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Why Extreme Ownership Determines Success or Failure in Leadership

Ownership. We all know it in theory but in practice, it can be much harder to live out. What is it that gets in the way of our ability to assume responsibility for our failures, both in life and in work?


In his New York Times best-selling book, Extreme Ownership – How US Navy Seals Lead and Win, retired Navy Seal turned author, speaker, podcaster, and leadership consultant, Jocko Willink, recounts an ill-fated operation he led in Iraq in 2006 that resulted in a disastrous friendly forces firefight, and the decision he made in the wake of it that would determine both his, and his team’s, ability to recover and move forward. It is a powerful illustration of why ownership is so critical and one that is highly applicable in the workplace as many teams struggle to deal with the fallout of their own firefights and ‘friendly fire’ incidents that often destroy their own missions.

What is Extreme Ownership?

There’s ownership and then there’s Extreme Ownership, which, simply put, is the practice of owning everything in your world, to an extreme degree. It  means  you are responsible not just for those tasks which you directly control, but for all those that affect whether or not your mission is successful.

Learn more about growth and leadership by reading Organizational Growth: Is Executive Coaching Important?

To Blame or Not to Blame?

When Jocko sat down to prepare the debrief, he was required to give to his commanding officers explaining exactly what had happened on the operation and what had gone wrong, he detailed every mistake made and who had made it. He pointed out every failure in the planning, preparation, and execution of the mission and pointed out who was responsible for that failure. There was plenty of blame to go around; plenty of his team members had dropped the ball and could be incriminated. Yet, as the time for the debriefs drew nearer, he found himself struggling to assign blame. Then, at the eleventh hour, revelation. Ten minutes from the time he was set to present the debrief to his superiors, it hit him like not-too-friendly fire: HE was the one to blame. There was only one person at fault, and it was him. He was in command and responsible for everything that went down that day.

Swallowing Pride and Owning the Failure

Rather than letting his pride or ego get in the way, Jocko took extreme ownership for his failure as a leader, refusing his team’s attempts to assume any of the blame. He knew the buck stopped with him. And rather than making excuses for his failure, something we can all too easily find ourselves doing, he outlined the new tactics, techniques, and procedures they would implement to ensure such a scenario would never be repeated.

Was it easy? No. Owning failure never is. Pride and ego always take a hit. But here’s the upside: it maintains your integrity as a leader. Your team sees that you will not shirk your responsibility or throw them under the bus to save yourself. Whatever the outcome, you know you did what was right and you will not lose the respect or trust of your team, quite likely the opposite.

When all was said and done, not only was Jocko not disciplined, his team and commanding officers respected and trusted him more. But perhaps the most surprising outcome was they embraced extreme ownership themselves! Jocko’s failure became the foundation for his team’s future success.

To find out more about leadership, check out this post next: Leadership: 4 Tips for Bridging the Generational Gap

The Takeaways

Build Trusting Relationships

The goal of a leader is always to build trusted relationships with the team and accomplish the mission together, as a team.

Lose the Ego

The ego is a disruptive and destructive force. It undermines everything – the planning process, the ability to receive advice or accept constructive feedback, and worst of all, it destroys relationships with your team. Remember: Pride always goes before the fall! Step up, be humble, and OWN it!

Take extreme ownership of EVERYTHING you do

Own the mistakes, the shortfalls, and the dropped balls. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame others. Then take ownership of the solutions and lead your team to ‘Mission Accomplished!’

Make it contagious 

When you take extreme ownership, you will find it spreads through the team, especially yours, therefore, increasing trust and strengthening the organizational culture.

Extreme Ownership can be learned, honed, and perfected

High-performance leaders recognize the value of an expert and objective support to help them navigate the challenges and growth opportunities with their leadership, their teams, and their businesses.

“Any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success or 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.” – Jocko Willink

X5 Management offers tailored one-on-one executive leadership coaching, drawing on proven leading-edge coaching tools to deliver the biggest impact to each organization and leader.  

The X5 team of coaches will guide, teach, and mentor your leadership team, managers, or supervisors. The role of the coach is to enhance the ongoing performance of the leader. X5 will develop a tailored program specific to your individual needs.

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