Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.

Printable: Download this summary to read offline.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

This book is a combination of a lot of things. Firstly, it’s a story of the navy SEAL life in the violent battlefield of Iraq. Secondly, deep dive into the leadership principles by the authors applied in warfare. And thirdly, practical implementation of these principles in business as well in life. It’s more than just a book on leadership, it’s a manual that will help you transcend in difficult times.

The Core Idea:

Extreme Ownership aims to teach one thing: No one owes you anything. You’re responsible for your own life. You’re responsible for your failures, misfortunes, the way you look, the car you drive, the thoughts that consume your mind, and even often times the mistakes of the people around you. Extreme Ownership is a mindset, an attitude, a way of living. Once you get that it’s all up to you, you’ll stop complaining. You’ll take responsibility and start tackling the problems that are thrown at you.


  • All respected leaders have one thing in common: they take ownership of the problem and lead.
  • Complaining about how others didn’t do their job won’t help. It’s your responsibility to teach them.
  • Extreme ownership is a mindset. A way of living. It’s showing up every single day regardless of how difficult the situation is.

5 Key Lessons from Extreme Ownership

Lesson #1: Take Complete Ownership Over The Operation

To become a kick-ass leader. A mucho general who people want to follow and listen to – like in the movies. You don’t need a fancy haircut or a pile of muscles attached to your body. You need something few people dare to mention.

In the first chapter, the authors share a story from their time in Iraq where lack of communication lead to blue-on-blue – friendly fire. But instead of blaming the field personal and the people shooting their co-workers, the general blamed no one other than himself.

Instead of pointing the finger at others for this crazy situation, Jocko took full ownership of the case when the commanding officers arrived to investigate.

That’s right. He wasn’t actually there, shooting. He wasn’t throwing grenades. But he was the commander of the troops at that time and his involvement, or the lack of it, was the reason such an unfortunate event occurred.

Everything happening in your world is your responsibility. If you’re managing a team, and if you have people underperforming, it’s your fault. If you don’t have enough money to pay the bills and if you’re not getting that promotion, it’s your error, too. Not your bosses fault or the current market condition. Somewhere along the way, you screwed things up and it’s up to you to figure out a way out.

Yep, sounds harsh and inhuman but that’s life. No one said that it’s going to be easy.

“On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.” Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Lesson #2: If Not Managed, Ego Ruins Everything

I often tell myself that my work is flawless. I’m a human, after all. And as such, I have a need to feel important. If there’s currently no one praising me publicly, I will pat myself on the back.

Not that having a nice juicy ego is bad. It can be quite useful actually. It can help you sell more products. It can help you convince others in your point of view. Heck, it can even assist when talking to your boss about him giving you more money.

However, there is a caveat.

While ego can help you get up in the morning to exercise and assist in landing a date. It’s also the force that can ruin everything if not properly managed: it can cloud your judgment when making tough decisions, force you to act impulsively instead of laying low, indulge you to blame others to avoid taking ownership.

We all have an ego but some individuals have an excess amount of self-importance that often causes them more harm than good. The point is to use it to your advantage and don’t let it ruin your life.

And how do you mitigate your own understanding of awesomeness?

By realizing that it’s not about you.

No matter where you are in life, you need to accept the notion that it’s not about you. Not about your job, it’s about your clients. Not about your mirage, it’s about your spouse. Not about being the best, but being the most helpful.

“For leaders, the humility to admit and own mistakes and develop a plan to overcome them is essential to success. The best leaders are not driven by ego or personal agendas. They are simply focused on the mission and how best to accomplish it.” Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Lesson #3: Communicate Well. Communicate Frequently

Whether you’re the field manager of a large corporation, the executive director, or a fresh hire looking for ways to move up the corporate ladder, you need to communicate.

Surely I’m not (nor the authors) talking about chatting with your co-workers over Facebook. I’m talking about clearly transmitting your message up the chain of command and as well as down the chain.

Everyone in the organization should be aware of what is happening – what you plan to do and what the next steps are.

That might seem simple to some and unworthy of their time. But, there’s a big but coming up. Exactly because people take this advice lightly large organizations spin their wheels and go around in circles.

Business is always complex and new information is coming in constantly. To keep your troops prepared, and your bosses aware of what you’re planning to do, you need to clearly transmit information across all fronts.

Also, realize that if someone isn’t doing what you want or need them to do, it’s your fault. You failed to broadcast the message properly. So, go back and repeat yourself. But this time make your statement better, clearer.

Lesson #4: Accept Uncertainty. You’ll Never Have the Full Picture

“I’m not sure where the hell it came from!”

That’s usually what you’ll hear when people are caught off guard. They plan, strategize, but fail to take into account the most important stage of preparation: uncertainty. You’ll never have the full picture and unexpected things will occur for sure.

The worst thing that can happen to you on the battlefield, as Jocko and Babin share, is to be paralyzed by fear and stress when your mission doesn’t go as planned.

Well, of course it won’t. There are simply too many components on the battlefield. Do you think that the enemies will stop and wait for you to go along with your fancy blueprint? Hell no. They have a plan of their own and that certainly involves crushing yours.

Sadly, that’s not how most folks prepare. They make plans assuming other people won’t move an inch. That others will, too, participate in their theatre. But that’s stupid and unrealistic. Other people have their own lives and they’ll surely try to outmaneuver you.

