Jocko Willink's & Leif Babin's 'Extreme Ownership'

Welcome back to yet another blog post and today I wanted to talk to you about something most people never really think about: Leadership. I’m going to elaborate on the principles touched on in the book “Extreme Ownership” - a must-read for everyone! The book is written by the two Navy-SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and they show how one can implement lessons from the battlefield in your personal life and business.

I may also add a few things from Willink’s other book called “Discipline Equals Freedom” for some extra value!

When we hear the word leadership we usually think about managers, politicians or any people in higher ranks. What we don’t realize is that these principles can be applied to any of our lives and make a huge difference.

The principles in this book are simple, but not easy. Taking ownership for mistakes and failures is hard but those who can successfully implement these principles in their lives will run circles around the rest of the world. 

The book is split up into three parts, each touching on different aspects of leadership and responsibility and I’m going to take the most important parts and explain them to you. And as usual, if you want to get even more value and hear it from them, then definitely give this book a shot and read these books on your own, too. 

In the end, I will summarize everything that we have learned in a precise manner so that you can always look back at it. Now let’s get into it!

PART I: Winning The War Within


1. Extreme Ownership

If leadership could be summarized into one principle, it would be that a leader should take full responsibility (or better: ownership) for a situation - the leader must own everything in his or her world (and that of the team). Your team could be anything from the people at work to your family or a group of friends on a night out.

We often attribute the success of others to luck or circumstances while making excuses for our own shortcomings. We start blaming circumstances beyond our control or bad luck and we try to push away the responsibility for that situation. Total responsibility for failure is a difficult thing to accept and taking ownership when things go wrong takes a lot of courage.

But that’s what leadership is about. There is no one else to blame. The leader must put his/her ego aside to acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.

Once you start taking ownership of your situation and your surroundings, your life will change for the better. You are now in control and can begin shaping the world to your advantage.


2. No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

If you’re in a position where you have to lead others or if you simply want to be the best version of yourself, there is one thing you have to remember: it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate. When setting expectations, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable, that poor performance becomes the new standard.

Let me explain that with an example unrelated to business - let’s say you want to start waking up at 6 or 7 AM every morning to start a new morning routine (or you want to start reading 50 pages of a book per day, it doesn’t really matter what it is). 

If you manage to achieve your goal for the first few days but then you start hitting the snooze button to sleep a little longer, then that will become your new standard. If you keep on repeating this behavior day after day, it will become tougher and tougher to fulfill.

Extreme Ownership means that a leader should never be satisfied to settle. They must always strive to improve and push the standards higher. By honestly assessing your situation and building that mind-set into your team (starting with yourself), you can achieve so much more!

Fear of failure is ok. But more important is the fear of being stagnant. Go one step at a time - try to be a little better than you were yesterday.


3. Believe

If you want to accomplish a goal and inspire others to make that happen, you have to be a true believer in that “mission”. If a leader starts to show doubts ten the goal probably won’t be accomplished - you must believe in the greater cause.

If you really believe in the greater cause of whatever it is you’re trying to achieve then you can inspire others to make that happen. To understand and convey the greater cause you have to ask a very important question: Why?

Why do you want to achieve this goal? Why are you being asked to do this? 

Dig deeper and find out the true meaning of it. Because if someone doesn’t understand the greater cause, they cannot truly believe in it.

Don’t just think in terms of what you have to do but also why you have to do it. Only then can you align your goals with others and work to make them happen.


4. Check the Ego

Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism. And often, the most difficult ego to deal with is your own.

When ego clouds our judgment and prevents us from seeing the world as it is, then ego becomes destructive.

Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team. Ego can prevent an honest assessment of one’s situation and therefore hinder the performance.

Strive to be confident, but never cocky. We must never get complacent. This is where controlling the ego is most important.

As you can see, Part I of this book doesn’t really talk about strategies or advice you can implement to manage a team of people. Part I is all about showing that success starts from within. It comes when you make a decision to do more, to BE more.

PART II: The Laws Of Combat

1. Cover and Move

Cover and Move is the most fundamental tactic and put simply it means Teamwork!

Within any team, there are divisions that arise. Often, when one team within the team gets so focused on their own tasks and goals, they forget about the other divisions. They may even start to compete with one another and over time this will create friction. 

It falls on leaders to continually put everything in perspective and remind the team that they are part of the greater team and the overall mission.

When the entire organization fails, every time fails. On the other hand, when the entire organization wins, everyone wins. That’s why you have to keep on working together, communicate with each other, and mutually support one another!


2. Simple

Most things in life are layered and once things get layered they also tend to get more complicated. And when plans and orders get too complicated, people may not understand them - things will therefore inevitably go wrong and issues get compounded and spiral out of control into a total disaster.

