Book Summary: 10 points from ‘Extreme Ownership’


This article summarises the chapters in the audiobook titled “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink, Leif Babin.

“Leadership isn’t one person leading a team, it is a group of leaders working together…”

Overview of the book’s structure

Each chapter in the book is split into two sections:

  1. Leadership lessons learnt from experiences in the Navy SEALs [about three quarters of each chapter]
  2. Application of leadership lessons from (1) in business

Although I have attempted to listen to all chapters in full, I have decided to skip to the second section in each chapter to find more relatable experiences. Do provide feedback if I have missed out any points which may have been covered in (1). Much appreciated!

Lessons learnt

The following covers the the what, why and how of each chapter.

  • what — summary of content in the chapter
  • why — author’s reasoning for the chapter
  • how — application of leadership lessons in business (complements the what)

Chapter 1: Extreme Ownership; Chapter 2: No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

  • What: Leaders need to take ownership of anything that happens under their watch and uphold standards for the team
  • Why: The effectiveness of a team and decisions made by them can be traced back to the leader
  • How: Leaders need to take ownership in things that go wrong and see how things can be improved. They can then focus on how to steer the team back to its goal, instead of who is to blame for the mistake. The attitude of the leader can be contagious, so the how or why culture propagates downwards accordingly.

Chapter 3: Believe

  • What: Everyone in the team needs to be clear on the reason behind a goal/task
  • Why: The why is what drives the team to achieve something
  • How: Everyone has a part to play in understanding the reason. Leaders generally relay this information. However, if it is unclear to anyone, it is also their responsibility to ask

Chapter 4: Check the Ego

  • What: Ego inhibits growth
  • Why: The unwillingness to admit mistakes and shortcomings can prevent someone from seeing the problem for what it truly is. Conflicts can arise when two people who don’t see eye to eye continue their egoistic tug of war, which then distracts the team from their goals
  • How: Being accountable for one’s mistakes with the intention of learning from others, promotes self-reflection which in turn expands room for growth. Remember, it is not a me vs you mindset that we should adopt. Rather, it is the team vs the challenges that lay ahead of the team.

Chapter 5: Cover and Move

  • What: ‘Us’ vs ‘Them’ mindset between teams in the same organisation should not exist
  • Why: The organisation works towards a common goal (KPIs, business profits, etc) and every team contributes to that. If there is competition/conflicts between teams, the organisation’s goals are put at risk
  • How: Focus should be placed on the goal of the organisation instead of the immediate goal present within the team. This way, teams will work to support one another to further progress the organisation

Chapter 6: Simple

  • What: Keep things simple
  • Why: Complexity causes confusion/inability to comprehend plans and ideas
  • How: What may seem simple to someone, may be very hard for others to understand. Seek another person’s perspective on a plan/idea/solution that one might have to really understand potential ‘hard-to-understands’

Chapter 7: Prioritise and Focus

  • What: Divide and conquer
  • Why: Big tasks can be overwhelming and seem unachievable, which may affect the morale in a team/organisation
  • How: Split big tasks into smaller tasks. Prioritise the smaller tasks according to which brings the biggest value to the team and/or organisation. Focus on the tasks at the top and move down the priority list

Chapter 8: Decentralised Command

  • What: Teams can work independently towards the organisation’s bigger goal only when there is trust
  • Why: The teams’ trust in leadership allows them to confidently make decisions of their own. The leadership’s trust in the teams allows the teams to grow
  • How: Leadership needs to give clear, concise boundaries for teams to work in. This allows the team to make decisions towards the goal of the organisation. Teams need to be given the opportunity to solve problems of their own, which in turn allows them to gain more experience and trust. When teams make mistakes, they need to know that leadership has their back, especially when they have acted within the boundaries set forth.

Chapter 9: Plan

  • What: Leaders need to have the bigger picture in mind
  • Why: Being too focused on the problems on the ground may cause tunnel vision and lack of alternative perspective for the team
  • How: Avoid the temptation to be tied down with day-to-day operations. Take a step back and have the bigger goal in mind. The new perspective can be useful in identifying new solutions that the team has not thought of

Chapter 10: Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command

  • What: Leaders need to know how to lead up (influence decisions above) and lead the teams they are in charge of
  • Why: It can be tough to operate as a team when there are no buy-ins from higher levels to achieve certain tasks. It can also be equally challenging when the team is not motivated due to not knowing why certain tasks need to be accomplished
  • How: Leaders need to learn to look at themselves when they are unable to get buy-ins from their leaders. Is it the way the idea was presented? Or is it the lack of details in the presentation? Leaders also need to truly understand why certain goals are being laid out so that they can relay it to their teams (see chapter 3)

Chapter 11: Decisiveness and Uncertainty

  • What: Being proactive beats being reactive
  • Why: Reactive nature brings about more uncertainty to the outcome of situations
  • How: When faced with a situation with uncertain outcome, make decisions to dictate the situation. This way, one will have control over the outcome instead of letting nature take its course



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