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Extreme Ownership

Sep 18, 2019 4:03:00 AM / by Travis Jacobs

shared blame

Leadership is tough .. the hardest part of the job


The 4 laws of innovation .. how a team succeeds among chaos and constantly changing conditions


1.    Extreme Ownership

There is no two ways about it... take full responsibility for what is happening or has happened. If a member of a team has not understood one of his instructions, the team leader cannot blame him. It is his role as a leader to make sure that his team members understand his instructions.

Likewise, if he himself doesn't understand the data he has received, he will take responsibility and ask his superiors for explanations rather than say it wasn't properly explained from the beginning.

If a client has decided to change his supplier and has turned to the competition... There is no point in saying it's not my fault ... but what are the lessons to be learned.

An employee hasn't understood instructions? He is not to be blamed, as a leader ... it is my job to check he has understood what is expected of him!

My boss doesn't give me enough time to develop my career? It is my responsibility to go up to him and draw his attention to the matter.

 The advantage of extreme ownership is that it generates dynamism. It pushes you to act and it is thus no longer possible to wallow in complaints and criticism.

The Talking Football is a simple but effective tool to create and environment where teamwork can flourish ... where trust & respect can be built

How to apply Extreme Ownership ...The CEO Challenge 


2.    No Bad Teams … Only Bad Leaders

One of the main characteristics of a successful team is their ability to work together as a team.

There is nothing worse to be individualistic or perceived as such … in a successful team

Take the New England Patriots for example … Brady & Belichick are one of the most lethal duos in the NFL.

Lone individuals don't survive on this team ... An enormous amount of energy is used to stimulate teamwork during practice. But as much as it is important to work as a team, it is equally important to have a good coach ... leading these teams.

You have certainly noticed how a good leader can help a team evolve towards success whereas a bad one can make it lose.

When led by an incompetent leader … NFL teams can’t seem to do anything right ... whether it be a coach or a quarterback.

But when a better leader took over, these teams suddenly started winning games.

We need leaders at all levels … Coaches … Quarterbacks … Offense … Defense

A dictator and a tyrant can destroy any team very quickly

 When a team is malfunctioning, there is no point in blaming the people in it. One must always look to the leader's abilities.

When teams can't communicate ... fighting amongst each other ... I call this Who's On First syndrome


3.    Believing Is The First Step

 It is very difficult to stand in front of the team and present a plan ... that you don't believe in ... or don't believe will work.

 It is very difficult to 'sell' a plan to your team, if you don't even believe in it yourself

The worst thing you can say ... It's not me ... the orders come from above ...

Take the time to talk with the guys in charge to better understand the context of the decision.

The guys in charge have a reason for the mission ... go find out why

Maybe they see something you don't ... maybe you see something they don't

Talk about the Pink Elephant in the room ... so everyone has the same understanding

 If you want to maintain leadership of your team, never give the impression that you don't understand or don't approve of a decision 'from above.' If you don't understand the reasoning behind a strategy, go find the information so that you too can 'believe' and trust the decision taken by your hierarchy.


4.    Check Your Ego

Who believes they can learn nothing from a man with more experience ... never mind his education ... risks the death of his reputation as well as the trust and respect of his team.

We have all been confronted by individuals who ... due to their title ... their experience at the company or their age ... believed they had nothing to learn. This put them in dangerous situations that could have been avoided with a bit of wisdom and listening to people who have been there.

 Ego can be a dangerous thing ... whatever your experience, age or position, if you have the impression you know everything, or feel you don't have to listen to advice, it may be high time for a slice of humble pie. If not, life and circumstances will show you. Contrary to popular belief, you will not lose credit in the eyes of your team if you admit you don't know everything. Indeed, this will only reinforce your position as leader.

Take Jack and his team for example ... who wasted $500,000 & six months on a product no one wants


5.    Cover & Move

When the shit hits the fan and things go wrong … and they always do … make sure your team members have your back. They Work together … they don’t blame .. don't point fingers … don't scapegoat … & they don't throw each other under the bus.