So, as you prepare for the launch of your new product, get ready to break into a new market, and even when you’re about to go on vacation, be sure to consider the “incomplete picture.” Think about what might go wrong, don’t panic when shit hits the fan, and adjust on the fly.

“There is no 100 percent right solution. The picture is never complete. Leaders must be comfortable with this and be able to make decisions promptly, then be ready to adjust those decisions quickly based on evolving situations and new information.” Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Lesson #5: Discipline Equals Freedom

I don’t know who wrote most of the text in the book. Jocko Willink or Leif Babin. But one thing is certain, Jocko Willink is the one getting all the fame. Probably for a good reason. He’s famous for his get-up-early-and-train-like-a-mad-dog workout sessions. And as you can see from his Twitter page, he gets up at 4:30 in the morning to train.

But he’s already successful? What’s the rush, right?

Because life is a series of tests. But not math exams or SAT tests. We’re talking about daily tests that you need to pass. But most of us don’t get that. Actually, there’s one test most people fail every day without realizing – getting up early.

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin said in the book, “The moment the alarm goes off is the first test; it sets the tone for the rest of the day.”

If you struggle to get on time for your job you’re not in the right position to complain about not getting the desired raise.

If you need/want something in your life, it’s up to you to get it. It will take time, patience, a lot of hard work. All of the things you already know. The important thing here to realize is that it’s on you.

It’s your responsibility. You need to take full control over your life and face the daily battles if you want to see yourself succeed.

If you get on time you’ve passed the first test. If you exercised today you passed the second test and so on. The list varies depending on what you want to accomplish.

But one thing is certain: there’s never and ending. It’s not like we’re in school. These same tests will wait for you the next day. If you keep facing them, you’ll earn your freedom and find joy.

“Discipline was really the difference between being good and being exceptional.” Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Actionable Notes:

  • Believe in the mission: Doubt that you’re going to succeed? Then you’ll surely perish. A leader should be unreasonably optimistic about the mission – task, project, whatever is on the agenda. After all, he’s the one that will inspire his troops to move forward, tell them what to do and why they need to do it. If you’re uncertain about the current mission, leave someone else to lead.
  • Аvoid the Tortured Genius syndrome: This classification doesn’t mean that an artist is suffering from mental illness – it’s in the context of ownership. No matter how obvious his or her failings, or how valid the criticism, a Tortured Genius, in this sense, accepts zero responsibility for his mistakes. The natural response, when questioned, is making excuses and blaming everyone else for their shortcomings. This way of thinking can have a devastating impact on the performance of the people around them. Avoid such people at all costs – and being one yourself.
  • The enemy gets a vote: Regardless of how cool your product looks, feels, smells, and how big your marketing budget is, your competitors will surely do something to disrupt your plan – they won’t sit idle, they have a plan on their own. To prepare for the “surprises,” you need to do two things: 1) Simplify your plan – the fewer moving parts the better; 2) Consider the worse that can happen and leave room to maneuver when unexpected things occur.
  • Brief and debrief: Before going to war (or prior to launching a product), all of your forces should be on the same page about the upcoming actions. Once the operation is over, seek feedback from people to see what can be improved. What went right? What went wrong? How can we adapt our tactics to make things even more effective?
  • Take (extreme) ownership: It’s your responsibility. “What exactly?” you might ask. Everything. Responsibility does not fall solely on the shoulders of the CEO, if you want to progress in life, you need to take ownership of your actions, and not only. Oftentimes you also need to take ownership of the actions of the people around you. As the saying goes, “It’s not your fault but it’s your responsibility.”

Commentary and My Personal Takeaway

You are responsible for everything. Yep. Your kid not graduating? You didn’t explain well the important things in life. Your book is not selling well on Amazon? You failed to market it right. Your teammates are organizing a riot against you and they are not willing to listen? It’s all on you. You failed to inspire them and lead them in difficult times.

You might think I’m kidding but I am not. Neither are the authors. You’re directly responsible for your efforts and for the efforts of the people you manage. Don’t hide inside your corner office. Go outside and speak with your troops. Show them how it’s done if you want to see results.

That’s the Extreme Ownership mantra.

To be honest, I thought that this book will be one of those overly praised copies that are successful because the marketing budget of the publisher was abnormally high this quarter. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. I was quite amused by the content and the overall format of the copy.

After each short story where the authors shared what happened on the battlefield, there’s a section of how to apply the leadership principles mentioned by the authors in real life.

Definitely recommend reading the book if you’re managing a team or if you struggle to find clarity in your life. Or, if you simply want a motivation boost.

My main takeaway: Discipline equals freedom. I can talk about this in length but I believe the message is clear: If you’re able to convince your body and mind to perform tasks that are not so interesting, every single day without complaining, you achieve admirable results.

Notable Quotes:

Nothing is easy. The temptation to take the easy road is always there. It is as easy as staying in bed in the morning and sleeping in. But discipline is paramount to ultimate success and victory for any leader and any team.” Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.” Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Leaders must be humble but not passive; quiet but not silent. They must possess humility and the ability to control their ego and listen to others. They must admit mistakes and failures, take ownership of them, and figure out a way to prevent them from happening again.” Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Trouble Saying No to Temptations?

Join Farview: A newsletter fostering long-term thinking in a world driven by impatience. Trusted by over 4,300 thinkers, Farview is a concise, thoughtfully organized newsletter helping you handle the self-sabotaging thoughts trying to corrupt you.

Share with others: