Home » Book Review: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Book Review: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

“The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.”

– Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win (p. 29).

Months ago I watched a special on the history channel called Live to Tell and the first episode was called, “Charlie Platoon & The Story of Marc Lee.”[1] The episode chronicled Charlie Platoon’s heroic efforts of fighting back ISIS thugs in the battle-ridden city of Ramadi, Iraq. In that battle a machine gunner Navy Seal named Marc Lee lost his life and became the first Navy Seal killed in this war.

In that episode two guys caught my attention as they shared their account of the details surrounding this fight: Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Jocko was the leader of Task Unit Bruiser and Leif was the leader of Charlie Platoon which was one of the platoon under Bruiser’s command. After doing research I noticed they co-wrote a book called Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. I bought the book and read it cover to cover in a week.

Jocko Willink (Left) and Leif Babin (Right)

First…about the authors. From the book: JOCKO WILLINK and LEIF BABIN served as U.S. Navy SEAL officers in SEAL Task Unit Bruiser through the Battle of Ramadi, some of the toughest urban combat in the history of the SEAL teams. Their task unit remains the most highly decorated special operations unit from the war in Iraq. After returning, Babin and Willink built and led Navy SEAL leadership training for the next generation of SEALs. Then they took those lessons learned from the battlefield and launched Echelon Front, a leadership consulting firm that teaches others to build and lead their own high-performance winning teams.[2]

The book itself was a gem. Before I say anything else about it I will say that if you are looking for a book chronicling the battles in Ramadi then this is not your book. They do share some details but only to make the point of a leadership principle. This brings me to the next point in saying that this is a specialized book teaching leaders how to lead well.

“Extreme Ownership requires leaders to look at an organization’s problems through the objective lens of reality, without emotional attachments to agendas or plans” (p. 31).

Using their thorough Seal training they share principles that help leaders make the best decisions to help their team “win.” They divide the book into three sections: 1) Winning the War Within, 2) Laws of Combat and 3) Sustaining Victory. Each chapter has a three part format as well: 1) A specific battle or mission to emphasize the principle, 2) The Principle Itself and 3) Application in Business.

I would say the book is worth its weight just for the application aspects itself. They ask all the right questions to help leaders look in, look up and look around. The chapter that impacted me the most was Chapter 4: Check the Ego. I assumed Navy Seals were just a bunch of power hungry robots who looked down on civilians and/or other branches of the military. Not so by a long shot. They talk about the importance of working with other branches and even Iraqi troops (often ill-equipped for battle) and achieving a mission goal. I needed that shot to the gut.

“Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism” (p. 100).

From my own ministry context this book is tremendously helpful in strengthening my leadership ability within and around my context. I wonder if churches would be open for leadership consulting from guys like Jocko and Leif. I wonder what we could learn from guys like that to help us grow as leaders and to be more intentional about what we do as leaders.

“Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mind-set into the team” (p. 55).

I think all leaders in the church (explicit or implicit) should purchase this book. If you are in business then this is a MUST HAVE!!! It will guide you to make better decisions even in the midst of uncertainty. The tools given will only help you to become a better person.

Favorite Quotes:

  • 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. (p. 30)
  • When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable— if there are no consequences— that poor performance becomes the new standard. (p. 54)
  • On the battlefield, countless problems compound in a snowball effect, every challenge complex in its own right, each demanding attention. But a leader must remain calm and make the best decisions possible. To do this, SEAL combat leaders utilize Prioritize and Execute. We verbalize this principle with this direction: “Relax, look around, make a call.” (p. 161)

There are so many others…but then you may not have to read the book! Get out there and read it!


[1] If you have a cable provider or Dish Provider you can watch it here: http://www.history.com/shows/live-to-tell/season-1/episode-1

[2] Read more about their bio here: http://www.echelonfront.com/#!team/cwvn. Jocko also has a top rated podcast and you can check out all of his happenings at http://jockopodcast2.com/