3 Business Lessons from Extreme Ownership

Learn three important business lessons excerpted from the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. As a bonus, you can also listen to a special excerpt from the Extreme Ownership audiobook.

QDT Editor
6-minute read

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin—two Navy SEALs and authors of the new book, Extreme Ownershipshare three tips to be successful in business. But first, you can listen to this special excerpt from their audiobook:

1.) No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

"What did the new boat crew leader do differently?" asked another of the department heads.

"When the leader of Boat Crew Two took charge of Boat Crew Six, he exhibited Extreme Ownership to the fullest," I explained. "He faced the facts: he recognized and accepted that Boat Crew Six's performance was terrible, that they were losing and had to get better. He didn't blame anyone, nor did he make excuses to justify poor performance. He didn't wait for others to solve his boat crew's problems. His realistic assessment, acknowledgment of failure, and ownership of the problem were key to developing a plan to improve performance and ultimately win. Most important of all, he believed winning was possible. In a boat crew where winning seemed so far beyond reach, the belief that the team actually could improve and win was essential."

I continued: "The new leader of Boat Crew Six focused his team on the mission. Rather than tolerate their bickering and infighting, he pulled the team together and focused their collective efforts on the single specific goal of winning the race. He established a new and higher standard of performance and accepted nothing less from the men in his boat crew."

"Why do you think Boat Crew Two, which had lost its strong leader, continued to perform well, even with the far less capable leader from Boat Crew Six?" asked another department leader.

"Extreme Ownership—good leadership—is contagious," I answered. "Boat Crew Two's original leader had instilled a culture of Extreme Ownership, of winning and how to win, in every individual. Boat Crew Two had developed into a solid team of high-performing individuals. Each member demanded the highest performance from the others. Repetitive exceptional performance became a habit. Each individual knew what they needed to do to win and did it. They no longer needed explicit direction from a leader. As a result, Boat Crew Two continued to outperform virtually every other boat crew and vied with Boat Crew Six for first place in nearly every race."

2.) Check the Ego

“That is another critical component of leadership,” I quickly replied. “Dealing with people’s egos. And you can do so by using one of the main principles we have taught you during our course: Extreme Ownership.”

Gary responded, "Ownership of what? He’s the one that screwed this up, not me." It was clear Gary’s ego was getting in the way of the solution to this problem.

if you put your own ego in check, meaning you take the blame, that will allow him to actually see the problem without his vision clouded by ego. 

“Ownership of everything!" I answered. "This isn’t his fault, it’s yours. You are in charge, so the fact that he didn’t follow procedure is your fault. And you have to believe that, because it’s true. When you talk to him, you need to start the conversation like this: ‘Our team made a mistake and it’s my fault. It’s my fault because I obviously wasn’t as clear as I should have been in explaining why we have these procedures in place and how not following them can cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. You are an extremely skilled and knowledgeable superintendent. You know more about this business than I ever will. It was up to me to make sure you know the parameters we have to work within and why some decisions have got to be run through me. Now, I need to fix this so it doesn’t happen again.’”

“Do you think that will work?” asked Gary, sounding unconvinced.

“I’m confident it will,” I replied. “If you approached it as he did something wrong, and he needs to fix something, and he is at fault, it becomes a clash of egos and you two will be at odds. That’s human nature. But, if you put your own ego in check, meaning you take the blame, that will allow him to actually see the problem without his vision clouded by ego. Then you both can make sure that your team’s standard operating procedures— when to communicate, what is and isn’t within his decision—making authority—are clearly understood.” 

3.) Cover and Move

Cover and Move: it is the most fundamental tactic, perhaps the only tactic. Put simply, Cover and Move means teamwork. All elements within the greater team are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose. Departments and groups within the team must break down silos, depend on each other and under- stand who depends on them. If they forsake this principle and operate independently or work against each other, the results can be catastrophic to the overall team’s performance.

Within any team, there are divisions that arise. Often, when smaller teams within the team get so focused on their immediate tasks, they forget about what others are doing or how they de- pend on other teams. They may start to compete with one another, and when there are obstacles, animosity and blame develops. This creates friction that inhibits the overall team’s performance. It falls on leaders to continually keep perspective on the strategic mission and remind the team that they are part of the greater team and the strategic mission is paramount.

Each member of the team is critical to success, though the main effort and supporting efforts must be clearly identified. If the overall team fails, everyone fails, even if a specific member or an element within the team did their job successfully. Pointing fingers and placing blame on others contributes to further dissension between teams and individuals. These individuals and teams must instead find a way to work together, communicate with each other, and mutually support one another. The focus must always be on how to best accomplish the mission.

Alternatively, when the team succeeds, everyone within and supporting that team succeeds. Every individual and every team within the larger team gets to share in the success. Accomplishing the strategic mission is the highest priority. Team members, departments, and supporting assets must always Cover and Move—help each other, work together, and support each other to win. This principle is integral for any team to achieve victory.

You can purchase Extreme Ownership on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Books-a-Million, or Apple. And if you prefer listening to the book, you can buy the audiobook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Audible.


JOCKO WILLINK is a decorated retired Navy SEAL officer, author of the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, and co-founder of Echelon Front, where he is a leadership instructor, speaker, and executive coach. Jocko spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy SEAL Teams, starting as an enlisted SEAL and rising through the ranks to become a SEAL officer. As commander of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser during the battle of Ramadi, he orchestrated SEAL operations that helped the “Ready First” Brigade of the US Army’s First Armored Division bring stability to the violent, war-torn city.  In 2010, Jocko retired from the Navy and launched Echelon Front where he teaches the leadership principles he learned on the battlefield to help others lead and win.

LEIF BABIN is a decorated former Navy SEAL officer, author of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, and co-founder of Echelon Front, where he serves as leadership instructor, speaker, and executive coach. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Leif served thirteen years in the Navy, including nine as a Navy SEAL. As a SEAL platoon commander in SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, he planned and led major combat operations in the Battle of Ramadi that helped the “Ready First” Brigade of the US Army’s 1st Armored Division bring stability to the violent, war-torn city. In 2011, Leif left active duty and co-founded Echelon Front, a leadership consulting company that helps others build their own high-performance winning teams. Leif speaks on leadership, U.S. military strategy, and foreign policy matters; his editorials have been published in the Wall Street Journal and he has appeared on a variety of national television news and radio programs.