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Extreme Ownership

Posted: 1st August 2017

Whatever your views of the conflicts the West engages in, there are some powerful leadership lessons at the operating level worthy of exploration.

The 3-minute read summarises the philosophy and practice of the US Navy SEALs as described by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin their book “Extreme Ownership”. It is a very similar approach to that of UK Special Forces, and indeed the wider Armed Services.

Our aim in this blog is to offer some short take-aways for business leaders. This is surface-skimming stuff, and offered simply as a reflective entry point. Which of these are you struck by? What will you most deeply think about, experiment with, and maybe adopt?

We also want to offer the opportunity to workshop this framework in the Pentland Hills on Thursday 17th August. Information and booking for this Fresh Air Business Walk is at the end of this blog.

So, here are the 3 themes and 12 elements of “Extreme Ownership”.


1.1 OWN IT. Self-aware, relationally effective leaders actively influence everybody and everything that impacts their world. They take an enterprise-wide view and engage broadly with energy. They create the conditions for success.

1.2 WALK THE TALK. Effective leaders understand that what they tolerate sets expectations and tone.

1.3 BELIEVE. To convince and inspire, leaders truly believe in what they do, and take time to engage and explain. They know that a buyable “why” is vital!

1.4 PARK YOUR EGO. Mission and team have primacy over self. Listen and reflect, and lead with humility.


2.1 NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS THAT ENABLE. Think “enterprise” not just immediate team or silo. Develop relationships. Listen and understand. Focus on collective possibilities. Identify common purpose.

2.2 ENCOURAGE SIMPLICTY AND CLARITY. Help people understand and believe. This will help achieve desired outcome when you’re not there and “Plan A” has gone out the window.

2.3 REFLECT, PRIORITISE, EXECUTE, REPEAT. Take a deep breath, look around, identify the single highest priority. The main effort. Create a simple plan, execute robustly, and remain situationally aware. Repeat. Build agility from contingency plans, rehearsals, and core competencies.

2.4 DECENTRALISE. Higher intention, outcomes, and constraints are communicated and understood. Delegations & trust help teams navigate complexity. Leaders are mindful of how and where they play.


3.1 PLAN, TEST, REFINE, REPEAT. Are task and desired outcomes clear and aligned with strategic purpose? Do delegations and egos enable contribution of valuable ideas at all levels? Are back-briefs, stress-tests, and rehearsals programmed?

3.2 LEAD UPWARDS. Are the skills, trust, and respect present to enable challenge and support upwards? Are people encouraged to “own it” at all levels? (See 1.1 above).

3.3 BE DECISIVE AMIDST UNCERTAINTY. Create decision-action cycles that are faster than the opposition to regain the initiative; and which adjust as situations evolve and new information becomes available.

3.4 JUDGING BALANCE. Know when to lead, when to follow; fit for sprints as well as endurance; calm but not emotionless; courageous but not foolhardy; attentive to details but not obsessed; humble but not passive; etc…


If you have found this stimulating, we would love to help you explore the framework more deeply.

One such opportunity is the Fresh Air Business Walk we will be leading in the Pentland Hills on Thursday 17th August. Full information and booking is on Eventbrite here.

We can also offer masterclasses, programmes, and coaching in the workplace.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Dave Stewart
Manging Director
The Fresh Air Learning Company

Tel: 0800 052 7900

fresh air

The Fresh Air Learning Company is on a mission to breathe fresh air into the effectiveness and resilience of boards, senior teams and leaders.

Why? We know how shifts in self-awareness, trust, collective thinking, courageous conversations, and powerful storytelling can lift an organisation. Been there. Done it. And now helping others dodge the risks and leap ahead of avoidable underperformance.

How? Bespoke experiences, journeys and programmes. Outdoors. Indoors. The right place for the client. Powerful. Unforgettable.

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