Written by Jocko Willink
December 30, 2021
When it comes to leading a team or a business, having the right mindset is critical. That's why, as you develop your leadership skills, it pays to consider developing a mindset of “extreme ownership.” The concept behind extreme ownership, as Willink explained, is “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.”
Implementing extreme ownership can have a tremendous impact in any organization. Whatever size your business is, adopting an extreme ownership attitude helps ensure you don’t find yourself surrounded by people who say — when something goes wrong — "that it's not my job "or "it wasn’t my fault."
Extreme ownership means everyone is responsible.
By taking ownership of the problem, you’re demonstrating the kind of leadership every member of your team needs to display. If supplies were late, was the problem with the person who ordered them, or did they perhaps not have all the information they needed to put in a timely request?
Even if it wasn’t your job to order the supplies, what role did your action (or inaction) play? Don’t just point fingers. That will only make others defensive. Determine where the alignment went astray and how the whole team can enjoy a better outcome next time. As a leader, you’re responsible for how your subordinates perform. Their issues are your issues when you’re an extreme owner.
It also may help to sit with an employee and make sure they understood what was being asked of them. Perhaps you didn’t provide enough lead time, or you could have given them a heads up sooner. You may find that they know the supply chain better than you do and may be able to contribute to a solution for the next order. As Willink pointed 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, as it puts an end to the blame game and creates space for problems to get solved. Extreme ownership as a mentality that doesn't make excuses — and as a mentality that doesn't blame other people — is a winning choice.
The goal? Decentralized command, not micromanaging.
Extreme ownership can be extremely positive for a business or for an individual. But, as with anything, taking it too far is a bad idea. If extreme ownership somehow morphs into your taking over from other members of the team, or micromanaging their efforts, it becomes a bad thing.
Instead, what you want is decentralized command. “Decentralized command is the opposite of micromanagement,” according to Willink. Micromanagement, he explained is "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,” said Willink. You still need to prioritize and execute. If a work team focuses on only a single priority, this creates a work hazard that the military refers to as target fixation: “I'm only looking at one thing. And next thing, you know, we get hit from another angle.”
It’s important not to micromanage, while still making sure everyone knows what the work priorities are. And decentralized command “has to be balanced,” Willink said. “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, why they're doing what they're doing.”
When you and others in your organization adopt a mindset of extreme ownership, you minimize the amount of finger-pointing and blame games that can occur on a job site. As a leader, you rightfully take responsibility for what happens on your watch.
For example, if a frontline worker gets hurt and the reason is they weren’t wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE), that’s not only their fault. If you don’t step in and take some ownership of the situation, it’s also more likely to happen again. Perhaps your managers or frontline leaders didn’t check to be sure their teams were following company procedures, or perhaps the procedures were not sufficient to ensure the worker’s safety.
Thus informed, and owning the issue, you can implement whatever changes are appropriate: whether that’s reviewing safety procedures or providing more thorough training. Sometimes all it takes is for the workers to have a better understanding of why it’s important to stay safe. By taking ownership, you’ve improved your chances of avoiding such a safety incident in the future.
“When you're in a leadership position, the people that work for you, they're counting on you to lead in tough situations,” Willink said. Having an extreme ownership mindset also means you take responsibility when mistakes are made: “I know there's more I could have done to educate and convince my frontline team so that they understand why they're doing what they're doing.”
Written by Jocko Willink
December 30, 2021