A couple of weeks ago a friend recommended a book on the New York Times Best Sellers List called, Extreme Ownership. It’s about two highly trained Navy Seals who led teams and missions in Ramadi, Iraq. Today they teach leadership development to businesses around the world from the lessons gleaned from their Seal experiences. It’s incredibly fascinating!
Here are four key points I taught this week during a leadership development meeting with our staff. I thought you might benefit as well.
1. Layered leadership accomplishes the mission
It’s not the generals at the top who “win” the objective of a mission, it’s the boots on the ground. This is so true for every organization. Great leadership must happen at every level to win at the front line. Great leadership organizes teams ensuring their leaders are training and passing the message and mission to their team members. Seals are divided into sub teams of 8 or 4; each team always has a leader who is in charge of the sub team.
Wherever you find yourself on the team, lead well. Your team members and the mission are counting on you!
2. There are no bad teams, just bad leaders.
Ouch! Human nature always has a tendency to point fingers and blame others when things don’t go well. One of the mantras drilled into the mindset of a Navy Seal is to “OWN EVERYTHING.” If you are the leader and the team didn’t perform well, it’s not their fault, it’s yours.
"When subordinates aren’t doing what they should, leaders that exercise Extreme Ownership cannot blame the subordinates. They must first look in the mirror at themselves. The leader bears full responsibility for explaining the strategic mission, developing the tactics, and securing the training and resources to enable the team to properly and successfully execute…if an individual on the team is not performing at the level required for the team to succeed, the leader must train and mentor that underperformer. But if the underperformer continually fails to meet standards, then a leader who exercises Extreme Ownership must be loyal to the team and the mission above any individual. If underperformers cannot improve, the leader must make the tough call to terminate them and hire others who can get the job done. It is all on the leader." (page 30)
3. It’s not what you preach, but what you tolerate that becomes the standard and norm.
Setting expectations (either in writing or verbally) is the easiest thing in the world to do. Measuring and confirming that expectations are consistently met is where it becomes difficult. Accountability and consequences must be in place in order to maintain team morale and a high standard of achievement. The Navy Seals take this very seriously because people live or die based on decisions they make. Each of us must determine “how big a deal” something is before we commit and invest our lives into it. I happen to work at a church (cypresschurch.tv) and we believe our work can have a direct influence on whether a person chooses life or death.
4. In order for soldiers to be at their best, they must believe in the mission and understand why.
The authors talk about a difficult time when their General changed the rules of engagement requiring that Iraqi soldiers would accompany the Navy Seals on their missions. There was significant resistant from the Navy Seals until it was fully explained “why” this decision was made. It was explained that the Iraqi soldiers were shadowing the Navy Seals to learn from them because once they pulled out of Iraq, the Iraqi soldiers would be charged to maintain peace and order. Once the why was explained, morale immediately increased and the execution of the mission rose to a new level of effectiveness.
How many times in life and organizations are decisions made but explanations of why are never given? Or questions arise from the front line but are never answered? Until you clearly explain the why, you will never have the full support needed from your team to carry out the mission.
I am incredibly grateful for the brave men and women who serve to keep us safe at all times and in all places. Thank you to all the Armed Forces for modeling and teaching incredible lessons in leadership to better accomplish our mission.