You Cannot Lead What You Don’t Own

You Cannot Lead What You Don’t Own

Dec 12, 2023 · 8 min


The book “Extreme Ownership” by Leif Babin and Jocko Willink has been suggested to me as the go-to book for leaders multiple times. I have liked the authors since I first saw them and their manner, so I decided to see what’s all the talk about. Jumping ahead, I did not have to disappoint as this is a great leadership book with a lot of ideas and great examples that really strengthen the theories presented. The ideas I share here are not directly the ideas presented in the book, but the ideas that this book made me think of.

Extreme Ownership
Really own it

The leader of a team, department or organization is the person who is responsible for whatever is going on in their domain. This means that when they convey their ideas, the direction of the team or the vision of the company, they have to do their best to get the information to everybody needed. If, for any reason, the team or an individual in the team fails, the leader has to take responsibility. Why is that? Because they are the one in charge and being in charge and owning means that you need to make sure that everybody has all the info, guidance and tools to execute their work. If someone doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t care about what they are supposed to do or has faulty information, it is the leader’s job to analyse where they went wrong and what they can do to fix it. A lot of times, the decisions that are all so clear to the manager seem strange and no so certain to everybody else. This is where good relations and open communication with the team members come in handy. If you have created an open space where everybody feels comfortable asking details when they do not understand a decision, you would get fast feedback and avoid possible issues before they happen.

I like the concept of extreme ownership also in the personal level. In many episodes of life we feel like someone is at fault, we feel injustice, we feel that we are unlucky and don’t understand why something is happening to us. It would be very easy to blame the circumstance, blame someone else, or just write it off to luck. Actually, you should think, what could have I done to make it better. How could I change my attitude or perspective so that the next time this would not affect me this way. One thing I think that you should always keep in mind is to have faith in yourself and the big picture. Things do not happen to everybody the same way, and your time to do something or not do something is very personal. Good things come to those who wait and work hard while waiting.

No bad teams, only bad leader
The team is as good as their leader

The team is the face of the leader is an accurate saying about leadership. Good leaders are addictive and contagious. Great leadership works in many ways. For one the team is highly motivated, driven and engaged with what they do and on the other hand if your peers, the other leaders see your success and actions, they are more inclined to also level up their efforts.

Great leaders create great teams, and that’s a fact. The best part is that the team that has been working great, has found their best workflows and is all in on what they are working on, will also continue to do so when the leader leaves. When the team has found their flow and everybody in the team is empowered and passionate about what they do, the leader is not important any more. The team will know what to do. The team is confident to make decisions and take charge as they know that they are trusted and not controlled. The team will do their best because they want to, not because they have to. The team knows their success is in their own hands and no one will be micromanaging or looking over their shoulder as long as things are done.

“No bad teams” concept is also interesting in another aspect. If the leader is the same person who is actually creating the team, then the success is already written into the effort. Great leaders understand how to hire the people that will increase the value of the team and will fit in.

Check your ego at the door

Egos can be strong, but mostly they are useless. Strong ego means strong insecurity. When you as a leader are presented with an aspect you don’t agree with or perspective that seems ridiculous, then probably your ego will kick in to discredit what you are seeing. Whenever you feel like this, stop this impulse. Your ego, being right, has the failed assumption that you have all the info to be right, coded into it. You can never know everything the people on the other side of the table know. While you might have all the knowledge or all the info about the topic, you will never know the perspective of others.

Whenever you have this situation, then instead of going into blame or defence mode, take a moment to explore what are the principals and perspective that the other person has when creating their opinion. This way, you will be able to learn much more and explain yourself better when finding the best outcome to the situation.

If everything is a priority then nothing is

It might seem tempting to put out a long list of important things that your team is working on, but in reality this is a setup for failure. A long list in itself is frustrating, as you don’t see the end when you are taking on the first item. This, and the fact that you will fail no matter what, is something that can make even the greatest teams crash and burn. So what can you do about it? Prioritize! Simple right. Let me break down the benefits of getting an organized and short list of most important items. Most of the time even if you have list of 20–30 items the biggest value items are maximum 5. Instead of dividing the focus around many items, pick the ones bringing in the biggest value. The ones that will either change the game for the company, your team, your product. Also, a big plus of prioritized tasks is that this allows the team to be more focused on fewer things and can improve the team’s feeling of success. With more people working on the same goal, there are more chances of it being done better and faster.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

Plans can be scary as it seems like something set in stone and not adjustable. While the goal of a plan is really to have something to follow, it is never without adjustments and changes. Creating a plan in itself is an exercise of visioning where you want to be and what you need to do to get there. This exercise alone will help get the team aligned on what is coming ahead. Never take the plan at its face value as life is unpredictable and will throw in changes without mercy.

I love the quote from Mike Tyson in this case — “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”.

Leading up

The larger the chain of command, the harder it is for the higher leader to make decisions that are based on all the information needed. This is where leading up the chain comes into play. You as a leader need to make sure that all the relevant information about your team’s work is communicated effectively up the chain. This is extremely important as your manager needs this information, but they do not need to be overwhelmed by details. The correct amount of info is something that is hard to do, but it’s possible. Try to do an exercise of switching roles. Think about what is the minimal essential information that you would need in their position to make effective, accurate decisions.

Leading down

Leading down the chain is something different, this means that the people under you have knowledge about what goes up the chain and where the decisions come from. It is very important for you to do your best to share the full cycle of vision with your team. The vision starts with the big company vision and then goes smaller and more detailed at every step until it’s down to the individual and how their work and their team’s work contribute to achieving the big vision.

“Extreme Ownership” by Leif Babin and Jocko Willink is one of my favourite leadership books, and it made my mind go wild with ideas, so if you have not had the chance to read it, I strongly recommend you to take it on.

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