Make sure the risk is covered …

The waterline principle ... The idea is to think of yourself on a ship. Imagine that any decision you make that goes bad will blow a hole in the side of the ship, below the waterline. Damage to a ship below the waterline can mean catastrophic consequences. Even a small hole, albeit a lengthy one, sunk the “unsinkable” Titanic.

You always have to ensure that part of the team or another team ensures cover for the team that is moving ... Someone has your back and is always providing cover for your team.

Just as, when walking, you wouldn't lift a leg before putting down the other. This, as you can imagine entails being able to work as a team and with other teams with flawless communication and trust.

Team members work together to achieve a common objective ... they aren't pulling against each other or fighting against each other.

 Once again, it is essential here to understand the notion of teamwork and to develop trust in each of its members. And this trust must extend out from the team to the other departments of a business that interact to accomplish its designed mission.

In a product development project ... these are the Biggest Threats that can derail a mission.

As with any project ... we want to remove any Unnecessary Waste that is non value added.



6.    Simple

Complexity is the enemy of execution.

The success of a plan is inversely proportional to its complexity.

The simplest plan wins ... everything should be simplified to a 5th grade level.

The simpler a plan ... instructions ... strategy is to understand ... the more we are inclined to act. Inversely ... the more complex ... abstract ... obscure a plan or strategy is ... the more confusion will be present.

Confusion is the enemy of speed and accuracy ... if you don't know where or what the target is ... the odds of hitting the target and greatly reduced. Shooting faster ... won't do any good in this situation.

Developing products is complex enough these days ... we don't need to create any unnecessary or over complicated processes ... procedures ... plans or strategies.

It is often best to simplify, to have a clear and concise understanding of where we are ... as well as were we are going.

 The Thinking Hats are a great and simple tool for developing plans ... contingency plans ... strategies ... risks ... and everything that can go wrong.


7.    Prioritize & Execute

There are times when human beings may feel submerged by demands, challenges and uncertainties. The most important thing is to remain focused, calm and to be able to stop to consider the options at hand. Everything cannot always be done or resolved immediately. But rather than remain in uncertainty and indecision or be submerged by challenges, one should be able to take a short break, take a step back and determine the most important priority to be taken into account at this moment, set up a plan to resolve the problem and act until this problem is resolved. Then move on to the next challenge.

 This simple technique doesn't replace the ability to keep an overview of the situation but when stress is sky high and that confusion has taken over, it is very efficient to be able to identify and resolve each problem individually and by order of importance.

The Ideal Project .. in product development is where the team executes with excellence ... accomplishing the mission ... delivering superior quality ... as a team


8.    Decentralizing Command

It is difficult in the case of complications, to communicate swiftly and efficiently with the chain of command to adapt the mission to the new circumstances.

Men will thus have to make their own decisions ... instead scheduling meetings to talk about the best time to talk about when we can schedule another meeting

Decentralizing command means that the mission and its limits have been formally defined by senior leaders ... who have an overview of the mission ... but the details of execution are left to the people on the field who are in contact with its reality. These highly trained professionals are aware of their responsibilities and have a clear idea of what is expected of them. They are authorized and able to make their own decisions.

Organisations are usually structured with leaders who send their instructions downwards, it is rarer to find examples of teams that are able to let their people on the field make important decisions for the execution of the mission.

Think of Tom Brady ... in the Superbowl ... calling an audible based on how the defense lines up.

This is often the most effective way to get concrete results and especially a genuine commitment from the team. How can you expect an employee on the field to feel motivated and committed if he has no leeway and only gets orders from above.

The Iceberg Of Ignorance is a case for decentralized command ... but from the other perspective


9.    Plan

It is obvious that everything cannot be organised and planned in advance and that the saying "no plan survives contact with reality or the customer" makes perfect sense for professionals in product development teams.

However, the more precautions that are taken to anticipate problems and mishaps, the higher the chances of success. It is thus the leader's responsibility to plan for a maximum numbers of scenarios and alternative plans so as to adapt to a situation that can change at any moment. "If this happens, then we do that, if that plan doesn't work, then we move to this other plan". These plans must be clearly explained to all members of the team and the leader must ensure that everyone understands all aspects of the various options.

