Extreme Ownership (★★★☆☆)

Extreme Ownership

Jocko Willink & Leif Babin  *  St. Martin’s Press  *  October 20, 2015  *  320 Pages

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Extreme Ownership is written by two former Navy SEALs, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, who now head a leadership training company. Both men are pretty hardcore, I must admit. The experiences they share in this book are intense and eye-opening–not to mention unique. There aren’t many books out there that give such detailed glimpses into the lives of SEALs in action.

The book is structured in a very basic and clear way. The authors convey one main point per chapter by sharing a story from their battlefield experiences, then highlighting the main principle of that story, and finally giving a concrete example of how this principle applies in business settings.

Their main points can be summarized as follows:

  • The leader is always responsible. (This is what they call “extreme ownership.” Basically, leaders must always “own” the mistakes and shortcomings of their teams.)
  • Everyone on the team must believe in the mission.
  • Work with other teams to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • Keep plans simple, clear, and concise.
  • Check your ego.
  • Figure out your priorities, and then act on them one at a time.
  • Clarify your mission (i.e., your plan).
  • Engage with your higher-ups; keep them in the loop–especially when they frustrate you.
  • Act decisively, even when things are chaotic.
  • And the last chapter is a summary of the seemingly contradictory qualities of a leader.

In my opinion, the simplicity, clarity, and structure of this book are it’s greatest strengths. I knew exactly where the authors were going with their points, and I understood exactly the message they were trying to communicate. The book is incredibly easy to follow.

I do have two minor complaints. First, Extreme Ownership was really repetitive at parts. I noticed there were several moments when the authors shared a complete story or personal thought–and then shared the story again, but this time in the context of telling it to either their SEAL teams or to a group of business executives. It got a little tedious. If I hear the story once, I don’t need another play-by-play, no matter how interesting it was the first time around.

Second, while this book is very descriptive–especially with the battle scenes–it is also incredibly restrained, almost cold. There is basically no emotion in this book–which feels weird, because even though it’s a book about leadership, it’s also a book about war, too. If you are going to aim to teach me something through your intense and sometimes tragic experiences, well then let’s get into it. I’m not looking for manufactured drama, but you don’t have to scrub it all clean for me, either. Ultimately, I ended up feeling like the authors didn’t trust me enough with the whole story. And I wanted more than that.

Still, I appreciated what Willink and Babin had to share. Their lessons are insightful and thought-provoking, and I can definitely see how their experiences will help guide leaders in the business world. Extreme Ownership is a worthwhile read, yes–but also a somewhat muted one. Take it for what it is.


Advanced Reader Copy provided through Amazon Vine.

2 thoughts

  1. It is sad; you missed the value of repetition. Secondly, obviously you’ve never been in combat, or you would know why emotions, for the most part, must be set aside.

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  2. Hi, jr. Thanks for your comment. You know, I don’t even disagree with your points. I believe there IS value in repetition. I think repetition is especially effective in speeches and presentations (which the authors are very practiced at giving.) Also, while I’ve never been in combat, I can definitely see how setting aside emotions when you are going through trauma is necessary (and even advantageous).

    But my problem is that writing a book isn’t the same as 1) giving a speech or 2) fighting a war. Once you put your story on paper and let other people read it, it becomes theirs. If they want to re-read something, that is up to them to do. It’s not the author’s job to tell readers they need to read something twice.

    Moreover, when you write a book about your traumatic experiences, you aren’t in the middle of that traumatic experience anymore–and if you are, you shouldn’t be writing about it yet. Writing is about processing whatever events you have experienced, thinking about them, analyzing them, and coming out the other side, so to speak. Writing is about being honest at all cost. And it’s probably the least self-protective thing a person can do. So if you hold back the truth at all, it comes across. Like I said in my review, I’m not looking for manufactured drama, but I could tell that the authors had suppressed a certain part of their experiences in the book, and, as a result, the book felt incomplete.

    It sounds like we had two different impressions after reading the book, but I just wanted to let you know where I was coming from! Thanks, again, for taking the time to read my review and comment.

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