Review of Jocko Willink and Leif Babins ‘absolute best and most useful leadership book’.

The harsh take on responsibility and leadership resonated with me. This is a book for everyone looking to broaden their perspective on these topics, it certainly helped me.

I received this book as a birthday present, together with Rich Dad Poor Dad and The Personal MBA. I read the book in a short few days in early September.


Take responsibility for everything relevant to you, the only one to blame for failure is you.


Extreme situations make clear cases about what works and what does not.

  • Life and Death situations force realizations about important leadership principles.
  • There are crucial leaders at every level of the team.
  • Leaders have the biggest impact on their teams success, there is no one else to blame if things go wrong. Leaders have ultimate responsibility.

Part I: Winning the War Within

Ch1: Extreme Ownership

Every Leader needs to take responsibility for everything that could impact their mission. Taking ownership of mistakes is needed to learn and improve.

  • The leader is ultimately responsible for everything that happens
  • Leader need to own and take responsibility for everything in their world, since there is no one else to blame
  • The best leaders take extreme ownership of everything that could impact their mission
  • It is absolutely necessary to take ownership of mistakes for growing, learning and improving

Ch2: No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

Leadership is the most important factor for team-based performance - there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.

  • There are no bad teams, only bad leaders
  • Leadership is the most important factor for team-based performance
  • There must be consequences for substandard performance, if it is being tolerated it will continue to happen
  • The best teams continuously look for ways to improve / set their standards higher
  • ‘Win’ your mission, no excuses

Ch3: Believe

Everyone needs to be on the same page for successful execution, different opinions are fine prior to deciding. Leaders are responsible for properly communicating the strategic reason why something is done to their team.

  • Tell everyone why you are doing something
  • A leader must be a true believer of a mission to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish it
  • Frontline Leaders need to believe just the same, they need to lead just the same
  • Senior Leaders need to pass down general strategic understanding of the mission
  • Leaders on all levels need to understand why they do something, not just what, to adapt to changing circumstances faster
  • Leadership is not one person leading, but many leaders working together to lead (up as well as down the chain)

Ch4: Check the Ego

Ego is the Enemy, and leadership is ego-management. Take the blame for explaining too little when someone you are responsible for does something wrong.

  • Ego is the Enemy, and it is deadly
  • Ego can prevent honest and realistic performance assessments, so you should always have metrics
  • When something happens: Take the blame for too little explaining, and catch up

Part II: The Laws of Combat

Ch5: Cover and Move

Build synergies with other teams.

  • Cover and Move requires two active teams: one covering while the other moves with frequent switches
  • Essentially, know about other teams to coordinate with them
  • In Business: Work together to win. Other teams are not adversaries but assets

Ch6: Simple

Everyone benefits from simple communication and situations with few moving parts.

  • Simplifying as much as possible is crucial for success
  • When things go wrong (they will) complexity compounds issues
  • Keep plans and communication simple, so that everyone can understand it
  • Being forced to simplify will make clear if you understand important details
  • Simplify everything, as much as you can

Ch7: Prioritize and Execute

Always prioritize and focus on one problem only, but adjust to the situation as needed.

  • Verbalization of ‘prioritize and execute’: “Relax, look around, make a call”
  • Usually, countless problems show up at the same time, so you need to prioritize
  • Ideally, stay at least a step or two ahead of real-time problems
  • Keep the strategic picture in mind while prioritizing
  • Priorities can change rapidly, communicate changes up and down the chain of command when they are being made
  • Have full focus on your highest-priority-objective until it is solved, only then focus on the next
  • Do not fixate on a problem too much, maintain the ability to see other problems to rapidly shift priorities when needed

Ch8: Decentralized Command

True leaders create and need leaders, not followers. Everything needs to have someone clearly responsible for doing it.

  • Micromanagement does not scale, is unnecessary effort and complex
  • Motivation also takes a hit
  • Major bottlenecks: communication and situational awareness
  • Delegate tactical decisions to frontline-leaders, to focus on strategic decisions instead
  • It is hard to manage more than six to ten people directly
  • Everything needs a clearly designated leader
  • It is important where the limits of decision-making authority are for lower levels
  • Relevant information for strategic situational awareness needs to be passed up and down the chain, especially when something critical changes
  • Leaders need to be free to move wherever they are most needed

Part III: Sustaining Victory

Ch9: Plan

Maximize expected mission success while relying on the least amount of assumptions.

  • Never take anything for granted when doing mission planning
  • Maximize chances for mission success, assuming faulty intel
  • Making assumptions that turn out to be false are failure in leadership
  • Have a standardized planning process
  • Let senior personnel supervise the process, but let everyone, no matter how junior, participate in the planning
  • The situation will change, better have a plan that can adapt
  • There will always be risk. Minimize it, but take it
  • Reevaluate the plan afterward to improve the planning process
  • Planning is an integral part of higher performance

Ch10: Leading up and Down the Chain of Command

Do not expect support if you did not properly convey the importance. Have boundaries and tell them what you are going to do within them. Do not get lost in details, but keep your team aware of the strategic picture.

  • It is hard to see strategic impact when working on a tactical level
  • You need to make sure that everyone understands why you do what you do, from a strategic perspective
  • Figure out ways to communicate the strategic picture instead of blaming them for not understanding it
  • If your boss is not helping you as much as you need him to, blame yourself first to see what you can do better for conveying the seriousness of the situation so that support will be allocated
  • You also need to push situational awareness up the chain of command
  • Public displays of discontent or disagreement with the chain of command undermine authority at all levels and lead to catastrophic performance
  • Every leader needs to support a decision, once it has been made, and execute it as if it were his own - even when being against it
  • Responsibility for leading everyone in your world: subordinates and superiors alike
  • Don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do

Ch11: Decisiveness amid Uncertainty

Make the best decision with the information available, but always make a decision.