Planning is ... and should be ... a mechanism for disciplined thought ... not a routine exercise and a check the box activity.

Planning is priceless ... plans are useless 

Commanders Intent ... is the definition and description of what a successful mission looks like ... what is the end state .... what does winning look like?



10. Leading Up & Down The Chain Of Command

Leading downwards and upwards" implies that if a plan, a decision or a strategy decided by the senior executives doesn't make sense or cannot work on the field, the people on the field have the courage .... as well as the trust and respect of their leaders ... to be listened to ... and adapt to the reality they face.

All too often, an unpopular decision will be criticized or even mocked by people on the field but little will be done to for the matter to be brought to the senior leaders ... for a reality check. Once again, the advice is not to complain but to act, to discuss with the hierarchy and to do everything to establish communication and mutual understanding. As much as the leader must ensure that his team has understood the aim of the mission and its objectives, the person who carries out the task must make sure that his superior is aware of the various difficulties that can crop up and all this with the greatest mutual respect.

 The Project Premortem is a technique to asses the validity of a plan ... before the plan is executed. It's the benefit of hindsight ... before hand ... without the pain and humiliation of failure.

Take the current plan ... assume the plan has been executed ...

  • Was a catastrophic failure ...
  • Was an overwhelming success ...

Write down the chain of events that led to both outcomes


11. Indecision & Uncertainty

There is nothing worse than indecision. When the situation is beyond tense ... everything is going wrong ...

It is not possible to remain paralyzed and not make decisions. It is sometimes possible in everyday life to tell oneself that faced with a lack of information, concrete facts or simply uncertainty, we will wait to see how things pan out.

There is real danger in letting a situation degenerate due to a lack of firmness and decisiveness .... things tend to go from bad to worse

Make a decision rather that 'wait and see'. Often a situation in everyday life will follow the same pattern and degenerate due to a lack of decision. Sometimes these decisions are difficult to make, such as firing a manager who has become toxic for the company and his team. However, the more one waits, the more the situation degenerates and more everybody suffers from it.

 Indecisiveness is a sibling ... of lack of confidence. In some cases people will hesitate or even refuse to make a decision ... due to the fact that they don't want the burden of responsibility on their shoulders ... if things go sideways.

Somebody who can make decisions is not necessarily somebody who knows more than the others. Often he just knows that if he has made the wrong decision, he will find the way to rectify the situation.

Singularly, for those who lack self-confidence, the simple fact of getting used to making decisions as often as possible ... starting with small things ... will enable them to progressively assert themselves.

Indeed, most of the time, the decision taken will end up being the right one and if such is not the case, the person will find the way to rectify things while realizing that he has more abilities than he or she thought she had.

 Things change quickly when developing new products ... a plan is just a list of things that didn't happen


12. Discipline Equals Freedom

Here is a notion that seems counter-intuitive to say the least.

The more a plan is studied with discipline and detail, the easier it will be to react faced with an unexpected situation.

The more a team trains in an environment where failure is tolerated and without consequence ... the better they will perform when it matters.

Tom Brady trying out a new play in practice ... not during the Superbowl

The better the team understands the play and how to react when things change ... the more the men on the field will be able to make their own decisions ... and score a touchdown ... or intercept the ball and run it back for 6 points.

Discipline and commitment require personal investment and effort from the onset, but this investment will liberate the person ready to put the hours in.

The CEO Challenge ... is a simple but effective approach for the troops on the front lines to solve problems ... building trust & respect within the team and the senior leaders.

Indiscipline generally sets in progressively and if it is not stopped, it often degenerates and creates situations that can be costly for people and teams



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Topics: Leadership, Communication, Innovation, Execution, Strategy, Tactics, Discipline

Travis Jacobs

Written by Travis Jacobs

Travis is the president of JA Simulations, a product design & development firm in Denver Colorado. We help clients solve problems & get to market faster with innovative & high quality products

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