Leadership Notes – Extreme Ownership


Created by Alan Wm Labotski: December 31, 2016


Laws of Combat:

            Cover and Move, Simple, Prioritize and Execute, and Decentralized Command.

The Laws of Combat were key to not just surviving a dire situation, but actually thriving, enabling us to totally dominate the enemy and win. Those same principles are key to any team’s success on the battlefield or in the business world – any situation where a group of people must work together to execute a task and accomplish a mission. When applied to any team, group, or organization, the proper understanding and execution of these Laws of Combat would mean one thing: victory.

Officer in charge of training placed new emphasis on training leaders in critical decision making and effective communication in high pressure situations to better prepare them for combat. Combat is reflective of life, only amplified and intensified.

People must believe in the cause for which they are fighting. They must believe in the plan they are asked to execute, and most important, they must believe in and trust the leader. This is especially true in the SEAL Teams, where innovation and input from everyone (including the most junior personnel) are encouraged.


Extreme Ownership:

            The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for Everything!

The leader must own everything in her or his world. The best leaders don’t just take responsibility for their job. They take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission. This concept is the number-one characteristic of any high-performance team.

When subordinates aren’t doing what they should, leaders that exercise Extreme Ownership cannot blame the subordinates. They must first look in the mirror at themselves. The leader bears full responsibility for explaining the strategic mission, developing the tactics, and securing the training and resources to enable the team to properly and successfully execute.



There are no bad Teams, only bad Leaders:

            It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate!



            We’ve got to do something different if we want to win!

These Iraqi soldiers are our means to do something different – our ticket to operate. We will get them up to speed. We will prepare them the best we can. We will fight alongside them. And we will crush the enemy until even the Iraqi Army will be able to fight them on their own. The most important question had been answered: WHY? Once I analyzed the mission and understood it for myself that critical piece of information, I could then believe in the mission. If I didn’t believe in it, there was no way I could possibly convince the SEALs in my task unit to believe in it.

Who is to blame for the CEO not explaining this to you in more detail? You! That is what Extreme Ownership is all about. If you don’t understand or believe in the decisions coming down from your leadership, it is up to you to ask questions until you understand how and why those decisions are being made.

As a leader, you must Believe

If you don’t ask questions so you can understand and believe in the mission, you are failing as a leader and you are failing your team.



Check the EGO:

If U.S. forces were to win this difficult fight in Ramadi, we would all need to check our egos and work together.

Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism.

Admitting to mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.

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. You are an extremely skilled and know more about this business then I ever will. It was up to me to make sure you know the parameters we have to work within. Now, I need to fix this so it doesn’t happen again.


Cover and Move:

            It was essential that we support each other and work together.

The most important tactical advantage we had was working together as a team, always supporting each other.

Departments and groups within the team must break down silos, depend on each other and understand who depends on them.




            Life, has inherent layers of complexities.

Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success.

Plans and orders must be communicated in a manner that is simple, clear, and concise.

You must brief to ensure the lowest common denominator on the team understands.

Our communication plans were simple. The way we talked on the radio was as simple and direct as possible.

With all this simplicity embedded in the way we worked, our people clearly understood what they were doing and how it tied to the mission.



Prioritize and Execute:

            How could be possibly tackle so many problems at once? Prioritize and Execute.

Determine the greatest priority for the team. Then direct the team to attack that priority. Once the full resources of the team were engaged in that highest priority effort, I could then determine the next priority, focus the team’s effort there and move on to the next priority.

I could not allow myself to become overwhelmed. I had to relax, look around, and make a call. That is what Prioritize and Execute is all about.

Relax, look around, make a call.

Determine the highest priority effort and focus all energies towards its execution. Then senior leaders must help subordinate team leaders within their team prioritize their efforts.

To implement Prioritize and Execute in any business, team, or organization, a leader must:

  • ·         Evaluate the highest priority problem.
  • ·         Lay out in simple, clear, and concise terms the highest priority effort for your team.
  • ·         Develop and determine a solution, seek input from key leaders and from the team where possible.
  • ·         Direct the execution of that solution, focusing all efforts and resources towards this priority task.
  • ·         Move on to the next highest priority problem. Repeat.
  • ·         When priorities shift within the team, pass situational awareness both up and down the chain.
  • ·         Don’t let the focus on one priority cause target fixation. Maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shift as needed.

Decentralized Command:

            Pushing the decision making down to the subordinate, frontline leaders within a unit is critical to their success. Without doing this there would be no one else to fill a leader’s role and manage the strategic mission.

Training scenarios should be designed to confuse, disorient, physically and mentally stress and overwhelm the participating team members, particularly the leaders.

