing resources, explaining expectations and goals, and securing resources necessary for their team to perform. If someone is underperforming, it is on them to ensure performance. If performance doesn’t improve, then termination because of fit may be the answer. It’s all on the leader.
With saying the above, there’s a dichotomy: the leader does not accept the credit for their team. They give that honor to their subordinates and their leaders.
This principle has a trickle-down effect across the whole team. When the leader embraces it, junior leaders and frontline workers pick up on it, and they start taking responsibility for their actions as well. This enables performance even when a leader is removed from the equation.
Ultimately, it is all about the mission. How can you get you, your team, and other teams to accomplish their goals.
Things often fail because the leader failed to force execution.
Chapter 2: No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
There are no bad teams, only bad leaders since the leader drives performance or doesn’t. Leadership is the single most significant factor in any team’s performance.
Focusing on a short-term goal increases long-term performance and makes it easier in the long-term. Also, high-standards and continuously improving creates an attitude of growth and performance.
Don’t shelter underperformers. Ultimately, it doesn’t help the team and drags them down. Misguided loyalty, in this case, is a bad thing and sets a dangerous precedent.
Leaders must accept responsibility for performance: removing issues that stifle it and creating solutions to those issues. Every decision, reaction, word, etcetera has its consequences. You, as the leader, are responsible for them.
It’s not what you preach; it’s what you tolerate
If you allow poor performance, that’s what you’ll get if no one is held accountable. Have individuals repeat tasks until the higher expectations obtained. Teams need a forcing function to get the different members working together to accomplish the mission.
Leaders should never be satisfied: they must strive to improve and have their team do the same. They need to do a brutally honest assessment of themselves and their team’s performance.
Constantly improve, add capability, and increase standards. Starts with the individual and spreads to each of the team members until this becomes the new standard.
Aim to create a realistic assessment, acknowledge points of failure, and own the problems. Doing so is the key to improve performance and win with the team.
Believe that winning is possible. The belief that the team can improve and win is essential. Don’t tolerate bickering and infighting. Focus on the goal, the mission. If you aren’t winning, you aren’t making the right decisions.
If you allow the status quo to persist, you can’t expect to improve performance, and you can’t expect to win.
There are only two types of leaders: effective and ineffective. A leader must figure out how to become effective and drive performance.
Chapter 3: Believe
Your mindset and actions carry great weight with your people. To lead, you need to believe in your mission. You have to keep your doubts to yourself as you ask yourself, why?
You need to adjust your perspective. You need to think about the question from a strategic level and ask, what would be a successful outcome in this situation? Analyze the issue from the viewpoint of your superiors and those above you.
After you convince yourself, then you must convey the belief to subordinates. You must make sure that they understand and believe. When needed, cut disagreement short. Explain the strategic why.
There will likely still be resistance. They don’t have to be rah-rah supporters, but they have to understand the why so that they can believe in the mission. You must reinforce belief continuously so that people maintain their belief.
When you analyze the mission, frequently you will find the reasoning and reason for it. If you do not see it right away, then you must detach and search for the reasoning behind it. If you express doubt, then your team will also doubt and therefore not believe. You will not be able to convince others if you do not believe. Your actions and words portray your true feelings.
If you don’t understand why, then you must ask questions of those in charge until you do understand why. Senior leaders must explain and answer questions of junior leaders. Senior leaders must impart a general understanding of the strategic knowledge to their people. It is on the subordinate leader to reach out and ask if they do not understand why.
No senior leader would knowingly do something that would hurt the performance of the organization. The leader must explain the what and the why. Many times people understand the plan, but they don’t understand the why.
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.
Chapter 4: Check The Ego
Be confident (not cocky) but instill a culture of continuous improvement so that complacency doesn’t set in. The culture must encourage the checking of egos so that the team and teams can work together. Overconfidence and underestimating your enemy leads to defeat. Don’t believe that you can’t fail.
Discipline starts with the little things and leads to vigilance, operational readiness, and success. Ego destroys these things. It limits an individuals ability to glean a realistic assessment of performance and or a situation. However, everyone has an ego. It is what propels us to excel and do great things.
