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Insights From Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead & Win (#34)

This is an amazing book, written by a Navy Seal commander who served in the Iraq War.

Arguably leadership in the arena of the combat is the most difficult, you are forced to make decisions that could very well cost lives. There's a misconception that everyone in the military follows orders so that leadership, but I know several vets who would tell you otherwise. Do you really think soldiers always do what they're told?

His podcast is fuckin incredible. (I've left a couple of episode recommendations at the bottom of the post).

I love his podcast because it's a great primer on human nature, and man some of the stories some of these vets tell are just fuckin movies, they'll make you reconsider the definition of "I'm having a rough day." Just incredible.

This arguably is the most influential book I've read in the past couple of years, it's helped me get on the right track with something a lot of us struggle with day in and out - self-discipline.

Extreme Ownership

  • On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win. 
  • When subordinates aren’t doing what they should, leaders that exercise Extreme Ownership cannot blame the subordinates. They must first look in the mirror at themselves.
  • The leader bears full responsibility for explaining the strategic mission, developing the tactics, and securing the training and resources to enable the team to properly and successfully execute. 

There Are No Bad Teams, Just Bad Leaders

  • The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance - or doesn’t. 
  • Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mind-set into the team. 
  • This applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team, but to the junior leaders of teams within the team. 
  • Don’t shelter or have loyalty to underperformers who don’t have the determination or will to meet the high standards of performance. 
    • If an individual on the team is not performing at the level required the leader must train and mentor that underperformer. 
    • If the underperformer fails to meet standards, the leader must be loyal to the team and mission above any individual. 
    • If underperformers cannot improve, then the leader must make the tough call to terminate them and hire others who can get the job done. When it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate. 
  • If substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable - if there are no consequences - that poor performance becomes the new standard.
  • The “Tortured Genius” ⇒ no matter how obvious his or her own failing, or how valid the criticism, accepts zero responsibility for mistakes, makes excuses, and blames everyone else for their failings.
  • Most people want to be part of a winning team yet they often don’t know how, or simply need motivation and encouragement. 
  • They must face the facts through a realistic, brutally honest assessment of themselves and their team’s performance. 
  • The best teams are constantly looking to improve, add capability, and push standards higher. It starts with the individual and spreads.


  • In order to convince and inspire others to follow accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission. 
  • Even when others doubt and ask “Is it worth it?” the leader must believe in the greater cause. 
  • If a leader does not believe, he or she will not take the risks required to overcome the inevitable challenges necessary to win. They will not be able to convince others. 
  • Leaders must always operate with the understanding that they are part of something greater than themselves.
  • Your people must understand the “why”
  • If you don’t understand or believe in the decisions coming down from your leadership, it is up to you to ask questions until you understand how and why those decisions are being made. 

Check The Ego

  • Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism. 
  • The most difficult ego to deal with is your own. 
  • When personal agendas become more important than the team and the overarching mission’s success, performance suffers and failure ensues.
  • Dealing with people’s egos is a critical component of leadership. 

Cover and Move

  • This is the most fundamental tactic, it means teamwork
  • Departments and groups within the team must break down silos
    • These individuals and teams must instead find a way to work together, communicate with each other, and mutually support one another. 
  • If the overall team fails, everyone fails, even if a specific member or an element within the team did their job successfully. 
  • Alternatively, when the team succeeds, everyone within and supporting that team succeeds.
  • The focus must always be on how to best accomplish the mission. 


  • Keep your composure and make clear calls. 
  • Keep things as simple as possible. 
  • Plans and orders must be communicated in a manner that is simple, clear, and concise.

Prioritize & Execute

  • Lay out in simple, clear, and concise terms the highest priority effort for your team. 
  • Even the most competent of leaders can be overwhelmed if they try to tackle multiple problems or a number of tasks simultaneously.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed. 
  • Relax and remain calm, step back from the situation mentally, assess the scenario, decide what had to be done, and make a call.
    • Navy Seal Saying: (Relax, look around, make a call).
  • An effective way to help Prioritize and Execute under pressure is to stay at least a step or 2 ahead of real-time problems. 
  • Senior leaders must help subordinate team leaders within their team prioritize their efforts. 
  • Teams must be careful to avoid target fixation on a single issue.