Junior leaders need to learn that they are expected to make decisions. They can’t ask, “What do I do?” Instead they have to state: “This is what I am going to do.” When faced with a problem they need to decide how they are going to fix it. That sort of Extreme Ownership and leadership from subordinate leaders not only allows them to lead confidently, but also allows the leader to focus on the bigger picture.

Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than six to ten people.

Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to five operators with a designated leader:

o   That understand the overall mission

o   Are empowered to make decisions

Every tactical-level team leader must understand not just what to do but why they are doing it.

Decentralized Command does not mean junior leaders or team members operate their own program; that results in chaos.

Determining how much leaders should be involved and where leaders can best position themselves to direct operations is key. Sometimes a leader gets so far forward they get sucked into every situation. When this happens, they get focused on the minutia of what’s going on in the moment and loses situational awareness.

Leaders must be free to move to where they are needed most. Understanding proper positioning as a leader is a key component of effective Decentralized Command.



            Mission planning is all about:

§  Never taking anything for granted

§  Preparing for likely contingencies

§  Maximizing the chance of mission success

§  Minimizing the risks

§  Understanding the desired results of the mission

The best teams employ constant analysis of their tactics and measure their effectiveness so that they can adapt their methods and implement lessons learned.

            Use a post-operational debrief, in a concise format to address:

§  What went right

§  What went wrong

§  How can we adapt our tactics to make us even more effective?


A leader’s checklist for planning should include the following:

Analyze the mission.

o   Understand the intent and goal

o   Identify and state your intent and goal

o   Identify personal, assets, resources, and time available

o   Decentralize the planning process

§  Empower key leaders within the team to analyze possible courses of action

o   Determine a specific course of action

§  Lean toward selecting the simplest course of action

§  Focus efforts on the best course of action

o   Plan for likely contingencies through each phase of the operation

o   Mitigate risks that can be controlled as much as possible

o   Delegate portions of the plan and brief to key leaders

§  Stand back and be the tactical genius

o   Continually check and question the plan against emerging information to ensure it still fits the situation

o   Brief the plan to all participants and supporting assets.

§  Emphasize the intent

§  Ask questions and engage discussion with the team to ensure they understand

o   Conduct post-operational debrief after execution.

§  Analyze lessons learned and implement them in future planning


Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command:

As a leader it is important to understand the strategic impact of your operations to be able to explain it to your team.


Leading Down the Chain:

It is paramount that senior leaders explain to their junior leaders and team members executing the mission how their role contributes to big picture success. Leaders must routinely communicate with their team members to help them understand their role in the overall mission and other team members.

As a leader employing Extreme Ownership, if your team isn’t doing what you need them to do, you first have to look at yourself and figure out a better way to communicate to them in terms that are simple, clear, and concise, so they understand.

This is what leading down the chain of command is all about.


Leading Up the Chain of Command:

Senior leadership can’t be expected to be mind readers. The only way they are going to get information is from what we pass to them. If they have questions we obviously we have not done a good job of communicating.

Leadership doesn’t just flow down the chain of command, but up it as well. We have to own everything in our world. That’s what Extreme Ownership is all about.

Leading up the chain of command requires tactful engagement with the immediate boss. A Leader must push situational awareness up the chain of command.

One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss – your immediate leadership.



Major factors to be aware of when leading up and down the chain of command:

·         Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world, subordinates and superiors alike

·         If someone isn’t doing what you want or need them to do, look in the mirror first and determine what you can do to better enable this.

·         Don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do.


Decisiveness amid Uncertainty:

Books, movies, and TV shows can never truly capture or articulate the pressure from uncertainty, chaos, and the element of unknown with which real leaders must contend with. The leader almost never has the full picture or a clear and certain understanding of possible actions or reactions of immediate decisions that need to be made. Regardless, leaders cannot be paralyzed by fear. That results in inaction. It is critical for leaders to act decisively amid uncertainty; to make the best decisions they can based on only the immediate information available.

There is no 100 percent right solution. The picture is never complete. Leaders must be comfortable with this and be able to make decisions promptly, then be ready to adjust those decisions quickly based on evolving situations and new information. Waiting for the 100 percent right and certain solution leads to delay, indecision, and an inability to execute.

Outcomes are never certain; success never guaranteed. Even so, leaders must be comfortable in the chaos and act decisively amid such uncertainty.


Discipline Equals Freedom – The Dichotomy of Leadership

Nothing is easy. The temptation to take the easy road is always there. But discipline is paramount to ultimate success and victory for any leader and any team. Discipline is the most important quality for individuals and for Teams. The more disciplined standard operating procedures (SOPs) a team employs, the more freedom they have to practice Decentralized Command and thus they can execute faster, sharper, and more efficiently.

Instead of making you more rigid and unable to improvise, this discipline actually makes you more flexible, more adaptable, and more efficient. It allows you to be creative.