However, the mission must take precedence over ego. If you’re worried that another team will out-compete you and thus are tempted to withhold information, don’t. If you’re worried that others will outcompete you¸ work and train harder. You must share and do what is right for the mission and not serve your agenda
Knowing how to deal with a person’s ego is a crucial component of leadership. Some people like to push the envelope to see what they can get away with which can escalate if not addressed. With a subordinate, this is your fault since you own everything. If you approach something as if they did something wrong, then it becomes a clash of egos. If you take the blame then effectively take your ego out of the equation.
Because I wasn’t as clear as I should have been in explaining why… I need to fix this so that it doesn’t happen again.
Chapter 5: Cover and Move
As a leader, you must personally lead your team. You must personally demonstrate teamwork. Your team must support each other work, and others support yours. Don’t work independently. Sometimes you don’t have any good options to choose from, and you must choose the least bad option.
Sometimes teams focus too much on their immediate tasks, and they lose sight of the other teams that are part of the larger team. Impediments often bring about animosity, blame, and bickering.
If the overall team fails, everyone fails. The focus must be on how to accomplish the mission best.
When the team wins, everyone wins.
help each other, work together, and support each other to win… The enemy is all the other competing companies in your industry that are vying for your customers. Overcome us vs. them mentality and work together.
How can you help the other party or team accomplish their mission so they can help you accomplish your mission so that you can all win? Engage with them and build a personal relationship with them. Ask them what you can do to help them get you what you need.
Make them a part of your team, not an excuse for your team.
If you’re not working together with the necessary parties and or outside team members, then you’re failing your team. Make every effort to engage positively.
Chapter 6: Simple
A seemingly easy task is often complex to those who are unfamiliar with the operating environment. When doing a task for the first few times, keep it simple.
When under stress, relay information in a simple, clear, and concise manner.
Success is dependent on simplifying. Plans and orders that are too complicated lead to different interpretations and a lack of effective follow-through. If your team doesn’t execute the mission correctly, ask yourself why your plan didn’t convey what was necessary to get the job done. You must brief to the lowest common denominator.
You must encourage your team to ask questions that clarify so that they fully understand what they should focus on and what the objective actually is. There must be a clear and strong correlation between behavior and reward or punishment.
Being too close to a plan often leads to myopia and plans that are too complex as a result. Beware of plans that are very complex and attempt to account for every possibility since they are very difficult to follow.
The enemy gets a vote: complexity adds to confusion. Few missions go according to plan and complex plans make it difficult - if not impossible - to adapt to the changing situation.
Chapter 7: Prioritize and Execute
Go where the bad guys least expect you so that you can seriously disrupt their program.
During high pressure situations, you must prioritize and execute. You must detach from your emotions and determine the greatest priority for the team. You must not allow yourself to become overwhelmed and you will be if you attempt to tackle multiple problems at once. You must relax, look around, and make a call on which is the highest priority task and then execute.
You must stay ahead of real-time problems. You can anticipate likely challenges before an operation through contingency planning but you cannot anticipate all of them.
You must avoid “target fixation” so that you lose sight of the bigger picture of what is going on around you. You must train your team and yourself in the ability to quickly prioritize and reprioritize.
To implement prioritize and execute:
- evaluate: figure out the highest priority problem
- communicate: in simple, clear, and concise terms the highest priority for your team
- solution: figure out how to address the higehst priority with your team
- execute: direct the execution of the solution, focusing everyone’s efforts on said taks.
This process is not innate to most but learned.
Chapter 8: Decentralized Command
Once you can’t look over your team’s shoulder, you have to empower them to lead. Decentralized command allows you to maintain focus on the bigger picture. If you get too focused on the tactical then you can’t focus on the strategic. You must have trust and confidence in your senior leaders to know that they are empowered to make decisions.
Inexperienced leaders try to control everything and everyone.
Leaders shouldn’t ask, “this is what I am going to do.” They state, “this is what I am going to do.” Every leader worked and led separately in a unified way that contributed to the overall mission. The leaders made their decisions based on the underlying commander’s guidance.
Decentralized command is a necessity. You must trust your team - after adequate training - to make adjustments and adapt the plan. You must trust them to lead. Humans are typically not capable of managing more than six to ten people. Teams must be broken down into teams of four to five people with a clearly designated leader. The leaders must understand the overall mission.
Leaders must have clearly delineated responsibilities. Not just what to do but why they are doing it. If leaders don’t know why, they must ask their boss to clarify the why. This also means that junior leaders don’t operate based on their own program. They must understand what’s within their decision making authority and communicate with senior leaders to recommend decisions outside their authority. Junior leaders must be proactive rather than reactive.
