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Monday, November 15, 2021

Review: Extreme Ownership

Extreme Ownership is a book featuring two SEAL task units' explanation of how leadership principles in the US Navy Seals work, and can be applied to the world of business. As with many leadership principles involved, most of these are common sense, but the authors do a good job of giving these principles catchy names so you can remember.

For instance, Leading Up the Chain can also be called "Managing Up", but hey, no matter what you call it, it's a good principle --- you usually need to overshare information up your management chain, because when they're the ones not directly involved in the work, situations, techniques, and problems obvious to you in your day to day life simply aren't things they aren't going to know about.

Similarly, they point out that in a leadership position, you have to act as though you have agency and effectiveness for all aspects of your organization involved in your mission. Because if you don't, you're just going to fail:

SEAL troops and platoons that didn’t perform well had leaders who blamed everyone and everything else—their troops, their subordinate leaders, or the scenario. They blamed the SEAL training instructor staff; they blamed inadequate equipment or the experience level of their men. They refused to accept responsibility. Poor performance and mission failure were the result. (pg 36)

The stories/anecdotes, and examples from the Iraqi missions are fun, and illustrative of the modern military. Even after they've penetrated an enemy HQ, they still have to collect evidence and document it and label it correctly. It took discipline, but it shows that an elite military unit really can live up to the demands the civilian society asks of it.

Where do the book fall short? Well, the military's enlisted men, by and large, once they've been deployed, do not have the freedom to change jobs. They would face extreme sanction. And of course, once you're in the field self-preservation (and team bonding) ensures that they will stick it out long enough to return to base (though as the book points out, some return in body bags). The modern work environment, however, means that your talent can walk any time. But this makes leadership more important. As the book explains, you really have to explain the why behind every mission and not assume everyone understands it. If you brief your team and get no questions, that means that people don't understand it, or don't believe it and are too polite to let you know.

The book's worth a read. It's entertaining, and yeah, you might know all the common sense stuff, but it's worth reminding yourself of them every so often.

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