Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Extreme Ownership (A Book Review)

The book cover for Extreme Ownership, fair use claimed, full citation below in the sources.

Greetings All:

It has been a while since I featured a book in my blog.  I have listened to a couple of books recently that were truly thought-provoking for me.  

The first was Dr. Brene Brown's Rising Strong.  Dr. Brown has performed ground-breaking work on the relationship between embracing (an appropriate level of) vulnerability and becoming a stronger, more effective person.  Dr. Brown has a TED Talk that is great.  The link is in the sources below and I invite you to check it out, you'll dig it.

As to your featured book, it is Extreme Ownership.  The authors are John "Jocko" Willink and Leif Babin.  They are the two primary directors/leaders/visionaries of the leadership consulting firm Echelon Front.  Prior to this endeavor, these gentlemen were Navy SEAL officers.  The Navy SEALS are the gleaming tip of American's military spear.  It is only the most dedicated and both mentally and physically tough who earn the right to wear the Trident, signifying admission into this most elite unit.  I highly doubt I would make it thru two days of this training.  

The authors were assigned to "Task Unit Bruiser" during the Battle of Ramadi.  This was a period of sustained (that's code for bloody) urban combat during Operation Iraq Freedom.  If you've read and/or seen American Sniper by Chris Kyle, much of his story occurred in this hellhole.

If you're looking for a book with tales of combat, this book fits the bill.  However, I would suggest the real value of this book lies in the lessons learned in combat and the application thereof to contemporary business endeavors.  

I loved this book.  I loved it for its raw honesty.  I loved it for his simple message:  You are responsible for everything if you are a leader.  The core message of Extreme Ownership is that if you are in charge, "The Boss" if you will, then you are the one for whom all accountability rests.  Don't blame your staff, your assistant, the Wi-Fi going down, the Fed Ex truck that derailed on I-80 west of Iowa City for the package not getting someplace on time.  Nope.  You, you as the leader, are in charge.  And with that authority comes the responsibility for taking the hit when things go south.

I first learned of this book when I listened to Tim Ferriss' podcast.  It was also, not by coincidence, I would argue, that I also learned of Dr. Brown's book.  I have a link to the poscast with Commander Willink that podcast and it is an amazing listen.

If I had to pick one thing about this book I love (and there are many) is the way these two warriors, leaders, patriots, share credit with their fellow service members.  The "Special Operations" community, fair or otherwise, has been painted as being elite, being better than the rest of the military.  Just my two cents, yet I have yet to meet one such military member who acted even slightly like that.  If anything, they are confident, humble, engaging, curious, respectful and someone whose company I'd love to share.  Oh, and if you're ISIS, these guys would put a bullet in your skull.   

Willink and Babin go out of their way to praise their fellow warriors when discussing their service in the hell that was Ramadi.   This praise in neither faint nor artificial.  There is nothing about these authors that is either.  Instead, they are two of the most authentic, genuine individuals whose story I have had the good fortune to learn.  It is due to their sincerity that makes me appreciate their willingness to share praise and credit.

This is a central tenant of this book:  Leaders must build up the team, protect the team and never forget that they are both a part of, as well as, the leader of the team.  No one, especially the leader, is as important as the sum of the parts.

If you listen to this book or read it (or both) I believe you will come away with a few central points.  The first is that as a leader you, and only you, are responsible for what occurs in your endeavors.  You must own your decisions-good, bad, or otherwise.  If a subordinate and/or direct report commits and error, ultimately, it is on you, not him.  You failed in some capacity as a leader to properly train/coach/mentor/direct/encourage.  Then there is the incredibly hard part of leadership- letting someone go who is not contributing to and/or detracting from the mission.  At the end the the day, it is the mission that must be accomplished.

The second thing that stuck with me was the critical importance of communication.  Whether one is directing troops on the battlefield or overseeing salespeople in a territory, it is incumbent on the leader to explain not only the "how" but also the "why" of a mission.  In this book, Willink explains in vivid detail how he got his subordinates to embrace working with Iraqi troops, even though the initial response was severe in the negative.  Good leaders explain the mission.  Great leaders explain the reasons behind the mission.  It is only by taking this extra step that a leader can arouse the passion in his or her subordinates to not only follow but become leaders in their own right in accomplishing the mission.

I could go on and on about this book, the stories, the applications to real life.  Yet to do so would only drag out this post and would rob you of the experience of hearing or reading the stories for yourself.  I will touch on a third point of the book that riveted me.  It is this:  

Discipline equals freedom.

"Huh?"  You might say.  I thought the whole idea of freedom was to be able to be yourself, to make your own way, to sleep in late, not make your bed, let the dishes pile up in the sink and, well, you get the point.  

Yet in Willink and Babin's mind, it is only through discipline that you have the freedom to become what you truly wish to be.  If you want more time in the day, for example, then get up earlier.  If you want to be able to move faster in your body armor and helmet, then wear the (expletive-deleted) things all the time, not just when you have to.  Then, it becomes almost like a second skin.  Want to be more effective in some area of your life?  Great.  All you have to do is commit to owning your conduct and disciplining yourself to do the little things everyday that set you up for success.  

It reminds me of the line from legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi's What It Takes To Be Number 1,  "Winning is a habit.  Unfortunately, so is losing."  Willink discusses how you need to set three alarms so there is NO EXCUSE for not getting up on time.  Then he takes it a step further by saying you need, no, strike that, MUST get up immediately when the FIRST alarm goes off.  If you do, you win.  If you go back to sleep, then you lost that day's first battle.  As Coach Lombardi warns, this is the beginning o the day's habits,...for good or for ill.

I enjoyed this book completely and I believe you will as well.  The standards Willink and Babin set are high, incredibly so.  Yet not impossible.  While they had the awesome responsibility for leading fellow SEALS into battle, we, too, have our own responsibility.  That is to be the best leaders we can be, at work, at home, in the classroom, in the gym, wherever we find ourselves.  Few people are willing to accept this level of responsibility.  Then again, there are equally few who ascend to a level of effective leadership that empower them to achieve  their goals.  

Extreme Ownership is a collection of lessons learned literally under fire.  The applications to civilian life and business are clearly explained.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who desires to be a better leader and inspire leadership in others.  I have links in the sources to the book and other information.  If you do read or listen to this book, please let me know your thoughts on it, thanks.

Be well my friends,


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