“Total responsibility for failure is a difficult thing to accept, and taking ownership when things go wrong requires extraordinary humility and courage. But doing just that is an absolute necessity to learning, growing as a leader, and improving a team’s performance.” – Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin – two retired Navy SEALs who teamed up to write the book Extreme Ownership – share how they used their leadership abilities in the battle of Ramadi, Iraq, and how those lessons can be applied to non-military leadership situations.
When Leif Babin was training to become a U.S. Navy SEAL officer, he spent most of his time working out combat mission briefs for PowerPoint presentations. He and other officers-in-training created briefs with the intention of impressing their instructors, as opposed to crafting plans that would actually be valuable to the entire team. When he joined Task Unit Bruiser in 2005 as the officer in charge of Charlie Platoon, his commander and future co-author Jocko Willink told him to forget about impressing others with presentations. Instead, he was urged to create mission briefs that actually help execute the mission. A good brief was less about impressing others and more about being as clean and easy to follow as possible. The final product placed an emphasis on what Willink calls “Commander’s Intent.” Whatever the mission, a team should understand its commander’s purpose and the mission’s end state so thoroughly that they can act without further guidance.
Task Unit Bruiser was sent to Ramadi, where it became the most highly decorated special operations unit of the Iraq War.
It was a valuable teaching experience for Babin. In Extreme Ownership he outlines the planning checklist that he used as platoon commander:
- Analyze the mission.Understand higher headquarters’ mission, Commander’s Intent, and endstate (the goal). Identify and state your own Commander’s Intent and endstate for the specific miss
- Identify personnel, assets, resources, and time available.
- Decentralize the planning process.Empower key leaders within the team to analyze possible courses of action.
- Determine a specific course of action.Lean toward selecting the simplest one.
- Empower key leaders to develop the plan for the selected course of action.
- Plan for likely contingencies through each phase of the operation.
- Mitigate risks that can be controlled as much as possible.
- Delegate portions of the plan and brief to key junior leaders.Stand back and be the tactical genius.
- Continually check and question the plan against emerging information to ensure it still fits the situation.
- Brief the plan to all participants and supporting assets.Emphasize Commander’s Intent. Ask questions and engage in discussion and interaction with the team to ensure they understand.
- Conduct post-operational debrief after execution. Analyze lessons learned and implement them in future planning.
Babin writes that this checklist can be easily adapted to the business world, and it forms the basis for what he and Willink teach executives through their leadership consulting firm Echelon Front.
“Implementing such a planning process will ensure the highest level of performance and give the team the greatest chance to accomplish the mission and win,” Babin writes.
In many respects, the military and business do share many similarities. Both involve competitive threat. Both rely on the right strategy. And, most importantly, both rely on high quality people. Whether or not you think running a business organization feels like war, these military lessons are lessons for all leaders.