I do not consider myself a natural leader. I am more of the “leader by necessity” type. I try to work on my leadership skills, so that I may positively affect the people around me. At the writing of this article, I am serving as the president of the National Association of Concealed Carry Instructors (NACCI). I am in a leadership position there. I have also been in project leadership positions within my career as a research physicist.
I have NEVER been in a leadership position in combat. I have always been a civilian. I am not a military veteran. I do however see the value of those who have battle-tested leadership experience when more than dollars or egos were on the line. When life is on the line, you have no choice but to succeed. It is at this point where good leadership practices survive, and gimmicks are tossed aside.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win is by far the best book I have read with regards to leadership. Authors, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin are battle tested leaders. They Lead Task Unit Bruiser of the storied Navy SEAL Team 3 which included American hero Chris Kyle. If you ever get the chance, I highly suggest you attend one of their leadership “musters” with their consulting company, “Echelon Front”
In my day job, I am sometimes forced to read incredibly boring business leadership books. Some of these yield useful information, but do little to keep the attention of the reader. These guys got the formula right. They keep the reader engaged with stories of Navy SEAL heroism and intersperse great leadership advice. They give battlefield leadership examples they lived, and then show examples of how those principles can be applied in the business world.
Here are my takeaways from Extreme Ownership:
Laws of Combat
Move and cover. – When making a move, make sure your partner has your back. Then make sure you have your partner’s back when they move.
Prioritize and Execute. – In complex situations, when many decisions and actions must be made, determine the priorities and act on them in order. Do not waste time with inaction.
Decentralize command/decision making. – Leaders must have the ability to look at the whole picture and not dwell on the minutia. You must be able to delegate in order to keep your focus on the overall goals and mission your team is after.
Keep it simple. – Over-complexity leads to confusion and unforeseen problems. Make sure your team clearly understands the goals and plans and can execute those plans accordingly.
There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.
Leaders own the failings of the team. Extreme ownership is about taking ownership of those failures and determining how you as the leader can improve, rectify and learn from the situations at hand.
The team must believe in the mission – the question a leader must answer is “why” actions/decisions/
The best teams are made up of small “fire-teams” of 5-6 people plus a leader. This is where efficiency occurs.
The proof a plan will be effective is not in the details that Sr. Leadership will understand or be impressed with, it is in the ability of those who will be carrying out the mission to understand and execute.
A successful plan is one that is thoroughly thought out and which has contingencies for possible obstacles and roadblocks.
Be decisive and do not be held hostage to those who actively seek to create turmoil.
Solely relying on rank/authority is the de facto position of poor leader. Leaders must demonstrate, through action, in their looking after the long-term, best interests of the team and earn respect. There is no room for egos.
Dichotomies in Leadership
We must be careful not to lean too far into the negative sides of these principles:
- Be confident not cocky
- Be courageous not foolhardy
- Be competitive but a gracious loser
- Be attentive to details but not obsessed by them
- Be strong but have endurance (be a leader and a follower simultaneously)
- Be humble not passive
- Be aggressive not overbearing
- Be quiet not silent
- Be calm but not robotic
- Be logical but not devoid of emotion
- Be close with team members but not so close that one becomes more important than the good of the team
- Exercise extreme ownership while being able to exercise decentralized command.
The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether a team succeeds or fails.
Leaders are either effective or ineffective.