Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin – Book Review 1

Best for:

Those interested in leadership, especially from a military or business perspective. Also those interested in being more resilient and productive.

Difficulty to digest:

The principles in Extreme Ownership are straightforward and well-illustrated by examples. The only difficult may be in understanding military terms, however, most of them are defined in the footnotes with additional context.

Key Insights:

Extreme ownership has 3 sections, each with 4 sub-sections. These main sections are winning the war within, laws of combat, and sustaining victory. Within these sections Willink and Babin alternate talking about various SEAL principles and their application to life and business.


Winning the war within, as you might imagine, is about building resilience and adopting useful mind states. Extreme ownership is the idea we control everything in our lives. Whatever happens, we are in some way able to influence it. Other concepts include how powerfully leaders influence teams, must have an unwavering belief in the mission and check their ego by accepting feedback from everyone.

Team Productivity

The next section, Laws of Combat, is more focused on productivity and efficiency in teams. Cover and move are the idea teams must work with each other, not against each other if they hope to be effective in business. Simple covers how simplicity allows teams to work together by being on the same page. This feeds into the concept of decentralized command, meaning there must be trust at all levels to make the right decision. This can only happen if the mission is simple and clear. Prioritize and execute is about keeping your head out of the details, relaxing, and looking for the right decision.

Everything Else

The final section, Sustaining Victory, covers a few other concepts for maintaining order and effectiveness. The plan talks about the benefits of having a clear mission and preparing for contingencies. Leading up and down the chain is about empowering those around you at every level, instead of shifting blame. Decisiveness amid uncertainty champions calculated action over paralysis, even when not all details are clear. Finally, discipline equals freedom is the idea when we structure our lives, it actually opens more time for us to accomplish what we want.

I’ve condensed the book in such a way the concepts within aren’t being done justice. There is a massive amount of information and the principles are supported by stories and additional logic. If you want to go into depth on these highly useful principles, I recommend picking up the book. I thought it was an impactful read, revisiting a few tried and true concepts while peppering in a few others.

Other considerations:

Extreme ownership may seem like a military book, but the insights within can be applied to anyone in any context. Don’t let the military examples dissuade you from picking the book up. This is not a book about the military, it’s a book about leadership and personal accountability.

Many examples are war scenarios. If you have strong feelings about the operations in Iraq, you may not enjoy some of the tone used in the book. It’s from a SEAL perspective and slants heavily in their favor. This is certainly something to be aware of, though the principles are valuable independent of the war applications.

Applicable Content:

  1. A main theme in the book is personal accountability. How can you take more ownership of the events around you? What can you do to fix problems as they arise instead of complaining?
  2. Leading up and down the chain of command is an idea we don’t hear often. In real life, it’s easy to shift blame. How can you empower both those you lead and those you lead you?
  3. Are you lacking discipline in any area of your life? Why? And what can you do to change that so you can acquire more freedom?

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