As a leader, it doesn’t matter how well you feel you have presented the information or communicated a plan. If your team doesn’t get it, you have not kept things simple and have failed. It’s crucial to keep plans and communications simple.

“Any damn fool can make it complex. It takes a genius to make it simple.”


3. Prioritize and Execute

This is pretty much what it says. Anyone can get overwhelmed when trying to tackle multiple things at once. If you want to get the best results for whatever it is you’re doing, then you have to decide what’s most important for you and then execute in order.

Leif Babin used a brilliant real-life battlefield-experience to undermine the importance of this lesson and he breaks it down to the most important part - don’t tackle every problem at once (pull yourself off the firing line) and remember this sequence: Relax, Look around, Make a call.

Great planning is a big factor to make this easier because if you have planned everything through then you can think one or two steps ahead and adapt to changes much more quickly. 


4. Decentralized Command

This doesn’t really apply to an everyday situation but it’s still very valuable. The thing is, you can’t keep track of everything and you can’t manage everyone. A rule of thumb says that you can generally manage between six to ten people but after that things are out of our control.

Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to five people with a clearly designated leader. Those leaders must understand the overall mission - remember, not just what to do but why they’re doing it - and they’re the ones that report to you.

If tasks are properly delegated and if everyone is working towards the same goal, the effectiveness of the organization rises and you can achieve much more success. The effectiveness of Decentralized Command is critical to the success of any team in any industry - leaders at all levels must be empowered to make decisions.

At this point, we have learned that success comes from within and we have touched on some very valuable principles that help us on our way towards that success. In the final part of this book, we now look at how to stay successful and therefore sustain our victory for the long term!

PART III: Sustaining Victory

1. Plan

It touched in this in lesson 8: Great planning is essential, and it all begins with the understanding of the overall mission and goals. To prevent misunderstandings, the mission must be carefully refined and simplified so that it is explicitly clear and focused on great planning.

I could go on and on how you could plan things but I think it’s best if I just show you what Willink and Babin think planning should look like:


  1. Analyze the mission (the goal and the WHY).
  2. Identify the personnel, assets, resources, and time available.
  3. Decentralize the planning process.
  4. Determine a specific course of action.
  5. Empower key leaders to develop the plan for the selected course of action.
  6. Plan for likely contingencies through each phase of the “operation”.
  7. Mitigate risks that can be controlled as much as possible.
  8. Delegate portions of the plan and brief to key junior leaders.
  9. Continually make sure that the plan still holds against upcoming information.
  10. Brief the plan to all participants and supporting assets.
  11. Conduct a debrief after everything is over.

This isn’t really information for everyday situations and it’s heavily influenced by their military background but I still think that everyone can make some use of it. And as you can see, great planning is kind of a natural extension of all the things we talked about before this!

2. Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command

I’m going to keep this rather short because there’s a lot to cover. The gist of it is that everyone in the operation should have a general understanding of the others’ jobs. Everyone should kind of know what others are doing and, more importantly, why they are doing it.

You also have to make sure that everyone knows the importance of their contribution - everyone has to understand their role in the big picture success.

If you established a clear chain of command with precise, simple, and direct communication then things should go pretty smoothly. And if something isn’t working out, look in the mirror first to see if you can change it (always remember lesson 1)!

Now on to the last lesson...

3. Decisiveness amid Uncertainty

You most probably never really have the full picture and every information available to make the best decisions possible. There will always be something you’re missing out on or something you haven’t thought of.


The most important thing is that you cannot be paralyzed by fear - that results in inaction. It is critical for leaders to act decisively amid uncertainty; to make the best decision they can base on only the immediate information available. This “incomplete picture” principle is not unique to any situation and it separates the good from the great.

Waiting for the 100 percent right and certain solution leads to delay, indecision, and an inability to execute. If something goes bad, just say “Good!” and make the best of it.

And that’s it. That’s most of what Willink and Babin talk about in their book. There’s obviously so much more you can learn from that book - too much to cover in here. That’s why I highly recommend that you read that book too so that you can fully understand what they mean and to hear their own real-life battlefield stories they share in that book.

Now, as promised, here’s the summary of everything we have learned. Everything a leader should do and a leader should be. A leader

  • ...must lead but also be ready to follow.
  • ...must be aggressive but not overbearing.
  • ...must be calm but not robotic.
  • ...must be confident but not cocky. 
  • ...must be brave but not foolhardy.
  • ...must have a competitive spirit but also be a gracious loser.
  • ...must be attentive to details but not be obsessed with them.
  • ...must be strong but likewise have endurance (mentally and physically).
  • ...must be humble but not passive.
  • ...must be quiet but not silent.
  • ...must be close with subordinates but not too close.
  • ...must exercise Extreme Ownership
  • ...has nothing to prove but everything to prove.

And with that being said, just remember: Don’t try to be better than someone else; just try to be the best YOU can be.

Get your copy here:

See you next time, peace out!