Key Takeaways from Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

12 principles that can help you become a great leader

Extreme Ownership is a book on leadership written by two US Navy seals, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

The core premise of the book is simple. To be a great leader, you must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame. This is ‘Extreme Ownership’.

The book is targeted towards anyone aspiring to be a great leader.

The authors take us through 12 leadership principles, with one chapter being devoted to each principle. The chapters follow the SCAL format Situation, Complication, Action and Learning.

Each chapter begins with a situation encountered by the US Navy seals during the Iraq war. This is followed by a complication, which requires urgent attention and immediate action. Through the action taken, one of the leadership principle is highlighted.

The chapter concludes with a learning — brief description of the principle involved and an example of its application in the business world.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Pat 1: Building the right mindset
  • Part 2: Building a high performance team
  • Part 3: Sustaining a high performance team

Each part highlights 4 leadership principles.

In the subsequent paragraphs, we will look at each of those principles and discuss what actions you can take to bring those principles into action.

Building the right mindset

Principle 1: Extreme Ownership

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. They must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.


  • When failure happens, don’t blame others. Take responsibility. Look through the objective lens of reality and identify what went wrong.
  • You must train and mentor underperformers in your team. If they don’t perform, you must take the tough call to terminate them.
  • Always remember to give credit to your team members.

Principle 2: No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

A leader’s success or failure depends on the success or failure of their team. It can’t be disconnected from their team.


  • Enforce standards. If poor performance is accepted and no one is held accountable, the poor performance becomes the new standard.
  • Groom the junior leaders to be ready to take on the jobs and responsibilities of their immediate bosses if the need arises.
  • Continuously assess the team performance and strive for important. Help the team face the facts through a brutal and realistic assessment.

Principle 3: Belief in the mission

In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission.


  • Keep asking questions until you are clear on “Why we are doing it?”
  • Always explain to your teammates the “Why” behind what they are doing. (If juniors don’t believe in a strategy, they would not give it their 100%).
  • There must be alignment on the goals across the teams. (Otherwise actions might not lead to success)

Principle 4: Check your Ego

Ego clouds our judgement and prevents us from the seeing the world as it is. Personal agenda’s become more important than the team’s mission, leading to poor performance and eventual failure.


  • When you make a mistake, be humble and admit it.
  • When the team faces a challenge, step up and help them develop a plan to overcome it. (Rather than blaming them)
  • Never let personal success become more important than the team’s success.
  • Never get complacent with past success. Always be focused on identifying your weaknesses and improving them.

Building a high performance Team

Principle 1: Cover and Move

Put simply, it means teamwork. All elements within the greater team are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission. There is no individual success or failure. Either the team succeeds or fails.


  • Leaders should ensure that the sub-teams have perspective on the main goal.
  • Any sign of internal competition/misalignment should be clearly identified and removed.
  • Work on building a culture of helping and supporting each other.

Principle 2: Simple

Simplifying things is crucial to success. If people don’t understand, chances of failure increase manifold.


  • Encourage people to ask questions when they don’t understand something.
  • Every individual should know their role and the things they are responsible for. They should be aware of what to do in case of contingencies.
  • Have standard operating procedures (SOPs) and keep them simple.

Principle 3: Prioritize and Execute

Leaders need to determine the highest priority task and execute. When overwhelmed, determine the highest priority tasks and execute.


  • When overwhelmed, take a step back to identify priorities.
  • Do contingency planning. This helps map out likely challenges that could arise and plan a response to them.
  • Help sub-ordinate leaders within teams to prioritize their efforts. This way, the leader doesn’t always need to be in firing line and focus on strategy.

Principle 4: Decentralized Command

Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to five operators with a clear designated leader.


  • Don’t micromanage — Junior leaders should understand the ambit of their responsibilities and be empowered to take decisions.
  • Leaders should not be stuck in any particular position. They should be free to move where they are needed the most.
  • Senior leaders must constantly communicate and pass situational awareness to their junior leaders.

Sustaining a high performance Team

Principle 1: Plan

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail — Benjamin Franklin


  • Delegate planning down the chain. (This gives more buy-in down the line).
  • Encourage questions/discussions during planning and at the time of briefing.
  • Plans should factor in risk mitigation.
  • Retrospective — Post-operational de-brief is a must. Your aim should be to understand what went right, what went wrong and what can be done better.
  • Focus on standardization of the planning process. This help make the process reusable across teams. Have a checklist of all important things that need to be thought about during the planning phase.

Principle 2: Leading up and Down

Take responsibility of leading everyone in your world, subordinates and superiors alike.


Leading Down

  • Step out of office and engage in face-face conversations with direct reports.
  • Observe your direct reports in action to understand their challenges.

Leading up

Leading up takes much more savvy and skill than leading down the chain.

  • If your boss isn’t making a decision in a timely manner or providing necessary support, don’t blame the boss. First, blame yourself. Its your job to identify what you can do better to convey the critical information for decisions to be made and support to be allocated.
  • Always pass situational awareness to your higher ups. So that they know why you are doing, what you are doing.
  • Don’t publicly show discontent with the chain of command as it undermines authority of leaders at all levels.

Principle 3: Decisiveness amid Uncertainty

You will never have perfect information. Your goal is to make the best decisions based on the available information


  • Rather than sitting on decisions (and not doing anything), try to make the best decision with the information available. You must make an educated guess based on previous experience and likely outcome.
  • Don’t wait for 100 percent information to make the decision. It leads to delay, indecision and an inability to execute.

Principle 4: Discipline equals Freedom

Disciplined procedure substantially improve your freedom to operate and maneuver. Just as an individual excels when he or she exercises self-discipline, a unit that has tighter and more disciplined procedures will excel and win.

Dichotomy of Leadership

A good leader must be : confident but not cocky, courageous but not foolhardy, competitive but a gracious loser, attentive to details but not obsessed by them, a leader and follower, humble not passive, aggressive not overbearing, quiet not silent, calm but not robotic, logical but not devoid of emotion.

A person’s biggest strength can be his biggest weakness when they don’t know how to balance it. Thus, focus on becoming balanced leader, who can mould themselves depending on the need of the situation.

Great Leadership is something that can’t be taught but can only be learned through practice. The book gives us the tools we need to become a great leader. How well we use those tools depends on us. :)

Currently PM@Airmeet — building a kick-ass product for conducting remote events and conferences.