Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Review: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Last fall on Veteran's Day, I mentioned a book I was reading that was written by two Navy SEALs about leadership called Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead And Win. The authors, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin also run their own leadership development and executive coaching firm called Echelon Front. To be honest, I probably would not have known about their book if it had not been for the fact that Leif and a number of his classmates from USNA class of 1998 rallied to the support of Nuru International CEO and classmate Jake Harriman as part of their 15 year class reunion gift. I had been following Leif on Twitter when I saw news of his book. As part of my ethos, I believe in supporting people who I have at least some degree of connection to as they work to bring good into the world. With Leif and Jocko, the connection was indirect. They were connected to Jake, and they had been supportive of Nuru's mission.

That being said, when I heard they wrote a book, I figured the least I could do was give it a read, and potentially write a review of it. So here I am, writing a review. And as I start, let me say this. I feel like most books on leadership are really just a repackaging of timeless lessons that are made more timely by their proximity to modern challenges, or by being etched into the minds of the author by the crucible of experience. In Extreme Ownership, we are presented with a book that comes from both.

The authors are honest in an admission that there are already plenty of books available on leadership, but they believe (and I agree) that their unique contribution to this sphere comes in the fact that they learned these lessons in the tumult of combat and have sought to extract from their experience the important principles and also worked to apply them to more conventional contexts in the workplace. The lessons and experiences are written vividly, and as one reads, there is a certainty that these memories and lessons learned were hard-fought, and life-changing for the authors. I highly recommend giving the book a read, not just for the leadership wisdom, but for the concrete way these two men have been able to write about their experiences in combat and bring the realities that most of us only experience through the filter of news channel pundits into the forefront of our own understanding. While the book is a great book about leadership, it is also a history lesson on the very real challenges that men and women who are my age have encountered over the last several years in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflict zones around the world.

The three biggest reminders I took away from the book were these.

1) The person who bears ultimate responsibility for any mission, any project, or any objective in my life is me. We live in a world caught up in working to assign blame to others and displace responsibility from ourselves. If something in my life is not working out the way I want it to, I need to own it. I need to accept responsibility for my own failures, as well as my failures when leading others. I need to own it.

2) When I'm feeling overwhelmed, the most important thing I can do is prioritize and execute. We talk a lot about multi-tasking, but the reality is we will fail if we try to tackle several tasks simultaneously. It is up to me to determine the highest priority task and then begin there. If there are several tasks, I need to keep my head and do as the authors say, "Relax, look around, make a call."

3) Discipline equals freedom. Not only is this a great little mantra, but the premise is that increased discipline results most often in greater freedom. If we master a certain level of discipline, we can easily adapt. As we standardize and create routines, it helps us to be mindful and creative in our approaches to other areas, and by creating discipline around a few standing areas, we can easily adapt and create linkages when necessary. I like to think about this principle as the means through which I achieve results. If I want to attain mastery of my fitness, my spiritual formation, etc. I need to apply a level of discipline on an ongoing basis. At least this is my personal application of the principle.

So, if you are looking for a solid book on leadership, or if you are looking to learn from the stories and experiences of a couple of people who have been taught from the crucible of experience on the frontlines of combat, I recommend giving Extreme Ownership a read. Also, Jocko has started a podcast too. I was able to listen to a little bit of his first one, but I'm hoping to give these segments a listen on some future road trip or flight.

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