1: In the spring of 2006, when Navy SEAL Task Unit Bruiser arrived in Ramadi, it was the deadly epicenter of the Iraqi insurgency.  A U.S. leaked intelligence report said the city was “all but lost.” 

“Virtually no one thought it possible that U.S. forces could turn the situation around there and win,” write Jocko Willink and Leif Babin in Extreme Ownership.

But win is what happened.  Enemy attacks plummeted from thirty to fifty a day throughout much of 2006 to an average of one per week in early 2007, and then one per month.  The city was stabilized and the area secured.
Jocko oversaw Task Unit Bruiser’s contribution to the Ready First Brigade’s efforts.  His SEAL platoons fought shoulder to shoulder with U.S. Army Soldiers and Marines to remove insurgents from enemy-held parts of the city.  Bruiser SEALs spearheaded many operations in the most deadly and contested neighborhoods. 

“We secured buildings, took the high ground, and then provided cover as Soldiers and Marines moved into contested areas,” Jocko writes.  The mission was accomplished “through much blood, sweat, and toil…  The violent insurgency was routed from the city, tribal sheikhs in Ramadi joined with U.S. forces, and the Anbar Awakening was born.”  

2: How did this happen?  According to Jocko and Leif, the answer is leadership.

Extreme Ownership “is about leadership.  It was written for leaders of teams large and small, for men and women, for any person who aspires to better themselves,” Leif and Jocko write.  “Though it contains exciting accounts of SEAL combat operations, this book is not a war memoir.  It is instead a collection of lessons learned from our experiences to help other leaders achieve victory.”

It starts with a team.  “Without a team—a group of individuals working to accomplish a mission—there can be no leadership,” they write.

“For all the definitions, descriptions, and characterizations of leaders, there are only two that matter: effective and ineffective,” write Jocko and Leif.  “Effective leaders lead successful teams that accomplish their mission and win. Ineffective leaders do not.

The only relevant measure for a leader is whether the team succeeds or fails.

3: To be successful, Jocko and Leif outline three key lessons: high standards, small victories, and dealing with failure.  
Leaders “must recognize that when it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.  When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable—if there are no consequences—that poor performance becomes the new standard. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards.

Next, success is the result of a series of small victories.  To succeed, leaders “focus their efforts not on the days to come or the far-distant finish line they couldn’t yet see, but instead on a physical goal immediately in front of them—the beach marker, landmark, or road sign a hundred yards ahead,” Leif and Jocko write.  “If we could execute with a monumental effort just to reach an immediate goal that everyone could see, we could then continue to the next visually attainable goal and then the next.”

Lastly, leaders must deal with failure and loss.  “Every leader and every team at some point or time will fail and must confront that failure.  That too is a big part of this book,” the authors reflect.  “Tragically, Task Unit Bruiser paid a tremendous cost for the success of these operations: eight SEALs were wounded and three of the best SEAL warriors imaginable gave their lives.” 

Yesterday’s post [hyperlink] detailed the arduous training SEAL candidates undergo and the high standards for SEAL leaders.  Jocko and Leif refer to this responsibility as “burden of leadership.”  

The expectations in training are so high because “as combat leaders, the pressure on them would be immense, beyond their imagination,” Leif writes.  “Death lurked around the corner at any moment.  Every decision I made carried potentially mortal consequences.”

The authors write about the immense tragedy of the three SEALS in Task Unit Bruiser who sacrificed their lives for their country: Marc Lee who was shot during a furious firefight; Mike Monsoor, who jumped on a grenade to save the lives of three teammates, and Ryan Job, who was shot in the face by an enemy sniper.  

As SEAL leaders, this “crushing burden” is the price of leadership. 

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  What stands out here?  What lessons will I take from Extreme Ownership?  What must I do or change to become a better leader? 

Action:  Do it.  Today.

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