They must have trust that their senior leaders will back their decisions. Situational awareness must be pushed to subordinate leaders. Likewise, junior leaders must push it up the chain of command.
Leaders who try to take on too much must fix the situation by empowering frontline leaders through decentralized command without micromanagement from the top. Leaders who are too far removed from the actual work become ineffective. This is called battlefield aloofness. Leaders must be free to move wherever they are most needed.
Leaders must be empowered at all levels to make decisions.
Leaders who are too focused, forced or otherwise, on doing production work generally don’t have time to focus on the bigger picture.
You can end up with a mess if you as a leader fail to set clear guidance and establish clear boundaries. Your team must understand not only the what but also the why. This all requires trust up and down the chain of command. Trust is not blindly given, it must be built over time.
It is more important that the junior leaders are allowed to make decisions - and backed up even if they don’t ake them correctly.
Chapter 9: Plan
Planning is essential to a successful operation or project. Luck is beneficial but much of it can be engineered.
Mission Analysis: planning begins at this stage where you identify clear objectives for your team. Your mission must be clear and specifically focused so that it can be effectively executed and to ward off mission creep.
You can never assume that risks - even grave risks - won’t be present on an operation. But you cannot plan for every contingency since that leads to analysis paralysis. Planning is about preparing for likely contingencies and not taking anything for granted so that you maximize the chance of success while you minimize the risk of collateral and friendly damage as much as possible.
Detailed contingency plans help mitigate risks and provide a good mental model for adapation in the event of an unforseen circumstance as long as the contingency plans are kept simple enough to be adaptable. However, “Those who will not risk cannot win” (John Paul Jones).
Mission Brief: should go over who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Long and detailed plans often leave you with too little time and neglects the most important pieces of the plan. They also become too complicated to be carried out effectively.
Desired result: The mission must express the desired end state of the operation that coincides with the commander’s intent which is the most important part of the brief. In addition, the why, not only the how, must be communicated to convey the deeper purpose behind the mission.
Once the team’s understand the commander’s intent they can theoretically operate independently without further guidance.
Planning must be delegated to subordinate leaders so that they have ownership and buy-in. Indeed, even frontline personell must have input so they know that their voice is heard and so that costly mistakes can be avoided.
The senior leader supervises but they shouldn’t become bogged down in the details of the plan. They must maintain the strategic viewpoint. Senior leaders need to stand back and be the tactical genius to identify weaknesses or holes in the plan.
Test for a successful brief: Do the team and supporting elements understand it? Everything else is bullsh*t. You must brief to the lowest common denominator.
Information should be prioritized so that the team does not experience information overload during a briefing. Encourage interaction and communication during a briefing to ensure that the teams understand the plan.
Post-operation debrief: one must make time no matter how exhausted or buys. They are essential to learn what went well and not so well and adaptations that should be made to future plans. The post-op debrief must be standardized and repeateable with a checklist.
The best teams strive for continous improvement by constantly analyzing their tactics and effectiveness so that they can adapt to future conditions.
Mission planning checklist:
- Understand HQ’s mission
- Identify and state commander’s intent
- Identify resources available
- Empower key leaders
- Course of action
- Focus on the best course
- Empower key leaders
- Plan for contingencies
- Mitigate risks
- Stand back and observe
- Continually evaluate the plan as information and the situation emerges
- Brief the plan
- Emphasize the commander’s intent
- Ask questions
- Conduct post-op debrief
- Analyze lessons learned
Chapter 10: Leading up and down the chain of command
Those who have the least ownership of the planning of a mission often struggle with morale the most and vice versa. Strategic overview briefs can help the team. Those with less ownership of the planning process are more in the dark and understand the why less. Greater context helps those up and down the chain of command understand the why.
Junior members of the team don’t need the full knowledge and insight of the senior leaders. Similarly, senior leaders don’t need to know all of the details. It is essential that the senior leaders explain how and why junior leaders and troops contribute to the big picture success. Must routinely communicate with the team to help them understand and so that frontline leaders can connect the dots. Engage regularly in face-to-face conversations.
If your team isn’t doing what you want them to, you first have to look at yourself.
The importance of pushing information up the chain. Need to push situational awareness up the chain.
Leadership doesn’t just flow down the chain of command, but up as well. You have to own everything in your world.