Decentralized Command

  • Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than 6 - 10 people, particularly when things go sideways and inevitable contingencies arise.
  • “On the battlefield, I expected my subordinate leaders to do just that: lead.
  • If I were to get embroiled in the details of a tactical problem, there would be no one else to fill my role and manage the strategic mission. 
  • My junior leaders on the battlefield were expected to make decisions. They couldn’t ask “What do I do?”. Instead they had to state: “This is what I am going to do”.
  • My ego took no offense to my subordinate leaders on the frontlines calling the shots.”
  • Every team leader must understand not just what to do but why they are doing it. 
  • If front-line leaders do not understand why, they must ask their boss to clarify the why. 
  • Junior and senior leaders must push situational awareness up and down the chain of command. 
  • “Battlefield aloofness” ⇒ when a leader is so far removed from the frontline that they are ineffective because they have no idea what the troops are doing. 


  • It’s critical that everyone understands the plan, how and when to communicate, and what to do if and when things go wrong. 
  • Leaders must identify clear directives for the team. A broad and ambiguous mission results in lack of focus, ineffective execution, and mission creep. 
  • To prevent this, a mission must be carefully refined and simplified so that it is explicitly clear and specifically focused
  • The mission must explain the overall purpose and desired result, or “end state” of the operation. 
  • Leaders must delegate the planning process down the chain as much as possible to key subordinate leaders.  Team leaders must have ownership of their tasks 
  • “Those who will not risk cannot win”. - John Paul Jones (
  • Best teams employ constant analysis of their tactics and measure their effectiveness so that they can adapt their methods and implement methods learned for future missions. 
  • Get the book for a full checklist of planning:

Leading Down the Chain Of Command

  • Leading down the chain of command, it’s imperative the team understands and believes in what they are doing. 
  • Any good leader is immersed in the planning and execution of tasks, projects, and operations to move the team toward a strategic goal. 
  • Leading down the chain of command, it requires regularly stepping out of the office and personally engaging in face-to-face convos with direct reports and observing the frontline troops in action to understand their particular challenges.

Leading Up The Chain of Command

  • Leadership doesn’t just flow down the chain of command, but up as well. 
  • You and your team may not represent the priority effort at that time. Have the humility to understand and accept this. 
  • Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world, subordinates, and superiors alike. 
  • If someone isn’t doing what you want or need them to do, look in the mirror first and determine what you can do to enable this. 

Decisiveness amid Uncertainty

  • In combat, as in life, the outcome is never certain, the picture never clear. There are no guarantees of success.
  • Leaders cannot be paralyzed by fear. That results in inaction. It is critical for leaders to act decisively amid uncertainty.
  • As a leader, the default setting should be aggressive - proactive rather than reactive. Instead of letting the situation dictate our decisions, we must dictate the situation. 
  • Many leaders operate with a “wait and see” approach. The picture is not always complete. There is always some element of risk. There is no 100% percent right solution.
  • As a leader, you want to be seen - you need to be seen - as decisive, and willing to make tough choices. The outcome may be uncertain, but you have enough understanding and information to make a decision. 

Discipline Equals Freedom

  • When you have the discipline to get up earlier than usual, you are rewarded with more free time.
  • Use 3 alarm clocks, the moment the alarm goes off is the first test, it sets the tone for the day.
    • The test is simple: when the alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed, or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep?
    • If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win - you pass the test. 

Benefits Of Discipline

  • Just as an individual excels when he or she exercises self-discipline, a unit that has tighter and more-disciplined procedures and processes will excel and win. 
  • Every leader must walk a fine line, that’s what makes leadership so challenging. 
  • Just as discipline and freedom are opposing forces that must be balanced, leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities
  • Discipline is the pathway to freedom. 

Jocko Podcast Recommendations:

1. Jordan Peterson - (

2. Dakota Meyer, Medal of Honor Recipient - This story was almost unreal. Jeez.

3. Kyle Carpenter, Medal of Honor Recipient - He jumped on a grenade to save his fellow Marine, and saved

4. Jonny Kim, (Astronaut, Harvard Med School, Navy Seal) -

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