Shukry Zablah

Summary of Extreme Ownership, Part I

In this post I summarize a few leadership insights extracted from Part I of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Wilink and Leif Babin.

Extreme Ownership. Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.


The following insights are quotes from the book.

  1. On any team ... all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his ... world. ... When subordinates aren't doing what they should ... the leader must train and mentor the underperformer. If underperformers cannot improve, the leader must terminate them.
  2. There are no bad units, only bad officers.
  3. When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable ... that poor performance becomes the new standard.
  4. ... a leader must be a true believer in the mission. The leader must explain not just what to do, but why. It is the responsibility of the subordinate leader to ... ask if they do not understand. Only when leaders at all levels understand and believe ... can they pass that understanding to their teams.
  5. ... 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. ... if you put your own ego in check, meaning you take the blame, that wll allow him to ... see the problem without his vision clouded by ego.

Context: Why I was reading the book?

At work we recently understood that we are not as high performing of a team as we originally set out be. The main caused identified was:

  1. The realization of company vision via product is inefficient due to the vagueness of short-term (1-6 months) product planning.

Rationale (should be self-evident)

  1. By definition a vague product plan lacks specificity in the steps needed to take the product from having capabilities A to having capilities B.
  2. Assuming that a product can only move from having capabilities A to B via a sequence of discrete changes in its capabilities, if a team executes with a vague plan, they will have to create the specific steps as they execute.
  3. Other things held constant, optimizing a plan that is created as it is being executed will be less optimal than optimizing a plan that has already been specified fully.

From 1-3, a team executing a plan that has been optimized will perform better when said plan is not vague.

Thus a vague product plan is shown to produce an inefficient implementation of company vision.

Acknowledging that we are not as high performing of a team as we want to be is the first step towards improving. In trying to answer who's fault was it, I dove into the discipline of project management (because I thought it was a project management problem), but soon I concluded that it was the fault of leadership, and set out to understand what a leader should do before bringing it up. My explorations confirmed my initial hypothesis.