Book Reviews

Book Review: Extreme Ownership

A goal I set for myself a couple of years ago was to read one business/leadership book each month and I’ve been doing pretty well with it. I don’t normally post anything about them because they’re dry and while most of them contain a few useful nuggets, they don’t usually “rock my world.”

I found this book to be an exception. Before this book, I was of the mind that military experience could be a hinderance in the constantly changing business world. I felt like a career military person would constantly need to be told what to do–they can execute well, but not trained to think on their feet and follow the spirit of the overreaching goals.

These guys made me realize how wrong I was. It may not be across the board, but these SEAL leaders were nothing short of impressive and their stories translate military to business with ease. In fact, if you don’t apply their principles in business as a leader, you’re kind of an idiot. When they did it, it was literally life and death. For us business types, it’s merely a matter of the business growing or shrinking.

It all starts with the premise that leadership is simple but not easy. Their principles are nothing earth shattering–they admit as much–but where they were different is showing real examples from their deployment in Ramadi, Iraq and then translating them to examples from their business consulting. They’re very careful not to glorify their operations or to seek the spotlight for their work, as others have done in recent history and that made me take them a bit more seriously.

They stress the importance of humility and checking your ego at the door. The importance of making sure you dig for more information, but have the ability to make a decision without every bit of data possible–there is no perfect scenario. Of empowering the people on the front lines to have the knowledge and ability to make sound decisions for their piece and make the case for leadership. Of seeing the big picture and being able to communicate that to all levels so they can keep that goal in mind while probably coming up with a different path to get there than the leader would. Of caring about your team and knowing what’s going on in their lives, but not getting so close that you can’t make a tough decision if it means firing your best friend if he or she is hurting the rest of the team. And finally, being a leader through discipline–creating time for what matters so that you can still lead without losing focus or burning out.

The stories they told about some of the operations in Ramadi were fascinating, and I would have enjoyed the book if it were simply about those.

After I read the last page, I put the book down, took a deep breath, and realized how much I’d been coasting or slacking in my professional career. There’s no excuse for it, other than I was taking the easy way out and I was allowing myself to think it was okay. I’m sure I’ll falter as I work to improve, but I can and will go back to this book over and over again to regain my focus and remind myself that if I really want to accomplish great things, I can only do it through extreme ownership, owning everything, and not making any excuses.

Mediocrity doesn’t suit me.

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