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12 Achievement Principles in Extreme Ownership

Published on 01 Nov 2017

By Dominic Gourley

I’m a huge reader (well – listener actually) and constantly come across great resources that provide helpful tips for building constructive styles or thinking about them in a different way.

This article is a summary of the 12 core principles from the book Extreme Ownership by Jacko Willink and Leif Babin. This book is all about building high performing teams based on Achievement values. It’s great for leaders looking to build their own Achievement leadership style and building achievement within their teams.

Jacko and Leif are ex-Navy Seals (now leadership consultants) and have written Extreme Ownership as a half leadership book/half navy seal memoir. Each chapter tells a story from their time in service, then relates it to a core leadership principle, before then applying it to a business setting. I found it a very entertaining listen but it’s perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea.

The principles from it, however, are universal. In this summary I will look at those principles and how to interpret them from a Human Synergistics point of view. See how you might be able to weave the examples, or different ways of presenting achievement principles, into your coaching practice!

Extreme Ownership Circumplex

Principle 1: Extreme Ownership

"The leader bears full responsibility for explaining the strategic mission, developing the tactics, and securing the training and resources to enable the team to properly and successfully execute the mission."

Application to Human Synergistics: Central to Achievement is the idea that ‘my effort makes a difference’ and to only be concerned with things within your control. If something doesn’t go right, Achievement orientated leaders take responsibility and ask ‘what could I have done differently to set my team up for success?’ Passive/Defensive leaders, on the other hand, avoid blame by appealing to rules or shifting responsibilities to others. Aggressive/Defensive leaders avoid blame by pointing the finger at others or by making sure their numbers look good even at the expense of the overall mission.

Principle 2: Not bad teams, bad leaders

 "[Leaders] must face the facts through a realistic, honest assessment of themselves and their team’s performance. Identifying weaknesses, good leaders seek to strengthen them and come up with a plan to overcome challenges… It starts with the individual and spreads to each of the team members until this becomes the new standard."

Application to Human Synergistics: What the leader does has a ripple effect on the behaviour of everyone else in the team. When Passive/Defensive leaders bury their head in the sand about poor performance, those poor behaviours flow on to the rest of the team. Aggressive/Defensive leaders punish and blame which leads to inaction or internal conflict. Constructive leaders guide and direct and expect team members to take responsibility to meet the expected standards.

Principle 3: Be a Believer

"In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission... If a leader does not believe, he or she will not be able to convince others to do so. When leaders receive an order that they themselves question and do not understand, they must ask the question ‘Why?’"

Application to Human Synergistics: Everything starts with leaders being clear on what we are trying to achieve. Goal Clarity builds Achievement thinking. If the mission is not clear, people will gravitate towards Passive/Defensive behaviours instead.

Principle 4: Check the Ego

"Ego clouds and disrupts everything: The planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism. Often the most difficult ego to deal with is your own… When personal agendas become more important than the team, and the overarching mission’s success, performance suffers and failure ensues."

Application to Human Synergistics: There is nothing wrong with winning, or wanting to win. The problem is when someone’s drive to win and standout comes at the expense of teammates and the organisation. Competitive leaders aim to win, Achievement Leaders aim for performance excellence. To drive competitive instincts, Competitive leaders frequently pit staff against each other – this ultimately leads to dysfunction and performance suffers.

Principle 5: Cover and Move

"… Often when smaller teams within the team get so focused on their immediate task they forget about what others are doing or how they can depend on other teams. They may start to compete with one another and when there are obstacles - animosity and blame develops… It falls on leaders to keep perspective on the overall team’s strategic mission and remind their team that they are part of the greater team and that the strategic mission is paramount."

Application to Human Synergistics: Teamwork within teams is measured under Affiliative.Cover and Move’ is about teamwork across teams. Leaders need to motivate their teams to both be Affiliative and Achievement minded. They do this by keeping the overall goal top of mind for their teams and hence encourage collaborating across teams to achieve that goal.