You have to take ownership of the problem and lead. This includes leaders above you. Look at yourself and see what you can do better. Check your negative attitude, which is corrosive and ultimately hampers your ability to operate.
Don’t blame the boss. First, blame yourself.
Examine what you can do to better convey the critical information for decisions to be made and support allocated. Leading up requires tactful engagement to push situational awareness up9 the chain of command. Leading up takes much more savvy and skill than leading down. You cannot fall back on positional authority.
Realize that your boss is working under limitations as well. They have limited resources to accomplish their goals.
One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss… so that you present a united front to the teams.
If you don’t understand the why behind a decision, it is on you to ask questions up the chain until you understand why. Once the debate on a particular subject is finished, you must support the decision.
- Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world (subordinates and superiors)
- Look in the mirror first
- Don’t ask your leader what to do, tell them what you are going to do
Watch out for the infamous they and the us versus them mentality.
Chapter 11: Decisiveness amid Uncertainty
You need to make the best decision you can based on the information available. Some decisions have an immediate impact and can be easily altered or reversed while others cannot be undone. Despite uncertainty, chaos, and pressure, you must act decisively: default aggressive. As a leader, you almost never have the full picture and must make decisions only based on the information that you have or that you can obtain immediately.
You cannot be paralyzed by fear. It is critical lfor you to act decisively amid uncertainty. There is no 100% right solution and you must be comfortable with this. Be ready to quickly adjust those decisions based on the evolving situation and new information.
Don’t let the situation dictate your decisions. You must dictate the situation. Don’t operate with a wait and see approach. As a leader you must be seen as decisive and willing to make tough choices.
People can be cancers and their destructive attitudes will metastasize within the team and spread to others.
Chapter 12: Discipline Equals Freedom
Human beings tend to resist change. Your freedom operate and maneuver increases substantially through disciplined procedures: discipline equals freedom.
Discipline starts in the morning with your morning routine. The moment the alarm goes off is the first test and sets the tone for the rest of your day. The weakness of not getting up translates to other more significant decisions. If you want extra time to study and improve, you must make that time since it doesn’t exist on your day-to-day schedule. One of the sure fire ways to make time is to get up early. That takes discipline and results in more free time. Strive to constantly improve your personal discipline.
Those who are at work before everyone else are considered the “best.”
Discipline means intrinsic self-discipline-a matter of personal will. It demands control and asceticism which thereby results in freedom.
The temptation to take the easy road is always there. It is as easy as staying in bed in the morning and sleeping in.
As part of a team, you must have disciplined standard operating procedures. That allows you to work within the framework of disciplined procedures when you must change plans mid-operation.
Some teams become very restricted by imposed disciplined and thus inhibit their teams and leaders ability to make decisions and think freely. The balance between freedom and discipline must be found and maintained.
Discipline is the pathway to freedom.
Dichotomy’s of Leadership:
- A leader must lead but also be ready to follow
- 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.
- A leader must be aggressive but not overbearing
- A leader must be calm but not robotic
- A leader must be brave but not foolhardy
- Leaders must have a competitive spirit but also be gracious losers
- A leader must be attentivve to details but not obsessed by them
- A leader must be strong but likewise have endurance, not only physically but mentally
- Leaders must be humble but not passive; quiet but not silent
- A leader must be close with subordinates but not too close
- A leader must exercise extreme ownership. Simultaneously, that leader must employ decentralized command.
- A leader has nothing and everything to prove
When a leader struggles, the root cause behind the problem is that the leader has leaned too far in one direction and steered off course. Your people cannot be more important than your mission though you must still be close with your people.
As a leader, you must be willing to learn with a humble attitude that seeks constructive criticism in order to improve. Some of the boldest plans in history have come from frontline leaders. Even those with less natural ability can develop into highly effective leaders.
Training is critical to the foundation of leadership and build confidence in the leaders’ ability to communicate and lead. Leaders must be heavily engaged in training and mentoring their junior leaders to prepare them to step up and assume greater responsibilities.
Extreme ownership is a mind-set, an attitude. A leader no longer needs to be involved in the minor details of decisions but needs to focus on the strategic outlook.
The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job
Leadership is simple, but not easy.
Leadership decisions are inherently challenging and take practice. Thankfully, subordinates do not expect their bosses to be perfect. Leading people is the most challenging of all human endeavors.