Extreme Ownership

When it comes to leading a team, having the right mindset is critical. That's why it pays to develop a mindset of extreme ownership.

This attitude is a key factor in creating good team dynamics and growing your business—and it's also a big predictor of whether or not you'll stay successful. 

Extreme ownership is such an important topic that leadership expert Jocko Willink and co-author Leif Babin wrote a book about it. The book is definitely worth reading, but we're also glad that Jocko sat down with BuildWitt CEO Aaron Witt and President Dan Briscoe to give us the down-and-dirty details.

Next, Jocko breaks down what extreme ownership is and why it's absolutely crucial to helping your business succeed.

Extreme ownership means you're responsible . . .

According to Jocko, extreme ownership means “that you’re not going to blame anyone else or anything else when something goes wrong. You're going to take ownership of that problem, and you're gonna get it solved.”

Here's an example. Let's say supplies were late getting to the jobsite. An ordinary person would start blaming the individual who ordered the supplies. But as an extreme owner, you start asking questions instead.

Did the person who ordered the supplies mess up, or did they not have all the information they needed to put in a timely request? Did something happen that was outside their control? What role did your action (or inaction) play in their ability to complete the order?

Maybe you needed to give the person the information sooner, so they could order supplies on time. Maybe they're new, and they don't understand how or when to place the orders—in which case, you need to train them. Maybe a major weather event delayed shipping; could you have prevented the delay if you'd checked the weather?

Don’t just point fingers. That will only make others defensive. Instead, determine where things went astray and how the whole team can get to a better outcome next time.

As a leader—and now an extreme owner—you’re responsible for how your team members perform. Their issues are your issues. They're counting on you to take extreme ownership when mistakes happen.

Basically, Jocko says taking ownership boils down to the mindset that, “I know there's more I could have done to educate my frontline team so they understand why they're doing what they're doing.”

. . . and everyone else is responsible, too

If you're the only one doing it, it's not extreme ownership. You're becoming a scapegoat, and that's exactly what we don't want. Extreme ownership starts with you, because you're the leader. But it should spread to the rest of the team, too.

By taking ownership of the problem first, you’re demonstrating the kind of leadership every member of your team needs to display. Employees will mirror that behavior—especially once they understand that taking extreme ownership will get them rewarded for being responsible instead of punished for making a mistake. 

It also may help to sit down with an employee and make sure they understood what was being asked of them. Maybe the person who ordered the supplies misunderstood the timeline. Or maybe they know the supply chain better than you do and can suggest a solution for the next order. 

Sitting down with your employees to teach them and learn from them is super important. As Jocko points out, “Now we have both of us solving the problem. Now we're both taking ownership of that problem. And this is how problems get fixed.”

Extreme ownership is powerful within an organization. It puts an end to the blame game, unites team members, and creates space for them to solve problems. Extreme ownership is a mentality that doesn't make excuses and doesn't blame other people. It's a winning choice.

Learn how you can get your team to take extreme ownership.

The goal is decentralized command, not micromanagement

Extreme ownership can be game-changing for a business or an individual. But as with anything, taking it too far is a bad idea. If extreme ownership somehow morphs into you taking over from other team members—or micromanaging their efforts—it becomes a problem.

You're not shooting for micromanagement. Instead, you want decentralized command. Decentralized command means that everyone leads, and if you do it right, it's one of the most powerful ways to run your business.

How decentralized command and micromanagement are different

“Decentralized command is the opposite of micromanagement,” Jocko says. He explains that with micromanagement, "I'm trying to do everything myself, and no one's making a move unless I tell them to do it. That's not a way to run a business.”

Conversely, a management plan can also be too simple. You can’t just tell your team to show up and get to work. “That's a simple plan, right? But it obviously doesn't cover what's going to happen during the day,” Jocko points out.

If a team focuses on only a single priority, this creates a work hazard that the military refers to as target fixation. Jocko explains that with target fixation, “I'm only looking at one thing. And next thing you know, we get hit from another angle.”

How decentralized command balances your business

So, you need to prioritize and execute . . . without micromanaging, oversimplifying, or getting too fixated on a single objective. How do you balance all of that? Decentralized command.

According to Jocko, decentralized command “has to be balanced. I have to make sure I'm engaged enough with the team so that they actually know what the mission is, what we're doing, what the parameters are, and why they're doing what they're doing.”

That in turn empowers your team to take extreme ownership. They know the objective, and they can take responsibility for helping make it happen.

Implementing extreme ownership can have a tremendous impact on any company, at any size. It helps ensure that when something goes wrong, you don’t find yourself surrounded by people who say, "That's not my job" or "It isn't my fault." Instead, you're surrounded by people who identify problems and say, "Here's how I can help fix this." 


When you and your crew members adopt a mindset of extreme ownership, you cut down on the finger-pointing and blame games that can occur on the jobsite.

To really hammer the point home, let's walk through a real-life scenario. 

Imagine a worker gets hurt because they weren’t wearing their PPE. With an extreme ownership mindset, you know that’s not all their fault. It was up to you and the rest of the team to make sure everyone followed company procedures—and that those procedures were up to snuff.

That didn't happen, so here's what does happen next: 

  • As a leader, you rightfully take responsibility for what happens on your watch. You review the safety policies, make changes if needed, and make sure the team gets the training they need. 
  • Your team sees you modeling extreme ownership. Now they start stepping up to the plate, too—such as the foreman enforcing those policies on the jobsite or crew members reminding each other to put on their PPE. 

Remember, it all starts with you. “The people who work for you, they're counting on you to lead in tough situations,” Jocko says.

When you do, you'll see them start stepping up to help lead in those tough situations, too. Next thing you know, you're enjoying the benefits of decentralized command—without having to micromanage your crews. 

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