Leadership is about accountability. In the corporate world, this has often been forgotten, but in order to be a great leader you must take responsibility. Covering your own backside and blaming others is not what great leaders do. Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin outlines how leaders within the Navy Seals take ownership. After all, when you are in the middle of a battle, you can rarely send your boss an email and ask what they would like you to do. Success and failure depend on taking ownership and being accountable for the decisions made. There are many examples in the book that are relevant to leadership within business. It is no surprise that the authors have gone on to work with many of the largest businesses in the world to coach their leaders. So, what exactly can we learn from the book?
Leading a team means taking responsibility for every one of its failures
In 2012, one of the authors was in Iraq and their unit took heavy fire from what was assumed to be the mujahedeen, or enemy insurgents. But as it turned out, it was actually another SEAL unit and one of the soldiers dies due to friendly fire. As the ranking officer in the operation, he took the view that everything that went wrong was his responsibility. And do you know what happened? By taking ownership of this horrendous failure, he actually saved his job. That’s because his superiors understood that every leader makes mistakes, but only the good ones take responsibility for them. During research conducted, it has been found that the majority of underperforming units have leaders who blame either the scenario, their subordinates, or the troops themselves. By refusing to take responsibility they fail their missions. When a poor leader blames everyone but himself, that attitude will spread to the rest of the team. This results in the team failing to deliver what is required as no one will put their hand up and own a problem. When a team just makes excuses and passes the buck, they will never resolve the problems required to be successful.
Planning for success means mitigating risks in advance
Just minutes before the launch of a SEAL rescue operation to save a hostage from Al-Qaeda, the authors intelligence officer told him that they had just discovered that the hostage was surrounded by explosives and being protected by bunkered machine guns. This was not in the original intelligence report and this meant that the risk level was a lot higher than first thought. It did not make a difference and the plan went ahead. The reason for this was simple, the leader had already accounted for these extra worst-case scenarios before they even knew they had existed. If he had not planned for such unforeseen circumstances, he would have put all of his team at risk, after all, anything can happen on the battlefield. As a result, there was no need to delay the mission, or to redesign the plans.
Make sure you’re giving your superiors the information they need
One of the authors was always frustrated as their commanding officer was bombarding him with emails asking “stupid” questions. He couldn’t understand why he was being bothered with such simple questions, when he had so many important things to deal with. The other author helped him realise that the reason his superiors were checking in, is because he had not been taking responsibility for providing them with updates. So, the commanding officer was simply trying to get the information required to actually approve the plans, so that he could execute them. Many leaders will make the mistake of thinking that if their own boss is not giving them the support they need, its their boss’s fault. But it is actually their responsibility to provide their boss with the information required so that their boss can support and make decisions.
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