Every leader must walk a fine line. That’s what makes leadership so challenging. Just as discipline and freedom are opposing forces that must be balanced, leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities, between one extreme and another. The simple recognition of this is one of the most powerful tools a leader has. With this in mind, a leader can more easily balance the opposing forces and lead with maximum effectiveness.

A leader must lead but also be ready to follow. A leader must be confident enough to follow someone else when the situation calls for it. A Leader must be aggressive but not overbearing. A leader must be calm but not robotic. It is normal – and necessary – to show emotion. A leader must be confident but never cocky. Confidence is contagious. A leader must be brave but not foolhardy. Leaders must have a competitive spirit but also be gracious losers. Leaders must act with professionalism and recognize others for their contributions. A leader must be attentive to details but not obsessed by them. A leader must be strong but likewise have endurance, not only physically but mentally. Leaders must be humble but not passive; quiet but not silent. A leader must be close with subordinates but not to close. A leader must exercise Extreme Ownership. A leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove.

The Dichotomy of Leadership

  • A good leader must be:
  • ·         Confident but not cocky;
  • ·         Courageous but not foolhardy;
  • ·         Competitive but a gracious loser;
  • ·         Attentive to details but not obsessed by them;
  • ·         Strong but have endurance;
  • ·         A leader and follower;
  • ·         Humble not passive;
  • ·         Aggressive not overbearing;
  • ·         Quiet not silent;
  • ·         Calm but not robotic, logical but not devoid of emotions;
  • ·         Close with the people but not so close that one becomes more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge.
  • ·         Able to execute Extreme Ownership, while exercising Decentralized Command.

A good leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove.









With a mind-set of Extreme Ownership, any person can develop into a highly effective leader. Extreme Ownership is a mind-set, an attitude. If leaders exhibit Extreme Ownership and develop a culture of Extreme Ownership within their teams and organizations, the rest falls into place. Soon, a leader no longer needs to be involved in the minor details of decisions but can look up and out to focus on the strategic mission as the team handles the tactical battles. The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. This means leaders must be heavily engaged in training and mentoring their junior leaders to prepare them to step up and assume greater responsibilities. When mentored, and coached properly, the junior leader can eventually replace the senior leader, allowing the senior leader to move on to the next level of leadership.

Leadership is simple, but not easy.

Likewise, leadership is both art and science. There are no exact answers or specific formulas to follow in every case. In any situation, there exists a great deal of gray area, neither black or white. Leadership decisions are inherently challenging and take practice. Not every decision will be a good one: all leaders make mistakes, handling those mistakes with humility is the key.

Leading people is the most challenging and, therefore the most gratifying undertaking of all human endeavors.






The following are the recommended study materials for your Personal Growth and Leadership Journey. These are materials that helped me learn and better understand the principles and concepts that I needed to master.

Some of you learn best by reading, some by listening and yet others by writing. You may be one of these or a combination of two or even all three. You need to know yourself to be most effective in your learning in order to maximize the process.

The first thing you will need is at least one Journal that you can use to record what you learned and your reflections along with a writing instrument that you really enjoy using.

The second thing you will need is a planner, paper or electronic. Do some research to find what works for you. Keep in mind that the more you are able to multitask this tool the more you can maximize its benefits.



The 21 Irrefutable Laws OF Leadership – John C. Maxwell


Developing the Leader Within You – John C. Maxwell

The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do – Mark Miller

Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey

Great Leaders Grow – Mark Miller

5 LEVELS of LEADERSHIP – John C. Maxwell


THE Difference Maker – John C. Maxwell

How: Why HOW WE Do Anything Means Everything – Dov Seidman

The Heart of Leadership – Mark Miller

Developing the Leaders Around You – John C. Maxwell

AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS – Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.

HOW Successful People GROW – JOHN C. Maxwell

The Secret of Teams – Mark Miller

The FIVE DYSFUNCTIONS of a TEAM – Patrick Lencioni

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Be A People Person – John C. Maxwell

Good Leaders ask Great Questions – John C. Maxwell

Start with WHY – Simon Sinek

How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age – Dale Carnegie

Chess not Checkers – Mark Miller

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do – Amy Morin

What to say when you talk to Yourself – Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D.

Raving Fans: Ken Blanchard

Intentional Living – John C. Maxwell

Brain Maker: The power of Gut Microbes - David Perlmutter

Jumpstart your Growth – John C. Maxwell

Jumpstart your Leadership – John C. Maxwell

Drive - Daniel H. Pink

Mindset: the New Psychology of Success - Carol Dweck

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't - Simon Sinek

The Advantage: Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else - Patrick Lencioni

Before Happiness: Positive Change - Shawn Achor

EXTREME OWNERSHIP - Jocko Willink and Leif Babin