How to Get Your Crew to Take Extreme Ownership

One of the primary themes of Willink’s work with companies of all sizes and challenges is the need for taking extreme ownership. When a leader makes this choice, there’s much less finger-pointing and blaming that occurs.

However, the progress a team or job site crew can make is limited if only the leader has this mindset. Truly successful dirt world teams have found a way to instill the qualities of extreme ownership into every person in every role.

How can you do the same?

Cultivating and modeling an ownership mentality.

Not surprisingly, extreme ownership starts with the leader. By operating from an ownership mindset — and modeling what that means for other members of their teams — bosses help to develop their own people as individual leaders, and extreme ownership becomes the company norm.

As the manager of a crew, how do you successfully cultivate an ownership mentality within your teams? “You start to take ownership yourself, and then other people start to take ownership as well. It's as simple as that.”

Not every person will take ownership. “Nope, there's going to be a couple knuckleheads that don't,” Willink said. “But the vast majority of people will start to take ownership as well. And the reason I know that is because I've seen it over and over and over again.”

Extreme ownership, consistently applied, rubs off on people: “I've literally seen this happen so many times, where people start to take ownership of what's happening, and companies change, teams change, businesses change,” he said.

Willink and his firm have been brought on board by, for example, massive global companies that are doing well but want to do better. In one example, by learning the principles of extreme ownership, a company’s worst-performing business unit became, one year later, their “number one business unit in America.”

As Willink explained, “We didn't teach them anything about their process. We didn't teach them anything about their technical business, because we don't know their technical business. We didn't look at their finances. We didn't reassign, we didn't bring in a troop of new people to lead. We didn't do any of those things.”

So what did they do? “What we taught them, fundamentally, was to start taking ownership of what was going on. And they went from the worst, to the best.”

Getting over the excuse of ‘There’s nothing we can do.’

Working with other companies, Willink has heard a long list of excuses for why they’re not performing as well as they would like to be performing.

“Corporate doesn't give us the support that we need. Plus, we’ve got this person over here, and they're not a good leader. So there's nothing we can do, because there's a bad leader. Oh, and by the way, this is a union shop, and we have a bad relationship with the union. There's nothing we can do. So there you go,” recounted Willink. ”That's what you walk into. There's this situation. There's nothing we can do about it.”

By changing their perspective, the company will realize that they could help that person become a better leader. They could work to form a better relationship with the union. They could form better relationships with corporate so they can get the help they need.

It’s funny what that sets in motion. As Willink noted, “You look up and all of a sudden you start getting support, and the union relationship develops, and the people that weren't leading well are starting to lead well.”

That’s what spreading extreme ownership around can do.


As may be abundantly clear by now, one of the best ways to cultivate a culture of extreme ownership is to demonstrate this leadership behavior yourself.

With a mindset of extreme ownership, you’re not looking for someone to blame or for other excuses. You’re taking ownership of the problem and getting it solved.

When Willink works with companies to instill extreme ownership, he and his colleagues:

  • Teach leaders, at various levels of the organization, the principles of leadership.
  • Explain to them, talk to them about their egos, and talk to them about what they can do better.
  • Talk to them about principles like cover and move, SIMPLE, prioritize and execute, and decentralized command.
  • Talk to them about taking ownership of what's going on.

The benefits of this strategy are so clear that it doesn’t take long for other members of the team to realize that extreme ownership is a winning stance.

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