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Friday, February 22, 2019

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

As a lifelong learner of leadership, I was not disappointed when one of my police officers gifted me with "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win," written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Willink and Babin are former Navy Seals who honed their leadership skills on the streets of Ramadi during the Iraq War and now bring the lessons they learned to the business world.

The theme is succinctly stated: "There are no bad teams; just bad leaders." It is from this perspective the authors navigate through various lessons of owning your actions and those of your team. The book is divided into separate, interrelated leadership theories learned by the pair during their time in combat. Each chapter follows the same format: a relevant experience from the battlefield, the principle lesson learned from that experience and a practical example of application to the business world.

One particular chapter, titled "Prioritize and Execute," caused me to do some real introspection. Managing the basic operation of a law enforcement agency is a daunting challenge in itself. Managing a department committed to community engagement creates unique opportunities and challenges. At the Cape Girardeau Police Department, we pride ourselves on being responsive to the needs and desires of the community we serve, but sometimes that can become overwhelming.

We always want to say "yes" when approached by groups, businesses, schools, etc., to partner with them on a particular community-focused effort. I occasionally find myself saying yes too often or too quickly without considering the effects that "yes" will have on the rest of our operations or on our core mission of keeping the community safe. Left unchecked, I could easily get us into a situation of doing a million really good things while doing none of them well. Through their writing, the authors remind me it is important to evaluate the highest priorities, clearly articulate those priorities, set clear direction and then stay the course.

Willink and Babin really drive home a basic tenet of servant leadership. Although not always easy to swallow, as leaders, we are responsible for our teams' performance. If there is a failure, it is our fault; it is not the fault of our team. Perhaps we didn't set clear direction or provide the team with the needed resources. If we are unsuccessful at securing what our team needs to do their jobs, it is our fault for not clearly articulating the importance of the need to our bosses. It is humbling to read this perspective from premiere military leaders who took teams into battles full of uncontrollable factors literally every day during their deployment. Any failure could easily be blamed on the chaos and fog of war, but that is not the approach of the authors. They fully accept a failure rested squarely on their shoulders.

Admittedly, there are no new leadership concepts presented in this book. However, Willink and Babin revisit the tested-and-proven servant leadership model in a bold, no-holds-barred approach. I would place this book on the "should read" list for any leader or anyone aspiring to a leadership role with one caveat: "Check your ego."