  • Information will never be complete, yet decisions need to be made
  • Leaders need to make decisions promptly and adjust them based on evolving situations
  • Waiting for certainty leads to the inability to execute. Uncertainty will prevails.
  • As a leader, be ‘aggressive’ in your decisions, certainly not ‘inactive’
  • Leaders need to be seen as decisive, even when facing hard decisions. You always have enough information for a decision.

Ch12: Discipline Equals Freedom

High performance is possible only with proper discipline and clear procedures.

  • Freedom to operate increases substantially through disciplined procedures
  • The best are always the most disciplined
  • Make your fundamental procedures to disciplined habits, this enables easier changes
  • Let others step up and take charge when it makes sense
  • Leaders who lose their temper lose respect, but do show emotions
  • Leaders should be competitive, but gracious and professional when losing

Ch13: Afterword

Some Leaders are born, but everyone can learn. Listen to every good idea.

  • Some leaders are born, others made. But everyone can become a leader by taking ultimate responsibility.
  • The boldest and most successful plans tend to come from frontline leaders
  • Leadership is simple, but not easy
  • Leading is the most challenging, and therefore most gratifying undertaking


The message resonated with me. I’m really glad I read it, and would recommend it to everyone struggling with responsibility or leadership.

I am really glad that I read it, a

  • Glad I read it?
  • Short verdict

Main Takeaways

I learned about communication, ego-management, and the importance of leaders on every level.

Here is a short list of my main Takeaways:

  • Stupid Questions are Your Fault (for not properly explaining)
  • Leadership is Ego-Management
  • The Importance of Leaders
  • Extreme Ownership
  • Discipline Equals Freedom
  • Responsibility

Stupid Questions are Your Fault (for not properly explaining)

Reading that ‘if your boss repeatedly asks ‘stupid questions’, you have not explained it well enough’ was quite the ‘eye-opener’ for me. Obviously, it is your job to explain the situation, and being asked ‘stupid questions’ is a clear indicator of lacking situational awareness from the one asking these questions - lacking because you did not explain it well enough.

Leadership is Ego-Management

‘Leadership is Ego-Management’ is also one of these things that hit me. Of course, it is, but at the same time - I had no idea. This is something I still need to learn in depth. First step: managing my own ego.

The Importance of Leaders

Even knowing that exceptional teams need good leaders, I underestimated the importance of leaders. Especially those in middle and upper management.

Extreme Ownership

It was mentioned as ‘focus on your circle of influence’ in The 7 Habits, but I never internalized it until seeing it as extreme ownership. I needed the message about responsibility to be uncompromising and ruthless.

Discipline Equals Freedom

Having been an advocate for processes, ‘Discipline equals freedom’ is one more concept that resonated with me. I still find it hard to explain the effectiveness to others, especially those not wanting to change.


Being at fault and being to blame are separate. I started writing a blog post about responsibility, missing this realization is part of why I got stuck.


Stories could make their point more clearly, but the book resonated with me.

Better Stories

The book uses stories to better demonstrate principles of each chapter. While I really like some of these stories, not all of them demonstrated their principle as well as they could have.

Overall, it feels like the book still has ‘rough’ edges that could use polishing.

Diamonds take time to form: To me, it feels like only a few small improvements would be needed to take it to the next level. This is part of why I find it so frustrating. For me the potential is clearly there, but it has somehow failed to materialize. I do hope a second version will change this.

Good parts

The book deeply resonated with me. There is nothing as absolute and uncaring as reality, which is mirrored perfectly by the suggested uncompromising responsibility for decisions.

Not just that, I learned a lot about responsibility and leadership, among other things. It was easy to read and follow. I really liked that each chapter had a part focusing solely on the principle and application to business as well.

The book was very well written, clearly structured, and an enjoyable read.

I would recommend it to everyone struggling with responsibility or leadership.

Favorite Quotes

The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether the team succeeds or fails.

But combat is reflective of life, only amplified and intensified.

Part 1:

the burden of command and the deep meaning of responsibility: the leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.

leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance

when it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.

“If you aren’t winning, [..] then you aren’t making the right decisions.”

If frontline leaders and troops understand why, they can move forward, fully believing in what they are doing.

When personal agenda becomes more important than the team and the overarching missions success, performance suffers and failure ensues.

Part 2:

[..] anything in life has inherent layers of complexities. Simplifying as much as possible is crucial for success.

Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to five operators, with a clearly designated leader.

Part 3:

The planning process and briefing must be a forum that encourages discussion, questions, and clarifications from even the most junior personnel.

[…] leaders must be comfortable accepting some level of risk.

Our ability to plan is enabling us to better execute and win.

One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss - your immediate leadership.

Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world, subordinates and superiors alike.

As a leader, you want to be seen - you need to be seen - as decisive, and willing to make tough choices. The outcome may be uncertain, but you have enough understanding and information to make a decision.

Our freedom to operate and maneuver had increased substantially through disciplined procedures. Discipline equals freedom.

A true leader is not intimidated when others step up and take charge.

Leaders who lose their temper also lose respect

Some of the boldest, most successful plans in history have not come from the senior ranks but from frontline leaders.

Leadership is simple, but not easy.

[.] leading people is the most challenging and, therefore, the most gratifying undertaking of all human endeavors.