Principle 6: Keep it Simple

"Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success. When plans and orders are too complicated people may not understand them. When thing go wrong, (and they inevitably DO go wrong), complexity compounds issues that can spiral out of control into total disaster."

Application to Human Synergistics: Achievement leaders focus on excellence not perfection. They breakdown plans into actionable steps. They focus on the critical few. Perfectionistic leaders tend to have trouble separating what is critical from what is not. As a result they tend to over detail their plans which leads to complexity and a lack of understanding from those who have to execute it.

Principle 7: Prioritise and Execute

"Even the most competent of leaders can be overwhelmed if they try to tackle multiple problems, or a number of tasks simultaneously. The team will likely fail at each of those tasks. Instead, leaders must determine the highest priority task – and execute."

Application to Human Synergistics: Achievement leaders break down tasks by their importance. Passive/Defensive leaders tend to not set anything as a priority. Perfectionistic Leaders think everything is important… in which case nothing is truly a priority.

Principle 8: Decentralise Command

"Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks necessary to accomplish the mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Every tactical team leader must understand not just what to do, but why they are doing it. [Junior leaders] must have implicit trust that their senior leaders will back their decisions. Without this trust, junior leaders cannot confidently execute."

Application to Human Synergistics: Humanistic-Encouraging Leaders develop their junior leaders and empower them to make decisions. These leaders believe they can assist others in fulfilling their potential by providing a supportive climate that inspires self-improvement. Leaders high on Power lack confidence in others and don’t delegate authority or grow subordinates.

Principle 9: Plan

"Giving the frontline ownership of even a small piece of the plan gives them buy in, helps them understand the reasons behind the plan, and better enables them to believe in the mission which translates to far more effective implementation and execution on the ground."

Application to Human Synergistics: Planning is Achievement orientated, sharing responsibility for creating the plan is Humanistic-Encouraging. By involving frontline managers, and building their buy-in, Leaders can stand back, look at the wider strategic objectives, and identify weaknesses or holes in the plan that those immersed in the details might have missed.

Principle 10: Leading Up the Chain of Command

"If your boss isn’t making a decision in a timely manner, or providing necessary support for you and you team, don’t blame the boss – first blame yourself. Examine what you can do to better convey the critical information for decisions to be made and support allocated."

Application to Human Synergistics: People who complain about the boss, but don’t do anything to fix it, are operating out of the Oppositional and Avoidance styles. Achievement orientated leaders look at what they can do instead of blaming others.

Principle 11: Act Decisively

"There is no 100% right solution. The picture is never complete. Leaders must be comfortable with this and be able to make decisions promptly, then be ready to adjust those decisions quickly based on evolving situations and new information. Intelligence gathering and research are important, but they must be employed with realistic expectations and must not impede swift decision making. Waiting for the 100% right and certain solution leads to delay, indecision, and an inability to execute."

Application to Human Synergistics: Perfectionistic Leaders get bogged down in needing to have more information and more certainty to reduce risk of failure. Many situations leaders face do not offer that level of certainty and this can lead Perfectionistic Leaders to analysis paralysis. Achievement Leaders will take calculated risks and make the best decision they can based on the information available. Doing so enables them and their teams to move forward decisively.

Principle 12: Discipline Equals Freedom

"Instead of making us more rigid, and unable to improvise, discipline made us more flexible, more adaptable, and more efficient. It allowed us to be creative. While increased discipline most often results in more freedom, there are some teams that become so restricted by imposed discipline that they inhibit their leader’s and team’s ability to make decisions and think freely. If frontline leaders executing the mission lack the ability to adapt, this becomes detrimental to the team’s performance."

Application to Human Synergistics: Freedom within a framework enables ‘Decentralised Command’ and is a mark of an Achievement Orientated leader. However, leaders must be careful that they don’t overly impose discipline and restrict free thinking - doing so results in Conventional and Dependent team members.


Is there a particular principle that stands out to you?

What do you think of us putting books into the Circumplex language?
Let us know what book you think we should do next!