It was during the most difficult training. The task was simple; row the boat and compete with other teams. The challenge was to do it over and over again in cold weather. One team in one boat was consistently bad, coming as the last one. The instructor decided to implement risky manoeuvre – swap the leaders of the winning and losing boats. The result surprised everyone. However, the experienced instructor just said: “there are no bad teams, just bad leaders.“
From the battlefield to the office 🔱
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin were soldiers. They led and commanded one of the most decorated US Navy Seal units during a war in Iraq. When they came back from the battlefield, they were in charge of training for other military units. Then, when they retired from the military, they started the consulting company. They began to implement lessons learnt in combat to the civilian sector. Soon, they realised that to scale, they need to have a sort of guide, a handbook to be able to scale their consultancy service. And this is when the authors decided to write the book Extreme Ownership.
“The best leaders don’t just take responsibility for their job. They take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission.”Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Lief Babin
Extreme Ownership lessons have many applications to business, especially in the operations departments in companies. However, authors themselves emphasise that the situation from the battlefield are extreme situations that we all see and experience in our everyday life.
The principles described in the book also apply to everyday life. I read this book in terms of professional work, but I found many applications for being a husband, dad and generally the head of the family … In the end of the day we can apply “No bad teams just bad leaders” motto to every aspect of our life.
Part I: Winning the war within
- Extreme ownership
- No bad teams, only bad leaders
- Check the ego
Part II: Laws of combat
- Cover and move
- Prioritise and execute
- Decentralised command
Part III: Sustaining victory
- Leading up and down the chain of command
- Decisiveness amid uncertainty
- Discipline equals freedom: The dichotomy of leadership.
Additionally, each chapter is divided into three parts.
Stories from the battlefield 🗯
Every chapter starts with a story. I read that part with bated breath on the edge of the armchair. The authors write about the real encounters from their time in combat. Every story illustrates one principle. Sometimes it was a happy ending story, sometimes there was a lot to learn from some failures. The narratives have a well-designed structure, facilitating easy absorption.
The principle 🎯
Every story leads to the principle. The one thing that we need to ponder while reading this particular chapter. The fact that authors decided to put the principle in the combat situation helps to focus on the merit. In extreme cases, when lives are at stake, it’s often easier to see how following specific patterns and procedures can be more efficient, helps the broader mission and often saves not only time but also lives.
Implementation to the business 🎓
Obviously, in the civilian world, we are not going to have that much of the pressure as Jocko and Leif had in combat scenarios. Having this said, there are still plenty of factors, and the pressure is real. Sometimes it is “to be or not to be” for a business, hundreds or even thousands people jobs may be in danger if leadership fails. In the last section of each chapter, the authors again tell us some stories.
This time, they narrate situations in specific companies where they worked as consultants. They define the problem and illustrate every story with funny dialogues. Finally, they walk us through the process of identifying the principle, applying solutions and implementing them in the real world.
Laws of combat in everyday life 👀
How we can be better leaders? How we can help our teams to be better? I would like to focus on the laws of combat. I found them profound, universal and easy to implement to virtually every problem that I can imagine, both in professional and private domains.
Cover and Move 🆙
“Many marriages would be better if the husband and wife clearly understood that they’re on the same side.”― Zig Ziglar
It is one of the most basic tactics in the military. One unit provides the covering fire so that the other group can move towards their goals.
I find it interesting how often it fails in real life on the very fundamental aspect – realisation we are one team.
- Do you recognise you and your spouse are on the same side?
- Do you recognise your team and the other team in your company are part of the same bigger team?
Instead of fighting each other, we need to focus the energy on helping each other. There are of plenty examples:
- one spouse is getting a hard assignment at work, and they need to focus more, so that the other side will cover home duties with kids and other commitments,
- one team is covering the workload, while the other side can move and restructure, re-hire, and get to full strength so that it is ready to start covering
“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”― Albert Einstein
As an engineer, I like things to just work. Sometimes, I have a tendency to improve things until they break, so I have the satisfaction to fix them, improve them and make them better. It works on many occasions. There is time for it. Primarily when there is enough time to experiment and learn. However, in real-life scenarios, we need to move on. Sometimes there are other people and teams involved in my plans.
My plan needs to be easy to understand and follow. There is a dichotomy between attention to details and simplicity. If I read my own notes before a presentation and cannot remember what I meant, it is a good sign things are not simple enough. No bad teams just bad leaders overcomplicating things around.
Prioritise and Execute 🔤
“The most important thing in life is knowing the most important things in life.”― David F. Jakielo
It is the one million dollar question that every one of us should start a day with: “what should I do next?” When we begin a new job, a new project, and we have a fresh start, it is somehow more manageable.
Managing numerous initiatives adds complexity to our responsibilities. Leading multiple teams across a diverse range of tasks becomes a full-time job.
Since I read the book “The ONE Thing“, I’ve tried to implement the focusing question every time I find myself ”too busy“:
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?“The ONE thing, James Clear
I can apply this approach at every level. Whether it’s the next step in my career, the upcoming project to undertake, or even the immediate task this morning that demands my focus to streamline everything else and eliminate unnecessary challenges.
Decentralised Command 🔛
“Trust is powerful. It is also fast. It can be lost quickly. Trust is also reciprocal. If you give trust, it will be given back to you. Delegation is a result of this trust.”― Steven R. Covey
Even after mastering the art of efficient task completion and selecting the optimal next step, the constant influx of tasks remains a persistent challenge. At some point, I need to learn to involve others to work with me to achieve more. I need to learn to delegate. To delegate means that I outsource part of my work. Usually, the work is already well-defined. I know what I typically do, what is the input that leads to a particular output. I just ask someone else to do it for me. To make it successful, I should do the following:
- show how I do it, while other person watches
- ask them to do it, so that I observe and provide feedback on how things should be done
- ask them to carry on doing and come back when they have some questions, or they are stuck.
However, the decentralised command is much more than just a delegation. Decentralised command includes a few other aspects:
- “Commander intent” – my mission, my goal – in general, things that I want to achieve by taking any given action.
- Trust that other person will do it as well, or even better than I would do it. This trust is developed gradually, typically as delegated tasks are executed successfully, fostering a strong rapport.
- Involving others in the planning phase – the delegation starts with planning. I am asking someone else to do things for me. I already trust them; they are capable of doing it. I should ask them to plan and execute. Similarly, with task delegation, the planning delegation has a few phases:
- include others in my planning exercise
- ask them to lead on planning and advise about weak points of the plan by asking questions and going through possible scenarios that could expose the fragile parts of the plan
- Ask them to plan and come back when the procedure is ready to execute
When we often execute the decentralised command, we not only have the bandwidth for more things to do but also we help others to become leaders. This is part of Heroic Leadership – the belief that everyone is capable of being a leader. No bad teams just bad leaders micromanaging people around.
Thanks for reading!
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